NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020)
Directed by: Antonio Campos
Produced by: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Randall Poster, Max Born
Screenplay by: Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos
Based on: The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock
Cast: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Harry Melling, etc.
Narrated by: Donald Ray Pollock
Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Cinematography: Lol Crawley
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Netflix’s latest major film release is a literary adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s psychological thriller, The Devil All the Time (2020). One has to believe it is a pretty faithful adaptation because the novelist himself narrates the tale to us via voiceover. Set in the years after World War II, the grim events unfold in the states of Ohio and West Virginia, respectively. While the action is not located in the deep South, the story has many of the tropes synonymous with the Southern Gothic genre, notably: religious fanaticism, explicit sexuality, flawed characters, sickening violence, poverty and human alienation.
The film, directed by Antonio Campos — who helmed the under-rated character study, Christine (2016) — starts extremely purposefully. Returning soldier, Miller Jones (Bill Skarsgard), meets a waitress on his bus journey home and eventually marries her. Both Skarsgard and Hayley Bennett, portraying his wife, inhabit empathetic characters working hard to bring up their son and saving for their own place. Jones, however, is haunted by a traumatic incident in the Pacific, and strives for solace in God and family. Indeed, the corrupt force of religious mania spreads like a cancer throughout The Devil All the Time (2020), becoming a constant threat and reason for many of the characters downfall.
Just as I was connecting with Jones’ life and becoming absorbed by Bill Skarsgard’s commanding performance, tragedy strikes and the narrative takes one of several jarring switches between characters. As such the film does not really have a strong plot, meandering from one character to another witnessing all manner of horrific events fate throws at them. Because, let’s be honest, The Devil All the Time (2020), is no way close to being a feelgood film. In fact, it revels in representing the evil acts of so-called human beings. Thus, throughout I felt a constant sense of dread and anxiety. Barely had Skarsgard misery ended and we are then introduced to the tragedies of characters portrayed by Harry Melling and Mia Wasikowska. Simultaneously, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough join the fray as two violent and sex-driven thrill-seekers. Yet, they are weakly written characters who again drive the mood of the film into pitch blackness.
The film gathers some strength and momentum n the middle act when Tom Holland’s son of Miller Jones comes of age. By focussing on his story we get more drama and emotion, especially where his relationship with his step-sister (Eliza Scanlan) is concerned. Holland gives an excellent performance as the young man attempting to make his way in this filthy and ungodly world. Similarly, Robert Pattinson’s oily Preacher oozes repugnant charm in another sterling piece of acting work. Alas, Sebastian Stan’s Sheriff and Douglas Hodge’s rural gangster are given short shrift in another crime subplot which goes nowhere.
Overall, Antonio Campos delivers an extremely solid thriller from an acting and thematic standpoint. Unfortunately, the fragmented screenplay should arguably have been given a more committed plotline. Of course, it has most likely shadowed the structure of the source novel so therein lies the rub. Having said that, despite the structural shortcomings, there are many shocking and violent set-pieces to satisfy horror fans. Ultimately though, The Devil All the Time (2020) lacks redemption, catharsis and even some decent suspense. By the end we are given few characters to care about and delivered the pessimistic vision that life is a belt of misery. Even a suggestion of sugar helps the poison go down and this film offers very little in the way of sweetness or light.
In keeping with my theme of branching out and watching different subscribers, last month I paid around £4.99 extra for the ARROW VIDEO CHANNEL via AMAZON PRIME. This gave me access to a whole host of good, bad and very weird films. There are some newish films on there, but mainly the channel contains vintage horror, arthouse and cult movies. This was a good old trip down memory lane for me as it meant I re-watched loads of films which were considered part of the 1980’s “video nasties” era. I also watched a number of films I had never seen before.
If you didn’t know ARROW FILMS is a leading independent entertainment distribution company. Established in 1991, it is dedicated to supporting upcoming and established filmmakers of dynamic new cinema and developing a slate of fantastic films from all around the globe. Moreover, they are also a leading restorer of classic and cult films and enjoy releasing anniversary celebrations of landmark titles. You’ll find some films of both incredible and dubious quality. Safe to say though, such releases are never boring. Lastly, ARROW are never frightened to distribute films previously banned, unreleased or heavily censored. They are true pioneers in the world of cinema. Check out their website here!
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
THE HORROR! THE HORROR!
If, like me, you love horror films then an Arrow subscription is essential. But before I get onto those, they also have a decent roster of world cinema films. Directors such as Krzysztof Kieślowski, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Susanne Bier, Thomas Vinterberg, Marjane Satrapi, Vittorio De Sica, David O. Russell, Hirokazu Koreeda, Richard Kelly, Bruce Robinson, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Nagisha Oshima have many of their works distributed by Arrow online and via DVD or BLU-RAY. Indeed, I recently watched and loved Kieslowski’s BLIND CHANCE (1987) and Oshima’s MERRY CHRISTMAS MR LAWRENCE (1983). on the Arrow channel.
Yet, it was mainly the horror and cult movies I concentrated on during my month’s sojourn into Arrow’s back catalogue. Thus, here are some mini-reviews and marks out of eleven for the numerous films I watched.
THE BEYOND (1981)
Insane, surreal and with some incredibly gory deaths, this is perhaps Lucio Fulci’s most illogical, but brilliant film. The imagery and music collude to both sicken and chill in equal measures. It also has one of the most haunting final scenes in horror cinema. Mark: 8 out of 11
THE BLACK CAT (1981)
A truly dreadful adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s story which is contemporised badly by Lucio Fulci and his scriptwriters. I dislike cats generally and this revenge story does nothing to appease such negativity. Mark: 2.5 out of 11
THE BURNING (1981)
Pretty decent gore-fest which, while written before FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), suffers mildly in comparison to that murdered-teenagers-at-camp classic. Famous for being produced by the Weinstein’s and early acting appearances from Jason Alexander, Fisher Stevens and Holly Hunter. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
Truly terrible, but actually “so-bad-it’s-entertaining” mash-up of ALIEN (1979) and the 007 Bond franchise. Dodgy effects, acting and dubbing make this Italian B-movie laughably enjoyable. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING (1972)
An earlier Lucio Fulci film which actually has a decent plot and some disturbing, but compelling scenes and themes. Centred amidst a rural Italian setting, a murderer is running amok killing the village children. A reporter sets out to uncover the murderer as villagers begin to suspect the kids died at the hands of witchcraft. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)
I used to revel in this nasty B-movie revenge film as a teenager. The school yard would have hives of thirteen-year olds chattering about the Doberman attack scene, pimps set on fire and the gangster killed in a meat grinder. Watching it back now, it truly is a terrible piece of filmmaking and an extremely lurid viewing experience. For all its derivative faults, I still loved it! Mark: 7 out of 11
Clive Barker’s cult horror classic is not so much about narrative coherence, but an assault on the senses. That damned mysterious and devilish “Rubik’s cube” is opened, giving way to a whole host of demonic monsters breaking Earth’s dimensions and threatening an Anglo-American family. Powerful visuals, incredibly effective prosthetics and brilliant nemeses in Frank and Pinhead, make HELLRAISER (1987) an extremely memorable low-budget horror cult classic. Mark: 8 out of 11
HELLRAISER II: HELLBOUND (1988)
A direct sequel to the original, but without Clive Barker directing this time unfortunately. HELLBOUND (1988) has some wonderful gore and monstrous moments as Kenneth Cranham’s mad doctor opens up the hellish gates to the beyond. But the surreal storytelling is so deranged and ridiculous I was just laughing by the end. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
MANIAC COP (1988)
I love a lot of Larry Cohen’s work, but this is arguably only a minor B-movie script from him. The clue is in the title really as a vengeful cop goes on a kill crazy rampage in the dark recesses of the city. Notable for Bruce Campbell’s turn as a bemused cop suspected of the crimes, plus the impactful silent giant of a killer. Mark: 6 out of 11
THE NEW YORK RIPPER (1982)
While I do not agree with censorship as a rule, I can see why this Lucio Fulci United States shocker was banned in Britain for many years. It is disgustingly violent and misogynistic, verging on pornography in many scenes. The biggest crime is it’s so badly made from a capable filmmaker. Avoid at all costs! Mark: 1 out of 11
RAWHEAD REX (1986)
A gigantic phallic cock-monster called ‘Rawhead’ is woken near an Irish village and kills anyone who gets in his way. Another Clive Barker short story gets a film adaptation and this is awful in every way! Barker hated it and that led to him taking more control of HELLRAISER (1987). Lacking narrative context and even basic filmmaking skills, we are in the “so bad it’s hilarious” camp here. Mark: 3 out of 11
RED EYE (2005)
A rare diversion away from the horror genre finds Wes Craven directing Cillian Murphy, Rachel McAdams and Brian Cox in this fast-paced airplane-set thriller. I had never seen this film before as McAdams and Murphy provide committed performances while possessing excellent on-screen chemistry. Extremely suspenseful for the most part until it gives way to huge explosions and shootouts at the end. Great fun overall! Mark: 7.5 out of 11
I have to admit that I am not a big fan of Dario Argento’s films generally. I find them imaginative, but mostly loud and nonsensical. Moreover, they have little in the way of suspense or actual scares. TENEBRAE (1982) is another empty Argento exercise in misogyny and style-over-substance as an American writer finds himself pitted against a vicious killer copying murders from his novels. There are some decent horror moments, but the twist is too self-knowing and ridiculous to not find laughable. Mark: 6 out of 11
THE WITCH THAT CAME FROM THE SEA (1976)
Now, this is a weird film. Part-revenge-part-feminist-part-porn-part-horror story that was also banned in Britain as a video-nasty. Millie Perkins gives a haunting performance as a psychologically damaged individual, who is so disturbed by a childhood trauma she kills when in sexual congress. It’s almost a really good film because the characterisation and motivation is well conceived. However, it’s also rather eccentrically acted and directed in places, so approach with great caution. Mark: 6 out of 11
ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1979)
This classic zombie exploitation from Lucio Fulci is one I’ve seen many times. While not quite as good as the Romero classics in terms of story and theme, it has so many unforgettably bloody scenes. The moment when a zombie attacks a shark is a horror set-piece you will never forget. As Fulci rips off Romero he spins the undead genre into a frenzy with relentless dirt, maggots, sinew, bone and guts on screen, all the while accompanied by a creepy score by Giorgio Tucci. Mark: 8 out of 11
ZOMBIE FOR SALE (2019)
The most contemporary film I watched from Arrow Video is a riotously funny and moving rom-zom-com from Korea. A rural family find a way of making money out of a zombie who has escaped a science laboratory, however, their get-rich-quick-scheme backfires with bloody hilarious results. While it is overlong, it benefits from a clever script and excellent acting, although it over-does the slow motion scenes and jarring narrative tonal switches. Mark: 8 out of 11
Based on: Memories of Murder (play) by Kim Kwang-rim
Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Sang-kyung, Kim Roi-ha, Park Hae-il, Byun Hee-bong etc.
Music by: Tarō Iwashiro
Cinematography: Kim Hyung-koo
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
In this current COVID-19 climate it’s going to take a big film release or an extremely excellent film to get me to go to the cinema. Not only because of the underlying health risks, but also because I think social distancing is a societal duty to be respected. Moreover, it is better to be safe than sorry where health and wealth are concerned. If I was to come in contact with an individual or group who possibly had the virus then having to self-isolate would leave me in a tricky place where work is concerned. Of course, the number of new releases have been stymied too. Yet, despite these factors and armed with our face coverings and hand sanitizers, myself and my wife, ventured to Clapham Picturehouse to watch a re-released genre classic, namely Bong-Joon-ho’s, MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003).
Interestingly, it made me long for the days of the proper independent repertory films that I frequented in the late 1980’s and 1990’s like the Scala, Prince Charles and Everyman. There you could catch old, forgotten and classic movies on re-release, often on double bills or late- night line-ups. To be fair some of these cinemas are still around, but unfortunately not as many as twenty years ago. Unsurprisingly, because of the commercial and critical success of PARASITE (2019), Bong Joon-ho’s back catalogue has been plundered, hence the re-release of MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003). This truly brilliant police procedural thriller is loosely based on the true story of Korea’s first serial murders which took place between 1986 and 1991 in the Gyeonggi Province. The story follows the police department as they pursue a number of leads and suspects over a number of years. However, the killer proves incredibly cunning and, as in the David Fincher helmed crime classic, ZODIAC (2007), it becomes an almost impossible case to crack.
Song Kang-ho and Kim Sang-kyung star as Detective Park and Detective Seo, respectively. They are two very different cops striving to solve the murders of young women who usually wear red. Esteemed Korean actor Song Kang-ho portrays the more instinctive and emotional detective, while Kim Sang-kyung’s cop relies on thorough investigation and deduction. Kang-ho especially proves what a wonderfully natural talent he is and his character’s marital relationship provides warmth amidst the bloody horror of the serial killings. Indeed, it made a change to see a police officer who wasn’t an alcoholic, divorced or utterly cynical.
Allied to a plot that over many narrative years is full of twists and turns, the themes and characters within MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003) are what makes it a cut above the standard police drama. While the lead detectives are mostly empathetic, the screenplay finds time to critique their unscrupulous interviewing techniques of suspects. It is only when Detective Seo applies proper forensics and logic do they begin to make headway in the case. Seo especially becomes obsessed with catching this venal murderer of young women. So much so it pushes him to breaking point.
MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003) also presents an early example of the intelligent and precise directorial style of Bong Joon-ho. His framing of multiple actors in the same shot, overlapping dialogue and the exquisite cinematographic representations of both rural and urban landscapes make this an aesthetically pleasing film to experience. Joon-ho loves scenes in the rain too and these add to the film’s atmosphere. Lastly, while it deals with crimes that are dark and shocking, there is also much quirky humour within the excellent screenplay. The bickering between the exasperated police Captain his team provides laughs that spike the grim mood the murders bring. Thus, overall this is very much a film worth leaving the house and going to the cinema for.
Produced by: Kristina Ceyton, Steve Hutensky, Jennifer Kent, Bruna Papandrea
Written by: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr, Damon Herriman, Harry Greenwood, Ewen Leslie, Charlie Shotwell, Michael Sheasby, etc.
Music by: Jed Kurzel
Cinematography: Radek Ladczuk
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
THE NIGHTINGALE (2019) is a brutal film about rape and murder. It’s about the rape of an individual. The rape of a nation. The murders of youth, race, nature, humanity and life itself. It is an extremely powerful and impactful viewing experience, but not for those of a faint heart or sensitive disposition. When released it caused much controversy with some audience members walking out during festival screenings. This is no doubt due to several scenes displaying sickening moments of violence against men, women and children. However, the director Jennifer Kent, has not written and helmed a mere exploitation revenge film here. Instead, she has fashioned a beautiful and ugly tragedy, which prevails damning indictment against masculine savagery, colonialism and British rule.
Set in 1825 in the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (presently Tasmania), THE NIGHTINGALE (2019), follows a young female convict seeking revenge for an unspeakable act of violence committed against her family. Clare Carroll, nicknamed “Nightingale” due to her lovely singing voice, is a young mother and wife looking to be given her freedom. It is held by Sam Claflin’s abusive British officer, Hawkins. Rather than free her he decides to thrust himself upon her sexually. Yet, when she rebuffs his drunken and lurid behaviour, he goes mob-handed to take her. Then when her husband intervenes, Hawkins and his soldiers act without honour or courage, leaving a family wrecked in their wake.
Hawkins and his men venture through the bush to Launceston the next day, to gain a promotion from the top brass he believes he deserves. Claire rallies and pursues them with bloody revenge in mind. She is assisted in her search by Aboriginal guide, “Billy” Mangana (Baykali Ganambarr). Billy is initially reluctant to chase British soldiers. Not surprising as the British have ravaged his people, land and culture, leaving the indigenous people outcasts in their own country. While Claire and Billy initially conflict they soon realise they have a common foe. Thus, while revenge supplies the bones for the narrative, the screenplay fleshes out their chase with intriguing cultural clashes and reconciliation. Indeed, the unlikely pair will eventually come to respect each other’s differences and find common ground over the course of the story.
Having received much critical acclaim with the low-budget horror film THE BABADOOK (2014), Jennifer Kent has moved from inner demonic possession to a more epic and external approach to horror. Because amidst the bucolic wonder of the Australian wilderness, the British brought death and chaos to the area. While one understands the need to have a place to house its prisoners (the barbarous treatment of the working classes is a whole different story), the rapacious desolation of the indigenous culture is a vital message within the film. Claire Carroll and Billy Mangana are symbols of a lost and damaged generation. They are emblems of people who deserve justice and reparation. Moreover, the message remains valid today, especially with the rise of the alternative-right and the continued sexual abuse faced by women everyday. Lastly, with a moving and tough leading portrayal by Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr providing a spiritual heart, and Sam Claflin giving a fearlessly repugnant representation of British aggression, THE NIGHTINGALE (2019), tells a horrific, disturbing, but righteously relevant tale.
Cast: Björk, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare, Joel Grey
Music by: Björk
Cinematography: Robby Müller
Edited by: François Gédigier, Molly Marlene Stensgård
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Rather incredibly, until very recently, I had never seen DANCER IN THE DARK (2000). However, it has quickly gone up the ranks in my mind as one of the best musical films I have ever seen. Having given it a lot of thought, it was difficult to place my review of Lars Von Trier’s eccentric, magical and moving tragedy. I could have reviewed it as a cult or under-rated classic film, but it was too high profile really; AND it won the Palm D’Or at Cannes. Thus, I decided, because it is such a compelling story and told in a magnetically creative style it definitely qualifies as a classic film.
Set in Washington State, circa 1964, the story centres on the life of Selena Ježková (Bjork), a Czech immigrant, who works in a factory supporting herself and her teenage son, Jean. She is good friends with co-worker Kathy (Catherine Deneuve), and has a good relationship with her landlord, a police officer called Bill (David Morse), and his wife, Linda (Cara Seymour). Selena is also romantically pursued by Jeff (Peter Stormare). Yet despite him being a pleasant and easy-going guy she prefers to be just friends. Selena is an admirable character because she works round-the-clock with at least two jobs, striving to make ends meet. But she also hides a secret. She is, in fact, going blind. Kathy helps cover for her where she can at the factory, however, the condition is irreversible. Selena is extraordinarily brave, but foolhardy too. Her condition puts herself and factory productivity at risk. Yet, this is merely a suggestion of the drama and tragedy which later befalls her. Because someone close to her will betray a trust, setting in motion a series of extremely depressing eventualities.
In order to escape the trials of her everyday existence, Selena often daydreams in song and dance form. These fantasies are further contextualised by Selena and Kathy taking part in a town production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, plus their visits to the cinema to watch Hollywood musicals. Von Trier is careful though to establish verisimilitude and plausible reality prior to the first musical number. Even so, it is initially extremely jarring when the song begins. Nonetheless, the power of surprise provides an electrical surge to the narrative and Selena’s characterisation. The first number set in the factory finds the mechanical sounds of the machinery providing a metronomic rhythm to the song and dance routine. Furthermore, songs such as, I’ve Seen It All (with the sequence set on a locomotive), and Smith and Wesson link Selena’s character to metal, machines and American industrialisation. Essentially, Selena’s experiences as a working class immigrant find her attempting to escape via song, but being trapped by American machines and later on in the film, their justice system too.
Filmed on digital cameras the presentation is arguably inspired somewhat by Von Trier’s established Dogme 95 style. In terms of content, DANCER IN THE DARK (2000), combines elements of melodrama and film noir reminiscent of films by Douglas Sirk. Such thematic and visual cues are then filtered through a meta-textual inversion of the Hollywood musical. While the classical musical is all about joy, love, family, companionship, song and performance, Von Trier effectively represents these genre tropes, but twists them into calamitous trials and tribulations for Selena. I for one felt such pain, regret and sympathy for her character. Indeed, Bjork, who had never acted before and has rarely acted since, gives an incredibly moving and soulful performance as the dedicated mother only trying to do her best for her son. Similarly, the songs she co-wrote with Mark Bell, Sjón Sigurdsson and Lars von Trier, sparkle and spike and tug at the heartstrings passionately.
Lars Von Trier is a divisive filmmaker and personality. He has always sailed close to the wind in regard to his challenging filmmaking style and content, as well as causing dissension over the years with his perceived outrageous comments. Moreover, Bjork herself spoke openly about a “Danish filmmaker” who oppressed and harassed her persistently on set. One must deduce that this indeed was Von Trier, thus I must respect and sympathise with the anguish she felt while filming, DANCER IN THE DARK (2000). Lastly, reviews of the film at the time were equally dichotomous. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian dubbed it the: “most shallow and crudely manipulative film of 2000. . . and one of the worst films, one of the worst artworks and perhaps one of the worst things in the history of the world.” Yet, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated: “It smashes down the walls of habit that surround so many movies. It returns to the wellsprings. It is a bold, reckless gesture.” Personally, I am with Roger Ebert, as I found the film to be one of Lars Von Trier’s most emotionally moving, stylistically daring and human dramas.
Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh, Martin Donovan, Clement Poesy, etc.
Music by: Ludwig Göransson
Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
I am writing this review from the future while travelling backwards to the past to try and alter events which have yet to occur in the present. Confused yet? Jokes aside, Christopher Nolan’s latest temporally challenging and narratively inverted blockbuster, TENET (2020), is actually not as complicated as some would lead you to believe. However, that’s because I’ve been training my brain with such mind-boggling adventures in time, space and dimensions while watching the third season of the ingenious German sci-fi drama, DARK (2020), this week. Safe to say however, TENET is still rather complex and probably unnecessarily so. Yet, Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker who loves exploring challenging scientific concepts and marrying them to hugely involving plots and stylish spectacular action. All credit to him too for pushing himself and the audience!
TENET opens with a fast-paced set-piece located at a Ukrainian opera house. A SWAT team, that includes our unnamed hero, (John David Washington), is there to save a spy and obtain an unidentified object, which will of course become an integral part of the plot later or earlier on in the story. From then on, ‘The Protagonist’, as he later becomes known, becomes embroiled in stopping the megalomaniacal plans of Russian oligarch, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh). In order to do so he attempts to infiltrate and stop Sator via his bullied wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). Here the Protagonist builds a bond to Kat and this provides the emotional glue of the film. Although, I’ll be honest, I was too busy thinking about the machinations of Nolan’s head-twirling approach to temporal structure, than actually feel much for the characters.
What the film lacks in emotional depth it more than makes up with spectacular action. There are at least six incredible set-pieces that involve hand-to-hand combat, fast-paced vehicle pursuit, bungee-jumping and all-out combat between various government and mercenary factions. Nolan and his production team twist the action with a visually mirrored trick which, well I won’t say anymore. Moreover, the grandiose style and cinematography are eye-popping. Sharp suits, sharper knives and futuristic masks are adorned by the characters giving the spy thriller a hyperreal edge. Similarly, the stunts and editing are superbly orchestrated and executed. Having said that, the sound design and dialogue could have been better. Far be it from me to criticize, but in striving for verisimilitude in the sound, the constant wearing of masks meant important dialogue lacked clarity. Likewise, in the final amazing set-piece I was lost amidst the bodies and explosions as to who was who and why and what and how. Clearly a second and third watch of TENET (2020) is in order.
While the action was pretty much flawless throughout, the screenplay, unlike say Nolan’s prior high-concept masterpiece, INCEPTION (2010), did lack character depth for me. While I realise this was Nolan’s intention, hardly any time is given setting up the characters. So much so they become cyphers within the plot. Nonetheless, the charisma of the cast, notably John David Washington and the impressive Robert Pattinson, dominates the screen and the two bounce off each other magnetically. Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh also bring much to their roles, however their subplot involving domestic abuse felt out of place in such a post-modern spectacle. Moreover, Branagh’s oligarch was, in certain scenes, verging on parodic cliche. I wondered if the villain of the piece could have been a little less B-movie heavy at times and possibly more cultured. This is a minor gripe though. After all, he is the bad guy!
Ultimately, TENET (2020) is a big, brash and confident Bond-type film with bells on. Sure, the rules of the world could have been excavated and presented somewhat clearer. But, Nolan favours a breakneck pace and be damned if you cannot keep up. Indeed, I am certain he has covered all the plot-holes (or paradoxes) I thought I saw and numerous questions I had by the end. While it is not without flaws, on first watch, I once again have to congratulate Christopher Nolan for striving for original thinking and fascinating concepts within a genre film. One may even argue that there are too many ideas here and simplification could have created a more emotionally satisfying film. However, there are many moments of cinematic genius in TENET (2020), notably in the Sisyphean payoffs within the inverted plot structure. Finally, one won’t see a more shiny and beautiful looking film all year. The future is bright: the future is Christopher Nolan.
FIVE REASONS THIS COULD BE GOOD – DEATH ON THE NILE (2020)
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Produced by: Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund, Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Mark Gordon, Kevin J. Walsh
Screenplay by: Michael Green
Based on: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
Cast: Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Kenneth Branagh, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, Letitia Wright
UK Release Date: 23/10/2020
The cinemas are now open again and while the reason for their closure was understandable, it’s great to look forward to seeing some of the more grand and expensive films on the giant screen. I have very much made the most of watching loads of films and television programmes at home via streaming and digital channels, yet it was a pleasure to be back at the cinema this weekend watching TENET (2020). Kenneth Branagh features heavily in Christopher Nolan’s latest high concept brain-twister. Moreover, he also has an updated version of DEATH ON THE NILE (2020) being released soon. Thus, as I’m such a sucker for these old-fashioned murder mysteries I thought I’d give five reasons why it could be good.
Following the box office success of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017), it comes as no surprise there is a sequel to the classy Hercule Poirot train-set murder mystery. Once again Kenneth Branagh directs and stars as the Belgian detective and he has also assembled a wonderful cast of A-listers and solid character actors within the ensemble. I’m especially pleased to see Annette Bening lend some gravitas to the glamour and whether GAME OF THRONES’ Rose Leslie can break out into bigger film roles. Gal Gadot and Letitia Wright leave behind recent comic book films for an altogether more period setting. Lastly, who doesn’t want to see French and Saunders reunited on screen.
NOSTALGIA & FAMILIARITY
I have always loved Agatha Christie’s work be it in literary, radio, television or film mediums. DEATH ON THE NILE (2020) is a favourite of mine, especially as the 1978 version was the first Christie adaptation I saw at the cinema. I must have seen that particular film about twenty times over the years. So much so I know the plot backwards. I guess the nostalgia for watching a film as a child and familiarity with the story create a kind of comfort film. Thus, another positive reason why I am looking forward to the new adaptation is how they recreate a familiar classic.
As I established in a recent film review, I for one have a massive fear of flying. Thus, watching films set in exotic locations can be a way for me to experience vicariously places I would not normally visit. Seeing as the film is set on a boat travelling up the Nile, there is no doubt there will be some incredible sights to see while Poirot tries to solve a devilishly complex crime.
Agatha Christie truly knows how to create a masterful detective plot. In fact, she was a genius. What we now consider to be a cliched genre, the “whodunnit”, was practically invented and reinvented by Christie and this story has a particularly brilliant plot and ending. While the genre is familiar, I enjoy watching all the players in one location conflicting with each other. Of course, Poirot is an eccentric and brilliant detective, so even though I know he will solve the crime and how, paradoxically I still love the mystery of it all.
I have now watched the trailer a few times and it shone on the big screen at the weekend. It also does a great job of establishing the cast, characters and setting without giving away any of the plot. The Depeche Mode track really resonates with the grand voiceover, building to a crescendo where we get to meet Kenneth Branagh as the inimitable Poirot. Anyway, here it is!
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Aylin Tezel, Carlo Kitzlinger, Murathan Muslu, Paul Wollin etc.
Cinematography: Sebastian Thaler
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
I am bona fide confirmed aviophobe. Even the merest sight of a plane in the sky gives me the shivers. I imagine it’s a mixture of not being in control, lacking consistent flight experience and the pure fact that when one is that high up there is little chance of escape if anything goes wrong. Personally speaking, I think it’s an extremely rational fear. While I have flown on a plane a few times, if it means never flying again, I am genuinely happy to holiday in my own country for the rest of my life. Bearing this is mind, films that are set on a plane have a head start in increasing the tension I feel watching them. Indeed, good examples of cinema releases with heavy doses of airborne drama include: United 93 (2006), Flight (2012), Sully (2016), Passenger 57 (1992) and Red Eye (2005) etc. Just the mere thought of these, and the spectacular plane crash in Knowing (2006), are enough to have me reaching for the vodka and Valium.
The 2019 action-thriller, 7500 is a worthy addition to such aeronautic movies. Written and directed by Patrick Vollrath, in his directorial feature-length film debut, 7500 stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as pilot, Tobias Ellis. He joins the Captain on a standard city flight from Berlin to Paris and soon after take-off the crew and passengers on the plane find themselves attacked by hijackers. What follows is a claustrophobic, suspenseful and deadly set of events which push Tobias, and passengers, to the brink of death and back again. Aside from a few establishing CCTV shots of Berlin, virtually all of the action takes place inside the cockpit of the plane. The camera therefore is right up in the face of Joseph Gordon-Levitt throughout the film. Thankfully, he is a seasoned actor and gives a fine performance that runs the gamut of emotions.
One-location thrillers can be hard to pull off, however, the director Patrick Vollrath manages to build the suspense expertly through a good pace and many suspenseful moments. Indeed, when the hijackers were trying to smash their way into the cockpit, my heart was firmly in my mouth. To be honest, my heart began beating loudly even on take-off. Keeping the action to mainly the cockpit allows a real sense of claustrophobia and anxiety to build. We are right in the perilous mix with Tobias and Gordon-Levitt plays the everyman-in-danger to perfection. My main criticisms of the script really lay in the characterisation of remaining characters, especially the villains. It’s a shame the script did not explore their motivations above the cardboard terrorist personalities represented. However, as a singularly committed one-location-individual-in-crisis genre story, 7500 takes off and rarely threatens to crash.
I celebrated my fiftieth birthday last week. So, for a bit of fun I set myself a cinema game involving the theme of fifty. I gave myself no more than five minutes to list fifty favourite films. The rules are simple:
Pick 50 favourite films off the top of your head.
Take no longer than 5 minutes.
No checking Imdb.com or other cinema sites.
One film per franchise.
Go with your instinct – don’t overthink it!
Once you have written fifty down – you cannot change any.
Of course, these aren’t necessarily the best films ever, but instinctively films I love. Obviously, I am now kicking myself for the many great works of cinema I have missed. But, it’s just a bit of fun! So, here we go! In alphabetical order – FIFTY FAVOURITE FILMS chosen in FIVE MINUTES to celebrate FIFTY YEARS alive!
Produced by: Fred Berger, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Julia Lebedev, Mike Makowsky, Oren Moverman, Eddie Vaisman
Screenplay by: Mike Makowsky – Based on: The Bad Superintendent by Robert Kolker
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Geraldine Viswanathan, Alex Wolff, Rafael Casal, Stephen Spinella, Annaleigh Ashford, Ray Romano etc.
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Not to be confused with Pedro Almodovar’s film of the same name — or the BBC comedy show/film, Bad Education, starring Jack Whitehall — this Bad Education (2019), is an altogether different scholastic narrative. Based on true events which occurred at the Rosslyn Union Free School District circa early 2000’s, the story centres on a massive scandal which broke involving the educational District’s managers, financiers and auditors. I am going to review this without too many spoilers, as learning the gravity of what occurred and how it happened is a major part of the film’s jaw-dropping enjoyment.
As this is a HBO TV film, there was a heightened expectation of quality on my part. I was not to be disappointed. An expertly crafted screenplay, based on an article by Robert Kolker, finds Hugh Jackman as Frank Tassone. He is a suave, vain and intelligent Superintendent who has the school staff, students and parent under a charm spell. Not only is he a smooth talker, but the exam results for the schools in his charge have improved no end. His Long Island domain has incredible returns and this ensures more middle-class families move into the area, driving up property prices. Everybody’s happy, right? Yes, for a while! Tassone is supported ably by his Financial Manager, Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney). It’s only when school reporter, portrayed impressively by Geraldine Viswanathan, starts digging deeper, that something indeed is revealed to be rotten in the district of Rosslyn High.
Directed with some skill by Corey Finley, this film is highly recommended to those who enjoy compelling dramas with a heavy dose of ironic humour. Finley’s previous film,Thoroughbreds (2017), was an incredibly dark noir character study. Bad Education (2019), on the other hand, deals with serious financial malfeasance in a lighter tone. The dialogue is very witty and full of humorous exchanges between the characters. Moreover, Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney are on top acting form in their respective roles. Jackman especially proves what charismatic and interchangeable talent he has. Indeed, it’s good to see him play a highly complex character again. Ultimately though, the almost unbelievable nature of the events portrayed, prove how bottomless human greed and corruption can become. When will we ever learn?