Category Archives: New Releases

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


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


CINEMA REVIEW: NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021)

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

Screenplay by: Guillermo del Toro, Kim Morgan

Based on: Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham

Produced by: J. Miles Dale, Guillermo del Toro, Bradley Cooper

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn, etc.

Cinematography: Dan Laustsen

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Guillermo Del Toro could probably have had his pick of film stories to choose from after the monumental box office and critical success of the majestic alternative love story, The Shape of Water (2017). But rather than build on the message of love and hope in that creature feature he has chosen to adapt the noir novel, Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham. In the process Del Toro has also remade the classic 1947 film of the same name, starring Tyrone Power.

Essentially a $60 million dollar B-movie, the film is one of the most opulently dark and beautifully designed films I have witnessed in some time. Light, shadow, wood, gold, blood, fire, sweat, skin, snow, and night all collide and collude in a stunningly presented palette from Del Toro and lead production designer, Tamara Deverell. This film is a moving painting with inspiration from geniuses such as Picasso, Dali, Matisse and Edward Hopper. While the look of the Nightmare Alley (2021) and cast are a constant wonder, I had a nagging thought while watching the film which made me question who the audience was for this film. Also, there were many story elements which did not gel for me.



Nightmare Alley (2021) opens with fire and death. Drifter Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) then finds himself drawn to the carnival arena. It is full of shadowy characters, oddballs and tricksters, portrayed with dirty glamour by the likes of Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, David Strathairn, plus the more innocent, Rooney Mara. Stanton fits right in and is soon making a name for himself as a mentalist, fooling audiences with carefully rehearsed cues and memory tricks. The first half of the film is its narrative strength. Only after Stanton’s story leaves the carnival his journey twists into something more sinister, but less satisfying.

I enjoyed Del Toro’s stunning visual magic employed in Nightmare Alley (2021). However, while Bradley Cooper has terrific star quality I did not care for his anti-heroic Stanton Carlisle. Cate Blanchett is also alluring as the latter second act enchanter, but ultimately the film lacks real depth. Themes relating to masculinity in crisis, war, psychoanalysis, crime, grief, the afterlife and what it means to be a freak or outsider are there, but only skimmed. I mean the plot has some decent twists, but I did not entirely commit to the downward trajectory of Carlisle’s tale. Overall, as a morality tale Nightmare Alley (2021) is not as frighteningly tragic as it could have been. Carlisle gets what he deserves, and I felt little pity or horror for his end. Unlike another classic noir from some years back, Angel Heart (1987).

Mark: 8 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: TITANE (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: TITANE (2021)

Directed by Julia Ducournau

Written by Julia Ducournau

Produced by Jean-Christophe Reymond

Cast: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Laïs Salameh, etc.

Cinematography: Ruben Impens

*** THE WHOLE FILM IS A SPOILER ***


The difficult second album syndrome applies with Julie Decournau’s incredibly horrific, illogical and over-rated, Titane (2021). How the film won the Palm D’or at the Cannes Festival is beyond me. Maybe the jury were on the same acid as the ultra-talented writer-director when she created the script. Or, maybe the jury were belatedly rewarding her for the amazing contemporary horror film, Raw (2016).

Raw (2016) works on so many distinct levels with themes covered including: veganism, peer pressure, initiation, fitting in, animal cruelty, sexuality. lesbianism, same-sex attraction, animalism, sisterhood, hedonism, nature versus nurture, cannibalism, family, etc.  It crosses genres effortlessly and has one of the greatest and disgusting scenes I have had the pleasure to see for some time. Raw (2016) is a shocking, intelligent and astounding modern-day masterpiece. Titane (2021) unfortunately is not.



Before I say why I did not enjoy Titane (2021), I must say that I constantly seek out challenging cinema that pushes boundaries. I love horror and want to be shocked, but also emotionally involved with the characters at the same time. Moreover, I am well prepared to commit to dream logic and surreal narratives, however, the filmmaker must also try not to over-indulge their artistic excesses, and respect the audience too. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I don’t feel Julie Decournau had a clear story path and rather went hell bent into delivering a variety of different ideas, none of which created a fulfilling emotional journey for the main protagonist, Alexia (Agatha Rouselle).

Rouselle, as the malevolent and tragic conduit of Ducournau’s twisted vision, does give a spectacularly brave performance. But her character is given so many complex set-ups at the beginning, I quickly gave up caring what happened to her. As a child she is badly injured in a car crash. This gives her a titanium plate in the skull. Alexia grows up and is an exotic dancer who either dreams of, or actually fucks cars. Oh, she is also a serial killer who violently kills for no apparent reason. Several gruesome set-pieces result in the goriest deaths ever seen in a Palm D’or winner. Indeed, by the time Alexia goes on the run and smashes her face into a sink to alter her features I was numbed by it all.

Titane (2021) at the midpoint then delivers one of the most dumb and insulting plot shifts I have seen in recent years. Yes-yes it’s an arthouse film and an expression of Julie Decournau’s vision of humanity, but I DID NOT CARE!! Not only did we get Alexia’s horrific behaviour, we are then introduced to another plot turn when she hides out with a bereaved and emotionally scarred firefighter, Vincent (Vincent Lindon). By this time I was actually laughing at certain scenes, finding it all tiresome and frankly embarrassing. I got the symbolism of human beings as machines and exploitation of females and that family represents death and blah-blah-blah! Yet, and I’m likely to be in the minority, Titane (2021) is one of the most narratively, emotionally and visually exhausting films I have seen in some time. Watch at your peril!

Mark: 5 out of 11

CINEMA REVIEW: LICORICE PIZZA (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: LICORICE PIZZA (2021)

Written and Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Produced by: Sara Murphy, Adam Somner, Paul Thomas Anderson

Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie etc.

Cinematography: Michael Bauman and Paul Thomas Anderson

Edited by Andy Jurgensen

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Any film from Paul Thomas Anderson will certainly receive high critical praise and Licorice Pizza (2021) is certainly no different. Not only do I think this is his most over-rated film. I don’t even think it is a good one. Not for any technical reasons. Because as usual Anderson’s filmic skills as a director, the scintillating cinematographic style, the evocative rendition of early 1970’s Californian suburbs, plus two star-making turns within a formidable cast, ensure Licorice Pizza (2021) is deservedly going to win many plaudits. But I just did not get the story about pretty much nothing and did not connect with the lead romance.

Set in 1973, Licorice Pizza (2021), is part slice-of-life period drama and part character comedy, with a spine consisting of an odd romance between entrepreneurial fifteen-year-old, Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) and twenty-five-year-old, Alana Kane (Alana Haim). While containing many brilliantly directed scenes, the film is a hot mess of indulgent rooting through Paul Thomas Anderson’s historical research and anecdotal events inspired by real-life film producer, Gary Goetzman.



Being asked to root for a relationship which is dubious on the surface and extremely complex to say the least is not beyond me. But Licorice Pizza (2021) doesn’t address the age difference, aside from a couple of moments in the script. I know Cooper Valentine is an old head on young shoulders, but why Alana doesn’t hang out with people her own age was weird for me. I’m not being politically correct or a prude, but is Anderson asking for us to root for what could end up being statutory rape. Am I over-thinking this? Well, all I can say is it impacted my emotions of a major aspect of the story.

Licorice Pizza‘s (2021) worst crime is it’s virtually plotless and I could not identify with the characters. I liked Gary to a certain extent as he ducks and dives to make a living, but what was at stake? Nothing really. Yeah, I get it is art but I found Anderson’s vision boring. Sure, the actors are great, especially the effervescent Alana Haim. Virtual cameos from Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper and Tom Waits failed for me though, with Cooper’s coke-addled and womanising impression of Jon Peters about as funny as an enema. Of course, the cinematography, period design, soundtrack and costumes are exquisitely presented, but they exist in an emotional vacuum. Finally, Licorice Pizza (2021) made me want to watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous 1970s masterpiece, Boogie Nights (1997). Now, that film deserved all the critical praise that came its way.

Mark: 6 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: WEST SIDE STORY (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: WEST SIDE STORY (2021)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Screenplay by: Tony Kushner

Based on: West Side Story by Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents

Produced by: Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Kevin McCollum

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno, Rachel Zegler etc.

Cinematography: Janusz Kamiński

Choreography: Justin Peck

Music by: Leonard Bernstein

*INEVITABLE SPOILERS WITH THIS STORY*



Well, if you removed all the songs and added more dialogue to West Side Story (2021), then I guarantee it would make an amazing stage play. Oh, it has already. I thought it felt extremely familiar. Silly jokes aside, one often hears the decrying of originality in Hollywood cinema. Sequels, prequels, remakes, adaptations and reboots are plentiful as big business. Known quantities are a better bet to executives than original never-heard-of speculative screenplays. And not everyone is averse to re-doing fully developed properties. Thus, one of the most talented filmmakers of a generation, Steven Spielberg, has delivered a stunning remake of a film adaptation of a stage musical that was developed from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

You know the story. If you don’t, stop reading. Young star-crossed lovers fall in love against their families wishes. Their romance explodes into unbridled passion as war escalates between the two rival factions. As the lovers attempt to find a way to be together the conflict brings about eventual tragedy. Shakespeare was a genius and knew how to structure and spin a yarn. No surprise his works have been adapted infinitely to much success. One of the greatest was the musical West Side Story (1961). Exchanging Verona for New York and pitting the Puerto Rican Sharks against the local firm, the Jets, the play and film contain some of the most incredible numbers ever sang and danced to. The original play won awards and broke box-office records. The film West Side Story (1961) deservedly won many Oscars. It is considered almost a perfect musical. How could it be improved?



West Side Story (2021) cannot possibly be classed as better than the original because Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurent, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, plus their incredible team, had already done all of the challenging work crafting the production. But with this new version Steven Spielberg has once again proved he is one of the great genre directors. Assembling an ultra-talented team including Josh Peck as choreographer, Tony Kushner as screenwriter, Janusz Kaminski as cinematographer and an effervescently wonderful cast.

Everything about the film screams colour, energy and movement. The dancing and editing and swinging beats take you on a breathless journey through the romance and street war. Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria’s (Rachel Zegler) love story is bounced effortlessly between the expertly devised gang battles. Moreover, West Side Story (2021) keeps all the memorably catchy songs such as: Maria, Tonight, America, Cool, and Somewhere, capturing the heart and imagination in equal measure. If there is a better directed, choreographed and edited set-piece all year in the Gee, Officer Krupke number then I haven’t seen it.

The cast are uniformly excellent with Ansel Elgort, while lacking slightly in the vocal department, more than making up for it with his magnetic screen presence. Rachel Zegler is charming if bland as Maria, but Ariana DeBose absolutely steals the scenes with her all-round performance as fiery Anita. The cast all deliver Tony Kushner’s excellent dialogue and the iconic songs with aplomb. Lastly, West Side Story (2021) is an absolute tour-de-force as cinematic entertainment. However, there is a sense that it is a missed opportunity for Steven Spielberg and his team to perhaps update the themes for the modern day. Kushner’s script hints at some analysis of racism that ultimately only scratches the surface. Spielberg is satisfied emulating a classic adaptation of a classic play, remaining trapped in a shiny post-modern time-warp full to the brim with powerful nostalgia.

Mark: 9 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: LAST NIGHT IN SOHO (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: LAST NIGHT IN SOHO (2021)

Directed by Edgar Wright

Screenplay by: Edgar Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns

Produced by: Nira Park, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Edgar Wright

Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Michael Ajao, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg, Rita Tushingham, etc.

Cinematography: Chung-hoon Chung

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Edgar Wright is one of my favourite directors working today. His films possess an endless series of cinematic techniques such: long takes, quick cuts, swooping camera moves, canted frames, Steadicam, camera holds, frame switches, pans, scans, tilts, low-angles, metronomic editing, blurred dissolves, point-of-view and god’s-eye view shots. Moreover, Wright’s use of humour, music, colour, casting choices, and cross-genre collisions are spectacularly imaginative and entertaining. His latest film Last Night in Soho (2021) is no different. I was enthralled and excited throughout this ripping big-budget exploitation film, which juxtaposes influences such as Stephen King, Brian DePalma and Doctor Who, with a suggestion of Dario Argento and giallo cinema.

Last Night in Soho (2021) is both a love and hate letter to the Soho area of central London in the 1960’s and the now. If hate is too strong a word then at the very least the myriad of storylines collide to create a cautionary tale of one young person’s move from Cornwall to London to study fashion at the University of Arts. Major acting talent Thomasin Mackenzie is Ellie Turner, a passionate young woman who loves the sixties music and style, but also mourns the loss of her mother at an early age. Leaving her comfortable home she shares with her Grandmother (Rita Tushingham), Ellie experiences London and student life with initially mixed results. Finding it difficult to connect with her obnoxious room-mate, Jocasta, she moves into an antiquated bedsit, with imperious Diana Rigg as her landlady no less. All of a sudden her incredible journey into the glamorous and seedy past of Soho begins.



As with many of his films Wright establishes several storylines simultaneously. He brilliantly crosses rites-of-passage with period drama, romance, musical, detective and finally the horror genre. Ellie finds her feet at University, gets a job in a bar, receives praise for her initial designs and starts a budding romance with fellow student, John (Michael Ajao). At the same time her life becomes entwined in a surreal twist with that of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), an engaging character desiring showbiz stardom who happens to live in Soho, but in the 1960’s. Ellie’s psychic link with Sandie brings her vivid dreams, but a striking empathic connection.

While Ellie is nervous and insecure within her London experiences, Sandie is the opposite. The theme of duality in their polar characters is both emotionally and visually breathtaking as their twin journey brings positive change and developing confidence in Ellie’s character. Yet, when Sandie’s career desires are exploited for nefarious gain by a local face called Jack (Matt Smith), both woman head for darker spaces in the shadows and smoke of the capital. Here the issue of mental health is intriguingly explored too. As Ellie is drawn further into Sandie’s nightmarish existence, she struggles to hold on to reality and the present.

Despite some minor wrinkles in the narrative and geographical London liberties taken, Edgar Wright has delivered one of the most thrilling and spectacularly energetic films of the year. The nostalgic and heavenly soundtrack is to die for, with so many songs I recall growing up listening to. Likewise, the cinematography and lighting design sparkle in hues of black, fluorescence, shadow and neon. Sure, Edgar Wright has his cake and eats it with mild virtue signalling relating to the “Me Too” movement. The male gaze eats up Anya Taylor Joy’s stunning charisma on screen, making us complicit in her downfall. Nonetheless, with issues relating to grief, mental health, sexual exploitation, identity, doppelgängers, urban breakdown and many more all enveloped into a craftily structured plot, you won’t find a more breathless cinematic experience all year.

Mark: 9 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Screenplay by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Story by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Based on: James Bond by Ian Fleming

Produced by Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli

Cast: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Billy Magnusson, Ana De Armas etc.

Cinematography: Linus Sandgren

Edited by: Elliot Graham, Tom Cross,

Music by: Hans Zimmer

Production companies: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Eon Productions

*** NO MAJOR SPOILERS ***



As a Bond swansong, No Time To Die (2021) gives Daniel Craig’s earthy and human characterisation of the famous spy a tremendous finale. Indeed, it was a powerfully entertaining work of cinema, but was it a great Bond film? Not for me. Don’t get me wrong, all the creatives here from the director, art department, cinematographer, location scouts, costume design, scintillating cast, stunt team, production crew, the army of screenwriters and so on, have all worked prodigiously to create a wonderful example of blockbuster genre cinema. But it has many story and legacy issues that stop it from being a memorably pure Bond film in my opinion. However, I am not going to be critical in this review, but rather celebrate what is great about No Time To Die (2021). Thus, it’s time to revel in the fact Fleming’s fictional formula continues providing sensational diversion from everyday existence.

The choice to make No Time To Die (2021) a direct sequel to Spectre (2015), would not have been my preferred route for this narrative. Spectre (2015) is entertaining. It was fine. Was it a good Bond film though?  Not particularly.  I should qualify this by saying I thought Skyfall (2012) was a cracking film; a fantastic action thriller with fine characterisation and a formidably nasty, yet playful, villain in Javier Bardem. Thematically, it was strong with Bond’s orphan background and relationship with M (other) providing depth and subtext. Skyfall (2012) was also lusciously shot by Roger Deakins with fantastic direction from Sam Mendes. But neither Spectre (2015) or Skyfall (2012) are great Bond espionage adventures like From Russia With Love (1963) or The Living Daylights (1987), or a devastatingly plotted, romantic action adventure like Casino Royale (2006). Skyfall (2012) was an Oedipal soap opera with bells on, as ghosts of the past avenge the present. Spectre (2015) and No Time To Die (2021) continue the theme of vengeful and dysfunctional family ties bringing strife to Bond. But, nowhere near as successfully as Craig’s first outing, Casino Royale (2006). That remains one of the best Bond films ever.

Like Quantum of Solace (2008), No Time To Die (2021) is, as aforementioned a sequel, but the main difference is No Time To Die (2021) is way longer than Quantum of Solace (2008). The pace rarely dips in No Time To Die (2021), but it could certainly have been trimmed in places because at times I felt the screen was stuffed with too many characters and subplots. I must point out I’m aware that Quantum of Solace (2008) is not rated highly in the Bond canon, but I like it. I feel there are some incredibly filmed sequences in it. Notably, the opening car and foot chase, the opera shootout, a spectacular air conflict and the fiery desert lair denouement. While the villain was weak and it failed in terms of narrative, Quantum of Solace (2008) succeeded for me as a fast-paced and exquisite, if choppy, spectacle that tied up the loose ends from the far superior, Casino Royale (2006). Quantum of Solace (2008) infamously had no writers re-working it due to the ongoing strike, No Time To Die (2021), arguably has too many cooks and ingredients occurring simultaneously. Having said that Cary Joji Fukunaga brings a confident energy to the film throughout, connecting the emotions of the script and explosive box of tricks together in a neatly packaged presentation.



Daniel Craig is phenomenal in No Time To Die (2021). While he is always a strong actor, he has also grown into a bona fide movie star too. Even when going through the motions in Spectre (2015) he was good, but in No Time To Die (2021), he blows the doors off. While he does look too old for the role now, from getting blown up in Italy, to almost drowning in Cuba and facing off against Rami Malek’s malevolent poisoner on an island near Russia, nobody does almost-dying better than Craig. Moreover, as well as the constant threats on his life, crazy new technology that delivers instant death, and a litany of evil henchmen trying to take him down, Bond must contend retirement and having his place usurped at MI6 by the confident Nomi (Lashana Lynch). Having been set-up as a major story player, Nomi and this spy-versus-spy story pivot ultimately peters out for more melodramatic plotlines which I will not divulge. In fact, Nomi’s thunder is ultimately stolen by the CIA agent, Paloma, with Ana De Armas absolute dynamite in the smashing Cuban section of the film.

As with Spectre (2015), where there wasn’t nearly enough of Christoph Waltz, Rami Malek’s villain Safin is not utilised enough. Malek gives a haunting performance in a few creepy scenes, yet I felt cheated. I would have loved more exchanges between him and David Dencik’s eccentrically dangerous scientist. More scenes in the imaginatively designed island lair where all manner of deadly poisons were being concocted would have been brilliant, and further developed Safin’s intriguing backstory and fiendish plotting.

No Time To Die (2021) belongs to Bond and Daniel Craig of course, and they get into some barnstorming scrapes. The opening action involving motorcycle stunts and the iconic Aston Martin blasting the Spectre goons is an early highlight. The Cuban nightclub murders and subsequent gunplay really raise the pulse too. After the explosive boat sequence where Bond has a moving parting of the ways from an old friend, the action arguably becomes more generic and not as memorable. That is, THAT IS, until the unforgettable end set-piece where Craig’s 007 faces an insurmountable set of physical and emotional challenges. Lastly, some might say Daniel Craig goes out on an all time high, and no doubt No Time To Die (2021) is destined to knock the living daylights out of all prior Bond box office records.

Mark: 009 out of 11