Category Archives: New Releases

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Celine Sciamma

Produced by: Veronique Cayla, Benedicte Couvreur

Written by: Celine Sciamma

Cast: Noemie Merlant, Adele Haenel, Luana Bajrami, Valeria Golino

Cinematography: Claire Mathon

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



I haven’t seen any of Celine Sciamma’s previous films, but based on the romantic drama, Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), she is a filmmaker of formidable power and vision. I believe this is her fourth feature film directorial release and it is as sumptuous, moving, exquisitely shot and constructed a love story as you are going to witness. Moreover, it is proof that the art of screenwriting, compared to many by-the-numbers Hollywood film productions, is NOT dead.

The story is very simple. At the end of the 18th century, a young painter, Marianne, (Noemie Merlant) is commissioned to create a portrait of a young woman, Heloise (Adele Haenel). Heloise is, as is the tradition of the time, required by her mother (Valeria Golino), to marry a Milanese nobleman. He needs to see the portrait in advance in order to agree to the wedding. The only catch is, the insular Heloise, does not want to be painted for all manner of understandable reasons. What this establishes is two very intriguing characters, both with different emotions and desires.



Following the beautifully rendered story foundation, what follows is a magnetic series of scenes which subtly push these two empathetic characters together. Marianne is the artist who, at first keeps her distance, spying and analysing Heloise. Heloise is cool, sensitive and a prisoner on the Brittany island, trapped by the waves of the sea and her mother’s insistence on a society wedding. Over the space of a few days the walking companions become drawn to each other both artistically and emotionally. But, it’s no sordid desire for lust, rather a respectful and honest joining in romance. We, as the audience, literally see love grow before us thanks to some incredible acting from the leads.

Often the cinema critics will heap praise on a film and I will wonder what they have been watching. However, in regard to both Parasite (2019) and Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), the plaudits are so well deserved. Both are brilliantly written and shot works of cinema, that in the past may have been consigned to just the arthouse circuit. Further, given the film is about painting, it is unsurprisingly Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) is framed, lit and composed with an eye for the artistic. Yet, it isn’t just the look and colour of the film that impresses. Sciamma and her cinematographer, Claire Mathon, also create a series of haunting shots which will be indelibly scorched on my mind.

In terms of the themes, the film is very powerful too. As well the notion of art as a means of representing love, the narrative explores concepts of female equality and solidarity. There is an interesting subplot involving a member of the household staff, which adds to the thematic texture. Furthermore, the performances by all the actresses are superb too as Sciamma directs with such confidence. I also liked that the critique of patriarchal society was implicit rather than didactic. Also subtly realised are the tasteful love scenes, which never feel exploitational. My only minor criticism is that the opening hour could, arguably, have been trimmed slightly. However, what do you leave out of a film as beautifully composed, delicately written and emotionally compelling as Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)? I, a mere mortal, am not qualified to say in the face of such mesmerizing cinema.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11



DARK WATERS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

DARK WATERS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Todd Haynes

Produced by: Mark Ruffalo, Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler

Screenplay: Mario Correa, Matthew Michael Carnahan

Based on “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Bill Pullman, William Jackson Harper, Mare Winningham etc.

Cinematography: Edward Lachman

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Every now and then one watches a film you kind of wish you hadn’t. Not because it is bad, quite the contrary with director’s Todd Haynes’ legal drama, Dark Waters (2019). No, you wish you hadn’t watched it because it unveils a tragic series of events relating to environmental, corporate, chemical, legal and human corruption. I prefer to possess hope that human beings can be trusted to do the right thing. However, based on this story that is definitely not the case. Moreover, given the information revealed about huge corporation, DuPont, and their environmental procedures, it’s a damning indictment against corporate greed and community murder.

A two-hour film is certainly not long enough to do justice to a story which has taken decades to unfold and cost the lives of many people and animals, while irreparably damaging the environment in the process. However, it effectively bullet points the crimes of the DuPont conglomeration in a riveting fashion. At the heart of it is corporate lawyer, Robert Bilott, here portrayed by the always excellent, Mark Ruffalo. Beginning circa 1998, Bilott, is approached by farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) whose livestock have died or been culled due to tumours and other cancerous illnesses. Bilott who is usually employed to act as a lawyer FOR the big companies, investigates further. Subsequently he uncovers something rotten in the state of West Virginia.



Mark Ruffalo as Bilott inhabits an intelligent, caring and dogged man, driven by his desire to see justice for Wilbur Tennant and the people of Parkersburg. It’s often remarked Ruffalo would make a great Columbo; and like that famous fictional TV detective, Bilott never ever gives up. This is even in the face of years and years of environmental tests, litigation, DuPont’s dirty legal tactics and hundreds of court appearances. Anne Hathaway as his wife Sarah Bilott is also good, although her role is slightly underwritten. Bill Camp impresses though in his turn as the exasperated farmer whose life and livestock has been destroyed by synthetic chemical waste dumped into adjacent land.

Like A Class Action (1991), A Civil Action (1998) and Erin Brockovich (2000), this film rarely transcends the genre conventions of the legal drama. There are moments where it leans toward the conspiracy thriller elements of say, The Insider (1999). Bilott’s family life almost crumbles and he becomes paranoid that their lives are in danger from chemicals and DuPont. Overall though, the film’s strength is in the conveyance of the legal proceedings and agony of a community impacted by corporate negligence. Moreover, I was seriously in awe at the diligence Bilott showed in wading through the reams of legal paperwork.

Ultimately, this is a consistently solid narrative with Bilott’s resolute determination providing a sturdy spine throughout. It was slightly surprising to see the film was directed by American arthouse auteur, Todd Haynes. Nonetheless, it is not about making poetic cinema, but rather presenting a powerful environmental message that highlights the murderous avarice of DuPont. Haynes and his cinematographer inject some creative technique in the lighting style. Murky, shadowed and opaque, the cinematography match the dark recesses of the system Bilott fights against. Lastly, Ruffalo, as he did in Foxcatcher (2014) wrestles with the DuPont family, only this time with a wholly different conclusion.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) – MOVIE REVIEW

THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Screenplay by Leigh Whannell – based on H. G. Wells The Invisible Man

Produced by: Jason Blum, Kylie du Fresne

Main cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Michael Dorman,

Music: Benjamin Wallfisch

Cinematography: Stefan Duscio

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Many a work, home, pub, dinner party and school conversation has started with the following question: what would YOU do if you were invisible? Depending on the company it’s something that can descend into wild fantasy territory. Being invisible will allow you the freedom to spy and become the ultimate voyeur. You could also become a criminal and creep into places without being seen to thieve. You could be a prankster and play tricks on your friends and family. You could become a superhero, battle crime and help people. You could simply just disappear not just literally, but philosophically from society. The possibilities are endless.

H. G. Wells original novel is an absolute genre masterpiece. Arguably the most famous version was filmed in 1933 with incredible practical effects and an exceptional performance from Claude Rains. In this new version the conventional invisible scientist-goes-mad story is twisted successfully into an exhilarating horror suspense film with themes relating to toxic masculinity and abusive relationships. Here invisibility is used to control and instil fear, as the recently deceased Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is, according to his ex-partner, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), targeting her from the grave.


Image result for the invisible man 2020 scenes

Leigh Whannell has great experience writing and producing low-budget horror films including: Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010). His last directorial release, Upgrade (2018), was a fantastic mix of 1980’s B-movies, sci-fi and horror cinema. Building on the crowd-pleasing thrills of Upgrade, Whannell has crafted a paranoiac classic with Elisabeth Moss giving a fantastically nerve-shredding and physically adept performance. From the tense opening scene, we empathise with her desire to escape a controlling and malevolent force. Building slowly throughout the first act, Whannell’s script brilliantly picks up the pace and plots Cecilia’s descent into a living hell. Consequently, Cecilia’s anxiety reaches peak stress as no one believes she is being set up by a gas-lighting, unseen and venal monster.

It pays to see this film on the big screen with the finest sound quality available. I watched it on an IMAX screen where the sound design and Benjamin Wallfisch’s amazing score really enhance the fear-inducing visuals. How the production team made this film for a reported $7 million dollars is beyond me. Yet, Whannell is an economical and highly efficient filmmaker. His writing is lean and mean, as the script is full of fantastic set-pieces and plot reversals. Moreover, the story is very relevant, exploring the themes of the day relating to domestic abuse, depression and mental illness. However, it’s not an overbearing message movie, but rather a smart and surprising thriller.

Overall, The Invisible Man (2020) starts strongly and proceeds to deliver a series of gripping and, at times, heart-in-the-mouth cinematic moments. There are none of the usual scientific and over-expositional set-ups that can slow down such films. The visuals, sound, score and performances deliver the story most effectively. I felt like there were a few fuzzy plot moments that Whannell could have explained in more detail, however, that could have hindered the pace of the story. Finally, with Elisabeth Moss imbuing her character with resilience, energy and steel, we get an individual who will never give up. She sees through her ghosting nemesis and will fight to the last breath to prove her innocence and remain in control.

Mark: 9 out of 11


PARASITE (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

PARASITE (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Bong Joo-ho

Produced by: Kwak Sin-ae, moon Yang-kwon, Bong Yok-cho, Jang Young-hwan

Screenplay by: Bong Joon-ho & Han Jin-won

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jung Ji-so, Jung Hyeon-jun, Lee Jung-eun

Cinematography by: Hong Kyung-pyo

******* MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ********



I actually saw this incredible work of cinema storytelling on Saturday just passed, so am writing this review AFTER the film rather incredibly won several Oscars at the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday. I say “rather incredibly”, not because the film wasn’t a worthy winner of the Best Film award, but because high quality films not in the English language usually have to be satisfied with the Best International Film Award, as it is known now. Parasite (2019) in fact, deservedly won that award too. Anyway, irrespective of the awards it has earned, the film has also been universally praised. Not surprisingly, because it is not just a Korean arthouse film, but rather an ingenious genre classic. It blends dark comedy, horror, drama and thriller tropes to create a funny, suspenseful and consistently surprising experience.

The story premise itself is relatively simple and it begins not too differently from a Japanese film I watched recently called, Shoplifters (2018). A lower class family, in this case Korean, live in cramped conditions and struggle to survive on a daily basis. Their apartment is below level and the Kim’s including father, Ki-taek, mother Chung-sook, daughter Ki-jeong and son Kim Ki-woo are all out of work. While they struggle on they stick together as a family, battling drunks who piss against their window, steal local wi-fi and also carry out menial part-time jobs like making up pizza boxes. Fortunately, a friend of Ki-woo recommends him for a teaching position within a very wealthy household belonging to the Park family. Then the narrative really gathers pace as the Kim family surreptitiously begin to infest and inveigle their way into the Park’s privileged lives.



You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Kim family are the antagonists in the narrative, however, they are very empathetic characters. Their dubious actions lead the story into very dark and funny territory, as they manipulate Mr and Mrs Park, plus their young son and teenage daughter. While not condoning their actions one can identify with their class struggle because they are desperate to improve their situation and prosperity. The issue is though they get a bit greedy and the superb screenplay throws a massive twisting curve-ball at them as the Kim’s plans unravel and events go completely off the rails.

Filmmaker, Bong Joon-ho, like he did with the brilliant films, Snowpiercer (2013) and The Host (2006) is clearly using the social status of his characters to satirise and critique capitalist society. It’s literally an ‘Upstairs versus Downstairs’ narrative in terms of both locations and themes. Beautifully filmed, in a property that was actually built for the film, the cinematography makes clever use of glass and windows to mirror characters and reflect identity. Moreover, it has more than a voyeuristic air to it with characters hiding around doorways and stairwells, as well as following, spying and watching each other secretly. It’s a film which Hitchcock would have been proud to have directed too, with many suspenseful and gripping set-pieces throughout.



Ultimately, the first three-quarters of the Parasite (2019) are a cinematic masterpiece, so brilliantly plotted and planned out. When the Kim’s plans are then upended, the film gives way to an unhinged ending as events descend into bloody chaos. However, Bong Joon-ho is so in control of the material he tells us, via Ki-taek, that this careful planning is about to give way to something more messy. Furthermore, the final act while moving and tenderly rendered, I felt, was replete with somewhat poetic narrative holes. But, this is not a criticism as even in the final scenes Joon-ho is inventive while surprising the audience. Although, overall, the biggest shock would come when Parasite (2019) won the best film at the Oscars. I’m still reeling the Academy made such a risky choice!

Mark: 10 out of 11


5 REASONS THIS COULD BE GOOD – THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

5 REASONS THIS COULD BE GOOD – THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Screenplay by Leigh Whannell – based on H. G. Wells The Invisible Man

Produced by: Jason Blum, Kylie du Fresne

Main cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Oliver Jackson-Cohen

UK Release date: 28th February 2020

*****SPOILER FREE*****



THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

A contemporary version of the science fiction classic The Invisible Man has been made. Here are five reasons it could be good.

1. LEIGH WHANNELL

Whannell has great experience writing and producing low-budget horror films including: Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010). His directorial debut Upgrade (2018) was a fantastic mix of 1980’s, sci-fi and horror movies. I loved it and it proved to be one of my favourite films of 2018.

2. ELISABETH MOSS

Elisabeth Moss is one of the best actresses around as she has proved with her brilliant work in television classics Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale. Moss is now breaking out in cinematic releases and proved she excels in horror having starred in Jordan Peele’s frightening film Us (2019).

3. BLUMHOUSE PRODUCTIONS

The prolific Blumhouse Productions certainly turn out a lot of product each year. Their modus operandi is to keep film budgets low in order to maximise profits on release. You could be forgiven for thinking Jason Blum greenlights just cheap exploitation films, however, Whiplash (2014) The Gift (2015), Split (2016), Get Out (2017), BlackKklansman (2018) and Us (2019) transcend the low-budget model to provide excellent cinematic experiences.

4. BASED ON A LITERARY CLASSIC

H. G. Wells original novel is an absolute genre masterpiece. It has been made, remade, re-imagined and re-booted in horror, comedy, thriller and romance genres. Arguably the most famous version was filmed in 1933 with incredible practical effects and an exceptional performance from Claude Rains. In this new version the conventional scientist-goes-mad following successful experimentation into invisibility remains, but he now seems to be targeting Elisabeth Moss’s character.

5. THEMES

The trailer reveals a slightly conventional female-protagonist-as-victim narrative. But I expect Leigh Whannell will have a number of twists and surprises up his sleeve. Indeed, science fiction and invisibility are ripe for the exploration of themes relating to toxic masculinity and hidden identity. Either that or it will simply be a fun, scary and suspenseful experience in the hands of the reliable Whannell.


A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by Marielle Heller

Produced by: Youree Henley, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Leah Holzer

Written by: Micah Fitzman-Blue and Noah HarpsterBased on the article – “Can You Say Hero?” by Tom Junod

Cast: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi-Watson, Chris Cooper, Christine Lahti

Cinematography: Jodee Lee Lipes

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**


“Hello Neighbour!” – Fred Rogers


I watch a lot of horror, thriller and drama films that you could say are “feel-bad” in nature. They may eventually have some form of happy or morally satisfying ending, but such cinema seeks to create a sense of danger, anxiety and emotional distress as entertainment. Now I enjoy watching films on the edge of my seat and having my nerves shredded, however, sometimes it’s great to watch something that is quite the opposite. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) is one such “feel-good” film, profiling an American icon and arguably one of the nicest people who ever lived: Fred Rogers.

Rogers (Tom Hanks) was the creator and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood which ran for decades on U.S. cable channel PBS. The programme, while aimed at children, dealt with serious subjects like illness, divorce and death via puppetry, songs and Rogers’ wise and simple homespun philosophies. Over the years he became a household name and a staple of American family life. Yet, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019), is not a standard biopic exploring Fred Rogers life from birth to death. In fact, he’s more of a magical mentor type of character for the lead protagonist, journalist Lloyd Vogel, portrayed by Matthew Rhys.



Opening with a meticulously presented simulacrum of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood TV show with Tom Hanks in the hosting chair, the film immediately welcomes us into a positive and safe place. The audience are the children and we are about to be told a story about Lloyd. Because Lloyd is lost and troubled and needs help. Cleverly combining the TV show with flashbacks to Lloyd’s difficult family life is just one of the wonderful devices the film presents. Another is the use of models to emulate the locations within the film. Given the job of interviewing Fred Rogers for an Esquire piece, there’s a sense that Lloyd could well be looking to do a hatchet job on Rogers. However, he finds himself drawn to Rogers’ soft, magnetic and calming charm. The relationship between Rogers and Vogel’s character is superbly teased and developed by an excellent script.

While the drama is relatively low-key, the film is not without emotional impact throughout. There are several stand-out scenes where Lloyd’s negative and cynical worldview is airbrushed away by Rogers’ incredible goodness. As Vogel’s attitude to Rogers changes, so does his feelings toward his estranged father, his wife and child and the world in general. At the same time, Tom Hanks exceptional performance completely captured my heart. I’d never seen any of Fred Rogers TV shows before, but Hanks conveyed the inner peace and wisdom of this man perfectly. Moreover, my wife, who is American, was crying her eyes out with joy and nostalgia all the way through. Ultimately, this is another fine character and human drama from director, Marielle Heller. So, if you want a break from all the nasty unpleasantness in the world, you should definitely knock on Mr Rogers’ door. Everyone is welcome.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Armando Iannucci

Produced by: Armando Iannucci, Kevin Loader

Screenplay by: Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci

Based on: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Cast: Dev Patel, Aneurin Barnard, Peter Capaldi, Morfydd Clark, Daisy May Cooper, Rosalind Eleazar, Hugh Laurie, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Anthony Welsh, Paul Whitehouse etc.

Music by: Christopher Willis

Cinematography: Zac Nicholson

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Armando Iannucci is a bona fide genius if you ask me. For over thirty years I have been listening, watching and laughing at his various collaborative comedic works. These include notables such as: The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge, The Thick of It, Time Trumpet, Veep, In the Loop (2009), and The Death of Stalin (2017). Now, one can include the wonderful delectation of an adaptation that is The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019). While I am embarrassed to say I am not as familiar with this Charles Dickens novel as I am his other books, Iannucci has taken his own inimitable style and married it perfectly to Dickens’ narratively opulent Victoriana vision. The result is an entertaining comedic and dramatic romp, tantamount to a quasi-greatest hits package of a Dickens masterwork.

Dev Patel stars as the eponymous hero in adulthood, while the young David is portrayed with energy and charm by Jairaj Varsani. As a child, his father passed, David is brought up by his mother, Clara and the ebullient housekeeper, Peggotty. Peggotty, portrayed brilliantly by Daisy May Cooper, encourages David’s word-smithery and youthful imagination. But this being Charles Dickens, David’s innocent and magical childhood soon gives way to tragedy and he soon finds himself at the mercy of fate. Conversely, the narrative is more of a chronicle of David’s life and contains what I call an “up-and-down” structure.



Through the rollercoaster that is David’s life he finds family love, then industrial pain via his stepfather condemning him to years of child labour. Then in an attempt to overcome his cruel fate he finds positive gain through family, creativity, romantic love, friendship and education. But destiny tests him by having this all taken away once again. Throughout, Dev Patel shines brightly. His David Copperfield is as tough as they come, as he rolls with the punch’s life throws at him. Moreover, he is a fantastic conduit and spine within the structure. Through him we are introduced to some wonderfully vivid characters; some likeable and some not so. Indeed, Iannucci’s casting is a primary joy with Peter Capaldi as Mr Micawber, Hugh Laurie as Mr Dick, Tilda Swinton as Betsy Trotwood, Ben Whishaw as Uriah Heep and Aneurin Barnard as Steerforth, all giving splendid renditions of their respective characters.

Overall, Iannucci and his scriptwriting partner, Simon Blackwell, mine Dickens’ novel for much comedy gold and there are so many hilarious one-liners and funny situations. Moreover, there’s some depth here too as it’s a story of an individual finding their soul, identity and place in a cruel world. One could argue a feature film is not enough to do the novel justice, and it would probably best be served as a television mini-series. However, for a whip-cracking, razor-sharp and heart-warming two hours, in the company of one the greatest novelists, one of the greatest modern satirists, wonderful set design; and finally one of the most impressive ensemble casts gathered in recent memory, this film is highly recommended.

Mark: 9 out of 11