Category Archives: New Releases

CINEMA REVIEW: NOPE (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: NOPE (2022)

Directed by Jordan Peele

Written by Jordan Peele

Produced by: Jordan Peele and Ian Cooper


Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott, Brandon Perea, Wrenn Schmidt, Barbie Ferreira, Keith David, etc.

Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Following on from the Oscar winning, Get Out (2017), and the should-have-won-an-Oscar-for-Best-Actress-in-Lupita-Nyong’o, Us (2019), Jordan Peele is back with the enigmatically titled, and equally ambiguous sci-fi-Western-horror film, NOPE (2022). Taking on writing and directing duties again, Peele has delivered a majestic looking cinematic feast, brimming with incredibly memorable images involving horses, chimpanzees, cinema, waving inflatables, surveillance cameras, carnival shows, and something very large that comes from beyond the clouds.

So, what’s Nope (2022) actually about? Well, put simply it’s all about cowboys and girls overcoming a monster. But it is much more than that. Because, narratively speaking it is difficult to sum up in a few sentences. Peele builds his most complex film to date by delivering a series of visually powerful set-pieces throughout. He also challenges the audience with an intelligent visual system which thematically links television, cinema, cameras, Hollywood, animals and a spectacular eye in the sky. Like Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) and Martin Scorsese’s religious epics, Nope (2022), is what I consider to be a big-budget, arthouse blockbuster.



The film, which is divided into chapters, establishes brother, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer), trying valiantly to keep the family ranch from going under. Once thriving under their father’s management, the ranch would supply horses to the Hollywood conveyor belt of A-list and B-movie Westerns. With such work now in short supply, OJ is forced to sell horses to local theme park owner, Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), however, he vows to get them back when business improves. But a bigger threat is soon looming over the ranch.

Kaluuya’s performance as OJ is laconic, invoking pure Robert Mitchum. Did I like and root for OJ? Sort of. Keke Palmer as Emerald brought the energy to the screen, but I never felt the two characters really gelled with the themes successfully. Peele’s intellectual leaps, while thought-provoking, barriered an emotional connection within Nope (2022). Likewise, Yuen’s Jupe is given a tremendously imaginative and powerful backstory which brings us into his character, but ultimately fails to pay off dramatically. In fact, these scenes felt like they were from a different film altogether. Indeed, Peele uses the sci-fi monster genre to hang his view of the world on, not always to maximum impact.

While the characterisations and themes arguably fail to gel within the screenplay, it is visually where Nope (2022) really soars. Hoyte van Hoytema should sweep he board come awards time. Further, Peele creates an optical banquet by juxtaposing the majestic vistas of the Californian landscape with modern camera and surveillance equipment, plus those colourful inflatable dummies. Then there’s the thing that is “Not Of Planet Earth”. What is it and what does it represent? Who is watching and controlling and feeding on us? Peele’s challenging concepts are to be applauded within the genre blockbuster, but I just wanted to be scared and care a bit more. On additional viewings, Nope (2022), may be considered a masterpiece, but at the moment it could be one of those great films which I kind of didn’t like. As discussed previously here.

Mark: 8 out of 11


[Book Review] Psychology For Screenwriters: Building Conflict In Your Script (2nd Edition) – William Indick

Psychology For Screenwriters: Building Conflict In Your Script (2nd Edition) by William Indick

Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.  Ingmar Bergman



William Indick’s excellent book takes us from the dream like world of the cinema to the pages of great psychoanalytical theorists, combining Freud with screenwriting in a most intelligent and approachable way. But his is not a how-to manual for writers, but an immersive experience mixing theoretical, practical, and thoughtful processes in regard to writing your next film. 

If psychology and screenwriting are two sides of the same coin then this book is most definitely for screenwriters and filmmakers with an interest in psychoanalytic theory that enables them to explore archetypes, plot development, structure, and character building from the inside out. Moreover, the author provides an excellent framework with which to weave psychoanalytic theories into one’s writing. But not in a cookie-cutter style. This book is smarter than that.

While many of the theories are complex, the author writes with clarity and expertise. The useful bullet-pointed summaries at the end of each chapter crystallize the concepts with aplomb. Further, the various chapters also delivers ideas from a whole host of great minds of psychoanalytic and structuralist theory such as Carl Jung, Erik Erikson, and Joseph Campbell. There were also theorists I was not too familiar with such as Alfred Adler, Rollo May, and Maureen Murdock. By utilising his expansive knowledge and examples from many classic Hollywood films the author places you into the heart of the character’s mind and motivations.

What I found most fascinating was the book provides an invaluable framework to build your characters with. I certainly could see myself applying various ideas from Freud and Jung within my writing. Indeed, I was certainly drawn to Rollo May’s theories about existential anxiety driving and increasing the complexity of my characters. One could argue though, the author overuses references to Hollywood cinema. I would really have found it intriguing how certain psychoanalytical theories may relate to cinema from, e.g.  Japan, Spain, and France. Furthermore, psychological analysis of a particular director’s work such as Ingmar Bergman could also have proved so interesting.

In conclusion, to many an experienced writer the screenwriting theories, terms and structures covered are instantly recognisable, yet William Indick freshens up the study field with psychoanalytical language, breathing life into the saturated library of scriptwriting releases. Finally, each chapter succinctly bullet-points how a writer may utilise the theories within their work as the book concludes with three brilliant essays relating said theories to the Western, Fantasy and Sci-fi genres. One could even say this book is a dream to work with.


Psychology For Screenwriters: Building Conflict In Your Script (2nd Edition) is available here.

Publication date is January 2023 from https://mwp.com/

Michael Wiese Productions (MWP) was launched in San Francisco in 1976 primarily to produce films. Today, the company is known worldwide having published some 200 books. Some of the bestsellers have been translated into 18 languages, are used in over 700 film courses, in the Hollywood studios and by emerging filmmakers.

NETFLIX FILM REVIEWS: DAYSHIFT (2022), THE GRAY MAN (2022) & SPIDERHEAD (2022)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEWS: DAYSHIFT (2022), THE GRAY MAN (2022) & SPIDERHEAD (2022)

Along with fashion, football, and Formula One, the cinema is one of many capitalistic and cyclical industries which spends and makes money that seems to self-perpetuate its own existence. My lord though there are many more. But isn’t it a bit obscene that so much money is spent on movies while so many people struggle in the world?

Maybe I’m just old. Jaded. Drifting away from the dream factory where such large amounts of cash should be spent on film folly. People are starving, energy bills are rising and there are so many sick across the world, can we not divert some of that money to them? Some people may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Plus, I’m a hypocrite. Using film and alcohol to divert my mind from the world’s problems.

What has prompted this sober reflection? Netflix! Now, I have no idea about business and money and algorithms and subscription revenue. What I have read is that $370 million dollars have allegedly been spent on these three blockbuster films. Could the cash have been spent on more interesting and entertaining product? I mean, why not give $15 million to a whole host of up-and-coming filmmakers to produce thirty lower-budgeted films? Why not concentrate on script, characterisation and strive to explore more original concepts. Surely, the law of averages dictate that there would be a number of gems produced?

Blumhouse Productions and A24 both seem, from the outside, to have industry models which produce successful genre and arthouse films. One may not rate all of their releases, however, these studios appear to avoid burning huge sums of money on their cinematic offerings. Netflix, continue to invest in tentpole monsters which are NEVER released on a cinema screen and are of questionable quality. What of these films? Here are three short reviews of new Netflix releases I have watched recently. With the usual marks out of eleven.



DAYSHIFT (2022)

Directed by J. J. Perry

Screenplay by: Tyler Tice, Shay Hatten

Main cast: Jamie Foxx, Dave Franco, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Meagan Good, Karla Souza, Steve Howey, Scott Adkins, Snoop Dogg etc.

I’d say this is a cheap, photo-copied and terrible rip-off of Blade (1998) drizzled with John Wick (2014) style fight-scenes, but Dayshift (2022) isn’t bloody cheap. It’s a gigantic waste of money and the viewer’s time. Jamie Foxx, portrays a pool cleaner moonlighting as a vampire hunter, pitted against a den of uber-vampires threatening to take over Los Angeles.

An insult to my intelligence, the script plunders Men in Black (1997) and the execrable R.I.P.D (2013), with the villain’s plan making no sense at all. Dave Franco adds some humour as the unlikely buddy/partner, but this one of those films where the stuntmen get most credit for some amazing fight and vehicle work. It’s a shame the story, plot and characters are so anaemic.

Mark: 5.5 out of 11



THE GRAY MAN (2022)

Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Screenplay by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Main cast: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Regé-Jean Page, Wagner Moura, Julia Butters, Alfre Woodard, Billy Bob Thornton etc.

The apparent reports that $200 million dollars were spent on this film make The Gray Man (2022) a crime against humanity. This is such a bad film. Nikita (1990) is the template as Ryan Gosling’s lifer is offered the chance to become an assassin for a secret US government agency. Flash forward a number of years and Gosling, who doesn’t look any older, gets screwed on a mission and psychotic Chris Evans has to take him down. Cue expertly choreographed death, explosions, shouting, shoot-outs, and zero emotional connection.

I like all the talent involved in this. Gosling, Evans and Ana de Armas are genuine stars. But were they trapped on a brainless rollercoaster that wouldn’t stop? Did it even have a script? And if it did who thought it was worth spending money on. The camera swoops around the globe like a maniac hoovering up the budget. Everyone takes a grand payday as the bullets fly and fire fills up the screen. I was with Gosling’s anti-heroic blank until they introduced the girl moppet and I deflated. Everyone involved is better that the $200 million spent.

Mark: 5 out of 11



SPIDERHEAD (2022)

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Screenplay by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

Based on:
“Escape From Spiderhead” by George Saunders

Main Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett etc.

This is actually a brilliant film concept absolutely ruined by the miscasting of Chris Hemsworth and a director obsessed with filling the dark themes with inane humour and incongruous 1980’s music. Maybe these elements were all in George Saunders original short story from The New Yorker, but I doubt it. It’s a butchered adaptation from my instinct. By the way, Chris Hemsworth is a brilliant film star, but he cannot act.

So, imagine a Black Mirror episode done really badly with Miles Teller’s criminal being given certain freedoms within a prison as long as he tests drugs and adheres to the rules of the medical experimentation. The plot beats are impactful and Teller’s character arc is very moving. as he tries to escape his past wrongdoings and guilt, but Kosinski and Hemsworth piss over the potential with awful creative decisions that grate and drain all emotion away. It’s a character drama trapped in an insulting action comedy, which must be called out.

Netflix. Stop wasting money.

Mark: 6 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW – ELVIS (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW – ELVIS (2022)

Directed by Baz Luhrmann

Screenplay by: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner

Story by: Baz Luhrmann, Jeremy Doner


Produced by: Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Gail Berman, Patrick McCormick, Schuyler Weiss

Cast: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Samuel, David Wenham , Kodi Smit-McPhee etc.

*** MAY CONTAIN HISTORICAL SPOILERS ***



Since 1992, Baz Luhrmann has directed only six feature films. Each of them, aside from the lower-budgeted, Strictly Ballroom (1992), is a gigantic and epic extravaganza, full of colour, imagination, verve, energy, music, poetry and larger-than-life characters. Even Strictly Ballroom contains many of the stylistic and formal elements which would become part of Luhrmann’s oeuvre. I pretty much feel this auteur’s excessive approach to filmmaking including the fast-cutting, opulent settings, big musical numbers, all-star casts, plus grandiose and melodramatic narrative delivery are always a wonderful spectacle to experience.

Arguably, adapting the American novel, The Great Gatsby (1993), in this periphrastic packaging, took away from the enigma and majesty of Fitzgerald’s classic. However, with Elvis (2022), Luhrmann and his incredible production team, marry such genius excessive style with the perfect subject matter: the King of Rock and Roll! Because in colliding the life, music and films of Elvis Aaron Presley with Luhrmann’s stunning methodology brings to the screen one of the best films of the year Indeed for Luhrmann, Elvis (2022), is evidently a stylistic, subjective and thematic labour of love, marking it as his best film to date.



I wasn’t even going to watch Elvis (2022) at the cinema. I’d recently seen Spencer (2021) on Amazon Prime and was happy to have streamed that. While that eerie adaptation was a valiant attempt to breathe life into the ghost of Diana. An elegiac attempt to explain the oppressive result of her naïve choice to land her Princess dream. With Kristen Stewart’s exceptional impression rescue breathing Diana’s tragic existence, I knew the story. I knew enough to care for someone whose mental health was discarded by the heartless Windsor’s. But the monarchy have been killing the working class for years, so why should I care deeply for one singular spoilt individual? Similarly, I pondered whether I wanted to watch another film about Elvis Presley. A God-given talented singer, heartthrob, actor, musician and legendary performer had a story I was already familiar with. But, I am so happy I overcame my ignorant prejudice because Elvis (2022) is a humdinger of a part-musical-part-biopic-part-drama-part-American tragedy.

Elvis (2022) is structured around the memories of shadowy manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). He is suffering illness in his old age, close to hospital demise. Parker is a grotesque in a billowing gown, drifting around the nightmarish Vegas slot-machines as Elvis’ voice echoes within his mind. Is it the guilt or the morphine? The story flashes back to a younger Parker promoting country singers at a travelling Carny. Until that fateful day when he hears a miracle on the radio, a young singer who everyone thinks is Black. But he isn’t. In the markedly racist times of 1950s America (has it really changed in certain States or Police departments?), a Black singer won’t sell records like this white dude will. Seizing his chance Parker attends Elvis’ first gig and witnesses a phenomenon. An attractive, sexual, gyrating and angelic powerhouse with an incredible voice who sends shockwaves into audience, especially the teenage girls.



A star is born, and it takes a star to play a star. Take as many bows as you want, Austin Butler. He is a genuine phenomenon in Elvis (2022). Of course, the wardrobe, postiche and make-up artists work wonders to help recreate Elvis’ iconic looks as the narrative flashes through various stages of Presley’s devastatingly successful career, Yet, Butler just lights up the screen, producing acting fireworks in a physically, spiritually, emotionally and musically astounding screen presentation. It is not an impression, but a tour-de-force for a relatively unknown actor who has jettisoned his career to glory.

Butler, lives and breathes the King. This rendition and great direction from Luhrmann make you feel tragic empathy for a career which was manipulated and controlled by grubby gambling addict, Parker. Hank’s portrayal of the Colonel feels unnatural and theatrical compared to Butler’s organic turn. Perhaps that was the intention? Deliver a pantomime villain to boo and hiss at. Although, Hanks’ cigar-chomping and jowly make-up made me think the evil touch of Orson Welles’, Captain Hank Quinlan, had somehow been resurrected.

I cannot praise Elvis (2022) enough as a cinematic biopic and musical spectacle. While the choppy editing style is jarring at the start, once the film settles down into a groove, Butler’s stunning incarnation shines through. Overall, I was enlivened by, not only the constant remixing of Elvis Presley hits, but Luhrmann’s choice to alloy gospel, rhythm and blues, rap, rock, pop, ballad and protest songs throughout the scintillating soundtrack. Much, quite rightly, is made of how much diverse music influenced Elvis’s formative life and how he connected with Black musicians of the era. Luhrmann also ensures we are aware of how much of a threat Presley was seen by the establishment due to the sexual nature of his sang satanic verses. Sent to Germany to prevent him demonising America, his comeback special after seven years in movies is one of the finest cinema set-pieces I have seen in many a year. Funny, rocking, poignant, effervescent, beautiful and astounding, just like Elvis, the man and myth, and Elvis (2022) the film.

Mark: 10 out of 11


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

MEN (2022) + THE NIGHT HOUSE (2021) –

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

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

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

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


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

MEN (2022)

Written and directed by Alex Garland

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

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

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

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

Mark: 6.5 out of 11



THE NIGHT HOUSE (2021)

Directed by David Bruckner

Written by: Ben Collins & Luke Piotrowski

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

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

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

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

Mark: 7.5 out of 11


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

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

Directed by Sam Raimi

Written by Michael Waldron – Based on the Marvel Comics

Produced by Kevin Feige

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

Cinematography John Mathieson

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


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