Category Archives: New Releases

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: HIS HOUSE (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: HIS HOUSE (2020)

Directed by: Remi Weekes

Produced by: Aidan Elliott, Martin Gentles, Arnon Milchan, Ed King, Roy Lee

Screenplay by: Remi Weekes

Story by: Felicity Evans, Toby Venables

Cast: Wunmi Mosaku, Sope Dirisu, Matt Smith, etc.

Cinematography: Jo Willems

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***


Similar in spirit to the Jacques Audiard directed film, Dheepan (2015), the latest Netflix film release, His House (2020), takes the migrant experience as a key narrative driver, then filters it through exciting genre style. While Dheepan (2015) started as a story of survival before crossing over into thriller territory, His House (2020) superbly combines social commentary with the horror genre. Moreover, a key plot reveal later in His House (2020) is extremely similar to that found in Dheepan (2015). Nonetheless, it is a powerful film, both unnerving and thought-provoking in equal measure.

His House (2020) introduces us to Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), a refugee husband and wife seeking asylum in Britain from South Sudan. Having survived a treacherous journey from this war-torn part of the world, their young daughter is not so lucky. Alas, Nyagak (Malaika Agibaka) dies during a stormy boat journey. This incident and their social status immediately garners sympathy and empathy for the protagonists. Allied to this, on achieving probational asylum status their jaded case worker, Mark (Matt Smith), brings them to a rundown council estate to live in. It is to Bol and Rial’s credit that they accept their new abode with gratitude. Bol especially is keen to mix with the locals and fit into the British way of living. However, the two soon encounter indifference, racism and prejudice.

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As the narrative continues Bol and Rial have more to contend with than ignorant locals. Rial is resistant to integration as she desperately holds onto her Sudanese clothes and customs. While Bol is clearly trying to distract himself from the tragedy, Rial’s grieving takes the form of clinging onto the memory of her daughter and their Sudanese ways. This familial division is exacerbated by disturbing supernatural phenomena, as a strange dark spirit and the ghost of Nyagak both appear. Could it be grief and guilt manifesting such spectres? Or are they suffering from post-traumatic stress following their harrowing journey to Britain? Or has a genuinely evil spirit hijacked their attempts to build a home and find peace?

Declaring himself as a director to keep tabs on, Remi Weekes, has written and directed an excellent first feature film in, His House (2020). The pacing of the story is excellent as we get flashes of Bol and Rial’s past in Sudan, juxtaposed with their attempts to acclimatise in Britain. As someone whose life is extremely privileged when compared to that of such characters, I was both moved and fearful for the protagonists. This is not only down to an excellent script full of subtext, symbolism and dread, but also due to Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku’s compelling performances. Furthermore, you really feel the pain of the couple’s loss and suspense created by that which lurks within the stained walls of their apartment. While there are many tense moments, my one reservation with His House (2020) was there arguably wasn’t enough true horror moments. Having said that, the actual reality of Bol and Rial’s situation in losing a daughter, suffering British administrative red-tape and living amidst everyday prejudice, is far scarier than ghosts and monsters can ever be.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

CINEMA REVIEW – SAINT MAUD (2019)

CINEMA REVIEW – SAINT MAUD (2019)

Directed by: Rose Glass

Produced by: Andrea Cornwell, Oliver Kassman

Written by: Rose Glass

Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight, Lily Frazer, Turlough Convery, Rosie Sansom, Marcus Hutton  

Music by: Adam Janota Bzowski

Cinematography: Ben Fordesman

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. . .” – Matthew 7:15


Also, beware of false praise from film reviewers! Because over the years I’ve often seen hyperbolic notices about films that after seeing them I wonder if I’ve been watching the same thing. Of course, any kind of review is subjective, and we cannot all like the same thing, but sometimes so-called critics rave about a cinema release for reasons I just don’t get. It could be that they genuinely like the film or are attempting to promote it on a personal or corporate level for some incestuous allegiance to the filmmaker or studio. They could even have been paid for the positive words. The latter is unlikely, but possible. Anyhow, everyone’s entitled to their opinion.

So, when I saw the glowing notices for Rose Glass’ psychological character study, Saint Maud (2019), I was initially sceptical. Thankfully after watching it at the Curzon cinema at the weekend, I concur with many of the raving critics. The film is a thoroughly absorbing and compelling exploration of religious mania, alienation, and mental breakdown. Moreover, Rose Glass, on her directorial feature debut deserves much praise for crafting a stunningly disturbing journey of one individual’s search for the Lord Almighty and rapturous redemption. Only to reveal, in Maud, a troubled outsider and lost soul, completely at odds with the people around her and society as a whole.


Saint Maud (2019) – directed by Rose Glass

Morfydd Clark is absolutely spellbinding as the lead character. In fact, she inhabits both elements of protagonist and antagonist in this jagged narrative. Sadly, Maud becomes her own worst enemy as the film progresses. Her job as a nurse has connotations of angels and heroines, but eventually travels an alternative path. The film opens with flashes of a tragedy which has occurred at the hospital where Maud works. These events will haunt Maud like a psychological millstone; dragging her toward darkness while she seeks enlightenment. Rapidly quickening forward we then find Maud in private medical employment caring for former famed choreographer portrayed by Jennifer Ehle.

Ehle, as Amanda, gives an impressive rendition of a dying bitter woman; full of spite, bravado and fear as she nears the end of her life. Not that that stops Amanda from smoking, drinking and partying, much to the pious Maud’s displeasure. The two divergent personalities clash constantly as Maud takes it upon herself to be Amanda’s saviour. This ultimately becomes an obsessive crusade by Maud, no doubt in an attempt to find peace and redemption following the tragedy in her prior job. Such is the power of Maud and Amanda’s complex relationship of warring opposites, Saint Maud (2019) suffers minor dramatic inertia when Maud goes off the rails toward the end of the second act. Nonetheless, Glass is cleverly building Maud’s turmoil before bringing Ehle’s character back in the shocking and memorable final scenes.

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

Mark: 9 out of 11


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020)

Directed by: Antonio Campos

Produced by: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Randall Poster, Max Born

Screenplay by: Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos

Based on: The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

Cast: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Harry Melling, etc.

Narrated by: Donald Ray Pollock

Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans

Cinematography: Lol Crawley

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Netflix’s latest major film release is a literary adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s psychological thriller, The Devil All the Time (2020). One has to believe it is a pretty faithful adaptation because the novelist himself narrates the tale to us via voiceover. Set in the years after World War II, the grim events unfold in the states of Ohio and West Virginia, respectively. While the action is not located in the deep South, the story has many of the tropes synonymous with the Southern Gothic genre, notably: religious fanaticism, explicit sexuality, flawed characters, sickening violence, poverty and human alienation.

The film, directed by Antonio Campos — who helmed the under-rated character study, Christine (2016) — starts extremely purposefully. Returning soldier, Miller Jones (Bill Skarsgard), meets a waitress on his bus journey home and eventually marries her. Both Skarsgard and Hayley Bennett, portraying his wife, inhabit empathetic characters working hard to bring up their son and saving for their own place. Jones, however, is haunted by a traumatic incident in the Pacific, and strives for solace in God and family. Indeed, the corrupt force of religious mania spreads like a cancer throughout The Devil All the Time (2020), becoming a constant threat and reason for many of the characters downfall.



Just as I was connecting with Jones’ life and becoming absorbed by Bill Skarsgard’s commanding performance, tragedy strikes and the narrative takes one of several jarring switches between characters. As such the film does not really have a strong plot, meandering from one character to another witnessing all manner of horrific events fate throws at them. Because, let’s be honest, The Devil All the Time (2020), is no way close to being a feelgood film. In fact, it revels in representing the evil acts of so-called human beings. Thus, throughout I felt a constant sense of dread and anxiety. Barely had Skarsgard misery ended and we are then introduced to the tragedies of characters portrayed by Harry Melling and Mia Wasikowska. Simultaneously, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough join the fray as two violent and sex-driven thrill-seekers. Yet, they are weakly written characters who again drive the mood of the film into pitch blackness.

The film gathers some strength and momentum n the middle act when Tom Holland’s son of Miller Jones comes of age. By focussing on his story we get more drama and emotion, especially where his relationship with his step-sister (Eliza Scanlan) is concerned. Holland gives an excellent performance as the young man attempting to make his way in this filthy and ungodly world. Similarly, Robert Pattinson’s oily Preacher oozes repugnant charm in another sterling piece of acting work. Alas, Sebastian Stan’s Sheriff and Douglas Hodge’s rural gangster are given short shrift in another crime subplot which goes nowhere.

Overall, Antonio Campos delivers an extremely solid thriller from an acting and thematic standpoint. Unfortunately, the fragmented screenplay should arguably have been given a more committed plotline. Of course, it has most likely shadowed the structure of the source novel so therein lies the rub. Having said that, despite the structural shortcomings, there are many shocking and violent set-pieces to satisfy horror fans. Ultimately though, The Devil All the Time (2020) lacks redemption, catharsis and even some decent suspense. By the end we are given few characters to care about and delivered the pessimistic vision that life is a belt of misery. Even a suggestion of sugar helps the poison go down and this film offers very little in the way of sweetness or light.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: TENET (2020)

CINEMA REVIEW: TENET (2020)

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Produced by: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan

Written by: Christopher Nolan

Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh, Martin Donovan, Clement Poesy, etc.

Music by: Ludwig Göransson

Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



I am writing this review from the future while travelling backwards to the past to try and alter events which have yet to occur in the present. Confused yet? Jokes aside, Christopher Nolan’s latest temporally challenging and narratively inverted blockbuster, TENET (2020), is actually not as complicated as some would lead you to believe. However, that’s because I’ve been training my brain with such mind-boggling adventures in time, space and dimensions while watching the third season of the ingenious German sci-fi drama, DARK (2020), this week. Safe to say however, TENET is still rather complex and probably unnecessarily so. Yet, Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker who loves exploring challenging scientific concepts and marrying them to hugely involving plots and stylish spectacular action. All credit to him too for pushing himself and the audience!

TENET opens with a fast-paced set-piece located at a Ukrainian opera house. A SWAT team, that includes our unnamed hero, (John David Washington), is there to save a spy and obtain an unidentified object, which will of course become an integral part of the plot later or earlier on in the story. From then on, ‘The Protagonist’, as he later becomes known, becomes embroiled in stopping the megalomaniacal plans of Russian oligarch, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh). In order to do so he attempts to infiltrate and stop Sator via his bullied wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). Here the Protagonist builds a bond to Kat and this provides the emotional glue of the film. Although, I’ll be honest, I was too busy thinking about the machinations of Nolan’s head-twirling approach to temporal structure, than actually feel much for the characters.



What the film lacks in emotional depth it more than makes up with spectacular action. There are at least six incredible set-pieces that involve hand-to-hand combat, fast-paced vehicle pursuit, bungee-jumping and all-out combat between various government and mercenary factions. Nolan and his production team twist the action with a visually mirrored trick which, well I won’t say anymore. Moreover, the grandiose style and cinematography are eye-popping. Sharp suits, sharper knives and futuristic masks are adorned by the characters giving the spy thriller a hyperreal edge. Similarly, the stunts and editing are superbly orchestrated and executed. Having said that, the sound design and dialogue could have been better. Far be it from me to criticize, but in striving for verisimilitude in the sound, the constant wearing of masks meant important dialogue lacked clarity. Likewise, in the final amazing set-piece I was lost amidst the bodies and explosions as to who was who and why and what and how. Clearly a second and third watch of TENET (2020) is in order.

While the action was pretty much flawless throughout, the screenplay, unlike say Nolan’s prior high-concept masterpiece, INCEPTION (2010), did lack character depth for me. While I realise this was Nolan’s intention, hardly any time is given setting up the characters. So much so they become cyphers within the plot. Nonetheless, the charisma of the cast, notably John David Washington and the impressive Robert Pattinson, dominates the screen and the two bounce off each other magnetically. Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh also bring much to their roles, however their subplot involving domestic abuse felt out of place in such a post-modern spectacle. Moreover, Branagh’s oligarch was, in certain scenes, verging on parodic cliche. I wondered if the villain of the piece could have been a little less B-movie heavy at times and possibly more cultured. This is a minor gripe though. After all, he is the bad guy!

Ultimately, TENET (2020) is a big, brash and confident Bond-type film with bells on. Sure, the rules of the world could have been excavated and presented somewhat clearer. But, Nolan favours a breakneck pace and be damned if you cannot keep up. Indeed, I am certain he has covered all the plot-holes (or paradoxes) I thought I saw and numerous questions I had by the end. While it is not without flaws, on first watch, I once again have to congratulate Christopher Nolan for striving for original thinking and fascinating concepts within a genre film. One may even argue that there are too many ideas here and simplification could have created a more emotionally satisfying film. However, there are many moments of cinematic genius in TENET (2020), notably in the Sisyphean payoffs within the inverted plot structure. Finally, one won’t see a more shiny and beautiful looking film all year. The future is bright: the future is Christopher Nolan.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


FIVE REASONS THIS COULD BE GOOD – DEATH ON THE NILE (2020)

FIVE REASONS THIS COULD BE GOOD – DEATH ON THE NILE (2020)

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Produced by: Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund, Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Mark Gordon, Kevin J. Walsh

Screenplay by: Michael Green

Based on: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Cast: Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Kenneth Branagh, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, Letitia Wright

UK Release Date: 23/10/2020



The cinemas are now open again and while the reason for their closure was understandable, it’s great to look forward to seeing some of the more grand and expensive films on the giant screen. I have very much made the most of watching loads of films and television programmes at home via streaming and digital channels, yet it was a pleasure to be back at the cinema this weekend watching TENET (2020). Kenneth Branagh features heavily in Christopher Nolan’s latest high concept brain-twister. Moreover, he also has an updated version of DEATH ON THE NILE (2020) being released soon. Thus, as I’m such a sucker for these old-fashioned murder mysteries I thought I’d give five reasons why it could be good.


CAST

Following the box office success of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017), it comes as no surprise there is a sequel to the classy Hercule Poirot train-set murder mystery. Once again Kenneth Branagh directs and stars as the Belgian detective and he has also assembled a wonderful cast of A-listers and solid character actors within the ensemble. I’m especially pleased to see Annette Bening lend some gravitas to the glamour and whether GAME OF THRONES’ Rose Leslie can break out into bigger film roles. Gal Gadot and Letitia Wright leave behind recent comic book films for an altogether more period setting. Lastly, who doesn’t want to see French and Saunders reunited on screen.


NOSTALGIA & FAMILIARITY

I have always loved Agatha Christie’s work be it in literary, radio, television or film mediums. DEATH ON THE NILE (2020) is a favourite of mine, especially as the 1978 version was the first Christie adaptation I saw at the cinema. I must have seen that particular film about twenty times over the years. So much so I know the plot backwards. I guess the nostalgia for watching a film as a child and familiarity with the story create a kind of comfort film. Thus, another positive reason why I am looking forward to the new adaptation is how they recreate a familiar classic.


LOCATIONS

As I established in a recent film review, I for one have a massive fear of flying. Thus, watching films set in exotic locations can be a way for me to experience vicariously places I would not normally visit. Seeing as the film is set on a boat travelling up the Nile, there is no doubt there will be some incredible sights to see while Poirot tries to solve a devilishly complex crime.


MYSTERY

Agatha Christie truly knows how to create a masterful detective plot. In fact, she was a genius. What we now consider to be a cliched genre, the “whodunnit”, was practically invented and reinvented by Christie and this story has a particularly brilliant plot and ending. While the genre is familiar, I enjoy watching all the players in one location conflicting with each other. Of course, Poirot is an eccentric and brilliant detective, so even though I know he will solve the crime and how, paradoxically I still love the mystery of it all.


TRAILER

I have now watched the trailer a few times and it shone on the big screen at the weekend. It also does a great job of establishing the cast, characters and setting without giving away any of the plot. The Depeche Mode track really resonates with the grand voiceover, building to a crescendo where we get to meet Kenneth Branagh as the inimitable Poirot. Anyway, here it is!


“CINEMA” REVIEW: EMMA (2020)

“CINEMA” REVIEW: EMMA (2020)

Directed by: Autumn de Wilde

Produced by: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin

Screenplay by: Eleanor Catton

Based on: Emma by Jane Austen

Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Bill Nighy, etc.

Music by: Isobel Waller-Bridge, David Schweitzer

Cinematography: Christopher Blauvelt

**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****



With society and humanity constantly battered by recessions, pandemics, stock market crashes, famine, war, greed, prejudice, hatred, social media conflict, computer hacking, crime, exploitation, depression, addiction and any other number of apocalyptic threats, you can always rely on a good old-fashioned Jane Austen adaptation to create an escape from such woes. While I’m not a huge fan of Ms. Austen’s literary works, due mainly to ignorance on my part, I certainly recognise her genius as a storyteller. Indeed, she virtually single-handedly created, way back in the early 19th century, her own genre of romantic comedy in the Georgian-Regency period.

Emma was her fourth completed novel and released in 1815. It concerns the titular heroine, Emma Woodhouse. She is well-off, clever and someone who enjoys matchmaking and manipulating affairs of the heart. There have been many adaptations of the book on TV and film and aside from the loose Hollywood remake, Clueless (1995), I had not seen any of them. I only got roped into watching the latest version of, Emma (2020), directed by Autumn De Wilde, with Anya Taylor-Joy and Johnny Flynn in the leads, because my wife insisted on it. In marriage one must make sacrifices and compromises, so as it was our anniversary, I agreed to watch the film at home under “Cinema Rules.” I’m most glad I did too as I found it an extremely light but frothy work of entertainment.



As I had little knowledge of the book I went into the narrative of Emma (2020) unburdened by scanning the differences between novel and film. At two hours in length one expects there to be some omissions, however, I would not have noticed. What I did gather was that this was a bright and very attractive looking production. The costumes, props, landscapes and interior locations were all deftly presented with vibrant colour design. Likewise, the cinematography, camera movement and editing are also delivered very sharply. This lends the literary adaptation a cinematic pace, splendour and verve which I wholly enjoyed. Furthermore, the appealing cast are wrangled impressively too. Anya Taylor-Joy, as the energetic schemer Emma, is technically very gifted. She brings a metronomic pulse to the screen and her chemistry with Johnny Flynn really resonates. Flynn, who I really rate as an actor, imbued his character, Knightly, with both warmth and likeable fortitude. In supporting roles Bill Nighy brings his usual class to proceedings, while Josh O’Connor steals the early scenes with his hilarious turn as an eccentric young vicar.

Let’s be honest though, the story and characters are a bit of a lightweight soufflé that could collapse under close scrutiny. I mean we are really in first world problems throughout as Emma attempts to pair her young ward, portrayed by the lovely Mia Goth, with the vicar, only to find such attempts backfire, ultimately spiralling out of her control. As such one could find Emma quite annoying, immature and emotionally stunted. That, though, is where Austen’s strength of writing memorable characters really shines through. Because Emma is someone who, while potentially unlikeable, eventually learns her lesson and changes her controlling ways. Lastly, with a tremendously attractive cast and production, some mild complexity of character and finally Jane Austen’s singing wit and dialogue, Emma (2020), overall, offers a delectable frisson of escapist cinema.

Mark: 8 out of 11

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: EXTRACTION (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: EXTRACTION (2020)

Directed by Sam Hargrave

Produced: Antony Russo, Joe Russo, Mike Larocca, Chris Hemsworth, Eric Gitter, Peter Schwern

Screenplay by: Joe Russo – based on Ciudad by Ande Parks, Joe Russo, Fernando Leon Gonzalez

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Randeep Hooda, Golshifteh Farahani, Pankaj Tripathi, David Harbour, etc.

Distribution: Netflix


***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Do you remember when action heroes used to be larger than life, filling up the screens with muscles, charisma, and wise-cracking one-liners. I am old, so I certainly do. The likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, Jean Claude Van Damme and of course, Sylvester Stallone were just some of the leading men crunching and blowing up the cinema screens. Okay, they may have been reactionary 1980s and 1990s masculine archetypes, and arguably nationalistic, sexist, militarist and incredibly over-the-top characters, but I kind of miss them. Because today’s action heroes, while equally talented at killing and delivering mayhem, are somewhat less colourful.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the technically excellent and brutally realised fight scenes and stunts of today. However, John Wick, Bryan Mills of Taken (2008), Lorraine Broughton of Atomic Blonde (2017), Jason Bourne, and now Chris Hemsworth’s mercenary, Tyler Rake in Extraction (2020), are individuals of fewer words and even less humour. I guess Jason Statham isn’t too bad, but he’s still quite serious. Lastly, while one can certainly rely on the sanitized fun of the Marvel Universe for some humour and personality within the action, it’s still not the same as a good old Arnie action flick. The more adult oriented superhero, Deadpool (2016), can be relied on for X-rated violence and constant verbal quips. But, he wears a suit and it’s just not as good as the action heroes I grew up watching. Ah, but that’s nostalgia for you.

Why the trip down memory lane, Paul? What about the kinetic and explosive action of Extraction (2020)? Yes, the well-choreographed manoeuvres are extremely exciting. They are also bone-crushingly relentless from the moment Tyler Rake enters Bangladesh to extract an imprisoned Indian gangster’s teenage son, Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal). Hemsworth and director Sam Hargrave get you in and out of hand-to-hand fights, car chases, leaps and falls from buildings, and constant gun battles with stunning brilliance throughout. The camera and editing work present virtuoso work, capped by an almost seamless eleven minute long take involving all manner of mayhem. While Ovi and Tyler kind of bond later in the film, I found myself needing more emotional or political subtext to narrative. Even John Wick (2014) created its own mythology and universe, where this relies on fast-paced movement, military tropes and lazy stereotypes. Ultimately, Extraction (2020) was like an explosive fireworks display. Great to watch while it lasted, but ultimately forgettable. Man on Fire (2004) did this story way better and with way more feeling.

Mark 7 out of 11


“CINEMA” REVIEW – THE ASSISTANT (2020)

“CINEMA” REVIEW – THE ASSISTANT (2020)

Written and Directed by: Kitty Green

Produced by: Kitty Green, James Schamus, Scott Macauley, P. Jennifer Dana, Ross Jacobson

Cinematography: Michael Latham

Cast: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Mackenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth, Noah Robbins etc.

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


The Assistant poster.jpeg

Having worked initially in the documentary genre, Kitty Green now presents her first fictional film, The Assistant (2019), with the ever-impressive Julia Garner in the lead. Garner portrays the titular assistant, Jane, a PA in an unnamed New York based film production company. However, while the characters may be fictional, the events reflected are very much based in reality, as the film explores endemic sexism within the film industry and office workplaces more generally. This isn’t a sensationalist #MeToo expose or revenge story, but rather a subtle narrative which conveys it’s criticisms with hushed and damning power.

The film is structured over one day. I’m a big fan of such a convention and wrote about the positives of single day narratives here. Anyway, The Assistant (2019), begins with Jane first in the office, and ends with her being one of the last there at night. In the middle we get a succession of expertly composed scenes which find Jane working for a big-shot movie producer. The fact that we never see him, but hear him and experience the aftermath of his behaviour through Jane is an ingenious concept. By showing rather telling us directly about his covert sexist exploitation, one is truly brought into Jane’s painful situation. She is told she is lucky to have this job and it presents a great opportunity to eventually become a film producer. Yet, to do so requires her to turn a blind eye to events which other employees horrifically consider to be the norm in a media company.


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Weinstein’s name is never mentioned. It doesn’t have to be. He is the sexual predator in the room and probably among many film producers who have utilised the casting couch to have their disgusting way with budding actors and actresses. That is why Kitty Green deserves so much praise because she chose a directorial style that really works for the story. Green and her cinematographer suck all of the colour out of the film industry, making it grey and beige and stark and unglamorous. Via the character of Jane, and Garner’s exquisitely reserved performance, we learn that such bullying cultures exist, and the character must choose to accept it or move on. Garner’s scene with the HR Executive, played by Matthew Macfadyen, is superb in conveying the difficult choice Jane faces.

Lastly, as well as making important points about the patriarchal corruption within the film industry, I enjoyed that it also captured the repetitive nature of administration work. Photocopiers hum, phones ring, paper flaps, printers and faxes whir, while florescent strip lights glow amidst the drudge of the daily office grind. Jane is a prisoner within a myriad of shadowy walls and filing cabinets. Further, Jane is also torn between being a just person and following her dream of working in the movies. But, at the end of another exceptionally exhausting day, that dream is soured by the insidious lust of human behaviour. Thus, The Assistant (2019) asks, will things ever change? Go watch it and decide if you think they will.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


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