Category Archives: New Releases

BIRD BOX (2018) and ROMA (2018) – NETFLIX “CINEMA” REVIEWS 

BIRD BOX (2018) & ROMA (2018) – NETFLIX “CINEMA” REVIEWS

Firstly, may I wish you all a happy holiday season and thank all the people who have visited and read my reviews and articles this year. There are a lot of film review sites out there so it’s great so get so many visitors in a saturated online market.

For my final reviews of the year I have decided to double-up two Netflix releases. I watched them pretty much back-to-back in the hope, on top of enjoying them for entertainment purposes; I may be able to add them to my 2018 favourites.

So, here are my quick and concise reviews of Birdbox (2018) and Roma (2018) with the usual marks out of eleven. By the way, if you’re interested my favourite films and TV show lists of 2018 will appear early in January. Happy 2019 in advance!

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

BIRD BOX (2018)

Directed by: Susanne Bier

Produced by: Chris Morgan, Scott Stuber, Dylan Clark, Clayton Townsend

Screenplay by: Eric Heisserer / Based on: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Danielle Macdonald etc.

It’s the end of the world as we know it: AGAIN!  I’d say that many of us may be getting apocalypse fatigue by now. So much so that if the end of the world does happen we’ll be mentally ready. Thus, any genre film about the end of the world must fight against the tide of similar films and TV shows released in the last decade or so to gain our attention or praise. Bird Box, for me, was a very entertaining and thrilling addition to the sub-genre. It benefits from an excellent ensemble cast and sterling lead performances from Sandra Bullock and Trevante Rhodes. Moreover, John Malkovich steals every scene he’s in as a cynical and obnoxious lawyer.

The story involves an invisible alien or natural force which infects the world’s population once they look; seeing it is deadly. It grips an individuals’ mind and then forces them to do horrific acts of violence to themselves. The film establishes Bullock’s character, blindfolded, with her two children just about surviving in the wilderness. After which we flash back five years and find Bullock’s pregnant character thrown into a memorably gripping set-piece. After which anyone familiar with George A. Romero’s zombie-film template will recognise many of the twists and turns in the story. Indeed, Bird Box is not that original because the superior, A Quiet Place (2018), also had a very similar premise but used sound rather than vision as the danger. Nonetheless, as a genre film Bird box rips along compellingly and Suzanne Bier has created some intense horror moments throughout.  

Mark: 8 out of 11

ROMA (2018)

Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón

Produced by: Alfonso Cuarón, Gabriela Rodriguez, Nicolas Celis

Written by: Alfonso Cuarón

Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira

Alfonso Cuarón writes, directs, edits and shoots a clear love and hate letter to his Mexican childhood. It contains the love he feels for his mother and the maid who helped raise him; and ire towards the men that negatively affected his young life and his country of birth. Set in the 1970s it covers around a year in the life of one middle-class family living in Mexico City; the main focus being the young help, Cleo. We follow her as she carries out her mundane tasks on a daily basis in an Upstairs Downstairs thematic structure. She is committed to her work and it is clear that she dotes and loves the children as if they are her own. As a historical film the era aesthetics are incredibly realistic and Cuaron’s cinematography, presented in crisp black and white imagery, is virtually perfect. You feel like you are there with the characters in 1970s Mexico. Historically too, the film evokes between the lines the politically charged danger of the era; however, Roma is more of a personal film than determinedly socio-political.

Cuarón is an auteur at the height of his powers. His direction on both Children of Men (2006) and Gravity (2013) was phenomenal; utilising technological brilliance with fierce storytelling acumen. Likewise, in Roma his stylistic choices are fascinating, although I think it actually works against the themes and content at times. The long take pans and tracking shots, while expertly done, slow the pace of the story and in my humble opinion are repetitive and overdone. Moreover, Cuaron the editor has fallen in love with own work and to me would have been a masterpiece if trimmed to two hours. There are at least four incredible standout cinematic scenes – that I won’t spoil – which all linger long in the memory. Furthermore, the characters, led by the humble Cleo are empathetic and at times tragically formed against the backdrop of political unrest. Yet, despite evoking the Italian neo-realist era of post-war filmmaking, Cuaron’s film feels padded at times, lacking the economy of Rossellini’s and De Sica’s work. Overall, it’s a touching work of cinema about birth, life and death, which arguably did not need the stylistic flourishes to tell such a simple, slice-of-life story.                                           

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN (2018)

Written and Directed by: David Lowery

Produced by: James D. Stern, Dawn Ostroff, Jeremy Steckler, Anthony Mastromauro, Bill Holderman, Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, Robert Redford

Based on: The Old Man and the Gun (article) by David Grann

Starring: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Danny Glover, Tika Sumpter, Tom Waits, Sissy Spacek

Music by: Daniel Hart

Cinematography: Joe Anderson

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**


Forrest Tucker was a career criminal destined to die in jail. His life in between was one of many bank robberies, incarcerations and successful and unsuccessful prison breakouts. The morality of his actions must be condemned as the man was a recidivist addicted to the thrill of crime, making money and also the chase. While I’m not a fan of banks, who themselves are bigger criminals than the robbers, I rarely find myself rooting for such characters, unless there are mitigating circumstances for their actions.

Indeed, Tucker’s illegal acts would have left the authorities drained chasing him across America, and prevent them from protecting other people. Moreover, by holding a gun in people’s faces and demanding money Tucker would have most likely scared a good number too.  Tucker would go on to rob banks well into his late seventies but he never fired his gun; and was often described as a gentleman by his victims. Yet, despite his wrong-doings, the film of his life in the hands of acting legend Robert Redford and director David Lowery is well worth a watch.



It’s a pretty simple story based on a New Yorker article by David Grann and Lowery adapts with warmth and empathy towards Tucker’s aging bank robber. The casting of Redford is also a masterstroke. As he has throughout his career he exudes a mercurial class and poise.  There’s some wonderful usage of stock photos of Redford from earlier in his career, supplanted to the character of Tucker. This nostalgic trip down memory lane both serves the story and reminds us what a great movie star Redford has always been. It’s a shame that Redford has decided to retire from acting, as reported in August 2018, but this is a fine film to bow out on.

Lowery, whose last film was the amazing A Ghost Story (2017), changes tack with a more conventional character study here; however, he invests lots of imaginative touches in the presentation. He also gets a memorable performance from Sissy Spacek who sparkles as Redford’s romantic interest. It’s beautifully and hazily shot by Joe Anderson on Super 16mm and contains a misty-eyed halcyonic feel to it. I felt like I was watching a film from the 1970s even though it was set in or around the 1990s. So, despite my inherent dislike of the man and the crimes he committed, I very much enjoyed this excellent drama about a fascinating, if misguided, character.                                        

Mark: 8 out of 11

VANITY FAIR (2018) – ITV DRAMA REVIEW

VANITY FAIR (2018) – ITV DRAMA REVIEW

Created and written by: Gwyneth Hughes

Based on: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Executive producer(s): Damien Timmer, Tom Mullens, Gwyneth Hughes, James Strong

Directed by: James Strong

Starring: Olivia Cooke, Claudia Jessie, Tom Bateman, Johnny Flynn, Charlie Rowe, Simon Russell Beale, Anthony Head, Martin Clunes, Frances de la Tour, Michael Palin

Composer(s): Isobel Waller-Bridge

Distributor: ITV, Amazon Studios

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

It’s an interesting anomaly in my later years that having previously boycotted period dramas which illustrate the lives of the wealthy and privileged, I now find myself being less partisan and actually watching more. This change doesn’t derive from a mellowing of my socialist working class roots but more an intelligent inquisitiveness as ignorant dismissal of the genre, be they on television or film, means one is possibly missing out on some fine drama or comedy. Indeed, many historical periods’ works of literature or theatre are in fact satirising or damning the upper classes.

Dickens for example dealt with the lower, middle and upper classes, shining a critical light at the many degradations of the era. Likewise, William Makepeace Thackeray also critiqued the folly of war, greed and narcissistic pursuits of the privileged. Stanley Kubrick demonstrated this brilliantly in his classic adaptation of Barry Lyndon (1975); while in ITV’s most recent adaptation Vanity Fair (2018), Thackeray’s adroit study of ambition and upward mobility shows the strengths, weaknesses and foibles of the women and men at the time of the Napoleonic wars.

Vanity Fair is widely considered a classic and considered the founder of the Victorian domestic drama. Originally serialised between 1847 and 1848 it was at the time a massive hit and one could argue the equivalent of what we would call a soap opera today. There have been, since the novel’s release, a plethora of screen, radio and television adaptations. Did we need another one? Probably not; but over seven compelling episodes Gwyneth Hughes’ screenplay does great justice to bring to life an army of: well-to-dos, country lords and ladies, soldiers, clergy, businessmen, plus the sparkling scheming of anti-heroine Rebecca or Becky Sharp.

Indeed, the effervescent, nuanced and outstanding performance of Olivia Cooke as Becky drives the narrative forward with absolute purpose. Cooke owns every scene as Becky attempts, from lowly beginnings, to rise through the ranks of society. It is both her strength of character and confidence which is her biggest asset and greatest enemy, because, always pushing for more, she doesn’t quit when she’s ahead. In stark reflection to Becky, Claudia Jessie as Amelia, is characterised as a romantic and desirous not of wealth or position, but rather love and romance. She is a pure spirit and her personality contrasts perfectly with Becky’s. While we admire Becky’s ambitious drive we remain suspicious of her motives, yet Amelia we warm to due to her big and gracious heart.

The men in the piece are a mixture of romantics, noble soldiers, treacherous or haphazard patriarchs, foppish fools, gamblers or all of the above. Tom Bateman gives a solid performance as Rawdon Crawley, Becky’s gambling military husband, as does Charlie Rowe as the more conflicted romantic, George Osborne. Furthermore, the adaptation contains sterling support from the cream of English character acting royalty including: Martin Clunes, Frances De La Tour, Claire Skinner, Anthony Head and Simon Russell Beale to name a few. However, the standout performance for me was Johnny Flynn as William Dobbin. This is such an empathetic and selfless character that, while holding a torch for Amelia, was prepared to sacrifice his love to make everyone happy. Potentially seen as a weakness, this for me was a real strength in a story which was full of selfish narcissists out for what they could get.

Aside from slightly dodgy green-screen CGI for the later scenes in India this was beautifully shot and lit, with the vistas of the English and French countryside wonderfully rendered. The interiors were eloquently designed as the stately and city homes of the characters, likewise the colourful costumes, were expertly brought to life.  James Strong is a prolific television director and he gets brilliant performances and marshals the pace and machinations of the narrative precisely. With Olivia Cooke and Johnny Flynn delivering star turns in their roles I was consistently surprised by this adaptation of Thackeray’s masterpiece. Ultimately, I’ve learned that whether something is a period drama or not one must give it a chance as it could have qualities which continue to stand the test of time.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Boots Riley

Produced by: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Kelly Williams, Jonathan Duffy, Charles D. King, George Rush, Forest Whitaker

Written by: Boots Riley

Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

Just when you think the well was drying up somewhat in regard to favourite films of the year, Sorry To Bother You (2018) comes along and jumps straight into my top twelve. Written and directed by activist and musician Boots Riley, this really is a humdinger of an absurdist comedy and must surely be a contender for best original screenplay of the year.

Centring on Oakland-based Lakeith Stanfield’s downtrodden everyman, Cassius Green, we find him unemployed and desperate to find work. So much so he takes a soulless commission paid job at RegalView selling encyclopaedias. So far so normal but very quickly events take many left field turns and Cassius is catapulted into a world of corporate greed, worker rebellion, romantic difficulties and some very weird science.

I do not want to give too much away but I had a blast with this film. Indeed, it’s best watched when you know as little as possible about the story. All throughout writer and director Riley has managed a great balance between believable situations and ridiculously surreal humour. His screenplay manages to satirise both the greed of corporate America and racial profiling, while at the same time never preaching or getting heavy. The tone of the film reminded me of so many films and TV shows I love, including: Being John Malkovich (1999), Atlanta, TheMighty Boosh and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It’s also a thematic sibling to Jordan Peele’s massive horror hit Get Out (2017); which found white people exploiting Afro-Americans to nefarious ends.

The cast jump on board the many hyper-real and absurd concepts with abandon. Lakieth Stanfield, who is brilliantly deadpan in the show Atlanta, shows what a gifted actor he is. Again, Tessa Thompson proves what a brilliant actress she is as Cassius’ energetic artist and activist girlfriend; while Jermaine Fowler, Danny Glover and Steven Yeun provide really solid support. Special mention for Armie Hammer who really amps up the comedy with his representation of avaricious corporate megalomaniacs who care more for profits than they do for human life.

Incredibly, this is Boots Riley’s debut feature film and what a fantastic job he has done.  Sorry to Bother You is brimming with hilarious comedic scenes, on-point parody, textured style and credible social commentary. Cassius’ journey throughout is believable too as he is tempted by the promise of money but at severe and Faustian cost. Riley, within the hyper-reality of the world he presents, never strays far from the idea that the collective must join forces to overcome the paymasters. Ultimately, the film may be messy and chaotic at times but this project-mayhem-gonzo-style, along with the colourful design and moody cinematography combine to deliver one of the most memorable films of the year.               

Mark: 9 out of 11

CREED II (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

CREED II (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Steven Caple Jr.

Produced by: Sylvester Stallone, Kevin King-Templeton, Charles Winkler, William Chartoff, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler

Screenplay by: Juel Taylor, Sylvester Stallone

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

The boxing rags-to-riches story of Rocky (1976) was one of the film classics I grew up watching as a kid. With several successful subsequent sequels the franchise would come to a reasonably decent end with Rocky Balboa in 2006. But, you cannot keep a good man down and Rocky was back in 2015 acting as a boxing coach and life guide to Apollo Creed’s illegitimate son, Donny. Subsequently, Creed (2015), in the deft directorial hands of Ryan Coogler and with a bona fide star turn by Michael B. Jordan, became a big sleeper hit, ensuring a sequel was very much on the cards.

We all know the beats of the story; it’s a sub-genre formula that works very well. Our boxing hero must overcome insurmountable odds inside and outside the ring in order to become or sustain his place at the top. Donny Creed’s story in the first film was that of an angry “orphan” knocked from pillar to post in foster homes before being adopted by his father’s wife into a lap of luxury. However, he desires a ring career to make his mark and succeeds with Rocky’s help. The sequel finds Donny settling down with Tessa Thompson’s Bianca and continuing his successful fight career.

With our hero on terra firma what the narrative demands is a nemesis. Enter a blast from the past and beast from the east in the guise of the Ivan Drago and his son Viktor. Virtually exiled to the Ukraine, Dolph Lundgren’s Drago is a bitter and broken man who lost everything after to his defeat by Rocky in the fourth instalment. Living vicariously through his son he craves revenge. Similarly, Donny is prepared to take the fight in order to gain revenge for Drago killing his father. While Lundgren doesn’t have much dialogue his chiselled and lined face aches with desolate pain, rendering him a key antagonist within the film. Indeed, the moment the older Drago and Rocky meet is pure filmic dynamite.

Sylvester Stallone, who also co-wrote the screenplay, once again brings his sage-like experience and star quality to a role he was born to play. The script is full of thematic power with a trio of father and son relationships at the heart of the drama. In fact, the family dramas almost shade the fight scenes for impact. However, the final ring battle and the preceding desert training montage do not disappoint for explosive style and action. Overall, while very familiar, Creed 2, is a well-crafted film that will not disappoint Rocky and boxing movie fans.

(Mark: 7.5 out of 11)

WIDOWS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

WIDOWS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Produced by: Steve McQueen, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Arnon Milchan

Screenplay by: Gillian Flynn & Steve McQueen

Based on: Widows by Lynda La Plante

Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Widows Film Poster

I was really looking forward to this new film from acclaimed and highly talented filmmaker Steve McQueen. Firstly, his previous directorial releases including 12 Years a Slave (2013), Shame (2011) and Hunger (2008) were all fierce works of drama. Secondly, the story is based on Lynda La Plante’s excellent British television series from the 1980s; plus it has a fantastic ensemble cast led by Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya and many more. So, why was I slightly underwhelmed by the end of the film? I mean all the cinematic elements were of the highest quality, yet, for me, it just did not catch fire.


Liam Neeson and Viola Davis

After the death of her husband, Harry Rawlins (Neeson), Viola Davis’ Veronica, decides to use his plans to attempt a daring robbery enlisting the help of the other crime widows. The stakes are high as Harry’s last job pissed off some dangerous people and they want their money back. Transplanting the action from the La Plante’s tough London setting to contemporary Chicago retains the gritty backdrop of the original. Indeed, Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen’s script keep the beats of the heist plot and structurally the film is very sound. However, the addition of political subplots involving a district Alderman Election between Colin Farrell’s Jack Mulligan and Brian Tyree Henry’s Jamal Manning, while adding extra flavour to the mix, at times, slow down the pace of the heist narrative. Even a subplot flashback involving Viola Davis’ son, while adding important empathy for her character, felt like it was from another film. Thus, a movie can be about many things; however, I just felt that a lot of the themes were at a surface level of emotion.


Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry
Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry in Twentieth Century Fox’s WIDOWS. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

The acting and direction in the film is excellent. Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo are all brilliant; although, Erivo’s character seemed to be introduced slightly late for me. Yet, I wanted the film to be even more about the women’s struggle in this traditionally masculine world. Maybe I’m being harsh as the filmmaking is really good, but it got bogged down by too many sub-plots. Moreover, where suspense could have been gained when Debicki’s character goes to buy guns we get a throwaway scene played for humour. The male characters are generally portrayed as corrupt, psychopathic or simply evil; especially where Daniel Kaluuya’s psycho turn is concerned. Brian Tyree Henry is a very interesting actor too and I have watched a lot of him in the TV show Atlanta. However, his impact on the story is slowly dissipated throughout.


Cynthia Erivo, Michelle Rodriguez, Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki

Overall, Widows is a very solid genre offering from Steve McQueen and his team. All the elements are there for a barnstorming crime thriller with racial and political elements as texture. Plus, while I knew of a couple of decent twists from the original the script delivers them very well. However, there were also several plot-holes within the story which could not be reconciled. I guess with my expectations high I was expecting the doors to be totally blown off due to the incredible talent involved. However, they remained firmly on their hinges by the time the credits rolled.

Mark: 7 out of 11


THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX REVIEW

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX REVIEW

Based on: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Created and Directed by: Mike Flanagan

Screenplay(s) by: Mike Flanagan, Liz Phang, Scott Kosar, Meredith Averill, Jeff Howard, Rebecca Klingel etc.

Executive producer(s): Mike Flanagan, Trevor Macy, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Meredith Averill

Production company(s): Flanagan Film, Amblin Television, Paramount Television, Netflix

Starring: Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Elizabeth Reaser, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, Victoria Pedretti, Lulu Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Timothy Hutton etc.

**SPOILER-FREE REVIEW**

hohh_105_unit_03033r-h_2018

Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is often proclaimed as one of the creepiest horror novels of all time. Made for the cinema twice, most memorably in 1963, by acclaimed director Robert Wise; who was perhaps so scared by the content his next film would be the musical Sound of Music (1965). Jokes aside, the novel is considered a classic and so genre filmmaker, Mike Flanagan, took on the task to bring it television over ten compelling episodes.

As Netflix produce a hell of a lot of original content I find it difficult to keep up with. However, I heard some decent buzz about The Haunting of Hill House, so decided to watch it before spoilers were plaguing the internet. From Jackson’s novel Flanagan has expanded the Hill House universe to bring an older ghost story bang up to date. Rather than centre on a seemingly disparate set of characters like the original, he has made the protagonists part of the same family. Therefore, the show is a confident mix of family drama, psychological and frightening horror.

Haunting-Hill-House-Cast-Character-Guide

Flanagan and his writing team structure the episodes on a back-and-forth spine which finds the Crain family, at first moving into Hill House as a young family. Mother and father are portrayed by Carla Gugino and Henry Thomas (later Timothy Hutton) respectively, and together they have five young children, the oldest Stephen being around thirteen years old. We then bounce from the past to the present to show the children grown up, working through various angst and dramas as adults. Safe to say, pretty much all their problems are caused by that fateful summer spent renovating Hill House.

Arguably, the biggest character of them all in the programme is the house itself. It is a foreboding presence which infects the lives of all the characters in youth and adulthood. Conversely we are drawn into a rich tapestry of: ghosts, suicide, despair, death, addiction, therapy, marriage, lies, hallucinations, mental illness, death and divorce. Throughout, we are plunged into Hill House’s bag of spooky tricks as the family are terrorized insidiously by the property.

haunting-of-hill-house-long-take-episode.jpg

Over ten brilliantly written episodes Mike Flanagan, his excellent cast and superb production team deliver some breath-taking horror moments. There’s also some chilling set-pieces, swooping camera-work, macabre monsters and really moving character monologues sprinkled within the scares and drama too. Most importantly, because of a careful and slow-build narrative, you really care what happens to the Crain family. This is also down to some excellent performances by the young children and older cast members.

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I would argue that the usual Netflix format of ten episodes finds the story stretched during certain periods. Indeed, while the storytelling and horror pay-offs are brilliantly imagined, some editing would have made them feel even more powerful. Yet, as he demonstrated with horror films Oculus (2013), Hush (2016) and Gerald’s Game (2017), Mike Flanagan is a skilled filmmaker who has brought Shirley Jackson’s seminal novel to the screen with chilling acumen.

Mark: 9 out of 11