Category Archives: Reviews

Cinema Review: Tár (2022)

Cinema Review: Tár (2022)

Written and directed by Todd Field

Produced by: Todd Field, Alexandra Milchan and Scott Lambert

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Julian Glover, Allan Corduner, Mark Strong etc.

Cinematography Florian Hoffmeister

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Tar (definition): a dark, thick flammable liquid distilled from wood or coal, consisting of a mixture of hydrocarbons, resins, alcohols, and other compounds. It is used in road-making and for coating and preserving timber.

Todd Field’s classical film masterpiece, Tár (2022), was hailed by critics when released late last year in the U.S.A and made many top ten film of the year lists. I saw it in the first week of 2023 and while I don’t always concur with the gushing hyperbole of professional film critics, I have to say if I see a better cinema release all year I will be amazed. Let’s hope I do.

Tár (2022) is a film which works on many genre and narrative layers. It is a psychological drama, an absorbing character study, a backstage musical, a complex morality play, with suggestions of hallucinatory horror during the final act of the film. It is a triumph of filmic brilliance expertly delivered by Todd Field. It is incredible to think this is only the third film he has directed. Certainly a case of high quality over quantity. But Field confirms himself an auteur, exerting absolute control over the material. Such is his, and the production team’s, meticulous research, writing, planning, design and execution that if I hadn’t seen the credits, I would have said the maestro Stanley Kubrick had made this film.



Tár (2022) opens with haunting singing over the imaginatively presented credits that slowly fill a black screen. Field demonstrates control from the start before we are introduced to Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett). Now, I thought the film may have been a story about a female conductor attempting to break into a traditionally male dominated world. However, Lydia Tár is at the top of her game as a conductor and composer, heralded for her genius interpretations of the music of Mahler and own oeuvre. Plus, having won numerous awards for her cinema, theatre and television compositions. Lydia Tár is soaring and about to release a book Tár on Tár and conduct a live recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony for the Berlin Philharmonic. So, where’s the drama? What could go wrong?

Field structures the linear narrative around Tár’s day-to-day working and family life and the process of rehearsing Mahler’s Fifth. Methodically we are then introduced to actions from Tár’s recent past which threaten to haunt her. As a character who is so revered and in control of her world, Tár’s talent and confidence is magnetic and admirable. However, having no doubt been a force of nature to make it this competitive world, her arrogance and lack of awareness of a changing culture threatens to cancel her prodigiously built dominion. I won’t say anymore but Todd Field brilliantly explores resonating themes of the zeitgeist with razor-sharp intelligence. There are no easy answers either.

I could not take my eyes or mind off the screen during Tár (2022). It is cerebrally, aesthetically and psychologically all-encompassing. The stark cinematography, exhilarating classically-driven soundtrack, imposing Berlin architecture and claustrophobic feel of the Philharmonic offices and rehearsal spaces collude to create further emotional tension. Further, the film not only works impressively as absorbing drama, but also as interpretive ambiguity with subtle and mysterious suspense. Lastly, if Cate Blanchett does not win a best acting Oscar for her performance in Tár (2022) I will be stunned. Never less than metronomically astounding, Blanchett has taken Field’s precise writing and breathed physical, mental and spiritual vivacity into a challenging personality. Thus, take many-a-bow maestros, Blanchett and Field. Encore! Encore! Encore!

Mark: 10 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: DECISION TO LEAVE (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: DECISION TO LEAVE (2022)

Directed by: Park Chan-wook

Written by: Jeong Seo-kyeong, Park Chan-wook

Produced by: Park Chan-wook

Main cast: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il, Lee Jung-hyun, Go Kyung-pyo, etc.

Cinematography Kim Ji-yong

Edited by Kim Sang-bum

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Park Chan-wook is a proper filmmaker. Like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, he embraces the artifice of the visual and aural medium crafting intelligent, thematically surprising and stylistically dazzling works of cinema. While watching his work one can see the clockwork precision of his filmic mind devising every frame, sound, camera move, cut, character action, acting nuance, being thought out expertly. In short: Park Chan-wook’s films are always an event for me and demand attention.

Chan-wook’s only Hollywood directed film was an under-rated gem of a noir thriller called Stoker (2013), after which he returned home to direct erotically charged period thriller, The Handmaiden (2016). This was a bigger-budgeted and thematically richer affair, taking a complex con-artist-twisting-plot and interweaving an explicit feminist love story. Of course, lest we forget Chan-wook’s classic early work, notably the gonzo revenger, Old Boy (2003). I re-watched it recently at the Raindance Film Festival and the furiously inventive exploitation film retains its beautifully transgressive power.

Like The Handmaiden (2016), Decision to Leave (2022) is a romance story set within a complex genre plot. While the former was a period crime film, Decision to Leave (2022) is a contemporary set police procedural with a central premise highly reminiscent of Basic Instinct (1992). Tang Wei as Song Seo-rae is suspected of killing her husband and as investigating cop, Park Hae-il as Det. Jang Hae-jun, delves deeper he finds himself more and more attracted to her. Where The Handmaiden (2016) and Basic Instinct (1992) used nudity and sexual imagery liberally, Decision to Leave (2022) is far more subtle and cerebral. The compelling romance is built on two fine lead performances, the cunning twists in the crime plot and Chan-wook’s masterful visuals with mountain, coastal and city landscapes being employed to powerful impact.



Now I must admit after watching Decision to Leave (2022) I was left slightly underwhelmed at the end from an emotional perspective. The visuals and storytelling were phenomenal, with Chan-wook and his writing partner crafting a devious series of inventive cat-and-mouse set-pieces. The suspense and doubt instilled as to whether Song Seo-rae is a murderer, despite her cast-iron alibi, is palpable. Simultaneously, the arc of the married mid-life crisis-detective, drawn to the suspect, flirting with disaster through flawed choices, creates much tension also. However, I didn’t immediately warm to the detective’s persona and wasn’t sure if I really cared. But I suspect, due to the complexity of the passion on show, a further watch will cement Chan-wook’s specific and symbolic vision.

Beneath the melding of romance, crime, mystery and action genres, I also considered the potential subtext in the screenplay. I wondered if Decision to Leave (2022) sought to explore the socio-political relationship between the nations of South Korea and China via the characters? Song Seo-rae is a Chinese migrant who came to Korea and via marriage was able to remain. An enigmatic soul she uses her wiles to survive, serenely attracting a series of men. But death follows her as closely as the male. Detective Hae-jun is drawn to her both professionally and romantically, no doubt thrilled by the danger. Yet, Chan-wook denies displaying physical consummation, and this makes the film more erotic than endless sex scenes do.

Lastly, Decision to Leave’s (2022) examination of language, both bodily and verbal, is deftly presented as a theme within the romance. The central crime of murder creates suspicion between the Korean and Chinese characters, but there’s a mutual and irresistible pull that cannot be denied. Song Seo-rae’s use of her phone translation application during her exchanges with the Detective create both a barrier and paradoxical intimacy. It’s just one of the fascinating bits of business, as well as the chainmail gauntlet used by the Detective, which elevate an already impressive script. But did Decision to Leave (2022) need to be so evasively complex and full of radiant ambiguity? The ending especially is both poetically exquisite and frustratingly cryptic. With a Park Chan-wook film, would I have it any other way?

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: BONES AND ALL (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: BONES AND ALL (2022)

Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Screenplay by David Kajganich

Based on Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis

Produced by: Luca Guadagnino, Theresa Park, Marco Morabito, David Kajganich, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Lorenzo Mieli, Gabriele Moratti, Peter Spears, Timothée Chalamet

Cast: Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, André Holland, Chloë Sevigny, David Gordon Green, Jessica Harper, Jake Horowitz, Mark Rylance, etc.

Cinematography: Arseni Khachaturan

*** CONTAINS STORY SPOILERS ***



After reviewing The Menu (2022) last time out, here’s another film where food and eating and death are at the very marrow of the narrative. I must confess though it’s very difficult to discuss the excellent hybrid genre film, Bones and All (2022) without giving away the main ingredient within this film. So, I give prior warning that I’m going to have to reveal it in the review. I will state therefore if this film had been called, Fine Young Cannibals, I would not have been surprised in the least. Because the theme of people eating human meat is at the heart of the story.

Bones and All (2022) is not a B-movie zombie film with bloody images of flesh-eating monsters devouring people. Yes, there are some gory scenes to satisfy horror fans, however, this arthouse adaptation of Camille DeAngelis’ 2016 novel, is more subtle and sympathetic to the young protagonists with a yearning for mortal flesh. Here murder and cannibalism occur, but it is represented as a curse for both Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothee Chalamet), who struggle with their consumptive urges. Moreover, the feeding on flesh is highly symbolic, representing a sensual and almost religious experience for the couple. As they travel across various States, they grow as characters and people. They also explore their own love and share other people’s bodies, romance bleeding through in the process.



Bones and All (2022) is set in the 1980s. It begins with teenager Maren living with her father (Andre Holland) in Virginia. After hitting eighteen years of age, and causing a particularly nasty event at a friend’s sleepover, she is abandoned by him. Left with a cassette tape explaining her family history, Maren sets out to find her mother, meeting Lee along the way. The two are immediately drawn to each other and while driving set about sating their desire for fresh meat. This causes conflict between the couple as it is clear they are not comfortable with the nasty business of killing. Unlike the pursuing serial-killer-trophy-collecting antagonist, Sully (Mark Rylance). He is a venal force of nature, taking animalistic glee during the sacrifice of his victims.

Bones and All (2022) is directed with glacial majesty by Luca Guadagnino. He expertly blends and cooks the genres of horror, period drama, rites-of-passage, romance and road movie with a well balanced approach to tone. Extracting attractive performances from Chalamet and Russell, their onscreen chemistry is potent and touching. Acting legend Mark Rylance steals the show though as the slithery Sully. Overall, I felt the film could have been cut for pace slightly and the Romeo and Juliet-with-a-twist ending was too tragic for me. I think, despite their cannibalistic needs, Maren and Lee deserved a future together. But ultimately it’s all a matter of taste.

Mark: 8 out of 11


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: BLONDE (2022)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: BLONDE (2022)

Directed and written by: Andrew Dominik

Based on: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

Produced by: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Tracey Landon, Scott Robertson

Main cast: Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, Julianne Nicholson, Evan Williams, Toby Huss, David Warshofsky, Caspar Phillipson, etc.

Cinematography: Chayse Irvin

*** CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS ***



Aside from expertly directing episodes of the Netflix drama, Mindhunter and the documentary One More Time with Feeling (2016), filmmaker Andrew Dominik’s directorial output has been sparse of late. Indeed, he hasn’t released a feature film since quirky gangster drama, Killing Them Softly (2012). I imagine this is due to many reasons including: slow-gestating methodology, several unrealized projects failing to see a greenlight, and the dreaded COVID-19. It’s a shame as I believe he is one of the most compelling filmmakers around at present. Chopper (2000) remains one of my favourite cult stories about a charismatic, larger-than-life criminal anti-hero. Similarly, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) is one of the best films I have seen from the last twenty years.  It was pretty much a box-office flop but everything about it screamed greatness to me: stunning cinematography; brilliant cast; and resonating themes regarding celebrity and legend in the Wild West.

After Chopper Read and Jesse James, once again Dominik explores the iconic life of a real person in Blonde (2022). You may have heard of her, Norma Jean Mortenson/Baker, or as she was more famously known: Marilyn Monroe. Using Joyce Carol Oates’ book as a springboard, plus no doubt many other written, visual and media sources available, Dominik has crafted a stylish and singular vision of the peroxide icon’s life and career. In no doubt should a viewer believe this to be a “true” story in the documentary-drama style, but rather an impressionistic, poetic and compelling imagining of Marilyn’s short, yet tumultuous, existence on this planet.

For me, Marilyn Monroe was one of the most stunning movie stars who ever existed. She lit up the screen and was a mightily under-rated actor also. In her heyday she was the biggest star in the world. Her role as Sugar in Some Like it Hot (1959), is one of the most gorgeously funny, beautiful and vulnerable performances ever committed to celluloid. Enter Ana De Armas as Marilyn in Blonde (2022). De Armas is a revelation on-screen in terms of her looks, movement, body language and the nuanced depth she brings to the screen siren. It’s a brave role too as the script demands much of her. Throughout many exquisitely filmed and edited scenes lies the ugly degradation of Marilyn’s body and soul. De Armas gives her all in these vignettes of domestic abuse, sexual assault, rape, abortions, overdoses, miscarriages, mental breakdowns and further sexual gaslighting at the hands of people she believed were friends.



So, why should you want to watch Blonde (2022), you may ask yourself. Well, De Armas’s performance alone is worth enduring much of the emotionally draining misery. Moreover, Dominik again proves himself to be a director of the highest quality. He’s a maverick and iconoclast who has an impressive and intelligent cinematic eye. The opening sequence where Norma, as a young child, is driven by her unwell mother through Los Angeles forest fires is a frightening and imperious interpretation of mental health, full of fear, heat, and portentous symbolism. Such fire and trauma foreshadows the distress and torment that is to come to young Norma throughout her life. A schizophrenic Mother also echoes the schism of persona that impacts Norma the individual, and Marilyn the movie star. The division of personalities is a theme which the screenplay sensitively explores, despite being buried in the more lurid and shocking events of Marilyn’s sad life.

Overall, Blonde (2022) is a startling and shocking rendition of Marilyn Monroe. Of course, hers was an existence full of drama, intensity, darkness and tragedy. But you have to think there was some light in there, some happiness, humour and joy. On some fleeting occasions during Blonde (2022), Dominik presents this, but ultimately this is a beautifully filmed yet ugly-hearted cinematic tragedy. On the surface the film genre is biopic, but it really is a horror film, as Marilyn’s exploitation by the men in her life is laid bare on the screen. I’ve read some critics describe the film as exploitational, however, this is a film ABOUT exploitation. Marilyn was exploited by agents, photographers, directors, producers, the press, the Hollywood system, the audience, her doctors, her lovers, her husbands and a President of the United States.

Dominik is perhaps suggesting Monroe did not kill herself, but was disintegrated by those who should have loved and cared for her. The ultimate tragedy is that Norma/Marilyn could not find the love and mental strength inside herself to survive those who perpetually sought to profit from this beautiful shining star. If the events realised in Blonde (2022) are to be believed, what person could?

Mark: 8 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (2022)

Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh

Produced by: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin & Martin McDonagh

Main Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan, etc.

Cinematography: Ben Davis

Edited by: Mikkel E. G. Nielsen

Music by: Carter Burwell

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) is Martin McDonagh’s latest cinematic masterpiece. Not only is it one of the best films of the year he has, as with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), constructed one of the most formidable screenplays of many a year. As a playwright McDonagh has won many awards for his works. His debut film, In Bruges (2008), was a deceptively simple story of two hitmen on the run which, with rich thematic power, became a darkly hilarious existential cult classic. His follow-up Seven Psychopaths (2012), a heady mix of criminals versus writers in a meta-fictional Hollywood-based narrative was brilliantly written and acted, if slightly lacking thematic clarity. Like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) is a highly emotional human drama which contains intelligent allegory, incredible characterization, and cracking dialogue.

Set in 1923 on an island off of Southern Ireland called aptly Inisherin, the film opens by focussing on genial everyman farmer, Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and his daily routine. After tending to his animals, he usually calls for his friend, Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) to go to the island pub, the J.J. Devine or Jonjo’s. In England there is an idiom called, “sending someone to Coventry.” This means to ignore or ostracize an individual or individuals. So, basically Colm chooses to do this to his long-standing friend, Pádraic. This shunning completely bemuses Pádraic and despite Colm’s pleading for Pádraic to respect his wishes, he continually seeks an answer to his former friend’s decision.



After this intriguing premise is established, what follows is a tremendously original, darkly funny and emotionally penetrating succession of scenes. The exchanges between the two characters begins as bickering but then descends into some seriously disturbing acts of recrimination. Attempting to make them see sense are various eccentric characters on the island who provide many witty and absurd exchanges that McDonagh specialises in. Further, Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) is almost the one voice of reason as the feud escalates. As she tries to diffuse the conflict, even Barry Keoghan’s young idiot, Dominic Kearney, the initial comic relief in the film, attempts to make these two men see sense.

Visually, The Banshees of Inisherin (2022), is incredibly rich. The territory displays gorgeously photographed shots of the rocks, the sea, the stone roads and the lush green countryside. But while there is a sense of expanse and freedom initially, the feeling of isolation pervades. As the story continues the characters feel more and more segregated by the sea and their own or other’s decisions. None more so than Farrell’s Pádraic. A simple man who just wants to do his work and get drunk with his friend, he finds he is sequestered by Colm’s desire to self-isolate and concentrate on his music. Here, Farrell and Gleeson give tremendous character work. Farrell especially has rarely been better as Pádraic’s attitude turns initially from shock to bitterness over the journey of the narrative.



A film director’s job is for me about making key creative choices. Martin McDonagh makes brilliant choices while working from his own exceptional script. I loved everything about The Banshees of Inisherin (2022). The look, the performances, the pacing, the locations and Carter Burwell’s phenomenal score are absolutely first class. I haven’t even mentioned Barry Keoghan’s memorable supporting turn. He surely is one of the most naturally gifted actors of his generation. Not to forget other striking characters in the ensemble such as the creepy, Mrs McCormick (Sheila Flitton), an old harridan who acts as a portent for death on the island.

Martin McDonagh expertly combines a superb ear for dialogue, a psychologically absorbing analysis of the human condition with elements from Waiting For Godot and Channel Four situation comedy, Father Ted. Above all else, The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) is a darkly, spectacular cinematic experience which works on many levels. On one level it is about the isolation of island life and its inhabitants. On another it’s about the death of a friendship. While on yet another level it is about the analogous absurdity of civil war and how conflict can start for the merest of reasons. While the best cinema is certainly about showing and not telling, McDonagh proves again that dialogue-driven films can produce cinematic theatre, comedy and tragedy of the highest order.

Mark: 10 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: DON’T WORRY DARLING (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW – DON’T WORRY DARLING (2022)

Directed by: Olivia Wilde

Screenplay by: Katie Silberman – Story by Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke and Katie Silberman

Produced by: Olivia Wilde, Katie Silberman, Miri Yoon, Roy Lee

Main Cast: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, Chris Pine etc.

Cinematography Matthew Libatique

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Part arthouse character study, part science fiction social satire and eventually a rushed concertinaed thriller, the Olivia Wilde directed, Don’t Worry Darling (2022) is a visual feast, anchored by Florence Pugh’s devastatingly brilliant performance. However, the ambition of the themes remains hamstrung by pacing and structure which fails to serve the story to its full potential.

Set within a utopian 1950’s sun blanched town called Victory, Wilde and her writers throw us straight into the hedonistic lives of a set of youthful and dynamic couples, drinking, partying and sexing. They work and play hard. Well, the husbands work as the dutiful women stay at home cleaning and churning out kids. So far-so-Stepford Wives! At the heart of Don’t Worry Darling (2022) is Pugh as the loyal but inquisitive, Alice. Her husband, Jack (Harry Styles) is ambitious, seeking the approval of big boss, the hubristic Frank (Chris Pine). When Alice begins to experience Kafkaesque dreams of feeling trapped by her daily life, she slowly realises all is not quite perfect in paradise.


No one does anguish and anxiety on screen like Florence Pugh. As Alice falls deeper down the rabbit hole of despair, Pugh produces true cinematic power once again. Olivia Wilde also brings a compelling image system to fully visualise Alice’s hellish descent. In comparison, the male characters are far less developed and the exchanges between Pugh and Styles, especially in the final act, are really lacking in dramatic punch. Styles himself I felt was miscast, but he does have an engaging screen presence. It’s just I didn’t feel enough threat from him.

Structurally, Don’t Worry Darling (2022) is also flawed. The major reveal comes way too late to assuage the pacing issues. While the narrative contains some striking visual set-pieces there are too many parties, barbecues and social events getting in the way of the potential thrills that could have occurred if Alice had discovered her plight much earlier. Overall, there is too much set-up and not enough punch. The longer you wait to reveal the twist, the bigger the revelation needs to be. The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone have done this style of story with more emotional impact and better economy. Pugh and Wilde though prove once again they are major talents and thematically speaking it’s good that men get another kick in. Men are fast becoming the go-to villains of this century and long may it continue.

Mark: 6.5 out of 11


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


CINEMA REVIEW: THE BLACK PHONE (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE BLACK PHONE (2021)

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Screenplay by: Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill

Based on “The Black Phone” by Joe Hill

Produced by: Jason Blum, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill

Main cast: Mason Thames, Madeleine McGraw, Jeremy Davies, James Ransone, Ethan Hawke


Cinematography Brett Jutkiewicz

** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS **


Halloween party-goers now have a new mask to wear on their faces in the guise of The Black Phone (2021) villain daubed, “The Grabber”. Although one must point out the mask is highly influenced by Japanese classic horror, Onibaba (1964). Anyway, the Grabber is a sick individual who prowls and abducts kids from the Denver suburbs in the 1970s, using black balloons and a creepy van as his signature. Portrayed by Ethan Hawke, he isn’t most subtle or interesting of killers, but his chilling behaviour drives this effective horror film from director Scott Derrickson.

The story is the essence of every parent’s living nightmare. Their child goes missing having been snatched off the street in broad daylight. The film takes the time to establish many of the children’s characterisations so we have time to bond with them and feel the horror of their plight. Central to the story are teen brother, Finney (Mason Thames), and younger sister, Gwen (Madeline McGraw). Even without the threat of the murderer, their mother has passed and they are brought up by abusive and alcoholic father (Jeremy Davies). To add further woe, Finney, finds himself bullied by older kids at school. Could things get any worse? Of course! Finney finds himself the next victim of the evil Grabber!



Plunged into a gloomy and sound-proofed basement, Finney, is trapped with no way out from the Grabber’s nefarious plans. Ah, but Finney suddenly gets assistance from, not one, but two supernatural sources. Firstly, the titular black phone which hangs on the wall of the basement and scares us half to death when it rings. Who is on the other end? Well, lets just say they are not of the living. The second magical helper for Finney is that Gwen has the second sight in her dreams. Over time she is able to conveniently assist the police at significant stages of the narrative. Much suspense is raised from Finney’s attempts to escape as time begins to run out for him. His conversations on the black phone are imaginatively delivered as he reaches some weird dimension beyond life and death.

The Black Phone (2021) is both a suspenseful and silly ride, efficiently directed by expert genre filmmaker, Scott Derrickson. The characters are nicely written and you really root for them as the kids deal with all manner of terror. Themes relating to sibling community, stranger-danger, and sticking up for yourself against bullying are intelligently explored also. However, I must say the film has, for all the emotional depth felt and evocative 1970s locations and costumes displayed, a number of serious plot-holes struck me as incredibly questionable. I also thought Ethan Hawke’s villain while visually striking, lacked intelligence and a proper characterisation. I get that he is masked symbol of evil, but a great actor like Hawke was wasted in such casting. Overall though, The Black Phone (2021) is definitely a cinematic call worth answering.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11


“CINEMA” REVIEWS: FRESH (2022) + WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (2022)

“CINEMA” REVIEWS: FRESH (2022) + WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (2022)

Two entirely different types of film on the surface, one a black comedy-horror and the other a romantic murder-mystery. Although both feature examples of the female outsider fighting against variant elements of toxic masculinity and the patriarchy. What they also have in common is impressive acting performances from rising star, Daisy Edgar-Jones. Thus, I thought it interesting to review said films side-by-side. With the usual marks out of eleven.

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


FRESH (2022)

Directed by Mimi Cave

Written by Lauryn Kahn

Main cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Sebastian Stan, Jonica T Gibbs, Charlotte Le Bon, Andrea Bang etc.

Essentially a beat-by-beat replica of Get Out (2017) as the main protagonist finds themself under threat from a nefarious force as their best friend desperately seeks to rescue them from grisly danger. Rather than raising important points about racism within the horror genre, Mimi Cave’s deliciously directed horror story with comedic elements, explores the precarious threat of singledom, toxic masculinity, gastronomy and relationships.

Daisy Edgar-Jones portrays cynical twenty-something, Noa, who is sick of the dating game and feels isolated where romance is concerned. I empathised with her decision to remain single, but then she has a meat cute with likeable charmer, Steve (Sebastian Stan), in the supermarket. They go on a date and more than hit-it-off. Before you can say “no-don’t-go-away-for-the-weekend-with-a-man-you-hardly-know!” Noa goes away with Steve and the plot ingredients really come to the boil.

Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones have fine chemistry throughout and are attractive protagonists. The first half of the film builds raw suspense, before the revelation arguably over-cooks the central relationship on the menu. Providing excellent support to the leads is Noa’s bestie, Mollie (Jonica T. Gibbs), who turns detective to locate Noa before the knives come out for her. Fresh (2022) runs out of steam toward the end as the plotting unravels with the characters making dumb horror movie decisions. However, I really want to see what writer, Lauren Kahn and director, Mimi Cave, deliver next as their debut feature Fresh (2022) is a very tasty starter.

Mark: 8 out of 11



WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (2022)

Directed by Olivia Newman

Screenplay by Lucy Alibar (Based on Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens)


Main cast: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, Michael Hyatt, Sterling Macer, Jr., David Strathairn etc.

Adapted from the best-selling phenomenon written by Delia Owens, I went into Where the Crawdads Sing (2022) cold without any prior knowledge of the story. I hadn’t read the novel and even the trailer, thankfully, didn’t give swathes of plot away when I saw it. But what’s it all about? Well, it’s a sprawling cake mix of genres including murder-mystery, court drama, period piece, romance, and rites-of-passage with a movie-of-the-week cherry on top feel.

Daisy Edgar-Jones sensitively portrays Kya Clark, a young girl living in the North Carolina marsh, dealing with all manner of drama and trouble throughout her life. Considered an outcast and weirdo by the town locals of Barkley Cove, the film quickly places Kya as the main suspect in the murder of a privileged jock, Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). Via flashbacks we are then introduced to the misery of Kya’s abusive childhood, with her father frightening away Kya’s mother and brothers with his drunken battery. When Kya is ultimately abandoned by everyone, she finds some solace in her fledgling romance with Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) and her interest in wildlife and art.

There are many elements of Where the Crawdads Sing (2022) that felt extremely familiar, notably the Nicholas Sparks-inspired love triangle. Kya having to choose between generic good boy/bad boy types. However, it is integral to the character-driven aspect of Kya growing from a shy caterpillar and blossoming into a radiant butterfly. While the arguably patronising characterisation of the black characters did not convince, Kya’s character arc is certainly compelling, thanks to Edgar-Jones intelligent performance. Moreover, I enjoyed the locations and some wonderful scenery too. Overall, while it is undemanding and generic, I found Where the Crawdads Sing (2022) a pleasing diversion with a couple of obvious, but decent twists in the tale. The kind of film my mum would love.

Mark: 6.5 out of 11

CINEMA REVIEW: EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE, ALL AT ONCE (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE, ALL AT ONCE (2022)

Directed by: Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

Written by: Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

Produced by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Mike Larocca, Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, Jonathan Wang, Michelle Yeoh, etc.

Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, etc.

Cinematography: Larkin Seiple

Editor: Paul Rogers

*** CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS ***



Wow, where does one start when reviewing Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s highly entertaining and genre-colliding film, Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2022)? Well, let’s start inward and work outwards. Thus, overall, it is one of the most exhilarating cinema releases of the year. Michelle Yeoh gives a spectacular series of performances as middle-aged wife, mother, business person, actor, chef, martial artist, sign-flipper, lesbian pianist, planet saviour, and rock named simultaneously Evelyn Wang, Evelyn Wang, Evelyn Wang, Evelyn Wang and yet more Evelyn Wang’s. Yes, if you didn’t know this is another multiverse narrative, but arguably the best and most fun of the lot.

Spinning a plot that could be pitched as Crouching Matrix, Hidden Beauty the relentless Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2022) has a seriously insane story and series of crazy, funny set-pieces throughout, with the filmmakers throwing drama, science-fiction, kung-fu, horror, comedy, rites-of-passage, romance, surrealism, and kitchen sink genres at the page and screen in a riotous visual and aural feast. I mean what other films deliver a talking raccoon, giant dildo fight and homage to Stanley Kubrick into the creative mixer. And that’s just for starters. I could say more but don’t want to spoil all the spectacular surprises on show. Safe to say, I won’t look at a bagel the same after watching this devastating cinematic smorgasbord. Word of warning the tone of this film smash cuts all over the place, and while I could find fault with this, the sheer pace, imagination and diversity of the concepts did not just win me over, but smashed me into submission.



But what the hell is the story, Paul? Oh yes, there is a narrative core and spine with which to hang the madness on. I said I was going outwards didn’t I? So, Michelle Yeoh, Evelyn, is married to Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and their relationship is slowly cooling like campfire embers. The family business is in financial strife and as the launderette struggles, Evelyn finds herself being audited by the I.R.S. Adding to these woes are stressful relationships with her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu) and elderly father, Gong Gong (James Hong), thus Evelyn’s mid-life is not so much in crisis as about to explode. She needs a miracle. An escape. A means with which to resolve and work through her issues. But this reality bites. Hard. Thankfully, this isn’t real life. It is cinema. And there are alternatives universes. Many alternative Evelyn’s in fact. But is this Evelyn the chosen one? So a journey of identity and discovery begins. Will Evelyn save herself? Will Evelyn save the world(s)? And does it even matter?

I would probably need to watch Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2022) again to see if the myriad of plot concepts actually make sense. My instinct was that the writers were in control and deliberately out of control with their material. Throwing punchlines, taking risks, improvising and not so much pushing but burning many, many envelopes. Yet, they have found a rock in Michelle Yeoh to build their multi-stranded narratives and themes around. She superbly anchors the film allowing the filmmakers to simultaneously explore the meaning of life, identity and existence in two-hours-or-so of exhilarating cinemas. Yeoh deserves award nominations galore for the energy, strength and emotion shown within the many lives of Evelyn Wang. It was also terrific too to see Ke Huy Quan return to a prominent movie role. He is so likeable and funny. Please never retire again!

Lastly, kudos to Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for delivering one of the most extraordinary films about ordinary people of the year. They potentially could have shaved some minutes of the runtime for pace. Because, by the time yet another smashing fight scene had finished I was almost too exhausted to feel at one with the final act familial reconciliation. But, Kwan and Scheinert succeed with Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2022) because as well as a machine-gun splattering of hilarious ideas and gags combined with some pretty lofty themes, this film ultimately has a hell of a heart. More than one; a multiverse of hearts in fact. All beating as one.

Mark: 9 out of 11