Tag Archives: action

FILM REVIEW: RRR (2022)

FILM REVIEW: RRR (2022)

Directed by S. S. Rajamouli

Screenplay by S. S. Rajamouli and Story by V. Vijayendra Prasad

Produced by D. V. V. Danayya

Cast: N. T. Rama Rao Jr., Ram Charan, Ajay Devgn, Alia Bhatt, Shriya Saran, Samuthirakani, Ray Stevenson, Alison Doody, Olivia Morris, etc.

Cinematography: K. K. Senthil Kumar

Music by M. M. Keeravani



I have a couple of confessions to make before reviewing the exhilarating action-period-musical-drama-martial-arts-hybrid extravaganza that is RRR (2022). Firstly, I did not see it at the cinema. It was only a recommendation from a work colleague that there was an amazing and spectacular three-hour Indian-produced epic film on Netflix I should watch! I am so glad I did as it is a tremendous work of genre entertainment.

My second confession is, that while I call myself a film fanatic, I have not watched many films that could be classed as part of the Bollywood oeuvre. This is a massive admission of guilt because initial research reveals that Bollywood, the informal name for the vast Hindi-language cinema, is one of the world’s largest film producers. Yet, it is important to state that RRR (2022), the most expensively budgeted Indian film of all time, is not technically Bollywood, but rather ‘Tollywood’, being an Indian Telugu-language film.

Further research reveals the traditional Bollywood-style film will most certainly be a musical, full of scenes with joyous singing and dancing. Moreover, standard narratives involve family dramas, unrequited love, rich-girl-poor-boy romances, dividing settings between urban and rural landscapes. Conversely, RRR (2022) certainly has stunning song and dance set-pieces, but it is so much more than that. It is stupendously energetic and inventive, with so much amazing action I was left breathless. Arguably the songs get in the way of the high-octane brilliance, although one spectacular dance sequence at an English garden party left me with a massive cheesy grin.



The story is set in India, 1920, during the British Raj. This, if you were not aware, was part of the Empire, with the Crown ruling in India from 1858 to 1947. Safe to say that the British, aside from one main sympathiser, encapsulated within monstrous characters portrayed by Ray Stevenson and Alison Doody are the big baddies. Because, this is a film about overcoming oppression through the heroic and revolutionary acts of two larger-than-life characters named Komaram Bheem (N. T. Rama Rao Jr.) and Alluri Sitarama Raju (Ram Charan). The inventive, if at times predictably structured screenplay, is inspired to incorporate the lives of these two real-life Indian rebels, who never met, but challenged the Raj and the Nizam of Hyderabad, respectively.

RRR (2022) is not an accurate historical epic. Who cares! This three-hour behemoth is a thrill-ride that successfully establishes not one, but two, kick-ass heroes. Bheem, who takes the name Akhtar, is introduced fighting a tiger in the jungle, while Ragu, an Officer in the British Army — for reasons which are revealed in a tremendously moving flashback later in the film — is launched into the story fighting a baying crowd of insurgents. The two action men are initially on opposing sides as we get plot strands which echo Infernal Affairs (2002) / The Departed (2006). As the two form a bromantic friendship we know that the script is building to a big face-off between them. It is certainly worth waiting for as S. S. Rajamouli and his production team deliver a gob-smacking action centrepiece midpoint that involves Akhtar and Ragu battling amidst wild animals, vehicles, British soldiers, explosions and bullets aplenty!

RRR (2022) is not without issues. The boo-hiss stereotypical British colonialists simplify the complex politics of the era. Having said that, the British did asset strip India of valuable resources, essentially enslaving and murdering the Indigenous population during its rule. So, any negative emotions against the British are deserved. The female characters, aside from one, were a tad one-dimensional. Moreover, the film is way too long with one or two songs too many. Finally, the CGI, while actually impressive in its own way, did not always gel perfectly with the live action. However, the scale and ambition of the film is to be totally admired, as is the vibrant direction by S. S. Rajamouli. N. T. Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan, as the lead revolutionaries, are bona fide film stars. Their energy, physicality and charisma on screen really grabbed me and never let go with fight scenes reminding me of the heart-stopping acrobatics of Tony Jaa . Amidst the kinetics there is an emotional heart within RRR (2022), but where the British once ruled India, now it’s the spectacular that reigns.

Mark: 9 out of 11



FIVE REASONS THIS COULD BE GOOD: COCAINE BEAR (2023)

FIVE REASONS THIS COULD BE GOOD: COCAINE BEAR (2023)

Every now and then a film title hooks you in immediately. Snakes on a Plane (2006) anyone? Now, another beast driven movie comes along and says, “Hold. . . My. . . Bear!”Enter the thrill-a-second trailer for – Cocaine Bear (2023)!

So here are five reasons, Cocaine Bear (2023) could be good!

  1. The title of the film is Cocaine Bear (2023)!
  2. It has a kill crazy bear high on cocaine in it!
  3. It is amazingly inspired by a TRUE story!
  4. It’s Ray Liotta’s R.I.P, final film.
  5. The trailer is amazing – check it out here:

Cocaine Bear (2023) releases on February 24th 2023 in the US, UK and most of the world exclusively in movie theatres.

[BOOK REVIEW] Directing Great Television: Inside TV’s New Golden Age – by Dan Attias

Directing Great Television: Inside TV’s New Golden Age – by Dan Attias  – Review by Paul Laight

The opening quotes of praise from a myriad of industry colleagues will make my little review pale into insignificance, as there is no doubt that Dan Attias is a director of some repute, expertise, and experience. Here is an Emmy-nominated director who has worked on an incredible list of amazing television shows such as: Miami Vice, Beauty and the Beast, Wolf, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Sopranos, The Wire, House, Homeland, Witness (Peter Weir), Northern Exposure, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, The Americans, The Killing, The Boys, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Friday Night Lights, etc.

With such a breath of experience Dan Attias therefore offers much to those seeking insight into the world of directing high quality TV. Moreover, it will also give priceless advice to those seeking a career in directing for all forms of creative media. It is structured and presented eloquently in a language that doesn’t blind the reader with techno-speak either.

The author began as an actor before moving into directing. In fact he states that the best training he had for directing was being an actor. Dan Attias moved from in front of the camera to behind it as assistant director for Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola before directing the feature film Silver Bullet (1985). After which he moved into directing episodic television. 

Throughout the book, the author shares his wealth of experiences, highs, lows, and scars got from directing many great TV shows of recent years. Dan Attias does not glamorise the industry but illustrates that the craft of television production is all about the hard work and harder knocks. He advises honing one’s craft through being prepared, with collaboration also being vital. It’s a fast-paced endeavour where choices can often go wrong. But learning from those mistakes builds one’s directorial nous. Preparation is invaluable. Even if episodic television does not always allow it. The director will often arrive late to the party as it were with the showrunners, writers, actors, and pre-production crew having worked months developing a project.



I was seriously inspired by many of Dan Attias’ informative anecdotes. Having worked in both drama and comedy it is clear he is not just a point-and-shoot director. One senses a burning desire on his part to tell stories an imaginative, creative, and emotionally interesting style. Moreover, the book provides key insight into the rehearsal process, positioning actors, use of lenses, shifting points-of-view within scenes, framing, background mise-en-scene and of course lighting. For Attias, above all else, engaging with the environment is imperative as, “Each scene is staging a journey.”

As well as the technical knowledge delivered, the author continually promotes the idea that coordinating positively with showrunners and writers is integral when creating the best work. That does not mean there won’t be disagreements or having to overcome material which appears dramatically unpromising. It is the director’s job to be creative and collaborative while breathing new life into well-known characters within long running shows. 

The final chapters share excellent scene breakdowns from the author’s experience of working on three different TV shows, Snowfall, Manhattan, and Good Girls Revolt. Here he delivers a fine perspective of a director’s vision, using the camera and stylistic choices to tell the story, both following and breaking the rules. If you’re breaking the rules you may face conflict from certain crew members, but it is all about staying confident in one’s vision for the storytelling. Overall, Attias’ honesty in overcoming difficult creative moments is to be admired.

Some may think that television was always the lesser cousin, locked in the artistic attic when compared to the noble art of cinema. No more though as programmes such as Game of Thrones, The Wire, The Sopranos, Homeland, Breaking Bad, and many more have proved. Such classic television finds the writing, cinematography, acting and increased production values, elevating their status to the cinematic. The old-school image of a 1970’s TV director shouting at a bank of monitors giving orders to the beleaguered floor manager and cast in a studio is now gone. Dan Attias and his book are testament to that.

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Buy the book from here:

Publication from https://mwp.com/product/directing-great-television-inside-tvs-new-golden-age/  

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

Paul Laight is a screenwriter, filmmaker, and blogger. In 2005, he formed Fix Films and has written and produced many shorts and other promos. Many of his films have been screened all over the world at various film festivals.

Paul is currently working on feature and short film scripts for future productions. His work can be found here: 

https://www.youtube.com/c/FixFilmsLtd 

https://thecinemafix.com/

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



DAYSHIFT (2022)

Directed by J. J. Perry

Screenplay by: Tyler Tice, Shay Hatten

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

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

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

Mark: 5.5 out of 11



THE GRAY MAN (2022)

Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Screenplay by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

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

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

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

Mark: 5 out of 11



SPIDERHEAD (2022)

Directed by Joseph Kosinski

Screenplay by: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

Based on:
“Escape From Spiderhead” by George Saunders

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

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

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

Netflix. Stop wasting money.

Mark: 6 out of 11


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

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

Directed by Sam Raimi

Written by Michael Waldron – Based on the Marvel Comics

Produced by Kevin Feige

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

Cinematography John Mathieson

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: THE NORTHMAN (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE NORTHMAN (2022)

Directed by  Robert Eggers

Written by: Sjón Eggers & Robert Eggers

Based on: The Legend of Amleth by Saxo Grammaticus

Produced by: Mark Huffam, Lars Knudsen, Robert Eggers, Alexander Skarsgård, Arnon Milchan

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe, etc.

Cinematography    Jarin Blaschke

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Robert Eggers is a formidable cinematic talent. His dark visions of folklore and historical fable are steeped in impressive research and a striking attention to detail within his work. Artistically and thematically speaking, Eggers is a major talent, however, one could argue his narratives deny clarity preferring hazy ambiguity. His debut film The Witch (2015) is an arthouse classic, but I just did not connect with the characters, despite the filthy realistic strangeness. His follow-up, The Lighthouse (2019), is a claustrophobic, black-hearted and dirty descent into a watery hell. Both are bravura low-budget films which created two distinct periods. In both films you can almost feel the plague and scurvy in your mouth, presented as they are with such earthy authenticity.

Thus, unsurprisingly, Robert Eggers latest film is NOT a romantic comedy. The Northman (2022) is another obsessively researched and realised historical drama. But because of the reported $70 million budget, his vision of Vikings and blood and revenge and muscle and familial treason and murder screams epic, more epic and even more EPIC! Eggers script and story is inspired by the historical myth, The Legend of Amleth, a narrative which in turn is said to have influenced none other than the quite well known play, Hamlet. Here Eggers has a solid structure for the thunderous battles and mystical manifestations on show. Our hero, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård), finds his father, the King (Ethan Hawke) murdered by his uncle (Claes Bang), while he is a boy. Fleeing his village he grows into a scary, ripped and roaring Viking warrior who has never even seen a carbohydrate. A hunger for bread and a desire for revenge on his uncle propels the story powerfully. Intense Amleth must locate his kidnapped mother (Nicole Kidman) and smash the man who did his family wrong.



Eggers is a brilliant film director. In Alexander Skarsgård he also has a battering ram of a physical specimen leading the charge from deathly pillage to bloody battle to fiery hand-to-combat with impressive purpose and power. Amidst the vengeance-fuelled fight sequences and Amleth’s confrontations with the seers and magicians of the land, his journey also encompasses love and marriage to Olga of the Birch Forest, a Slavic sorceress (Anya Taylor-Joy). While Skarsgård’s character is more muscle than charisma, Taylor-Joy breathes ethereal and sensual life into the middle act. Their collaboration battling against enforced slavery gives us something to root for above the familiar revenge plot. Having said that, Amleth is not the easiest of characters to warm to. Despite Eggers genius and Skarsgård’s brutalism I wondered if I really cared about his quest.

I would argue that this story was done far more successfully from an emotional perspective by Ridley Scott’s awesome Roman epic, Gladiator (2000). Russell Crowe was just phenomenal as Maximus and his performance was one of magnetic emotion and charismatic depth. That film had amazing action married to integral character development. However, there is a violent momentum to The Northman (2022), with Amleth’s quest charging like a juggernaut toward the jugular of his foes. Eggers’ image and colour system of Viking costumes, iconography, weaponry, plus human, godly and ungodly beings provide the depth when the characterisation feels thin. And wow, does he know how to stage a battle. Bones crunch, teeth crack, blood bursts and weapons sever, scorch and devastate. As the fire burns in Amleth’s heart and across the landscape, The Northman (2022) rages from the cinema screen with dominant visual ascendancy.

Mark: 8 out of 11


HAIL BRITISH CINEMA! REVIEWS OF: AFTER LOVE (2020), BOILING POINT (2021), CALIBRE (2018), COUNTY LINES (2019) & ROSE PLAYS JULIE (2019)

HAIL BRITISH CINEMA!

Tired of watching big-budget homogeneous Hollywood product dominated by superheroes, sequels, remakes, prequels and remakes of prequels to sequels? I kind of am. Not that I don’t love a genre blockbuster when it’s done well. However, from time to time it’s good to diversify and watch films with more depth.

BFI Player has some terrific new and classic releases from all over the world. So, of late I have concentrated on watching some of the newer releases made by British filmmakers. My homeland has always been rich in talented people both in front and behind the camera. This has meant an incredible array of actors, filmmaking artists and technicians being poached by Hollywood. This is not just an artistic decision but an economic one. There just isn’t the money here to make big budget films, however, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some cinematic gold coming out of Britain.

While there have been some very successful film studios in the past, the British film industry has the air of an independently driven environment now. Film Four, the BFI, Aardman, BBC films, Heyday, Baby Cow, Salon Pictures, Marv Films and Number 9 films are all production companies which inhabit the industry. However, it is difficult competing with the gigantic corporate film companies, especially those that dominate distribution at the cinemas.

Yet, here are several brilliant British films I have watched on BFI Player, Netflix and Amazon lately. They are low-budget, mostly independently produced and highly recommended. Check them out as they certainly offer a divergent and absorbing change from the standard generic product at the multiplexes. With marks out of the usual eleven.

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



AFTER LOVE (2020) – BFI PLAYER

Written and directed by: Aleem Khan

Main cast: Joanna Scanlan, Natalie Richard, Talid Arliss etc.

Joanna Scanlan is mesmerising as a Western woman, Mary Hussain, who converted to Islam when she married her childhood sweetheart. In the present, her husband dies suddenly and she discovers he had a secret history. Dealing with both grief and shock at this news, this beautifully acted and directed character study is quietly devastating and moving. Covering themes relating to family, religion, love and fidelity After Love (2020), deservedly won best film at the British Independent film awards. Scanlan, more synonymous with comedic roles, is outstanding and Aleem Khan is a filmmaker who is definitely going places.

Mark: 9 out of 11


BOILING POINT (2021)

Written by: Philip Barandini, James Cummings

Directed by: Philip Barandini

Main cast: Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Ray Panthaki etc.

I’m not a big fan of one-take films generally as it is kind of an unnecessary gimmick, yet this fantastic restaurant-set drama makes full dramatic use of the technique. Stephen Graham is the Head Chef at a Dalston eatery and has to navigate a stressful shift with environmental health, marital, staffing, customer, financial and culinary issues all mounting up around him. There’s even a food critic in the venue. It is brilliantly acted and directed and extremely tense throughout. Graham is always a cracking watch, but Vinette Robinson, as his over-worked deputy, really brings the soup to a boil, serving up a tasty performance amidst the fine ensemble.

Mark: 9 out of 11


CALIBRE (2019) – NETFLIX

Written and directed by: Matt Palmer

Main cast: Jack Lowden, Martin McCann, Tony Curran etc.

This nerve-wracking thriller takes two former boarding-school friends, Vaughn and Marcus, portrayed by Lowden and McCann, on a shooting trip to the Highlands of Scotland and throws them into the pits of despair when tragedy strikes. Taut is not the word when a fateful shooting incident occurs, as a series of bad decisions places their fractious relationship at the mercy of the angry locals. Further conflict derives as Vaughn’s attempts to mature are countered by the reckless Marcus’ aggressive behaviour. Meanwhile, the film also pointedly comments on the corporate invasion of Scottish nature. Overall, Calibre (2019), had me on the edge-of-my-seat, not wasting a moment to raise the pulse. Finally, Lowden is superb, giving a nuanced performance in an impressively directed feature film debut.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


COUNTY LINES (2019) – BFI PLAYER

Written and directed by: Henry Blake

Main cast: Conrad Khan, Ashley Madekwe, Harris Dickinson etc.

If you didn’t know ‘County Lines’ is the practice of trafficking drugs into rural areas and small towns, away from bigger cities. Traffickers often recruit vulnerable children, including those who have been excluded from school, as drug dealers. Part-thriller and part-cautionary tale, Henry Blake’s gritty and impactful film draws on his own experiences working in a pupil referral unit. Lead character, teenager Tyler (Conrad Khan), is groomed and drawn into a murky world of drugs, only to learn some harsh life lessons. Ashley Madekwe gives a fighting performance as the mother who fears her son is lost to the mean streets of London and Harris Dickinson’s charismatic dealer.

Mark: 8 out of 11


ROSE PLAYS JULIE (2019) – BFI PLAYER

Written and directed by: Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor

Main cast: Ann Skelly, Orla Brady, Aiden Gillen etc.

Similar in style and tone to Lynn Ramsay’s intense You Were Never Really Here (2018), this poetic thriller takes a generic revenge narrative and delivers an eerie experience through haunting performances, direction, editing and musical composition. While the story moves at a glacial pace it retains power and purpose, as Ann Skelly portrays adoptee, Rose/Julie, a veterinarian student searching for her biological parents. Her detective work unearths devastating secrets which then precipitate twisted turns into thematically dark territory. Skelly gives a subtle but intelligent performance, while Orla Brady and Aiden Gillen also give emotional depth to their respective roles. Ultimately, despite the film delivering certain plot points too enigmatically, one cannot fail to be moved by Rose’s shocking journey of discovery.

Mark: 8 out of 11


Lest we forget. . .

SAINT MAUD (2019) – AMAZON PRIME

Written and directed by: Rose Glass

Main cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle etc.

The film 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


CINEMA REVIEW: THE BATMAN (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE BATMAN (2022)

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Written by: Matt Reeves, Peter Craig

Based on: Characters from DC

Produced by: Dylan Clark, Matt Reeves

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell, etc.

Cinematography: Greig Fraser

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Three hours of darkness, shadows, fireworks, distorted sound and vision, dull emo-bluster, explosions, fist-to-fist combat, choppy chases, limp dialogue, sparse suspense, blaring sirens, mumbling delivery and humdrum sexual chemistry combine to an incredibly stylish yet boring experience. It may be the biggest box office hit of the year, but The Batman (2022) was interminable filmic disappointment for me. Bruce Wayne/The Batman is a miserable cipher here for the action on show. He is also arguably one of the worst detectives I have witnessed on the screen. Yet, be aware it is NOT the filmmaker’s fault. It is mine. I am a bad cinemagoer.

I am as jaded, and world weary as Robert Pattinson’s noir gumshoe in a costume on screen. Except I have earned it. I have lived through dead-end jobs, despair and disappointment. This film starts by asking us to follow Bruce Wayne’s Caped Crusader into the mean streets of Gotham to battle nefarious gangsters and a crazed, riddle-driven terrorist. But why do we care about him? Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale breathed vibrancy and commitment into the DC comic hero. His trilogy, though not faultless, made us root for the rich kid scared of flying rats. Going on a journey of discovery and finding himself an identity in the process, Bale’s Batman was a three-dimensional hero. Matt Reeves eschews all that with The Batman (2022), presenting familiar characters searching for some semblance of plot and characterisation in the dark.



The story is a breadcrumb plot as Pattinson’s suited vermin plods through scene after scene trying to work out who is killing the corrupt officials of Gotham City. There are fireworks and expertly designed action sequences although many of them are difficult to see amidst the cinematographic murk. Moreover, there isn’t really any empathetic characters here. I love a good cinematic anti-hero, but that requires personality and energy. This Batman has neither of those. Although the screen work of Jeffrey Wright, Paul Dano, John Turturro, Colin Farrell, Andy Serkis and Zoe Kravitz does breathe light and heat into the dull script. Farrell is The Penguin but essentially an Al Capone substitute. His excellent caricature gets buried and almost lost in obsidian and prosthetics.

But as I say, I am to blame. I am a bad superhero cinema person. I am saturated and fatigued by comic book film adaptations and TV shows from Marvel to DC to Vertigo and Image and Icon (yes I know this is Marvel too). I mean the best I can say is The Batman (2022) blasts away the rot that Affleck and Snyder implanted into the Batman franchise. Although that isn’t saying much. Because an obscene $200 million dollars was spent on this hollow vision of a wealthy emo-brat in a dark suit kicking the crap out of shadows. But remember this is my fault. I am old. I am cynical. I applaud Matt Reeves and his talented production team for delivering an impressive visual feast. It’s just a shame that in the bloated running time (15 minutes of that being end credits), they didn’t write any characters worth spending three hours with.

Mark: 7 out of 11