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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


EMERGING FILMMAKER’S NIGHT @ THE GARDEN CINEMA!

EMERGING FILMMAKER’S NIGHT @ THE GARDEN CINEMA

As an emerging filmmaker for the last twenty years (and counting), I am always looking out for fresh presentations and potential collaboration in regard to film production. Most of all I love watching quality short films. Thus, I was thrilled to attend the ‘Best of EFN’ Screening and Networking Event on Friday 11th March 2022. Find out more about them here:

Website: https://www.efnfestival.org

Twitter: @EFNFilmFest



The event took place at The Garden Cinema in Covent Garden – a new fully independent art-house cinema in the heart of London. If you ever want a break from the standard multiplexes, then check out this stylish art-deco delight.

Their website is here: https://www.thegardencinema.co.uk/



Not only was it an incredible venue, but the night had an selection of some the best short films around. The line-up offered fine drinks, decent networking, a quality audience, a fun raffle, plus the finest shorts screened over the many great Emerging Film and Festival Nights.

SHORT FILM LINE UP

Films of Fury – Dir: Mila Araoz Ellis (2020) 12’57

The Sappho Project: fragment 147 Dir: Sari Katharyn (2021) 7’40

Moth Dir: Wai Ying Tiffany Tong (2020) 3′

Staying (Aros Mae) Dir: Zillah Bowes (2020) 19’23

Friends Online Dir: Samantha White (2019) 5’21

Vincent before Noon Dir: Guillaume Mainguet (2019) 17’

Crashing Waves Dir: Emma Gilbertson (2018) 3’39

Stationary Dir: Louis Chan (2019) 12’38

Single Dir: Ashley Eakin (2020) 14’09

All Stretched Out Dir: Alastair Train (2019) 3’33


EFN International Short Film Festival

Emerging Filmmakers Night (EFN) is a quarterly International Short Film Festival that showcases work by emerging talent.

EFN is a BIFA (British Independent Film Awards) Qualifying Short Film Festival

W.https://www.efnfestival.org

E.info@efnfestival.org


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: DON’T LOOK UP (2021)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: DON’T LOOK UP (2021)

Directed by: Adam McKay

Screenplay by: Adam McKay

Story by: Adam McKay, David Sirota

Produced by: Adam McKay and Kevin Messick

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande etc.

Cinematography: Linus Sandgren

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Adam McKay has had an interesting filmmaking career. He was a head writer on Saturday Night Live for two seasons before moving into cinema comedy by writing and directing gag-heavy comedies such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) plus the sequel, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), Step Brothers (2008), and The Other Guys (2010). While one could see these films as silly and knockabout Will Ferrell clown vehicles, certain films contained explorations of social issues relating to sexism in the workplace and big corporation fraud. Nevertheless, it was still surprising when McKay shifted toward more dramatic work full of barbed satire and social commentary. While both The Big Short (2015) and Vice (2018) certainly had humour, they also impressively dissected the mortgage crash and the political rise of Dick Cheney, respectively.

His latest film is the Netflix produced Don’t Look Up (2021). It is a disaster movie in genre, that also mixes in comedy, political satire and drama. The story concerns Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), an astronomy Ph.D. candidate, discovers a previously unknown comet. Kate’s professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) work together and find that it is an extinction event which will destroy all life on Earth. Only having presented their findings to NASA and the White House do they find themselves dealing with indifference, administrative incompetence and corporate neglect lead by insane financial greed. As news of the impending doom hits society, the population become split between believers and naysayers leading to division and chaos.



Don’t Look Up (2021) is arguably less serious in tone compared to Adam McKay’s previous two films, but the message is ultimately more damning of the U.S. Presidency and humanity as a whole. Because the gigantic comet heading for Earth is very much a metaphor for climate change. Here Meryl Streep’s President is dizzyingly dismissive of the science and only begins to act when it is politically and financially beneficial. Her Chief of Staff son, a brilliant Jonah Hill, is a sycophantic numbskull more interested in Lawrence’s raging scientist, rather than saving the world. Indeed, Dibiasky and Mindy get side-tracked by glamour, celebrity and the toxicity of social media. DiCaprio’s arc is amusing as he goes from nervous mouse to confident commentator in the middle act, only to experience a costly personal comeuppance.

Rich in fast-paced gags at the expense of pop, media, political, corporate and dumb human personalities, Don’t Look Up (2021), is a highly entertaining disaster movie with a terrific ensemble cast. I felt Leonardo DiCaprio, one of my favourite actors, was a tad miscast as the science everyman, but he still gives a great performance. Lawrence provides the most grounded and empathetic character playing it straight amidst the all-round insanity. The White House “vending” machine running gag is the best in a film full of funny lines. Mark Rylance is craftily good as the social media megalomaniac manipulating the catastrophic narrative to his own means, but as aforementioned Jonah Hill steals the comedy show. Lastly, Adam McKay probably over-reaches with the poignant family-driven ending. However, I did feel a true sense of loss for the characters and our planet as a whole. The Earth may be full of idiots who don’t want to look up, but thankfully there are storytellers trying to turn their minds in an amusing, silly and intelligent fashion.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS: 10 FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2021!

THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS: 10 FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2021!

Following on from the extremely tricky global issues of 2020, the cinema saw further transitions amidst lockdowns and the rise of even more streaming platforms. Traditional timetables for film releases remain all over the place due to the effects of the pandemic on our culture. Plus, big budget productions are now going straight to the living room more often than not. Especially if the proposed cinema release date is postponed on several occasions. What studios lose in terms of cinema release profits, they are now looking to claw back with reduced marketing budgets and subscriptions to their own respective channels.

In the past my favourite film of the year lists were all films I saw at the cinema. Now they are a mixture of cinema and online releases. There is some overlap too in the given year when I watched such films due to the scheduling changes. I’m really not a fan of this as I don’t like change to routine as a rule. But if it means I still get to see my favourite films online or at the cinema then it’s hardly a trial or major issue to adjust.

List Notes

  1. There are LOADS of films I have NOT SEEN! Please comment below MUST-SEE films not on the list.
  2. The Bond film is not on here. It was fantastic entertainment, but NOT a good Bond movie.
  3. There are no MARVEL/DC films on the list as I have not watched them all. Plus, I have superhero film formula fatigue.
  4. Nomadland (2020), while good, was completely over-rated.
  5. White Tiger (2021) would be on this list, but I only watched it yesterday. So, it qualifies for assessment in 2022.

For comparison here is my list of favourite films in 2020. A starter if you will, before the main cinematic course.

Happy New Year – have a great 2022!



TWELVE FAVOURITE FILMS of 2020!

1917 (2019)
DARK WATERS (2019)
DA 5 BLOODS (2020)
I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)
THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)
MANGROVE (2020)
PARASITE (2019)
PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE (2019)
SAINT MAUD (2019)
TENET (2020)
THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO SEVEN (2020)
UNCUT GEMS (2019)



TEN FAVOURITE FILMS of 2021!

ANOTHER ROUND (2020)

“… with Thomas Vinterberg’s expert direction, evocative natural cinematography, and Mads Mikkelsen giving yet another acting masterclass, the humorous narrative soon leaves the laughs behind to become a bittersweet, yet still uplifting, work of Nordic cinema.”


THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021)

“… David Lowery is an original thinking talent, and someone I categorise as an alternative genre filmmaker… The Green Knight (2021) certainly has scale and magic and astounding cinematic power.”


LAST NIGHT IN SOHO (2021)

“… Edgar Wright has delivered one of the most thrilling and spectacularly energetic films of the year. The nostalgic and heavenly soundtrack is to die for, with so many songs I recall growing up listening to. Likewise, the cinematography and lighting design sparkle in hues of black, fluorescence, shadow and neon.”


MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (2020)

… Levee Green does not see the bigger picture and is sucked in by the promise of money, women and fame. He is blinded by the bright city lights and the closer he gets to them the easier it is for the record producers to pick his pocket. In such a tragic character August Wilson has created a memorably complex persona, perfectly rendered by the acting genius, Chadwick Boseman. R.I.P.”


MINARI (2020)

“… the scenes where David antagonises his unconventional grandmother are hilarious. Youn Yuh-jung as the elderly matriarch is fantastic, deservedly winning a best supporting actress role at the Oscars. Moreover, Lee Isaac Chung gets a miraculous performance from child actor, Alan Kim.”



PIECES OF A WOMAN (2020)

“… The loss of a child is never going to be an easy experience and it is something an individual will never get over. As I followed Martha’s journey intensely the smallest incremental shift in her personality is felt massively. Vanessa Kirby, in particular, is stunning as a woman cut-off from the world by this devastating grief.”


THE POWER OF THE DOG (2021)

“… I’m not always a fan of poetic cinema, especially within a narrative presented as a quasi-Western. Mostly I like to be punched in the gut, not branded slowly from the inside out. Yet Jane Campion’s expert adaptation of Thomas Savage’s novel, The Power of the Dog (2021), contains some bite. You just don’t see when and how it happens.” 


THE RENTAL (2020)

… I’ve seen some so-so reviews for The Rental (2020), but it’s the kind of tightly plotted suspense thriller I really thrive on. What starts as an idyllic getaway for two relatively wealthy couples is carefully unravelled by Dave Franco’s well-paced direction, complimented by Brie and Steven’s committed performances, has wonderful locations and a seriously proper killer ending.”


SOUND OF METAL (2019)

“… Sound of Metal (2019) beats along steadily but with incredible purpose and rhythm. It teaches us that losing a major sense need not be the end of one’s life, but rather the beginning of an altogether different one.”


WEST SIDE STORY (2021)

“… Everything about the film screams colour, energy and movement. The dancing and editing and swinging beats take you on a breathless journey through the romance and street war. West Side Story (2021) keeps all the memorably catchy songs… and if there is a better directed, choreographed and edited set-piece all year in the Gee, Officer Krupke number then I haven’t seen it.


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE POWER OF THE DOG (2021)

NETFLIX REVIEW: THE POWER OF THE DOG (2021)

Directed by: Jane Campion

Screenplay by: Jane Campion

Based on: The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage

Produced by: Emile Sherman, Iain Canning, Roger Frappier, Jane Campion, Tanya Seghatchian

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKenzie, Genevieve Lemon, Keith Carradine, Frances Conroy etc.

Cinematography: Ari Wegner

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Set in 1925 amidst the spectacular terrain of Montana, The Power of the Dog (2021), centres around a ranching family’s everyday relationships, romances, hatreds and choices. Two brothers run the Burbank ranch, Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons). George is the kinder man who leans more toward progress and business. Phil is more of the land and the traditional cowboy. However, he is incredibly intelligent and could have made more of his education. Instead, he is driven to follow in his hero and mentor, Bronco Henry’s wake, work the ranch and command men.

While hiding a deep secret, Phil is absorbed by the cowboy lifestyle and thrives on controlling those around him. But when George meets Rose (Kirsten Dunst) at a cattle drive inn, he falls for her. Soon they marry and George agrees to provide for Rose and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Phil immediately becomes upset by the intruder to the family equilibrium. Soon Rose and Peter fall foul of his bullying and superiority complex. Thus, begins a series of subtle and ambiguous clashes where Phil and Rose clash, before the bright, androgynous Peter manoeuvres to protect his beloved mother.



The stunning cinematography and vistas of, The Power of the Dog (2021), are more luminous dressing when compared to the compelling characterisation and incredible performances delivered via Jane Campion’s confident direction. Indeed, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smit-McPhee are so good you could have set the story on an empty soundstage (like Dogville (2003) and the searing properties of the drama would have been carried just as potently. Cumberbatch is exceptional. This is an Oscar winning performance. His bitter and envious alpha male broods and hides behind violence and biting words. Every now and then he threatens to burst, but is pulled back. Phil wants to love but is so trapped by social expectations and prejudices that he is trapped tragically by the era. The sensitive Peter doesn’t care what people think and that sadly makes him a victim. But still waters run very deep. Peter has a plan.

This film will give you heartburn. It’s subtle and bubbles like acid, reaches the throat before scarring the pit of your stomach. Now, I’m not always a fan of oblique and poetic cinema, especially within a narrative presented as a quasi-Western. Mostly I like to be punched in the gut, not branded slowly from the inside out. Yet Jane Campion’s expert adaptation of Thomas Savage’s novel, The Power of the Dog (2021), contains some bite. You just don’t see when and how it happens. Expect awards galore for this fine drama.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

CINEMA REVIEW: DUNE (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: DUNE (2021)

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Screenplay by: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth

Based on: Dune by Frank Herbert

Produced by: Denis Villeneuve, Mary Parent, Cale Boyter, Joe Caracciolo Jr.

Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, etc.

Cinematography: Greig Fraser

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



I truly hope Dune: Part One (2021), an epic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s legendary Dune literary series, has a second part, otherwise I would have wasted well over two hours of my life watching the Denis Villeneuve helmed film version. Having said that, there were times where I felt the glacial pace of the narrative caused time to stand still, boring me in the process. But, I get it. It’s part one and setting all the major players up and building a strange world both visually and imaginatively. As such perhaps Herbert’s books may have suited a HBO TV adaptation rather than a cinematic version.

Maybe I’m jaded and cynical though. Have I seen too many films and stories? Is Dune: Part One (2021) even worth the journey and perhaps it’s too old-fashioned a sci-fi story to create resonance for myself and these times? Well, it absolutely looks amazing. The special effects, sandy landscapes, behemoth buildings, underground monsters and space vessels are rendered with such believable authenticity they genuinely looked real on the screen. Frank Herbert’s (I haven’t read the books) vision is astoundingly realised as this futuristic world in a far, far galaxy felt like a moving work of art. But, it was extremely beige and brown and sandy looking on Arrakis, so much so that I was glad of the dark contrast in the scenes involving House of Harkonnen. By the way, I’m not often a fan of the natural cinematography style used here where during big action scenes at night I could hardly see anything. Moan over.



The story of Dune (2021) felt a bit old-fashioned as a classic hero’s journey. It didn’t help that the in-the-sand screenplay and Denis Villeneuve’s meditative, confident direction was too subtle for this story. I mean why do we care about Timothee Chalamet’s Paul Atreides and his family’s inheritance of the spice world’s of Arrakis? Without giving anything away it becomes a poisoned chalice politically in this world and Paul’s, his parents, and the House of Atreides’ lives all become endangered. So, while Frank Herbert’s novel was originally released to powerful acclaim in 1965 and five other novels would follow year’s later, a film version of Dune (2021) now feels outdated in terms of subtext. Villeneuve is a genius filmmaker, but I’m not sure, aside from the beautiful look of the locations, sets and actors there is much of a narrative to get our teeth into. Just another ‘white saviour’ quest, which is so drawn out in terms of the interminable slow pace at times.

Of course, the cast are wonderful to look at, but Chalamet is miscast for me. He is an incredibly talented young actor, but he is not given any character to get his teeth into. Villeneuve does a less-is-more style that I love and he’s obviously playing the long game with Dune (2021), yet he really needed a young Ryan Gosling to carry Paul Atreides as Chalamet isn’t given enough to do in terms of acting. Yes, there are massive worms and big explosions and floating fat men, but the story dragged. Thankfully, Jason Momoa injected some movie star charisma in his action sequences, while Rebecca Ferguson and Javier Bardem sprinkled some of their own spice amidst the over-controlled Villeneuve design.

I really wanted to like Dune (2021). I won’t see a more attractive and technically perfect rendition of a sci-fi world in the cinema in years. But, I could not connect with the narrative or drama. I mean, Paul is possibly the chosen one or something or other but why do we care? His mother is connected to some weird cultish sect — with the “Force” — and there are big worms which made me want to watch Tremors (1990); a far superior and shorter version of the hero’s journey. Watch that instead.

Mark: 7 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: NO TIME TO DIE (2021)

Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Screenplay by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Story by: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga

Based on: James Bond by Ian Fleming

Produced by Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli

Cast: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Billy Magnusson, Ana De Armas etc.

Cinematography: Linus Sandgren

Edited by: Elliot Graham, Tom Cross,

Music by: Hans Zimmer

Production companies: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Eon Productions

*** NO MAJOR SPOILERS ***



As a Bond swansong, No Time To Die (2021) gives Daniel Craig’s earthy and human characterisation of the famous spy a tremendous finale. Indeed, it was a powerfully entertaining work of cinema, but was it a great Bond film? Not for me. Don’t get me wrong, all the creatives here from the director, art department, cinematographer, location scouts, costume design, scintillating cast, stunt team, production crew, the army of screenwriters and so on, have all worked prodigiously to create a wonderful example of blockbuster genre cinema. But it has many story and legacy issues that stop it from being a memorably pure Bond film in my opinion. However, I am not going to be critical in this review, but rather celebrate what is great about No Time To Die (2021). Thus, it’s time to revel in the fact Fleming’s fictional formula continues providing sensational diversion from everyday existence.

The choice to make No Time To Die (2021) a direct sequel to Spectre (2015), would not have been my preferred route for this narrative. Spectre (2015) is entertaining. It was fine. Was it a good Bond film though?  Not particularly.  I should qualify this by saying I thought Skyfall (2012) was a cracking film; a fantastic action thriller with fine characterisation and a formidably nasty, yet playful, villain in Javier Bardem. Thematically, it was strong with Bond’s orphan background and relationship with M (other) providing depth and subtext. Skyfall (2012) was also lusciously shot by Roger Deakins with fantastic direction from Sam Mendes. But neither Spectre (2015) or Skyfall (2012) are great Bond espionage adventures like From Russia With Love (1963) or The Living Daylights (1987), or a devastatingly plotted, romantic action adventure like Casino Royale (2006). Skyfall (2012) was an Oedipal soap opera with bells on, as ghosts of the past avenge the present. Spectre (2015) and No Time To Die (2021) continue the theme of vengeful and dysfunctional family ties bringing strife to Bond. But, nowhere near as successfully as Craig’s first outing, Casino Royale (2006). That remains one of the best Bond films ever.

Like Quantum of Solace (2008), No Time To Die (2021) is, as aforementioned a sequel, but the main difference is No Time To Die (2021) is way longer than Quantum of Solace (2008). The pace rarely dips in No Time To Die (2021), but it could certainly have been trimmed in places because at times I felt the screen was stuffed with too many characters and subplots. I must point out I’m aware that Quantum of Solace (2008) is not rated highly in the Bond canon, but I like it. I feel there are some incredibly filmed sequences in it. Notably, the opening car and foot chase, the opera shootout, a spectacular air conflict and the fiery desert lair denouement. While the villain was weak and it failed in terms of narrative, Quantum of Solace (2008) succeeded for me as a fast-paced and exquisite, if choppy, spectacle that tied up the loose ends from the far superior, Casino Royale (2006). Quantum of Solace (2008) infamously had no writers re-working it due to the ongoing strike, No Time To Die (2021), arguably has too many cooks and ingredients occurring simultaneously. Having said that Cary Joji Fukunaga brings a confident energy to the film throughout, connecting the emotions of the script and explosive box of tricks together in a neatly packaged presentation.



Daniel Craig is phenomenal in No Time To Die (2021). While he is always a strong actor, he has also grown into a bona fide movie star too. Even when going through the motions in Spectre (2015) he was good, but in No Time To Die (2021), he blows the doors off. While he does look too old for the role now, from getting blown up in Italy, to almost drowning in Cuba and facing off against Rami Malek’s malevolent poisoner on an island near Russia, nobody does almost-dying better than Craig. Moreover, as well as the constant threats on his life, crazy new technology that delivers instant death, and a litany of evil henchmen trying to take him down, Bond must contend retirement and having his place usurped at MI6 by the confident Nomi (Lashana Lynch). Having been set-up as a major story player, Nomi and this spy-versus-spy story pivot ultimately peters out for more melodramatic plotlines which I will not divulge. In fact, Nomi’s thunder is ultimately stolen by the CIA agent, Paloma, with Ana De Armas absolute dynamite in the smashing Cuban section of the film.

As with Spectre (2015), where there wasn’t nearly enough of Christoph Waltz, Rami Malek’s villain Safin is not utilised enough. Malek gives a haunting performance in a few creepy scenes, yet I felt cheated. I would have loved more exchanges between him and David Dencik’s eccentrically dangerous scientist. More scenes in the imaginatively designed island lair where all manner of deadly poisons were being concocted would have been brilliant, and further developed Safin’s intriguing backstory and fiendish plotting.

No Time To Die (2021) belongs to Bond and Daniel Craig of course, and they get into some barnstorming scrapes. The opening action involving motorcycle stunts and the iconic Aston Martin blasting the Spectre goons is an early highlight. The Cuban nightclub murders and subsequent gunplay really raise the pulse too. After the explosive boat sequence where Bond has a moving parting of the ways from an old friend, the action arguably becomes more generic and not as memorable. That is, THAT IS, until the unforgettable end set-piece where Craig’s 007 faces an insurmountable set of physical and emotional challenges. Lastly, some might say Daniel Craig goes out on an all time high, and no doubt No Time To Die (2021) is destined to knock the living daylights out of all prior Bond box office records.

Mark: 009 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021)

Directed by: David Lowery

Screenplay by: David Lowery

Based on: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Anonymous

Produced by: Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, David Lowery, Tim Headington, Theresa Steele Page

Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson, etc.

Cinematography: Andrew Droz Palermo

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


The quest to see The Green Knight (2021) has seemingly taken longer than Gawain’s mythical journey to meet his ultimate fate. Was it worth the wade through COVID determined lockdowns and distribution delays to the cinema to finally watch it on Amazon? Yes and no I would say as the filmmaking on show is of a visually magical standard. Yet, somewhere in the character’s bones is an emotional brittleness. I will expand.

Written and directed by the formidable filmmaker David Lowery, The Green Knight (2021), is based on the rites-of-passage trials of Gawain (Dev Patel), a young subject within the court of King Arthur’s (Sean Harris) Camelot. Happy getting drunk and flirting with apparently loose women, one of which is Essel (Alicia Vikander), he is then faced with a challenge from the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson). Meeting the gamble from this stunningly created craggy work of metaphor head on sets in motion a fight for his life on the road to symbolic discovery. Throw in some exquisite montages of ominous religious and magical subtext and Gawain must face his fears, fate and foes on a dangerous quest.



Once Gawain hits the dirt tracks, bloody battlefields and ghostly houses of this cursed land the The Green Knight (2021) really finds narrative impetus. Gawain’s confrontation with the Green Knight at Arthur’s court is certainly thrilling, but Lowery spends too much time creating poetic juxtaposition and magical image systems, which while beautiful, really slow the pace of the story. King Arthur’s kingdom and Sean Harris’ performance is somewhat downbeat and drab as less time is spent establishing Gawain’s characterisation.

Dev Patel is phenomenal in the role. He brings both strength and vulnerability. But what was Gawain? Was he a fool to be taught a lesson? Was he a determined individual desiring to prove himself? Was he out for revenge? Was he doing it for love? Who is he saving? What did he want? I was never sure. Thus, The Green Knight (2021) was in danger of collapsing under its own stunning visual pretension. That is until Barry Keoghan’s effervescent thief came along and raised the stakes and energy of the story. After that Gawain’s drive was one of survival as Lowery’s screenplay gave him a succession of devilish, deadly and seductive obstacles to overcome.

David Lowery is an original thinking talent, and someone I categorise as an alternative genre filmmaker. Like Quentin Tarantino, the Coens, Bong Joon-Ho and dare I say it, Stanley Kubrick, he takes familiar content and filters it through his own inimitable style and vision. His masterpiece thus far is the truly remarkable romance, A Ghost Story (2017), a low-budget indie gem. The bigger-budgeted The Green Knight (2021) certainly has scale and magic and astounding cinematic power. But such adventure stories, for my taste and preference, need a hero with a clearer goal. Lowery gives the audience sorcery and existentialism and some nightmarishly beautiful sequences, while overall lacking clarity for Gawain’s personation. I imagine this is actually deliberate to counter genre expectations and make the viewer raise their game and apply meaning. I felt the same about Kubrick’s fatalistic, Barry Lyndon (1975), when I first saw that. Indeed, I have no doubt that on future watches The Green Knight (2021) is likely to be similarly revered as cinematic gold.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11