Tag Archives: Ana de Armas

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: 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


LFF REVIEW – KNIVES OUT (2019) – SPOILER FREE

LFF REVIEW – KNIVES OUT (2019) – SPOILER FREE

Written and directed by: Rian Johnson

Produced by: Ram Bergman, Rian Johnson

Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Christopher Plummer, Jaeden Martell etc.

Cinematography: Steve Yedlin

****** SPOILER FREE ******



“What is this, CSI: KFC?”

Rian Johnson seems to have been writing and directing for years, but interestingly, KNIVES OUT (2019), is only his fifth release since his debut film, Brick (2005). His last film Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) was, of course, a massive hit across the galaxy. However, having watched it again recently, I felt it was racked with inconsistencies in tone and suffered weak storytelling.

Indeed, I was shocked that such a meta-filmmaker as Rian Johnson, with such a unique approach to genre, was given the Star Wars gig. To me, his filmmaking talent was too offbeat and so it proved. Because, while The Last Jedi (2019) had some memorable moments, (mostly Adam Driver), it did not work as a Star Wars story.

With his latest film, a murder-mystery-comedy-thriller, Johnson is on more solid ground. His penchant for quirky characterisation, irreverent jokes and wicked twists is more than suited to an Agatha Christie pastiche. Especially because this one has more tricks up its sleeve than the Magic Circle. I personally love the detective genre and Johnson successfully pays homage and deconstructs the murder-mystery tropes with a brilliantly funny script. Aiding Johnson is a star-studded cast, all of whom run with the joke superbly.

The plot begins in a traditional fashion; with a heinous “crime.” The story then spins into a complicated and devious web of lies and double-crosses. It concerns famed author, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), and his family of sons, daughters and grandchildren. A multi-millionaire writer and owner of a publishing empire, he has managed to upset every one of his family members. So, you can guess what happens to him on his 85th birthday celebration.

Following Harlan’s apparent suicide, Lakeith Stanfield’s police detective investigates, with the assistance of famed sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). With a ridiculous Southern accent, Craig, seems more parodic than the other actors. But, he gives a fine comic performance nonetheless. Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer are also on great form. But, a playing-against-type Chris Evans, arguably steals the show as the overgrown, spoilt rich kid.

Overall, this is film is a so much fun. It should be viewed firstly as a comedy, although the murder mystery plot itself is full of ingenious plot reversals. With everyone a suspect, the fun derives from trying to work out who did it and seeing if there are any holes in the plot. All kinds of satirical, political, sight-gags and murder-mystery in-jokes are brilliantly delivered by a committed set of A-list movie actors too. Moreover, from the big mansion setting, to the costumes and the meticulous set design, it was a lovely film to look at too.

To conclude, Johnson is back on the form he showed with the incredible sci-fi film Looper (2012). Because, Knives Out (2019) definitely has the force with it, working brilliantly as a fast-paced, witty and intricate work of, admittedly style-over-substance, entertainment.

Mark: 9 out of 11