Tag Archives: Cinema

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


[Book Review] Psychology For Screenwriters: Building Conflict In Your Script (2nd Edition) – William Indick

Psychology For Screenwriters: Building Conflict In Your Script (2nd Edition) by William Indick

Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.  Ingmar Bergman



William Indick’s excellent book takes us from the dream like world of the cinema to the pages of great psychoanalytical theorists, combining Freud with screenwriting in a most intelligent and approachable way. But his is not a how-to manual for writers, but an immersive experience mixing theoretical, practical, and thoughtful processes in regard to writing your next film. 

If psychology and screenwriting are two sides of the same coin then this book is most definitely for screenwriters and filmmakers with an interest in psychoanalytic theory that enables them to explore archetypes, plot development, structure, and character building from the inside out. Moreover, the author provides an excellent framework with which to weave psychoanalytic theories into one’s writing. But not in a cookie-cutter style. This book is smarter than that.

While many of the theories are complex, the author writes with clarity and expertise. The useful bullet-pointed summaries at the end of each chapter crystallize the concepts with aplomb. Further, the various chapters also delivers ideas from a whole host of great minds of psychoanalytic and structuralist theory such as Carl Jung, Erik Erikson, and Joseph Campbell. There were also theorists I was not too familiar with such as Alfred Adler, Rollo May, and Maureen Murdock. By utilising his expansive knowledge and examples from many classic Hollywood films the author places you into the heart of the character’s mind and motivations.

What I found most fascinating was the book provides an invaluable framework to build your characters with. I certainly could see myself applying various ideas from Freud and Jung within my writing. Indeed, I was certainly drawn to Rollo May’s theories about existential anxiety driving and increasing the complexity of my characters. One could argue though, the author overuses references to Hollywood cinema. I would really have found it intriguing how certain psychoanalytical theories may relate to cinema from, e.g.  Japan, Spain, and France. Furthermore, psychological analysis of a particular director’s work such as Ingmar Bergman could also have proved so interesting.

In conclusion, to many an experienced writer the screenwriting theories, terms and structures covered are instantly recognisable, yet William Indick freshens up the study field with psychoanalytical language, breathing life into the saturated library of scriptwriting releases. Finally, each chapter succinctly bullet-points how a writer may utilise the theories within their work as the book concludes with three brilliant essays relating said theories to the Western, Fantasy and Sci-fi genres. One could even say this book is a dream to work with.


Psychology For Screenwriters: Building Conflict In Your Script (2nd Edition) is available here.

Publication date is January 2023 from https://mwp.com/

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.

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 – ELVIS (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW – ELVIS (2022)

Directed by Baz Luhrmann

Screenplay by: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner

Story by: Baz Luhrmann, Jeremy Doner


Produced by: Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Gail Berman, Patrick McCormick, Schuyler Weiss

Cast: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Olivia DeJonge, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Xavier Samuel, David Wenham , Kodi Smit-McPhee etc.

*** MAY CONTAIN HISTORICAL SPOILERS ***



Since 1992, Baz Luhrmann has directed only six feature films. Each of them, aside from the lower-budgeted, Strictly Ballroom (1992), is a gigantic and epic extravaganza, full of colour, imagination, verve, energy, music, poetry and larger-than-life characters. Even Strictly Ballroom contains many of the stylistic and formal elements which would become part of Luhrmann’s oeuvre. I pretty much feel this auteur’s excessive approach to filmmaking including the fast-cutting, opulent settings, big musical numbers, all-star casts, plus grandiose and melodramatic narrative delivery are always a wonderful spectacle to experience.

Arguably, adapting the American novel, The Great Gatsby (1993), in this periphrastic packaging, took away from the enigma and majesty of Fitzgerald’s classic. However, with Elvis (2022), Luhrmann and his incredible production team, marry such genius excessive style with the perfect subject matter: the King of Rock and Roll! Because in colliding the life, music and films of Elvis Aaron Presley with Luhrmann’s stunning methodology brings to the screen one of the best films of the year Indeed for Luhrmann, Elvis (2022), is evidently a stylistic, subjective and thematic labour of love, marking it as his best film to date.



I wasn’t even going to watch Elvis (2022) at the cinema. I’d recently seen Spencer (2021) on Amazon Prime and was happy to have streamed that. While that eerie adaptation was a valiant attempt to breathe life into the ghost of Diana. An elegiac attempt to explain the oppressive result of her naïve choice to land her Princess dream. With Kristen Stewart’s exceptional impression rescue breathing Diana’s tragic existence, I knew the story. I knew enough to care for someone whose mental health was discarded by the heartless Windsor’s. But the monarchy have been killing the working class for years, so why should I care deeply for one singular spoilt individual? Similarly, I pondered whether I wanted to watch another film about Elvis Presley. A God-given talented singer, heartthrob, actor, musician and legendary performer had a story I was already familiar with. But, I am so happy I overcame my ignorant prejudice because Elvis (2022) is a humdinger of a part-musical-part-biopic-part-drama-part-American tragedy.

Elvis (2022) is structured around the memories of shadowy manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). He is suffering illness in his old age, close to hospital demise. Parker is a grotesque in a billowing gown, drifting around the nightmarish Vegas slot-machines as Elvis’ voice echoes within his mind. Is it the guilt or the morphine? The story flashes back to a younger Parker promoting country singers at a travelling Carny. Until that fateful day when he hears a miracle on the radio, a young singer who everyone thinks is Black. But he isn’t. In the markedly racist times of 1950s America (has it really changed in certain States or Police departments?), a Black singer won’t sell records like this white dude will. Seizing his chance Parker attends Elvis’ first gig and witnesses a phenomenon. An attractive, sexual, gyrating and angelic powerhouse with an incredible voice who sends shockwaves into audience, especially the teenage girls.



A star is born, and it takes a star to play a star. Take as many bows as you want, Austin Butler. He is a genuine phenomenon in Elvis (2022). Of course, the wardrobe, postiche and make-up artists work wonders to help recreate Elvis’ iconic looks as the narrative flashes through various stages of Presley’s devastatingly successful career, Yet, Butler just lights up the screen, producing acting fireworks in a physically, spiritually, emotionally and musically astounding screen presentation. It is not an impression, but a tour-de-force for a relatively unknown actor who has jettisoned his career to glory.

Butler, lives and breathes the King. This rendition and great direction from Luhrmann make you feel tragic empathy for a career which was manipulated and controlled by grubby gambling addict, Parker. Hank’s portrayal of the Colonel feels unnatural and theatrical compared to Butler’s organic turn. Perhaps that was the intention? Deliver a pantomime villain to boo and hiss at. Although, Hanks’ cigar-chomping and jowly make-up made me think the evil touch of Orson Welles’, Captain Hank Quinlan, had somehow been resurrected.

I cannot praise Elvis (2022) enough as a cinematic biopic and musical spectacle. While the choppy editing style is jarring at the start, once the film settles down into a groove, Butler’s stunning incarnation shines through. Overall, I was enlivened by, not only the constant remixing of Elvis Presley hits, but Luhrmann’s choice to alloy gospel, rhythm and blues, rap, rock, pop, ballad and protest songs throughout the scintillating soundtrack. Much, quite rightly, is made of how much diverse music influenced Elvis’s formative life and how he connected with Black musicians of the era. Luhrmann also ensures we are aware of how much of a threat Presley was seen by the establishment due to the sexual nature of his sang satanic verses. Sent to Germany to prevent him demonising America, his comeback special after seven years in movies is one of the finest cinema set-pieces I have seen in many a year. Funny, rocking, poignant, effervescent, beautiful and astounding, just like Elvis, the man and myth, and Elvis (2022) the film.

Mark: 10 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: THE BLACK PHONE (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE BLACK PHONE (2021)

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Screenplay by: Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill

Based on “The Black Phone” by Joe Hill

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

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


Cinematography Brett Jutkiewicz

** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS **


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

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



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

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

Mark: 7.5 out of 11


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

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

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

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


FRESH (2022)

Directed by Mimi Cave

Written by Lauryn Kahn

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

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

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

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

Mark: 8 out of 11



WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (2022)

Directed by Olivia Newman

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


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

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

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

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

Mark: 6.5 out of 11

SIX OF THE BEST #36 – FILM UNDERDOGS!

Why the canine is considered to be the appropriate animal to represent a character who overcomes great loss and adversity is fascinating. On further digging one will find that etymological history of the term, Underdog, derives from the second half of the 19th century, where its first meaning was “the beaten dog in a fight”. Two dogs fight and the losing one is the underdog. Quite simple and obvious really. It makes sense then that the term has also been used in sporting and filmic language down the years. Here the underdog is a team or individual who faces an insurmountable opponent where defeat is most likely. To then gain victory against the odds makes the winning oh so much sweeter and glorious.

So, for my occasional Six of the Best series I’d like to explore and list some of the finest underdogs from cinema. I’d also like to consider certain conventions from within this subgenre. Clearly, I could just choose six films about sport, so I am going to work a bit harder and provide some less obvious choices too. Hope you agree.

** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS **


ROCKY (1976) – The individual underdog!

The individual underdog is synonymous with sporting films. Cinderella Man (2005), Eddie the Eagle (2015), Rudy (1993) and The Karate Kid (1984) are just some of the fine narratives which have used the individual overcoming the odds to triumph. Obviously, though the greatest of all time is Stallone’s working-class journeyman, Rocky Balboa, rising up from the gutters of Philadelphia to seeing stars and finding love in the ring. Reflected in Rocky’s incredible journey is Stallone’s own underdog story of a struggling actor, who had to sell his dog, wrote a brilliant script, determined to play the lead, earned his break and became one of the biggest film stars of a generation.


REMEMBER THE TITANS (2000) – the team underdog!

Like the individual underdog sports film, cinema is brimming with crowd pleasers about a bunch of unlikely oddballs or losers joining forces to steal victory from the jaws of defeat. Usually, the team underdogs will overcome singular divisions, while learning about themselves to find formidable communal fighting spirit. The Bad News Bears (1976), The Mighty Ducks (1990), The Longest Yard (1974/2005), Miracle (2004) and the aptly named Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004) are but a few of these excellent team films. However, Remember the Titans (2000) is one of the most powerful sporting team movies featuring Denzel Washington as T. C. Williams High School coach, Herman Boone, whose team not only overcomes sporting obstacles, but political ones including institutional racism and widespread bigotry outside and within the school system.


NIGHTCRAWLER (2014) – the villain as underdog!

Here’s a character which is incredibly difficult to write and even more problematic to define due to the paradoxical nature of their personality. If you’re doing bad things can you be considered an underdog? I mean is the underdog’s victory earned and can an audience root for the villain? I think one of the greatest underdogs and most unreliable of protagonists is Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects (1995). But he was a trickster, genius and fake underdog. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom tops Verbal for me. At the start of the film, Nightcrawler (2014), he has absolutely nothing. But his conniving, planning and preparedness to go the extra mile and expand his media business via sabotage and eventually murder are an unforgettably dark underdog journey.


CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) – the superhero underdog!

The superhero genre staple for both heroes and villains often finds a character acquiring by accident, fate or design abilities which transform them into beings of immense and fantastic power. The likes of Superman, Thor, and Wonder Woman are god-like superheroes, however, the likes of Steve Rogers, as Captain America, grew from humbler beginnings. Rogers is an admirable underdog because he doesn’t like bullies, his character never knew when he was beaten, he comes from working-class stock and he’s an anachronism as character tension comes from not fitting into the present. Rogers is not a god or scientist or billionaire, but the little guy with a big heart who becomes a hero.


ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000) – the legal underdog!

It’s a sad indictment of humanity and the capitalist system that there are so many films showing the evil wrongs corporations have perpetuated against people and the environment. Dark Waters (2019), Silkwood (1983), Class Action (1991) and Erin Brockovich (2000) are but a few of such stories where individuals fight against an unjust legal system which strives to protect the rich and powerful from accepting responsibility for the heinous damage they have wreaked. Erin Brockovich is an especially positive example of an individual who, despite her lack of education in the law, was instrumental in building a case against Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) involving underground contamination. Brockovich also overcame sexist attitudes in the workplace too which placed certain judgements on the way she behaved and dressed. Brilliantly portrayed by Julia Roberts in the film, Erin Brockovich is a true underdog hero of a generation.


SPARTACUS (1960) – the epic underdog!

Having recently read Kirk Douglas’ enlightening memoir, I Am Spartacus!: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist, I have to say it is one of the most excellent books about filmmaking and politics I have experienced. Douglas took up the cause of underdog screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who having served prison time for refusing to name names to the Joseph McCarthy led House of Un-American Activities Committee, was blacklisted in Hollywood. Writing under a series of fake names, Trumbo scribed the screenplay to the epic Spartacus (1960), with Douglas as the eponymous hero who rises up from slave to Gladiator to leader, defeating the Romans in many battles before dying a martyr. One can see Trumbo’s underdog fight reflected in Spartacus’ epic journey and the fact that Douglas eventually placed Trumbo’s name in the credits of the film was testament to his powerful writing and unjust treatment by the nefarious American government.

MEN (2022) + THE NIGHT HOUSE (2021) – FILM REVIEWS

MEN (2022) + THE NIGHT HOUSE (2021) –

Two fascinating genre films I saw this month had virtually the same narrative set-up within the horror genre. Both have lead characters who lost their partner to violent suicide, prior to being propelled into a journey of psychological trauma, mystery and devastating enigmatic danger.

Also, both the arthouse horror of Men (2022) and psychological horror of The Night House (2021) are intelligent offerings within the genre, eschewing easy solutions while exploring themes relating to grief, domestic violence and toxic masculinity. Moreover, while both films are expertly made there are many frustrations to be had while watching them. Nonetheless, both deserve praise for challenging the audience and genre conventions while telling their twisted tales.

Here are my reviews with the usual marks out of eleven.

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


Jessie Buckley as Harper Marlowe in Men, directed by Alex Garland. Photo: Kevin Baker. Copyright: Men Film Rights LLC. All Rights Reserved.

MEN (2022)

Written and directed by Alex Garland

Main cast: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Gayle Rankin, Paapa Essiedu

Would you “Adam and Eve it?” – after delving into ideas relating to men playing god with artificial intelligence in both the brilliant Ex Machina (2015) and genius of Devs (2020), Alex Garland returns with this surreal horror where men are very much cast as the devil in the garden of England. It’s a disturbing experience. So, be warned if you are faint of heart. Moreover, there are no simple answers as Garland births a succession of thought-provoking themes which occasionally baffled, and at times frustrated the hell out of me.

The always superb Jessie Buckley portrays Harper Marlowe who, after a tragic but visually shocking incident involving her husband, seeks solace in the countryside to process her trauma and grief. There she encounters a series of male figures, all portrayed by Rory Kinnear, who all exert negative thoughts, words, looks, and energy toward her. Is this all a dream or a fractured reality? Is Harper going mad? Do we care? Further, Garland drip feeds in flashbacks to Harper’s toxic relationship with her husband in several hard-hitting scenes. How this is connected with the many faces of Kinnear’s characters I could not quite work out. Well, other than the theme that all men are bastards, with little in the way of nuance to the contrary.

Alex Garland is an incredible writer and director and I have enjoyed most of his work. However, while Men (2022) has an incredible dénouement with body horror scenes Cronenberg would be proud of, I never really felt scared throughout. Moreover, despite Buckley’s absorbing performance I ultimately felt disconnected from her story as many ideas and moments, such as the scene in the tunnel lacked a real punchline. Similar to Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth (2021) – with the sparse cast and seemingly shot during lockdown, Men (2022) has some fantastic ideas and fascinating themes relating to grief and gender politics. Unfortunately, they didn’t all gel to create a satisfying whole. But maybe I am the one to blame. I am a man after all.

Mark: 6.5 out of 11



THE NIGHT HOUSE (2021)

Directed by David Bruckner

Written by: Ben Collins & Luke Piotrowski

Main cast: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis Hall, Evan Jonigkeit

Like Jessie Buckley, Rebecca Hall is always never less than brilliant and here she gives a complex rendering of a character, Beth, reeling from her husband’s violent suicide and secrets from the past which literally come back to haunt her. Alas, Beth is a shell of a person who drinks constantly but pretends everything is okay. She has strange dreams or waking nightmares which propel her to investigate further why her beloved husband shot himself. While I empathised fully with Beth’s mourning, I found the edge and antagonism, Hall, under Bruckner’s direction is given undermined the fear factor for me. Some slight vulnerability may have raised the heart rate even higher during the expertly crafted plot.

Nonetheless, when Beth really digs into the past and begins to find mysterious and hidden places in the woods, plus evidence of her husband’s potential infidelities, the film really grips you. Is the figure that plagues her real or a psychosomatic vision of grief. But Beth is determined to find out what her husband was up to with a variety of women. When it is revealed it is a exquisitely delivered twist. It’s really tough to come up with something original in the horror genre, but the revelation was extremely horrifying and ingenious.

Bruckner gives the film a terrifically creepy atmosphere as the lakeside property is enveloped with shadows, fleeting figures, light and reflection colluding to trap Beth in the haunted space. Indeed, the finale in the woods, house and on the boat create palpable and clinging dread. But then it ends and deflation occurs as questions and loose ends remain unanswered. The script also suffers from back story overload. I mean major events which occur before the film starts have a strong bearing on the narrative as a whole and should have been shown in flashback. Overall though, The Night House (2021) is well worth a watch due to the clever plotting, creepy locations and powerful suspense throughout.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11


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

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

Directed by: Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

Written by: Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

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

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

Cinematography: Larkin Seiple

Editor: Paul Rogers

*** CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS ***



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

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



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

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

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

Mark: 9 out of 11


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