Tag Archives: Cinema

R.I.P – HELEN MCCRORY (1968 – 2021) – SIX GREAT SCENES!

R.I.P – HELEN MCCRORY (1968 – 2021) – SIX GREAT SCENES!

“I’m heartbroken to announce that after a heroic battle with cancer, the beautiful and mighty woman that is Helen McCrory has died peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family. ‘She died as she lived. Fearlessly. God, we love her and know how lucky we are to have had her in our lives. ‘She blazed so brightly. Go now, Little One, into the air, and thank you.”Damian Lewis



Sad news that one of my favourite actors, Helen McCrory, passed away on the 16th of April 2021 from cancer.

Helen McCrory had an amazing career on stage, television and in cinema. She began studying acting at the Drama Centre in King’s Cross, London. After which she rapidly gained fabulous onstage notices, appearing in theatrical productions at the Donmar Warehouse, National Theatre and Almeida Theatre. It didn’t take long before she was starring in prominent roles on television and cinema screens.

An actress of immense quality and charisma, McCrory would bring a sophistication and heart and magnificent class to every role she inhabited. Her characters were always strong, independent and a little bit dangerous. In tribute, I have chosen six scenes which showcase her incredible talents. No words can describe how big a loss Helen McCrory is to the world and my condolences go out to her family.

*** THE FOLLOWING SCENES CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


HESTER – THE DEEP BLUE SEA (2016 STAGE PRODUCTION)

I haven’t even seen this production, but this excerpt from the play immediately makes me feel so much for Helen McCrory’s character. She gives such a beautifully magnetic performance.


ROSANNA CALVIERRI – DOCTOR WHO (2010)

I personally would have loved to have seen Helen McCrory star as Doctor Who. But she made a wonderfully dark-hearted villain in this episode. This scene is so brilliant as it builds slowly with two fine actors bringing both humour and pathos and stirring drama to their characters.



NARCISSA MALFOY – HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (2009)

Originally cast in the role of Bellatrix Lestrange, McCrory had to leave the role out due to pregnancy. Eventually cast as the wonderfully name, Narcissa Malfoy, Helen McCrory’s evocative voice and elegance perfectly enlivened the character.


TABITHA – INSIDE NO. 9 (2014)

Many of Helen McCrory’s earlier roles found her portraying strong young women, however, as she matured she grew even more powerful and was also cast in darker more gothic roles. Once such character was the enigmatic Tabitha in the awesome anthology series, Inside No.9 episode, The Harrowing.


POLLY GRAY – PEAKY BLINDERS (2013 – 2019)

The BBC’s flagship drama is a muscular-bleeding-tattooed-up-parade-of-masculinity, but it also presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as deadly. Helen McCrory as tough-talking, Polly Gray, more than holds her own as a leader within Cillian Murphy’s gang.



MRS POOLE – PENNY DREADFUL (2014 – 2015)

One of my favourite television dramas of recent years had a some incredibly beautiful writing, a wondrous cast and the most elegant of bloody horror. Helen McCrory revelled in the role of Evelyn Poole/Madam Kali, stealing every scene with an over-the-top performance as the immortal uber-witch casting spells and wreaking havoc throughout.


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: MALCOLM AND MARIE (2021)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: MALCOLM AND MARIE (2021)

Directed by: Sam Levinson

Produced by:  Kevin Turen, Ashley Levinson, Sam Levinson, Zendaya, John David Washington

Written by: Sam Levinson

Cast: Zendaya, John David Washington

Music by: Labrinth

Cinematography: Marcell Rév

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



The Oscar nominations came out this week and due to the ongoing pandemic situation and consequent lockdowns, there are a number of films on the esteemed list which have yet to reach these shores, either at the cinema or via streaming platforms. Having said that, and I am aware space for nominees are limited and it has been a pretty strange year for cinema, but I was extremely surprised that Delroy Lindo did not receive an acting nomination in lead or supporting category. Similarly, I was also bewildered that Sam Levinson’s striking romantic drama, Malcolm and Marie (2021), had not received nominations in either screenplay or acting categories. Further, I was utterly shocked that critic’s reviews for the intense two-hander had been pretty mixed. Hey, it’s just opinions but I was really gripped by this highly theatrical and gorgeously cinematic two-hour argument in black-and-white. Personally, I think most of the deriders are wrong. But that’s just my view.

Maybe the film wasn’t liked because John David Washington’s, Malcolm, an up-and-coming filmmaker celebrating a successful premiere that evening, launches into a wonderfully eloquent rant about a review which he feels pigeonholes and patronises his film in purely political terms. I mean it’s actually a positive review, but who doesn’t enjoy ire toward professional critics. I mean, everyone has an opinion, or a view and the Internet has caused a mass proliferation and gaping spew of words and views and brain-thoughts in extremis. But Levinson’s script and Washington’s grandstanding acting spits that if you earn a living as a critic then you are essentially Satan! Perhaps some reviewers took umbrage with this? I loved the whole scene’s energy and Malcolm’s savage attack had me applauding throughout.



But Malcolm and Marie (2021) is more than Levinson getting back at those individuals who gave him bad reviews. It’s a sharp, funny, sexy and poignant exploration of a relationship close to breaking point. Malcolm and Marie may be different fighting weights, but they both punch hard and often. He is on a high after his film premiere success, but Marie is upset because he did not thank her during his speech. From there the conflict rises from light sparring to harsh emotional knockout blows. Both Malcolm and Marie tear at each other’s skin and flesh and figurative organs in an attempt to resolve the ever-increasing divide between them. Malcolm and Marie (2021), may not be for everyone, but any person who has been in a heated war of words with a partner or spouse, will identify with the inescapable tension on display. Levinson’s expert screenplay rides a rollercoaster journey of emotions as one moment you side with Marie and the next you’re with Malcolm. Yet, before you know it, you’re disliking both these complex, narcissistic, egotistical and infuriating humans.

Both Zendaya and John David Washington deserve so much praise for their performances in, Malcolm and Marie (2021). Washington has already demonstrated his massive talent in BlacKkKlansman (2018), while Zendaya excelled in recent HBO drama, Euphoria (2019). Levinson too directs with a deft skill. I was especially impressed by the way he balances the comedy and drama of these flailing humans, poking and picking at the scabs of each other’s past behaviour. Indeed, as well as containing some brilliant dialogue, the erudite script really sang to me. At times the coruscating repartee reminded me of Edward Albee’s acclaimed play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Nonetheless, for a dialogue and performance driven film, the precise framing and sumptuous black-and-white photography by Marcell Rév render the visuals wholly cinematic.

Sure, by the end of Malcolm and Marie (2021) is anything really resolved? And who is ultimately interested in this couple’s first world problems? Well, I’ve witnessed my parents fighting and also experienced such exhausting relationship arguments before. So, I must say that overall, I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing Malcolm and Marie’s nocturnal battle. Especially because I watched it all from the safety, warmth and comfort of my own home.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW – THE GO-BETWEEN (1971)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW – THE GO-BETWEEN (1971)

Directed by: Joseph Losey

Produced by: John Heyman, Denis Johnson, Norman Priggen

Screenplay by: Harold Pinter

Based on: The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley

Cast: Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Margaret Leighton, Edward Fox, Dominic Guard, Michael Redgrave, etc.

Music by: Michel Legrand



The Go-Between (1971) is one of those expert works of understated cinema which I was sure I had seen before. Yet, I would come to discover I had never seen it when I caught it on the rather marvellous digital channel, Talking Pictures. But then I love that when you find a period classic and watch it for the first time. It’s like unearthing gold in your living room. Because the film is a heartfelt rites-of-passage drama which subtly pulls at the loose end of the knitted cardigan that is the British class system. Nevertheless, while the romance, lies and regret unfold under the surface, The Go-Between (1971) certainly retains much dramatic power.

Adapted by acclaimed playwright, Harold Pinter, from the esteemed novel by L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1971) stars Julie Christie and Alan Bates as secret lovers separated by the chasm of class and tradition. Bates’ Ted Burgess is a charismatic and muscular farmer with a reputation as a ladies man. Christie is the beautiful and slyly rebellious daughter of the Lord of the Manor, Marian, promised in marriage to Edward Fox’s Viscount Hugh Trimingham. With peering eyes and suspicion coming from Marian’s mother, the lustful affair requires stealth, thus they enlist the help of Dominic Guard’s intelligent but less-privileged, Leo Colston. He is there as guest of Marian’s young brother as both attend the same boarding school; Leo there on a scholarship. The narrative develops very much through Leo’s sweet innocent eyes. The outsider’s point-of-view is expertly presented as it is both objective and allows the audience to make up their own mind about the characters.



Leo is pure of heart and believes he is helping by running notes back and forth between Burgess and Marian. He also makes friends with the cuckolded Viscount, as Fox gives a fine performance of a man who may or may not know whether his potential wife is being unfaithful. I think that is one of the strengths of the book and film, in that it explores the theme of duty versus passion. Burgess and Marian represent freedom, lust and nature, which are opposite to the “doing your duty” arrangements of the upper classes. Of course, dramatically speaking something has to give where the love affair is concerned. Sadly, tragedy intervenes, resulting in the loss of Leo’s innocence, and adding a layer of guilt which gravely haunts him in his later years.

Everything about The Go-Between (1971) reeks of quality. From the production design, locations, costumes, score by Michel Legrand and Gerry Fisher’s exquisite cinematography. Unsurprisingly, Harold Pinter would receive an Academy Award for his confident adaptation. Further, Joseph Losey is not a filmmaker whose work I am not particularly well acquainted with, but the performances from Fox, Bates, Christie and young Dominic Guard are assured testament to his stellar ability to convey meaning and emotion between the lines. Indeed, while some films smash you over the head with emotional melodrama, something I love too, The Go-Between (1971) instead slowly squeezes at your heart and mind. Lastly, this is not simply a damning indictment of the class system, but a lament for loss of innocence, illustrating how monolithic tradition dictates love, fate and tragedy are inextricably entwined.


SIX OF THE BEST #30 – FAVOURITE FILM MONTAGES!

SIX OF THE BEST #30 – FAVOURITE FILM MONTAGES!

Who doesn’t love a film montage!? The passage of time edited and set to a memorable soundtrack is fine cinematic tradition. Not only is a montage a great way to tell a story visually, it can also give pace to a narrative, provide a perfect cinematic bridge to the final act or even supply emotional impetus at the start and middle of a film.

Here I choose six of my favourite movie montages. All have been selected due to both the style and content of the sequence, plus the music accompanying the montage. Of course, I could have chosen a more artistic aspect to montage by including examples from Eisenstein, Kubrick or the incredible editing in the The Godfather (1972), when Michael Corleone wipes out his rivals during his nephew’s baptism. That I will save for another day.


ROCKY (1976)

No film franchise has exploited the fight montage and training sequence to the max like Rocky. I could have chosen others, but the original remains the best. I love the urban locations and the Philadelphian streets are just so gritty as Stallone’s down-on-his-luck boxer gets a crack at the championship of the world! That music just soars too!

SCARFACE (1983)

With a combustible screenplay written by Oliver Stone, Scarface (1983), is a cocaine driven and incendiary viewing experience. Everything is ramped up to eleven, including: the violence, shouting, swearing, shooting, politicking, drug-taking, sex, killing, avarice, cocaine, money-making, decadence and corruption. It is an epic film with many classic scenes, but the 80’s pop-synth-driven montage here adds real pace to the brutal proceedings.


THE KARATE KID (1984)

Another fighting film and another John G. Avildsen pick! More than just a teenage Rocky rip-off, The Karate Kid (1984) is a terrific rites-of-passage drama that incorporates a love story and a boy overcoming bullies with the help of a wise mentor. Joe Esposito’s song, “You’re the Best” was originally chosen for Rocky III, but ultimately ended up here in the fantastic fighting tournament montage.


FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)

John Hughes fast-paced-set-in-one-day-comedy-classic has some brilliant dialogue and is anchored superbly by Matthew Broderick’s cocky lead performance as mischievous Ferris Bueller. For all the craziness on show one of my favourite scenes is when Hughes slows the pace down at the museum. Here we get some wonderfully framed shots, sly humour and a beautiful instrumental version of The Smiths’ song, “Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want!”


UP (2009)

So many films struggle to establish empathy for their characters either through bad writing or poor creative choices. Pixar, however, are masterful at establishing both character identification and motivation. None more so than in this classic montage featuring the mostly blissful life of Carl and Ellie Fredericksen. With Michael Giacchino’s iconic score called “Married Life” providing energetic and poignant emotional support, this is one of the most moving four minutes in movie history.


DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)

Tarantino’s epic Western runs the gamut of action, violence, comedy and drama, even throwing a buddy-buddy dynamic in there for good measure. While often known for his quotable dialogue, Tarantino’s films always feature crisp editing and a powerful visual storytelling too. I love this montage in Django Unchained (2012), with Django and King Schultz framed against the wonderful snowy vistas as Jim Croce sings his catchy tune.


DISNEY + FILM REVIEW: SOUL (2020)

DISNEY + FILM REVIEW: SOUL (2020)

Directed by: Pete Docter

Produced by: Dana Murray

Written by: Pete Doctor, Mike Jones, Kemp Powers

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, Angela Bassett etc.

Music by: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste[a]

Cinematography: Matt Aspbury, Ian Megibben

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Death, the loss of childhood innocence, grief, mid-life crises, missing children, the end of the word due to human greed, ghosts, female emancipation within patriarchal society, the afterlife, use of fear as energy, neuropsychological exploration of emotions, oh, and death again are all heavy themes and subjects for a film. But they are not just from the works of heavyweight filmmakers such as Werner Herzog, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman or Stanley Kubrick. They are subjects investigated and probed and rendered entertainment in a fantastic style by the ever-impressive Pixar studio. Their latest film Soul (2020) is yet another extravaganza of high concepts, existential themes, and scintillating visual world-building.

Soul (2020) centres around Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a music teacher who longs to immerse himself in a career as a jazz musician. It’s not necessarily suggested in the opening scenes as to why Joe hasn’t made it as he clearly has musical talent. However, his dominant mother Libby (Phylicia Rashad) objects to his frivolous desire to play piano, plus Joe, like many artists out there just cannot get a break. A chance arises though when he gets an opportunity to audition for esteemed singer, Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). Joe’s exquisite piano playing wins over Dorothea, but then tragedy strikes as an excited Joe falls down a manhole and dies. Being a Pixar film committed to venturing into the afterlife, as it did previously with Coco (2017), Joe finds himself, not in the ‘Land of the Dead’ but rather the ‘Great Before/Beyond’ instead.



As Joe moves toward the light with the many other souls he refuses to accept this is the end. He rejects the unknown glowing light of the ‘Great Beyond’ and escapes to a world full of young, old and lost souls called the ‘Great Before’. Here he meets a cynical soul called 22 (Tina Fey), who is refusing to claim the badges required to begin her own life on Earth. This is where the story gets a bit sticky for me. I mean I enjoy narratives about life, death and the afterlife including the brilliant A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and both excellent versions of Heaven Can Wait (1943 / 1978). However, Soul (2020) I think tries to do too much as 22’s story threatens to dominate Joe’s pursuit to get his life and career back. Moreover, the ridiculous sight of Joe’s soul ending up in a therapy cat also felt like a contrived lean toward giving the kids something to laugh at. Indeed, I felt this water-and-oil decision, while funny, undermined the more intrinsically vital themes within the narrative.

Ultimately though, having succumbed to the cultural pressure of signing up to Disney +, I did thoroughly enjoy Pixar’s Soul (2020). Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey create a fine double act with their brilliant comedic timing and performances. Moreover, Graham Norton and Richard Ayoade provide humorous voice support, and of course, the animation is incredible. Although I would actually have preferred to stay on the exquisitely drawn streets of New York more than the ‘Fantasiaeque’ lysergic acid look of the afterlife. Still, once again, Pixar have been clinical in delivering an intelligent film that delves into existential themes relating to the meaning of life. Joe’s journey, like his music, is full of verve, beauty and many surprising twists, ensuring his soul is certainly one that is worth saving.

Mark: 9 out of 11


MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #22 – MARTIN SCORSESE

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #22 – MARTIN SCORSESE

Cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out.
— Martin Scorsese

I recently had a three-week career break while I was looking for a new job. I have since gratefully located employment and that would explain why I have not been as active on this blog as before. Because looking for work is more time consuming than an actual job! Anyway, aside from spending the day on the computer searching for gainful employment I also caught up on some TV shows and films that had been on my planner for a while. One of the those I watched was the HBO produced TV drama called VINYL (2016). Created, directed (first episode only) and produced by, among others, Martin Scorsese.

Vinyl (2016) was an incendiary, nostalgic and snorting cavalcade of 1970’s rock and roll music centred around a drug addicted record executive, portrayed by Bobby Cannavale, whose business and personal life are collapsing due to his addictive and self-destructive behaviour. Overall, the ten episodes were scintillating entertainment: loud, over-the-top, ballsy, in-your-face and darkly hilarious. The characters were despicable scumbags at best, yet Scorsese’s sensational style ensures the audience enthusiastically rubber-necks these human car crashes.

Alas, due to low ratings, poor critical response and the huge budget, HBO did not renew Vinyl (2016) for a second season. Thus, Scorsese’s blistering TV rock and roll creation was no more. However, in my latest piece in the My Cinematic Romance series, I have selected five of Scorsese cinematic classics. I could’ve, of course, chosen many, many more but have challenged myself to pick only ONE film from each of the last five decades of the master filmmaker Martin Scorsese. Don’t worry Marty – I thought Vinyl (2016) absolutely rocked. F*ck the critics! You are a true genius.


Vinyl – Co-Creator/Executive Producer Mick Jagger with Bobby Cannavale and Co-Creator/Executive Producer/Director of Pilot of Martin Scorsese on the set ©2016 HBO, photo by Niko Tavernise

TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Paul Schrader’s incredible screenplay about a lost soul travelling the mean streets of New York while on the edge of insanity, is given dark life by Scorsese’s evocative direction and Robert DeNiro’s fearless performance. One of the most memorably nightmarish thrillers and character studies of the 1970s; a period which arguably represents the most exceptional decade of American cinema. Having both the writer and director admit to substance addiction in the 1970’s, lends further to the monstrously illusory vision of urban decay within the pores of this amazing work of cinema.



RAGING BULL (1980)

Boxing champion Jake La Motta represented another morally complex vision of masculinity in crisis for both Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese. Both in and out of the ring he is man in pain who hurts those he loves and, above all else, himself. Each battering jab and uppercut and hook is felt by the audience via incredible editing and sound design. Overall, Scorsese delivers a brutal profile in stark black-and-white and a knockout box of cinematic tricks. Unsurprisingly, DeNiro won a Best Acting Oscar at the 1981 Academy Awards. Rather surprisingly, Ordinary People (1980) was winner of Best Picture. Go figure!



GOODFELLAS (1990)

As far back as I can remember, this has been one of my favourite films of all time. Ray Liotta’s voiceover introduces and tells the story of the rise and fall of gangster, Henry Hill, while expertly supported by Scorsese’s selection of memorable shots, music and sequences. Further, Scorsese’s major skill here is too, is to make us both enamoured and disgusted by the actions of these charismatic criminals and killers. There are so many classic scenes in this incredible epic and the cast of Liotta, DeNiro and scene-stealing, Joe Pesci, make it one of those films that can be watched over and over. Did I forget to mention that it also has one of the greatest cinema soundtracks ever!



THE DEPARTED (2006)

A truly remarkable remake of Infernal Affairs (2002), the film is shot and edited, as expected, with immaculate precision; crammed with unrelenting and bone-crushing thrills and violence. Thematically, it’s powerful too. Throughout, honesty and truth are obliterated by lies and death. Costigan and Sullivan are no more than pawns at the hands of a corrupt system that lets people down from a great height. This is literally the case where Martin Sheen’s Captain Queenan is concerned. An immense cast including DiCaprio, Damon, Wahlberg and scenery-chewing, Jack Nicholson, take a twisting Kafkaesque plot where criminals and cops collide; ultimately chasing their shadows and souls to a treacherous, bloody and bitter end.



THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) feels like a greatest hits package combining all of the finer ingredients from Scorsese’s other films. You’ve got the classic swooning camera moves; the direct address to camera; cat-and-dog couples fighting as seen in Casino (1995) and Goodfellas (1990); the boat-in-peril sequence as seen in Cape Fear (1991); the multi-character voiceovers; the dumb criminals putting themselves in the shit; characters turning on each other and ratting each other out as seen in The Departed (2006); plus many more. But whereas Scorsese used to deal with outsiders, oddballs and working class criminals like Travis Bickle, Rupert Pupkin or Henry Hill, he presents via Jordan Belfort a white-collar criminal and venal member of the “Master-Race”, getting his just desserts in an incendiary morality tale of major power.


SIX OF THE BEST #28 – KAFKAESQUE FILM NARRATIVES!

SIX OF THE BEST #28 – KAFKAESQUE FILM NARRATIVES!

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, to describe a book or film or life situation as Kafkaesque relates to:

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) – a Czech-born German-language writer whose surreal fiction vividly expressed the anxiety, alienation, and powerlessness of the individual in the 20th century. Kafka’s work is characterized by nightmarish settings in which characters are crushed by nonsensical, blind authority. Thus, the word Kafkaesque is often applied to bizarre and impersonal administrative situations where the individual feels powerless to understand or control what is happening.”

Moreover, it especially relates to characters and events which could be described as:

“. . . relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings, especially having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality.”

Such narratives are abundant throughout cinema history and in this occasional strand I would like to suggest six of the best films which could be described as ‘Kafkaesque.’ Interestingly, I have not selected the purer surrealist work of say David Lynch or Luis Bunuel, but concentrated on films dominated by characters utterly lost to a nightmarish fate, bureaucracy or a scenario entirely not of their making. I guess one could draw parallels with the world’s current situation in regard to COVID-19, as many of us have found ourselves powerless and at the mercy of bureaucracy, sickness and unknown external forces. However, I am not going to dwell on that; just keep going and hope we all get through safely to the other side of it.



AFTER HOURS (1985)


THE HUNT (2012)


I, DANIEL BLAKE (2016)


NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)


THE TENANT (1976)


THE TRIAL (1962)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: MANK (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: MANK (2020)

Directed by: David Fincher

Produced by: Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth, Douglas Urbanski

Screenplay by: Jack Fincher

Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Charles Dance, etc.

Music by: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Cinematography: Erik Messerschmidt

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



“A movie in production is the greatest train set a boy could ever have.”Orson Welles


I was never a fan of train sets as a child or adult. Nor those racing car circuit kits like Scalextric. They were not for me and I always got the feeling that the person playing with them was having much more fun than any spectator in the room. I had that similar feeling of exclusion and while watching David Fincher’s latest film, MANK (2020). Fincher of course is one of the leading film directors of a generation, combining exquisite technical brilliance with a formidable eye for genre storytelling. Indeed, films he directed such as: SEVEN (1995), FIGHT CLUB (1999), ZODIAC (2007) and the arguably under-rated, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008), are all masterclasses in filmmaking technique and genre narratives. Fincher has also made other excellent films too and also helped create the superlative crime series on Netflix, MINDHUNTER.

Thus, with such a directorial power at the helm it is mildly surprising that Fincher has chosen, as his latest film opus, to favour the trials and tribulations of a famous Hollywood screenwriter in Herman J. Mankiewicz. Yet, this is somewhat of a personal project for Fincher as his father, Jack Fincher, wrote the screenplay prior to his passing in 2003. Mankiewicz or ‘Mank’, as he was commonly known, is portrayed by the never-less-than-brilliant, Gary Oldman. His Mank is a wise-cracking, gambling and barely functioning alcoholic, who so happens to be one of the best screenwriters and script doctors in 1940’s Hollywood. Laid up following a car crash, Mank is consigned to a bed for the majority of the present tense of the film. There he is bullied to write CITIZEN KANE (1941), by theatrical wunderkind, Orson Welles, while also ordered to remain sober.



If you have never seen, CITIZEN KANE (1941), or know little of the Hollywood period of the time, then you are most likely to be lost with MANK (2020). CITIZEN KANE (1941) is rightly considered one of finest films of all time and there have been a number of films made about its creation. Here though the story concentrates on the plight of the writer and how Mank came to be influenced by his relationships with William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). Some of the best scenes of the film are Mank’s visits to Hearst Castle and the opulent dinner parties which take place. Mank himself is seen as a witty addendum to proceedings, but always the sneered upon drunken outsider, good for a biting quip and an inebriated jest. Allied to this there are an abundance of characters from the studio system featured, notably Louis B. Mayer, Irvin Thalberg and David O. Selznick. The scene where an drunken Mank bitterly lets rip his ire at Hearst and his cronies is a memorable work of acting from Oldman and contains some fantastic dialogue too.

Overall, the drama rarely gets as good as this and I hardly ever cared about many of the characters, including Mankiewicz himself. The script felt broken-backed, switching from the belligerent and bed-ridden Mank to the flashbacks portraying his Hollywood experiences. I must say though, that the use of screenwriting headers to delineate the place and year of a scene is inspired. The political subplot also, while important to Mankiewicz’s motivation behind his writing choices, did not quite work for me either. Finally, as we would come to expect from a visual genius such as David Fincher, the film’s style is artistry of the highest order. The black-and-white cinematography and stunning production design of MANK (2020) is absolutely incredible to behold. As such, one won’t witness a more beautiful looking train set on a TV or cinema screen all year.

MARK: 8 out of 11



NETFLIX FILM REVIEW – I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW – I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)

Directed by: Charlie Kaufman

Produced by: Anthony Bregman, Charlie Kaufman, Robert Salerno, Stephanie Azpiazu

Screenplay by: Charlie Kaufman (Based on: I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid)

Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis

Music by: Jay Wadley

Cinematography: Łukasz Żal

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



I read some background information online about Charlie Kaufman’s latest film adaptation for Netflix, I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020), and there is a leaning to describe it as a psychological horror. Of course, in order to market their films, studios write copy to entice an audience for their film. However, this adaptation of Iain Reid’s novel is far more than a psychological horror. It has elements from a whole plethora of genres including: surrealism, comedy, romance, thriller, arthouse, road movie, and even dance, animation and musical genres. Safe to say that once again Charlie Kaufman has delivered yet another ingenious cinematic smorgasbord that defies easy categorization. But is it any good?

The film opens gently with the lilting voice of Jessie Buckley’s voiceover. We hear her character deliver a set of poetic existential queries, and her mantra throughout the film: “I’m thinking of ending things. . .” over a set of seemingly unconnected images. She waits for her boyfriend of a couple of months, Jake (Jesse Plemons), as they plan to meet his parents, portrayed by David Thewlis and Toni Collette, for the first time at their farm. So far, so straightforward; kind of. However, as Jake and the young woman’s (whose name changes during the film) drive through picturesque and snowy landscapes, Kaufman intercuts to an elderly Janitor going about his cleaning duties at a high school. How these juxtaposed situations eventually marry together is open to many interpretations. While certainly obtuse and narratively impenetrable to many, I really connected with Kaufman’s surreal trip. Because I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) is certainly as much about the journey than the ultimate destination.


As he has demonstrated since his debut feature film screenplay, Being John Malkovich (1999), Kaufman has an urgent desire for original invention, sight gags, existential examination, exploration of mental health, relationship breakdowns, non-linear structure and intellectual discourse. The respective journeys of characters like Jake and the young woman are taken by road and in the mind. Whose mind the film is in and out of is also open to question. The car journey is treacherous both due to the weather and the anxious tension between the couple. This is brought about by the young woman desiring to end things. Is it her life or her relationship she wants to end? Or is it both? Things between the two aren’t made easier by the surreal visit to Jake’s parents’ farm. Thewlis and Collette inject much humour and pathos into their characters. Their performances, a succession of visual punchlines and the brilliant dialogue combine to really bring the film to life during the middle act.

After the couple leave the parents’ farm and head back home, events get even stranger as connections with the aforementioned Janitor intensify. An extremely anxious pitstop at an ice-cream parlour, an animated pig and a ballet dance sequence threatened to destabilize the narrative. But once I had suddenly interpreted my truth and understanding of Iain Reid’s and Kaufman’s vision, it all kind of almost made sense. Indeed, compared to Kaufman’s surreal meta-fictional masterpiece, Synecdoche, New York (2008), I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) is arguably more accessible, funnier and less bleak.

Having said that, given Kaufman’s predilection for characters on the edge of nervous, depressive and existential breakdowns, some may find this film’s journey tough to complete. But I loved the invention and constant ideas on show throughout. Kaufman’s takes risks structurally, visually and thematically and I congratulate him for challenging the audience. Lastly, I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) has a wondrously cinematic look, sound and dreamlike feel to it. Plus, in Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons, Kaufman has cast two exceptional acting talents, who are certainly worth going on the road with. However, bizarre and twisted that road may be.

Mark: 9 out of 11


MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #5 – NURSE RATCHED

MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #5 – NURSE RATCHED

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Directed by: Miloš Forman

Produced by: Saul Zaentz, Michael Douglas

Screenplay by: Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman

Based on: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, William Redfield, Danny Devito, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd etc.



“Now calm down. The best thing we can do is go on with our daily routine.” Nurse Ratched


Not all film monsters come from outer space or the mountains of Transylvania or from beyond the grave. In fact, some of the scariest monsters from literature and the silver screen are often humans. A magnificent example of this is Ken Kesey’s controlling matriarch figure from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nurse Mildred Ratched. Even the name conjures up feelings of evil, manipulation and pain. There has been a recent Netflix origin story with Sarah Paulson in the iconic role, however, today I will concentrate on Louise Fletcher’s mesmerising rendition of authoritarian villainy.

Evil comes in many guises and can be overt, perverted or, in Nurse Ratched’s case, extremely covert. She is the personification of calm on the outside, but clearly raging with poison and anger on the inside. Her obsessive desire for routine and control makes her ideal to be the Head of the Department, however, it is the burning internal joy she appears to take from manipulating and bullying the inmates which makes her an extremely dangerous person. The battle of wills she has with Randall P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) powerfully drives the narrative in the film. Nicholson gives an electric performance as the convict faking lunacy. But he is more than matched by the subtle pragmatism in Louise Fletcher’s portrayal. Both deservedly won Academy Awards.

Apparently the role of Nurse Ratched was offered to esteemed actresses such as Anne Bancroft, Angela Lansbury and Geraldine Page, but eventually Milos Forman and his producers offered the role to then unknown, Louise Fletcher. It’s a serendipitous piece of casting as a well-known actress would arguably have provided less surprise within the characterisation. Fletcher herself has commented that she felt Ratched was a virgin. Further going on to say in an interview with Vanity Fair, “She hasn’t married, hadn’t done this, hadn’t done that, and was self-sufficient on her own leading this life, because she dedicated her life, her earlier life, to other people who needed her.” Perhaps this caring for others eventually wore her down and Ratched may suffer from compassion fatigue. Either that or she is genuinely the most insane person in the asylum, while ruling with quiet and ruthless efficiency.