Tag Archives: drama

Cinema Review: Tár (2022)

Cinema Review: Tár (2022)

Written and directed by Todd Field

Produced by: Todd Field, Alexandra Milchan and Scott Lambert

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Julian Glover, Allan Corduner, Mark Strong etc.

Cinematography Florian Hoffmeister

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Tar (definition): a dark, thick flammable liquid distilled from wood or coal, consisting of a mixture of hydrocarbons, resins, alcohols, and other compounds. It is used in road-making and for coating and preserving timber.

Todd Field’s classical film masterpiece, Tár (2022), was hailed by critics when released late last year in the U.S.A and made many top ten film of the year lists. I saw it in the first week of 2023 and while I don’t always concur with the gushing hyperbole of professional film critics, I have to say if I see a better cinema release all year I will be amazed. Let’s hope I do.

Tár (2022) is a film which works on many genre and narrative layers. It is a psychological drama, an absorbing character study, a backstage musical, a complex morality play, with suggestions of hallucinatory horror during the final act of the film. It is a triumph of filmic brilliance expertly delivered by Todd Field. It is incredible to think this is only the third film he has directed. Certainly a case of high quality over quantity. But Field confirms himself an auteur, exerting absolute control over the material. Such is his, and the production team’s, meticulous research, writing, planning, design and execution that if I hadn’t seen the credits, I would have said the maestro Stanley Kubrick had made this film.



Tár (2022) opens with haunting singing over the imaginatively presented credits that slowly fill a black screen. Field demonstrates control from the start before we are introduced to Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett). Now, I thought the film may have been a story about a female conductor attempting to break into a traditionally male dominated world. However, Lydia Tár is at the top of her game as a conductor and composer, heralded for her genius interpretations of the music of Mahler and own oeuvre. Plus, having won numerous awards for her cinema, theatre and television compositions. Lydia Tár is soaring and about to release a book Tár on Tár and conduct a live recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony for the Berlin Philharmonic. So, where’s the drama? What could go wrong?

Field structures the linear narrative around Tár’s day-to-day working and family life and the process of rehearsing Mahler’s Fifth. Methodically we are then introduced to actions from Tár’s recent past which threaten to haunt her. As a character who is so revered and in control of her world, Tár’s talent and confidence is magnetic and admirable. However, having no doubt been a force of nature to make it this competitive world, her arrogance and lack of awareness of a changing culture threatens to cancel her prodigiously built dominion. I won’t say anymore but Todd Field brilliantly explores resonating themes of the zeitgeist with razor-sharp intelligence. There are no easy answers either.

I could not take my eyes or mind off the screen during Tár (2022). It is cerebrally, aesthetically and psychologically all-encompassing. The stark cinematography, exhilarating classically-driven soundtrack, imposing Berlin architecture and claustrophobic feel of the Philharmonic offices and rehearsal spaces collude to create further emotional tension. Further, the film not only works impressively as absorbing drama, but also as interpretive ambiguity with subtle and mysterious suspense. Lastly, if Cate Blanchett does not win a best acting Oscar for her performance in Tár (2022) I will be stunned. Never less than metronomically astounding, Blanchett has taken Field’s precise writing and breathed physical, mental and spiritual vivacity into a challenging personality. Thus, take many-a-bow maestros, Blanchett and Field. Encore! Encore! Encore!

Mark: 10 out of 11


FILM REVIEW: RRR (2022)

FILM REVIEW: RRR (2022)

Directed by S. S. Rajamouli

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

Produced by D. V. V. Danayya

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

Cinematography: K. K. Senthil Kumar

Music by M. M. Keeravani



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

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

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



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

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

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

Mark: 9 out of 11



CINEMA REVIEW: DECISION TO LEAVE (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: DECISION TO LEAVE (2022)

Directed by: Park Chan-wook

Written by: Jeong Seo-kyeong, Park Chan-wook

Produced by: Park Chan-wook

Main cast: Tang Wei, Park Hae-il, Lee Jung-hyun, Go Kyung-pyo, etc.

Cinematography Kim Ji-yong

Edited by Kim Sang-bum

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Park Chan-wook is a proper filmmaker. Like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, he embraces the artifice of the visual and aural medium crafting intelligent, thematically surprising and stylistically dazzling works of cinema. While watching his work one can see the clockwork precision of his filmic mind devising every frame, sound, camera move, cut, character action, acting nuance, being thought out expertly. In short: Park Chan-wook’s films are always an event for me and demand attention.

Chan-wook’s only Hollywood directed film was an under-rated gem of a noir thriller called Stoker (2013), after which he returned home to direct erotically charged period thriller, The Handmaiden (2016). This was a bigger-budgeted and thematically richer affair, taking a complex con-artist-twisting-plot and interweaving an explicit feminist love story. Of course, lest we forget Chan-wook’s classic early work, notably the gonzo revenger, Old Boy (2003). I re-watched it recently at the Raindance Film Festival and the furiously inventive exploitation film retains its beautifully transgressive power.

Like The Handmaiden (2016), Decision to Leave (2022) is a romance story set within a complex genre plot. While the former was a period crime film, Decision to Leave (2022) is a contemporary set police procedural with a central premise highly reminiscent of Basic Instinct (1992). Tang Wei as Song Seo-rae is suspected of killing her husband and as investigating cop, Park Hae-il as Det. Jang Hae-jun, delves deeper he finds himself more and more attracted to her. Where The Handmaiden (2016) and Basic Instinct (1992) used nudity and sexual imagery liberally, Decision to Leave (2022) is far more subtle and cerebral. The compelling romance is built on two fine lead performances, the cunning twists in the crime plot and Chan-wook’s masterful visuals with mountain, coastal and city landscapes being employed to powerful impact.



Now I must admit after watching Decision to Leave (2022) I was left slightly underwhelmed at the end from an emotional perspective. The visuals and storytelling were phenomenal, with Chan-wook and his writing partner crafting a devious series of inventive cat-and-mouse set-pieces. The suspense and doubt instilled as to whether Song Seo-rae is a murderer, despite her cast-iron alibi, is palpable. Simultaneously, the arc of the married mid-life crisis-detective, drawn to the suspect, flirting with disaster through flawed choices, creates much tension also. However, I didn’t immediately warm to the detective’s persona and wasn’t sure if I really cared. But I suspect, due to the complexity of the passion on show, a further watch will cement Chan-wook’s specific and symbolic vision.

Beneath the melding of romance, crime, mystery and action genres, I also considered the potential subtext in the screenplay. I wondered if Decision to Leave (2022) sought to explore the socio-political relationship between the nations of South Korea and China via the characters? Song Seo-rae is a Chinese migrant who came to Korea and via marriage was able to remain. An enigmatic soul she uses her wiles to survive, serenely attracting a series of men. But death follows her as closely as the male. Detective Hae-jun is drawn to her both professionally and romantically, no doubt thrilled by the danger. Yet, Chan-wook denies displaying physical consummation, and this makes the film more erotic than endless sex scenes do.

Lastly, Decision to Leave’s (2022) examination of language, both bodily and verbal, is deftly presented as a theme within the romance. The central crime of murder creates suspicion between the Korean and Chinese characters, but there’s a mutual and irresistible pull that cannot be denied. Song Seo-rae’s use of her phone translation application during her exchanges with the Detective create both a barrier and paradoxical intimacy. It’s just one of the fascinating bits of business, as well as the chainmail gauntlet used by the Detective, which elevate an already impressive script. But did Decision to Leave (2022) need to be so evasively complex and full of radiant ambiguity? The ending especially is both poetically exquisite and frustratingly cryptic. With a Park Chan-wook film, would I have it any other way?

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: THE MENU (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE MENU (2022)

Directed by Mark Mylod

Written by: Seth Reiss, Will Tracy

Produced by: Adam McKay, Betsy Koch, Will Ferrell

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Reed Birney, Judith Light, John Leguizamo, etc.

Cinematography Peter Deming

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



I love cinema and films like The Menu (2022), as much as I love food and drink. Wow, some of the food shown on screen looked absolutely delicious, while some of it was that weird cuisine so gorged on by the pompous moneyed folk of this world. I must admit that I have had an unhealthy relationship with food. I have been an overeater and also overweight. I am a food addict, notably sugar and alcohol. I have attempted to control it with various dietary ventures. Low calorie, low carbohydrate, low sugar, running, gym, fasting, temperance and other (un)successful attempts at moderation have ensued. Presently, I am pretty fit from a cardio perspective, and twenty kilos lighter than I was ten years ago. But I could do much better.

I’ve always strived to eat healthily, but fine dining was never really for me. It was only when I met my wife eight years ago that I was introduced to gourmet dining and the dreaded tasting menu. Aside from the over-priced food, I just find those posh restaurants too pretentious for a working-class boy from Battersea. Yet, I would go out with my wife for a treat and eat at some wonderful restaurants in Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Cornwall, London and many more. Some were amazing and some I found were not really value for money. The personality cult of the celebrity chef continues to thrive also. Aside from enjoying Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares they’ve never really interested me. Yet, I was onboard while imbibing the skewered satire of The Menu (2022). Because it’s a sharply scripted horror film which comes to the boil slowly before delivering a killer set of courses throughout.



It’s best to experience The Menu (2022) without knowing too much. The surprises in the inventive script are a constant joy. The setting is an exclusive and expensive restaurant on a remote island called Hawthorne. The host, menu architect and epicurean is celebrity chef, Julian Slowik. Chef is portrayed with intense control and focus by Ralph Fiennes. Slowik finds himself worshipped by his kitchen acolytes, who adhere to his every demand. He is brilliant and to be feared, like many a charismatic cult leader before him. Eat your heart out, Gordon Ramsay.

Arriving by boat to the blighted isle are twelve restaurant-goers such as a team of rich finance guys, a once famous Hollywood actor (John Leguizamo) and his PA, a wealthy middle-aged couple, a food critic (Janet McTeer) and her yes-man assistant, plus the mis-matched couple, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult). Tyler is a sycophantic fanboy of Slowik’s food and career, something that later comes to horrifying catharsis. Indeed, as well as the mysterious menu, many of the guests are harbouring a secret that this hell’s kitchen is more than prepared to burn.

Structured, unsurprisingly, around the courses of a tasting menu with titles separating each dish, the food delivered is both imaginative and beautifully presented. Margot’s character pushes back on what she considers to be both ostentatious and insubstantial food, much to Tyler’s annoyance. Their conflict intersperses the rising suspense that derives from Julian’s menu, which raises the stakes gradually, before events truly reach boiling point. In Slowik’s restaurant the customer is definitely NEVER right. Similar to Ready or Not (2019), The Menu (2022) is a fantastically twisted and funny genre film. Fiennes, Taylor-Joy, Hoult and Hong Chau are on terrific acting form. Further, the production design and cinematography make the visuals succulent and palatable. Ultimately, for those who love food, fear and vengeance, this film is certainly best served hot!

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


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: TRIANGLE OF SADNESS (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: TRIANGLE OF SADNESS (2022)

Directed by Ruben Östlund

Written by: Ruben Östlund

Produced by: Erik Hemmendorff, Philippe Bober

Main cast: Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, Dolly de Leon, Zlatko Burić, Henrik Dorsin, Vicki Berlin, Woody Harrelson etc.

Cinematography: Fredrik Wenzel

Edited by: Ruben Östlund, Mikel Cee Karlsson

Music by: Mikkel Maltha, Leslie Ming

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Ruben Ostlund is fast becoming one of those go to directors who can be relied upon to deliver cinema of the highest quality. His latest film, Triangle of Sadness (2022) is his finest to date. Having said that, his Force Majeure (2014) was one of those excellent films I hated.  Technically, it was beautifully shot, performed, and directed, however, I just found the characters too irritating. Personally despising ski holidays probably didn’t help either. I actually wished the characters had been killed in the avalanche to save on all the middle-class matrimonial moaning.

Ostlund’s next film The Square (2017) was bravura arthouse storytelling containing wonderful digs at the nature of modern art and how rich people will buy any old crap if it is put in a gallery. While a tad overlong, it was wonderfully funny with hilarious mocking of the bourgeoisie, art and the rise of social media. With Triangle of Sadness (2022), Ostlund has moved up the social strata and focussed his satirical eye on the uber-wealthy, combining socialist dialectic with gross-out comedy, as Das Kapital meets Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983).



The film opens with Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean), a model and Social Media influencer, as a couple whose relationship is fraught with problems. Through Yaya’s connections she secures them free passage on one of the most luxurious yachting holidays on the ocean. While they aren’t short of money, they have nothing compared to the wealthy millionaires and business types on the boat. As Carl and Yaya act as our conduits in the story, Ostlund uses them to explore the petty first world problems which impact many romances. The staff are also introduced as key players in the “Upstairs, Downstairs” character dynamic, notably Woody Harrelson’s drunken socialist Captain Thomas Smith, and Vicki Berlin’s staff supervisor, Paula. Lastly, the money is represented essentially by lonely tech millionaire, Jarmo (Henrik Dorsin), obnoxious Russian, Dimitry (Zlatko Burić) and stroke victim, Therese (Iris Berben) and her husband.

Throwing these disparate, and latterly desperate personalities, into the trapped spaces of a superyacht is great writing by Ostlund. What unfolds in the second act of the film is an extended set-piece of riotous fun. As the yacht becomes battered by the stormy sea and weather, the guests all become violently ill to devasting impact. While it may not be to everyone’s taste, I was laughing for twenty odd minutes straight at this sickening skewering of these privileged people. At the same time the drunken Dimitry and Captain Smith argue relentlessly about the differences and merits of capitalist and Marxist ideologies. It’s easily one of the funniest and impressively directed sequences of this cinematic year.

But Ostlund isn’t finished yet. These characters have not suffered enough for him, and the final section of Triangle of Sadness (2022) drenches the story in another hilarious and satirical direction. I won’t spoil the events which unfold, but Carl and Yaya’s relationship issues come to the fore as a darkly comedic peril strikes the yacht and passengers. Here Ostlund strikes a further blow against capitalism, exploring the nature of survival of the fittest and true values of human currency in a savage indictment against the obscenely rich. Overall, while the characters may not be the most likeable, that is never Ostlund’s aim. Ostlund’s desire is to critique capitalist hegemony through both high and low brow humour. He succeeds, making Triangle of Sadness (2022) one of the most thought-provoking and exhilarating cinema experiences of the year.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11



SIX OF THE BEST #37 – FOOTBALL FILMS!

SIX OF THE BEST #37 – FOOTBALL FILMS!

With the World Cup beginning in Qatar on Sunday 20th November 2022, I thought it was the perfect time to jump on the bandwagon and consider six of the best football films ever made.

Now, when I say “best” I say this cautiously. The relationship between football and cinema hasn’t always delivered the highest of cinematic art. However, there have been some highly entertaining films set in and around the world of this great game. A sport that involves human beings kicking a sphere into a net. A game I love!


ESCAPE TO VICTORY (1981) – Directed by John Huston

Wow! What a cast! This prisoner-of-war film starring Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Max Von Sydow, Pele, Bobby Moore, Osvaldo Ardiles, John Wark and many more football stars of the era, shouldn’t really work. Yet, it somehow successfully combines football and WW2 prison break subgenres in a beat-the-Nazis-boy’s-own adventure of stirring derring do.


THE FIRM (1988) – Directed by Alan Clarke

An unflinching and gritty exploration of the football hooligan subculture so prevalent in the English game in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Gary Oldman and Phil Davis portray rival gang-leaders of opposing football teams, highlighting how football was used as a substitute for urban warfare up and down the cities and motorways of our green and pleasant land.


GRAHAM TAYLOR: AN IMPOSSIBLE JOB (1994)

Firstly, I must say that Graham Taylor was a great man and exceptional football manager at clubs teams including Watford and Aston Villa. This soul crushing fly-on-the-wall documentary covers in painful depth the ill-fated attempt by the England football team to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. Brutally honest, poignant, funny and embarrassing all at the same time, this is one of the most absorbing sports docs of all time.


SHAOLIN SOCCER (2001) – directed by Stephen Chow

Combining football and martial arts is a master stroke of the highest order. In the turbo-charged, Shaolin Soccer, we get both an underdog story and a litany of incredible kung-fu action set-pieces with scorching goals at the end of them. Brilliantly choreographed by Stephen Chow and his production team, this is a funny, kicking and net-busting classic!


THE DAMNED UNITED (2009) – directed by Tom Hooper

This exceptional adaptation of David Peace’s classic novel scores on many levels. None more so than Michael Sheen’s eloquent portrayal of top manager, Brian Clough and the excellent Timothy Spall as his assistant, Peter Taylor. Dramatically picking apart Clough’s disastrous tenure at premier football club, Leeds United, it shows even genius can get it utterly wrong. Clough would last 44 days at the damned United, but would later prove at Nottingham Forest what an incredible manager he was.


DIEGO MARADONA (2019)

Asif Kapadia’s documentary is arguably one of the finely crafted sports films of all time. Here he takes his razor-sharp filmmaking focus to the massive highs and eventual lows of Diego Maradona’s time at Napoli following his move from Barcelona in 1984. Maradona is regarded as one of the greatest footballers of all time, but had not hit expected heights at the Catalan Kings before moving to Naples. Here Maradona elevated a mostly unsuccessful team to the top of the Italian league. After becoming a footballing god to the Napoli fans, off and on-pitch behaviour would subsequently sour the romance in a powerfully thrilling documentary drama.

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png


Buy the book from here:

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

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

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

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

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

https://thecinemafix.com/

CINEMA REVIEW: THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (2022)

Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh

Produced by: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin & Martin McDonagh

Main Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan, etc.

Cinematography: Ben Davis

Edited by: Mikkel E. G. Nielsen

Music by: Carter Burwell

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) is Martin McDonagh’s latest cinematic masterpiece. Not only is it one of the best films of the year he has, as with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), constructed one of the most formidable screenplays of many a year. As a playwright McDonagh has won many awards for his works. His debut film, In Bruges (2008), was a deceptively simple story of two hitmen on the run which, with rich thematic power, became a darkly hilarious existential cult classic. His follow-up Seven Psychopaths (2012), a heady mix of criminals versus writers in a meta-fictional Hollywood-based narrative was brilliantly written and acted, if slightly lacking thematic clarity. Like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) is a highly emotional human drama which contains intelligent allegory, incredible characterization, and cracking dialogue.

Set in 1923 on an island off of Southern Ireland called aptly Inisherin, the film opens by focussing on genial everyman farmer, Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and his daily routine. After tending to his animals, he usually calls for his friend, Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) to go to the island pub, the J.J. Devine or Jonjo’s. In England there is an idiom called, “sending someone to Coventry.” This means to ignore or ostracize an individual or individuals. So, basically Colm chooses to do this to his long-standing friend, Pádraic. This shunning completely bemuses Pádraic and despite Colm’s pleading for Pádraic to respect his wishes, he continually seeks an answer to his former friend’s decision.



After this intriguing premise is established, what follows is a tremendously original, darkly funny and emotionally penetrating succession of scenes. The exchanges between the two characters begins as bickering but then descends into some seriously disturbing acts of recrimination. Attempting to make them see sense are various eccentric characters on the island who provide many witty and absurd exchanges that McDonagh specialises in. Further, Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) is almost the one voice of reason as the feud escalates. As she tries to diffuse the conflict, even Barry Keoghan’s young idiot, Dominic Kearney, the initial comic relief in the film, attempts to make these two men see sense.

Visually, The Banshees of Inisherin (2022), is incredibly rich. The territory displays gorgeously photographed shots of the rocks, the sea, the stone roads and the lush green countryside. But while there is a sense of expanse and freedom initially, the feeling of isolation pervades. As the story continues the characters feel more and more segregated by the sea and their own or other’s decisions. None more so than Farrell’s Pádraic. A simple man who just wants to do his work and get drunk with his friend, he finds he is sequestered by Colm’s desire to self-isolate and concentrate on his music. Here, Farrell and Gleeson give tremendous character work. Farrell especially has rarely been better as Pádraic’s attitude turns initially from shock to bitterness over the journey of the narrative.



A film director’s job is for me about making key creative choices. Martin McDonagh makes brilliant choices while working from his own exceptional script. I loved everything about The Banshees of Inisherin (2022). The look, the performances, the pacing, the locations and Carter Burwell’s phenomenal score are absolutely first class. I haven’t even mentioned Barry Keoghan’s memorable supporting turn. He surely is one of the most naturally gifted actors of his generation. Not to forget other striking characters in the ensemble such as the creepy, Mrs McCormick (Sheila Flitton), an old harridan who acts as a portent for death on the island.

Martin McDonagh expertly combines a superb ear for dialogue, a psychologically absorbing analysis of the human condition with elements from Waiting For Godot and Channel Four situation comedy, Father Ted. Above all else, The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) is a darkly, spectacular cinematic experience which works on many levels. On one level it is about the isolation of island life and its inhabitants. On another it’s about the death of a friendship. While on yet another level it is about the analogous absurdity of civil war and how conflict can start for the merest of reasons. While the best cinema is certainly about showing and not telling, McDonagh proves again that dialogue-driven films can produce cinematic theatre, comedy and tragedy of the highest order.

Mark: 10 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: SMILE (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: SMILE (2022)

Directed and written by Parker Finn

Based on Laura Hasn’t Slept by Parker Finn

Produced by: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner, Robert Salerno, Gabby Olivera

Cast: Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn, Rob Morgan, etc.

Cinematography: Charlie Sarroff



If you search YouTube by typing ‘short horror film’ you will find hundreds of really good and often scary, surprisingly enough, short horror films. A great majority of them will have a lengthy suspenseful set-up, before ending on a startling jump scare. The model itself is arguably overdone, however, it is an excellent set-up-punchline structure for new filmmakers to learn film techniques and scare the viewers. Many such short videos go viral and, in the case of Laura Hasn’t Slept by Parker Finn, get picked up for feature development. Hence, we have Parker Finn’s film debut, Smile (2022).

Smile (2022) opens with a suggestion of childhood trauma for lead protagonist, psychiatrist Doctor Rose Cotter when a child. The action then moves to the present day and brings us Rose’s confrontation with the disturbed patient, Laura. What follows is an expertly crafted and incredibly disturbing sequence, which plunges Rose into major threat from a nefarious force. Parker Finn then slowly builds Rose’s psychological breakdown as she experiences hallucinations, frights and memory loss as her partner, family and friends find her behaviour to be disturbing to say the least. A particularly grisly scene at a child’s birthday party was especially deadly and memorable.



As the film continues, I could not help but be reminded of both The Ring (1998/2002) and It Follows (2014) in terms of the story beats. Rose, while being pursued by some unknown demon, faces a race against time to avoid death. Both the aforementioned films are far superior as they have more plot and characterisation to propel the running time. Indeed, one of the major issues with Smile (2022) is that 115 minutes are too long for the character arc Rose Cotter is given. By the time her character revelation is complete it has taken an eternity to get there. Moreover, I was suffering jump-scare fatigue by the end, thus rendering the scarily horrific monster reveal to feel fearfully redundant.

Yet, Smile (2022) has an impactful thematic spine. While It Follows (2014) dealt with the threat of sexual disease within the subtext, Parker Finn’s debut powerfully delves into the impact of grief, guilt and mental health. Having said that, the narrative could have dug more into Rose’s past to really reveal the trauma she suffered as a child. Personally, I think a longer set-up of her character while growing up would have increased the drama. But Parker Finn gets an excellent performance from Sosie Bacon throughout, even if her perpetual appearance on screen as the harassed and troubled victim eventually promotes further fatigue. A scene-stealing exchange between Bacon and the electric Rob Morgan suggests his character should be lead in the inevitable horror sequel.

Mark: 7 out of 11