Tag Archives: Film Review

CINEMA REVIEW: THE NORTHMAN (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE NORTHMAN (2022)

Directed by  Robert Eggers

Written by: Sjón Eggers & Robert Eggers

Based on: The Legend of Amleth by Saxo Grammaticus

Produced by: Mark Huffam, Lars Knudsen, Robert Eggers, Alexander Skarsgård, Arnon Milchan

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe, etc.

Cinematography    Jarin Blaschke

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Robert Eggers is a formidable cinematic talent. His dark visions of folklore and historical fable are steeped in impressive research and a striking attention to detail within his work. Artistically and thematically speaking, Eggers is a major talent, however, one could argue his narratives deny clarity preferring hazy ambiguity. His debut film The Witch (2015) is an arthouse classic, but I just did not connect with the characters, despite the filthy realistic strangeness. His follow-up, The Lighthouse (2019), is a claustrophobic, black-hearted and dirty descent into a watery hell. Both are bravura low-budget films which created two distinct periods. In both films you can almost feel the plague and scurvy in your mouth, presented as they are with such earthy authenticity.

Thus, unsurprisingly, Robert Eggers latest film is NOT a romantic comedy. The Northman (2022) is another obsessively researched and realised historical drama. But because of the reported $70 million budget, his vision of Vikings and blood and revenge and muscle and familial treason and murder screams epic, more epic and even more EPIC! Eggers script and story is inspired by the historical myth, The Legend of Amleth, a narrative which in turn is said to have influenced none other than the quite well known play, Hamlet. Here Eggers has a solid structure for the thunderous battles and mystical manifestations on show. Our hero, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård), finds his father, the King (Ethan Hawke) murdered by his uncle (Claes Bang), while he is a boy. Fleeing his village he grows into a scary, ripped and roaring Viking warrior who has never even seen a carbohydrate. A hunger for bread and a desire for revenge on his uncle propels the story powerfully. Intense Amleth must locate his kidnapped mother (Nicole Kidman) and smash the man who did his family wrong.



Eggers is a brilliant film director. In Alexander Skarsgård he also has a battering ram of a physical specimen leading the charge from deathly pillage to bloody battle to fiery hand-to-combat with impressive purpose and power. Amidst the vengeance-fuelled fight sequences and Amleth’s confrontations with the seers and magicians of the land, his journey also encompasses love and marriage to Olga of the Birch Forest, a Slavic sorceress (Anya Taylor-Joy). While Skarsgård’s character is more muscle than charisma, Taylor-Joy breathes ethereal and sensual life into the middle act. Their collaboration battling against enforced slavery gives us something to root for above the familiar revenge plot. Having said that, Amleth is not the easiest of characters to warm to. Despite Eggers genius and Skarsgård’s brutalism I wondered if I really cared about his quest.

I would argue that this story was done far more successfully from an emotional perspective by Ridley Scott’s awesome Roman epic, Gladiator (2000). Russell Crowe was just phenomenal as Maximus and his performance was one of magnetic emotion and charismatic depth. That film had amazing action married to integral character development. However, there is a violent momentum to The Northman (2022), with Amleth’s quest charging like a juggernaut toward the jugular of his foes. Eggers’ image and colour system of Viking costumes, iconography, weaponry, plus human, godly and ungodly beings provide the depth when the characterisation feels thin. And wow, does he know how to stage a battle. Bones crunch, teeth crack, blood bursts and weapons sever, scorch and devastate. As the fire burns in Amleth’s heart and across the landscape, The Northman (2022) rages from the cinema screen with dominant visual ascendancy.

Mark: 8 out of 11


HAIL BRITISH CINEMA! REVIEWS OF: AFTER LOVE (2020), BOILING POINT (2021), CALIBRE (2018), COUNTY LINES (2019) & ROSE PLAYS JULIE (2019)

HAIL BRITISH CINEMA!

Tired of watching big-budget homogeneous Hollywood product dominated by superheroes, sequels, remakes, prequels and remakes of prequels to sequels? I kind of am. Not that I don’t love a genre blockbuster when it’s done well. However, from time to time it’s good to diversify and watch films with more depth.

BFI Player has some terrific new and classic releases from all over the world. So, of late I have concentrated on watching some of the newer releases made by British filmmakers. My homeland has always been rich in talented people both in front and behind the camera. This has meant an incredible array of actors, filmmaking artists and technicians being poached by Hollywood. This is not just an artistic decision but an economic one. There just isn’t the money here to make big budget films, however, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some cinematic gold coming out of Britain.

While there have been some very successful film studios in the past, the British film industry has the air of an independently driven environment now. Film Four, the BFI, Aardman, BBC films, Heyday, Baby Cow, Salon Pictures, Marv Films and Number 9 films are all production companies which inhabit the industry. However, it is difficult competing with the gigantic corporate film companies, especially those that dominate distribution at the cinemas.

Yet, here are several brilliant British films I have watched on BFI Player, Netflix and Amazon lately. They are low-budget, mostly independently produced and highly recommended. Check them out as they certainly offer a divergent and absorbing change from the standard generic product at the multiplexes. With marks out of the usual eleven.

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



AFTER LOVE (2020) – BFI PLAYER

Written and directed by: Aleem Khan

Main cast: Joanna Scanlan, Natalie Richard, Talid Arliss etc.

Joanna Scanlan is mesmerising as a Western woman, Mary Hussain, who converted to Islam when she married her childhood sweetheart. In the present, her husband dies suddenly and she discovers he had a secret history. Dealing with both grief and shock at this news, this beautifully acted and directed character study is quietly devastating and moving. Covering themes relating to family, religion, love and fidelity After Love (2020), deservedly won best film at the British Independent film awards. Scanlan, more synonymous with comedic roles, is outstanding and Aleem Khan is a filmmaker who is definitely going places.

Mark: 9 out of 11


BOILING POINT (2021)

Written by: Philip Barandini, James Cummings

Directed by: Philip Barandini

Main cast: Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Ray Panthaki etc.

I’m not a big fan of one-take films generally as it is kind of an unnecessary gimmick, yet this fantastic restaurant-set drama makes full dramatic use of the technique. Stephen Graham is the Head Chef at a Dalston eatery and has to navigate a stressful shift with environmental health, marital, staffing, customer, financial and culinary issues all mounting up around him. There’s even a food critic in the venue. It is brilliantly acted and directed and extremely tense throughout. Graham is always a cracking watch, but Vinette Robinson, as his over-worked deputy, really brings the soup to a boil, serving up a tasty performance amidst the fine ensemble.

Mark: 9 out of 11


CALIBRE (2019) – NETFLIX

Written and directed by: Matt Palmer

Main cast: Jack Lowden, Martin McCann, Tony Curran etc.

This nerve-wracking thriller takes two former boarding-school friends, Vaughn and Marcus, portrayed by Lowden and McCann, on a shooting trip to the Highlands of Scotland and throws them into the pits of despair when tragedy strikes. Taut is not the word when a fateful shooting incident occurs, as a series of bad decisions places their fractious relationship at the mercy of the angry locals. Further conflict derives as Vaughn’s attempts to mature are countered by the reckless Marcus’ aggressive behaviour. Meanwhile, the film also pointedly comments on the corporate invasion of Scottish nature. Overall, Calibre (2019), had me on the edge-of-my-seat, not wasting a moment to raise the pulse. Finally, Lowden is superb, giving a nuanced performance in an impressively directed feature film debut.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


COUNTY LINES (2019) – BFI PLAYER

Written and directed by: Henry Blake

Main cast: Conrad Khan, Ashley Madekwe, Harris Dickinson etc.

If you didn’t know ‘County Lines’ is the practice of trafficking drugs into rural areas and small towns, away from bigger cities. Traffickers often recruit vulnerable children, including those who have been excluded from school, as drug dealers. Part-thriller and part-cautionary tale, Henry Blake’s gritty and impactful film draws on his own experiences working in a pupil referral unit. Lead character, teenager Tyler (Conrad Khan), is groomed and drawn into a murky world of drugs, only to learn some harsh life lessons. Ashley Madekwe gives a fighting performance as the mother who fears her son is lost to the mean streets of London and Harris Dickinson’s charismatic dealer.

Mark: 8 out of 11


ROSE PLAYS JULIE (2019) – BFI PLAYER

Written and directed by: Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor

Main cast: Ann Skelly, Orla Brady, Aiden Gillen etc.

Similar in style and tone to Lynn Ramsay’s intense You Were Never Really Here (2018), this poetic thriller takes a generic revenge narrative and delivers an eerie experience through haunting performances, direction, editing and musical composition. While the story moves at a glacial pace it retains power and purpose, as Ann Skelly portrays adoptee, Rose/Julie, a veterinarian student searching for her biological parents. Her detective work unearths devastating secrets which then precipitate twisted turns into thematically dark territory. Skelly gives a subtle but intelligent performance, while Orla Brady and Aiden Gillen also give emotional depth to their respective roles. Ultimately, despite the film delivering certain plot points too enigmatically, one cannot fail to be moved by Rose’s shocking journey of discovery.

Mark: 8 out of 11


Lest we forget. . .

SAINT MAUD (2019) – AMAZON PRIME

Written and directed by: Rose Glass

Main cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle etc.

The film is more than just a calling card for the extremely talented director, Rose Glass. Her grasp of the material is superb and the cinematography and shot composition support her dark vision brilliantly. The film may disappoint those who prefer conventional supernatural films, as it is more arthouse than classic horror. Moreover, it has much in common with searing character studies by Paul Schrader, such as Taxi Driver (1976), and the more recent, First Reformed (2017). Indeed, Maud’s voiceover permeates like a prayer to an empty sky bleeding into the powerful imagery to compelling effect. The true horror of Saint Maud (2019) is not in jump scares or one-dimensional monsters, but rather the slow descent into hell by a character who strives to be a saviour. Tragically though, Maud is a self-appointed Angel, whose mental fragility disintegrates under the weight of holy desire and biblical fervour.

Mark: 9 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: THE BATMAN (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE BATMAN (2022)

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Written by: Matt Reeves, Peter Craig

Based on: Characters from DC

Produced by: Dylan Clark, Matt Reeves

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell, etc.

Cinematography: Greig Fraser

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Three hours of darkness, shadows, fireworks, distorted sound and vision, dull emo-bluster, explosions, fist-to-fist combat, choppy chases, limp dialogue, sparse suspense, blaring sirens, mumbling delivery and humdrum sexual chemistry combine to an incredibly stylish yet boring experience. It may be the biggest box office hit of the year, but The Batman (2022) was interminable filmic disappointment for me. Bruce Wayne/The Batman is a miserable cipher here for the action on show. He is also arguably one of the worst detectives I have witnessed on the screen. Yet, be aware it is NOT the filmmaker’s fault. It is mine. I am a bad cinemagoer.

I am as jaded, and world weary as Robert Pattinson’s noir gumshoe in a costume on screen. Except I have earned it. I have lived through dead-end jobs, despair and disappointment. This film starts by asking us to follow Bruce Wayne’s Caped Crusader into the mean streets of Gotham to battle nefarious gangsters and a crazed, riddle-driven terrorist. But why do we care about him? Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale breathed vibrancy and commitment into the DC comic hero. His trilogy, though not faultless, made us root for the rich kid scared of flying rats. Going on a journey of discovery and finding himself an identity in the process, Bale’s Batman was a three-dimensional hero. Matt Reeves eschews all that with The Batman (2022), presenting familiar characters searching for some semblance of plot and characterisation in the dark.



The story is a breadcrumb plot as Pattinson’s suited vermin plods through scene after scene trying to work out who is killing the corrupt officials of Gotham City. There are fireworks and expertly designed action sequences although many of them are difficult to see amidst the cinematographic murk. Moreover, there isn’t really any empathetic characters here. I love a good cinematic anti-hero, but that requires personality and energy. This Batman has neither of those. Although the screen work of Jeffrey Wright, Paul Dano, John Turturro, Colin Farrell, Andy Serkis and Zoe Kravitz does breathe light and heat into the dull script. Farrell is The Penguin but essentially an Al Capone substitute. His excellent caricature gets buried and almost lost in obsidian and prosthetics.

But as I say, I am to blame. I am a bad superhero cinema person. I am saturated and fatigued by comic book film adaptations and TV shows from Marvel to DC to Vertigo and Image and Icon (yes I know this is Marvel too). I mean the best I can say is The Batman (2022) blasts away the rot that Affleck and Snyder implanted into the Batman franchise. Although that isn’t saying much. Because an obscene $200 million dollars was spent on this hollow vision of a wealthy emo-brat in a dark suit kicking the crap out of shadows. But remember this is my fault. I am old. I am cynical. I applaud Matt Reeves and his talented production team for delivering an impressive visual feast. It’s just a shame that in the bloated running time (15 minutes of that being end credits), they didn’t write any characters worth spending three hours with.

Mark: 7 out of 11


APPLE TV FILM REVIEW: THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH (2021)

APPLE TV FILM REVIEW: THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH (2021)

Directed by Joel Coen

Screenplay by Joel Coen (Based on Macbeth by William Shakespeare)

Produced by: Joel Coen, Frances McDormand, Robert Graf

Cast: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, Brendan Gleeson etc.

Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel

*** SPOILERS ALERT ***



The Coen Brothers – Ethan and Joel Coen – are, as a filmmaking duo, one of the most original, imaginative, daring, and brilliant artists of my generation. I have watched all of their films many times at the cinema and at home, having completely connected with their distinct style and cinematic voice from their very first film, Blood Simple (1984) to their most recent release anthology Western The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018). As they’ve developed as filmmakers my admiration has grown exponentially over the years. They have worked within the studio system while maintaining their cinematic individuality and independent spirit.

Thus, it was a surprise when it was announced that Ethan Coen was taking a break from filmmaking, leaving his brother to venture out solo. Joel’s first production as a singular director is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s famous Scottish play, The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021). With Denzel Washington cast in the lead and Frances McDormand portraying Lady Macbeth, Joel Coen certainly brought major talent to this prestige Apple production. Yet, given how familiar the play is to the world and the number of film, stage, radio and TV adaptations there have been, could the sole Coen breathe fresh life into this ancient tome?



If you haven’t seen or read Macbeth it is a tragedy first believed to have been performed in 1606. It deals with Macbeth’s journey from heroic warrior to murderous King to paranoiac and haunted mad person. Shakespeare’s themes are so absorbing in relation to the nature of ambition, fate and how a greedy lust for power will destroy a man’s soul and future. The play’s language is pure bewitching poetry and the gothic spirit which pervades the story clutches and squeezes at one’s organs tightly. Macbeth’s fate is sealed as soon as he believes the three witches prophecy on the battlefield. He is damned by his own hubris as well as his wife’s subtle manipulations. But how well does Joel Coen and his stellar cast capture such themes and character intricacies?

Firstly, the look of The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) is astounding. Shot in brooding monochrome, shadows loom ominously creeping closer via Bruno Delbonnel’s striking cinematography. Moreover, the large sets dwarf the players given them a trapped feel. As though the walls are closing in on their souls as each fateful decision is made. The cast are uniformly superb too. Indeed, Coen makes a fascinating decision regarding the witches, having them portrayed in tremendously twisted fashion by one actor, Kathryn Hunter. Washington and McDormand are of course excellent. However, having such iconic actors in the leads did cause some disconnect with their respective characters. Plus, and I realise it is sacrilege to say this, but I always felt that Macbeth and his wife’s fall into insanity seemed to come too quickly in the latter acts. Lady Macbeth’s suicide in this adaptation felt particularly rushed.

My main tragedy of The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) is that I did not enjoy it as much as many of the critics have. It is an incredibly wondrous film to look at. The sound also crackles and pops with howling wind, squawking birds, metal swords clashing and THAT sensational dialogue being delivered with majestic power by the cast. Yet somehow, despite the prodigious talent and excellent work presented by all I did not quite gel with it. I think it is probably my over-familiarity with the narrative, plus it was a very respectful adaptation. I would have liked to have seen more gore and action, rather than the restrained vision Joel Coen so expertly delivers here. Nonetheless, it remains another impressive addition to his amazing filmic curriculum vitae.

Mark: 8 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: DEATH ON THE NILE (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: DEATH ON THE NILE (2022)

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Screenplay by: Michael Green

Based on: Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

Produced by: Ridley Scott, Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund, Kevin J. Walsh

Cast: Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Kenneth Branagh, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, Letitia Wright etc.

Cinematography: Haris Zambarloukos

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Following the box office success of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017), it comes as no surprise there is a sequel to the classy Hercule Poirot train-set murder mystery. Once again Kenneth Branagh directs and stars as the Belgian detective and he has also assembled a wonderful cast of A-listers and solid character actors within the ensemble. I was especially pleased to see Annette Bening lend some gravitas to the glamour and whether the ultra-talented Rose Leslie could break out into bigger film roles. Gal Gadot and Letitia Wright also leave behind recent comic book films for an altogether more period setting. Lastly, who doesn’t want to see French and Saunders reunited on screen.

I have always loved Agatha Christie’s work be it in literary, radio, television or film mediums. DEATH ON THE NILE (1978), while a bit of a guilty romp, is a favourite of mine, especially as it was the first Christie adaptation I saw at the cinema. I must have seen that particular film about twenty times over the years. So much so I know the plot backwards. I guess the nostalgia for watching a film as a child and familiarity with the story create a kind of comfort film. Thus, another positive reason why I was looking forward to the new adaptation.


Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in 20th Century Studios’ DEATH ON THE NILE. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Agatha Christie truly knows how to create a masterful detective plot. In fact, she was a genius. What we now consider to be a cliched genre, the “whodunnit”, was practically invented and reinvented by Christie and this story has a devious plot and surprising ending. While the genre is familiar, I enjoy watching all the players in one location conflicting with each other. Of course, Poirot is an eccentric and brilliant detective, so even though I know he will solve the crime and how, paradoxically I still love the journey of it all. But what of this latest iteration? Well, all throughout I kept channelling the fury of Annie Wilkes! If it’s not broken, why are they howdy-doody trying to fix it!

If you have never read Death of the Nile, it truly is a wonderful detective story, tightly plotted and full of biting wit and observations from Christie. There is subtle critique of English types abroad and the negative impact money, lust and envy have on the human condition. But having said that there is an exotic location, crafty humour, witty dialogue and bright sunshine illuminating the bloody murder in the novel. This is where Branagh and his screenwriter get Death of the Nile utterly wrong for me. From very off they gloom the mood and tone, lose much of the fun and introduce too many different subplots which do nothing to enhance Christie’s original work. Her novel did not need changing!

Perhaps I was just too familiar with the material or Branagh’s confident/arrogance got the better of him. Aside from some highly suspect CGI with Bouc (Tom Bateman) on the pyramids, Death of the Nile (2022), looked fantastic. But it felt hollow and drained of joy. I mean, does it matter why Poirot grew a moustache and moreover why has he suddenly become so existential and sad? Gal Gadot felt too modern as the rich victim of the story and Armie Hammer is handsome yet bland. I enjoyed Sophie Okonedo’s performance, but her character was enjoyable comic relief in the 1978 version. Otterbourne is now given unnecessary depth and musical filler as a sultry blues singer. Lastly, Emma Mackey has some fine moments as the vengeful Jackie, but I thought overall the script served the actors badly. My advice is to watch the David Suchet or 1978 version instead of this sinking cinematic vessel.

Mark: 5.5 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021)

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

Screenplay by: Guillermo del Toro, Kim Morgan

Based on: Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham

Produced by: J. Miles Dale, Guillermo del Toro, Bradley Cooper

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn, etc.

Cinematography: Dan Laustsen

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Guillermo Del Toro could probably have had his pick of film stories to choose from after the monumental box office and critical success of the majestic alternative love story, The Shape of Water (2017). But rather than build on the message of love and hope in that creature feature he has chosen to adapt the noir novel, Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham. In the process Del Toro has also remade the classic 1947 film of the same name, starring Tyrone Power.

Essentially a $60 million dollar B-movie, the film is one of the most opulently dark and beautifully designed films I have witnessed in some time. Light, shadow, wood, gold, blood, fire, sweat, skin, snow, and night all collide and collude in a stunningly presented palette from Del Toro and lead production designer, Tamara Deverell. This film is a moving painting with inspiration from geniuses such as Picasso, Dali, Matisse and Edward Hopper. While the look of the Nightmare Alley (2021) and cast are a constant wonder, I had a nagging thought while watching the film which made me question who the audience was for this film. Also, there were many story elements which did not gel for me.



Nightmare Alley (2021) opens with fire and death. Drifter Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) then finds himself drawn to the carnival arena. It is full of shadowy characters, oddballs and tricksters, portrayed with dirty glamour by the likes of Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, David Strathairn, plus the more innocent, Rooney Mara. Stanton fits right in and is soon making a name for himself as a mentalist, fooling audiences with carefully rehearsed cues and memory tricks. The first half of the film is its narrative strength. Only after Stanton’s story leaves the carnival his journey twists into something more sinister, but less satisfying.

I enjoyed Del Toro’s stunning visual magic employed in Nightmare Alley (2021). However, while Bradley Cooper has terrific star quality I did not care for his anti-heroic Stanton Carlisle. Cate Blanchett is also alluring as the latter second act enchanter, but ultimately the film lacks real depth. Themes relating to masculinity in crisis, war, psychoanalysis, crime, grief, the afterlife and what it means to be a freak or outsider are there, but only skimmed. I mean the plot has some decent twists, but I did not entirely commit to the downward trajectory of Carlisle’s tale. Overall, as a morality tale Nightmare Alley (2021) is not as frighteningly tragic as it could have been. Carlisle gets what he deserves, and I felt little pity or horror for his end. Unlike another classic noir from some years back, Angel Heart (1987).

Mark: 8 out of 11


CULT MOVIE REVIEW: XTRO (1982)

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: XTRO (1982)

Directed by: Harry Bromley Davenport

Screenplay by: Harry Bromley Davenport, Michel Perry, Iain Cassie, Robert Smith

Story by: Harry Bromley Davenport, Michel Perry

Produced by: Mark Forstater

Cast: Bernice Stegers, Philip Sayer, Simon Nash, Maryam d’Abo, Danny Brainin etc.

Cinematography: John Metcalfe

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Being a fan of the horror genre never fails to spring surprises, especially if you also love trashy-B-movie-exploitation-video-nasties too. Because what often occurs is a hidden or buried or previously banned film will reanimate and be located on one of the many streaming platforms we have today. I am both surprised and even more joyous if I find I have never even seen the said film. This is certainly the case with low-budget alien monster film, XTRO (1982).

There I was pressing play via Amazon Prime, thinking it was another schlocky American indie I had missed from yesteryear, only to discover Xtro (1982) is actually a bizarre British film which twists and riffs on the box office hit that was ET: Extra Terrestrial (1982). Xtro (1982), directed by Harry Bromley Davenport, is not a comforting family science fiction drama like its more famous counterpart though. Instead, it is a gory sci-fi shocker with many outrageously violent set-pieces and a budget lower than E.T.’s lunch bill.


Critically damned at the time, Xtro (1982), when released on home video in 1983, was subject to a prosecution case in relation to British obscenity laws and labelled a “video-nasty”. Watching it now I have to admit it is quite shocking still, but the practical effects are so gloriously over-the-top they are more humorous than sickening. Having said that there are some memorably gruesome moments involving alien births, crazy clowns, a live “Action Man” doll, weird space eggs, and transformative man-into-monster effects.

The film doesn’t hang about establishing character but propels, from the opening scene of a father playing in the garden with his son, straight into the disappearing parent plot. The father (Philip Sayers) vanishes without a trace and three years later his wife (Bernice Stegers) and son are attempting to repair their lives. Yet, the boy is suffering horrific nightmares when suddenly his father reappears attempting to reconcile. The familial drama within the script itself could have been further developed to some emotional impact. However, while Bernice Stegers gives a decent dramatic performance, the film soon descends into a mix of surreal and insane set-pieces, combined with the father’s metamorphosis into something from another world.

There’s much to like and much to loathe about, Xtro (1982), notably the gratuitous nudity sprinkled throughout. Yet, if you are drawn to exploitational B-movies there is much sick entertainment to be found in the blend of impressive practical effects and creature moments. Philip Sayer and Bernice Stegers keep the shlocky elements of the plot in check with sane acting performances and despite some eccentric writing throughout Harry Bromley Davenport and his team have delivered an out-of-this-world bona fide B-movie cult classic.


AMAZON FILM REVIEW: BEING THE RICARDOS (2021)

AMAZON FILM REVIEW: BEING THE RICARDOS (2021)

Directed and written by: Aaron Sorkin

Produced by: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J. K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, Clark Gregg, etc.

Cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were entertainment, musical and business pioneers during the classic Hollywood television period. Lucille Ball alone was nominated for 13 Primetime Emmy Awards, winning five times, and the recipient of many other accolades, before being inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. Not only did the married couple produce and star in the seminal U.S. situation comedy, I Love Lucy, but their Desilu Studios production company would be the driving force behind creating famous TV series including Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. The couple broke viewing records and barriers in regard to race, gender and business practices. While they were not of my era, I recognise both Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz as consummate professionals, business trailblazers and iconic stars.

Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos (2021), adapts a week-in-the-life of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) as they prepare, audition and perform the episode ‘Fred and Ethel Fight’ of I Love Lucy. At the same time, Lucille faces shocking revelations about her alleged Communist past. Moreover, her marriage to Desi is also tested by suspicions he has slept with other women. Interspersed around these events Sorkin flashes back to reveal how the couple met, and Lucille’s flailing film career as a dramatic actress was re-ignited by a chance switch to radio comedy. As a consummate screenwriter Sorkin hops between these time periods with great aplomb and his customary whip-cracking dialogue fires zingers throughout. The production process of the TV episode is particularly brilliant, with crafty Nina Arianda and the awesome J. K. Simmons providing superb support as Lucille and Desi’s supporting couple, William Frawley and Vivian Vance, respectively.



Being the Ricardos (2021) spins a great many plates within the running time and it is rock solid entertainment. As he did with The Trial of the Chicago Seven (2020), Aaron Sorkin arguably takes liberties with the time of events to compress and finesse the truth for the sake of dramatic and comedic effect. But that’s fine as this is not a documentary. What we get instead is an authentic production design which expertly evokes the mood, look, glamour, costumes and sounds of the era. It also explores the business, sexual and ideological politics of age with Desi and Lucille facing and pushing back at sponsor and studio demands. Those who know I Love Lucy will be overjoyed at the recreation of some memorable comedy sketches.

At the heart of the film Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem combine formidably to breathe life into these legendary talents. Kidman is an actor who is extremely brave taking on the role of an icon. Sure, she gets paid millions of dollars, but her performance as Lucille Ball is energetic and intelligent and very funny. It could be easy to criticise her casting but Kidman does sterling work here. She gives Ball’s characterisation an effervescence, intelligence and perfectionist approach to her craft one cannot help but admire. Javier Bardem is a cinematic dream. With effortless panache he lights up the screen and just is so damned charming. Together they create fine on-screen chemistry as Sorkin’s bullet-paced dialogue is delivered superbly by the stars and terrific ensemble cast.

Ultimately, neither dramatic enough to tug the heartstrings or funny enough to be called an all-out comedy classic, Being the Ricardos (2021) remains another intelligent Aaron Sorkin rendition of real people and actual events. It’s a classy affair with a stunning cast and script, overall paying fine tribute to the genius of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


UNDER-RATED CLASSICS #10 – TO DIE FOR (1995)

UNDER-RATED CLASSICS #10 – TO DIE FOR (1995)

Directed by Gus Van Sant

Screenplay by Buck Henry based on To Die For by Joyce Maynard

Produced by Laura Ziskin

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Joaquin Phoenix, Matt Dillon, Casey Affleck, Dan Hedaya,

Cinematography Eric Alan Edwards

Edited by Curtiss Clayton



For the record, for me, an under-rated classic can be a film I love, plus satisfy the following criteria:

  1. Must not have won an Oscar.
  2. Must not have won a BAFTA.
  3. Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
  4. Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
  5. Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
  6. Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.

To Die For (1995) is a bona fide under-rated classic and I am surprised it received no Academy Award nominations, especially as Nicole Kidman was nominated for a BAFTA, and won a Golden Globe Award. Kidman is sensational in arguably her greatest performance as narcissistic and ambitious sociopath, Suzanne Stone. Indeed, Stone as the driven, media-hungry manipulator is one of the most glamorous monsters ever seen in cinema.



Told in mockumentary style, To Die For (1995) is deftly directed by Gus Van Sant in a somewhat punchier and more comedic tone than usual. Stone strives for fame as a TV newscaster but eventually becomes a weathergirl on a local TV station. Marrying local boy Tony Maretto (Matt Dillon) does not stop Stone’s ambition. In striving for hard-hitting new stories, she meets a group of young drop outs, featuring early roles for Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix. The delusional Stone turns seductress and arch-conspirator as her husband becomes a victim of her venal plotting.

Both funny and tragic, To Die For (1995), has an almost perfect screenplay. There isn’t a wasted scene, with its use of direct address, media clips and interviews forming a rich tapestry of comedic scenes and character moments. The fact that Stone uses the teenagers to commit murder is so tragic as her husband, Tony, is a decent bloke who loves her so much. Such is her blind desire for fame, that while one is admirable of her forceful qualities, one questions her evil intent. Ultimately, To Die For (1995), is a film which has stood the test of time, especially in these days of rampant self-obsession on social media. Lastly, Kidman has never been better as a character who even up to her icy end thought her name would be up in TV lights.


CINEMA REVIEW: TITANE (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: TITANE (2021)

Directed by Julia Ducournau

Written by Julia Ducournau

Produced by Jean-Christophe Reymond

Cast: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier, Laïs Salameh, etc.

Cinematography: Ruben Impens

*** THE WHOLE FILM IS A SPOILER ***


The difficult second album syndrome applies with Julie Decournau’s incredibly horrific, illogical and over-rated, Titane (2021). How the film won the Palm D’or at the Cannes Festival is beyond me. Maybe the jury were on the same acid as the ultra-talented writer-director when she created the script. Or, maybe the jury were belatedly rewarding her for the amazing contemporary horror film, Raw (2016).

Raw (2016) works on so many distinct levels with themes covered including: veganism, peer pressure, initiation, fitting in, animal cruelty, sexuality. lesbianism, same-sex attraction, animalism, sisterhood, hedonism, nature versus nurture, cannibalism, family, etc.  It crosses genres effortlessly and has one of the greatest and disgusting scenes I have had the pleasure to see for some time. Raw (2016) is a shocking, intelligent and astounding modern-day masterpiece. Titane (2021) unfortunately is not.



Before I say why I did not enjoy Titane (2021), I must say that I constantly seek out challenging cinema that pushes boundaries. I love horror and want to be shocked, but also emotionally involved with the characters at the same time. Moreover, I am well prepared to commit to dream logic and surreal narratives, however, the filmmaker must also try not to over-indulge their artistic excesses, and respect the audience too. Of course, this is just my opinion, but I don’t feel Julie Decournau had a clear story path and rather went hell bent into delivering a variety of different ideas, none of which created a fulfilling emotional journey for the main protagonist, Alexia (Agatha Rouselle).

Rouselle, as the malevolent and tragic conduit of Ducournau’s twisted vision, does give a spectacularly brave performance. But her character is given so many complex set-ups at the beginning, I quickly gave up caring what happened to her. As a child she is badly injured in a car crash. This gives her a titanium plate in the skull. Alexia grows up and is an exotic dancer who either dreams of, or actually fucks cars. Oh, she is also a serial killer who violently kills for no apparent reason. Several gruesome set-pieces result in the goriest deaths ever seen in a Palm D’or winner. Indeed, by the time Alexia goes on the run and smashes her face into a sink to alter her features I was numbed by it all.

Titane (2021) at the midpoint then delivers one of the most dumb and insulting plot shifts I have seen in recent years. Yes-yes it’s an arthouse film and an expression of Julie Decournau’s vision of humanity, but I DID NOT CARE!! Not only did we get Alexia’s horrific behaviour, we are then introduced to another plot turn when she hides out with a bereaved and emotionally scarred firefighter, Vincent (Vincent Lindon). By this time I was actually laughing at certain scenes, finding it all tiresome and frankly embarrassing. I got the symbolism of human beings as machines and exploitation of females and that family represents death and blah-blah-blah! Yet, and I’m likely to be in the minority, Titane (2021) is one of the most narratively, emotionally and visually exhausting films I have seen in some time. Watch at your peril!

Mark: 5 out of 11