Tag Archives: Film Review

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #3 – PATERSON (2016)

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #3 – PATERSON (2016)

Directed and Written by Jim Jarmusch

Produced by: Joshua Astrachan, Carter Logan

Cast: Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley, Cliff Smith, William Jackson Harper, Chasten Harmon, Nellie the Dog etc.

Music: Carter Logan

Cinematography: Frederick Elmes

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**


I’ve recently been working on a screenwriting development programme with someone studying at the National Film and Television School. The idea is to further develop one of my feature film scripts and hopefully improve it. The Script Developer is assessed on the work we do together.

I tell you this because we discussed my script, which is a slice-of-life-bittersweet comedy, in relation to character journeys and arcs. I was keen to present a script made more of humorous and dramatic situations that do not necessarily bring about change in the character. I wanted to go against the general rules of screenwriting manuals to create something more akin to the works of Mike Leigh or Jim Jarmusch.


Eventually, I have decided that the screenplay did need a bit more narrative impetus, however, a film such as Paterson (2016), brilliantly shows what cinematic beauty you can achieve without having a critical character journey or narrative arc. It is cinema of poetry, repetition, small moments, character interaction, and subtle performance full of emotional impact. I’m not sure why I missed it at the cinema, but there you go.

Paterson (2016) is set in Paterson, New Jersey. Adam Driver is a bus driver who has the same name as the place he lives in. This amusing coincidence is mentioned a few times throughout the film. Paterson lives with his wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), who spends her days working on her art and has a love for black and white patterns. Farahani and Jarmusch fill this character with an idealised innocence and energy which perfectly complements Paterson’s more deadpan insouciance. I sensed that perhaps Paterson was depressed but I think he was happy deep down. The couple themselves are very content with their simple existence.


We spend a week with Paterson, his wife and Nellie the Dog and his days are pretty much the same. While some may wonder where the story is and when something will happen, I was hypnotised by the repetition. Jarmusch infuses the bus driving, dog walking and quiet moments of reflection with excerpts from Paterson’s and other poets’ works. These are recited by Driver with a laconic charm and mesmeric power.

Personally, I could watch Adam Driver all day. He has such a subliminal and easy acting style, yet you feel such empathy for his character. I thought the back-story of Paterson being a marine was underplayed, but also intriguing. The performance is so good we do not need to know what happened in Paterson’s past, because we can feel it in Driver’s face and being. Moreover, via Paterson we get introduced to another set of eccentric Jarmusch characters which dip in and out of his days.

In conclusion, Jim Jarmusch has created another exquisite character study where very little happens in terms of plot or character development. But that’s the point with this beautifully rendered slice-of-life. The care and love he pours into the lead protagonists, supporting characters and his passion for poetry, make this a modern mini-masterpiece. It is also a charming tribute to all those creative people who work a regular day job but aspire to express their vision of the world around them.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #2 – REVIEW – OVERLORD (2018)

OVERLORD (2018)

Directed by: Julius Avery

Produced by: J.J. Abrams, Lindsay Weber

Screenplay by: Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith

Cast: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Pilou Asbæk, Bokeem Woodbine etc.

Cinematography: Laurie Rose and Fabian Wagner

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Inglourious Basterds anyone? More like inglorious mutants!

I love a good B-movie horror film and I love a good B-movie war film! So, I’m still confused as to why I missed this one at the cinema first time round. It was released in November 2018 in the UK, so perhaps I was still in London Film Festival mode? Perhaps it fell through the cracks after a busy October cinema-going? Perhaps the marketing wasn’t strong enough over here? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps?

Anyway, I caught up with it on Sky Cinema via the television box and I immediately regretted not seeing it on the big screen. The film is set in June 1944 during the Allied invasion of Normandy. The operation was called Overlord and part of the WWII D-Day push to defeat the dastardly Nazis. It opens superbly, in mid-flight, as a fighter bomber carries American soldiers about to parachute into enemy territory. Safe to say aeroplane food, crying children and lack of leg room are the least of their worries.

The explosive, noisy and destructive opening sequence sets an incredible pace. Also, the body count starts to stack up too as we land in occupied France. Not so much a dirty dozen as a filthy four remain after the landing carnage. The ragtag quartet consisting of nervous rookie, Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), tough-guy Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), mouthy Private Tibbet (John Magaro), and war photographer Private Chase (Iain De Caestecker), are joined by French civilian fighter, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) in battling the Nazi hordes. Their mission is to take out a Nazi radio tower, but we get a whole lot more than the usual WWII battle sequences. Something horrific is lurking in the church where the radio tower is.

While the film essentially deals in genre archetypes the narrative pace, action and suspense really get the heart racing. Moreover, the cast commit to the action and bloodshed with impressive abandon. What I liked was, with relatively unknown actors cast, it meant there was suspense in who would or wouldn’t survive. So, in a film full of surprises this added another layer of tension you wouldn’t get in a star-driven film. Nonetheless, the real asset of the film is the monstrous soldiers born out of the sinister minds of the Nazi Doctors. These are some real nasty pieces of work! Indeed, director Julius Avery revels in representing the bloody carnage these experimental creatures bring. You can’t beat a good old Nazi monster baddie! Well, you can! In all sorts of fleshy, fiery and visceral ways!

I recognised Wyatt Russell from other films and TV shows, and he was great. Russell exuded all the tough qualities his father Kurt has shown down the years, but he gave Corporal Ford a steely edge all of his own. Jovan Adepo and John Magaro impressed as chalk and cheese soldiers, initially clashing but subsequent gaining respect for each other. Adepo’s Private Boyce grows from frightened rabbit to resilient hero over the course of the film. Meanwhile, Game of Thrones scenery-chewer, Pilou Asbæk, begins with quite a subtle portrayal of SS Captain Wafner. Yet, by the end he is on gloriously over-the-top form as the most mutated of all the Nazis.

Ultimately, this is a mid-budget B-movie genre gem. It has lashings of action, blood and gore. It also combined war and horror genres really impressively. I would have liked even more gore and a bit more backstory regarding the Nazi experiments, but that would have probably ruined the surprises. Also, it’s definitely not one of the most original films you will see as there are major echoes of many soldiers-on-a-mission war films, the video-game Wolfenstein and also From Dusk Til Dawn (1995) too. But, with Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier and Jovan Adepo impressing in the cast and Avery directing the hell out of the explosive action and bloody fighting, I had a great time watching Overlord (2018). It’s just a damn shame I missed it on the big screen when first released.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

MIDSOMMAR (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW – AMAZING FILMMAKING LET DOWN BY WEAK STORYTELLING!

MIDSOMMAR (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Written and directed by: Ari Aster

Produced by: Lars Knudsen, Patrik Andersson

Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter etc.

Music: The Haxen Cloak

Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Midsommar (2019), is ultra-talented filmmaker Ari Aster’s second feature film. His first Hereditary (2018), was two-thirds domestic horror masterpiece and one-third insane, symbolic, nonsensical and demonic denouement. Both films have a lot in common. Both have communes or cults at the centre led by strong matriarchal figures. Both find seemingly innocent characters suffering from grief being lured to a fateful demise. Both have incredibly rich visual systems full of striking imagery, sudden violence and mythological folklore. Both, especially Midsommar (2019), are overlong, pretentious and indulgent B-movie stories masquerading as art.

I have to say, and I am not coming from simply a mainstream perspective, Ari Aster is a film artist. However, unlike many great film artists he has, in my opinion, not managed to marry his vision with coherent and emotionally powerful storytelling. Midsommar, for example, takes an age to kick its narrative into gear and when it finally gets started it drags and drags and drags. How many long, drifting tracking master shots can you abide? How many drawn-out-so-pleased-with-myself takes do you have the patience for? Well, get a strong coffee because when the story cries out for pace, Aster puts the brakes on, marvelling in his own indulgent genius. I might add that a plethora of characters screaming and crying does not make good drama either, unless there is sufficient context.

The narrative is very simple. In a nutshell, it’s Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) meets British horror classic The Wicker Man (1973). Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter are college students who take a summer break to experience a communal pageant in rural Sweden. While they are PHD students they are not particularly intelligent given the choices they make later in the film.

Moreover, aside from Pugh’s grief-stricken Dani, the script doesn’t particularly imbue them with much in the way of empathetic characterisation. Indeed, the film relies on Pugh’s dominant performance to create emotion for our protagonists. Aside from providing some comic relief there is no actual point to Will Poulter’s character at all. Lastly, there is some absolutely terrible dialogue throughout this film too.

As the film crawls along slowly, it’s reliant on the music to inform us we’re meant to be scared. Then when the gore does kick in during a particularly shocking ritual, I was almost falling asleep. Don’t get me wrong the production design is flawless with an amazing setting and incredible concepts from Aster. The death and torture scenes are particularly memorable. However, the overall pace and rhythm of the film is so bloody slow I just did not care about anyone by the end.

I don’t mind methodical films establishing dread and psychological fear, but I think Aster has been watching too many Kubrick films. Aster seems to believe slow equals art. What Kubrick did though was usually to have characters that were engaging. They may not have been likeable, but Kubrick’s characters hit you in the heart and mind. Not since The Blair Witch Project (1999) have I wanted such dumb characters (Pugh aside) to die so painfully in a horror film. Likewise, the characters in the Swedish commune are mere ciphers of Aster’s fantasy horror and two-dimensional at best.

Visually stunning Midsommar (2019), will no doubt impress critics and other reviewers. However, at nearly two-and-a-half hours it’s an indulgent-arty-collage-of-film-masquerading-as-therapy. The ending was so loopy that the audience I was with were laughing at how ridiculous it was. Perhaps that was the filmmakers’ aim, but I’m not so sure. Yes, I get that this is meant to be allegorical and symbolic about grief and guilt and religion and a relationship break-up and fate and cultural differences. Furthermore, I get the intellectual depth of the themes on show, but Aster tortures the audience as much as his characters. Mostly, it just doesn’t take so long to tell this kind of derivative narrative, however beautiful and artistic the film is presented.

Mark: 6 out of 11

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Chad Stahelski

Produced by: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee

Screenplay by: Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins, Marc Abrams

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Asia Kate Dillon, Lance Reddick, Ian McShane, Anjelica Huston etc.

Cinematography: Dan Laustsen

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Have you ever thought: what’s the point in carrying on? We know we’re going to die someday so why bother trying to live? Dead French bloke Albert Camus wrote an existential essay called The Myth of Sisyphus and deemed life an exercise in the absurd. He offered mythological character Sisyphus as an example. Sisyphus was condemned to immortality for deceiving the Gods and his penance was to push a massive rock up a hill over and over. Camus wasn’t all doom and gloom, because he opined Sisyphus’s struggle ultimately gave his life meaning.

Why am I skirting around such philosophical musings? Well, John Wick is a classic “Sisyphean” character; destined to a repetitive cycle of life and death with very slim reasons for carrying on. In the first film it was revenge. In the second film it was paying back a marker; and then revenge. In the current, and third film of the franchise, it’s because he broke the rules of the assassin’s world and must pay the $14 million price. Plus, more revenge.

Yet, plot and reason are not the main purpose for watching this franchise. I watch it for the non-stop-Asian-infused-rainy-New-York-noir-flavoured-non-stop-balletic-violence-and-stunts. Here the incredible death toll and bloody killing is differentiated somewhat with: animals, vehicles and assorted sharp ojects joining the array of guns and fists used to hurt the two-dimensional bad people sent by the mysterious High Table gangsters. It doesn’t pay to analyse the film with logic, so just enjoy the immaculate: set design, art direction, cinematography, choreography, editing, visuals; and all-encompassing sound and fury.

Keanu Reeves, once again ignores the limits of his emotional range to deliver a formidable physical performance. Just his face, actions and movement alone are enough to convey his desires. Meanwhile, the writers open out John Wick’s back-story; shading in his past relationships and historical beginnings. This allows us to escape New York and venture to the Middle East, for a bit of sun and much needed change of scenery.

The film also welcomes a slew of fine character actors in support roles including: Halle Berry, Jerome Flynn, Asia Kate Dillon and Angelica Huston. They join the ever reliable Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne and Lance Reddick from the first two chapters. Although, someone may have asked Fishburne to “rain” in his more bombastic moments, it’s still fun to see Neo and Morpheus on screen together. Oh, but the stunt dogs and 1990s B-movie action hero, Mark Dacascos, steal the show in their featured moments.

Overall, while showing signs of formula fatigue, John Wick: Chapter 3, remains a simple but wonderfully entertaining guilty pleasure. The choreography within the fight scenes and car/horse/motorcycle chases just transcend the action genre. Using: humour, pace, shock and sheer kinetic power they consistently startle and astound. Lastly, one could look at Wick’s character in mythical terms, perpetually fighting the Gods and forever pushing the rock up that hill. Indeed, I guess, like Sisyphus, Wick will carry on ad infinitum as long as there is someone to kill; and an audience wanting to watch such exquisite carnage on a big screen.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

US (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

US (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Jordan Peele

Produced by: Jason Blum, Ian Cooper, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele

Written by: Jordan Peele

Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex etc.

Music: Michael Abels

Cinematography: Mike Gioulakis

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Orson Welles is reportedly quoted as saying, “A movie in production is the greatest train set a boy could ever have.” Thus, Jordan Peele proves this point with an unstoppable cinematic train ride in Us (2019); that while threatening to career off the rails on occasions, proves to be a thrilling work of horror-meets-social-satire entertainment.

The film centres on an everyday normal family of four — the Wilsons: Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), Gabe (Winston Duke), and their two children — as they visit their summer home by the beach. Haunted by a scary incident in a hall of mirrors when a child, Adelaide is afraid to return to the beach where it occurred, until her husband’s goofy enthusiasm wins her over.

Events begin to turn and twist askew when their son, Jason, seems to go missing for a while. Even though he returns, paranoia and fear sneaks into Adelaide’s psyche. Things become even stranger when a mysterious family of four appear in the Wilsons’ drive in the dead of night. This is when the true face of horror surfaces and a pulsating home invasion and prolonged chase sequence ensues.

Peele has clearly seen a lot of horror films. As such the early scenes build tension perfectly with: stormy weather; a strange drifter with biblical sign haunting the boardwalk; creepy hall of mirrors; the choral soundtrack reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby (1968); the son, Jason wearing a Jaws (1975) movie t-shirt; the flock of seagulls on the beach echoing Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963); and so it goes.

Such horror tropes build a huge wall of tension so effectively it’s almost a relief when released during the big doppelganger reveal. Subsequently, the blood-letting ensues in some meaty fights and exchanges involving weapons, such as: baseball bats, metal pokers, ornaments and golf clubs. The doppelgangers themselves are clearly a reflection of the self; twisted visions of humanity turning against the characters, as they literally become their own worst enemies.

The cast are expertly marshalled by Peele, as he gets doubly great performances from all the actors. The logistics of shooting doubles must have been tough, especially so many at a time. The featured cast are very good, notably Winston Duke as Gabe Wilson. He offers some light, comedic and physical humour amidst the gore. Meanwhile, Lupita Nyong’o steals the show in the dominant twin roles of Adelaide and the nefarious Red.

It’s Adelaide’s personal journey of double/split identity which provides the spine of the film. As she fights to save her family she must also literally battle the demon inside and outside herself. This thematic is the most powerful of the film for me, as Nyong’o’s acting is full of emotional resonance.

Perhaps, not as successful, when compared to Get Out, is the attempt to marry the personal conflict to the socio-political landscape. While Peele’s first film was an overt satire of slavery and white America oppression and exploitation, Us’ targets are intellectually more ambiguous and open to interpretation. I mean take your pick from: class, capitalism, consumerism, race, de-politicization, narcissism, over-population, split personalities, government conspiracies; and over-arching fear of ‘the other’.

These and many more themes are on Peele’s radar, as is his overall critique of the United States (U.S. = US – geddit!). That they don’t quite gel coherently is not a criticism but a positive indictment of his ambition. Conversely, while I felt the underlying power of Peele’s call-to-arms and desire for human unity in Us, one could argue the fire, smoke and mirrors of these ideas subtract from the power of the families’ personal struggle. Moreover, what is the solution to the government copying us or burying our doubles underground? Is it to kill the others and hold hands in unity? Who knows? What I can say is such naive idealism in horror has never been so entertaining.

After the success of the slavery-soul-swapping and genre bending thriller, Get Out, Jordan Peele has tasked himself with trying to top that fine movie. Well, if Get Out was the starter, Us is the main meal. In fact, one could argue the film is so full of ideas that it threatens to fail due to sensory overload. However, Peele is such a multi-talented storyteller he skilfully delivers, wholly thanks to great writing, masterful film production, an exceptional soundtrack and an incredible cast.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

EVERYBODY KNOWS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

EVERYBODY KNOWS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Asghar Farhadi

Produced by: Alexandre Mallet-Guy, Alvaro Longoria

Written by: Asghar Farhadi

Starring: Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Ricardo Darin, Barbara Lennie etc.

Cinematography: Jose Luis Alcaine

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Asghar Farhadi is one of those filmmakers whose work is always of the highest quality. For some reason I actually missed seeing his prior film The Salesman (2016), so definitely need to catch up with that. However, The Past (2013) and A Separation (2011) were both compelling human dramas. A Separation, in fact, was one of the best films I have seen in the last decade. It took everyday scenarios involving as divorce and class conflict and spun a heartfelt, intense and intelligent narrative which was emotionally very powerful. While Farhadi was born in Iran and his early works are based there, his oeuvre transcends geography; projecting visions of humanity which stay with you way after the film has ended.

Farhadi’s eighth feature as a director is arguably his most accessible and while not reaching the dramatic heights of his previous films, remains a very solid personal drama. Everybody Knows concerns a large family unit converging for a wedding celebration in Spain. The setting is a small town set amidst beautiful countryside just outside Madrid. It’s the kind of place where everybody knows each others’ business and the community, while seemingly convivial on the outside, carries class, family and business conflicts under the surface.

The film begins with Laura driving her children, notably teenage Irene, back to the town where she was born. The wedding celebrations ensue until terror strikes and Irene is stolen in the night by unknown assailants. Forbidden from contacting the police by the kidnappers, Laura, her family and former childhood boyfriend, Paco (Javier Bardem), desperately seek to find Irene before tragedy occurs. It isn’t long before history converges on the drama and past events involving stolen land and romantic affairs threaten to destabilise the whole town.

With Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem cast as your leading protagonists, and the brilliant Ricardo Darin in support, you’re always guaranteed an enthralling screen experience. Nonetheless, what is so impressive in the performances and direction is they feel like real people with proper emotions, not simply starry versions of themselves emulating reality. Moreover, Farhadi concentrates on the human aspects of the story rather than the crime, as the characters, relationships and town itself begin to unravel. Further, while the film may lack his usual socio-political subtext, Farhadi really pulls you into the drama, as secrets and revelations are unearthed throughout. Overall, this is a consistently watchable piece of cinema that keeps up Farhadi’s impressive hit-rate, while perhaps feeling more familiar and generic compared to the other films of his I have seen.

Mark: 8 out of 11

کفرناحوم‎ / CAPERNAUM / CHAOS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW – One of the most heart-breaking films you will ever see!

کفرناحوم‎ / CAPERNAUM / CHAOS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Nadine Labaki

Produced by: Michel Merkt, Khaled Mouzanar

Screenplay by: Madine Labaki, Jihad Hojaily, Michelle Keserwany

Cast: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Bankole, Kawthar Al Haddad, Fadi Kamel Youssef, Nour El Husseini etc.

Cinematography: Christopher Aoun

Editing: Konstantin Bock

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

The recent Oscars brought up more than its’ fair share of ceremonial, broadcast and social media celebration and moaning from the film creatives, public, critics and privileged millionaires alike. But hey everyone’s entitled to their opinion and has the freedom of speech to express said opinions about what should and shouldn’t win such frivolous industry trinkets. It’s a bit of fun and gets everyone talking about movies, society and life, which is always a good thing.

Yet, every now and then a film comes along which, while nominated for an award, does not win the prize it deserves. That film is the heart-ripping, social drama Capernaum (2018). This Lebanese film is one of the most emotonally impactful films I have ever seen and should not just have won ‘Best film in a Foreign Language’ at the Academy Awards, but should have won ‘Best Film’, in my humble view. While Roma (2018) was an expertly crafted love letter to Cuaron’s childhood and the women he grew up with, its’ characters are very passive and the slow moving style left me feeling tepid. Capernaum, on the other hand, is anything but tepid, as its’ hero is a dynamic firebrand who you cannot help but root for.

Set in contemporary Lebanon, the story is structured around a court-case where lead protagonist, Zain, a twelve or thirteen year old boy, is seeking to divorce his parents. Extensive flashbacks then reveal why Zain feels this strongly about his life and the hell he has to endure to survive and protect those he loves. Zain’s existence, like many street kids, refugees and families in Beirut, struggle daily under threat of death, disease and exploitation. When his younger sister is sold by his parents to their landlord to prevent eviction, Zain goes crazy. Following a violent row he is thrown onto the streets and is left to fend in the dirt and shadows. He find kindred friendship with Rahil, an undocumented Ethiopian woman, and Zain helps mind her young son, Yonas. Here the narrative screw is really turned as their lives spin further out of control.

With incredible scenes of documentary realism the director Nadine Labaki has delivered such a powerful in your face and frantic style. The streets of Beirut become a legal, social and religious prison for the characters, as forgers, paedophiles and traffickers threaten to rob the souls and bodies of Zain and his like. Moreover, the narrative makes incredible points regarding existence, posing whether people should be brought into the world to such suffering. Indeed, not all characters are as tough as Zain, who’s caring, resourceful, cheeky, tough, entrepreneurial and a born fighter.

I cannot speak highly enough of this film. If I ever feel down about my over-privileged life, then I just need to think of these characters and I will be humbled. For sure it is over-the-top in its’ melodramatic depiction and there are some unlikely narrative elements toward the end, but I did not care about those. It moved me immensely and the director and filmmaking team deserve so much credit turning twelve hours of shooting footage into such a coherently moving portrayal of existence. They even find time for some humour amidst the tragedy. Further, the actor who gave us Zain is himself a refugee and had never acted before, so to capture such energy on screen is amazing. Lastly, next time I selfishly think “my life sucks”, I will picture Zain pulling Yonas around the dusty streets of Beirut in an aluminium pot and be completely humbled.

Mark: 10 out of 11