Tag Archives: Film Review

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

BOY ERASED (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

BOY ERASED (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Joel Edgerton

Screenplay by: Joel Edgerton – Based on: Boy Erased: A Memoir by Garrad Conley

Produced by: Joel Edgerton, Steve Golin, Kerry Kochansky Roberts

Cast: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, Joe Alwyn, Xavier Dolan, Cherry Jones, Flea etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

It never fails to sadden me the horror that other human beings inflict on each other out of ignorance, intolerance and misguided indoctrination. Boy Erased (2018), is a film that highlights such negative practices committed by parents on their actual children because they are perceived to be abnormal in their eyes and the rules of their faith. I’m not religious but respect those who have different beliefs to me, unless of course those beliefs are used to castigate and punish other human beings. Surely, the basic tenet of any religion, including Christianity, should be kindness, understanding and forgiveness. When such integral ideals are broken then such doctrine should be shunned and held up for criticism.

Boy Erased is based on Garrad Conley’s memoir of how his religious parents send him for gay conversion therapy, and the film is structured around the sad events which occurred to Garrad. Conley’s persona and emotional strife is evoked brilliantly in the character of Jared Eamons. Portrayed with sensitivity by the talented Lucas Hedges, the humanity and empathy he delivers is highly impactful. Jared is an innocent who is undeservedly thrust into an unnatural and bullying environment, forcing him to change his sexual identity through shame and persecution.

The main thrust of the film finds Jared at the assessment centre and this brings about some harrowing scenes where young men and women are effectivelly imprisoned and vilified in the name of God. While certain scenes are emotionally charged and disturbing the film could have gone even further, however, director Joel Edgerton wisely opts for more subtlety rather than “fire and brimstone” tabloid filmmaking. Indeed, Edgerton and his cinematographer opt for a drained colour scheme and natural lighting style to evoke realism within the action.

Edgerton not only directs and writes with purpose, but also casts himself as the main antagonist and lead “therapist”, Victor Sykes. Sykes is seen as dominating but ultimately weak-willed, deflective and controlling. As Jared’s parents, Nicole Kidman gives a solid performance in the role of his conflicted Mother, while Russell Crowe imbues his preacher with both religious fervour and a sense of torn loyalty. Jared’s parents, in the end, are not bad people. They have just been faced with a difficult situation and are advised badly by their faith and Church.

Ultimately, this is a quietly compelling character drama which highlights very important issues in regard to faith, sexuality and family. I’m not sure why it wasn’t acknowledged more by the Academy Awards, notably in Lucas Hedges fine performace. Nonetheless, it is an important story which is constructed with care. Rather than demonize families and religion, it seeks to highlight and campaign for education, tolerance and love. These things, for me, are what true faith should be about.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Barry Jenkins

Produced by: Megan Ellison, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adele Romanski, Sara Murphy, Barry Jenkins

Based on: If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Starring: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Colman Domingo, Regina King, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Pedro Pascal etc.

Cinematography: James Laxton

Music: Nicholas Britell

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS** 

Barry Jenkins is clearly a talented filmmaker who is striving to transcend the boundaries between art and craft where cinema is concerned. His second feature film Moonlight (2016), was a critical smash and a sleeper box office hit, subsequently going on the win the Best Film nod at the Academy Awards. Whether it was worthy of such as award is another matter, but it was certainly a tremendous work of cinema. The rites of passage story was delivered by Jenkins with imaginative choices in casting, structure, look, music and all-round filmic endeavour.

His latest film, If Beale Street Could Talk, is equally stylish and artfully rendered, but not as emotionally impactful as Moonlight. Indeed, while this is in fact his third feature, Beale Street seems to suffer from classic “2nd album syndrome”, inasmuch as Moonlight set the bar so high, it was going to be a difficult act to follow. Moonlight felt like years of heart and passion thrusted upon the screen, as Beale Street struggles to maintain that said peak. That isn’t to say that the film is not without its virtues as Jenkins once again proves himself a brilliant director.

Barry Jenkins’ IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, an Annapurna Pictures release.

Set in 1970s, Harlem, New York and based on James Baldwin’s novel, the main protagonists are young working class couple Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephen James). Very much in love we open with Tish’s poignant voiceover and a wonderfully lush score supporting the urban and industrial, yet beautifully shot, imagery. Immediately, we realise Jenkins, while basing his story in realism, is presenting his film poetically. Further, Tish’s voiceover lilts and glues the elliptical, non-linear narrative together.

As with Moonlight, Jenkins uses direct address, the characters looking straight back at us drawing us into their emotional core. One may argue the device is over-used and at times distances us from the pace of the story. As Tish recounts events of her and Fonny’s relationship from childhood friends to their currently plight, you really feel a palpable sense of love, but sometimes it moves so painfully slow. Furthermore, the non-linear structure and stylistic devices also undermined the drama of the piece. Indeed, the best scene of the film in my opinion is near the beginning when Tish and Fonny’s family clash over her pregnancy. In this scene the insults spark and spit off the screen; but alas this conflict is sadly under-developed and not revisited later in the film.

Overall, there is a great story here involving: love, romance, social unrest, police brutality, unlawful arrest and injustice, racism, family strife, hope and loyalty; however, Jenkins artistic desires build the narrative in a way that diverts emotion into the cinema style, more so than the characters. Having said that, he is a filmmaker of some brilliance and he gets fantastic performances from the fine ensemble cast, notably the magnetic Regina King. Ultimately, while the story is told slightly pretentiously for my liking,
If Beale Street Could Talk, is a finely tuned work of poetic realism. 

Mark: 8 out of 11