Tag Archives: Film Review

MONOS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

MONOS (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Alejandro Landes

Produced by: Alejandro Landes, Fernando Epstein, Santiago Zapata, Cristina Landes

Written by: Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos

Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Moises Arias, Sofia Buenaventura, Julian Giraldo, Karen Quintero, Laura Castrillon, Deiby Rueda, Wilson Salazar, Esneider Castro, Paul Cubedes etc.

Music: Mira Levi

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS **



Those American teenagers, as represented in recent film and television offerings such as Stranger Things and IT, have some serious problems to deal with, such as inter-dimensional aliens and extra-terrestrial demons masquerading as killer clowns. Such foes, however scary, are of course fantasy. The horrors that the kids in feature film MONOS (2019) have to deal with, feel very real, raw and altogether horrifically more deadly.

The film opens on South American mountaintop in Columbia. We are thrown straight into the everyday lives of young rebel soldiers known only by their war names including: Rambo, Smurf, Lady, Dog, and Wolf among others. The fact we never learn their real names establishes the dehumanized and exploited nature of these characters. They are denied a childhood and used as young soldiers within a guerrilla cell. The adults controlling them are represented by a man known only as The Messenger, who visits, drills and orders them about. While they act out, have sex, drink and “play” with the illusion of freedom, if they do not follow orders then there is hell to pay.



“Hell-to-pay” is an apt phrase for both the characters and the audience watching. For me this is not an enjoyable film in terms of entertainment. It is not intended to be. It is a very angry film and a shocking war of attrition to sit through. There is a documentary feel and in-your-face realism throughout, with little or no sympathetic characters to root for. Don’t get me wrong, I empathised with the plight of the children and what had happened to them. Yet, it’s difficult to sympathise with them, because when we join them they all seem so irreparably damaged by war and their existence. It’s a dog eat dog world and these dogs have guns, knives and semi-automatics.

Overall, I found the characterisations and elliptical narrative jarring throughout. For me, it created alienation in terms of emotional impact. However, the cinematic storytelling is of the highest quality. The visuals, sound, score and acting are all exceptional. Indeed, Alejandro Landes is a fearlessly talented filmmaker and definitely one to watch for the future. The mountain vistas and jungle scenery were majestic and beautiful to behold, despite the hellish events unfolding. Lastly, the film carries a deeply important message about these lost children of South America. Their lives are no fantasy. They are violent, animalistic, dirty, carnal and, based on what I saw in Monos (2019), completely devoid of hope.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11




LFF REVIEW – THE LODGE (2019) – SPOILER FREE

LFF REVIEW – THE LODGE (2019)

Directed by: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Written by: Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Produced by: Simon Oakes, Aliza James, Aaron Ryder

Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Armitage

Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans

******* SPOILER FREE *******



If you haven’t seen the Austrian horror film Goodnight Mommy (2014), then I urge you to do so. It is genuinely one of the most startling and creepy films of recent years. It psychologically gets under the skin with the story of a mother and her two children, isolated, as she recovers from reconstructive surgery. The directors, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, proved themselves adept at creating memorable imagery, tense dread and a shocking ending up there with the horror classics.

With their latest film The Lodge (2019), they have once again ventured into the horror genre. Working with a fascinating screenplay from Silvio Casci, the film is full of intriguing themes relating to religious cults, grief, isolation, post-traumatic stress and family dysfunction. However, despite stellar work from the cast and compelling direction, the film never quite filled me with fear, nor shocked me enough to satisfy my horror needs. It works well as a slow turning of the screw type story, but at times it was too slow for me.



In essence the narrative is similar to Goodnight Mommy (2019); two kids and a maternal character are trapped together in one location and things get weird. Richard Armitage portrays Richard, a father to Aidan (Jaden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), who is desperate for them to connect with his new girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough). To precipitate this they spend Christmas at their remote holiday lodge, as you do. When Richard is called back to the city for work, Grace and the kids’ relationship begins to get cold. Thus, amidst the isolation and snowy landscape, a frozen atmosphere exists inside and outside the cabin.

Overall, the film is worth watching for Riley Keough’s committed performance as Grace; a victim of childhood trauma trying to be part of a caring family. Her character is striving for sanity, however, she gets something else altogether. The directors also do sterling work and create a compelling image system, notably around dolls, snow and religious iconography. The lodge itself is rendered creepy with sharp angles, overhead shots, skin-crawling music and darkness all used to sinister effect. But, despite the quality of the production, the central premise, slow pace and confusing plot developments drained any fear I felt by the end. Nonetheless, fans of The Shining (1980), The Thing (1982) and any number of cabin-in-the woods-horror films will find something to chill them here.

Mark: 7 out of 11


JOKER (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

JOKER (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Produced by: Todd Phillips, Bradley Cooper, Emma Tillinger Koskoff

Written by Todd Phillips, Scott Silver

Based on : DC Comics’ Joker created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane & Jerry Robinson

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Bill Camp, Zazie Beetz, Francis Conroy, Glen Fleshler, Brian Tyree Henry, Marc Maron etc.

Music: Hildur Guðnadóttir

Cinematography: Lawrence Sher

**** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ****



“Is it just me – or is it getting crazier out there?”

There’s no let up for poor coulrophobes. You wait so long for an evil clown and two come along in quick succession! First Pennywise hits the big screen twice. Now, Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix deliver an incendiary cinematic masterpiece, based on DC’s uber-villain, Joker.

With Marvel’s cinematic universe heroically saving the world and making Disney a lot of money in the process, everything was looking a bit bright in the comic book film world. Not anymore, because Joker (2019) brings darkness, chaos, delusions and insanity to the screen. This film doesn’t reflect a safe world full of heroes, but instead illustrates one without them or a shred of hope.



The year is 1981. The place is Gotham. The symbol of this urban disintegration will be downtrodden clown, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix). Crime and garbage ravage the city and social services budgets are being cut. Arthur struggles with his mental health, his clown work and his unwell mother (Francis Conroy). He attempts to find solace in stand-up comedy, but his psychological problems stretch to uncontrollable laughing fits, making people laugh AT him, as opposed to WITH him. He seeks potential romance with a neighbour, Sophie (Zasie Beetz), but his world begins to collapse when he loses his job and his medication is cut off. Attacked by kids on the street and bankers on the tube, Arthur is forced to fight back. But, violence begets violence, as a new, more dominant persona comes to the fore.

Joker (2019) is a bravura and risk-taking character study charting the downward spiral of both a city on the edge; and an individual losing touch with the real world. Rather than being cared for by the system, Arthur is thrown to the gutter, only to rise up with fire, violence, colour, costume and maniacal chuckling. From the mean streets of Gotham comes not calm, but social unrest and protests; not a hero but a painted villain, dancing and plotting bloody murder.



I have read that there have been complaints that the film trivialises mental health. Well, having experienced a close family member suffer mental breakdown and have a friend commit suicide due to extreme anxiety, I actually think Joker (2019) presents madness in a very truthful way. Mental health is scary, unpredictable, difficult to treat and prone to startling bursts of uncontrollable energy. It’s hard to comprehend what happens in people’s brains to make them act a certain way and this film captures that. The reason the film is scary is because mental health is scary. If it is not treated, then people can harm themselves and others. Therein lies the truth and tragedy of mental illness.

Joaquin Phoenix is absolutely incredible as Arthur Fleck/Joker. Hysterical laughter echoes and haunts the screen. Every cigarette he smokes drags nicotine anxiety into his ravaged lungs. As violent outbursts jolt and as his skinny body dances, I felt a gamut of emotions including: fear, humour, shock and sadness. Fleck’s transformation into Joker is a slow-burn trajectory and masterful acting performance. He tries to avoid violence and confrontation, but it’s drawn to him like a moth to a flame. He tries to make people laugh, but sadly only ends up hurting them. Joker is an outsider desperate to step inside and be part of society, but, even down to his unknown parentage, he is rejected at every turn.


As well as Phoenix, Todd Phillips deserves much kudos for creating an incredibly dark, but impressive cinematic experience. He is ably assisted by the startling cinematography of Lawrence Sher, who captures that gritty, paranoiac and urban look perfectly. Much praise also to Hildur Guðnadóttir, who, for me, has orchestrated the musical score of the year. Lastly, the genius of marrying cinematic classics like Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1983), with a DC comic-book super-villain is an absolute masterstroke. Indeed, Joker (2019), is one of the most memorable and compelling films of 2019. Why so serious? Watch it and discover for yourself.

Mark: 10 out of 11



LFF REVIEW – THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019) – SPOILER FREE

LFF REVIEW – THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019)

Directed by: Robert Eggers

Written by: Max Eggers, Robert Eggers

Produced by: Rodrigo Texeira, Jay Van Hoy, Lourenco Sant Anna, Robert Eggers, Youree Henley

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson

Cinematography: Jarin Blaschke

******* SPOILER FREE ********



Robert Eggers debut feature, The Witch (2015), was a startling debut and deserved the critical acclaim it received. Alas, personally, it left me cold as a story, because I felt little empathy for the characters. By the end, I was totally disconnected from the madness that ensued. Yet, while it failed as a horror film, it did have great performances from the cast and an incredible eye for period detail and language.

Obviously, a talented filmmaker such as Eggers is not going to care what I think; and quite right he is too. Building on the folklore and legends of yesteryear established in The Witch (2015), he has once again delivered a highly ambitious cinematic work on a relatively low budget with The Lighthouse (2019). Indeed, with a superbly researched screenplay full of salty dialogue, authentic locations and insane visuals, I connected way more to this than his debut film.

Shot on black-and-white 35mm with a 1: 19 aspect ratio, Eggers has left us in no doubt his intention to aim for the cinema for the purists among you. Formally though, these creative choices also force the audience into the same claustrophobic, black-hearted watery hell our characters must endure. Moreover, Eggers takes joy in oppressing his characters and the audience. The Lighthouse (2019) is a brilliant but harsh to watch. I mean I felt like I’d been working on a bloody lighthouse myself, such was my mental exhaustion by the end.

The film benefits from two incredible acting performances by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Dafoe represents the experienced sea-dog, with Pattinson as the younger and more secretive, Winslow, The two men drink, eat, work, spar, clash, fart, shout, drink some more and slowly but surely begin to unravel amidst the isolation of the unforgiving rocks, crashing waves and squawking gulls. Full of incredible imagery, devilish sounds and creeping dread, ultimately, The Lighthouse (2019) is a hard film to endure, but an even harder one to forget.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


LFF REVIEW – THE ANTENNA (2019) – SPOILER FREE

LFF 2019 REVIEW – THE ANTENNA (2019)

Director: Orcun Behram

Writer: Orcun Behram

Cast: Ihsan Onal, Gül Arici, Elif Cakman, Murat Saglam

**********SPOILER FREE REVIEW**********


The London Film Festival is here once again and I have booked in to watch a number of big studio and independent films. Not as many as my wife, who is determined to break herself on the cinematic wheel.

It really is kid in a candy store time at the London Film Festival with all manner of films on show. The first I chose was a low budget Turkish film. It’s a psychological and socio-political horror film called The Antenna (2019).

As we follow the lowly security guard, Mehmet (Ihsan Onal), and various families on the council estate, all manner of weird things start to occur when a new Satellite dish is installed. The slow pace, sharp camera angles, creepy imagery and haunting sound all combine to create an under-the-skin paranoia and fear.

Clearly the Turkish filmmaker, Orcun Behram, is a very talented director who has been learning from the best, notably David Cronenberg and David Lynch. His surreal, dystopian vision of an oppressed tower block in an unnamed state becomes an allegorical critique of Government and media control.

I was really gripped by the film, but once you get the powerful and horrific message the filmmaker is making, The Antenna (2019) feels too long. The sinister pace worked at the beginning but as the film progressed it felt draining. Indeed, while the incredible visuals and soundscape serve the message impressively, it arguably needed to be trimmed for pace to make the horror on show even more powerful.

Mark: 8 out of 11


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