Tag Archives: Film Review

THE HORROR OF IDENTITY: DOUBLE BILL FILM REVIEWS – DEERSKIN (2019) & POSSESSOR (2020)

THE HORROR OF IDENTITY: DOUBLE BILL FILM REVIEWS – DEERSKIN (2019) & POSSESSOR (2020)

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”-Oscar Wilde


We’ve all wanted to exist outside our own skin. Or perhaps inhabit someone else’s? Or, maybe even change our own identity, both literally and psychologically. Or is that just me? At the least we have all thought about it. Even losing weight and going down the gym or giving up alcohol or changing our hairstyle is a means of basic transformation. We may make a more defiant change and leave that job we hate or break out from a negative relationship. Arguably though, personality, attitude and mental changes in one’s life are the most difficult. After all, it is incredibly difficult to change the very fabric of one’s personality or character.

We can find an alternative source of transformation in a vicarious sense through storytelling mediums such as literature, television and cinema. The horror genre especially is replete with monstrous visions of identity switches, psychotic breakdowns and physical transmogrification. I personally take great pleasure in seeing altered identities occur on the screen and am especially drawn to characters who experience mental and corporeal metamorphosis. That simply isn’t because I cannot change who I am or what I do on a daily basis, but it’s quite scary to attempt to reshape one’s existence and identity. It’s bloody hard work without much guarantee of success. Horror films, while also frightening when done well, are far more satisfying and give a more immediate hit than the grind of reality.

Two films I have seen recently both relate to mid-life crises and exhibit themes that illustrate two characters changing their appearance to bring about a shift in identity, behaviour and personality. They also show characters spiralling out of control in incredibly violent, bizarre and entertaining ways. Those films are Deerskin (2019) and Possessor (2020) and here are my reviews.

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



DEERSKIN (2019)

Directed and written by Quentin Dupieux

Main Cast: Jean Dujardin, Adele Haenel

Have you ever seen the film Rubber (2010)? It is a gonzo horror-comedy about a murderous-tyre called Robert killing birds and people with telekinetic powers. Beneath the insanity of the pitch there is in fact a subtextual satire on the nature of Hollywood filmmaking and an audience starved of originality; I think! It came from the mind of Quentin Dupieux, so I was intrigued that he had nabbed for a subsequent production the grand talents of Jean Dujardin and Adele Haenel for the obsidian killer comedy, Deerskin (2019).

Dujardin is Georges, a middle-aged loner, recently dumped by his wife whose only aim now it appears is to purchase a deerskin jacket. Buoyed by the confidence the jacket has given him, and armed with a video camera thrown in with the deal, George plots up at a rural hotel and befriends Adele Haenel’s bar server and enthusiastic film editor. Their budding friendship threatens to turn this into a relatively conventional love story, however, a series of twisted turns tip the story into a hilarious series of murderous set-pieces, with Georges determined to get money to make a movie, but most importantly buy deerskin trousers, hat and gloves.

The story of a middle-aged man altering his outer look in order to transform his life and fortune is a staple of Hollywood comedies and romance films. Deerskin (2019) is that kind of film on the surface. Yet when filtered through Dupieux’s iconoclastic imagination the premise is an altogether different kind of demented animal. Ultimately, it is a low-budget gem of a black comedy with some fantastic ideas and fascinating character study of a man attempting to shift skin, but falling deeper and deeper into psychopathy. It’s a wacky journey with committed performances, yet, it felt like the ending was just too sudden, as if the filmmaker either ran our of money or just wanted to screw with audience expectations right up until the final sudden frame.

MARK: 7.5 out of 11


POSSESSOR (2020)

Directed and written by Brandon Cronenberg

Main Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Sean Bean, Tuppence Middleton etc.

Whereas Deerskin (2019) finds a literal and figurative metamorphosis when a character buys a jacket, Brandon Cronenberg’s vicious horror film, Possessor (2020), is an altogether more cerebral, violent and psychologically stunning journey. Andrea Riseborough is as intense as ever portraying an assassin named, Tasya Vox, who through some incredible technology is able to inhabit the mind and body of another individual and use them as a human puppet to commit murder. It’s a perfect set-up for the assassination agency led by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s handler, Girder. Yet such murder by scientific proxy comes at a cost to Vox’s family life and mental stability.

After a glorious opening scene featuring an astoundingly brutal stabbing, Vox attempts to reconnect with her partner and son, but finds herself becoming ever more disconnected. The pressure of taking over another individual’s identity is causing Vox to discombobulate as her mind begins to fracture. Despite this she takes the next job, a contract to kill John Parse (Sean Bean), using Christopher Abbott’s Colin Tate as a conduit. As Vox struggles with her splitting psyche, Tate himself is having personal issues also and this leads to some mind-bending and psychedelic montage scenes as the two battle within Tate’s brain. If this all sounds a bit weird, it is and it isn’t because the filmmaking is of such a high quality one believes the process. Further, the director never loses his grip on the narrative and Cronenberg gets a compelling performance from Abbott as his character confronts the invasion into his soul.

Overall, Possessor (2020) has a stunning concept at its heart but I just kept wondering how a genre filmmaker like Leigh Whannell may have handled the idea. He certainly would have made the characters more empathetic because it is so tough to warm to either Vox or Tate. Indeed, Tate’s character should have been developed more at the beginning in my view as he would have made an ideal “innocent/wrong man” type character so often used by Hitchcock. Nonetheless, Brandon Cronenberg has crafted one of the most visually impressive and shocking psychological horror films I have seen in a long time. Like Whannell’s Upgrade (2018), it contains some memorable gore and violence. It is also very intelligent as the fantastic ideas explore what it means to not only inhabit another person’s skin, but rip through their very soul.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: A QUIET PLACE PART II (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: A QUIET PLACE PART II (2021)

Directed by: John Krasinski

Produced by: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, John Krasinski

Written by: John Krasinski

Based on characters created by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck

Cast: Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou and John Krasinski

Music by: Marco Beltrami

Cinematography: Polly Morgan

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Ah, the difficult second album. Well, how do you follow up a genuine classic horror thriller such as A Quiet Place (2018)? I mean, it had everything, including a simple but devastating premise and an imaginative set of rules for the monstrous dangers facing the Abbott family. With hardly any fanfare or major marketing campaign the original film really got audiences flexing their “word-of-mouth” muscles. Throughout  A Quiet Place (2018) my heart was literally living in my mouth, as my fingers and knuckles clenched and whitened during the whole tense escapade. Plus, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski’s “every-couple” and their three children brought a believable humanity to the characters, with Blunt especially on phenomenal form in her reaction and character work.

The sequel opens with a prequel sequence which illuminates how the world descended into chaos. Sadly, and not surprisingly, we only get a short time with John Krasinski’s action-dad, Lee Abbott, before he dives back behind the camera to direct this rattlingly good and highly tense horror/sci-fi mash-up. Thus, the weight of part two is left with Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and the less effective, Noah Jupe character. Once again, the trio, plus baby, rely on dead silence in an attempt to remain uneaten by the blind-but-deadly alien creatures hellbent on making Earth’s inhabitants lunch. Along the way they bump into an apparent loner, Emmett, portrayed by Cillian Murphy. His jaded, shell of a man, hides a tragic secret and the last thing he wants is other people around to attract more devourers.



The story develops as the relationship between the Abbott’s and Emmett, while initially distrusting, becomes less hostile. However, he still wants them gone, much to Emily Blunt’s frustration. After all, any good mother wants to protect her children, as evacuating the factory setting could mean certain death. I have to admit I felt Emily Blunt’s major acting talents were not as well utilised as the first film. Indeed, it was Simmonds’ character, Regan, who had more development and heroic moments. It is Regan who is determined to discover a way out from the dark recesses of the filthy basement and clanking pipes. She may be foolhardy to some, but Regan has guts and makes important life-changing decisions for her family. Simmonds is compelling as she gives another mature performance in the role.

Overall, A Quiet Place – Part 2 (2021) is not as much as a surprise as the original film. How could it be?! I mean we now know what defeats the monsters, yet that doesn’t stop them being fierce predators and foes. Moreover, the use of sound design that was so brilliant in the first film is presented equally superbly in the sequel. While the film lacks for a decent plotline, as anyone who has their fill of zombie apocalypse films could testify, there remains some incredibly exciting chases and well directed set-pieces. Krasinski clearly had the Spielberg playbook to hand and that is certainly not a criticism, because I think he is definitely a talent to keeps tabs on. Thus, as my first film back at the cinema after yet another lockdown, I can definitely recommend A Quiet Place – Part 2 (2021), to take one’s mind off the horrors of real life for ninety-odd pulsating minutes.

Mark 8.5 out of 11


AMAZON FILM REVIEW: THE MAURITANIAN (2021)

AMAZON FILM REVIEW: THE MAURITANIAN (2021)

Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

Produced by: Adam Ackland, Michael Bronner, Benedict Cumberbatch, Leah Clarke, Christine Holder, Mark Holder, Beatriz Levin, Lloyd Levin, Branwen Prestwood-Smith, etc.

Screenplay by: M.B. Traven, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani

Based on: Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Cast: Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zachary Levi etc.

Music by: Tom Hodge

Cinematograph: Alwin H. Kuchler

***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***



“…a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court, especially to secure the person’s release unless lawful grounds are shown for their detention.” — Basic definition of Habeus Corpus


Mohamedou Ould Slahi is a Mauritanian man who was held for fourteen years from 2002 to 2016 without charge in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. FOURTEEN YEARS without a trial. Let that sink in.

If ever there was a living embodiment of a Kafkaesque experience then this is that. Surely, whatever crime you have or haven’t committed you should be presented to a court of law and evidence be brought to try you for the alleged crimes. Clearly, the United States have, in this singular case against Mohamedou Ould Slahi, by denying him a trial — plus torturing him for years too — committed a heinous war crime. Yes, the 9/11 atrocities were abominable acts of violence, but that does not give anyone the right to wreak revenge against other human beings without concrete evidence to justify such acts. It’s a basic tenet of existence that separates us from the beasts in the jungle, every person deserves a fair trial! To be honest the U.S. administration who were responsible for this and and many other crimes are worse than animals.

The Mauritanian (2021) is an adaptation of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s best selling memoir, Guantanamo Diary. It opens with Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) attending a wedding in his place of birth. He is then picked up by local Mauritanian police and after that is imprisoned indefinitely, unknown to him, by the American military. The structure of the film compellingly builds his experiences in jail and the brutal torture he endures as the Americans attempt to gather intelligence to prove that he is a key member of the terrorist cells who organised the 9/11 attacks. As the story reveals his horrendous ordeal, lawyers represented by Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) take up his case to, at the very least, enable Ould Slahi to get a fair trial.



As well as highlighting the horrors of how Ould Slahi was treated this film is a damning indictment of American foreign policy, notably under the George Bush administration. The fact that Ould Slahi and his lawyers were successful in achieving a win against his imprisonment was not the end of his entrapment. You honestly won’t believe what occurred even after he won his case. But what about the film you may be asking? Well, I am just staggered this and many other sitautions occur in the world so this is more of an emotional review than a cinematic appraisal.

Overall, The Mauritanian (2021) is an exceptional drama which is directed effectively by seasoned filmmaker, Kevin Macdonald. As Ould Slahi, Tahar Rahim is absolutely exceptional. He brings a humanity and humour to the character’s struggle. What I absorbed most from his portrayal, and this is reflected in a moving credits sequence excerpt, is how Ould Slahi retained his humour even in the most trying times. Furthermore, while their character’s smack of white saviour personalities, the legal team — based on the real people — are expertly represented by Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley. Foster especially shows her usual sterling gravitas in the role. Benedict Cumberbatch, arguably miscast as the military lawyer suffering a crisis of conscience, gives his usual excellent performance.

Lastly, The Mauritanian (2021), because of a slightly choppy screenplay, I felt the book deserved a longer telling via a television series. Yet, the film remains an important narrative about how bloodlust, greed and desire for revenge means humans commit horrific acts in the name of war. Mohamedou Ould Slahi was denied his freedom and human rights for crimes never proved. How he survived is an incredible feat of human endurance. Thus, whether he was innocent or guilty his freedom was earned and then some.

Mark: 9 out of 11


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: PIECES OF A WOMAN (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: PIECES OF A WOMAN (2020)

Directed by: Kornél Mundruczó

Produced by: Kevin Turen, Ashley Levinson, Aaron Ryder

Screenplay by: Kata Wéber

Based on the play: Pieces of a Woman by Kornél Mundruczó and Kata Wéber

Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, Jimmie Fails etc.

***THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS***



Every human being has been present at one birth at least – namely their own. Not that one can remember or recall the experience, however, it is something all of us have in common. Many more people, either as parents, or life partners, or medical staff, or relatives and friends have also witnessed a child being born into the world. Birth is both a magnificent and tumultuous wonder of nature. Moreover, it can, while delivering a miracle into the world, be extremely painful for the person giving birth. The incredible progress of medical science means that it has never been safer. However, as my partner experienced when our son was born, it can be traumatic if the procedure has issues. Thankfully, our son was fine after the birth, but almost eighteen-hours in labour on an under-staffed and chaotic maternity ward was stressful. Thus, I was able to identify very much with the characters in the searing grief drama, PIECES OF A WOMAN (2020).

When I say identify, I mean I felt like I was really with the couple, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) as prospective parents. Martha is heavily pregnant and when Sean returns from work as an engineer she goes into labour. Sean works on building huge bridges. Yet, as events unfold within Pieces of a Woman (2020), bridges are the last thing built metaphorically and emotionally. The opening scene is a cinematic tour-de-force which portrays the couple’s home birth in one long moving and harrowing take. Brilliantly filmed and acted, by Kirby and LaBeouf, the one-take device is employed to devastating effect as it impacts emotional power rather being a filmic gimmick. When their first-choice midwife cannot attend, the replacement, Eva (Molly Parker) arrives. The birth is not without problems and the sequence is both intense and suspenseful. The filmmakers really put you in the heart of the trauma. Quickly concern for the new-born child becomes relief when it is born alive. Alas, Martha and Sean’s joy suddenly turns to misery when nature deals the couple a fateful blow.



After the relentless tension of the opening act, Pieces of a Woman (2020), along with Sean and Martha, enters a redoubtable period of grieving. Martha’s personality prior to the event seemed outgoing and confident. After the death of her child she, unsurprisingly, transitions into an insular and hollow shell. Sean, on the other hand, is more explosive. He openly cries and shouts and self-harms by relapsing back into drug and alcohol addiction. Sean, more than Martha, attempts to fix their broken relationship, but Martha’s pain is too great and the distance between them only increases. Martha’s mother, Elizabeth Weiss (Ellen Burstyn), attempts to get some control back by taking court action again the midwife, Eva. Further, she desperately attempts to thwart her daughter from allowing the child’s body to be donated to medical science. In such moments Ellen Burstyn’s performance is absolutely formidable. Indeed, the scenes she shares with Vanessa Kirby are some of the best in the film.

Based on the play of the same name, Pieces of a Woman (2020), is overall an utterly gruelling emotional experience. I must admit I found it difficult to reach Martha’s character as she was so isolated for much of the film. However, that is exactly what the writer, Kata Wéber, and director, Kornél Mundruczó want you to feel. The loss of a child is never going to be an easy experience and it is something an individual will never get over. As I followed Martha’s journey intensely the smallest incremental shift in her personality is felt massively. Personally, I would have preferred more focus on Molly Parker’s character during the second act and more outwardly emotional scenes. Because those within the film featuring LaBeouf, Kirby and Burstyn are so compelling. Vanessa Kirby, in particular, is stunning as a woman cut-off from the world by this devastating grief, making Pieces of a Woman (2020) a memorable human drama that makes you feel fortunate to be alive.

Mark: 9 out of 11


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW – SCARFACE (1983) – YOUTUBE VIDEO

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW – SCARFACE (1983) – YOUTUBE VIDEO

The Cinema Fix is a website for all film and TV lovers everywhere. It’s a mix of reviews, articles, essays, news and thoughts on new and classic releases. It is intended to be honest, irreverent, funny and hopefully intelligent. I also have a YouTube channel with loads of short films and video articles. Check it out here.

I have just created a new video article. It’s a review of the classic gangster film, Scarface (1983). You can read it here or check out the video below.



CREDITS

This video article is a fun and educational piece reviewing one of our favourite gangster films ever.

Written by: Paul Laight
Narrated by: Melissa Zajk
Music Produced by : Aries Beats
Promoted by : CRFC

The copyright of the images and trailers are those of the film studio. I do not own any of the images or films.

Film/Trailer clips credits:

Scarface (1983)
Directed: by Brian DePalma
Produced by: Martin Bregman
Written by: Oliver Stone.
Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Check out our other sites:

www.fixfilms.co.uk
www.youtube.com/c/FixFilmsLtd


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW – THE GO-BETWEEN (1971)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW – THE GO-BETWEEN (1971)

Directed by: Joseph Losey

Produced by: John Heyman, Denis Johnson, Norman Priggen

Screenplay by: Harold Pinter

Based on: The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley

Cast: Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Margaret Leighton, Edward Fox, Dominic Guard, Michael Redgrave, etc.

Music by: Michel Legrand



The Go-Between (1971) is one of those expert works of understated cinema which I was sure I had seen before. Yet, I would come to discover I had never seen it when I caught it on the rather marvellous digital channel, Talking Pictures. But then I love that when you find a period classic and watch it for the first time. It’s like unearthing gold in your living room. Because the film is a heartfelt rites-of-passage drama which subtly pulls at the loose end of the knitted cardigan that is the British class system. Nevertheless, while the romance, lies and regret unfold under the surface, The Go-Between (1971) certainly retains much dramatic power.

Adapted by acclaimed playwright, Harold Pinter, from the esteemed novel by L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1971) stars Julie Christie and Alan Bates as secret lovers separated by the chasm of class and tradition. Bates’ Ted Burgess is a charismatic and muscular farmer with a reputation as a ladies man. Christie is the beautiful and slyly rebellious daughter of the Lord of the Manor, Marian, promised in marriage to Edward Fox’s Viscount Hugh Trimingham. With peering eyes and suspicion coming from Marian’s mother, the lustful affair requires stealth, thus they enlist the help of Dominic Guard’s intelligent but less-privileged, Leo Colston. He is there as guest of Marian’s young brother as both attend the same boarding school; Leo there on a scholarship. The narrative develops very much through Leo’s sweet innocent eyes. The outsider’s point-of-view is expertly presented as it is both objective and allows the audience to make up their own mind about the characters.



Leo is pure of heart and believes he is helping by running notes back and forth between Burgess and Marian. He also makes friends with the cuckolded Viscount, as Fox gives a fine performance of a man who may or may not know whether his potential wife is being unfaithful. I think that is one of the strengths of the book and film, in that it explores the theme of duty versus passion. Burgess and Marian represent freedom, lust and nature, which are opposite to the “doing your duty” arrangements of the upper classes. Of course, dramatically speaking something has to give where the love affair is concerned. Sadly, tragedy intervenes, resulting in the loss of Leo’s innocence, and adding a layer of guilt which gravely haunts him in his later years.

Everything about The Go-Between (1971) reeks of quality. From the production design, locations, costumes, score by Michel Legrand and Gerry Fisher’s exquisite cinematography. Unsurprisingly, Harold Pinter would receive an Academy Award for his confident adaptation. Further, Joseph Losey is not a filmmaker whose work I am not particularly well acquainted with, but the performances from Fox, Bates, Christie and young Dominic Guard are assured testament to his stellar ability to convey meaning and emotion between the lines. Indeed, while some films smash you over the head with emotional melodrama, something I love too, The Go-Between (1971) instead slowly squeezes at your heart and mind. Lastly, this is not simply a damning indictment of the class system, but a lament for loss of innocence, illustrating how monolithic tradition dictates love, fate and tragedy are inextricably entwined.


DISNEY + FILM REVIEW: SOUL (2020)

DISNEY + FILM REVIEW: SOUL (2020)

Directed by: Pete Docter

Produced by: Dana Murray

Written by: Pete Doctor, Mike Jones, Kemp Powers

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, Angela Bassett etc.

Music by: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste[a]

Cinematography: Matt Aspbury, Ian Megibben

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Death, the loss of childhood innocence, grief, mid-life crises, missing children, the end of the word due to human greed, ghosts, female emancipation within patriarchal society, the afterlife, use of fear as energy, neuropsychological exploration of emotions, oh, and death again are all heavy themes and subjects for a film. But they are not just from the works of heavyweight filmmakers such as Werner Herzog, Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman or Stanley Kubrick. They are subjects investigated and probed and rendered entertainment in a fantastic style by the ever-impressive Pixar studio. Their latest film Soul (2020) is yet another extravaganza of high concepts, existential themes, and scintillating visual world-building.

Soul (2020) centres around Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a music teacher who longs to immerse himself in a career as a jazz musician. It’s not necessarily suggested in the opening scenes as to why Joe hasn’t made it as he clearly has musical talent. However, his dominant mother Libby (Phylicia Rashad) objects to his frivolous desire to play piano, plus Joe, like many artists out there just cannot get a break. A chance arises though when he gets an opportunity to audition for esteemed singer, Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett). Joe’s exquisite piano playing wins over Dorothea, but then tragedy strikes as an excited Joe falls down a manhole and dies. Being a Pixar film committed to venturing into the afterlife, as it did previously with Coco (2017), Joe finds himself, not in the ‘Land of the Dead’ but rather the ‘Great Before/Beyond’ instead.



As Joe moves toward the light with the many other souls he refuses to accept this is the end. He rejects the unknown glowing light of the ‘Great Beyond’ and escapes to a world full of young, old and lost souls called the ‘Great Before’. Here he meets a cynical soul called 22 (Tina Fey), who is refusing to claim the badges required to begin her own life on Earth. This is where the story gets a bit sticky for me. I mean I enjoy narratives about life, death and the afterlife including the brilliant A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and both excellent versions of Heaven Can Wait (1943 / 1978). However, Soul (2020) I think tries to do too much as 22’s story threatens to dominate Joe’s pursuit to get his life and career back. Moreover, the ridiculous sight of Joe’s soul ending up in a therapy cat also felt like a contrived lean toward giving the kids something to laugh at. Indeed, I felt this water-and-oil decision, while funny, undermined the more intrinsically vital themes within the narrative.

Ultimately though, having succumbed to the cultural pressure of signing up to Disney +, I did thoroughly enjoy Pixar’s Soul (2020). Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey create a fine double act with their brilliant comedic timing and performances. Moreover, Graham Norton and Richard Ayoade provide humorous voice support, and of course, the animation is incredible. Although I would actually have preferred to stay on the exquisitely drawn streets of New York more than the ‘Fantasiaeque’ lysergic acid look of the afterlife. Still, once again, Pixar have been clinical in delivering an intelligent film that delves into existential themes relating to the meaning of life. Joe’s journey, like his music, is full of verve, beauty and many surprising twists, ensuring his soul is certainly one that is worth saving.

Mark: 9 out of 11


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW – MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (2020)

Directed by: George C. Wolfe

Produced by: Denzel Washington, Todd Black, Dany Wolf

Screenplay by: Ruben Santiago-Hudson

Based on: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by August Wilson

Cast: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts etc.

Music by: Branford Marsalis

Cinematography: Tobias A. Schliessler

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



The spectre of death hangs over us all as time effortlessly drains the life from us. It is an unstoppable force that will quicken on occasion to take a human being way before they deserve. What if said individual has knowledge of their end? Aside from the fear they must be feeling, there is clearly a moment of clarity and strong focus. Something that makes their work gather an altogether unique power. Both player and audience feel such power palpably. This is most certainly the case where Chadwick Boseman’s acting performance is concerned in the screen adaptation of August Wilson’s powerful play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020). As talented, hustling and arrogant musician and songwriter, Levee Green, Boseman is a charismatic vision of drive, confidence, energy and naivety, ready to take on the world, not quite knowing the odds are stacked against him.

Boseman steals the film from under the lungs of the formidable Viola Davis as the titular blues legend, Ma Rainey. Her laconic singer with a voice that stops the clocks is being paid to record a series of songs at a Chicago recording studio in the year 1927. Much conflict is derived from Levee Green’s desire to spice up Ma Rainey’s more traditional blues arrangements. Ma Rainey will not give in to what she perceives as ideas of populism and selling out to white producers who want to water down the blues for a white audience. As Ma Rainey, Viola Davis, excels as this irascible and world-weary diva, fighting off her exploitative manager and record producer. Rainey and the other band members try to dampen Levee Green’s enthusiastic ardour, however, the younger trumpeter will not listen to the advice of more experienced musicians. This eventually comes at a grave cost to those within the play.



Events of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) are set mainly within a day and in the confines of the recording studio. The mix of a hot day, tempestuous characters and colliding personalities all combine in the enclosed space to create much dramatic tension. Given the screenplay is based on August Wilson’s acclaimed play, what the film loses in cinematic visuals, it more than makes up with sensational dialogue and stellar acting performances. Indeed, the supporting cast including: Colman Domingo as Cutler, Glynn Thurman as Toledo and Michael Potts as Slow Drag provide sterling contributions as Ma Rainey’s band. They banter and battle and spar, especially with the argumentative Levee, desiring to simply play the music and get paid. Safe to say therefore the wonderful blues songs performed are beautifully played. They fill the screen with humour and pathos, puncturing the fizzing dialogue of Wilson’s many fine soliloquys with poignant joy.

Amidst the conflict and music, August Wilson’s original text also contains great thematic power within the words. At the heart of the drama and eventual tragedy there is the underlying critique of the black musicians’ songs and style being stripped away from them by unscrupulous record producers. Ma Rainey stands strong rejecting attempts to assimilate her work and personality and voice into the mainstream. Those songs are her lifeblood, and she refuses to entirely sell her soul. Levee Green does not see the bigger picture and is sucked in by the promise of money, women and fame. He is blinded by the bright city lights and the closer he gets to them the easier it is for the record producers to pick his pocket. In such a tragic character August Wilson has created a memorably complex persona, perfectly rendered by the acting genius, Chadwick Boseman.

Mark 9 out of 11


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: MANK (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: MANK (2020)

Directed by: David Fincher

Produced by: Ceán Chaffin, Eric Roth, Douglas Urbanski

Screenplay by: Jack Fincher

Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Charles Dance, etc.

Music by: Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross

Cinematography: Erik Messerschmidt

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



“A movie in production is the greatest train set a boy could ever have.”Orson Welles


I was never a fan of train sets as a child or adult. Nor those racing car circuit kits like Scalextric. They were not for me and I always got the feeling that the person playing with them was having much more fun than any spectator in the room. I had that similar feeling of exclusion and while watching David Fincher’s latest film, MANK (2020). Fincher of course is one of the leading film directors of a generation, combining exquisite technical brilliance with a formidable eye for genre storytelling. Indeed, films he directed such as: SEVEN (1995), FIGHT CLUB (1999), ZODIAC (2007) and the arguably under-rated, THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008), are all masterclasses in filmmaking technique and genre narratives. Fincher has also made other excellent films too and also helped create the superlative crime series on Netflix, MINDHUNTER.

Thus, with such a directorial power at the helm it is mildly surprising that Fincher has chosen, as his latest film opus, to favour the trials and tribulations of a famous Hollywood screenwriter in Herman J. Mankiewicz. Yet, this is somewhat of a personal project for Fincher as his father, Jack Fincher, wrote the screenplay prior to his passing in 2003. Mankiewicz or ‘Mank’, as he was commonly known, is portrayed by the never-less-than-brilliant, Gary Oldman. His Mank is a wise-cracking, gambling and barely functioning alcoholic, who so happens to be one of the best screenwriters and script doctors in 1940’s Hollywood. Laid up following a car crash, Mank is consigned to a bed for the majority of the present tense of the film. There he is bullied to write CITIZEN KANE (1941), by theatrical wunderkind, Orson Welles, while also ordered to remain sober.



If you have never seen, CITIZEN KANE (1941), or know little of the Hollywood period of the time, then you are most likely to be lost with MANK (2020). CITIZEN KANE (1941) is rightly considered one of finest films of all time and there have been a number of films made about its creation. Here though the story concentrates on the plight of the writer and how Mank came to be influenced by his relationships with William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried). Some of the best scenes of the film are Mank’s visits to Hearst Castle and the opulent dinner parties which take place. Mank himself is seen as a witty addendum to proceedings, but always the sneered upon drunken outsider, good for a biting quip and an inebriated jest. Allied to this there are an abundance of characters from the studio system featured, notably Louis B. Mayer, Irvin Thalberg and David O. Selznick. The scene where an drunken Mank bitterly lets rip his ire at Hearst and his cronies is a memorable work of acting from Oldman and contains some fantastic dialogue too.

Overall, the drama rarely gets as good as this and I hardly ever cared about many of the characters, including Mankiewicz himself. The script felt broken-backed, switching from the belligerent and bed-ridden Mank to the flashbacks portraying his Hollywood experiences. I must say though, that the use of screenwriting headers to delineate the place and year of a scene is inspired. The political subplot also, while important to Mankiewicz’s motivation behind his writing choices, did not quite work for me either. Finally, as we would come to expect from a visual genius such as David Fincher, the film’s style is artistry of the highest order. The black-and-white cinematography and stunning production design of MANK (2020) is absolutely incredible to behold. As such, one won’t witness a more beautiful looking train set on a TV or cinema screen all year.

MARK: 8 out of 11



NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO SEVEN (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO SEVEN (2020)

Directed by: Aaron Sorkin

Produced by: Stuart M. Besser, Matt Jackson, Marc Platt, Tyler Thompson

Written by: Aaron Sorkin

Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Eddie Redmayne, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong, etc.

Music by: Daniel Pemberton

Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael

***CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS***



In 2006, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin met Steven Spielberg met to discuss a film project which would focus on the 1968 riots at the Democratic National Convention, which occurred in Chicago. After the meeting Sorkin has admitted he had no knowledge of said riots or the infamous trial which took place afterwards. Sorkin would remedy this with much research and complete his screenplay in 2007. Having been in development for some time eventually Sorkin himself has directed, The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). Part-historical drama, part courtroom-thriller and part political satire, the film illustrates skilfully the shocking attempt by the U.S. Government to convict, initially eight, then latterly seven individuals believed to have conspired to cross state lines with the desire to incite violence and mayhem in Chicago.

I, like Sorkin back in 2006, knew nothing of this huge legal and political event from the late 1960’s. But, The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020), while obviously taking narrative liberties with the temporal order and specificity of certain events, provides an entertaining and insightful flavour of the before, during and aftermath of the incendiary trial. Opening stylishly and rapidly, Sorkin establishes the major characters who will be charged with causing violence on the streets of Chicago. Notable amongst these are civil rights and counter-culture figures such as: Abbie Hoffman ( Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch et al. Swiftly, Sorkin then takes us into the trial itself, which took place in 1969, and structures the narrative around flashbacks from witnesses on the stand to events leading up to conflict between police and demonstrators.


Given the gravity of the socio-political importance of this trial, I was surprised how much I was laughing during, The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). The humour, and later pathos, comes from both the absurdity of certain events and behaviour of the characters on trial. Indeed, in a trial which lasted an incredible five months, there was clearly an abundance of rich material for Sorkin to mine. Thus, we get a greatest “hits” summation of this politically driven farce, explained as being influenced by, U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell’s ire, at being snubbed by his predecessor. Moreover, the trial itself escalates into further absurdity as Judge Hoffman (Frank Langella) takes exception with the majority of the defendants and their lawyers, bringing most of them up on charges of contempt, notably the attention-seeking Hoffman and Rubin. It was not surprising as there were often mocking and zinging one-liners from them and even more vociferous protests from Bobby Seale. Nonetheless, that does not excuse what Judge Hoffman did to Bobby Seale in court. That remains a low in the history of the American justice system.

As The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) progresses, the comedic elements transition to a more serious tone and many heartfelt speches are given. The demonstrations and violent scenes from the riots bleed through to the fore also. My understanding is that in the United States there is such a thing as freedom of speech and the demonstrators were attempting to have their say on the war in Vietnam. They wanted their voices heard against what they considered to be an unjust war. Of course, I cannot possibly know what occurred that day as I was not there, however, given the U.S. Government’s fear of opposing views, as demonstrated by their handling of race issues and the McCarthy-led investigation into the Communist threat, one must surmise they were scared of anyone protesting a different perspective from theirs. From such fear comes a desire to wield power and suppress such voices; something which the Chicago Police Department appeared to do during the fateful Democratic National Convention.

Aaron Sorkin and his incredibly adept ensemble cast deserve much praise for taking such a complex case and distilling it into such an enlightening work of cinema. Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong stand out as a fine double act, while Mark Rylance attends his usual intelligence and class to the role of defence lawyer, William Kunstler. In fact, all the cast are exceptional in bringing to life Sorkin’s witty and storming screenplay. Ultimately, one could argue though that The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020), is simplistic fodder, designed to spoon-feed the liberal left and preach to the millennial choir. In all honesty, it is that and arguably full of caricatures and one-dimensional storytelling. However, given the United States, and the world, have suffered recent and extreme political dumbing down from one of the worst U.S. Presidents of all time, Sorkin’s one-dimension is still more nuanced and deep than those in power could ever be.

Mark: 9 out of 11