Tag Archives: Film Reviews

TWO CHARACTERS ON THE EDGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN – FILM REVIEW DOUBLE BILL – HORSE GIRL (2020) + THUNDER ROAD (2018)

HORSE GIRL (2020) + THUNDER ROAD (2018) FILM REVIEWS

Having seen both these fascinating character studies, Horse Girl (2020) and Thunder Road (2018) recently, I was compelled to write a double bill review because similarly they feature: lower budgeted production values, a singularly powerful lead acting performance, characters who have recently lost their mothers, very uncomfortable emotionally charged scenes; as well as both exploring themes relating to mental illness. Thus, I thought it interesting to review the films with these elements in mind.

In regard to mental health, it is quite rightly being addressed more and more in society in a respectful manner. The barriers and prejudices of the past are being eroded and people are talking about it more openly. I have first-hand family experience of someone who has suffered with mental illness. Plus, I have experienced the loss of a close friend to suicide due to debilitating anxiety and have other friends on anti-depressants. I have tried to be of assistance to those people, but it is incredibly difficult to help anyone. Likewise, medical professionals seek various ways of attempting to assist, treat and counsel individuals with mental health problems.

Ultimately, it so tough to deal with such illnesses as they are powerful and invisible. I have utmost empathy for anyone suffering from anxiety, depression and serious mental health problems. It’s such a shame that I feel kind of helpless when it comes to helping people I am close to. It is not always enough to listen and understand, thus professional medical help should be sought and sometimes even that is not enough. It is not surprising therefore that cinema is also exploring such stories and themes.

With Joker (2019), mental illness was examined in a comic book genre setting in a powerful way for me. Some critics felt it trivialised mental illness. I felt that it was, while stylised and theatrical, actually accurate in the disturbing disintegration of Arthur Fleck’s downward mental spiral. Horse Girl (2020) and Thunder Road (2018) are two very different films in terms of genre, but with similar thematic trajectories as Joker (2019). Indeed, while they are independently produced and smaller in scale, they feature two frightening renditions of characters on the verge of a mental breakdown.

***THESE REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS***



HORSE GIRL (2020)

Directed by: Jeff Baena

Written by: Jeff Baena and Alison Brie

Cast: Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, John Reynolds, John Ortiz etc.

Depicting mental illness accurately is a very tricky thing on film in my view. Obviously, we have over the years had all manner of psychotics and mad people chasing and killing others in horror films and thrillers. There have also been many films centred around characters in mental institutions. Some are respectful examinations, but many more could be seen as exploitation films. Horse Girl (2020) is not exploitational, but rather an oddity that falls somewhere between the gaps of arthouse drama and weird character study. Such films are difficult to assess as, however impressive the technical aspects of the production are, the strange events of the film could alienate an audience in terms of entertainment.

Despite Alison Brie’s exceptionally brave performance as Sarah, the narrative consistently disengages you emotionally, taking you to very dark and weird places. Sometimes you have to wonder whether the actor is holidaying in weirdness for the sake of it, or is genuinely drawn to characters who exist with mental issues. Given Brie is an intelligent and highly talented actor, plus she co-wrote the script, you cannot help but feel this is a very personal project. Her portrayal of a shy loner dealing with the suicide of her mother, sleepwalking, day delusions, fragmented time loss and nightmares makes Horse Girl (2020) a disorientating experience. However, in conveying the chaos and frightening nature of mental illness, the film is commendable but tough to recommend.

Mark: 7 out of 11



Thunder Road Jim Cummings

THUNDER ROAD (2018)

Written and directed by: Jim Cummings

Cast: Jim Cummings, Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Macon Blair etc.

Talking of films that are difficult to recommend, Jim Cummings self-produced, written, directed and acted film Thunder Road (2018) is another. Rather than giving us, like Horse Girl (2020), an unreliable narrator and escalating series of surreal events seemingly separated from reality, Cummings film deliver very real feelings of embarrassment and anxiety to the audience. Advertised on certain film sites as a comedy-drama, neither the comedy nor drama are conventionally enacted. The film is based around a series of hysterical monologues and stream of consciousness dialogues from Cummings grieving and soon-to-be-divorced troubled cop, Jim Arnaud.

Arnaud’s mental issue is not psychosis, but rather a circumstantial and emotional nervous breakdown precipitated by grief and a personality disorder. The opening scene at a funeral for Arnaud’s mother, is a case in point. Based on his original short film of the same name, Cummings produces a tour-de-force acting exercise in both awkward comedy and distanciation. Subsequently, the film’s narrative events find Arnaud attempting to be a good father, friend and police officer, however, he is constantly on the edge of an angry outburst or outpouring of emotional honesty. His character makes us empathise as he is in grief, but at the same time he’s very difficult to like due to his extreme reactions. Ultimately, as a low budget feature for Jim Cummings acting abilities, Thunder Road (2018) is a compelling character study. However, it’s tough to watch and the slightly misogynistic ending left a sour taste in what was a fascinating emotional exploration of grief and mental instability.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11



THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Armando Iannucci

Produced by: Armando Iannucci, Kevin Loader

Screenplay by: Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci

Based on: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

Cast: Dev Patel, Aneurin Barnard, Peter Capaldi, Morfydd Clark, Daisy May Cooper, Rosalind Eleazar, Hugh Laurie, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Anthony Welsh, Paul Whitehouse etc.

Music by: Christopher Willis

Cinematography: Zac Nicholson

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Armando Iannucci is a bona fide genius if you ask me. For over thirty years I have been listening, watching and laughing at his various collaborative comedic works. These include notables such as: The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge, The Thick of It, Time Trumpet, Veep, In the Loop (2009), and The Death of Stalin (2017). Now, one can include the wonderful delectation of an adaptation that is The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019). While I am embarrassed to say I am not as familiar with this Charles Dickens novel as I am his other books, Iannucci has taken his own inimitable style and married it perfectly to Dickens’ narratively opulent Victoriana vision. The result is an entertaining comedic and dramatic romp, tantamount to a quasi-greatest hits package of a Dickens masterwork.

Dev Patel stars as the eponymous hero in adulthood, while the young David is portrayed with energy and charm by Jairaj Varsani. As a child, his father passed, David is brought up by his mother, Clara and the ebullient housekeeper, Peggotty. Peggotty, portrayed brilliantly by Daisy May Cooper, encourages David’s word-smithery and youthful imagination. But this being Charles Dickens, David’s innocent and magical childhood soon gives way to tragedy and he soon finds himself at the mercy of fate. Conversely, the narrative is more of a chronicle of David’s life and contains what I call an “up-and-down” structure.



Through the rollercoaster that is David’s life he finds family love, then industrial pain via his stepfather condemning him to years of child labour. Then in an attempt to overcome his cruel fate he finds positive gain through family, creativity, romantic love, friendship and education. But destiny tests him by having this all taken away once again. Throughout, Dev Patel shines brightly. His David Copperfield is as tough as they come, as he rolls with the punch’s life throws at him. Moreover, he is a fantastic conduit and spine within the structure. Through him we are introduced to some wonderfully vivid characters; some likeable and some not so. Indeed, Iannucci’s casting is a primary joy with Peter Capaldi as Mr Micawber, Hugh Laurie as Mr Dick, Tilda Swinton as Betsy Trotwood, Ben Whishaw as Uriah Heep and Aneurin Barnard as Steerforth, all giving splendid renditions of their respective characters.

Overall, Iannucci and his scriptwriting partner, Simon Blackwell, mine Dickens’ novel for much comedy gold and there are so many hilarious one-liners and funny situations. Moreover, there’s some depth here too as it’s a story of an individual finding their soul, identity and place in a cruel world. One could argue a feature film is not enough to do the novel justice, and it would probably best be served as a television mini-series. However, for a whip-cracking, razor-sharp and heart-warming two hours, in the company of one the greatest novelists, one of the greatest modern satirists, wonderful set design; and finally one of the most impressive ensemble casts gathered in recent memory, this film is highly recommended.

Mark: 9 out of 11


FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #6 – THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964)

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #6 – THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964)

Written and Directed by: Jacques Demy

Produced by: Mag Bodard

Music by: Michel Legrand

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Anne Vernon, Nino Castelnuovo, Marc Michel, Ellen Farmer, Mirielle Perrey etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



I knew there were good reasons to get married. The obvious one is the positive nature of a caring relationship and not becoming a lonely, bitter old man. The other is that given my wife loves films too, she will introduce me to the occasional classic film I may have missed. Thus, we went to the BFI and watched the classic musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). While she is a massive fan of the musical genre, I can take or leave it generally. Every now and then though I will really love a musical film. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is now one of them.

Starting in 1957 and structured over three acts that end in 1963, we follow the lives and loves of two main protagonists, Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). The ups and downs of their romance drives the narrative. The two struggle to keep their love alive amidst the obstacles of military conflict, social convention and family pressure. While the story is relatively simple, Jacques Demy’s wonderful script and direction warms you to the two young lovers. So much so, by the emotionally gut-wrenching ending, even a grizzled cynic like myself felt like crying.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is not your classic all-singing-all-dancing musical. It is more an opera of everyday life and love. The actors sing the dialogue all the way through and once I got used to this, the device really worked well for the story. Of course, Michel Legrand’s incredible score literally drenches the colourful sets and mise-en-scene with wonder. Moreover, Demy’s cinematographer, Jean Rabier, works miracles; his camera gliding around the actors in small spaces such as shops, garages, apartments and French cafes. Lastly, Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo are such an attractive, but beautifully tragic screen couple. Clearly their touching story, amazing music and Jacques Demy’s cinematic brilliance had a massive influence of Damian Chazelle’s splendid La La Land (2016).

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


THE GOOD LIAR (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

THE GOOD LIAR (2019): MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Bill Condon

Produced by: Bill Condon, Greg Yolen

Written by: Jeffrey Hatcher – Based on The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle

Cast: Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Russell Tovey, Jim Carter etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Bill Condon is an interesting filmmaker. His movie choices oscillate between big budget Hollywood productions such as Beauty and the Beast (2017) and mid-budget, character-led productions like Mr Holmes (2015) and his latest film The Good Liar (2019). This is, by my reckoning, his fourth collaboration with the living legend that is Ian McKellen and casting him alongside Helen Mirren is a masterstroke. In this story we get a whole different kind of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ narrative.

McKellen portrays charismatic septuagenarian, Roy Courtnay. He meets Helen Mirren’s widow, Betty McLeish, and they begin a friendly courtship. As the romance blossoms, her grandson Steven (Russell Tovey), begins to suspect Roy is after more than companionship. I won’t spoil the twisting plot, but safe to say the story develops in a compelling fashion. Indeed, I love a good con-artist thriller and McKellen and Mirren’s chemistry on-screen was particularly impressive.

Overall, there’s much to enjoy about The Good Liar (2019). I love it when London is used as a main location, as I will see places I know and have been to. I have to say that the twists in the story, particularly one second act reveal are very well handled too. By the end you could see where the story was going, but not the why and how. My only gripes were some of the banking machinations were a tad sloppy and the final reveal did not necessarily connect all the dots successfully. Nonetheless, this is an enjoyable thriller with an excellent cast and solid direction. It does not have the scintillating scripts con-artist films such as The Sting (1973) and Nine Queens (2000) do, but not many do.

Mark: 8 out of 11



GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #2

GREAT ENSEMBLE FILM CASTS #2

Way back in September 2015 I wrote an article listing some great ensemble film casts. Please feel free to read it here at this link.

If you can’t be bothered to read it the list of films are as follows:

12 ANGRY MEN (1957)
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012)
GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)
INCEPTION (2010)
LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997)
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)
MAGNOLIA (1999)
MEANTIME (1984)
THE OUTSIDERS (1983)
PULP FICTION (1994)
SHORT CUTS (1993)
TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011)

Never one to worry about originality, I have decided to follow up this article with another list of great ensemble film casts.

The challenge second time round though is to EXCLUDE the films of directors or franchises ALREADY LISTED.

For those who may have lazy-read this I WILL REPEAT!!!

NO DIRECTOR’S OR FRANCHISE WORK FROM LIST ONE WILL BE ON LIST TWO!!!

It would be so easy to include all of Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino’s or the Marvel films. So I am not going to do that. Anyway, here are another TEN films with great ensemble casts (in alphabetical order).

ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (2004)

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (2013)

THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967)

GOSFORD PARK (2001)

THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)

HAIL CAESAR (2016)

LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RINGS (2001)

SUICIDE SQUAD (2016)

THE WILD BUNCH (1969)

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2014)

HORROR DOUBLE BILL: THE DEAD DON’T DIE (2019) & ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019) REVIEWS

HORROR DOUBLE BILL REVIEWS

THE DEAD DON’T DIE (2019)

Written and directed by: Jim Jarmusch

Cast: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Caleb Landry-Jones, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits and many more.

As a big fan of Jim Jarmusch films and a big fan of zombie films I was really looking forward to the Dead Don’t Die (2019). Interestingly though, it neither works as an arthouse horror film or dramatic zombie film. There’s a lot to enjoy, especially with the deadpan wit, but overall the film felt underwhelming to me.

Set in the fictional American town of Centerville, we find out fracking or some similar stupid human being industrial act has caused a global disaster. Suddenly we get a disparate set of townsfolk including hermits, Republican farmers, waitresses, cops, morticians, College kids, all fighting the living dead. The acting led by Adam Driver, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton is the best thing about the film. Yet, while I was chuckling at many of the dry lines of dialogue, the film falls flat with a plodding and disappointing ending. Jarmusch, in his inimitable style essentially undermines the raft of intriguing archetypes he has established with a deconstructive and knowing final act.

I think the main problem is Jarmusch, while paying lip service to the likes of George A. Romero, did not commit fully to making a proper zombie film. This is a comedic parody and satire which lost me when Adam Driver’s character become overly self-reflexive. Jarmusch sets up some great characters to fight the dead but throws them away for clever-clever-Godardian-oh-we’re-in-a-movie references which undermine the comedy, drama and horror. I love Jarmusch’s style and he has made some cult cinema classics. This, alas, is not one of them.

Mark: 6.5 out of 11

ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

Directed and written by: Gary Dauberman

Cast: McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga etc.

Having watched the Dead Don’t Die (2019), I decided to make the most of my Odeon Limitless card and watch the next instalment in a franchise which shows absolutely no sign of dying. I really liked The Conjuring and Insidious franchises, which involved horror experts including James Wan and Leigh Whannell. However, the monstrous creations such as Annabelle and The Nun are pretty thin in terms of credible horror threat and cinematic quality. Having said that this latest film Annabelle 3 film already made $200 million at the box office, so what do I know!?

The story is pretty threadbare, but it concerns Ed and Lorraine Warren’s demonic spirit room which, for some bizarre reason they entrust a teenage babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and their daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), NOT to open while they’re away. Guess what happens? A friend of Mary Ellen, Daniela (Katie Sarife), opens the spirit room and all hell breaks loose due to Annabelle the evil doll causing all the devilish spirits to rise up and frighten the characters half to death.

I actually liked the cast of young actors here, most notably McKenna Grace, who is very talented. Daniela’s character also had some decent motivation for her ridiculous actions as she sought closure with her dead father. At times I was quite fearful due to some decent jump scares, deadly creatures and creepy use of lighting tricks. However, the whole thing seemed like a cash-in with new monsters being introduced to expand the franchise further. Even fine actors such as Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga seemed happy, laughing all the way to the bank with their book-ended cameos.

Mark: 5.5 out of 11

THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS: JUNE MOVIE ROUND-UP INCLUDING – MA (2019); GODZILLA 2 (2019); EXTREMELY WICKED. . . (2019) ETC.

CINEMA FIX PRESENTS: JUNE MOVIE REVIEW ROUND-UP

After the relative cinematic highs of Avengers: Endgame (2019) and John Wick 3 (2019), I’ve been choosing my battles in regard to the big budget blockbuster movies currently released at the cinema. I’m sure they are very good but I have swerved Aladdin (2019) and Rocketman (2019) as they did not appeal to me.

Anyway, I’ve mixed up some of my film viewing choices so far this month with big and lower budget films at the cinema and via online streaming platforms. Here are some mini-reviews with the usual marks out of eleven.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

MA (2019) – ODEON CINEMA

Like Isabelle Huppert in Greta (2019), another amazing actress takes on the role of a disturbed matriarch figure with terrifying aplomb. Indeed, Octavia Spencer is absolutely brilliant in her role as the seemingly kind but ultimately vicious avenging angel, Sue Ann Ellington A.K.A, ‘Ma.’ The story begins with a casual encounter between some teenagers and Sue Ann. They are after illicit alcohol and somewhere to party. What starts innocently then spirals into a full-on psychological horror movie by the end.

The script slowly builds the tension as Ma’s plan carefully moves from convivial host to the unhinged nutter. I liked that they developed Ma’s character motivation beyond the standard cardboard cut-out pantomime villain. Plus, the levels of gore and suspense were darkly enjoyable. Thematically, the film has some familiar genre tropes such as: the new girl trying to fit in; rebellious teens being taught a lesson; past events creating a vengeful monster; and an element of Munchausen’s by proxy etc. However, these aren’t really developed and are window-dressing to the twisted joy of watching Octavia Spencer go into full “bunny boiler” mode and then some!!

Mark: 8 out of 11

GODZILLA 2: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019) – ODEON CINEMA

Despite really enjoying King Kong: Skull Island (2017) I wasn’t bothered about watching this sequel to the recent Godzilla (2014), because Godzilla/Gojira is a fundamentally dull creature. I get that it’s a cultural phenomenon in Japan; one that reflects the horror of nuclear devastation; however, on the big screen it’s usually a lumbering lizard which, while presenting a strong visual image, is essentially all about destruction. The first film I found pretty boring with too little of Godzilla to make it very exciting. Thankfully, the sequel goes monster mad and you get four fantastic beasts for your money.

Thus, for sheer energy and the appearances of Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and Ghidorah, all battling each other at various times, Michael Dougherty and his production team deserve some credit. However, the mistake they made was trying to give the story an interesting human angle. While the cast, including Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown, did their best as the dysfunctional nuclear family, they were poorly established, creating an empathy vacuum that just got in the way of the monster stuff. Overall, it’s clumsy B-movie narrative is blown away by the impressive visuals, in a mostly waste-of-budget and ultimately forgettable cinema experience.

Mark: 6 out of 11

EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE (2019) – SKY CINEMA

If you have read or seen anything about the life of infamous serial-killer Ted Bundy, then this psychological drama doesn’t necessarily tell you anything you do not know. Bundy terrorized an abundance of innocent victims across many of the States in America, for much of the 1970s. A conventionally attractive, intelligent and charming manipulator on the outside, he hid a venal desire to attack, assault and murder young women.

Bundy denied these attacks until the very last, as Joe Berlinger’s solid biopic shows Bundy’s actions and character from the perspective of his girlfriend, Elizabeth Kendall (Lily Collins). The film takes a while to kick into gear but when we get to the prison escapes and court cases then the horror of Bundy’s crimes really impacts. Zac Efron is a revelation as Bundy and he owns the screen with a performance of magnetic evil. The final chilling scene where Kendall confronts him through the glass is a particularly memorable exchange.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11

THE PERFECTION (2019) – NETFLIX

This horror film started if off brilliantly. It begins with two talented musicians (Alison Williams and Logan Browning) meeting and taking time out of their schedule to tour rural China. Suddenly, one of them is attacked by a flesh-eating virus and you think so far, so nasty! However, it soon undoes the excellent opening by descending into a non-sensical revenge story full of plot-holes. To be honest the themes exploring: #MeToo and #Time’sUp combined with a critique of toxic-svengali-masculinity were absolutely fascinating. It’s a shame the sub-Cronenberg narrative fell apart by the end, as the gory events unfold with little sense of empathy or logic. Indeed, I’m still baffled what any of it had to do with classical music!!

Mark: 5.5 out of 11