Tag Archives: horror

Cinema Review: Tár (2022)

Cinema Review: Tár (2022)

Written and directed by Todd Field

Produced by: Todd Field, Alexandra Milchan and Scott Lambert

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Noémie Merlant, Nina Hoss, Sophie Kauer, Julian Glover, Allan Corduner, Mark Strong etc.

Cinematography Florian Hoffmeister

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Tar (definition): a dark, thick flammable liquid distilled from wood or coal, consisting of a mixture of hydrocarbons, resins, alcohols, and other compounds. It is used in road-making and for coating and preserving timber.

Todd Field’s classical film masterpiece, Tár (2022), was hailed by critics when released late last year in the U.S.A and made many top ten film of the year lists. I saw it in the first week of 2023 and while I don’t always concur with the gushing hyperbole of professional film critics, I have to say if I see a better cinema release all year I will be amazed. Let’s hope I do.

Tár (2022) is a film which works on many genre and narrative layers. It is a psychological drama, an absorbing character study, a backstage musical, a complex morality play, with suggestions of hallucinatory horror during the final act of the film. It is a triumph of filmic brilliance expertly delivered by Todd Field. It is incredible to think this is only the third film he has directed. Certainly a case of high quality over quantity. But Field confirms himself an auteur, exerting absolute control over the material. Such is his, and the production team’s, meticulous research, writing, planning, design and execution that if I hadn’t seen the credits, I would have said the maestro Stanley Kubrick had made this film.



Tár (2022) opens with haunting singing over the imaginatively presented credits that slowly fill a black screen. Field demonstrates control from the start before we are introduced to Lydia Tár (Cate Blanchett). Now, I thought the film may have been a story about a female conductor attempting to break into a traditionally male dominated world. However, Lydia Tár is at the top of her game as a conductor and composer, heralded for her genius interpretations of the music of Mahler and own oeuvre. Plus, having won numerous awards for her cinema, theatre and television compositions. Lydia Tár is soaring and about to release a book Tár on Tár and conduct a live recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony for the Berlin Philharmonic. So, where’s the drama? What could go wrong?

Field structures the linear narrative around Tár’s day-to-day working and family life and the process of rehearsing Mahler’s Fifth. Methodically we are then introduced to actions from Tár’s recent past which threaten to haunt her. As a character who is so revered and in control of her world, Tár’s talent and confidence is magnetic and admirable. However, having no doubt been a force of nature to make it this competitive world, her arrogance and lack of awareness of a changing culture threatens to cancel her prodigiously built dominion. I won’t say anymore but Todd Field brilliantly explores resonating themes of the zeitgeist with razor-sharp intelligence. There are no easy answers either.

I could not take my eyes or mind off the screen during Tár (2022). It is cerebrally, aesthetically and psychologically all-encompassing. The stark cinematography, exhilarating classically-driven soundtrack, imposing Berlin architecture and claustrophobic feel of the Philharmonic offices and rehearsal spaces collude to create further emotional tension. Further, the film not only works impressively as absorbing drama, but also as interpretive ambiguity with subtle and mysterious suspense. Lastly, if Cate Blanchett does not win a best acting Oscar for her performance in Tár (2022) I will be stunned. Never less than metronomically astounding, Blanchett has taken Field’s precise writing and breathed physical, mental and spiritual vivacity into a challenging personality. Thus, take many-a-bow maestros, Blanchett and Field. Encore! Encore! Encore!

Mark: 10 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: BONES AND ALL (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: BONES AND ALL (2022)

Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Screenplay by David Kajganich

Based on Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis

Produced by: Luca Guadagnino, Theresa Park, Marco Morabito, David Kajganich, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Lorenzo Mieli, Gabriele Moratti, Peter Spears, Timothée Chalamet

Cast: Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, André Holland, Chloë Sevigny, David Gordon Green, Jessica Harper, Jake Horowitz, Mark Rylance, etc.

Cinematography: Arseni Khachaturan

*** CONTAINS STORY SPOILERS ***



After reviewing The Menu (2022) last time out, here’s another film where food and eating and death are at the very marrow of the narrative. I must confess though it’s very difficult to discuss the excellent hybrid genre film, Bones and All (2022) without giving away the main ingredient within this film. So, I give prior warning that I’m going to have to reveal it in the review. I will state therefore if this film had been called, Fine Young Cannibals, I would not have been surprised in the least. Because the theme of people eating human meat is at the heart of the story.

Bones and All (2022) is not a B-movie zombie film with bloody images of flesh-eating monsters devouring people. Yes, there are some gory scenes to satisfy horror fans, however, this arthouse adaptation of Camille DeAngelis’ 2016 novel, is more subtle and sympathetic to the young protagonists with a yearning for mortal flesh. Here murder and cannibalism occur, but it is represented as a curse for both Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothee Chalamet), who struggle with their consumptive urges. Moreover, the feeding on flesh is highly symbolic, representing a sensual and almost religious experience for the couple. As they travel across various States, they grow as characters and people. They also explore their own love and share other people’s bodies, romance bleeding through in the process.



Bones and All (2022) is set in the 1980s. It begins with teenager Maren living with her father (Andre Holland) in Virginia. After hitting eighteen years of age, and causing a particularly nasty event at a friend’s sleepover, she is abandoned by him. Left with a cassette tape explaining her family history, Maren sets out to find her mother, meeting Lee along the way. The two are immediately drawn to each other and while driving set about sating their desire for fresh meat. This causes conflict between the couple as it is clear they are not comfortable with the nasty business of killing. Unlike the pursuing serial-killer-trophy-collecting antagonist, Sully (Mark Rylance). He is a venal force of nature, taking animalistic glee during the sacrifice of his victims.

Bones and All (2022) is directed with glacial majesty by Luca Guadagnino. He expertly blends and cooks the genres of horror, period drama, rites-of-passage, romance and road movie with a well balanced approach to tone. Extracting attractive performances from Chalamet and Russell, their onscreen chemistry is potent and touching. Acting legend Mark Rylance steals the show though as the slithery Sully. Overall, I felt the film could have been cut for pace slightly and the Romeo and Juliet-with-a-twist ending was too tragic for me. I think, despite their cannibalistic needs, Maren and Lee deserved a future together. But ultimately it’s all a matter of taste.

Mark: 8 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: THE MENU (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE MENU (2022)

Directed by Mark Mylod

Written by: Seth Reiss, Will Tracy

Produced by: Adam McKay, Betsy Koch, Will Ferrell

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Reed Birney, Judith Light, John Leguizamo, etc.

Cinematography Peter Deming

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



I love cinema and films like The Menu (2022), as much as I love food and drink. Wow, some of the food shown on screen looked absolutely delicious, while some of it was that weird cuisine so gorged on by the pompous moneyed folk of this world. I must admit that I have had an unhealthy relationship with food. I have been an overeater and also overweight. I am a food addict, notably sugar and alcohol. I have attempted to control it with various dietary ventures. Low calorie, low carbohydrate, low sugar, running, gym, fasting, temperance and other (un)successful attempts at moderation have ensued. Presently, I am pretty fit from a cardio perspective, and twenty kilos lighter than I was ten years ago. But I could do much better.

I’ve always strived to eat healthily, but fine dining was never really for me. It was only when I met my wife eight years ago that I was introduced to gourmet dining and the dreaded tasting menu. Aside from the over-priced food, I just find those posh restaurants too pretentious for a working-class boy from Battersea. Yet, I would go out with my wife for a treat and eat at some wonderful restaurants in Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Cornwall, London and many more. Some were amazing and some I found were not really value for money. The personality cult of the celebrity chef continues to thrive also. Aside from enjoying Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares they’ve never really interested me. Yet, I was onboard while imbibing the skewered satire of The Menu (2022). Because it’s a sharply scripted horror film which comes to the boil slowly before delivering a killer set of courses throughout.



It’s best to experience The Menu (2022) without knowing too much. The surprises in the inventive script are a constant joy. The setting is an exclusive and expensive restaurant on a remote island called Hawthorne. The host, menu architect and epicurean is celebrity chef, Julian Slowik. Chef is portrayed with intense control and focus by Ralph Fiennes. Slowik finds himself worshipped by his kitchen acolytes, who adhere to his every demand. He is brilliant and to be feared, like many a charismatic cult leader before him. Eat your heart out, Gordon Ramsay.

Arriving by boat to the blighted isle are twelve restaurant-goers such as a team of rich finance guys, a once famous Hollywood actor (John Leguizamo) and his PA, a wealthy middle-aged couple, a food critic (Janet McTeer) and her yes-man assistant, plus the mis-matched couple, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult). Tyler is a sycophantic fanboy of Slowik’s food and career, something that later comes to horrifying catharsis. Indeed, as well as the mysterious menu, many of the guests are harbouring a secret that this hell’s kitchen is more than prepared to burn.

Structured, unsurprisingly, around the courses of a tasting menu with titles separating each dish, the food delivered is both imaginative and beautifully presented. Margot’s character pushes back on what she considers to be both ostentatious and insubstantial food, much to Tyler’s annoyance. Their conflict intersperses the rising suspense that derives from Julian’s menu, which raises the stakes gradually, before events truly reach boiling point. In Slowik’s restaurant the customer is definitely NEVER right. Similar to Ready or Not (2019), The Menu (2022) is a fantastically twisted and funny genre film. Fiennes, Taylor-Joy, Hoult and Hong Chau are on terrific acting form. Further, the production design and cinematography make the visuals succulent and palatable. Ultimately, for those who love food, fear and vengeance, this film is certainly best served hot!

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: BLONDE (2022)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: BLONDE (2022)

Directed and written by: Andrew Dominik

Based on: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

Produced by: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Tracey Landon, Scott Robertson

Main cast: Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Xavier Samuel, Julianne Nicholson, Evan Williams, Toby Huss, David Warshofsky, Caspar Phillipson, etc.

Cinematography: Chayse Irvin

*** CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS ***



Aside from expertly directing episodes of the Netflix drama, Mindhunter and the documentary One More Time with Feeling (2016), filmmaker Andrew Dominik’s directorial output has been sparse of late. Indeed, he hasn’t released a feature film since quirky gangster drama, Killing Them Softly (2012). I imagine this is due to many reasons including: slow-gestating methodology, several unrealized projects failing to see a greenlight, and the dreaded COVID-19. It’s a shame as I believe he is one of the most compelling filmmakers around at present. Chopper (2000) remains one of my favourite cult stories about a charismatic, larger-than-life criminal anti-hero. Similarly, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) is one of the best films I have seen from the last twenty years.  It was pretty much a box-office flop but everything about it screamed greatness to me: stunning cinematography; brilliant cast; and resonating themes regarding celebrity and legend in the Wild West.

After Chopper Read and Jesse James, once again Dominik explores the iconic life of a real person in Blonde (2022). You may have heard of her, Norma Jean Mortenson/Baker, or as she was more famously known: Marilyn Monroe. Using Joyce Carol Oates’ book as a springboard, plus no doubt many other written, visual and media sources available, Dominik has crafted a stylish and singular vision of the peroxide icon’s life and career. In no doubt should a viewer believe this to be a “true” story in the documentary-drama style, but rather an impressionistic, poetic and compelling imagining of Marilyn’s short, yet tumultuous, existence on this planet.

For me, Marilyn Monroe was one of the most stunning movie stars who ever existed. She lit up the screen and was a mightily under-rated actor also. In her heyday she was the biggest star in the world. Her role as Sugar in Some Like it Hot (1959), is one of the most gorgeously funny, beautiful and vulnerable performances ever committed to celluloid. Enter Ana De Armas as Marilyn in Blonde (2022). De Armas is a revelation on-screen in terms of her looks, movement, body language and the nuanced depth she brings to the screen siren. It’s a brave role too as the script demands much of her. Throughout many exquisitely filmed and edited scenes lies the ugly degradation of Marilyn’s body and soul. De Armas gives her all in these vignettes of domestic abuse, sexual assault, rape, abortions, overdoses, miscarriages, mental breakdowns and further sexual gaslighting at the hands of people she believed were friends.



So, why should you want to watch Blonde (2022), you may ask yourself. Well, De Armas’s performance alone is worth enduring much of the emotionally draining misery. Moreover, Dominik again proves himself to be a director of the highest quality. He’s a maverick and iconoclast who has an impressive and intelligent cinematic eye. The opening sequence where Norma, as a young child, is driven by her unwell mother through Los Angeles forest fires is a frightening and imperious interpretation of mental health, full of fear, heat, and portentous symbolism. Such fire and trauma foreshadows the distress and torment that is to come to young Norma throughout her life. A schizophrenic Mother also echoes the schism of persona that impacts Norma the individual, and Marilyn the movie star. The division of personalities is a theme which the screenplay sensitively explores, despite being buried in the more lurid and shocking events of Marilyn’s sad life.

Overall, Blonde (2022) is a startling and shocking rendition of Marilyn Monroe. Of course, hers was an existence full of drama, intensity, darkness and tragedy. But you have to think there was some light in there, some happiness, humour and joy. On some fleeting occasions during Blonde (2022), Dominik presents this, but ultimately this is a beautifully filmed yet ugly-hearted cinematic tragedy. On the surface the film genre is biopic, but it really is a horror film, as Marilyn’s exploitation by the men in her life is laid bare on the screen. I’ve read some critics describe the film as exploitational, however, this is a film ABOUT exploitation. Marilyn was exploited by agents, photographers, directors, producers, the press, the Hollywood system, the audience, her doctors, her lovers, her husbands and a President of the United States.

Dominik is perhaps suggesting Monroe did not kill herself, but was disintegrated by those who should have loved and cared for her. The ultimate tragedy is that Norma/Marilyn could not find the love and mental strength inside herself to survive those who perpetually sought to profit from this beautiful shining star. If the events realised in Blonde (2022) are to be believed, what person could?

Mark: 8 out of 11


FIVE REASONS THIS COULD BE GOOD: COCAINE BEAR (2023)

FIVE REASONS THIS COULD BE GOOD: COCAINE BEAR (2023)

Every now and then a film title hooks you in immediately. Snakes on a Plane (2006) anyone? Now, another beast driven movie comes along and says, “Hold. . . My. . . Bear!”Enter the thrill-a-second trailer for – Cocaine Bear (2023)!

So here are five reasons, Cocaine Bear (2023) could be good!

  1. The title of the film is Cocaine Bear (2023)!
  2. It has a kill crazy bear high on cocaine in it!
  3. It is amazingly inspired by a TRUE story!
  4. It’s Ray Liotta’s R.I.P, final film.
  5. The trailer is amazing – check it out here:

Cocaine Bear (2023) releases on February 24th 2023 in the US, UK and most of the world exclusively in movie theatres.

[BOOK REVIEW] Directing Great Television: Inside TV’s New Golden Age – by Dan Attias

Directing Great Television: Inside TV’s New Golden Age – by Dan Attias  – Review by Paul Laight

The opening quotes of praise from a myriad of industry colleagues will make my little review pale into insignificance, as there is no doubt that Dan Attias is a director of some repute, expertise, and experience. Here is an Emmy-nominated director who has worked on an incredible list of amazing television shows such as: Miami Vice, Beauty and the Beast, Wolf, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Sopranos, The Wire, House, Homeland, Witness (Peter Weir), Northern Exposure, Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, The Americans, The Killing, The Boys, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Friday Night Lights, etc.

With such a breath of experience Dan Attias therefore offers much to those seeking insight into the world of directing high quality TV. Moreover, it will also give priceless advice to those seeking a career in directing for all forms of creative media. It is structured and presented eloquently in a language that doesn’t blind the reader with techno-speak either.

The author began as an actor before moving into directing. In fact he states that the best training he had for directing was being an actor. Dan Attias moved from in front of the camera to behind it as assistant director for Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola before directing the feature film Silver Bullet (1985). After which he moved into directing episodic television. 

Throughout the book, the author shares his wealth of experiences, highs, lows, and scars got from directing many great TV shows of recent years. Dan Attias does not glamorise the industry but illustrates that the craft of television production is all about the hard work and harder knocks. He advises honing one’s craft through being prepared, with collaboration also being vital. It’s a fast-paced endeavour where choices can often go wrong. But learning from those mistakes builds one’s directorial nous. Preparation is invaluable. Even if episodic television does not always allow it. The director will often arrive late to the party as it were with the showrunners, writers, actors, and pre-production crew having worked months developing a project.



I was seriously inspired by many of Dan Attias’ informative anecdotes. Having worked in both drama and comedy it is clear he is not just a point-and-shoot director. One senses a burning desire on his part to tell stories an imaginative, creative, and emotionally interesting style. Moreover, the book provides key insight into the rehearsal process, positioning actors, use of lenses, shifting points-of-view within scenes, framing, background mise-en-scene and of course lighting. For Attias, above all else, engaging with the environment is imperative as, “Each scene is staging a journey.”

As well as the technical knowledge delivered, the author continually promotes the idea that coordinating positively with showrunners and writers is integral when creating the best work. That does not mean there won’t be disagreements or having to overcome material which appears dramatically unpromising. It is the director’s job to be creative and collaborative while breathing new life into well-known characters within long running shows. 

The final chapters share excellent scene breakdowns from the author’s experience of working on three different TV shows, Snowfall, Manhattan, and Good Girls Revolt. Here he delivers a fine perspective of a director’s vision, using the camera and stylistic choices to tell the story, both following and breaking the rules. If you’re breaking the rules you may face conflict from certain crew members, but it is all about staying confident in one’s vision for the storytelling. Overall, Attias’ honesty in overcoming difficult creative moments is to be admired.

Some may think that television was always the lesser cousin, locked in the artistic attic when compared to the noble art of cinema. No more though as programmes such as Game of Thrones, The Wire, The Sopranos, Homeland, Breaking Bad, and many more have proved. Such classic television finds the writing, cinematography, acting and increased production values, elevating their status to the cinematic. The old-school image of a 1970’s TV director shouting at a bank of monitors giving orders to the beleaguered floor manager and cast in a studio is now gone. Dan Attias and his book are testament to that.

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Buy the book from here:

Publication from https://mwp.com/product/directing-great-television-inside-tvs-new-golden-age/  

Michael Wiese Productions (MWP) was launched in San Francisco in 1976 primarily to produce films. Today, the company is known worldwide having published some 200 books. Some of the bestsellers have been translated into 18 languages, are used in over 700 film courses, in the Hollywood studios and by emerging filmmakers.

Paul Laight is a screenwriter, filmmaker, and blogger. In 2005, he formed Fix Films and has written and produced many shorts and other promos. Many of his films have been screened all over the world at various film festivals.

Paul is currently working on feature and short film scripts for future productions. His work can be found here: 

https://www.youtube.com/c/FixFilmsLtd 

https://thecinemafix.com/

CINEMA REVIEW: THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (2022)

Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh

Produced by: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin & Martin McDonagh

Main Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan, etc.

Cinematography: Ben Davis

Edited by: Mikkel E. G. Nielsen

Music by: Carter Burwell

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) is Martin McDonagh’s latest cinematic masterpiece. Not only is it one of the best films of the year he has, as with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), constructed one of the most formidable screenplays of many a year. As a playwright McDonagh has won many awards for his works. His debut film, In Bruges (2008), was a deceptively simple story of two hitmen on the run which, with rich thematic power, became a darkly hilarious existential cult classic. His follow-up Seven Psychopaths (2012), a heady mix of criminals versus writers in a meta-fictional Hollywood-based narrative was brilliantly written and acted, if slightly lacking thematic clarity. Like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) is a highly emotional human drama which contains intelligent allegory, incredible characterization, and cracking dialogue.

Set in 1923 on an island off of Southern Ireland called aptly Inisherin, the film opens by focussing on genial everyman farmer, Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and his daily routine. After tending to his animals, he usually calls for his friend, Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) to go to the island pub, the J.J. Devine or Jonjo’s. In England there is an idiom called, “sending someone to Coventry.” This means to ignore or ostracize an individual or individuals. So, basically Colm chooses to do this to his long-standing friend, Pádraic. This shunning completely bemuses Pádraic and despite Colm’s pleading for Pádraic to respect his wishes, he continually seeks an answer to his former friend’s decision.



After this intriguing premise is established, what follows is a tremendously original, darkly funny and emotionally penetrating succession of scenes. The exchanges between the two characters begins as bickering but then descends into some seriously disturbing acts of recrimination. Attempting to make them see sense are various eccentric characters on the island who provide many witty and absurd exchanges that McDonagh specialises in. Further, Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) is almost the one voice of reason as the feud escalates. As she tries to diffuse the conflict, even Barry Keoghan’s young idiot, Dominic Kearney, the initial comic relief in the film, attempts to make these two men see sense.

Visually, The Banshees of Inisherin (2022), is incredibly rich. The territory displays gorgeously photographed shots of the rocks, the sea, the stone roads and the lush green countryside. But while there is a sense of expanse and freedom initially, the feeling of isolation pervades. As the story continues the characters feel more and more segregated by the sea and their own or other’s decisions. None more so than Farrell’s Pádraic. A simple man who just wants to do his work and get drunk with his friend, he finds he is sequestered by Colm’s desire to self-isolate and concentrate on his music. Here, Farrell and Gleeson give tremendous character work. Farrell especially has rarely been better as Pádraic’s attitude turns initially from shock to bitterness over the journey of the narrative.



A film director’s job is for me about making key creative choices. Martin McDonagh makes brilliant choices while working from his own exceptional script. I loved everything about The Banshees of Inisherin (2022). The look, the performances, the pacing, the locations and Carter Burwell’s phenomenal score are absolutely first class. I haven’t even mentioned Barry Keoghan’s memorable supporting turn. He surely is one of the most naturally gifted actors of his generation. Not to forget other striking characters in the ensemble such as the creepy, Mrs McCormick (Sheila Flitton), an old harridan who acts as a portent for death on the island.

Martin McDonagh expertly combines a superb ear for dialogue, a psychologically absorbing analysis of the human condition with elements from Waiting For Godot and Channel Four situation comedy, Father Ted. Above all else, The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) is a darkly, spectacular cinematic experience which works on many levels. On one level it is about the isolation of island life and its inhabitants. On another it’s about the death of a friendship. While on yet another level it is about the analogous absurdity of civil war and how conflict can start for the merest of reasons. While the best cinema is certainly about showing and not telling, McDonagh proves again that dialogue-driven films can produce cinematic theatre, comedy and tragedy of the highest order.

Mark: 10 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: SMILE (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: SMILE (2022)

Directed and written by Parker Finn

Based on Laura Hasn’t Slept by Parker Finn

Produced by: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner, Robert Salerno, Gabby Olivera

Cast: Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Kyle Gallner, Caitlin Stasey, Kal Penn, Rob Morgan, etc.

Cinematography: Charlie Sarroff



If you search YouTube by typing ‘short horror film’ you will find hundreds of really good and often scary, surprisingly enough, short horror films. A great majority of them will have a lengthy suspenseful set-up, before ending on a startling jump scare. The model itself is arguably overdone, however, it is an excellent set-up-punchline structure for new filmmakers to learn film techniques and scare the viewers. Many such short videos go viral and, in the case of Laura Hasn’t Slept by Parker Finn, get picked up for feature development. Hence, we have Parker Finn’s film debut, Smile (2022).

Smile (2022) opens with a suggestion of childhood trauma for lead protagonist, psychiatrist Doctor Rose Cotter when a child. The action then moves to the present day and brings us Rose’s confrontation with the disturbed patient, Laura. What follows is an expertly crafted and incredibly disturbing sequence, which plunges Rose into major threat from a nefarious force. Parker Finn then slowly builds Rose’s psychological breakdown as she experiences hallucinations, frights and memory loss as her partner, family and friends find her behaviour to be disturbing to say the least. A particularly grisly scene at a child’s birthday party was especially deadly and memorable.



As the film continues, I could not help but be reminded of both The Ring (1998/2002) and It Follows (2014) in terms of the story beats. Rose, while being pursued by some unknown demon, faces a race against time to avoid death. Both the aforementioned films are far superior as they have more plot and characterisation to propel the running time. Indeed, one of the major issues with Smile (2022) is that 115 minutes are too long for the character arc Rose Cotter is given. By the time her character revelation is complete it has taken an eternity to get there. Moreover, I was suffering jump-scare fatigue by the end, thus rendering the scarily horrific monster reveal to feel fearfully redundant.

Yet, Smile (2022) has an impactful thematic spine. While It Follows (2014) dealt with the threat of sexual disease within the subtext, Parker Finn’s debut powerfully delves into the impact of grief, guilt and mental health. Having said that, the narrative could have dug more into Rose’s past to really reveal the trauma she suffered as a child. Personally, I think a longer set-up of her character while growing up would have increased the drama. But Parker Finn gets an excellent performance from Sosie Bacon throughout, even if her perpetual appearance on screen as the harassed and troubled victim eventually promotes further fatigue. A scene-stealing exchange between Bacon and the electric Rob Morgan suggests his character should be lead in the inevitable horror sequel.

Mark: 7 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: DON’T WORRY DARLING (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW – DON’T WORRY DARLING (2022)

Directed by: Olivia Wilde

Screenplay by: Katie Silberman – Story by Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke and Katie Silberman

Produced by: Olivia Wilde, Katie Silberman, Miri Yoon, Roy Lee

Main Cast: Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Olivia Wilde, Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, Chris Pine etc.

Cinematography Matthew Libatique

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Part arthouse character study, part science fiction social satire and eventually a rushed concertinaed thriller, the Olivia Wilde directed, Don’t Worry Darling (2022) is a visual feast, anchored by Florence Pugh’s devastatingly brilliant performance. However, the ambition of the themes remains hamstrung by pacing and structure which fails to serve the story to its full potential.

Set within a utopian 1950’s sun blanched town called Victory, Wilde and her writers throw us straight into the hedonistic lives of a set of youthful and dynamic couples, drinking, partying and sexing. They work and play hard. Well, the husbands work as the dutiful women stay at home cleaning and churning out kids. So far-so-Stepford Wives! At the heart of Don’t Worry Darling (2022) is Pugh as the loyal but inquisitive, Alice. Her husband, Jack (Harry Styles) is ambitious, seeking the approval of big boss, the hubristic Frank (Chris Pine). When Alice begins to experience Kafkaesque dreams of feeling trapped by her daily life, she slowly realises all is not quite perfect in paradise.


No one does anguish and anxiety on screen like Florence Pugh. As Alice falls deeper down the rabbit hole of despair, Pugh produces true cinematic power once again. Olivia Wilde also brings a compelling image system to fully visualise Alice’s hellish descent. In comparison, the male characters are far less developed and the exchanges between Pugh and Styles, especially in the final act, are really lacking in dramatic punch. Styles himself I felt was miscast, but he does have an engaging screen presence. It’s just I didn’t feel enough threat from him.

Structurally, Don’t Worry Darling (2022) is also flawed. The major reveal comes way too late to assuage the pacing issues. While the narrative contains some striking visual set-pieces there are too many parties, barbecues and social events getting in the way of the potential thrills that could have occurred if Alice had discovered her plight much earlier. Overall, there is too much set-up and not enough punch. The longer you wait to reveal the twist, the bigger the revelation needs to be. The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone have done this style of story with more emotional impact and better economy. Pugh and Wilde though prove once again they are major talents and thematically speaking it’s good that men get another kick in. Men are fast becoming the go-to villains of this century and long may it continue.

Mark: 6.5 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: NOPE (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: NOPE (2022)

Directed by Jordan Peele

Written by Jordan Peele

Produced by: Jordan Peele and Ian Cooper


Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott, Brandon Perea, Wrenn Schmidt, Barbie Ferreira, Keith David, etc.

Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Following on from the Oscar winning, Get Out (2017), and the should-have-won-an-Oscar-for-Best-Actress-in-Lupita-Nyong’o, Us (2019), Jordan Peele is back with the enigmatically titled, and equally ambiguous sci-fi-Western-horror film, NOPE (2022). Taking on writing and directing duties again, Peele has delivered a majestic looking cinematic feast, brimming with incredibly memorable images involving horses, chimpanzees, cinema, waving inflatables, surveillance cameras, carnival shows, and something very large that comes from beyond the clouds.

So, what’s Nope (2022) actually about? Well, put simply it’s all about cowboys and girls overcoming a monster. But it is much more than that. Because, narratively speaking it is difficult to sum up in a few sentences. Peele builds his most complex film to date by delivering a series of visually powerful set-pieces throughout. He also challenges the audience with an intelligent visual system which thematically links television, cinema, cameras, Hollywood, animals and a spectacular eye in the sky. Like Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) and Martin Scorsese’s religious epics, Nope (2022), is what I consider to be a big-budget, arthouse blockbuster.



The film, which is divided into chapters, establishes brother, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer), trying valiantly to keep the family ranch from going under. Once thriving under their father’s management, the ranch would supply horses to the Hollywood conveyor belt of A-list and B-movie Westerns. With such work now in short supply, OJ is forced to sell horses to local theme park owner, Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), however, he vows to get them back when business improves. But a bigger threat is soon looming over the ranch.

Kaluuya’s performance as OJ is laconic, invoking pure Robert Mitchum. Did I like and root for OJ? Sort of. Keke Palmer as Emerald brought the energy to the screen, but I never felt the two characters really gelled with the themes successfully. Peele’s intellectual leaps, while thought-provoking, barriered an emotional connection within Nope (2022). Likewise, Yuen’s Jupe is given a tremendously imaginative and powerful backstory which brings us into his character, but ultimately fails to pay off dramatically. In fact, these scenes felt like they were from a different film altogether. Indeed, Peele uses the sci-fi monster genre to hang his view of the world on, not always to maximum impact.

While the characterisations and themes arguably fail to gel within the screenplay, it is visually where Nope (2022) really soars. Hoyte van Hoytema should sweep he board come awards time. Further, Peele creates an optical banquet by juxtaposing the majestic vistas of the Californian landscape with modern camera and surveillance equipment, plus those colourful inflatable dummies. Then there’s the thing that is “Not Of Planet Earth”. What is it and what does it represent? Who is watching and controlling and feeding on us? Peele’s challenging concepts are to be applauded within the genre blockbuster, but I just wanted to be scared and care a bit more. On additional viewings, Nope (2022), may be considered a masterpiece, but at the moment it could be one of those great films which I kind of didn’t like. As discussed previously here.

Mark: 8 out of 11