Tag Archives: Netflix

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


AMAZON FILM REVIEW – I CARE A LOT (2020)

AMAZON FILM REVIEW – I CARE A LOT (2020)

Directed by: J Blakeson

Produced by: Teddy Schwarzman, Ben Stillman, Michael Heimler, J Blakeson

Written by: J Blakeson

Cast: Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Chris Messina, Macon Blair, Alicia Witt, Damian Young, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Dianne Wiest, etc.

Music by: Marc Canham

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



Strange that this highly entertaining and acid-humoured thriller should be a Netflix release overseas, but in the U.K. released via Amazon Prime. Anyway, streaming platform aside was I Care A Lot (2020) any good? Firstly, let’s talk about genre. Do you enjoy watching films without any redeemable or essentially heroic characters? Do you enjoy spending time with criminals? Whether they are the charismatic kind like those in Goodfellas (1990) or Layercake (2004), or romantic kind in Drive (2011), or ultra-ambitious types such as Lou Bloom in neo-noir masterpiece, Nightcrawler (2014). If you do, then you will both love and hate Rosamund Pike’s confident sociopath, Marla Grayson!

J Blakeson’s razor-sharp and barb-cracking screenplay opens with Marla’s brutally honest statement of intent. She wants it all and doesn’t care who she crushes to get it. Unlike, Lou Bloom, who was on his knees broke when we meet him, Marla already has a successful, legal but morally repugnant business going on. Marla and her associate and partner, Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) run a successful ‘Guardian Angel’ corporation. Their modus operandi is to exploit the elderly and tie them up in legal knots to asset-strip their money, properties and belongings. Complicit Doctors and retirement home directors are also in on the con, while the most frightening thing is that the American justice system assists the process. If I had had a gun, I would have shot the television after forty minutes, such was my anger toward Marla and her sordid business practices. Then she inadvertently makes a fatal mistake in choosing her next mark, Dianne Wiest’s wealthy “cherry,” Jennifer Peterson. That is a rich retiree with NO relatives or children. Marla thinks it is Christmas come early – it has not!


See the source image

Without wishing to give away too much away, Peter Dinklage’s rich businessman, Roman, enters the narrative and Marla’s devious planning suddenly comes under threat. Here the film moves from spot-on satire into extremely generic territory losing the dynamism of the first half of the film. Indeed, the first hour of I Care A Lot (2020) was a fantastic critique of the care system in the USA, and no doubt across the world. In blood-boiling fashion the film tells us that getting old is extremely expensive. One can work all one’s life and then see your savings and properties ripped away by expensive health care, homes for the elderly, pharmaceutical companies jacking up their products, greedy carers and pernicious lawyers. Marla Grayson is a grinning symbol of this corrupt system and nothing will get in her way – not even Roman and his associates. This is perfectly encapsulated in a fine scene where Marla ruthlessly negotiates with Chris Messina’s slippery lawyer. But the suited shark is just the starter as Roman is now on the warpath.

Peter Dinklage again proves what a brilliant actor he is as Roman. He is extremely good at rage in many scenes. His and Marla’s ongoing battle comes to a head in the final act, and when he turns the tables on her I was so happy that she would get her comeuppance. I felt maybe the direction lost some focus in the second half of the film as J Blakeson arguably felt the audience should somehow side with Marla as she finds her life under threat. I can safely say that I wanted her to die in the most painful way possible. Because unlike the ‘Driver’ (Ryan Gosling) in Drive (2011), Marla Grayson is utterly beyond redemption. Not that she would care what anybody else thought! Overall, that’s why I found the film incredibly entertaining. It may have lost sharpness when it moved from socio-political tubthumping into more standard crime film territory, it continually made me feel proper emotion, anger mainly. Sure, it may be slightly overlong, but J Blakeson crams a lot of twists and shocks into into, I Care A Lot (2020).

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: MALCOLM AND MARIE (2021)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: MALCOLM AND MARIE (2021)

Directed by: Sam Levinson

Produced by:  Kevin Turen, Ashley Levinson, Sam Levinson, Zendaya, John David Washington

Written by: Sam Levinson

Cast: Zendaya, John David Washington

Music by: Labrinth

Cinematography: Marcell Rév

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



The Oscar nominations came out this week and due to the ongoing pandemic situation and consequent lockdowns, there are a number of films on the esteemed list which have yet to reach these shores, either at the cinema or via streaming platforms. Having said that, and I am aware space for nominees are limited and it has been a pretty strange year for cinema, but I was extremely surprised that Delroy Lindo did not receive an acting nomination in lead or supporting category. Similarly, I was also bewildered that Sam Levinson’s striking romantic drama, Malcolm and Marie (2021), had not received nominations in either screenplay or acting categories. Further, I was utterly shocked that critic’s reviews for the intense two-hander had been pretty mixed. Hey, it’s just opinions but I was really gripped by this highly theatrical and gorgeously cinematic two-hour argument in black-and-white. Personally, I think most of the deriders are wrong. But that’s just my view.

Maybe the film wasn’t liked because John David Washington’s, Malcolm, an up-and-coming filmmaker celebrating a successful premiere that evening, launches into a wonderfully eloquent rant about a review which he feels pigeonholes and patronises his film in purely political terms. I mean it’s actually a positive review, but who doesn’t enjoy ire toward professional critics. I mean, everyone has an opinion, or a view and the Internet has caused a mass proliferation and gaping spew of words and views and brain-thoughts in extremis. But Levinson’s script and Washington’s grandstanding acting spits that if you earn a living as a critic then you are essentially Satan! Perhaps some reviewers took umbrage with this? I loved the whole scene’s energy and Malcolm’s savage attack had me applauding throughout.



But Malcolm and Marie (2021) is more than Levinson getting back at those individuals who gave him bad reviews. It’s a sharp, funny, sexy and poignant exploration of a relationship close to breaking point. Malcolm and Marie may be different fighting weights, but they both punch hard and often. He is on a high after his film premiere success, but Marie is upset because he did not thank her during his speech. From there the conflict rises from light sparring to harsh emotional knockout blows. Both Malcolm and Marie tear at each other’s skin and flesh and figurative organs in an attempt to resolve the ever-increasing divide between them. Malcolm and Marie (2021), may not be for everyone, but any person who has been in a heated war of words with a partner or spouse, will identify with the inescapable tension on display. Levinson’s expert screenplay rides a rollercoaster journey of emotions as one moment you side with Marie and the next you’re with Malcolm. Yet, before you know it, you’re disliking both these complex, narcissistic, egotistical and infuriating humans.

Both Zendaya and John David Washington deserve so much praise for their performances in, Malcolm and Marie (2021). Washington has already demonstrated his massive talent in BlacKkKlansman (2018), while Zendaya excelled in recent HBO drama, Euphoria (2019). Levinson too directs with a deft skill. I was especially impressed by the way he balances the comedy and drama of these flailing humans, poking and picking at the scabs of each other’s past behaviour. Indeed, as well as containing some brilliant dialogue, the erudite script really sang to me. At times the coruscating repartee reminded me of Edward Albee’s acclaimed play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf. Nonetheless, for a dialogue and performance driven film, the precise framing and sumptuous black-and-white photography by Marcell Rév render the visuals wholly cinematic.

Sure, by the end of Malcolm and Marie (2021) is anything really resolved? And who is ultimately interested in this couple’s first world problems? Well, I’ve witnessed my parents fighting and also experienced such exhausting relationship arguments before. So, I must say that overall, I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing Malcolm and Marie’s nocturnal battle. Especially because I watched it all from the safety, warmth and comfort of my own home.

Mark: 8.5 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

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW – I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW – I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)

Directed by: Charlie Kaufman

Produced by: Anthony Bregman, Charlie Kaufman, Robert Salerno, Stephanie Azpiazu

Screenplay by: Charlie Kaufman (Based on: I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid)

Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis

Music by: Jay Wadley

Cinematography: Łukasz Żal

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



I read some background information online about Charlie Kaufman’s latest film adaptation for Netflix, I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020), and there is a leaning to describe it as a psychological horror. Of course, in order to market their films, studios write copy to entice an audience for their film. However, this adaptation of Iain Reid’s novel is far more than a psychological horror. It has elements from a whole plethora of genres including: surrealism, comedy, romance, thriller, arthouse, road movie, and even dance, animation and musical genres. Safe to say that once again Charlie Kaufman has delivered yet another ingenious cinematic smorgasbord that defies easy categorization. But is it any good?

The film opens gently with the lilting voice of Jessie Buckley’s voiceover. We hear her character deliver a set of poetic existential queries, and her mantra throughout the film: “I’m thinking of ending things. . .” over a set of seemingly unconnected images. She waits for her boyfriend of a couple of months, Jake (Jesse Plemons), as they plan to meet his parents, portrayed by David Thewlis and Toni Collette, for the first time at their farm. So far, so straightforward; kind of. However, as Jake and the young woman’s (whose name changes during the film) drive through picturesque and snowy landscapes, Kaufman intercuts to an elderly Janitor going about his cleaning duties at a high school. How these juxtaposed situations eventually marry together is open to many interpretations. While certainly obtuse and narratively impenetrable to many, I really connected with Kaufman’s surreal trip. Because I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) is certainly as much about the journey than the ultimate destination.


As he has demonstrated since his debut feature film screenplay, Being John Malkovich (1999), Kaufman has an urgent desire for original invention, sight gags, existential examination, exploration of mental health, relationship breakdowns, non-linear structure and intellectual discourse. The respective journeys of characters like Jake and the young woman are taken by road and in the mind. Whose mind the film is in and out of is also open to question. The car journey is treacherous both due to the weather and the anxious tension between the couple. This is brought about by the young woman desiring to end things. Is it her life or her relationship she wants to end? Or is it both? Things between the two aren’t made easier by the surreal visit to Jake’s parents’ farm. Thewlis and Collette inject much humour and pathos into their characters. Their performances, a succession of visual punchlines and the brilliant dialogue combine to really bring the film to life during the middle act.

After the couple leave the parents’ farm and head back home, events get even stranger as connections with the aforementioned Janitor intensify. An extremely anxious pitstop at an ice-cream parlour, an animated pig and a ballet dance sequence threatened to destabilize the narrative. But once I had suddenly interpreted my truth and understanding of Iain Reid’s and Kaufman’s vision, it all kind of almost made sense. Indeed, compared to Kaufman’s surreal meta-fictional masterpiece, Synecdoche, New York (2008), I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) is arguably more accessible, funnier and less bleak.

Having said that, given Kaufman’s predilection for characters on the edge of nervous, depressive and existential breakdowns, some may find this film’s journey tough to complete. But I loved the invention and constant ideas on show throughout. Kaufman’s takes risks structurally, visually and thematically and I congratulate him for challenging the audience. Lastly, I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) has a wondrously cinematic look, sound and dreamlike feel to it. Plus, in Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons, Kaufman has cast two exceptional acting talents, who are certainly worth going on the road with. However, bizarre and twisted that road may be.

Mark: 9 out of 11


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: JUNGLE (2017)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: JUNGLE (2017)

Directed by: Greg McLean

Produced by: Todd Fellman, Mike Gabrawy, Gary Hamilton, Mark Lazarus, Dana Lustig, Greg McLean

Screenplay by: Justin Monjo

Based on: Jungle by Yossi Ghinsberg

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Alex Russell, Thomas Kretschmann, Yasmin Kassim, Joel Jackson, Jacek Koman etc.

Music by: Johnny Klimek

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



It’s one of my least favourite sub-genres of cinema and literature: the survivalist story. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against an individual striving to find themselves or seek out adventure. I don’t wish them ill or death and am glad they somehow survived, or alternatively, not glad they perished. However, I do have problem when it all goes wrong and they end up gaining fame or money or praise for poor life choices. They are not heroes or heroines but narcissistic thrill seekers, generally from a privileged standing who get films made about them as apparently their stories are inherently cinematic.

Begrudgingly, I admit, in many circumstances such as: 127 Hours (2010), Into the Wild (2007) and Touching the Void (2003), survivival stories create compelling film narratives. Alas, the film Jungle (2017) is nowhere near as good as those films I mention, but it provides a means to escape to the dark corners of the Amazon from the comfort of one’s own living room.  The moronic characters we follow into said jungle are led by Daniel Radcliffe’s, Yossi. He and two friends decide, against the advice every audience member screaming at the screen, to broaden their selfish adventurous spirits by going native with Thomas Kretschmann’s shady German guide. Safe to say, after experiencing the unforgiving terrain, torrential rain and strange creatures in the jungle, this middle-class trio find they are well out of their depth. Thus, very slowly the film crawls like a giant slug toward further catastrophe.

Jungle (2017) is not a bad film, but it isn’t a particularly good one. The direction and cinematography are excellent and Daniel Radcliffe proves he is an exceptionally honest actor. Radcliffe works his guts out with a shell of a character we rarely care about or empathise with. Perhaps that’s the point? Maybe it’s a cautionary tale about how Yossi stops being such an arsehole and learns to appreciate life and the environment. My main issue was the screenplay, which rushes to get us in the jungle and then takes an age to get to the real drama. What was great about a film like Into the Wild (2007), also based on a true story, was Christopher McCandless was a character who rejected society to find his own place in the world. He wasn’t just a tourist on a holiday that went a bit wrong. I mean, in Jungle (2017), people lost their lives, but the greatest tragedy was the film doesn’t make us care about them at all.

Mark: 6 out of 11


NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: HIS HOUSE (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: HIS HOUSE (2020)

Directed by: Remi Weekes

Produced by: Aidan Elliott, Martin Gentles, Arnon Milchan, Ed King, Roy Lee

Screenplay by: Remi Weekes

Story by: Felicity Evans, Toby Venables

Cast: Wunmi Mosaku, Sope Dirisu, Matt Smith, etc.

Cinematography: Jo Willems

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***


Similar in spirit to the Jacques Audiard directed film, Dheepan (2015), the latest Netflix film release, His House (2020), takes the migrant experience as a key narrative driver, then filters it through exciting genre style. While Dheepan (2015) started as a story of survival before crossing over into thriller territory, His House (2020) superbly combines social commentary with the horror genre. Moreover, a key plot reveal later in His House (2020) is extremely similar to that found in Dheepan (2015). Nonetheless, it is a powerful film, both unnerving and thought-provoking in equal measure.

His House (2020) introduces us to Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), a refugee husband and wife seeking asylum in Britain from South Sudan. Having survived a treacherous journey from this war-torn part of the world, their young daughter is not so lucky. Alas, Nyagak (Malaika Agibaka) dies during a stormy boat journey. This incident and their social status immediately garners sympathy and empathy for the protagonists. Allied to this, on achieving probational asylum status their jaded case worker, Mark (Matt Smith), brings them to a rundown council estate to live in. It is to Bol and Rial’s credit that they accept their new abode with gratitude. Bol especially is keen to mix with the locals and fit into the British way of living. However, the two soon encounter indifference, racism and prejudice.

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As the narrative continues Bol and Rial have more to contend with than ignorant locals. Rial is resistant to integration as she desperately holds onto her Sudanese clothes and customs. While Bol is clearly trying to distract himself from the tragedy, Rial’s grieving takes the form of clinging onto the memory of her daughter and their Sudanese ways. This familial division is exacerbated by disturbing supernatural phenomena, as a strange dark spirit and the ghost of Nyagak both appear. Could it be grief and guilt manifesting such spectres? Or are they suffering from post-traumatic stress following their harrowing journey to Britain? Or has a genuinely evil spirit hijacked their attempts to build a home and find peace?

Declaring himself as a director to keep tabs on, Remi Weekes, has written and directed an excellent first feature film in, His House (2020). The pacing of the story is excellent as we get flashes of Bol and Rial’s past in Sudan, juxtaposed with their attempts to acclimatise in Britain. As someone whose life is extremely privileged when compared to that of such characters, I was both moved and fearful for the protagonists. This is not only down to an excellent script full of subtext, symbolism and dread, but also due to Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku’s compelling performances. Furthermore, you really feel the pain of the couple’s loss and suspense created by that which lurks within the stained walls of their apartment. While there are many tense moments, my one reservation with His House (2020) was there arguably wasn’t enough true horror moments. Having said that, the actual reality of Bol and Rial’s situation in losing a daughter, suffering British administrative red-tape and living amidst everyday prejudice, is far scarier than ghosts and monsters can ever be.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020)

Directed by: Antonio Campos

Produced by: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Randall Poster, Max Born

Screenplay by: Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos

Based on: The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

Cast: Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Harry Melling, etc.

Narrated by: Donald Ray Pollock

Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans

Cinematography: Lol Crawley

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Netflix’s latest major film release is a literary adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s psychological thriller, The Devil All the Time (2020). One has to believe it is a pretty faithful adaptation because the novelist himself narrates the tale to us via voiceover. Set in the years after World War II, the grim events unfold in the states of Ohio and West Virginia, respectively. While the action is not located in the deep South, the story has many of the tropes synonymous with the Southern Gothic genre, notably: religious fanaticism, explicit sexuality, flawed characters, sickening violence, poverty and human alienation.

The film, directed by Antonio Campos — who helmed the under-rated character study, Christine (2016) — starts extremely purposefully. Returning soldier, Miller Jones (Bill Skarsgard), meets a waitress on his bus journey home and eventually marries her. Both Skarsgard and Hayley Bennett, portraying his wife, inhabit empathetic characters working hard to bring up their son and saving for their own place. Jones, however, is haunted by a traumatic incident in the Pacific, and strives for solace in God and family. Indeed, the corrupt force of religious mania spreads like a cancer throughout The Devil All the Time (2020), becoming a constant threat and reason for many of the characters downfall.



Just as I was connecting with Jones’ life and becoming absorbed by Bill Skarsgard’s commanding performance, tragedy strikes and the narrative takes one of several jarring switches between characters. As such the film does not really have a strong plot, meandering from one character to another witnessing all manner of horrific events fate throws at them. Because, let’s be honest, The Devil All the Time (2020), is no way close to being a feelgood film. In fact, it revels in representing the evil acts of so-called human beings. Thus, throughout I felt a constant sense of dread and anxiety. Barely had Skarsgard misery ended and we are then introduced to the tragedies of characters portrayed by Harry Melling and Mia Wasikowska. Simultaneously, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough join the fray as two violent and sex-driven thrill-seekers. Yet, they are weakly written characters who again drive the mood of the film into pitch blackness.

The film gathers some strength and momentum n the middle act when Tom Holland’s son of Miller Jones comes of age. By focussing on his story we get more drama and emotion, especially where his relationship with his step-sister (Eliza Scanlan) is concerned. Holland gives an excellent performance as the young man attempting to make his way in this filthy and ungodly world. Similarly, Robert Pattinson’s oily Preacher oozes repugnant charm in another sterling piece of acting work. Alas, Sebastian Stan’s Sheriff and Douglas Hodge’s rural gangster are given short shrift in another crime subplot which goes nowhere.

Overall, Antonio Campos delivers an extremely solid thriller from an acting and thematic standpoint. Unfortunately, the fragmented screenplay should arguably have been given a more committed plotline. Of course, it has most likely shadowed the structure of the source novel so therein lies the rub. Having said that, despite the structural shortcomings, there are many shocking and violent set-pieces to satisfy horror fans. Ultimately though, The Devil All the Time (2020) lacks redemption, catharsis and even some decent suspense. By the end we are given few characters to care about and delivered the pessimistic vision that life is a belt of misery. Even a suggestion of sugar helps the poison go down and this film offers very little in the way of sweetness or light.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11