Tag Archives: REVIEW

LFF – ROUND-UP REVIEWS INCLUDING: CALM WITH HORSES (2019), COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019) & WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS (2019)

LFF 2019 – ROUND-UP REVIEWS

One of the great things about film festivals is you can find loads of lower budget and independently made cinematic gems, amidst the big studio projects. Thus, I like to try and see as many smaller scale films if I can, rather than just watch the ones that are likely to go on general release anyway.

Due to my daily work commitments I didn’t get to see as many films as I would like, but here are three I have seen this week. Each is very different, but they all demonstrate, despite featuring some well- known actors, an independently-minded cinematic spirit.

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


CALM WITH HORSES (2019)

First time director Nick Rowland has an assured debut with this contemporary rural gangster film set in Southern Ireland. Caught between the right and wrong side of the law, Arm, portrayed with brutal tenderness by Cosmo Jarvis, finds his loyalties torn between his family and venal crime bosses. The ever-impressive Barry Keoghan features as his drug dealer friend, who doesn’t necessarily have his best interests at heart.

It’s a harsh tragedy with an element of hope represented by Niamh Algar’s struggling single mum, hoping to escape for a better life. Ultimately, the story beats inhabit familiar territory, with elements of Mean Streets (1973), Of Mice and Men (1937), Bullhead (2011) and Miller’s Crossing (1990), echoing amidst the slashes of violence, colourful language and tough Irish characters.

Mark: 8 out of 11



COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019)

Filmmaker Richard Stanley had not directed a film for over twenty years, so when I saw he had filmed a HP Lovecraft short story – I WAS IN! Stanley was famous for being sacked from the ill-fated Island of Dr Moreau (1996). Indeed, the 2014 documentary, Lost Soul (2014), is still one of best docs I have seen about filmmaking. Mainly because everything went wrong, but also because Richard Stanley is such as interesting person too. Thankfully, this latest low-budget horror film was completed without too much trouble.

Given it is an adaptation of Lovecraft, Color Out of Space (2019) is unsurprisingly a cosmically bonkers horror film, which descends into all manner of insane occurrences. It centres on the Gardner family, portrayed by Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson, who along with their teenage kids, must confront the terrors that befall them when a meteorite hits their isolated farm. Building slowly, all hell breaks loose in the final act, as Cage lets rip with another crazed performance. Trippy and stylish with some fantastic gore, it lacks depth, but has cult film written all over it!

Mark: 7.5 out of 11



WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS (2019)

Set in a desolate border town, the film opens with the kindly Magistrate (Mark Rylance) meeting Johnny Depp’s venal Colonel Joll for the first time. Joll is convinced those “Barbarians”, who live in the desert and mountain areas are going to threaten the fabric of the mighty Empire’s society. So, Joll begins a campaign of torture and oppression against them. The Magistrate and Joll constantly clash as the former seeks understanding and empathy over brute force.

This cerebral and allegorical drama is based on a famous literary classic, written by J. M. Coetzee. Brought to the screen by the ultra-talented Columbian filmmaker, Ciro Guerra, it’s quite slow, but I found it absorbing nevertheless. Mark Rylance is absolutely spellbinding. No one can do contemplative acting quite like him. His character was so noble and just, I really felt for him and the oppressed indigenous peoples’ cause. Arguably, the film could have been more dramatic in places, however, it still presents a damning indictment of colonialism and heavy-handed military rule.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: THE DEPARTED (2006)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: THE DEPARTED (2006)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Produced by: Brad Pitt, Brad Grey, Graham King

Screenplay: William Monahan

Based on: Infernal Affairs (2002) by Alan Mak and Felix Chong

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, Ray Winstone, Anthony Anderson, Alec Baldwin etc.

Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**



“In my day you had two choices – be a criminal or a cop! When you’ve got a gun pointed at you – what’s the difference?” Frank Costello


Oscar-winning gangster film, The Departed (2006), is a vicious, double-crossing, paranoiac remake of the equally brilliant thriller, Infernal Affairs (2002). With a cast that reeks of testosterone and star quality, the incendiary William Monahan script is ferociously directed by filmmaking genius, Martin Scorsese. The legendary director and his production team, plus the terrific ensemble cast including Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen and Leonardo DiCaprio, lift this story above the run-of-the-mill cops and robbers genre movie.

The Departed (2006) moves at a heady pace from the start, establishing Sullivan (Damon) and Costigan (DiCaprio) as”Staties” in the Massachusetts force. They both have deep secrets; both go deep undercover unknowingly trying to catch the other. Sullivan is a criminal masquerading as a brilliant cop in order to further gangland boss, Costello’s (Nicholson) power games. The edgy, streetwise Costigan, on the other hand, joins Costello’s gang in order to bring him down from the inside.



The film is shot and edited, as expected, with immaculate precision; crammed with unrelenting and bone-crushing thrills and violence. Thematically, it’s powerful too. Throughout, honesty and truth are obliterated by lies and death. Costigan and Sullivan are no more than pawns at the hands of a corrupt system that lets people down from a great height. This is literally the case where Martin Sheen’s Captain Queenan is concerned. His death is probably the most brutal demise of all. At times, I must admit, my head was spinning because of the twisting plot as Sullivan, in a Kafkaesque turn, ends up chasing himself as part of a serious crime investigation.

The screenplay by William Monahan is a ballsy joy, full of despicable protagonists and biting dialogue. While many of the characters are difficult to like, the plot. thrusting soundtrack, incredible performances and narrative suspense really get the heart racing. Nicholson and Wahlberg take special glee in spouting their offensive dialogue. DiCaprio too is brilliant as the paranoid cop, dragged into the mix through some screwy sense of righteousness. Lastly, Matt Damon’s portrayal of Sullivan is particularly astute, as he plays against that all-American good guy he is often cast as.



Amidst the cat-and-mouse shenanigans, merciless tragedy pervades throughout. Virtually everyone is a rat or cheating on someone as the film deconstructs the notion of loyalty. Consequently, most scenes blur the lines between good and bad, as characters attempt to out-wit and out-kill one other. By the end there is no good or bad in the traditional sense, just a bunch of wasted lives in an ultimately nihilistic pursuit of money and power. The characters exist in a rodent-infested Boston setting, distorting the distinction between truth and lies. Is there a difference? The Departed (2006), doesn’t discriminate; and there lies the truth.


MIDSOMMAR (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW – AMAZING FILMMAKING LET DOWN BY WEAK STORYTELLING!

MIDSOMMAR (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Written and directed by: Ari Aster

Produced by: Lars Knudsen, Patrik Andersson

Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter etc.

Music: The Haxen Cloak

Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Midsommar (2019), is ultra-talented filmmaker Ari Aster’s second feature film. His first Hereditary (2018), was two-thirds domestic horror masterpiece and one-third insane, symbolic, nonsensical and demonic denouement. Both films have a lot in common. Both have communes or cults at the centre led by strong matriarchal figures. Both find seemingly innocent characters suffering from grief being lured to a fateful demise. Both have incredibly rich visual systems full of striking imagery, sudden violence and mythological folklore. Both, especially Midsommar (2019), are overlong, pretentious and indulgent B-movie stories masquerading as art.

I have to say, and I am not coming from simply a mainstream perspective, Ari Aster is a film artist. However, unlike many great film artists he has, in my opinion, not managed to marry his vision with coherent and emotionally powerful storytelling. Midsommar, for example, takes an age to kick its narrative into gear and when it finally gets started it drags and drags and drags. How many long, drifting tracking master shots can you abide? How many drawn-out-so-pleased-with-myself takes do you have the patience for? Well, get a strong coffee because when the story cries out for pace, Aster puts the brakes on, marvelling in his own indulgent genius. I might add that a plethora of characters screaming and crying does not make good drama either, unless there is sufficient context.

The narrative is very simple. In a nutshell, it’s Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) meets British horror classic The Wicker Man (1973). Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter are college students who take a summer break to experience a communal pageant in rural Sweden. While they are PHD students they are not particularly intelligent given the choices they make later in the film.

Moreover, aside from Pugh’s grief-stricken Dani, the script doesn’t particularly imbue them with much in the way of empathetic characterisation. Indeed, the film relies on Pugh’s dominant performance to create emotion for our protagonists. Aside from providing some comic relief there is no actual point to Will Poulter’s character at all. Lastly, there is some absolutely terrible dialogue throughout this film too.

As the film crawls along slowly, it’s reliant on the music to inform us we’re meant to be scared. Then when the gore does kick in during a particularly shocking ritual, I was almost falling asleep. Don’t get me wrong the production design is flawless with an amazing setting and incredible concepts from Aster. The death and torture scenes are particularly memorable. However, the overall pace and rhythm of the film is so bloody slow I just did not care about anyone by the end.

I don’t mind methodical films establishing dread and psychological fear, but I think Aster has been watching too many Kubrick films. Aster seems to believe slow equals art. What Kubrick did though was usually to have characters that were engaging. They may not have been likeable, but Kubrick’s characters hit you in the heart and mind. Not since The Blair Witch Project (1999) have I wanted such dumb characters (Pugh aside) to die so painfully in a horror film. Likewise, the characters in the Swedish commune are mere ciphers of Aster’s fantasy horror and two-dimensional at best.

Visually stunning Midsommar (2019), will no doubt impress critics and other reviewers. However, at nearly two-and-a-half hours it’s an indulgent-arty-collage-of-film-masquerading-as-therapy. The ending was so loopy that the audience I was with were laughing at how ridiculous it was. Perhaps that was the filmmakers’ aim, but I’m not so sure. Yes, I get that this is meant to be allegorical and symbolic about grief and guilt and religion and a relationship break-up and fate and cultural differences. Furthermore, I get the intellectual depth of the themes on show, but Aster tortures the audience as much as his characters. Mostly, it just doesn’t take so long to tell this kind of derivative narrative, however beautiful and artistic the film is presented.

Mark: 6 out of 11

DOCTOR WHO –S11 – EP. 9 REVIEW – IT TAKES YOU AWAY (2018)

DOCTOR WHO REVIEW – IT TAKES YOU AWAY (2018)

Directed by: Jamie Childs

Written by: Ed Hime

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Ellie Wallwork, Kevin Eldon, Christian Rubeck, Lisa Stokke 

Produced by: Nikki Wilson

Executive producer(s): Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Music composer: Segun Akinola

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

This episode, depending on your point of view, was either a strange, but moving science fantasy surrealist hybrid classic; or a collection of half-baked concepts that fell apart with an incredibly bizarre and silly ending.

Yet, It Takes You Away starts off very promisingly. For a start the title evokes suspense, mystery and an underlying sense of loss. The suspense builds when the Doctor and companions arrive in Scandinavia and are immediately faced with a mystery in the Norwegian wood. The beautiful landscape of blue fjords, green brush and scattered timber hide a dark secret within a boarded up cabin. The impressive cinematography also evokes an eerie atmosphere. Moreover, there’s a frightening monster hiding somewhere within nature. Or is there?

In the cabin, the Doctor finds a lone teenage girl, Hanne, blind and seemingly abandoned by her father. Of course, they all agree to help protect Hanne against the monster and find her father too. Up to this point the drama and mystery were intriguing and finely poised. Subsequent events descend to a strange place called the ‘Anti-Zone’. This is where it all begins to fall apart narratively speaking.

Emotionally the episode had some very powerful moments drawing on the breakdown of family relationships; Graham’s grief for the loss of his wife and whether it is better to live in or out of reality. However, within these fascinating themes were some stupid bloodsucking moths and the brilliant character actor Kevin Eldon was under-used as an underground demon-type creature. The less said about the ending the better, which I can only think was going for Twitter-like-clickbait trending rather than a coherent and believable pay-off.

The denouement, together with another massive exposition dump from the Doctor scrambling to convince us it all made sense, found the episode completely laughable.  It was a shame as it had some fine ideas and Bradley Walsh gave a moving performance as Graham. Ultimately though, this season of DoctorWho is flailing having started so promisingly and It Takes You Away plummeted to a new low.          

(Mark: 5 out of 11)

WIDOWS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

WIDOWS (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Produced by: Steve McQueen, Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Arnon Milchan

Screenplay by: Gillian Flynn & Steve McQueen

Based on: Widows by Lynda La Plante

Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Widows Film Poster

I was really looking forward to this new film from acclaimed and highly talented filmmaker Steve McQueen. Firstly, his previous directorial releases including 12 Years a Slave (2013), Shame (2011) and Hunger (2008) were all fierce works of drama. Secondly, the story is based on Lynda La Plante’s excellent British television series from the 1980s; plus it has a fantastic ensemble cast led by Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya and many more. So, why was I slightly underwhelmed by the end of the film? I mean all the cinematic elements were of the highest quality, yet, for me, it just did not catch fire.


Liam Neeson and Viola Davis

After the death of her husband, Harry Rawlins (Neeson), Viola Davis’ Veronica, decides to use his plans to attempt a daring robbery enlisting the help of the other crime widows. The stakes are high as Harry’s last job pissed off some dangerous people and they want their money back. Transplanting the action from the La Plante’s tough London setting to contemporary Chicago retains the gritty backdrop of the original. Indeed, Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen’s script keep the beats of the heist plot and structurally the film is very sound. However, the addition of political subplots involving a district Alderman Election between Colin Farrell’s Jack Mulligan and Brian Tyree Henry’s Jamal Manning, while adding extra flavour to the mix, at times, slow down the pace of the heist narrative. Even a subplot flashback involving Viola Davis’ son, while adding important empathy for her character, felt like it was from another film. Thus, a movie can be about many things; however, I just felt that a lot of the themes were at a surface level of emotion.


Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry
Daniel Kaluuya and Brian Tyree Henry in Twentieth Century Fox’s WIDOWS. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

The acting and direction in the film is excellent. Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo are all brilliant; although, Erivo’s character seemed to be introduced slightly late for me. Yet, I wanted the film to be even more about the women’s struggle in this traditionally masculine world. Maybe I’m being harsh as the filmmaking is really good, but it got bogged down by too many sub-plots. Moreover, where suspense could have been gained when Debicki’s character goes to buy guns we get a throwaway scene played for humour. The male characters are generally portrayed as corrupt, psychopathic or simply evil; especially where Daniel Kaluuya’s psycho turn is concerned. Brian Tyree Henry is a very interesting actor too and I have watched a lot of him in the TV show Atlanta. However, his impact on the story is slowly dissipated throughout.


Cynthia Erivo, Michelle Rodriguez, Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki

Overall, Widows is a very solid genre offering from Steve McQueen and his team. All the elements are there for a barnstorming crime thriller with racial and political elements as texture. Plus, while I knew of a couple of decent twists from the original the script delivers them very well. However, there were also several plot-holes within the story which could not be reconciled. I guess with my expectations high I was expecting the doors to be totally blown off due to the incredible talent involved. However, they remained firmly on their hinges by the time the credits rolled.

Mark: 7 out of 11


THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX REVIEW

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) – NETFLIX REVIEW

Based on: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Created and Directed by: Mike Flanagan

Screenplay(s) by: Mike Flanagan, Liz Phang, Scott Kosar, Meredith Averill, Jeff Howard, Rebecca Klingel etc.

Executive producer(s): Mike Flanagan, Trevor Macy, Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Meredith Averill

Production company(s): Flanagan Film, Amblin Television, Paramount Television, Netflix

Starring: Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino, Henry Thomas, Elizabeth Reaser, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Kate Siegel, Victoria Pedretti, Lulu Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Timothy Hutton etc.

**SPOILER-FREE REVIEW**

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Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is often proclaimed as one of the creepiest horror novels of all time. Made for the cinema twice, most memorably in 1963, by acclaimed director Robert Wise; who was perhaps so scared by the content his next film would be the musical Sound of Music (1965). Jokes aside, the novel is considered a classic and so genre filmmaker, Mike Flanagan, took on the task to bring it television over ten compelling episodes.

As Netflix produce a hell of a lot of original content I find it difficult to keep up with. However, I heard some decent buzz about The Haunting of Hill House, so decided to watch it before spoilers were plaguing the internet. From Jackson’s novel Flanagan has expanded the Hill House universe to bring an older ghost story bang up to date. Rather than centre on a seemingly disparate set of characters like the original, he has made the protagonists part of the same family. Therefore, the show is a confident mix of family drama, psychological and frightening horror.

Haunting-Hill-House-Cast-Character-Guide

Flanagan and his writing team structure the episodes on a back-and-forth spine which finds the Crain family, at first moving into Hill House as a young family. Mother and father are portrayed by Carla Gugino and Henry Thomas (later Timothy Hutton) respectively, and together they have five young children, the oldest Stephen being around thirteen years old. We then bounce from the past to the present to show the children grown up, working through various angst and dramas as adults. Safe to say, pretty much all their problems are caused by that fateful summer spent renovating Hill House.

Arguably, the biggest character of them all in the programme is the house itself. It is a foreboding presence which infects the lives of all the characters in youth and adulthood. Conversely we are drawn into a rich tapestry of: ghosts, suicide, despair, death, addiction, therapy, marriage, lies, hallucinations, mental illness, death and divorce. Throughout, we are plunged into Hill House’s bag of spooky tricks as the family are terrorized insidiously by the property.

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Over ten brilliantly written episodes Mike Flanagan, his excellent cast and superb production team deliver some breath-taking horror moments. There’s also some chilling set-pieces, swooping camera-work, macabre monsters and really moving character monologues sprinkled within the scares and drama too. Most importantly, because of a careful and slow-build narrative, you really care what happens to the Crain family. This is also down to some excellent performances by the young children and older cast members.

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I would argue that the usual Netflix format of ten episodes finds the story stretched during certain periods. Indeed, while the storytelling and horror pay-offs are brilliantly imagined, some editing would have made them feel even more powerful. Yet, as he demonstrated with horror films Oculus (2013), Hush (2016) and Gerald’s Game (2017), Mike Flanagan is a skilled filmmaker who has brought Shirley Jackson’s seminal novel to the screen with chilling acumen.

Mark: 9 out of 11

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 REVIEW: THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 REVIEW: THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (2018)

Directed by: Jamie Childs

Written by: Chris Chibnall

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill

Producer: Nikki Wilson

Executive producer(s): BBC Productions, Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Composer:   Segun Akinola

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As a massive Doctor Who fan I was very much looking forward to the latest incarnation of one of the galaxies’ longest running television shows ever. With a new Sunday screening slot it was great to see the show back with a new Doctor, new showrunner, new sonic screwdriver, new companions, new theme tune, new Doctor Who costume and new, soon to be seen, inside-of-the-TARDIS. Yet, while there were lots of new stuff flying about on screen there was pretty much no major changes in the narrative formula. Basically, an alien from outer space, along with various sidekicks, battle to save the Earth or whatever planet they are on, while using: skill, luck, gadgets, guile, time-travel paradoxes, intelligence, stupidity, righteousness, technology, diversity, bravery, action, morality and good old fashioned running and jumping about.

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The first episode in this series called The Woman Who Fell to Earth was a fine, if safe, introduction to the new Doctor. It had a lot ground to cover introducing all the various elements I mention above and on the whole Chris Chibnall delivered a fun, linear script with some great lines of dialogue, decent jokes and an emotional pull not always present in Steven Moffat’s often very complex temporally challenging narratives. The “Predator” style alien invasion was something we’d seen before in Doctor Who and many science-fiction shows, films and books but the actual alien monster itself was quite scary. Moreover, some good comic mileage was mined from name “Tim Shaw” alone.

Jodie Whittaker, an instinctive and ultra-talented actor, was effervescent in the lead role and her earthy Yorkshire accent is certainly a change from the gravelly Scottish brogue of Peter Capaldi. The Internet broke when Whittaker was cast as the first female Doctor with protestations on the gender switch. All I can say is: get a life! The Doctor is both an alien shape shifter with two hearts who has lived for many millenniums and let’s face it, fictitious!  Who cares what gender they are because the most important thing is the quality of production, storylines and performances?  Based on this episode and the future clips I think this season will be very fine entertainment. I think that once Whittaker settles in to the role and is given some meaty and passionate storylines we will see her Doctor soar. Due to the characters’ regeneration and the wicked pace of the episode, Whittaker’s emotional range was not really tested, but I’m sure it will be.

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Perhaps the most surprising thing for a show with so much change was how familiar it all felt. But the one thing I did enjoy was the feeling we’ll be spending time with an interesting and diverse set of characters within a pseudo-family unit. You have the Doctor, obviously, representing both mother and father, Bradley Walsh’s character representing the Grandfather and Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill representing older children. It remains to be seen whether the latter will have a will-they-won’t they-romantic relationship, which would require a re-write on this observation. Nonetheless this new-styled A-Team-in-Space will be a force to be reckoned with I’d say. Perhaps more time could have been allowed for the characters to question the fantastical events but the episode went for fast, fast and faster so hopefully later episodes will give us a chance to breath a tad more.

July Preview

Ultimately though, Doctor Who is thematically a show about hope, family, caring, inclusion and doing the right thing in space and time. It’s also meant to be a lot of fun. Chris Chibnall, as showrunner, hasn’t aside from casting a female Doctor, attempted to reinvent the wheel but instead concentrated on the strengths of the show.  He has demonstrated by the diverse castings, the opening Northern setting, and introduction of a dyspraxic character that inclusion will thrive, as usual, in the Doctor Who ‘Universe’. So, if this series delivers some fine emotional scripts with scary monsters, space-ships, aliens and some good old time-travel bits then BBC1 on Sunday evenings will certainly be worth watching. Unless you record the show and watch it in the future!  In which case the future is in safe hands too.

Mark: 8 out of 11