Tag Archives: The Cinema Fix reviews

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

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #21 – SEAN CONNERY (R.I.P 1930 – 2020)

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #21 – SEAN CONNERY (R.I.P 1930 – 2020)


“There’s one major difference between James Bond and me. He is able to sort out problems!” — Sean Connery



Sadly, the great Scottish actor, Sir Sean Connery passed away at the age of ninety on the 31st October 2020. Born in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh in 1930, Connery walked a fascinating and winding road to the path of famous film actor.

With working class and traveller roots, Connery was a milkman, artist’s model, bodybuilder, Naval seaman and talented footballer, who would earn acting experience in many stage roles from the early 1950’s onwards. In 1957, Connery began to get supporting roles in film and television. But, that same year, he landed his first leading role in BBC Television’s production of Requiem for a Heavyweight. He would also be cast in a prominent role in Cy Endfield’s brutal thriller, Hell Drivers (1957).

According to an apocryphal story, it was Connery’s co-star, Patrick McGoohan, who recommended him to producers for the starring role of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. The Prisoner star and creator, McGoohan, had been offered the role of Bond and turned it down. Connery would eventually accept, and the rest is history.



One could debate the differences and variant aspects of the movie star, the film actor and the character actor endlessly, but the fact is, Sean Connery was ALL three. A versatile actor who could do tough guy, romantic lead, comedic foil, serious drama and action hero roles with equal brilliance, switching between such traits effortlessly. Moreover, he also inhabited each role with a magnetic charisma that one could not keep your eyes off. And there’s THAT voice and delivery! The voice of gravitas and steely sophistication that made you want to listen, whatever Connery may be saying. In short: he was greatest film actors and stars of a generation.

In keeping with the My Cinematic Romance series, I have picked FIVE of my favourite Sean Connery roles. They may not be his best, but they are films I love. In order to challenge myself I have picked just ONE film from the James Bond series. If you prefer other Connery roles then please feel free to comment. R.I.P – Sean Connery.


HELL DRIVERS (1957)

Hell Drivers (1957) is a film that certainly deserves revisiting. Not simply because it is an excellent action drama, but because it contains an incredible cast, with most of the players going on to have major parts in some iconic screen roles. Connery was an unknown when appearing in the ensemble as Johnny Kates, but he more than holds his own as a tough guy working in the cutthroat and granite-tough haulage industry.


FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)

Having read Ian Fleming’s classic spy novel Casino Royale in the last few years, I have to say that the early adaptations of the Bond series were a tremendous representation of his vision of Cold War espionage. If Dr No (1962) was the starter and Goldfinger (1964) the dessert, for me, From Russia With Love (1963) was the main course of the first three films in the franchise. Facing S.P.E.C.T.R.E, who are hell bent of destroying Bond, Connery gives such a confident performance amidst thrilling plot and action. His scenes with Robert Shaw as Grant are pure machismo and menace, culminating in an exciting fight on the Orient Express.



HIGHLANDER (1986)

I should really pick Sidney Lumet’s The Hill (1965) for my next choice. That film is a brutal character study set in a military prison during WW2, where Connery gives one of his finest performances. Instead, I have chosen a 1980’s action film about immortals slicing each other to death, to a rock soundtrack by Queen. Nothing in this film should work, from the pop video effects, the crazy mullets and mix of modern and historical settings. But somehow it does. Connery was beginning to settle into the mentor role now and he brings, like Clancy Brown, absolute class to the film. Here, as Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (an Egyptian with a Scottish accent), he guides Christopher Lambert through a heady mix of sci-fi nonsense, swashbuckling swordplay and brilliant action.



THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987)

Another mentor role, this time portraying Irish beat cop Jimmy Malone, who joins Eliot Ness’s (Kevin Costner) crusade to bring down Al Capone (Robert DeNiro). Even with DeNiro, Costner and a breakthrough role for Andy Garcia in the cast, Connery absolutely owns this film from start to finish. Brian DePalma helms the spectacular set-pieces with aplomb, but Connery delivers David Mamet’s hard-boiled dialogue with confident intensity. Connery’s Jimmy Malone is a superb character performance, delivered with honesty, toughness and poignancy, as Malone finally gets the chance to be a proper copper. Quite rightly, Connery would win best Supporting Actor at the Oscars. Along with his Academy Award, Connery also won two BAFTA Awards, three Golden Globes, and a Henrietta Award during his illustrious career.



INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)

How do you keep fresh and revitalise a film sequel? Well, by adding ingredients the filmmakers hope will differentiate and familiarise the franchise at the same time. The way George Lucas and Steven Spielberg did this with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) was to open with a thrilling origin story of Indy (River Phoenix) as a teenage adventurer fighting baddies in the West. Moreover, they also introduced surprisingly halfway through, the original Doctor Henry Jones Snr. The film was already knockout brilliant and got even better when Sean Connery first appears as Indiana’s (Harrison Ford) father. While it could have been cheesy with our hero’s Dad on the adventure, it is anything but. There are character reveals galore throughout as we get both a great buddy-buddy double act, and a vulnerable Indy, unsure and lacking confidence in the presence of his formidable father.



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


SHUDDER HORROR REVIEWS – KILLERS

SHUDDER HORROR REVIEWS – KILLERS

For my final slew of Shudder horror film reviews (with one television series write-up to come), I have combined a series of films which contain murder and killers central to the plot. I mean, most horror films feature these types of terrible situations, but the following movies are grounded very much in reality. Ghosts and ghouls and zombies and monsters are to the fore of the horror genre, however, for me, the shocking violence of human beings can often be far more scary on screen. Thus, these films feature assassins, revengers and serial killers which reflect the blackest part of the human soul. Marks out of eleven, with best rated first. You know the drill.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



KILLER JOE (2011) – DIRECTED BY WILLIAM FREIDKIN

Tracy Letts’ incendiary, critically acclaimed dark comedy play was adapted by himself and directed brilliantly by genre auteur, William Friedkin. Matthew McConaughey arguably relaunched his serious acting career as the eponymous and corrupt lawman, Joe Cooper, who takes a fancy to Juno Temple’s southern Lolita-type. Killer Joe (2011) is full of bleakly biting noir dialogue and some amazing performances, especially from McConaughey and Temple. Playing out like the Coen Brothers doing a horror film, the memorably disturbing ending almost put me off chicken for life. This is a true cult classic from a director, screenwriter and cast, all at the top of their game.

Mark: 9 out of 11


A PERFECT GETAWAY (2009) – DIRECTED BY: DAVID TWOHY

Kind of like Agatha Christie meets holiday show Wish You Were Here, I had a lot of fun with David Twohy’s clever-clever-meta-thriller. Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich are the honeymooners in Hawaii who find death in paradise, as a pair of serial killers are murdering holidaymakers. Having helped Vin Diesel to stardom in Pitch Black (2000), Twohy tries again with the laconic and likeable Timothy Olyphant as Macgyver-type island tourist. I’m a big Olyphant fan and he steals the show here in this nifty, twisting cat-and-mouse plot, however, the actor who would go onto massive things in the film world in none other than Chris Hemsworth. Thor pops up here portraying a tattooed-beefcake-with-an-attitude. Anyway, loads of actions, twists, pace and lovely locations make this film worth a visit.

Mark: 8 out of 11



WILDERNESS (2006) – DIRECTED BY: M.J. BASSETT

An efficient low-budget British thriller with a youngish cast led by charismatic actor, Toby Kebbell. Here, Sean Pertwee, takes his gang of youth offenders into the woods for a team-building exercise, only to find the team being destroyed by an unknown assailant. There are some decent thrills and kills throughout, but Christopher Smith’s film Severance (2006) did this idea much better. Still, it rattles along at a fine pace and Kebbell again demonstrates why Hollywood came knocking for his acting talent.

Mark: 7 out of 11


SMALLTOWN KILLERS (2017) – DIRECTED BY OLE BORNEDAL

Two Danish builders are having marital difficulties and one night when drunk, accidentally hire a Russian hitman on the ‘Dark Web’ to kill their wives. Mildly amusing, this comedic thriller is predictable with some haphazard plotting. Lastly, while the warring couples are pretty unlikeable characters, Marcin Dorocinski and Gwen Taylor, as the two hired assassins, provide some belly laughs with their hilarious performances.

Mark: 6.5 out of 11


WHITE OF THE EYE (1987) – DIRECTED BY DONALD CAMMELL

David Keith and Cathy Moriarty star in this serial-killer tale adapted from Margaret Tracy’s novel, Mrs White. Their relationship is put to the test when he becomes prime suspect in a series of murders. Cammell gets compelling performances from the leads but mishandles the plotting as the sudden twist near the end felt mildly ridiculous and contrived.

Mark: 6 out of 11


MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #20 – KATHRYN BIGELOW

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #20 – KATHRYN BIGELOW

If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies. It’s irrelevant who or what directed a movie, the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don’t. There should be more women directing; I think there’s just not the awareness that it’s really possible. It is.“— Kathryn Bigelow in 1990


Having most recently directed the searing period drama, Detroit (2017), Bigelow has been making feature films, since her debut, The Loveless (1981), for over thirty-nine years. With a strong academic background, having studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and Columbia University, it’s fascinating to review a career which has eschewed arthouse cinema and essentially been spent working mainly on big-budget genre films. However, one can see in her directorial canon that Bigelow, while striving for commercial success, is constantly testing the boundaries of genre storytelling.

Along with a powerful visual style that attains symbiosis with the core material, she intelligently explores themes relating to violence, individual freedom versus the system, masculinity in crisis, gender representations and socio-political corruption. Lastly, her characters are often outsiders, morally complex and dealing with deep personal trauma. In short: Bigelow’s worldview is one of both healthy scepticism and cynicism, but also an element of hope within the longing for control. So, here are five of Kathryn Bigelow’s most impactful cinematic releases.

***ARTICLE CONTAINS FILM SPOILERS***



NEAR DARK (1987)

While The Lost Boys (1987) is rightly regarded as a very entertaining 80’s vampire film, Near Dark (1987) is way, way superior. Despite not catching fire at the box office, this neo-horror-western contains a fantastic cast of James Cameron alumni, including: Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein. These great character actors inhabit this snarling gang of vampires perfectly as the film contains shockingly brutal violence and hard-bitten dialogue amidst a tender love story.



BLUE STEEL (1990)

While Jamie Lee Curtis is generally better known for her horror and comedy film performances, Kathryn Bigelow made excellent use of her dramatic acting ability as a rookie police officer caught up with Ron Silver’s psychotic commodities trader. Blue Steel (1990) is a variegated genre film which takes a standard police procedural narrative and twists it into something far more psychologically compelling. Lee Curtis excels, as does vicious bad-guy Silver, aptly named Eugene Hunt!



POINT BREAK (1991)

This classic heist meets surfing movie meets gay subtext bromance is jam-packed with classic action scenes and faux-deep philosophical musings. Keanu Reeves is the daftly named cop, Johnny Utah, who goes undercover, amidst the beach brigade to find a bunch of bank robbers. His suspicions fall on Patrick Swayze’s elemental surfer-dude-god and a dangerous “bromantic” game of cat-and-mouse ensues. Bigelow scored her first major hit with Point Break (1991), infusing it with some incredibly visceral stunt, surfing, robbery and chase sequences in an exhilarating film experience.



THE HURT LOCKER (2008)

After the box office failures of her previous three films, the under-rated sci-fi thriller, Strange Days (1995), enigmatic mystery, The Weight of Water (2000), and stodgy cold war film, K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), Bigelow’s seemingly took a career break. She would, however, come back with her most critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker (2008). From a brilliant script by Mark Boal and led by Jeremy Renner’s standout lead performance, The Hurt Locker (2008), put the audience right at the heart of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq. Putting aside the politics for a moment, the film is full of incredibly tense and superbly edited scenes which have your heart in your mouth. Simultaneously too, the film also shows the devastating emotional, physical and mental effect war has on the people of Iraq and the soldiers sent to fight this horrifically unjust conflict.



ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)

Whereas The Hurt Locker (2008) had highly emotional and empathetic protagonists, Bigelow and Boal’s next film Zero Dark Thirty (2012), is a much more clinical and technically efficient cinematic experience. In parts, both a war drama and espionage thriller, the story also has a feel of an old-fashioned Western as American military and CIA operatives, led by the excellent Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke, hunt down Osama Bin Laden. Politically speaking this is a film which makes me feel very uncomfortable for a number of reasons. It plays out like a revenge story. It also seems to both criticize and vindicate torture in the early scenes. This makes me uneasy as I understand the 9/11 attacks were just horrific, yet they seemed to get used as a motive for many more atrocities by the United States government. I guess that was what Bigelow and Boal were going for. They attempted to create a morally and emotionally complex war thriller that lets you interpret the events yourself and conclude one’s own judgements.



FX /BBC TV REVIEW – DEVS (2020) – ONE OF THE BEST TV EXPERIENCES OF 2020!

FX / BBC TV REVIEW – DEVS (2020)

Created, written and directed by Alex Garland

Executive producers: Alex Garland, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin, Garrett Basch

Cast: Sonoya Mizuno, Nick Offerman, Jin Ha, Zach Grenier, Alison Pill, Stephen McKinlay Henderson, Cailee Spaeny, Karl Glusman, Jefferson Hall, Liz Carr, Janet Mock, Aimee Mullins, Linnea Berthelsen etc.

Cinematography: Rob Hardy

Composers: Ben Salisbury, Geoff Barrow, The Insects

Distribution / Screening Platform: FX / Hulu / BBC


*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



“I read more about science than anything else, and it started with two things. One was getting my head around this principle of determinism, which basically says that everything that happens in the world is based on cause and effect. . . One is that it takes away free will, but the other is that if you are at a computer powerful enough, you could use determinism to predict the future and understand the past.” Alex Garland – Creator of Devs


Alex Garland has an impressive literary, cinema and now televisual curriculum vitae. He gained acclaim as the writer of the novel, The Beach, before moving onto screenwriting duties with fine films such as: 28 Days Later (2002), Sunshine (2007), Never Let Me Go (2010), and Dredd (2012).  He made his directorial debut with Ex Machina (2014), which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. His second film, Annihilation (2018), garnered further acclaim, so much so, FX bypassed a pilot and went straight to series for his latest science fiction narrative, Devs (2020).

While I am a massive fan of Garland’s work, I wasn’t too enamoured of Annihilation (2018). I found it brilliantly made with some fantastic concepts and incredible moments, yet overall it was too slowly paced. With the eight superlative episodes of Devs (2020), Garland has kept the meditative pace of Annihilation (2018), but also delivered a story which really connected with me this time. With Devs (2020) he has successfully merged a compelling technological espionage plot to an intelligent exploration of philosophical thought and behaviour. Moreover, Garland presents a complex group of themes and characters relating to Silicon Valley tech firms and how their work could control individuals, companies, governments, society as a whole, and actual time itself.



Set now in San Francisco, the narrative opens with two employees of the Amaya Corporation, Lily Chan (Sonoya Mizuno) and Sergei Pavlov (Karl Glusman), attending work. Sergei has a big presentation to pitch to Amaya CEO, Forest (Nick Offerman) and chief designer, Katie (Alison Pill). It goes well and Sergei is invited to work on the mysterious DEVS project. At DEVS he finds wondrous halo-style lighting in the woods and an incredibly expensive set of buildings, capsules, platforms, workstations and screens. Dominating the landscape also is a gigantic model of a young girl (Forest’s daughter, Amaya) who looms over the company and the San Franciscan horizon. These spectacular props, sets and locations are complimented by impressive cinematography from Rob Hardy throughout the eight episodes.

Sergei’s tenure at DEVS does not last long though as he goes missing. Lily, who was in a loving relationship with Sergei, is distraught and, with the help of ex-CIA head of security, Kenton (Zach Grenier), attempts to locate him. When Sergei turns up dead from an apparent suicide, Lily is convinced there is a conspiracy occurring in the Amaya company so begins a dangerous investigation. Even more intriguing, however, is the work that is occurring at DEVS itself. Led by Forest’s desire to “resurrect” his deceased daughter, this complex computer programme can somehow view events from the past, recreated via particle-driven software and projected on huge screens. Using this application the developers and programmers are attempting to determine the future from what has occurred in the past. If they can determine the future they may be able to control it. Mind blown yet? Safe to say, Lily’s investigation into Sergei’s death and the DEVS system become inextricably linked as the drama unfolds. As such, the drama works well as a conspiracy thriller as well as thoughtful sci-fi as Garland punctuates the brooding pace with some crushing stunts and brutal murder set-pieces.

I’ll be honest, the technological side of Devs (2020) was outside my knowledge repertoire as I do not comprehend coding or programming jargon. Nonetheless, I did understand what was occurring in the narrative as it was presented in a clear and digestible fashion. Unlike say the most recent seasons of HBO’s Westworld, which tied itself in knots with looping and over-lapping timelines, Alex Garland’s deft script, excellent direction and fantastic cast make Devs‘ (2020) complex science and tech theories comprehensible throughout. While Garland is dealing with theories relating to free will and deterministic cause and effect, the elegant structure, both linear and with flashbacks, builds a gripping narrative which maintains emotional impact for the characters and the choices they must make. Indeed, Lily Chan is a very empathetic leading protagonist and Sonoya Mizuno gives a compellingly magnetic acting portrayal. It was also fascinating to see Nick Offerman outside of his Parks and Recreation ‘Ron Swanson’ persona playing a highly driven and grieving father. Thus, to conclude, if you enjoy clever, meditative and Kubrickian style television in the science-fiction genre, then you should definitely use your free will and be determined to watch Devs (2020).

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


NETFLIX TV SERIES REVIEW – THE STRANGER (2020)

NETFLIX TV SERIES REVIEW – THE STRANGER (2020)

Created by Harlan Coben – based on The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Writers: Harlan Coben, Danny Brocklehurst, Charlotte Coben, Karla Crome, Mick Ford etc.

Directors: Daniel O’Hara, Hannah Quinn

Cast: Richard Armitage, Siobhan Finneran, Jennifer Saunders, Shaun Dooley, Paul Kaye, Dervla Kirwan, Kadiff Kirwan, Jacob Dudman, Ella-Rae Smith, Brandon Fellows, Anthony Head, Stephen Rea, Hannah John-Kamen etc.

No. of Episodes 8

Network release: Netflix

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***


Image result for the stranger netflix poster

Imagine sitting in a bar or restaurant or at the gym or in a coffee shop minding your own business. A stranger approaches you and tells you something that your spouse or partner or relative was hiding from you. This is a secret which rips apart your life and turns everything upside down in the process. This is the basic premise of Harlan Coben’s adaptation of his own novel, The Stranger. Over eight gripping episodes the drama hooks you in from this point forth. Secrets, lies, violence, corruption, blackmail, betrayal and murder drive the narrative in a compelling and serpentine plot.

In what is the TV equivalent of a right page-turner, the main protagonist, Adam Price (Richard Armitage), is the first person to be approached by the titular Stranger. He is given information regarding his wife (Dervla Kirwan) and this threatens to tear his whole family apart. This is just the tip of the iceberg though in regards to the plotting. Other individuals are being targeted too by the Stranger. At the same time a teenager has been comatosed following a woodland rave. It’s not long before Siobhan Finneran’s DS Johanna Griffin investigates this crime, the bizarre beheading of a llama, plus murder, extortion and abduction.

At first, I thought it may be a metaphysical figure revealing guilty secrets to the cast of characters in a Stephen King supernatural-style narrative. However, Harlan Coben’s contemporary crime thriller is firmly set in reality, as it privileges familial and police procedural drama compellingly. Over the eight episodes I was glued to what happens next, as we get so many cat-and-mouse chases and character surprises throughout. Richard Armitage is excellent as the lead protagonist, desperately trying to keep his family together. The teenage character subplots are not so successful as the some of their acting is pretty dire. However, the likes of Siobhan Finneran, Jennifer Saunders, Paul Kaye and Stephen Rea add real quality to what is a conventional, but always watchable genre production.

Mark: 8 out of 11



THE NETFLIX PROCLAMATION – REVIEWS OF: EARTHQUAKE BIRD (2019), i LOST MY BODY (2019), THE KING (2019), THE TWO POPES (2019) and more…

THE NETFLIX PROCLAMATION – FILM REVIEW CATCH-UP MARCH 2020

With COVID-19 threatening the world’s population, it is a time to remain calm and, if required, stay indoors out of the way of potential infection. As long as the Internet holds then there are thousands of films and TV shows to watch online to keep us all occupied. Obviously, one must also take a deep breath and pray that aside from the illness affecting the world, society manages to keep it’s social, financial and medical structures in place too.

Clearly, we need distractions at this difficult time. Films may not be the solution, but they can offer diversion at least. Thankfully, I love staying in and watching movies as it is a major hobby of mine. Indeed, I have been busy lately catching up on some of the latest releases Netflix has to offer. Thus, I present some quick reviews of films currently on the streaming platform, all with the usual marks out of eleven.

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



A PRIVATE WAR (2019)

Rosamund Pike is absolutely enthralling as the brave war correspondent, Marie Colvin. Putting her life and sanity on the line to report the terrors of conflict in Sri Lanka, Libya and Syria, to name a few, Colvin was both fearless and crazy in equal measures, but remains an incredibly powerful voice. This fine biopic feels haphazard and structurally chaotic but is certainly an impressive tribute to an iconic journalist. (Mark: 8 out of 11)


DESTROYER (2018)

Nicole Kidman gives another excellent performance in this gritty neo-noir-cop-procedural drama. The clever structure — which tracks back and forth between Kidman’s burnt out character in the present and her violent past going undercover in a crime gang — arguably works against the emotional power of the film. However, director Karyn Kusama and Kidman make a formidable team in delivering a moody, bruising and bitter revenge thriller. (Mark: 8 out of 11)


EARTHQUAKE BIRD (2019)

I really loved director Wash Washmoreland’s previous film, Colette (2018), because it was such a vibrant. colourful and sparkling biopic of a fascinating character. I was thus surprised to see he had followed it up with an under-cooked thriller like Earthquake Bird (2019). Alicia Vikander portrays a dour ex-patriot in Japan who gets drawn into a love triangle involving the effervescent, Riley Keough, and photographer, Naoki Kobayashi. The film felt, like Vikander’s protagonist, depressed; ultimately drifting toward a tepid denouement. (Mark: 6 out of 11)


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ENTEBBE (2019)

Rosamund Pike again! Here she is cast alongside Daniel Bruhl as they portray two Germans who joined a Palestinian military group that hijacked an Air France Flight in 1976. While the politics of the Israelis versus the Palestinians is explored to some extent, I felt more could have been done during the hostage situation to examine such complex issues. Instead, we get something more generic from director Jose Padiha, who inexplicably uses dance troupe montage to convey nebulous emotion and meaning. (Mark: 6 out of 11)


I LOST MY BODY (2019) – (Contains spoilers)

Both original and generic in terms of story, this romantic drama contains some of the most wonderful animation concepts I have seen in a long time. Brilliantly rendered and directed by Jeremy Chaupin, the narrative has two major strands. A severed hand – yes, a hand – seeks to unite with its body. Simultaneously, flashbacks reveal young Naoufel attempting to romance the girl he loves, Gabrielle. I really wanted to enjoy this more as the filmmaking is stunning. But, the final act of the film was too poetic, and it left me feeling cold and confused. (Mark: 7 out of 11)


THE KING (2019)

David Michod has been a filmmaker worth keeping tabs on since the release of brutal Australian crime film, Animal Kingdom (2010). After the big budget military satire War Machine (2017), failed, in my view, to hit the target, Michod has gone with another big production in The King (2019). Adapting Shakespeare’s Henry V trilogy (co-writer with Joel Edgerton) is no easy task and they deliver a film full of bravura cinematic moments. Timothee Chalamet is impressive in the lead role as the reluctant, but strong-of-heart young Prince Hal/King Henry. Lastly, Sean Harris, Robert Pattinson, Edgerton (as Falstaff) and Thomasin Mackenzie provide excellent acting support in a stirring period epic. (Mark: 8 out of 11)


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THE LAUNDROMAT (2019)

Filmmakers Scott Z. Burns and Steven Soderbergh are usually so reliable in their cinematic endeavours. However, a star-studded cast including: Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Sharon Stone, Antonio Banderas, Matthias Schoenaerts and Jeffrey Wright cannot save this misguided comedy-drama about the Panama Papers scandal. I’m sure there is a great film in such financial crimes, but this was not it. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)

MID 90s (2019)

Jonah Hill adds director to his already very successful acting, writing and producing curriculum vitae. Mid 90s (2019) owes much to the low-budget, improvisational and gritty style of filmmakers like Harmony Korine and Larry Clark, however, Hill’s approach is less extreme. The loose and episodic rites-of-passage narrative centres on Los Angeles based skater gangs and specifically Stevie (Sunny Suljic). He longs to grow up too fast and his experiences reminded me of an American version of Shane Meadow’s This is England (2006). While it’s a solid work of cinema, full of heart and believable performances, it’s ultimately quite underwhelming from an emotional perspective. (Mark: 7 out of 11)


THE TWO POPES (2019)

Fernando Merielles directs this adaptation of Anthony McCarten’s play featuring two giants of the acting world in Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce. The two heavyweight actors portray the real-life Pope Benedict XVI (Hopkins) and future Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pryce). The duo conflict, debate and laugh about serious matters related to the history of the Catholic Church; plus, some not-so serious matters such as pizza and football. Having sat through Paulo Sorrentino’s uber-pretentious TV series The New Pope (2020) recently, I was not in the mood for more theological drama. However, the two leads are excellent, especially Pryce; and while the film is very dialogue driven, the flashbacks of Argentine history from Cardinal Bergoglio’s early years were powerfully evoked. (Mark: 8 out of 11).


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

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

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

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

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

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

***THESE REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS***



HORSE GIRL (2020)

Directed by: Jeff Baena

Written by: Jeff Baena and Alison Brie

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

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

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

Mark: 7 out of 11



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THUNDER ROAD (2018)

Written and directed by: Jim Cummings

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

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

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

Mark: 7.5 out of 11



THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) – MOVIE REVIEW

THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Screenplay by Leigh Whannell – based on H. G. Wells The Invisible Man

Produced by: Jason Blum, Kylie du Fresne

Main cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Michael Dorman,

Music: Benjamin Wallfisch

Cinematography: Stefan Duscio

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Many a work, home, pub, dinner party and school conversation has started with the following question: what would YOU do if you were invisible? Depending on the company it’s something that can descend into wild fantasy territory. Being invisible will allow you the freedom to spy and become the ultimate voyeur. You could also become a criminal and creep into places without being seen to thieve. You could be a prankster and play tricks on your friends and family. You could become a superhero, battle crime and help people. You could simply just disappear not just literally, but philosophically from society. The possibilities are endless.

H. G. Wells original novel is an absolute genre masterpiece. Arguably the most famous version was filmed in 1933 with incredible practical effects and an exceptional performance from Claude Rains. In this new version the conventional invisible scientist-goes-mad story is twisted successfully into an exhilarating horror suspense film with themes relating to toxic masculinity and abusive relationships. Here invisibility is used to control and instil fear, as the recently deceased Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is, according to his ex-partner, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), targeting her from the grave.



Leigh Whannell has great experience writing and producing low-budget horror films including: Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010). His last directorial release, Upgrade (2018), was a fantastic mix of 1980’s B-movies, sci-fi and horror cinema. Building on the crowd-pleasing thrills of Upgrade, Whannell has crafted a paranoiac classic with Elisabeth Moss giving a fantastically nerve-shredding and physically adept performance. From the tense opening scene, we empathise with her desire to escape a controlling and malevolent force. Building slowly throughout the first act, Whannell’s script brilliantly picks up the pace and plots Cecilia’s descent into a living hell. Consequently, Cecilia’s anxiety reaches peak stress as no one believes she is being set up by a gas-lighting, unseen and venal monster.

It pays to see this film on the big screen with the finest sound quality available. I watched it on an IMAX screen where the sound design and Benjamin Wallfisch’s amazing score really enhance the fear-inducing visuals. How the production team made this film for a reported $7 million dollars is beyond me. Yet, Whannell is an economical and highly efficient filmmaker. His writing is lean and mean, as the script is full of fantastic set-pieces and plot reversals. Moreover, the story is very relevant, exploring the themes of the day relating to domestic abuse, depression and mental illness. However, it’s not an overbearing message movie, but rather a smart and surprising thriller.

Overall, The Invisible Man (2020) starts strongly and proceeds to deliver a series of gripping and, at times, heart-in-the-mouth cinematic moments. There are none of the usual scientific and over-expositional set-ups that can slow down such films. The visuals, sound, score and performances deliver the story most effectively. I felt like there were a few fuzzy plot moments that Whannell could have explained in more detail, however, that could have hindered the pace of the story. Finally, with Elisabeth Moss imbuing her character with resilience, energy and steel, we get an individual who will never give up. She sees through her ghosting nemesis and will fight to the last breath to prove her innocence and remain in control.

Mark: 9 out of 11