Tag Archives: TIME

AD ASTRA (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

AD ASTRA (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: James Gray

Produced by: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, James Gray, Anthony Katagas, Rodrigo Teixeira, Arnon Milchan

Written by: James Gray, Ethan Gross

Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler etc.

Music: Max Richter

Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**



There’s a moment toward the end when Brad Pitt’s intrepid astronaut, Roy McBride, is floating in space, and he asks himself (via a voice-over), should I carry on? Is there any point? In the vastness of space, nearing the endgame of an epic mission full of danger, he asks himself if it is worth, existentially speaking, continuing. It’s a central theme to the whole film and perfectly encapsulates McBride’s character. Externally he is heroic, however, internally he is perpetually questioning whether life is worth living. I often find myself doing this, but not in space. It’s usually when my alarm goes off in the morning and I have to go to work.

But McBride is not pathetic like me. I cannot even get on a plane for fear of crashing. He is on a mission to save Earth. Because, in the near future, catastrophic destruction is threatening us. Thus, he is given the task of venturing to Neptune, via Mars and experience all manner of space obstacles in order to track down the person or persons who may have caused the beginning of the end. This individual is alleged to be his father, portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones. So begins McBride’s very personal journey to the stars; to the heart of the darkest space.



A while ago I wrote an article about Hollywood making unofficial “remakes” as part of their film output – you can read the article here. Essentially, I proposed that in amidst their sequel, prequels, adaptations and superhero movie releases, you will get original screenplays and content too. However, sometimes these original ideas are thinly veiled carbon copies of ideas and structures from other films or literary sources.

For example, Star Wars (1977) used The Hidden Fortress (1958) structure and characters as an original starting point. Likewise, James Gray’s stunningly crafted science-fiction drama. Ad Astra (2019) is clearly using Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), as, not just influences, but total structural replication.

This in no way effected my enjoyment of this enthralling epic. What did happen though is that the story structure felt very familiar. The narrative unfolds in a staccato style with elegantly shot space transportation sequences and McBride’s psyche testing stops, spiked with bursts of action, fighting and surprising twists. When Clifford finally reaches Kurtz, I mean his father, his character and the audience have experienced some truly thrilling and visually spectacular moments. We also experience the psychological and philosophical musings of McBride. But, arguably these are nowhere near as poetic as Martin Sheen’s voice-over from the Coppola war classic.



In most scenes the visuals steal the show. The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema and production design creates a hive of imagery which, amidst the darkness, bursts with colour and light. I genuinely, especially on Mars, felt like I was in a moving art installation. Having said that, Brad Pitt’s subtle but emotional performance and Max Richter’s sumptuous score also enhance the emotional pull of the story. Pitt, I expect to win a Best Supporting Oscar as Cliff Booth in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), but he could also get a Best Actor nomination here.

James Gray directs with a deft and “less is more” hand throughout. While the production itself looks epic, the psychology of the film is one of introspection. His themes of obsession, journey and existentialism drew me in the way they did in his last film, The Lost City of Z (2016). Ultimately, although the film’s screenplay could have ironed out some thin characterisations and plot inconsistencies, Gray demonstrates that the very existence of his films certainly make life worth living.

Mark: 9 out of 11


TRUE DETECTIVE (2019) – SEASON 3 – HBO TV REVIEW

TRUE DETECTIVE (2019) – SEASON 3 – HBO TV REVIEW

Created by: Nic Pizzolatto

Writers: Nic Pizzolatto, David Milch, Graham Gordy

Directors: Jeremy Saulnier, Daniel Sackheim, Nic Pizzolatto

Starring: Mahershala Ali, Carmen Egogo, Stephen Dorff, Scoot McNairy, Ray Fisher etc.

No. of episodes: 8

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Time is an unforgiving concept. It marches on and absolutely never stops until we are dust. While young we believe we have more time, but deep down we can see our own death. That fear will either drive us forward positively or send us insane. Old age is perhaps the bitterest turn in time we must suffer. If we live long enough to collect a litany of fine memories, the mind disintegrates them, cruelly disallowing us from recalling such happy moments. There is also regret. If you have a conscience you are likely to suffer regret. Regret of what you have done wrong, not done right and been simply incapable of doing. Lastly, it is said time and tide wait for no man or woman. But it is waiting; waiting for us to die.

Existential police procedural drama, True Detective, is back for a third season and very good it is too. Starring Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff as the, as usual, mismatched cops; it concerns the hunt for two missing children in the Ozarks, Arkansas. Further, the supporting cast include the impressive Carmen Egogo and always compelling Scoot McNairy. Set over eight compelling episodes we criss-cross three separate timelines that centre on the said case. Events unfold circa 1980 (when the crime occurred); circa 1990 (when the investigation is re-opened); and the present with the characters aged and withering from time’s unrelenting march. The complex structure really enhances the genre plot as the intriguing timelines over-lap and bleed into one another, thickening the mystery and heightening suspense.

While the criminal case is central to the conventions of the genre, writer Nic Pizzolatto is as much interested in the character development and themes pertaining to: love, time, regret, guilt, aging, memory and death. The character of lead detective, Wayne Hays (Ali) is fascinating. A former U.S. soldier who served in Vietnam, he is a complex soul striving for meaning and trying to do the righteous thing. Consistently, however, he finds his race and social standing a barrier to solving the crime. Through his trio of timelines we feel his sense of loss, love, isolation, anger, happiness and confusion. The confusion especially worsens when his older self is hit by Alzheimer’s. Indeed, it is incredibly heartfelt while he attempts to piece together events from memories past including: the crimes, his actions, violent events, and the romantic moments he had with his wife (Egogo.)

Once again, Mahershala Ali proves he is pound-for-pound one of the best actors around. He gives an incredibly nuanced and intelligent performance as Hays. To inhabit the same character in three different guises takes a particular skillset and the subtle differences in performance are a joy to behold. He is assisted by uniformly excellent direction and production design. Indeed, some of the editing is sublime as the images switch between the young Hays and older Hays brilliantly; dissolves, reflections and over-lapping montage effects used imaginatively throughout. Lastly, it’s was also great to see Stephen Dorff too in a prominent role as Hays’ no-nonsense partner, Roland West. Dorff provides ebullient support during the investigation and their friendship is a mainstay of the show.

After the scintillating first season which had Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson burning the plasma off the TV screen with their intense performances, the unfocussed second season contained star acting power but a confused narrative. However, Season 3 is a fine return to form and if you love your cop shows: dark, existential, meditative, violent and intelligent, then this is definitely worth your time.

CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Produced by: Kevin Feige

Screenplay by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet

Based on: Captain Marvel by Stan Lee, Gene Colan

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Annette Bening, Gemma Chan etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Not only am I getting comic-book movie fatigue, but I’m also getting comic-book movie reviewing fatigue too. I mean, what else can be said about said collection of films mostly delivered by Marvel and DC over the last decade? Plus, don’t forget the cavalcade of Marvel TV adaptations too on Netflix and other channels.

On the whole I have enjoyed the journey into the Marvel universe and the studio does deliver mostly cracking entertainment within a very solid genre formula. Of course, I can choose NOT to watch them due to being jaded, but I feel invested enough to complete the superhero cycle, especially where the Marvel films are concerned. Thus, with one eye on the Avengers: Endgame (2019) epic that is due for release very soon, I approached Captain Marvel (2019) with relaxed expectations, just out for a bit of a blast before the final Avenger chess pieces all meet to save the world – AGAIN!

Captain Marvel is a 1990s set action-drama prequel which presents a fast-paced couple of hours set in space and on Earth. It comes at a weird release time in the franchise as this kind of origins story has been done ad infinitum, plus the time it is set means much of what occurs could be deemed dramatically redundant. Nonetheless, it begins with a galactic soldier named Vers (Brie Larson), training with Jude Law’s battle-hardened mentor, Yon Rogg. They are part of a crack team of Kree fighting a shape-shifting enemy called Skrulls. These terrorists threaten the Kree civilisation and must be stopped at all costs. Allied to the main conflict, Vers is suffering post-traumatic stress via flash memories which cause her to question her past and identity. Following a planetary raid which goes awry, Vers is conveniently stranded on Earth, with the villains in pursuit. Here she joins forces with, whom else, Agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and then her literal journey of discovery really gathers pace.

Putting aside Marvel narrative fatigue I still managed to enjoy the movie immensely. Despite the story and plot weaknesses the final hour of action and battles sequences are very impressive. The first hour though finds the screenplay broken and confused. Indeed, like the character, the film is caught between two identities and also has tonal issues. It’s somehow trapped between the character driven, indie style of directors, Boden & Fleck, and the usual Marvel gags, pop music, alien artefacts and explosions shtick.

I loved that Danvers’ character and Brie Larson were given the chance to show depth of emotion; however, by presenting the story in a flashback-non-linear-amnesiac-plot-style, all emotional resonance was lost in the mix. Thus, the story became broken-backed trying to cover too many bases in the wrong order. For example, the empowerment montage, near the end, of Danvers’ character finding strength from overcoming past failures is terrifically planned and shot. It’s a shame though that it does not carry the dramatic weight it could have.

Having said that, there’s loads of stuff to enjoy, notably: some clever plot twists; a committed cast including the effervescent Larson and Jackson double-act; Ben Mendelsohn as the head shape-shifter, Talos; the Gwen Stefani-driven-pop-kick-ass-action in the final act; loads of great gags, especially the cat ones; plus, a bundle of Marvel in-jokes, call-backs and inter-textual references. Ultimately, Captain Marvel, is a very solid work of entertainment which, while opening up the whole “where was Captain Marvel until now?” plot hole, manages to fill the gap enjoyably before the whole game finally comes to an end.

Mark: 8 out of 11

DOCTOR WHO – S11 – EP. 7 REVIEW – KERBLAM (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – S11 – EP. 7 REVIEW – KERBLAM (2018)

Directed by: Jennifer Perrott

Written by: Pete McTighe

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Lee Mack, Callum Dixon, Claudia Jessie etc.

Produced by: Nikki Wilson

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

Composer: Segun Akinola

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Kerblam

After the moving emotion and historical power of last week’s episode, this week the Doctor was back to the future and in outer space. Following a delivery from the Kerblam shopping emporium the Tardis crew receive a message pleading for help. Quicker than you can say Amazon, the team are soon undercover at the space factory trying to find out what’s going on at Kerblam.

It’s a pacey episode with some excellent one-liners and a pretty involving plot. The writer Peter Tighe manages to cram in some corporate sabotage, a romance plot and creepy androids – called TeamMates – reminiscent of the electric cab drivers from Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990). It also features some excellent guest appearances from comedian Lee Mack and Julie Hesmondhalgh who stand-out in their under-written roles. Aside from a couple of wonky narrative moments and dodgy CGI conveyor belt chase the episode was very enjoyable.

Mandip Gill

In terms of subtext there were some interesting points to be made about online shopping empires and the idea that machines are making human beings redundant. However, this wasn’t laboured but successfully integrated into the humorous and, at times, suspenseful story. Indeed, this felt more like one of the lighter Matt Smith or David Tennant episodes in terms of wit, action and theme. My main issue now with the series is that the Doctor’s characterisation is not as interesting as previous ones.

It is now the seventh week for Jodie Whittaker’s tenure and in each episode I have really wanted her to stamp her acting authority on the role. She is a great actor but perhaps some of the directing is failing to make the most of her ability. The show is entertaining enough but it does feel too dramatically lightweight in terms of Whittaker’s performance at times. Of course, I am still really enjoying the show but at present the Doctor is more of a cypher rather than a rounded character. Jodie Whittaker is carrying the episodes brilliantly but there’s got to be more weight and intensity for me.

Mark: 8 out of 11

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 – EPISODE 5 REVIEW: THE TSURANGA CONUNDRUM  (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 – EPISODE 5 REVIEW: THE TSURANGA CONUNDRUM  (2018)

Directed by: Jennifer Perrott

Written by: Chris Chibnall

Produced by: Nikki Wilson

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

Cast:   Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Brett Goldstein, Ben Bailey-Smith, Suzanne Packer etc.

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

The_Tsuranga's_Passengers

Well, this was a lot of fun. I really connected with this latest adventure, which found the Doctor and her crew initially scavenging on an alien junkyard planet, before suddenly being caught in a surprise sonic explosion. They wake aboard the Tsuranga – which is an automated space hospital – like a flying version of the National Health Service. Discombobulated and injured from the mine explosion the Doctor, companions, Tsuranga’s crew and patients are soon to be faced with an even bigger danger.

Small but devastating the danger is called a P’Ting. It’s a creature that scoffs non-organic material; a cute looking eating machine that will devour the ship. It attacks the vessel and begins literally eating it out of space-ship and home.  The Doctor, aided by the ship’s medical staff Astos and Mabli; plus General Eve Cicero; her brother Durkas; synth robot Ronan; and Yoss, a pregnant man are all threatened by the darned P’Ting. I wondered if there was some sociological subtext to the P’Ting as it eats its way through the hospital in space, with Chris Chibnall critiquing the devastation of the NHS by the Tories. However, this message wasn’t to the fore and overall it was essentially a fun genre episode with lots of action and humour throughout.

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The standard genre set-up of a base/ship under siege is a Doctor Who staple. Despite the simplicity of the plot, it felt fast-paced and thrilling to me. The guest stars were excellent too, notably the comedian Brett Goldstein who stood out during his time on screen. There was some silliness with Ben Bailey-Smith’s Durkas rigging up a nebulous engineering control to pilot the crashing Tsuranga; nonetheless the entertainment levels remained very high. I especially enjoyed the humour and emotion gained from the alien bloke (who looked very human) giving birth; while Tosin Cole’s Ryan examined further his own relationship with his estranged father. Overall though, this was another light and uncomplicated episode from Chibnall, Whittaker and the team, but one that had me laughing and thrilled throughout.  

Mark: 8 out of 11

DOCTOR WHO – SEASON 11 – EP. 2 REVIEW: THE GHOST MONUMENT (2018)

THE GHOST MONUMENT (2018) REVIEW

Directed by: Mark Tonderai

Written by: Chris Chibnall

Produced by: Nikki Wilson

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

Cast:   Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Susan Lynch, Art Malik, Shaun Dooley

Composer: Segun Akinola

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**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Continuing my weekly review of the new Doctor Who season we found our heroes and heroines rather worryingly floating in space at the end of the last episode, The Woman Who Fell to Earth. Such concern and drama was quickly dispensed with immediately as the Doctor and companions soon found themselves out of the frying pan and into the fiery threat of a space-ship crashing on a seemingly deserted wasteland planet called Desolation. We also got a first look at the opening credit sequence with full blast of the updated, yet very retro feeling, theme tune. Both were, like the first episode of this new season, very familiar yet quite alluring.

The opening action set-piece of The Ghost Monument was pretty suspenseful as a space shuttle hurtled to the planet surface rather dangerously. It also introduced us to two working class space travellers called Angstrom and Epso, portrayed by quality character actors Shaun Dooley and Susan Lynch. They were final two contestants competing for the grand prize in an Intergalactic Space race run by dodgy bookie/gangster/oligarch, Illin (Art Malik). Unsurprisingly the Doctor, and crew, got caught up in the frantic chase to the ‘Ghost Monument’ finishing line.

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Like the previous week the episode was dominated by strong visuals, decent effects and a breakneck pace which, while being slightly thin on emotional depth, was extremely fun. The South African vistas, representing Desolation, were absolutely stunning and gave the episode a very cinematic feel. Essentially a road-chase movie narrative we found the characters on space-ships, boats and doing lots and lots of running about. The race itself added a bonus sub-plot of suspense but the main dramatic question remained: was the Doctor going to find the Tardis?  Well, what do you think?

Overall, I really enjoyed this episode. Like last week Chris Chibnall is still finding his feet with the characters and the Doctor’s persona too. My gut feeling is there’s one too many companions needed but Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill remain very watchable. Moreover, Whittaker’s performance is excellent as she is so talented and energetic. But there were times when her Doctor seemed too uncertain; for me the Doctor is always decisive, even when under pressure. Generic Soldier-Bots aside, the new villains ‘The Remnants’ were quite chilling and I hope they come back. As our space explorers battled them they dropped in a little sub-plot thread that could develop further over this promising start to the season. Indeed, who is the Timeless Child: just another enigmatic narrative Macguffin or something deep and meaningful? Only time will tell.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

A GHOST STORY (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

A GHOST STORY (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

DIRECTOR/WRITER:  DAVID LOWERY

CAST: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck

(Contains mild spoilers – nothing you may not already know.)

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I write reviews for a number of reasons. Firstly, I love cinema and TV and music and culture in general and enjoy writing and thinking about the things I have seen and why I liked or disliked them. Secondly, as a writer myself I enjoy considering aspects from a screenwriting perspective and analyses what did or didn’t work for me. Thirdly, I guess from a narcissistic or egotistical perspective there’s a part of you that wants the attention or simply just confirmation that one’s opinions are being read or listened too. Ultimately, it’s a pastime and a bit of fun.

Every now and then a film comes along which is hard to place and it makes you think and you actually have to apply yourself. You can fall into certain traps of structure or at worst formula when writing reviews. But with David Lowery’s majestic A Ghost Story (2017) he has delivered such an original work of cinema art it is difficult to follow one’s established reviewing rules.

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For starters it is difficult to even give you a brief synopsis of the film because it is so simple in its concept that the title itself sums up what the narrative is. It literally is a Ghost’s story!  However, after establishing the accessible drama of the loss of a loved one, the characters move into a whole new level of complexity in regard to the supernatural, temporal, philosophical and metaphysical.

The main cast are Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara and they brilliantly under-play a loving couple who share a property in a nameless place. Their characters are also seemingly nameless (referred to as ‘C’ and ‘M’ in the credits) and their normal lives are then torn apart when he dies in a car accident. In a beautifully haunting scene at the morgue ‘C’ “awakes” as a GHOST IN A SHEET! Yes, his Ghost is shrouded in a sheet with two eye-holes cut out. My feeling about this initially was how would the director make it work without possible derision? But, due to his sheer confidence in the idea and choice of shots, music and pace we are quickly enveloped by ‘C’s pale figure and his drama.

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From then on we see everything from the Ghost’s perspective and it truly is heart-breaking. I mean it takes guts for the filmmaker to cover his leading actor for the rest of the film but it genuinely pays off. My feeling about the sheet idea was that in death we lose our identity via our body, yet our soul lives on in the space where we existed. Our Ghost here is a genuine lost soul unable to move on and he literally haunts his home in a desire to stay with the one he loves. I also enjoyed the spirituality of the piece without once there being a reference to religion. It’s not about dogmatic belief systems but the purity of life and love.

David Lowery has created one of the most original stories of the year and his handling of composition; editing and temporal structure is a masterclass in pure cinema. This film is hypnotic, tragic and one of the best of the year. It echoes the work of Bergman, Kubrik and Tarkovsky. I for one do like my conventional genre films with well-formed characters and clear plot-lines, but this film transcends cinema conventions and delivers one of the most poignant and melancholic experiences of the year. Plus, the score by Daniel Hart really augments the minimalist approach and often dialogue-free sequences. Overall, this is a meditative joy which is both unconventional yet in its unpolluted filmic poetry had me transfixed throughout.

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)