Tag Archives: war

CINEMA REVIEW: THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (2022)

Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh

Produced by: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin & Martin McDonagh

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

Cinematography: Ben Davis

Edited by: Mikkel E. G. Nielsen

Music by: Carter Burwell

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



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

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



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

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



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

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

Mark: 10 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: WEST SIDE STORY (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: WEST SIDE STORY (2021)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Screenplay by: Tony Kushner

Based on: West Side Story by Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents

Produced by: Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Kevin McCollum

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno, Rachel Zegler etc.

Cinematography: Janusz Kamiński

Choreography: Justin Peck

Music by: Leonard Bernstein

*INEVITABLE SPOILERS WITH THIS STORY*



Well, if you removed all the songs and added more dialogue to West Side Story (2021), then I guarantee it would make an amazing stage play. Oh, it has already. I thought it felt extremely familiar. Silly jokes aside, one often hears the decrying of originality in Hollywood cinema. Sequels, prequels, remakes, adaptations and reboots are plentiful as big business. Known quantities are a better bet to executives than original never-heard-of speculative screenplays. And not everyone is averse to re-doing fully developed properties. Thus, one of the most talented filmmakers of a generation, Steven Spielberg, has delivered a stunning remake of a film adaptation of a stage musical that was developed from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

You know the story. If you don’t, stop reading. Young star-crossed lovers fall in love against their families wishes. Their romance explodes into unbridled passion as war escalates between the two rival factions. As the lovers attempt to find a way to be together the conflict brings about eventual tragedy. Shakespeare was a genius and knew how to structure and spin a yarn. No surprise his works have been adapted infinitely to much success. One of the greatest was the musical West Side Story (1961). Exchanging Verona for New York and pitting the Puerto Rican Sharks against the local firm, the Jets, the play and film contain some of the most incredible numbers ever sang and danced to. The original play won awards and broke box-office records. The film West Side Story (1961) deservedly won many Oscars. It is considered almost a perfect musical. How could it be improved?



West Side Story (2021) cannot possibly be classed as better than the original because Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurent, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, plus their incredible team, had already done all of the challenging work crafting the production. But with this new version Steven Spielberg has once again proved he is one of the great genre directors. Assembling an ultra-talented team including Josh Peck as choreographer, Tony Kushner as screenwriter, Janusz Kaminski as cinematographer and an effervescently wonderful cast.

Everything about the film screams colour, energy and movement. The dancing and editing and swinging beats take you on a breathless journey through the romance and street war. Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria’s (Rachel Zegler) love story is bounced effortlessly between the expertly devised gang battles. Moreover, West Side Story (2021) keeps all the memorably catchy songs such as: Maria, Tonight, America, Cool, and Somewhere, capturing the heart and imagination in equal measure. If there is a better directed, choreographed and edited set-piece all year in the Gee, Officer Krupke number then I haven’t seen it.

The cast are uniformly excellent with Ansel Elgort, while lacking slightly in the vocal department, more than making up for it with his magnetic screen presence. Rachel Zegler is charming if bland as Maria, but Ariana DeBose absolutely steals the scenes with her all-round performance as fiery Anita. The cast all deliver Tony Kushner’s excellent dialogue and the iconic songs with aplomb. Lastly, West Side Story (2021) is an absolute tour-de-force as cinematic entertainment. However, there is a sense that it is a missed opportunity for Steven Spielberg and his team to perhaps update the themes for the modern day. Kushner’s script hints at some analysis of racism that ultimately only scratches the surface. Spielberg is satisfied emulating a classic adaptation of a classic play, remaining trapped in a shiny post-modern time-warp full to the brim with powerful nostalgia.

Mark: 9 out of 11


AMAZON FILM REVIEW: THE MAURITANIAN (2021)

AMAZON FILM REVIEW: THE MAURITANIAN (2021)

Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

Produced by: Adam Ackland, Michael Bronner, Benedict Cumberbatch, Leah Clarke, Christine Holder, Mark Holder, Beatriz Levin, Lloyd Levin, Branwen Prestwood-Smith, etc.

Screenplay by: M.B. Traven, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani

Based on: Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Cast: Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zachary Levi etc.

Music by: Tom Hodge

Cinematograph: Alwin H. Kuchler

***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***



“…a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court, especially to secure the person’s release unless lawful grounds are shown for their detention.” — Basic definition of Habeus Corpus


Mohamedou Ould Slahi is a Mauritanian man who was held for fourteen years from 2002 to 2016 without charge in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. FOURTEEN YEARS without a trial. Let that sink in.

If ever there was a living embodiment of a Kafkaesque experience then this is that. Surely, whatever crime you have or haven’t committed you should be presented to a court of law and evidence be brought to try you for the alleged crimes. Clearly, the United States have, in this singular case against Mohamedou Ould Slahi, by denying him a trial — plus torturing him for years too — committed a heinous war crime. Yes, the 9/11 atrocities were abominable acts of violence, but that does not give anyone the right to wreak revenge against other human beings without concrete evidence to justify such acts. It’s a basic tenet of existence that separates us from the beasts in the jungle, every person deserves a fair trial! To be honest the U.S. administration who were responsible for this and and many other crimes are worse than animals.

The Mauritanian (2021) is an adaptation of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s best selling memoir, Guantanamo Diary. It opens with Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) attending a wedding in his place of birth. He is then picked up by local Mauritanian police and after that is imprisoned indefinitely, unknown to him, by the American military. The structure of the film compellingly builds his experiences in jail and the brutal torture he endures as the Americans attempt to gather intelligence to prove that he is a key member of the terrorist cells who organised the 9/11 attacks. As the story reveals his horrendous ordeal, lawyers represented by Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) and Teri Duncan (Shailene Woodley) take up his case to, at the very least, enable Ould Slahi to get a fair trial.



As well as highlighting the horrors of how Ould Slahi was treated this film is a damning indictment of American foreign policy, notably under the George Bush administration. The fact that Ould Slahi and his lawyers were successful in achieving a win against his imprisonment was not the end of his entrapment. You honestly won’t believe what occurred even after he won his case. But what about the film you may be asking? Well, I am just staggered this and many other sitautions occur in the world so this is more of an emotional review than a cinematic appraisal.

Overall, The Mauritanian (2021) is an exceptional drama which is directed effectively by seasoned filmmaker, Kevin Macdonald. As Ould Slahi, Tahar Rahim is absolutely exceptional. He brings a humanity and humour to the character’s struggle. What I absorbed most from his portrayal, and this is reflected in a moving credits sequence excerpt, is how Ould Slahi retained his humour even in the most trying times. Furthermore, while their character’s smack of white saviour personalities, the legal team — based on the real people — are expertly represented by Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley. Foster especially shows her usual sterling gravitas in the role. Benedict Cumberbatch, arguably miscast as the military lawyer suffering a crisis of conscience, gives his usual excellent performance.

Lastly, The Mauritanian (2021), because of a slightly choppy screenplay, I felt the book deserved a longer telling via a television series. Yet, the film remains an important narrative about how bloodlust, greed and desire for revenge means humans commit horrific acts in the name of war. Mohamedou Ould Slahi was denied his freedom and human rights for crimes never proved. How he survived is an incredible feat of human endurance. Thus, whether he was innocent or guilty his freedom was earned and then some.

Mark: 9 out of 11


CULT FILM REVIEW: HOUSE/ハウス – (1977)

CULT FILM REVIEW: HOUSE (1977)

Directed by: Nobuhiko Obayashi

Produced by: Nobuhiko Obayashi, Yorihiko Yamada

Screenplay by: Chiho Katsura

Story by: Chigumi Obayashi

Cast: Kimiko Ikegami, Miki Jinbo, Ai Matubara, Kumiko Oba, Mieko Sato, Eriko Tanaka, Masayo Miyako, Yōko Minamida

Music by: Asei Kobayashi, Mickie Yoshino

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



This Japanese film from the late 1970s is absolutely nuts, but a riotous genre mash-up of rites-of-passage, horror, musical, martial arts, romance, fantasy, comedy and anti-war genre movie styles. If you are a fan of the work of Takashi Miike’s both energetic and often insane genre films, you can definitely see how, House (1977), may have had a major influence on his and many other Asian filmmaker’s cinematic works.

Initially receiving negative reviews, but big box office in Japan on release, House (1977), opens by introducing a set of seven teenage girls called, Gorgeous, King Fu, Prof, Melody, Fantasy, Mac and Sweet. The names give them their major characteristics too. Kung Fu for example loves martial arts, Fantasy is a daydreamer and Melody loves music etc. You get the idea. As each character is introduced in a basic fashion, the energetic performances of the actors and the quirky screenplay develops their characters beyond the initial stereotypes. Gorgeous is especially well developed as she is suffering the loss of her mother and has rejected her father’s choice of stepmother. Eschewing her kindly father’s protestations, she decides to visit her aged Aunt in the countryside.



When Gorgeous’ friend’s school trip is cancelled due to several bizarre plot turns, and a couple of crazy musical numbers later, the girls join her on the visit to the creepy house. When they finally arrive Gorgeous’ aunt behaves extremely oddly. She rarely gets visitors and only has a white cat for company. When the girls begin to disappear one-by-one and Fantasy’s daydreams begin to turn to nightmares, the true horror of the situation takes shape. The house itself is a malevolent force and has trapped the girls. What appeared to be a lovely summer vacation is now the total opposite.

Now, what I have described actually seems quite normal in terms of the narrative content. It’s a standard horror plot of characters imprisoned by supernatural forces and trying desperately to stay alive. However, director, Nobuhiko Obayashi, who devised the story with his daughter, presents a series of images and sounds David Lynch would have been proud to have devised. These include: a mirror attacking the viewer, a watermelon being pulled out of a well appearing like a human head, a pile of futons falling on and attacking a character, a carnivorous piano with biting keys and all manner of surreal fights and deaths. Allied to this the eccentric and jolly music works against the horror and suspense, so one is both laughing and disturbed simultaneously.

Ultimately, House (1977) is one wacky viewing experience, but it also taps into themes of friendship, romance, grief, as well as drawing on the horror of destruction Japan suffered when the atomic bombs hit Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It is fast paced with an abundance of imaginative ideas, film styles and practical effects throughout. Thus, if you love the work of aforementioned Miike, Lynch and Sam Raimi, you are bound to want to stay in House (1977) for the rapid eighty-eight minutes duration.


FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #13 – INCENDIES (2010)

FILMS THAT GOT AWAY #13 – INCENDIES (2010)

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Produced by: Luc Déry, Kim McCraw

Screenplay by: Denis Villeneuve, Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne

Based on: Incendies by Wajdi Mouawad

Cast: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Rémy Girard, Abdelghafour Elaaziz, etc.

Music by: Grégoire Hetzel

Cinematography: André Turpin

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



INCENDIES (2010) is the probably the best film you haven’t seen. If you have seen it then tell more people to see it. Spread the word on this incredible film. I watched Incendies (2010) for the first time a few years ago and it has stayed with me ever since. Given the lack of recent cinema releases, I felt compelled to watch it again and once more was blown away by the power of the characters and their stories. Not quite old enough to review as a classic movie, and as it stands as at No. 111 on the IMDB 250, it doesn’t qualify as an under-rated classic, I have therefore filed this contemporary classic under films that got away.

Based on a play by Wajdi Mouawad, Incendies (2010) was developed by Denis Villeneuve, who took five years developing and writing the screenplay. Villeneuve was attracted to the play because it was a modern story with Greek tragedy at its heart. It is set in both Canada and in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, with events in the narrative traversing between the these countries and different time periods. While the country where most of the action takes place is unnamed, given Mouawad is Lebanese, it is safe to say that this complex tale unfolds during the Lebanese Civil War. However, it is a masterstroke not to be specific about setting, as this ensures it is not place and politics one focusses on, but the thought-provoking human drama. And what drama it is!


Incendies tells the brutal but riveting story of Nawal (Lubna Azabal), a woman who lived through her country’s civil war.

After starting with a haunting scene from the past showing bedraggled children herded into an orphanage, the story quickly moves to the present. Twins, (Jeanne Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon Marwan (Maxim Gaudette) meet Jean (Remy Girard), a notary handling their deceased mother’s will. Their mother, Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal), has left two letters – one for the twin’s brother, and another for their father. If they can locate them and give them the letters, Nawal will allow her children to bury her with a casket and headstone. Jeanne, the calmer of the two siblings, agrees to the request. However, Simon is angry that secrets were kept and is against taking it any further.

Incendies (2010) then becomes two powerful narratives intertwined to structural perfection by Villeneuve and Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne’s exceptional screenplay. Firstly, we follow Jeanne as she travels to Daresh, in the Middle East, attempting to follow in Nawal’s footsteps. Here the film becomes a compelling detective story as Jeanne (and later in the film, Simon) slowly discovers her mother’s tragic life history before she moved to Canada. Running parallel to this the narrative flashes back to show Nawal’s life as she escapes village life to go to University, only for religious civil war to tear the fabric of the country apart. Villeneuve, who has subsequently directed many visually stunning big budget films, makes the most of the sun-scorched and battle-scarred landscapes. Moreover, he also delivers a stunning and suspenseful sequence when Nawal finds herself trapped on a bus surrounded by soldiers.

I genuinely do not want to say anymore about the plot of Incendies (2010), for fear of spoiling what is such a complex and well designed story. It drives me mad when I watch films or television shows and they gratuitously use flashbacks or fractured temporal structures to create mystery. Because what many ultimately do is confuse the audience and create emotional distance from the characters. Villeneuve directs in an intelligent way, retaining empathy and emotion for both protagonists and antagonists devoured by war. Nawal Marwan’s story is especially heart-breaking and she is given a moving portrayal by Lubna Azabal. Nawal’s story is one of astounding power as the character experiences the hell of loss, war, torture and death. Her final attempt at redemption from beyond the grave gives us a searing human drama. One which will shake you to the core for days and weeks and maybe even years!

Mark: 10 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.



NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: DA 5 BLOODS (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: DA 5 BLOODS (2020)

Directed by: Spike Lee

Produced by: Jon Kilik, Spike Lee, Beatriz Levin, Lloyd Levin

Written by: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott

Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Jean Reno, Chadwick Boseman etc.

Music by: Terence Blanchard, Marvin Gaye

Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel

Distribution: Netflix

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee has been a prolific actor, director, producer and polemicist for some time now. An ultra-talented and outspoken cinematic artist, he has directed thirty fiction and documentary films since his debut feature film She’s Gotta Have It (1986). Plus, all manner of promos, commercials, music videos, short films and television series. An energetic firebrand of a director he has made films in many genres and is a risk-taker in subject, theme and style. Whether you agree with what he has to say he is a filmmaker who is always creating situations and characters who must be heard.  

His latest film, Da 5 Bloods (2020), is a timely Netflix film release which encapsulates crime, heist, political, war, drama, Blaxploitation, comedy, documentary, love and experimental film genres. Lee has never been afraid of taking risks and sometimes his films have not worked because of it. However, with BlacKKKlansman (2018) he succeeded in making one of the best films of 2018 and should have won Best Film Oscar in my view. Da 5 Bloods (2020) grabs the power baton of Lee’s prior film and runs with it, delivering an entertaining, funny, thought-provoking, stylish and brilliant genre-blending story full of sustainable socio-political arguments in the era of the Black Lives Matter movement.



The narrative begins by establishing four aging Vietnam veterans, portrayed by the magnetic ensemble of Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis and Isiah Whitlock Jr. They meet in Ho Chi Minh City in order to venture into the jungle and locate the remains of their squad leader. During some very stylised, richly colour-saturated and impactful flashbacks, it is revealed their friend, “Stormin Norman” (the charismatic, Chadwick Boseman), was killed in combat. Furthermore, and this is the money reason they are back in ‘Nam – there is army gold in those hills. Thus, the comrades set out to locate their friend’s body, and the gold, in order to find reparation and hopefully some form of redemption.

The film begins warmly as we enjoy the company of these great actors portraying reunited friends on an old boys outing. However, the film, as it introduces further subplots involving Jean Reno’s suspicious businessmen, Desroche and Delroy Lindo’s Paul crumbling mental state, moves into far darker territory the further the men get into the jungle. Lindo himself gives arguably the best performance of his career as a soldier grieving for his lost friend and desperate to get compensation for the unjust loss of so many lives in Vietnam. His character’s downward mental trajectory is one of the most powerful elements of Da 5 Bloods (2020). No doubt Lindo will be nominated come awards time and so he should be.

The cinematic excellence on show too from Spike Lee and his production crew is to be applauded too. Lee’s box of magic tricks includes: jump cuts, aspect ratio switches, colour saturation, Shakespearean soliloquies, documentary footage, flashbacks, conveyor-belt camera tracks, stills photography, slow-motion, direct address and many other devices. The exceptional cinematography is drenched in an opulent score from Terence Blanchard and the incredible voice of Marvin Gaye. I guess my main reservations about the film would be the elongated running time, with some scenes indulgently over-running. Moreover, there were also a couple of convenient plot coincidences which could have been ironed out. Nonetheless, with Da 5 Bloods (2020), Spike Lee has delivered another bravura mix of genre and socio-political filmmaking which, like classics such as The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) and Apocalypse Now (1979), stare into the dark heart of humanity and find greed, war and death there. Unlike those two films though, Da 5 Bloods (2020), also contains hope, light in the tunnel, and the idea that togetherness brings strength in the face of adversity.

Mark: 9 out 11


NETFLIX REVIEW – THE SPY (2019)

NETFLIX REVIEW – THE SPY (2019)

Directed by: Gideon Raff

Executive producer(s): Gideon Raff, Sacha Baron Cohen

Producer(s): Alain Goldman

Screenplay by: Gideon Raff & Max Perry based on the book L’espion qui venait d’Israël – written by Uri Dan and Yeshayahu Ben Porat.

Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Noah Emmerich, Hadar Ratzon-Rotem, Yael Eitan, Nassim Si Ahmed, Moni Moshonov, Alona Tal, Mourad Zaoui, Alexander Siddig, Marc Maurille, Waleed Zuaiter, Arié Elmaleh, Hassam Ghancy, Uri Gavriel etc.

Distribution: Netflix



There’s a wonderful scene in a later episode of The Spy (2019) where Sacha Baron Cohen’s undercover Israeli agent laments his split identity. Taking on a Syrian alter ego in order to infiltrate their military and government infrastructure has meant Eli Cohen has sacrificed his safety and family life to become businessmen, Kamal Amin Thaabet. After years of successfully inveigling his way into the Syrian system, these battling personalities have created a psychological rift. As Eli spills his guts to handler, Dan Peleg (Noah Emmerich), he is so conflicted he feels Eli is lost and Kamal has taken over. He no longer knows who he is from one moment to the next. It’s a great scene and, like he does throughout this compelling drama, Baron Cohen excels. Indeed, given he has portrayed different comedic creations over the years, there is startling truth here.

Of course, portraying larger than life, and hilariously offensive characters, such as Borat, Ali G and Bruno marks Sacha Baron Cohen as a provocative comedic genius. His risk-taking-celebrity-baiting-devil’s-advocate-controversial television shows and films have been very successful commercially. Moreover, he has also won many awards in the process. While he was mooted to portray Freddie Mercury at one point, other than Les Miserables (2012) and perhaps Hugo (2011), Baron Cohen is obviously best known for his comedic work. However, the deft and nuanced performance presented here in The Spy (2019), I hope, leads to more dramatic roles for Baron Cohen. Because, he is absolutely outstanding in this split role.


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Following the beats of espionage and undercover police narratives, Gideon Raff, who created the original Israeli drama which would become big TV hit, Homeland, has delivered a gripping and stylish period drama. The 1960’s set era is evoked expertly from the washed-out hues of the scenes set in Israel, to the more colour-drenched sequences set in Syria. Recruited by Mossad, Cohen trains, adopts his new identity as Kamal, and is transplanted to Buenos Aires. There he uses Israel-backed wealth, chutzpah and business acumen to further cement his Syrian cover. Eventually moving to Syria raises the stakes for Cohen/Kamal and the danger levels increase as his contacts become more dangerous and powerful within the Syrian government.

Overall, The Spy (2019), buoyed by Baron Cohen magnetic performance, is highly recommended. Further, I was constantly on edge for Cohen/Kamal’s safety as he transmits messages to Israel via Morse code and photographs exported in furniture out of Syria. Conversely, the process of being a spy is brilliantly developed and presented. While it is based on a true story, I’m sure many liberties have been taken by the writers to condense the years of espionage work Cohen/Kamal achieved for Israel. Similarly, the political complexity of Syria and Israel’s conflict is arguably glossed over in favour of more generic thriller leanings. Having said that, the Syrians are not shown in a negative light, but rather with much believability and humanity. In fact, it’s Cohen’s actions who I questioned more. He seemed to take too many risks and his obsessive nature, while working well for the Israeli cause, ultimately costs him, his identity and his family dearly.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: EXTRACTION (2020)

NETFLIX FILM REVIEW: EXTRACTION (2020)

Directed by Sam Hargrave

Produced: Antony Russo, Joe Russo, Mike Larocca, Chris Hemsworth, Eric Gitter, Peter Schwern

Screenplay by: Joe Russo – based on Ciudad by Ande Parks, Joe Russo, Fernando Leon Gonzalez

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Rudhraksh Jaiswal, Randeep Hooda, Golshifteh Farahani, Pankaj Tripathi, David Harbour, etc.

Distribution: Netflix


***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Do you remember when action heroes used to be larger than life, filling up the screens with muscles, charisma, and wise-cracking one-liners. I am old, so I certainly do. The likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis, Jean Claude Van Damme and of course, Sylvester Stallone were just some of the leading men crunching and blowing up the cinema screens. Okay, they may have been reactionary 1980s and 1990s masculine archetypes, and arguably nationalistic, sexist, militarist and incredibly over-the-top characters, but I kind of miss them. Because today’s action heroes, while equally talented at killing and delivering mayhem, are somewhat less colourful.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the technically excellent and brutally realised fight scenes and stunts of today. However, John Wick, Bryan Mills of Taken (2008), Lorraine Broughton of Atomic Blonde (2017), Jason Bourne, and now Chris Hemsworth’s mercenary, Tyler Rake in Extraction (2020), are individuals of fewer words and even less humour. I guess Jason Statham isn’t too bad, but he’s still quite serious. Lastly, while one can certainly rely on the sanitized fun of the Marvel Universe for some humour and personality within the action, it’s still not the same as a good old Arnie action flick. The more adult oriented superhero, Deadpool (2016), can be relied on for X-rated violence and constant verbal quips. But, he wears a suit and it’s just not as good as the action heroes I grew up watching. Ah, but that’s nostalgia for you.

Why the trip down memory lane, Paul? What about the kinetic and explosive action of Extraction (2020)? Yes, the well-choreographed manoeuvres are extremely exciting. They are also bone-crushingly relentless from the moment Tyler Rake enters Bangladesh to extract an imprisoned Indian gangster’s teenage son, Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal). Hemsworth and director Sam Hargrave get you in and out of hand-to-hand fights, car chases, leaps and falls from buildings, and constant gun battles with stunning brilliance throughout. The camera and editing work present virtuoso work, capped by an almost seamless eleven minute long take involving all manner of mayhem. While Ovi and Tyler kind of bond later in the film, I found myself needing more emotional or political subtext to narrative. Even John Wick (2014) created its own mythology and universe, where this relies on fast-paced movement, military tropes and lazy stereotypes. Ultimately, Extraction (2020) was like an explosive fireworks display. Great to watch while it lasted, but ultimately forgettable. Man on Fire (2004) did this story way better and with way more feeling.

Mark 7 out of 11


TV & FILM DOCUMENTARY REVIEWS INCLUDING: FOR SAMA (2019), WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOUR (2018) & THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (2018) ETC.

TV & FILM DOCUMENTARY REVIEWS

Obviously, I watch a hell of a lot of fiction films and television shows. Every now and then I try and catch up with some documentaries about actual events, people and serious matters. Personally, I love nothing more than to immerse myself in fictional worlds, but sometimes it’s important to explore the “truth”.

Having said that, some documentaries contain highly constructed narratives with as much, if not more drama than fictional works. Indeed, very often truth is much stranger than fiction. Thus, here are six documentaries I have watched recently. As some of these reviews deal with serious issues, I have dispensed with the usual marking system, so as not to trivialise them.

******CONTAINS FACTUAL SPOILERS******


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BRITAIN’S CHILD DRUG RUNNERS – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4

Dispatches is a long-running documentary series which examines hard-hitting issues in society and the world as a whole. This particular episode sought to shed light on the gangs which lure teenagers into their drug running crimes. Children, some as young as eleven, are used to run “County Lines” delivering and selling drugs. The programme was fascinating and showed how the children’s, parents, police enforcement and society in general is being tragically affected by this problem.


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CATCHING A KILLER (2019) – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4

Murder documentaries are like rats in the city, infesting our TV screens and streaming platforms. Some of the true-life ones can be lurid and trashy, however, this one from Channel 4 was moving and of high quality. The series focuses on ongoing investigations and follows police as they investigate the crime and gather evidence. This particular episode profiled a retired gentleman who relatives believed had died of natural causes. It soon became clear that the victim had been cruelly conned and manipulated by a charming, but devious killer.


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FOR SAMA (2019) – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4

This incredibly moving and harrowing documentary took you into the heart of the Syrian conflict. Filmmaker and journalist, Waad Al-Kateab began filming in 2011 and continued for many years as her home in East Aleppo became a bomb site full of loss, destruction and death. Despite this she met her husband, a Doctor, and gave birth to her daughter, Sama. Choosing to stay amidst the explosions and blood was not only an incredible commitment to the story, but also a testament to the bravery of those lives impacted by war. I don’t know much about the Syrian war, and obviously this is just one side of what is a very complex matter. Yet, despite all the pain and suffering on show, one must admire the resilience of those involved and I am not surprised the film has gone onto to win many awards.


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MARRIED TO A PAEDOPHILE (2018) – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4

This salacious sounding documentary is not as exploitation based as it would appear. Focusing on three families who lives have been torn apart because the man of the family had downloaded child pornography, it explores the aftermath of this serious crime. Interestingly, the documentary featured the real voices of the people involved, but with actors playing their roles. It’s an intriguing subject as the wives and children of these men are left to deal with not just shame and guilt, but vindictive neighbours and broken relationships.


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THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (2018) – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4

This is genuinely one of those stories you would not believe, unless perhaps it was in a science fiction cloning drama or something. The documentary film examines the past and present lives of triplets who were given up for adoption in the early 1960’s. The issue was none of them, or their adoptive parents, were told of the others existence. Thus, years later when they meet each other aged 19, through sheer coincidence, they have one hell of a surprise. The first half of this documentary is very engaging and positive as the trio, Bobby, Eddy and David reunite and become celebrities, appearing on chat shows and magazine front pages in 1980’s America. The second half of this incredible film then darkens somewhat as the truth as to what actually happened is revealed. It is truly astonishing to watch!


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WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOUR (2018) – NETFLIX

Having watched and reviewed the recent film release, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) here, I decided to head over to Netflix and check out the earlier documentary about American TV legend, Fred Rogers. Like the feature drama, this highlights the strength, wisdom and kindness of a great man, determined to instil worth and warmth into children’s lives. It’s a finely constructed documentary with an intermingling of footage from Rogers’ television shows, historical interviews with the man himself, plus friends, family and people he worked with paying tribute to a fine human being. The film asks, “Won’t You Be My Neighbour?” My answer is a definite YES!


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