Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2022

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

© Searchlight Pictures, Film4 Productions and TSG Entertainment

The Banshees of Inisherin – Film Review

Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan

Director:  Martin McDonagh

Synopsis: Tensions arise between two friends when one of them decides to end their friendship…

Review: Friendships can be of tremendous value to us as we navigate this crazy journey that we call life. Yet, sometimes, there can be those situations where a friendship comes to an end, which can be challenging to accept for all the parties involved. What do you do? Allow yourself to accept the situation and move on? Or do you refuse to take no for an answer and make efforts to rekindle the friendship? After setting his last film in the USA, playwright-turned-director Martin McDonagh moves closer to home to deliver another hilarious black comedy, set against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War.

It is 1923 on the fictional remote Irish island of Inisherin. Padraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson) were at one time in their lives, the best of friends and had been for a number of years. However, one day, Colm decides to abruptly end their friendship, which Padriac has difficulties coming to terms with and demands a reason why, which Colm refuses to acknowledge. Wondering what it was that caused Colm to end their friendship, Padriac becomes determined to make amends but these attempts only cause more tension between the two (former) friends, which threatens to boil over into something much more unpleasant that neither of them will like.

Black comedy is an extremely difficult genre to successfully pull off, yet McDonagh is one of those directors who has proven himself to be one of the best in the business when it comes to writing razor-sharp and hilarious dialogue from the bleakest subject matters you could possibly imagine. His last film was filled with some biting social commentary about racism and police brutality in the USA, set against the backdrop of the murder of a young woman.  By contrast, Banshees is a bit more dialled back in terms of the melancholic nature of the comedy, focusing on the (failed) friendship of two men. That being said, by framing this bitterness and anger, ragainst the context of the Irish Civil War, the film offers an extremely compelling analytical look at themes of nihilism, isolation and loneliness. It is perhaps not nearly as thought-provoking as Three Billboards, but it is not a million miles away.

Reuniting with McDonagh after working together to wonderful effect for In Bruges, it is a sheer joy to see both Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson share the screen once more. The pair of them strike comedic gold once again, even if they are not together on screen as much as you would perhaps want them to be. Farrell’s Padraic is by his own admission, a bit of a simple man who enjoys tending to his animals, whilst enjoying a good tipple in the evening. The limelight belongs to Farrell and he is truly wonderful to watch and makes the perfect contrast to Colm. The latter of whom is a cultured man without a doubt but one who makes it quite clear that he simply does not have time or willingness to be in Padraic’s presence anymore, and is willing to go to drastic measures to prove his point. The friendship that has now turned to bitterness and hostility between them gives McDonagh license to craft hilarious dialogue, and he does not disappoint, providing numerous moments that will have you howling with laughter.

While both Farrell and Gleeson are in brilliant form, it is Kerry Condon (who made the most of her small role in Three Billboards) who comes the closest to stealing the show from both of them as Siobhan, Padraic’s sister. She provides tenderness and warmth to the story, which can at times be a much-needed respite from not only the cold and detached nature of her brother and Colm’s ruined friendship but from the island of Inisherin as well. Ben Davis’s cinematography manages to simultaneously capture the beauty of the country, yet at the same time, the unwelcoming atmosphere which hangs over the majority of the island, accompanied by another excellent score from Carter Burwell. A story about two friends falling out might seem like an unlikely vessel for hilarity, but McDonagh proves once again that when it comes to crafting comedy from the dreariest of situations, there aren’t many writers/directors who can do it better.

Boasting brilliant performances from Farrell and Gleeson, combined with extremely witty and sharply written dialogue ensures The Banshees of Insherin is another masterclass of bleak hilariousness from Martin McDonagh. 

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Eternals (2021)

© Marvel Studios

Eternals  – Film Review

Cast: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie

Director: Chloé Zhao

Synopsis: A group of immortal beings, known as the Eternals, are sent to planet Earth to protect humanity from an evil race of aliens known as the Deviants…

Review: When you have created an all-encompassing cinematic universe that has spanned over a decade and 25 films, making cinematic history along the way. There does come a point for Marvel Studios, where they will need to think about, where do they go from here? When you’ve created a universe that has conquered all before it, how do you reinvent the wheel and keep things fresh and interesting for audiences to maintain interest in the universe going forward? Well, the answer seems to be, hire the most recent Academy Award winner for Best Director, and introduce a brand new crop of characters.

7000 years ago, a group of all-powerful beings known as the Celestials, created a powerful race of beings called the Eternals and sent them to Earth to protect humanity from their Celestial’s evil counterparts, known as the Deviants. For millennia, the Eternals have been watching from the sidelines, protecting humanity from any Deviant attacks. As they watch from the sidelines, some begin to develop a fondness for humanity. Yet, they have been under strict instructions to not interfere in any human conflict, unless the Deviants are involved. This all changes when an event known as The Emergence threatens to bring about unprecedented destruction, the Eternals must unite to prevent humanity’s destruction.

From the opening crawl, akin to something out of Star Wars, this film is in every sense, a brand new chapter for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What they accomplished with the first three Phases of their Universe is undeniably incredible and nothing can take that away from them. However, that era of Marvel has come to a close, and with this film, this feels like they are in many senses, starting fresh. All franchises that go on for any length of time will inevitably develop a formula. While that formula has served the MCU so successfully over the years, there was a need to step away from it. To its credit, Eternals tries extremely hard to deviate from that, with varying degrees of success.

Fresh from her Oscar triumphs With Nomadland, a film that shined a light on a group of people who are cut adrift from society, whilst touching on themes of finding a belonging. Chloé Zhao’s Oscar winner touched on themes of individuals who have found themselves cut adrift from society, roaming from place to place, without somewhere to call home. This is a theme that feels very much relevant to the Eternals. They watch humanity from afar, intervening only when they must. The first two acts of the film where the Eternals are battling with this dilemma of interfering or not when it comes to human conflicts is compelling because, like most things in our lives, there is a difference of opinion amongst these incredibly powerful beings.

What Eternals brings to the table is an extremely rich and diverse cast, filled with extremely talented actors. The most memorable of these are Gemma Chan’s Sersi and Angelina Jolie’s Thena. Sersi is very much the leader of the Eternals and Chan’s performance is easily the most memorable. For Thena, there’s a fascinating internal struggle that she’s battling with, and it makes for an intriguing relationship between her and the rest of the Eternals as she battles to control that. On top of which, the film doesn’t shy away from diversity. There’s a landmark moment for LGBT representation, the very first ever sex scene, and the MCU’s very first superhero with a disability in Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari as both the actor and the character are deaf.

Unfortunately, because there are so many new characters that are appearing on screen together for the first time, developing all of them is a near enough impossible task to fit into a two-and-a-half-hour film, even for a director as talented as Zhao is. Some characters have barely any depth or personality. As such, it gives the audience little reason to care about them, as there is no emotional connection that has been built up over many years of different MCU films. Plus, as different as the film tries to be from all the previous MCU films that came before it, some familiar MCU tropes are present. Credit where credit is due for the screenplay’s ambition and scope. However, you cannot help but wonder if, had these characters been introduced via a TV show, it might have been better suited to give all these brand new characters sufficient time to make an impact.

Chloe Zhao works magic by bringing the humanity to these incredibly powerful beings. However, while it is to be commended, the ambition of introducing so many new characters in one go prevents the film from truly soaring.

Posted in 2010-2019, TV Review

Chernobyl (2019)

Image is property of HBO

Chernobyl – TV Miniseries Review

Main Cast: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson, Jessie Buckley, Paul Ritter, Adam Nagaitis, Con O’Neill, Adrian Rawlins, Sam Troughton, Robert Emms, David Dencik, Alan Williams, Ralph Ineson, Barry Keoghan, Michael McElhatton

Showrunner: Craig Mazin

Synopsis: An account of the events leading up to the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, and the subsequent fallout of one of the deadliest man made disasters in history…

Review: As human beings, our lives can so often be irreversibly impacted by natural disasters. Though we are powerless to prevent them from happening, preparations can be made to mitigate the damage and devastation that they leave in their wake. It’s a stark contrast to the numerous man-made disasters that we have seen throughout history, that have also had similarly deadly consequences. However, when you look at how the events transpired, it’s hard to overlook the fact that someone was responsible for allowing these atrocities to happen, and how they could have very easily been prevented. One such disaster, arguably the worst man-made disaster in history, is that of the Chernobyl Nuclear power plant explosion. A tragedy of incomprehensible fallout, captured with horrifying realism in this tense and devastating HBO miniseries.

Over the course of five nerve-shredding episodes, showrunner/writer Craig Mazin and director Johan Renck, explore the disaster and its horrific aftermath. Firstly, recounting the the night of the deadly disaster, and the catalogue of errors that led to the fatal explosion. Following on from that, looking at the attempts by the Soviet government to contain the fallout from the disaster. You watch with disbelief as they seek to prevent the already horrific situation from spiralling into something much worse, at times with shocking degrees of negligence and recklessness. Before ultimately, trying to establish how such a nuclear catastrophe on this scale could have ever happened in the first place. At numerous points throughout the series, this feels more like a documentary. This is largely down to the expert production design, which recreates the power plant, and the surrounding neighbourhoods, which feel remarkably authentic.

Irrespective of whether you’re coming to the series as someone who knows everything about the disaster, or if you know the barest minimum, Mazin’s scripts expertly combine informative scientific facts, with intense and devastating drama. With each episode, it’s made painstakingly clear to us all as to the full extent of the horrific nightmare that was unfolding, and enabling the audience to process just how an event like this could have ever happened. With the exception of a few artistic liberties, Mazin’s scripts faithfully recreate how events unfolded, and the excellent writing is brilliantly combined with Johan Renck’s masterful direction. Each episode expertly blends genres such as the intense drama, and the traumatic horror of those who were the first to be affected by the radiation, to those were recruited for some extremely perilous missions. Furthermore, the crackling sound of a dosimeter going haywire is a sound so unnerving, it may well invade your nightmares.

With brilliant writing, combined with expert direction, and along with Hildur Guðnadóttir’s haunting score, every member of this cast deliver sublime performances. However, the three who shine the brightest are the three characters whose arcs are the pillars of this miniseries, the biggest of those belongs to Jared Harris who is exceptional as Valery Legasov. Drafted in by the Soviet government to lead the efforts to mitigate the effects of the tragedy, he’s not afraid to speak up and the people in charge just sweep everything under the rug. By his side, Stellan Skarsgard is equally tremendous as Boris Scherbina, a Minister whose relationship with Legasov is initially frosty to say the least. However as the two men work closely together, to combat the scale of the disaster they’re dealing with, it strengthens their relationship immeasurably. Last and certainly by no means last is Emily Watson’s stirring work as Ulana Khomyuk. A composite character serving as the embodiment of the countless number of scientists who worked to uncover the full truth behind this unimaginable tragedy.

The show serves as a tribute to all those brave souls who risked their lives to prevent the catastrophe from turning into something that could have been even more cataclysmic than it already was. However, the central theme that beats at the heart of this miniseries is the extremely damaging effect that lies can have when a country is in the grip of a catastrophic event like the Chernobyl disaster. In the wake of a deadly catastrophe that has wreaked unimaginable havoc, electing to cover things up with lies and misinformation may seem like a good idea at the time. However, as was the case of Chernobyl, these lies and misinformation came at a substantial cost, which is still being felt today. This is something that the governments of today could and should definitely learn from, especially at a time when a global health crisis of a very different nature is ravaging the world.

Sublime work from every aspect of the production ensures that this gripping and heart-breaking drama, like the disaster it’s depicting, will never be forgotten. An essential, definitive look at the one of the worst man-made disasters in history. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Image is property of A24, Curzon Artificial Eye and Film4

The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Film Review

Cast: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Synopsis: A skilled surgeon meets a young man whom he befriends, but when strange things start happening to his family, he is left facing a terrible and heartbreaking decision…

Review: Sometimes, a film lets you know right off the bat that the story you’re about to witness is unconventional to say the least, and not like anything you have ever seen before. The dominance of certain genres in mainstream cinema mean that such pieces of idiosyncratic cinema can be most welcome interludes. Indeed, these types of unique storytelling can almost be deemed necessary. Following in the wake of The Lobster, director Yorgos Lanthimos certainly continues on down that path of peculiar storytelling.

Of course, we have already seen an example of this type of out of ordinary storytelling in the form of Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, a film that it would be fair to say polarised audiences massively. And though not quite as shocking as that film was, Lanthimos certainly aims to unsettle the audience in this tale of Steven, a renowned heart surgeon who encounters a teenage boy named Martin whom he befriends. Everything seems fine and dandy between Steven and Martin, he introduces him to his wife Anna (Kidman), his son Bob, (Suljic) and daughter Kim (Cassidy).

Yet as time goes on and mysterious, unexplained things start happening to Steven and his family, and something suggests that the root cause of these events is Martin, who has a grudge against Steven for something that he might have done in the past. The story is certainly very unconventional and the characters are not exactly the most likeable bunch of people you’re ever likely to meet in your life. Farrell plays Steven as your loyal family man who loves his family more than anything, but despite all that, there’s some dark undertones to his character. Kidman is perhaps the most likeable of the bunch, but even she is sucked into this murky situation that is enveloping this family, and the duo certainly shine in these roles that are certainly designed to test the actors to the maximum.

Perhaps giving the best performance of them all though is Keoghan as Martin. Initially he starts off as quite a friendly young man, but it isn’t long before you notice the very troubling and sinister occurings that are going on with him, and perhaps the root cause behind all of this psychological, nightmarish horror that is unfolding. Lanthimos’s directing style, including long shots of panning down ominous looking hallways certainly helps add to the uncomfortable vibe of the film, not to mention the very dreary colour palette. Lanthimos’s script (co-written by Efthymis Filippou) is shrouded in themes that are designed to haunt the audience. It opts to explain certain things, but not others, and it’s up to the audience to fill in the gaps.

There is certainly a lot of mystery surrounding, which you would think keeps the plot moving along at a brisk pace, yet this doesn’t prevent the film from suffering pacing issues. It is a very slow burn, particularly in the first act as you watch all the the pieces fall into place. However, once it reaches the second half and in particular the climax, it pays off, but not in a way that is going to leave the audience at all satisfied. Not because the climax doesn’t pay off, it pays off alright, but the pay off is not exactly going to leave you blissfully happy once the credits begin to roll. No, it is instead going to mess with your mind.

 Unnerving to the maximum, but tremendous performances across the board result in an intriguing but ultimately extremely uncomfortable experience that doesn’t lend itself to repeat viewings.