Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Knives Out (2019)

Image is property of Lionsgate and Media Rights Capital

Knives Out – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer

Director: Rian Johnson

Synopsis: After a family patriarch dies in mysterious circumstances, a highly renowned private investigator is hired to lead the police inquiry…

Review: After making one of the most polarising blockbusters of all time in The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson would have been forgiven for taking a break from film-making, given the fierce, at times toxic, reaction that his Star Wars film generated. Yet, Johnson was having none of that and has wasted no time getting back into the game. After conceiving the idea of a murder mystery following the release of Looper, he takes obvious inspiration from the likes of Agatha Christie to give his own unique take on the “Whodunnit” genre, with extremely enthralling results.

As with all entertainment that centres on a murder mystery, it pays to know as little as possible about any plot details before diving head first into the madness. Therefore, vagueness is the name of the game from this point onwards. As he celebrates his 85th birthday party with his family, a family patriarch dies. Sensing something suspicious about the circumstances of the death, an official investigation is opened. As the tagline reads: “Hell, any of them could have done it.” As such, with everyone who attended the party a suspect, the detectives must interview the family members, and use those “little grey cells” in a bid to piece together the clues and to try and crack the case.

The most attractive group of suspects you’ll maybe ever see…

With such a stacked, A-list, ensemble cast, to give everyone their moment to shine would be extremely difficult. However, with a sharp and brilliantly witty script, Johnson does exactly that, and it enables him to get excellent performances out of everyone. Every member of this family is given fascinating, fleshed out back stories, which enables the audience to try and establish their potential motivations. Though, like all great murder mysteries, the audience is kept on their toes. Though, to go into too much detail about who gives the best performances is running the risk of getting into spoiler territory. With that in mind, let’s just say that, apart from Daniel Craig’s brilliant turn as the lead detective channelling his inner Poirot (if Poirot ever became a gruff Southern sleuth), the characters who wind up being at the centre of this investigation, are the best of a truly outstanding bunch.

There’s some ingenious subtext to the story that could have been a massive turn-off. However, it’s written so cleverly into the plot that makes it relevant and extremely entertaining. With every line of dialogue, Johnson’s passion for the genre comes across effortlessly, and he proves that he is a master of his craft. There’s also the distinct possibility that with some of the lines that these characters spit venomously at each other, that it’s Johnson’s subtle way of firing back, following the vitriol that was aimed in his direction following his Star Wars venture. For a film that centres on a murder investigation, it seems absurd that there’d be so many hilarious moments throughout. They are plentiful and they never feel out of place as the jokes keep the plot moving along at such a thrilling, kinetic pace. It ensures that not a single moment of the film’s run-time is wasted.

Bolstered by some immaculate, very colourful production design, this was the perfect film for Johnson to “bounce back” from the endless mire of the The Last Jedi backlash. It proves, if it were somehow ever in doubt that, Johnson’s mastery of the craft remains intact, and that he’s at the very top of his game as a writer and a director. Furthermore, it’s evident from every frame, that the cast are having a blast with this script, and there’s a good chance that this feeling will be reciprocal for the audience. It will make them want to grab their deerstalker hat and magnifying glass, and strive to  solve the riddle at the centre of this enthralling mystery.

A razor sharp, ingenious screenplay, backed by an impeccable ensemble cast ensures that Johnson’s modern update on the Whodunnit genre is an audacious, riveting spectacle. 

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Lighthouse (2019)

Image is property of A24, Focus Features and Regency Enterprises

The Lighthouse – Film Review

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe

Director: Robert Eggers

Synopsis: Tasked with the maintenance of a lighthouse on a remote island, two lighthouse keepers find themselves in an increasingly desolate existence, desperately striving to maintain their sanity…

Review: How would you cope with the unforgiving isolation of living and working on such a small patch of land? With day after day of heavy, exhausting work in the most brutal, relentless weather conditions? Granted, the wonder of modern technology would make that situation in today’s world much less depressing. However, for the two souls at the heart of this barmy tale from Robert Eggers, with no such technology at their disposal, it will be the ultimate psychological battle to keep their composure, and sanity in one piece.

Set on a remote and desolate New England island in the 1890s, after an introduction that establishes an extremely ominous and tense atmosphere. The two, initially nameless, lighthouse keepers (Pattinson and Dafoe) are tasked with the maintenance and upkeep of the lighthouse. As their assignment begins, the brutality and unforgiving nature of their living conditions begin to take an extremely heavy toll on both men. The longer that they spend on the island with no other company but each other’s, the more the two of them find themselves being driven slowly to the brink of madness.

After unsettling audiences with The Witch, Robert Eggers continues that streak with another deeply unnerving psychological drama. By shooting in a 4:3 ratio, in black and white, he enhances the feeling of dread and suspense that builds from the very first shot that continues to linger, like a pesky seagull that’s got its eyes on your food, and refuses to leave you alone. The extremely ominous score enhances that feeling of everlasting dread, as these two men are put through the most intense psychological test. With Jarin Blaschke’s portentous cinematography, Eggers’s direction is masterful. The way he chooses to position the camera, and with some of his directorial choices, there’s a foreboding, sinister atmosphere that is maintained right throughout the film.

Given their immense talent as actors, it should come as no surprise that Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe give hypnotically magnificent performances. The relationship between them starts off on good terms and there’s a mutual respect. However, this doesn’t last as with each passing day of their solitude, it all begins to unravel. As both of them appear to be hiding something from the other, they both try to maintain their composure and sanity, all the while the distrust threatens to erupt into violence. The film screams volumes about themes of isolationism, and loneliness, and conveys them in an extremely unique manner. The tension builds to such a frightening extent that you could probably cut it with the bluntest of knives. With a script co-written by Eggers and his brother Max, there’s certainly an idiosyncratic factor to the events that unfold. Though while these may provoke emotions ranging from awe to dread, the magnetic performances will keep your attention on the screen.

Some of the actions depicted on screen will likely make you laugh, or wince in horror, or maybe a combination of the two. Furthermore, with undertones of a not very subtle nature, this film is most assuredly not for everyone. While the dialogue can be quite tricky to understand in places, Eggers has crafted a film that’s wholly original and extremely unique in terms of its production.  With only his second feature film, along with the likes of Ari Aster and Jordan Peele, Eggers has firmly stamped his mark on the horror genre, whilst simultaneously ensuring that any job applications for a vacant lighthouse keeper position may potentially diminish as a result.

Brooding and uncompromising, with sublime direction from Eggers, and a pair magnetic performances from the Pattinson and Dafoe, The Lighthouse is a film you definitely won’t forget in a hurry.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Harriet (2019)

Image is property of Focus Features and Perfect World Pictures

Harriet – Film Review

Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Joe Alwyn, Leslie Odom Jr, Janelle Monáe, Clarke Peters

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Synopsis: A look at the life of Harriet Tubman, who after escaping the cruelty of slavery, becomes a leading figure in the fight against its abolition…

Review: There’s no getting away from the fact that slavery in the 1800s represents one of the darkest points in human history. While this period was full of appalling atrocities committed against human beings, even in such troubling times, such powerful and uplifting stories can be brought to light. Stories of amazing courage and perseverance, stories that deserve and, arguably need to be brought to a wider audience, and one such example of this, is the amazing inspirational story of Harriet Tubman.

Having spent her entire life in slavery, Harriet strives to breath the free air. When an attempt to secure her freedom, via legal methods, is vehemently rejected, she senses that she might face severe punishment for trying to secure her freedom. Fearing for her safety, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She bravely runs away in a desperate bid to secure her freedom, which proves to be successful. Upon gaining her freedom, she makes it her mission to liberate slaves from their masters, and becomes a leader in the abolitionist movement to end this cruel and barbaric practice.

Having burst onto the scene in 2018 with Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale, Cynthia Erivo demonstrated her considerable talents to audiences the world over. However with this role, she produces an astonishing, career best performance. She imbues Harriet with a strong willed fearlessness, and a resolute determination in her mission to win her freedom. This doesn’t waiver in her later exploits, as she uses this tenacity and bravery to go out and strive to position to free as many of the people that have fallen into slavery as she possibly can. It is her movie and she carries it magnificently. Outside of Erivo’s sublime performance, Leslie Odom Jr is solid as an abolitionist ally and Joe Alwyn as Harriet’s slave master, has the callous and nasty personality you’d expect from a slave master. On the other hand, though she’s also is on reliably good form, Janelle Monae’s character could definitely have done with more screen time.

The screenplay’s approach to its subject matter, written by Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard, doesn’t really break any new ground for the biopic genre. However, this doesn’t act as a hindrance to the film, simply because, the incredible circumstances that surround the story of this remarkable woman are more than enough to craft a compelling story on their own merit. With a story that consistently manages to be riveting throughout, the approach taken by Lemmons through the script and her direction, does Harriet Tubman’s remarkable story justice. When a story has this much power behind it, it doesn’t need to reinvent the biopic genre, but instead honours this remarkable woman whose exploits deserve to be well known across the world.

With films such as 12 Years A Slave and now Harriet, these powerful dramas serve to remind everyone about the painful nature of the horrors that this institution brought upon so many people. However, they also serve as a powerful reminder that through sheer perseverance, grit and determination, anyone, no matter who they are, can accomplish anything they set their mind to. Furthermore, truly remarkable feats that end up changing the course of human history will absolutely stand the test of time.

With a sublime lead performance from Cynthia Erivo at its core, Harriet is a compelling and rewarding drama that pays tribute to an influential figure in American history, and honours her extraordinary legacy.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Farewell (2019)

Image is property of A24

The Farewell  – Film Review

Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo

Director: Lulu Wang

Synopsis: After receiving the heart-breaking news that her grandmother has terminal cancer, a young woman flies over to China to be with her beloved grandmother and her family. However, to ease her pain, her relatives have vowed to not inform their matriarch of her fatal diagnosis….

Review: There’s something special and unique about the bonds that we share with the people that we call family. Whether they live just a few blocks away, or maybe across an ocean, the bonds that family members form can be unbreakable and resolute. Within the first few minutes of this semi-biographical film from Lulu Wang, she establishes one such connection between a woman and her dearly beloved Grandma (or Nai Nai as she’s affectionately known). Instantly, from the first few minutes, we are reminded of the power that this institution can have over our lives.

The centrepiece of this heartfelt drama is Billi (Awkwafina), a struggling writer living in New York City. When Billi learns of her Grandmother’s terminal diagnosis, an impromptu celebration is organised so that everyone can bid their matriarch farewell. The only thing is, due to cultural traditions, everyone is under extremely strict instructions not to disclose anything relating to her diagnosis so as to ease her suffering, and let her enjoy her final few weeks of life. Having grown up outside of this cultural tradition, this approach does not sit well with Billi. As the gathering gets started, the entire time, Billi finds herself immensely conflicted.

Having made her name with, and nearly stolen the entire show in Crazy Rich Asians, Awkwafina gives a heart-wrenching, powerful performance. It’s a very different role when compared to her one in Crazy Rich Asians, but one that she pulls off magnificently. Right throughout the film, there are moments where you can just see this conflict eating away at her, and at numerous times, she seems like she might crack. However despite her intense frustrations, at the urging of her other relatives, she strives to hold firm and maintain the pretence. Though other relatives have their moments with her, the spotlight is firmly on Nai Nai’s relationship with Billi, which is built on nothing but unequivocal love and respect for one another.

For a film that features a family saying goodbye to a dearly beloved relative, it would seem unlikely to have comedy woven throughout the story. However, Lulu Wang’s screenplay expertly combines the comedy and drama, and the results are entertaining and poignant. This balancing act mainly comes down to the wonderful performance of Nai Nai (Shuzhen). While everyone around her is fighting so hard, repressing their sadness, this lady remains blissfully unaware of everything and living her life without a care in the world. In a world where humanity can become cocooned by our own cultures and ways of life, it’s always fascinating to see another culture be brought to a wider audience. Furthermore, irrespective of their own culture, any audience member can appreciate, and be moved by, the traditions of the culture on screen.

The importance of family, and everything that this institution can teach us all as human beings has been depicted in movies before. Therefore, it is to this film’s immense credit that it manages to provide a refreshing take on this important theme and message, with a story that will almost certainly tug on those heartstrings. What’s more, for those that are blessed to still have their grandparents with them, it ought to make them want to reach out and ensure that they take heed to any pearl of wisdom that their grandparents can impart, and to cherish every second of time that you’re able to spend with them.

Poignant and comedic, anchored by a powerful performance from Awkwafina, The Farewell is an emotional family drama that will touch the hearts and minds of any audience member, regardless of culture or creed.  

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Hustlers (2019)

Image is property of STX Films and Gloria Sanchez Productions

Hustlers  – Film Review

Cast:  Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo

Director: Lorene Scafaria

Synopsis: When business at their strip club starts to diminish, a group of the club’s employees devise a scheme to turn the tables on the wealthy clientele that frequent their establishment…

Review: In the wake of the #MeToo movement that shook Hollywood to its core, it seems timely, one could argue even necessary, for more films to be made that feature women front and centre. Films that feature women in empowering situations, not being beholden to any men, and firmly in control of their own destinies. Furthermore, for a film that features women in a line of work that a debate could rage all day and all night about whether said line of work is objectification, or empowerment. In this case, it is absolutely, unequivocally the latter.

Destiny (Wu) is a young woman, who with people she needs to take care of, finds herself struggling to earn a decent living whilst working in a strip club. This is until she meets the confident Ramona (Lopez), who soon takes Destiny under her wing. Under Ramona’s tutelage, Destiny learns how to make more money for herself while she’s on the job. Things start off well, but when the establishment’s customers (and by consequence the money) start to diminish, these women take matters into their own hands to make their living and provide for those they care about. In doing so, they may just manipulate some wealthy individuals along the way.

Right from the very first moment she’s introduced, you know straight away that Ramona is Queen Bee (no, not that one) of this establishment, and our central group of women. Lopez possesses such a commanding on screen presence, and it helps her to own every minute of screen time that she has, delivering arguably her best ever performance. Destiny is at first a little unsure of herself but under Ramona’s tutelage she absolutely comes into her own Ramona, and Constance Wu turns in a solid performance. Though other ladies (Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart) become part of the titular hustle, the film’s focus is squarely on Ramona and Destiny, and the sweet and sincere friendship that they have. Their chemistry is the glue that binds the whole film together.

Lorene Scafaria’s direction is confident and assured. Given the profession of these women, a choice could definitely have been made under a different to director to overly sexualise them. Thankfully, Scafaria is having none of that, simply because such a decision would be completely unnecessary. She chooses to structure the film with various cuts back and forth between the events of the hustle, and a journalist (Stiles) who’s interviewing the key players for an article that she’s writing about the hustle. While this choice could hamper the film’s flow, the screenplay is sharp and stylish enough to ensure, and the excellent editing ensures that the sharp pace of the film never waivers. The first half of the film takes its time, as it is the calm before the storm, of the hustle. Whereas the second half is relentlessly exciting as the events of the hustle play out, as well as the immediate aftermath.

The film doesn’t exactly paint these women as heroes, because what they are doing is, simply put, not legal. On the other hand, it refuses to completely vilify them. It makes you see where they are coming from and why they are targeting these well-off clients. Quite a few humorous moments are interjected throughout, mainly courtesy of Lili Reinhart’s Annabelle. However, though there may be upsides, it’s not going to be all fun, and games and shopping sprees. There will also likely be drama, and above all, there will be consequences, for the hustlers, and for the people caught up in it all.

With a career best performance from Lopez, and a sharp as a stiletto screenplay, Hustlers combines a gripping and dramatic story, whilst celebrating female empowerment in a respectful manner.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

The Room (2003)

Image is property of Wiseau-Films

The Room  – Film Review

Cast:  Tommy Wiseau, Juliette Danielle, Greg Sestero, Philip Haldiman, Carolyn Minnott

Director: Tommy Wiseau

Synopsis: Johnny (Wiseau) and Lisa (Danielle) are engaged, but unbeknownst to Johnny, Lisa has grown tired of the relationship and wants out. When she tries to seduce Johnny’s best friend Mark (Sestero), it threatens to tear their lives apart…

Review: Of all the films to have acquired a cult following over the years, there’s hasn’t been a film quite like the bizarre concoction that is The Room. The “brainchild” if you will, of the mysterious Tommy Wiseau, who when trying to make it in Hollywood, chose to make a film, largely funded out of his own back pocket. In spite of earning a reputation as being “The Citizen Kane of bad films,” it has not prevented the film from gaining a passionate cult following, a following that has endured many years after the film’s release, in spite of just about every aspect of this film being, well, terrible.

When we first meet him, Johnny’s life is appearing to go splendidly with a great job, a lovely fiance in Lisa, and a best friend in Mark. But everything is not as happy as it seems as Lisa, in spite of being treated well by Johnny, has grown tired of him and plans to dump him, in favour of Mark. Though this doesn’t sit well with Mark initially, he succumbs to her advances and consequently a love triangle has formed. Now, based on that quite dramatic sounding premise, one would think that they’re about to be absorbed by a thrilling relationship drama. Though Wiseau clearly intended it to be perceived this way, it is anything but.

“Just up here, thinking y’know….”

Instead, due to the abysmal script, practically every line in this film is unintentionally hilarious. The writing is awful across the board, especially the romantic dialogue, which is so cheesy it makes George Lucas’s romantic dialogue feel like Shakespeare in comparison. Indeed, given that the script is filled with such poor writing, many scenes have become notorious for just how hilariously cringe-inducing they are. As a consequence of the inept script, it means that every member of the cast turns in hilariously awful performances across the board. Performances that in the age of the internet, have secured iconic status, but definitely for the wrong reasons. Furthermore, in a movie that’s got so many long and gratuitous sex scenes, it’s somewhat bemusing that the film was not marketed as a porno upon its release.

There’s so many things about this movie that really don’t make any sense (spoons anyone?), or the excessive establishing shots of San Francisco. In addition, it could not be more apparent where there’s a scene involving a green screen. Though in spite of everything being the dictionary definition of terrible, for one reason or another, this film’s popularity has endured, and it no signs of slowing down any time soon. Indeed, thanks to the 2017 film The Disaster Artist, that explored the behind the scenes making of The Room, the notoriety of the film was likely introduced to a whole new audience, and its legacy has almost certainly been enhanced.

Watching the hilarious atrocity that is this film with a group of people makes the viewing an infinitely more enjoyable experience, especially when it comes to the spoons being chucked at the screen. However, when when people talk about The Room being one of the worst movies ever made, they’re not wrong. The complete ineptitude on just about every level of the production ensures that the title of “The Citizen Kane of bad movies” is richly deserved.

Its cult status has undoubtedly endured throughout the years. However, the poor quality of every aspect of the production ensures that The Room is consistently hilarious, but for all the wrong reasons. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

Image is property of Sony and Columbia Pictures

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Film Review

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis: Set in 1960s Hollywood, amid fears that the industry is leaving him behind, actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt double Clith Booth (Pitt), try to reignite Dalton’s career, all the while new actors like Sharon Tate (Robbie) are becoming the new faces of the industry…

Review: There are certain directors who, whenever they come out with a new film, it becomes subject of much anticipation and hype in the build up to the film’s release, and Quentin Tarantino’s films definitely fall under that bracket. As he so often does, Tarantino fuses his passion for the craft of film-making, and blends that with his passion for a bygone era of Hollywood, as for his ninth and seemingly penultimate film, takes the viewers on a journey to 1960s Tinseltown.

It’s 1969 and after starring in a hugely popular TV show, actor Rick Dalton’s career has hit the rocks. He has a moment where reality bites hard, and he realises that his days as a leading man are seemingly drawing to a close, as the industry is leaving him by the wayside with other actors on their way to becoming the star that Rick used to be. Determined to stay relevant, alongside his stunt double and great friend Cliff Booth, Rick strives to pick himself up and reinvent his career.

Tarantino scripts of the past have thrived on the dialogue to drive the film forward, and in many cases given that it is superbly written dialogue, it serves the story extremely well. Through the sharp dialogue, it makes the lives of the charismatic characters that Tarantino so often brings to the screen absolutely worth investing in. Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are both on excellent form as Rick and Cliff. Though they might be as A list as you can get in present day Hollywood, both have excellent charisma and they form a solid friendship with one another. It’s not quite a Vincent Vega and Jules Winfield level of camaraderie, but it comes mighty close.

As well as the sharply written dialogue, a QT movie is known for being a touch on the violent side. However, in this instance the violence is dialled back significantly as Tarantino gives us a much more dialogue driven film. One that takes a nuanced, in-depth, fascinating look at the Golden Age of Hollywood, that has the careers of Rick and Cliff front and centre, with this era as the backdrop in all of its glory. Though these men are both fictionalised characters, there’s something about both their performances that makes them feel like they were cut from the same cloth as the stars that dominated the industry at this time. In a cast that is well stacked with considerable talent, the standouts besides DiCaprio and Pitt, are Margaret Qualley’s Manson family member, and a scene stealing performance from a young actor who gives Rick a damn good run for his money.

Though she was a perfect choice to play Sharon Tate, Margot Robbie, frustratingly, does not get nearly enough screen-time as her male lead co-stars. What’s more, in the scarce screen-time she is given, she has frustratingly few lines which feels like a scandalous waste of her talent. Nevertheless, Robbie works wonders with the little material she was given that honours the tragic actress. Given that a Tarantino Picture is usually in the realm of three hours, the first act of the film is a bit of a slow burn that, narratively speaking, is a tad uneven. It takes its time to find its footing and truly hit its stride. The excellent production design and costumes ensures that 1960s Hollywood is captured with a real sense of authenticity. Yet even with that, the near 2 hour 40 minute run time does feel somewhat excessive.

Meshing fact with fiction has produced some uproariously entertaining moments in previous Tarantino flicks, and OUATIH‘s best use of this blend of truth and fantasy, is in the film’s enthralling and nail-biting third act. You may know of the tragic fate that befell Sharon Tate on that fateful August night, but to see how those events would play out in Tarantino’s wacky, but brilliant mind is what you pay to see when you come to watch a flick by Quentin Tarantino. It may not be his strongest film that he has made in a glittering career, but like Tarantino reminiscing/pining for the Golden Age of Hollywood, present day Hollywood may find itself reminiscing if, after his tenth picture, Tarantino does decide to hang up the director’s chair for good.

A passionate love letter to the Hollywood of yesteryear, fused with the typical well written QT dialogue and a superb pair of leading performances from two of the most charismatic actors in the business.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Midsommar (2019)

Image is property of A24

Midsommar  – Film Review

Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Archie Madekwe, Ellora Torchia, Will Poulter

Director: Ari Aster

Synopsis: After personal tragedy strikes, troubled student Dani travels to Sweden with her boyfriend Christian, and a group of their friends. What starts out as a pleasant trip, quickly descends into a nightmare as they become involved with a sinister pagan cult…

Review: Quite often, when you picture the setting of horror films, the scene of a house, set in the pitch black night-time may come to mind. However, this doesn’t have to always be the case. Case in point, in his follow up feature to Hereditary, Ari Aster proves that you don’t necessarily need the dead of night darkness to make something seem scary, as something just as horrifying or unnerving can occur when the sun is shining in the bright summer sky.

Dani (Pugh) is going through an extremely difficult time in her life in the wake of an unimaginable personal tragedy, and it’s having an adverse effect on her relationship with her boyfriend Christian (Reynor). When she finds out he’s heading off to Sweden with a few of their friends for a festival that only happens once every 90 years, she decides to join them hoping to take her mind off things. Upon arrival, while things start off nice and peaceful, it doesn’t take long for things to go sour as the festival quickly descends into a hellish nightmare, basking in the hot Swedish Summer sun.

There is no sense of urgency in which Aster chooses to tell his story. His screenplay deliberately bides its time so this enables each act of the film to serve a purpose to the story, though this slow pace could be problematic to some viewers. The first act is solely concentrated on Dani’s testing relationship with Christian that is on the brink of collapse, fuelling a sense of dread for Dani that lingers throughout the film.  Through all of the ensuing horror that the festival’s activities bring later on in the film, the relationship of these two people is at the centre of this sun-soaked nightmare.

Once we get to Sweden however, and the festivities have begun that things start to get deeply disturbing for Dani, Christian and their friends. To say that this film is not for the faint of heart would be an extreme understatement, due to quite the large amount of disturbing imagery. Though it would be easy to be shocking for the sake of being shocking, the imagery is thought provoking, with the themes of grief, loneliness and rejection are all present. With just about every frame, there’s a lot of symbolism to be extracted from the unnerving festivities, so much so that one could write pages upon pages of analysis of what is being depicted on-screen.

There is not a single false note in any of the performances, but without doubt Dani is the heart and soul of the film, and Florence Pugh gives a wounded, layered, awards worthy performance. Among, Christian and the rest of their gang, it’s Will Poulter’s Mark who comes closest to stealing the spotlight as a man who’s less than impressed with the festival’s activities. This is something that the locals don’t take kindly to, and they consequently give off  sinister vibes to send a shiver (or two) down your spine.

Aster has crafted something that will be analysed for many years to come. The direction, combined with extremely beautiful cinematography and immaculate production design are all beautiful to look at. These juxtapose perfectly with the trauma of the events playing out in front of us, it manages to be simultaneously haunting and mesmerising to look at, with an unsettling score from The Haxan Cloak. Nightmares definitely can happen in broad daylight, hence, we should all just stay in doors.

Thematically thought-provoking, and visually immaculate, with a haunting but powerful lead performance from Florence Pugh. Ari Aster’s second foray into horror film-making is a beautiful nightmare come to life. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

If Beale Street Could Talk (2019)

Image is property of AnnaPurna Pictures and Plan B

If Beale Street Could Talk – Film Review

Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna
Pedro Pascal

Director: Barry Jenkins

Synopsis: After finding out she is expecting a baby with her partner, a young woman and her family seek to clear her lover’s name after he is arrested for a crime he did not commit…

Review: What do you do when only your second feature length directorial feature wins you an Academy Award for its screenplay, as well as (eventually) the Academy Award for Best Picture? This was the quandary for Barry Jenkins, the writer/director of Moonlight, having been catapulted him into the spotlight by the film’s incredible success. The answer to that question, is to make something that’s cut from a similar cloth as Moonlight, a story that tells a very human, emotional journey.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by James Baldwin, we are taken back to 1970s Harlem, where we meet Tish (Layne) and Alfonso (or Fonny as Tish affectionately calls him), two beautiful young people who, having been very close as children, have since become a blossoming couple, seemingly made for one another. However, their romantic bubble is burst when when Fonny is arrested and charged with a horrific crime that Tish insists he is innocent of, and Tish and her family must do whatever they can to clear Fonny of these charges.

On the surface, this would appear to be a simple story about the love that two young people have for each other, and the desperate bid to prove her husband-to-be innocent of the crime he is being accused of. And while it is undeniably beautiful and romantic to watch these two fall in love with each other, much like his work with Moonlight Jenkins’s screenplay goes much deeper than that exploring a variety of themes such as racism, family and the brutal horrors of the justice system that can bring such an unfair injustices to Black communities and devastate these families across America, even when people may be innocent of the crimes they are being accused of.

As the main couple, KiKi Layne and Stephan James are both excellent. Their chemistry is just so honest and authentic that you completely buy them as a couple. You revel in their moments of love and affection for one another, and are equally devastated when they are torn away from one another. As Tish’s mother Sharon, Regina King is just utterly marvellous as she leads the fight to win her prospective son-in-law’s freedom, even in the face of extremely long and difficult odds, and indifference from some members of Fonny’s family to Tish’s plight.

The cinematography from James Laxton is once again sumptuous to look out, even when the circumstances may be extremely bleak, his cinematography shines a hopeful light on the situation of this couple. Nicholas Britell also returns to provide the score, and once again, the work he does to add to the romanticism and by contrast, the heartbreak of this story is remarkable. For those who might have had issues with Moonlight’s pacing, they could well run into some issues again here as Jenkins does take his time to slowly build up Tish and Fonny’s relationship. Though some scenes do feel necessary, others do drag on perhaps for a tad longer than they really need to.

For characters depicted in the 1970s, Jenkins’s characters feel very contemporary and the story and the themes are very topical, but the film never gets preachy with the events depicted on screen. It is above all else, a very sweet story about the love two people have for one another, and the challenge that the human spirit faces when facing the going up against the cruel nature of the world and its institutions, Barry Jenkins has once again crafted something that, in these very emotionally charged times, he has made a film that will speak something to everyone who sees it.

Beautiful and melancholic,sometimes in the same shot, with a fantastic ensemble of well realised characters, Jenkins once again crafts a moving tale of love and hope in the face of terrible adversity.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Green Book (2019)

Image is property of Universal, Participant Media and Dreamworks

Green Book  – Film Review

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Director: Peter Farrelly

Synopsis: In need of work, Italian-American bouncer Tony Lip is recruited by renowned pianist Dr Don Shirley to be his driver/bodyguard as he embarks on a concert tour in the Deep South…

Review: One of the many wonderful thing about films is that they have the power to raise important messages about such important subjects, especially when such subjects are very topical right now. A prime example of this is racism which is an issue that is under more scrutiny than normal in recent years. Recently some film-makers have really been making some powerful films that hone in on this increasingly important issue, and in so doing, they make powerful statements, but some do it much better than others.

It is 1962, and Tony Vallelonga (Mortensen), known as Tony Lip, a native of the Bronx area of New York City, finds himself out of a job for a few months. When looking for something to fill that time, he is pointed in the direction of Don Shirley (Ali), a renowned concert pianist who is set to go on a concert tour of the Deep South of the USA, and is need of someone to be his driver/assistant/bodyguard, as that particular part of the country is/was not exactly the most hospitable of places.

What really shines through with this film are the excellent performances of both leading men. Mortensen as Tony is a brash self-proclaimed “bullshit artist” initially very much set in his ways. Meanwhile, Don is a much more suave, more refined gentleman, and some of Tony’s habits do not sit well with him. These two men are essentially complete polar opposites of one another, and though they initially clash over the other’s mannerisms and characteristics, they develop a solid understanding, almost a friendship if you will, as they embark on this slightly perilous journey. The chemistry between the actors really shows and it drives the film forward, particularly when they run into some trouble whilst on the tour.

For a film that is trying to go for the powerful themes of racism, the screenplay penned by Tony’s son Nick Vallelonga, along with Brian Hayes Currie and director Peter Farrelly is a little simplistic in how it chooses to handle the more heavier themes. It does show glimpses of the horrors of segregation in the 1960s and how black people were treated harshly for the colour of their skin, but one could simply pick up a history book to realise that. Unfortunately, it really only scratches the surface of what it could explore when it comes to this subject matter, particularly when other films have managed to strike a balance between that nuanced tone, and when it really needs to, emphatically and dramatically getting its point across to the audience.

In such a time when the issue of race in America has become increasingly in the public eye, given the quality of the actors and the really interesting nature of this story, the execution really just feels like a missed opportunity to tell something more riveting, something that really would have thrown the book at the status quo of the 1960s. The film has some undeniably good intentions and there are heart-warming sentiments behind its central story and the relationship of its two characters. However, given that there was scope for something much more powerful, it ultimately is a missed opportunity.

Excellent performances from Mortensen and Ali help keep the story moving along at a steady pace, but a rather simplistic approach of tackling a heavy issue such as race relations in 1960s America is undeniably frustrating, especially in these very emotionally charged times.