Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Last Duel (2021)

© 20th Century Studios, Scott Free Productions, Pearl Street Films and TSG Entertainment

The Last Duel  – Film Review

Cast: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: In Medieval France, following an accusation of rape against his wife, a Knight challenges his former friend to a trial by combat…

Review: For as long as humanity has been around, our society has been a patriarchal one, with men more often than not in positions of power. At numerous points throughout history, and even in modern times, such men try to exhibit control over the lives of women and dictate the choices that they should be allowed to make with their own bodies. The Me Too Movement has forced us as a society to bring about change to the systemic belittlement, and sometimes ridicule, women get for coming forward when they’ve been a victim of sexual assault. While progress has been made, enter Ridley Scott with a powerful medieval drama that demonstrates that is a centuries-old problem that still exists in our society.

The setting is 14th century France, Jean de Carrouges (Damon) is an esteemed knight in the French army. He offers his hand in marriage to the beautiful Marguerite (Comer). Despite her marriage to Jean, Marguerite has another admirer, the squire Jacques Le Gris (Driver). When Le Gris’s attempts to woo Marguerite are unsuccessful, he brutally forces himself upon her. When Marguerite bravely stands up to accuse Le Gris of rape, it is determined that the matter will be settled in a trial by combat between Jean de Carrouges and Le Gris. There’s added pressure too for Marguerite because if her husband loses, she will be sentenced to death for false testimony.

Set in three distinct acts, each act recounts the events from three perspectives: Jean de Carrouages, Jacques Le Gris, and most importantly of all, Marguerite de Carrouages. Each act breaks down the person’s perspective on the events that preceded the horrendous crime, the crime itself, and the aftermath. The first act from Jean’s perspective, written by Damon, shows Jean as a very courageous, likable, and loyal man. Yet his efforts in battle are not well rewarded, with Le Gris getting the plaudits and the rewards that Jean clearly feels should be bestowed upon him. Despite his grievances at these slights, Jean initially refuses to hold a grudge against Le Gris.

The second act, from the perspective of Le Gris (written by Affleck), paints Le Gris as a man who is studious and good at numbers, which helps him favourably with his commander, Count Pierre d’Alençon (Affleck). As well as his studiousness, he clearly sees himself as a handsome chap who is popular with the ladies. Consequently, because of his bewitching good looks, all the ladies must surely want him as well. Not even a married woman like Marguerite could possibly turn down his advances. So when she does exactly that, he forces himself upon her when Jean is not at home. While there’s no attempt to deny or downplay what he did, in his mind, it is completely inconsequential due to the belief in his mind that Marguerite is unhappy with her marriage, and must have secretly yearned for it.

It isn’t until we arrive at the third and final perspective, that of Marguerite’s, that the film truly soars. This segment, written by Nicole Holofcener, is by far the strongest of the three acts. It puts us from the perspective of the person who matters the most in this tale. We see Marguerite as a woman who defies what society expects of her, playing an active role in the maintenance and upkeep of her husband’s properties while he is off fighting in wars. And crucially, we see from her perspective, the character flaws that exist in both Jean and Le Gris, that they are both completely oblivious to. While all of the performances around her are strong, Jodie Comer is, quite simply, head and shoulders above everyone else. Though, by telling this from two different perspectives, be warned, we are forced to watch this heinous crime a couple of times.

However, as uncomfortable as it is to watch such an unspeakable act of violence a couple of times, it feels integral to the plot to do so. The reason being is that it emphasises the contrasting emotions of both parties concerned. While there’s no pain for Le Gris, there’s a tremendous amount of pain, both physical and emotional, that is inflicted upon Marguerite, and by extension for Jean as well. To add insult to injury, at this time in history, rape was incredulously not considered to be a crime against a woman, but rather a crime against a man and his property. Hence, at a time when women were expected to be silent and to be subordinates to their husbands, it is incredibly courageous for Marguerite to speak out and level this accusation against Le Gris, which sets the stage for the titular duel.

Ridley Scott is no stranger to a medieval, swords and lances battleground. Given everything that has been established in the events leading up to it, the stakes could not be higher for these characters. As you would expect, Scott’s direction for this bloody battle to the death is marvellous and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Though as important as the duel is, what is of far more importance is how Marguerite’s story is still relevant in the society that we live in. Too often, after being subjected to unspeakable acts of male violence, women are powerless or are unable to bring the perpetrators to justice due to our patriarchal society. But, as this centuries-old tale proves, when women have the courage to speak out, they demand our attention as a society every time. Their words are powerful and must never ever fall on deaf ears.

Thought-provoking and enthralling in equal measure, with an outstanding Jodie Comer performance, this medieval epic is an important story that shamefully connects the dots to our present-day society.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Image is property of Warner Bros, Participant and Bron Creative

Judas and the Black Messiah  – Film Review

Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith Martin Sheen

Director: Shaka King

Synopsis: After being caught committing a crime, a man is given a chance by law enforcement to become an FBI informant as they seek to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and keep tabs on its chairman, Fred Hampton…

Review: If someone were to ask you about the influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, names like Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Rosa Parks may jump to mind.  These are the names of extremely influential individuals who are the subject of curriculums worldwide, and have been the subject of numerous films, so that just about everyone on Planet Earth is likely to know who they are. Yet, there are certain influential figures that may not garner quite the level of attention, but when you learn more about them, it’s a wonder why they are not as well known as some of the the other influential leaders of this movement. This is most definitely applicable in the case of Frederick Allen Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois branch of the Black Panther Party, and the deputy chairman of the national BPP.

Having been caught committing a crime by the police, Bill O’Neal (Stanfield) finds himself in a very perilous position. If he’s charged, he faces almost certain prison time. However, there’s another option for him, as he’s given a chance to escape a jail sentence by becoming an FBI informant. The FBI are seeking to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the BPP, to keep tabs on the activities of Fred Hampton and do whatever they can to suppress the party and Hampton’s agenda to help the lives of numerous people oppressed by the society they’re living in. Yet in the eyes of the government, and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, they consider Hampton to be a radical figure, and a substantial threat. Having had the most fleeting of appearances in last year’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, this is 100% Hampton’s story, and, from the very first minute, it’s an informative, exhilarating and extremely maddening chapter of US history that demands to be told.

Daniel Kaluuya is an actor who has been consistently pulling amazing performances over the last few years. From a run that started with his Oscar nominated turn in Get Out, to last year’s Queen & Slim, he has consistently proved why he is one of the best actors currently in the business. With this transformative turn as Hampton, it’s another absolutely magnetic performance to add to that list. Every time he speaks, his words captivate the crowds he’s talking to, which extends to the audience. You see a man who’s passionate about helping people who are oppressed by a government and a society that is built upon systemic racism. While Kaluuya’s performance is absolutely worthy of all the superlatives in the world, the equally impressive work of Lakeith Stanfield must not be overlooked, as it is, and an integral part of what makes the film work. We watch through his eyes as he initially is forced into this role of infiltration, and it’s a role that makes you want to hate him. Yet, as he spends more time by Hampton’s side, it’s plain to see that he’s starting to believe in the causes that Hampton and the Black Panthers are championing.

Alongside the outstanding performances of Stanfield and Kaluuya, are an equally impressive collection of supporting characters that includes, Dominique Fishback’s beautiful performance as Deborah, the most important person in Fred’s personal life. Additionally, there’s a great performance from Jesse Plemons as Roy Mitchell, the slimy and manipulative FBI agent who’s keeping tabs on O’Neal as he goes about his task of infiltration. With every word spoken in the film, it is clear what screenwriters, Shaka King, the Lucas brothers, and Will Berson are hoping to accomplish with this film. A clip plays near the beginning of the film of news reels from the time says “Those are not riots, they are rebellions, people are rebelling because of the conditions, and not because of individuals, no individual creates a rebellion.” When you watch the film’s events play out, it is fairly easy to connect the dots between the 1960s and the 21st century.

Given the horrifying events that the world saw in 2020, Shaka King’s film provides an urgent message that demands everyone’s attention. It is a damning indictment that in the decades since Hampton fought against this unjust society, that not nearly enough progress has been made. Furthermore, the events of not just last year, but of many years gone by, have shown that it is infuriatingly plain for all to see that the systemic oppression against people of colour in our society has not been dismantled. The rebellion that people like Hampton fought for, is one that must continue. “You can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.” It is a testament to Hampton that in the years since he uttered those famous words: that they ring truer now more than ever. The fires of revolution are burning stronger than perhaps ever before, and long may that continue.

With a powerful and informative screenplay, combined with its two towering central performances, Shaka King’s film ensures that not only the world will know Fred Hampton’s name, they will never forget it.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Netflix

The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Film Review

Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Synopsis: In the run up to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the organisers of several protests at the time, who later became known as the Chicago 7, are put on trial by the Government…

Review: It’s hard to get away from the fact that in this most chaotic of years, that the world of politics, especially in the USA, is a very fraught and bitterly divided arena. As politics becoming increasingly partisan in nature, society has been reeling from the riots and civil unrest that has stemmed from senseless brutality from law enforcement, and a fundamentally flawed judicial system that significantly disadvantages ethnic minorities and people of colour. The parallels between the current situation and the unrest of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s are extremely hard to avoid, lending increased relevance to the second directorial effort from seasoned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. To say this is “timely” is practically doing the film a disservice, for the simple reasons that right from the start, there’s a real sense of urgency about the film, with a message that needs to be heard around the world, because as they say in the film: “The whole world is watching.”

With the 1968 Democratic National Convention taking place in Chicago, several different groups of people, with numerous leaders, converge on Chicago to protest the Vietnam War. With the Civil Rights Movement of the time in full swing, a tense atmosphere exists between the protestors and the police/National Guard who quickly arrive on the scene. It doesn’t take long for the situation to escalate into brutality and violence, leading to the arrests of the leaders, who would go on to become known as the Chicago 7. The Government, under President Richard Nixon, is eager to make an example of these protestors. Hence, they appoint a top prosecutor Richard Schultz (Gordon-Levitt) to seek prosecutions and lock these protestors up for allegedly inciting violence. The stage is now set for one of the most politicised trials in the history of the United States.

As he demonstrated with his slick and stylish debut feature Molly’s Game, Sorkin’s proved himself to be a confident director to combine perfectly with his skill as a master screenwriter. It’s to his great credit that he made stories about about numbers and baseball, and the social media company that would change the world, extremely compelling watches. It raises the possibility that Sorkin could craft something extremely riveting based on the most ordinary of tasks. Though, the events being depicted here are given extra significance by the politically charged nature of this story. There’s no holding back when it comes to its subject matter, and how these events that are being depicted over fifty years ago, are starkly relevant in today’s society. A society where those in positions of power seek to use the political and justice systems as weapons to punish those who dare to have a dissenting opinion. The dialogue, as you would expect from Sorkin, is sharp and engaging throughout, and he effortlessly blends the urgent and important drama, with some brilliant humour.

With a massively stacked cast, there’s always a risk that not everyone will get their moment in the spotlight, and while Sorkin does his level best to give each of the Chicago 7 a moment, some use their opportunity better than others. One of the brightest spots by far is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman. On first glance he might seem like nothing more than an eccentric hippie, but don’t let that fool you, for he is a man with razor sharp wit, with his finger on the pulse. While his accent wobbles in a few places, Eddie Redmayne’s Tom Hayden is another who uses his screen time effectively. He might seem like a more quiet and reserved individual, but he has his moments where he exhibits fierce passion for the cause that all of the defendants stand for. While there are clashes within the ranks of the Chicago 7, they remain committed to their goal of exposing this trial for what it is, a sham and politicised trial.

On the other side of the courtroom, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Richard Schultz is a little concerned about the Government’s position, but is determined to do his job to the best of his abilities. By contrast, Frank Langella’s Judge Hoffman is one character who will infuriate every time he’s on screen. The sheer contempt he exhibits for the defendants, their legal representatives, and the fact he fails to be impartial throughout illustrates how he’s unequivocally unfit to be a judge in this situation. Through his clear disdain for the defendants, it makes for some fiery (and sometimes entertaining) clashes between the Judge and the Chicago 7, as well as their legal counsel William Kunstler (a truly excellent Mark Rylance). Additionally, while they’re not in the film for sufficiently long enough, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Leader of the Black Panther Party Bobby Searle and Michael Keaton’s, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, both leave lasting impressions with their performances.

In this politically charged era that we’re currently living in, battlegrounds are being drawn between those on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Furthermore, as they were in 1968/69, those in power today are using the flawed justice system and the courts as a means of achieving their own ends. This powerful and urgent drama is an important reminder of the power of protest, and how people should use their voice to speak out and should not let government intimidation bully them into silence. Like they were fifty years ago, the whole world is watching, and it is essential to stand up for democracy, and ensure that people make themselves be counted.

Signature sharp Sorkin dialogue throughout, this urgent drama is a sharp and stinging look at social, legal and political issues that even after a generation, continue to be deep-rooted thorns in today’s society.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

The King (2019)

Image is property of Netflix

The King – Film Review

Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp, Robert Pattinson, Ben Mendelsohn, Dean-Charles Chapman

Director: David Michôd

Synopsis: Following the death of his father, a young Prince succeeds his father as King, and immediately finds his rule under threat from internal politics, and the ever-present threat posed from across the English Channel…

Review: The world has undoubtedly changed in the several hundred years since the times of medieval politics. However, what hasn’t changed is the squabbling and backstabbing that goes on behind the scenes in politics and policy making in governments the world over. Though, it has to be said that considerably less swords are now involved. Though that hasn’t prevented this era from being dramatised quite a few times, most notably in recent times by Netflix. After 2018’s Outlaw King, with sword in hand, they are taking another swing at crafting a compelling medieval drama.

England has been at war for many years, and as such, a considerable proportion of the country’s resources are crippled. With the current king Henry IV (Mendelsohn) approaching the end of his life, he seeks to appoint his successor. Through not initially his first choice, his son Hal (Chalamet) is eventually crowned King, becoming Henry V. Having previously expressed little desire to assume the throne, the young King finds many obstacles in his path, from within his own circle to the prospect of invasion from foreign adversaries, all while finding out what kind of ruler he wishes to be. Shortly after being crowned, he is the recipient of a rather derogatory and insulting gift, which prompts the young King to have to decide if he wants to continue going to war.

Given that much of the film is on his personal struggle on his ascension to the throne, such a role would require an actor of immense stature to play such a Kingly figure. Chalamet is certainly a very capable actor, and while he gives it his all, but you can’t help but wonder if this was a role that was came too early on for him in his career. He certainly puts everything he’s got into the role but unfortunately for him, his performance is a bit too one dimensional and lacks that aforementioned stature and charisma that such a King should have in his armoury.

Though like any good King, he has some capable aides by his side, and its these performances that give Chalamet a run for his money. Most notably the jovial, and consistently entertaining John Fastolf (Edgerton). Similarly for William Gascoigne (Harris) who despite being a loyal adviser to the new King, has a personality and a demeanour of a man who you should keep a close eye on. Though on the opposite side of that coin, Robert Pattinson as the leader of the opposing French army really sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s certainly a capable actor, but unfortunately he provides some (perhaps inadvertently) comedic moments. His extremely dubious French accent leaves an awful lot to be desired, and one can perhaps question as to why a French actor was not hired for the part.

French actor or not, there’s clearly no expense spared on the production design, nor the costumes, and these help to bring an air of authenticity. From a technical perspective, the battle scenes are extremely well executed. With Michôd’s solid direction, and Adam Arkapaw’s impressive cinematography, they are by far, the highlights of the film. Yet, while the battle scenes are consistently entertaining, they are not nearly as enthralling when compared to the likes of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, what really lets the whole film down is a mixed bag of a script. Given that it’s a very loose adaption of the works of William Shakespeare, there was potential for greatness. While, it certainly has its moments, it ultimately falls short of providing a riveting narrative, that would make the audience bow down in wonder.

There’s some excellent technical aspects that deserve to be hailed. However due to a somewhat melodramatic leading performance and an indifferent script, The King does not earn the Crown it clearly covets.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

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

Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

Image is property of Working Title, Focus Features, and Universal Studios

Mary Queen of Scots – Film Review

Cast: Saorise Ronan, Margot Robbie, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant, Guy Pearce, Gemma Chan

Director: Josie Rourke

Synopsis: After the death of her first husband, Mary Stuart returns to her Scotland where she is crowned Queen,  posing a threat to the crown of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I…

Review: The time of the Tudors was, as perhaps its most well known ruler Henry VIII is any example, an interesting period in history. Squabbles with the Pope and the Catholic Church, half a dozen different wives for one particular monarch, a few hundred Protestants being burnt at the stake for another, and quite a few people literally losing their heads. An interesting period then for a director who has a wealth of theatre experience, Josie Rourke to make her cinematic debut, and it’s a transition one she makes remarkably well.

In this period piece however, we focus on the final monarch of the Tudor dynasty, Elizabeth I and specifically her struggles that she endured when a younger Queen, namely Mary Stuart, arrives in Scotland and poses a very serious challenge to the English throne. Mary, meanwhile has her own problems to deal with as being a Catholic, some do not approve of her religion and hence do not see her as being the rightful ruler. And so begins a power struggle, with the two Queens competing to rule.

Being the regal women that they are (both in life and in this film), Saorise Ronan and Margot Robbie are both on excellent form as Mary and Elizabeth respectively. Ronan brings a real fiery feminist nature to her portrayal of Mary, fierce but determined to succeed when there are men, such as John Knox (an excellent David Tennant) who view her with pure contempt due to her Catholic faith, not to mention her gender. For Robbie, she is not quite as fierce as her Scottish counterpart, but she possesses some steely determination when, with the years passing, her inability to produce an heir to her throne, start to take their toll.

The screenplay by Beau Willimon of House of Cards fame does take a little bit of time to get going in the initial stages, but when it gets going, it successfully weaves politically scheming and conniving, mixed in with some romantic drama and political squabbling. That being said, what with there being so much history in the period of Elizabeth I alone, the film tries to cram a substantial amount into its run time, which can leave things feeling a little uneven in terms of its story. Rourke’s direction is remarkably confident for someone making their cinematic debut, and she clearly shows that she has the talent to further her career as a film director.

When bringing any period piece to the screen, it’s imperative that the costumes and production design are resplendent and both are equally so, with Alexandra Byrne’s costumes especially going some way to add that extra layer of authenticity. Their brilliant work is complimented by the gorgeous cinematography provided by two time Oscar nominee John Mathison. For sure the film takes some liberties with its source material, but so long as it serves the story, which in this case it does, then all the better for it. Given the times we are living in, the film reminds its audience, that women, no matter who they are, where they come from or what time they lived in, deserve to have their voices heard.

Offering an intriguing look at the workings of Tudor politics, mixed in with two excellent performances from its leading ladies, ensures that this biopic packs some royal ferocity.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Favourite (2018)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight and Film4

The Favourite – Film Review

Cast: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Synopsis: In 18th Century England, with the country at war with France, a frail Queen (Colman) relies on her confidante (Weisz) to run the country. However when a new woman (Stone) arrives at court, a battle for the Queen’s attention ensues.

Review: If you encounter someone who complains about Hollywood becoming too dominated by superheroes, reboots , prequels etc., you should encourage them to seek out the filmography of Yorgos Lanthimos. If you are after something unconventional, he is your man. Eccentric to the extreme, having dabbled in a dark love story, and a wholly unique spin on the classic revenge tale. Now Lanthimos takes his idiosyncratic style to the realm of period dramas, and combines it with some very dark comedy, and a riotous romp ensues.

At the centre of this royal feud is Queen Anne, who is in rather poor health at this moment in time that means she finds it difficult in terms of being the Queen and governing her country. Instead, the Queen likes to fill her time with some rather obscure past-times so her confidante Lady Sarah is effectively ruling in her stead. This is until a new arrival at court, Lady Sarah’s cousin Abigail arrives seeking employment to turn around her own fortunes, and gain favour with the Queen, giving rise to a feisty battle between the two women to be the Queen’s “Favourite.”

Though not written by him, this feels of similar ilk to Lanthimos’s previous filmography, simple because of how out of the ordinary it is, Downton Abbey this most certainly isn’t. Telling a story in chapters is nothing new, but it’s done in a manner that feels extremely innovative. The screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara packs in a copious amount of expletives which go hand in hand with some very sharp and witty dialogue that just works so fluently between these engaging characters who seem to be continuously scheming. There are more than a few extremely humorous exchanges that should get those laughter muscles moving.

Though every member of this cast are on top form, including a brilliant turn from Nicholas Hoult, it is the performances of the three central women that are by far the standouts. Colman as Queen Anne is delightful when she wants to be, screaming at those who dare look at her. Yet she is at other times melancholic, given the tragic nature of her past. As the Queen’s confidante/lover, Sarah can be a bit bossy when push comes to shove, but Weisz plays her so brilliantly that you sympathise with her in what she is trying to do. It is however the fierce rivalry that ensues between Lady Sarah and Emma Stone’s Abigail that is the driving force of this story. This is a far cry from her work in La La Land, but Stone takes to this role like a duck to water, and just bosses it from the moment we are first introduced to her, after she has fallen face first into a pile of mud.

As he demonstrated with his previous films, Lanthimos brings a very unique visual style to this film which includes a considerable use of wide shots. The gorgeous cinematography provided by Robbie Ryan only adds to the visual flair of the film. No expense was spared when it came to the production design or the costumes as both are just absolutely exquisite, very befitting for a Queen mind you. Though the film does start to lose its way a little bit in and around the third act, it is only dips momentarily. Lanthimos is certainly different in terms of what he brings to the big screen. While different doesn’t always mean great, it has just the right amount of idiosyncrasy that makes it such a riot to watch.

Raunchy to the maximum, but an extremely witty screenplay with a trio of terrific performances from its leading ladies cement this as a period drama that revels in its eccentricity. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Darkest Hour (2017)

Image is property of Universal, Working Title and Focus Features

Darkest Hour – Film Review

Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendolsohn, Stephen Dillane

Director: Joe Wright

Synopsis: In the early days of World War II, with the rest of Europe falling under the iron grip of the Nazis, Winston Churchill ascends to the role of Prime Minister, with the country seemingly on the brink of almost certain defeat…

Review: In periods of war, strong leadership from those who hold positions of power can be the difference between victory and defeat. Never is this more applicable than for the United Kingdom in the early years of the Second World War, which like the film’s title success was truly some of the darkest days for the country. The Nazis closed in having swiftly conquered the majority of Western Europe, and there seemed to be no one capable of stopping Hitler from his mission of total domination across the continent. This is of course, until one man came to the fore, and that man is of course Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.

Being one of, if not the most prominent Prime Ministers in UK history, there has been a great many actor to play Churchill, and Gary Oldman becomes the latest man to assume the role, and it is one that he fully commits to, giving an absolutely incredible performance that has rightfully installed him as a hot favourite to finally scoop a Best Actor Oscar this year. His performance captures Churchill and his mannerisms so well that at times you forget that it is indeed Oldman under all that makeup.

Having seen his predecessor Neville Chamberlain being forced into resignation, Churchill assumes office and immediately realise the enormity of the task facing him as the British forces find themselves stranded on the French coast with the Germans closing in fast. While Churchill favours a more guns blazing approach, there are those who would prefer to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler and as one character calls him, his “lackey” Mussolini. As the days go by and the situation worsens, pressure and indeed opposition towards him grows stronger, but Churchill will not yield.

Given the gravity of the situation, it would be easy for the script to be completely dreary. However, the screenplay by Anthony McCarten allows for plenty of humour, of which Churchill is of course front and centre. Aside from Oldman’s towering performance, the rest of the supporting cast all deliver assured performances. Chief among these are Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill’s wife Clementine and Lily James as his secretary Elizabeth Layton, while neither are given extensive amounts of screentime, they both make their mark on Churchill and are figures of support as he battles his opponents who are calling for him to negotiate for peace, led by the stern Viscount Halifax, who is expertly portrayed by Stephen Dillane.

With meticulous production design by Sarah Greenwood, director Joe Wright and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel capture 1940s London in intriguing visual style. The scenes in Parliament especially stand out in the way Wright shoots them, using lighting that gives the scenes an almost melancholic feel to them, which to be fair wouldn’t entirely be out of place in war time. Yet it is here where Oldman shines brightest, giving the rousing “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech that has taken its deserved place as one of the best speeches in history.

In what is almost a companion piece to the gripping retelling of the Dunkirk evacuation from Christopher Nolan, while that film focuses on the evacuation itself, Darkest Hour focuses on the man who at a time when his country needed him most, rose to the challenge and helped to make it all possible. In the darkest hour that perhaps the UK has ever faced, one man showed us the light.

A gripping story of a country on the brink at its centre, with a magnificent performance from Oldman at its core, this is Wright’s and Oldman’s finest hour.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Detroit (2017)

Image is property of Annapurna Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Entertainment One

Detroit – Film Review

Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie, Hannah Murray

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Synopsis:  1967,Detroit, USA. With riots threatening to tear the community apart, Police enter a hotel on the hunt for a sniper, which leads to a horrifying ordeal for the residents.

Review: It kind of goes without saying that for a long time that in the United States of America, the issues of racism and police brutality have unfortunately been dominant in American society, and recent events in 2017 certainly indicate that these issues are very much prevalent in modern America, as relevant today as they were half a century ago. As such, to tackle such a tricky and emotional subject for a film requires a director whose previous films have shown she is not afraid to tackle such controversial subject matter, step forward Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow.

Her first film since Zero Dark Thirty, which focused on the hunt for Bin Laden, drew criticism for being almost pro-torture. Furthermore, controversy has arisen over whether Bigelow is the right director to tell this story, but given her immense directorial portfolio, this was never in doubt. However, right from the off, Bigelow throws you right into the heart of the riots and the tensions that were building right across America. With a screenplay from long time collaborator Mark Boal, the tension is there right from the first shot as you watch communities being torn asunder. There was a gritty, almost documentary like manner to which Bigelow told the story of Zero Dark Thirty, and here, she does replicates that method again to tell the story. The script is uncompromising and absolutely brutal when it wants to be. Yet the first act is a little choppy as we’re introduced to a lot of characters which means you’re unsure which characters to really focus on.

It’s at the film’s second act where things really start to get tense and scary. After a prank weapon is fired, the cops descend onto the Algiers Motel and several of the cops led by Philip Krauss (Poulter) begin to terrorise the frightened residents of the motel by demanding who it was that shot what they believed to be sniper fire. As time wears on and no one gives them any answers, the cops take matters into their own hands, and it is not pretty for those residents. The version of events displayed on screen are somewhat dramatised as it is not fully known what actually transpired that night, but Bigelow showed that when it comes to building tension, she is an absolute pro. This is unflinching storytelling and it makes you almost gawk at the screen in horror at what you are witnessing.

Everyone in the film delivers great performances but by far the most standout performance is that of Will Poulter’s Krauss. Right from the moment you meet this horrifyingly bigoted cop, you just know he is bad news for all who get in his path and that includes Algee Smith’s Larry, Anthony Mackie’s as Greene and John Boyega’s Melvin Dismukes a part time security guard who witnesses all of it. After that brutal second act, the film slows down to deliver a brutal gut punch in the third act, but the script could have done with a little bit of polishing to really hammer the point home as the third act does falter a little bit.

However, by the time the credits begin to roll, and the crux of the film reaches its audience, it really will make you sit up and take notice of the problems that have existed in America for the best part of half a century. In that time that you would have thought that humanity might have move forward from that point, that things are still far from perfect with innocent folk, quite often black people, losing their lives to severe unnecessary police brutality to this very moment. It will really give you plenty of food for thought. Though these events took place fifty years ago, there are messages in this movie that are incredibly still relevant in today’s society, and society needs to immediately sit up and take notice.

Uncompromisingly brutal, tense storytelling at its finest/scariest but told with authenticity and care that makes the film’s themes as relevant today as they were 50 years ago.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Dunkirk (2017)

Image is property of Warner Bros and Syncopy

Dunkirk – Film Review

Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles

Directors: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: With the enemy surrounding them and closing in, the Allied forces are stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk, and their hopes of survival appear completely remote, barring an astonishing miracle…

Review: As a director, Christopher Nolan’s films have explored a variety of genres and topics, from deep space exploration, to dreams within dreams, within dreams, to a man who dresses up as a bat to clean up his city from crime. So for his next project, Nolan clearly fancied straying into new waters by making a war movie, one that specifically focuses on one small week in the heart of the Second World War, focusing on what has become known as the Miracle of Dunkirk. It was naturally intriguing to see what a director who has become so revered could do with this topic. With any project he directs, Nolan manages to leave a lasting impression on the audience, and with his latest, it’s another masterclass from Nolan.

It is May 1940, and with a total of around 400,000 men stranded on this beach, with boats to rescue them in scarce supply, their situation looks bleaker and bleaker with every hour that passes. Nolan chooses to tell this story from three different perspectives: Air, sea and land. And through what is what a remarkably short running time for a Nolan film (106 minutes) we watch as these three differing story-lines witness what is a defining moment in British history. Through sparse dialogue, Nolan takes his audience on an intense gripping journey as we watch these characters either battling for survival, doing whatever they can to save as many lives as possible, or flying a plane trying to down enemy planes.

CGI has become very prominent in modern day movie making, but Nolan here uses practical effects as much as he can, and it really adds so much authenticity to the story he is trying to tell. The planes, the boats and the like are all ones that were used in World War II, and filming in practical locations, including Dunkirk itself only adds so much more to the authenticity. The cinematography from Hoyte van Hoyetma, re-teaming with Nolan after Interstellar is flawless once again. The film’s editing is also terrific, it heightens the tension. And of course the score provided by Hans Zimmer is of the superb standard that one would expect from one of the world’s greatest film composers.

The extensive research that Nolan made on the operation ensures historical accuracy up to a point, but as the characters are not based on any real life people. Yet the characters that Nolan does use to tell this story are not as well utilised as they could have been. With such talented actors such as Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy among others, the development on these characters is kept to a minimum, which is undeniably frustrating, but for the sake of the story, it does make sense. Though having said that, Fionn Whitehead has the most development, and for all the intrigue and raised eyebrows that followed when he was cast, Harry Styles demonstrated that he could definitely have a future in acting, with a very impressive debut performance.

Above all though, Nolan really demonstrates what is meant by the term “Dunkirk Spirit,” fierce determination in the face of very long odds. The story is perhaps not as thorough on the specifics of the evacuation but it certainly provides you with enough detail that will make you eager to go home and do some research. The lack of character development is frustrating, and the acting is not on par with say an Imitation Game. However, for nail biting intense war scenes, Nolan certainly gives such other WW2 films like Hacksaw Ridge and Saving Private Ryan a damn good run for their money, with an important history lesson thrown in for good measure.

Telling a story that needs to be told, and telling it with real authenticity that is gripping throughout, whilst conveying important themes, and a great attention to historical detail.