Category film reviews

One Night In Miami LFF Film Review

One Night In Miami London Film Festival Review

Adapted from a stage play, One Night in Miami is the debut feature from Regina King, covering a fictional imagining of the night of 25 February 1964 when boxer Cassius Clay, singer Sam Cook, NFL star Jim Phillips and activist Malcolm X all met to celebrate Clay’s surprise win to become heavyweight champion of the world aged just 22.

The film confidently sticks to its theatre roots, with the vast chunk of the 110 minutes solely confined to a small motel room. The compact space is full to bursting with the personalities of the four black icons, who verbally jab bob and weave at each other, sparring just like Clay, but instead of boxing, their conflict is over their approach to their identities, personal and private lives and their success all in their individual struggles against racism. The script particularly focuses on what it means to support the civil rights movement as successful black men, dissecting each of the different character’s approaches and assumptions about each others’.

All four actors perfectly embody the energy, direction and opinions of their given role, Eli Goree’s Clay charmingly bounces off the walls, Aldis Hodges’ Brown is thoughtful yet firm, Leslie Odom Jr.’s Cook is passionately antagonistic with an incredible voice, and Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Malcolm X captures a fiery anger hiding his vulnerability. All have some incredible dialogue to play with, with knockout lines getting served up so fast you can barely keep up.

As it centres around the aftermath of Clay’s fight, he leads us into the film, but as we progress it feels it becomes more focused on Malcolm X’s hidden dilemma over leaving the Nation of Islam, while he hopes to bring Clay to announce his conversion to the public. The tension builds up slowly, with the heated temperatures matching the verbal sparring, especially between Sam Cook and Malcolm X, who believes Cook isn’t doing enough through his songs to help further the cause.

The powerful transformative effect of the night is an incredible sight to see, though the epilogue proves bittersweet with Malcolm X’s famous words “It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country” shown on the screen, along the fact they were spoken a mere two days before his murder.

One Night in Miami is a fantastically absorbing slice of partly-imagined history, with four powerhouse performances capturing the iconic figures’ meditation on race, civil rights and their own personal and private lives on a hot February night in 1964.

Supernova LFF Film Review

Supernova London Film Festival 2020 Film Review

Supernova, the second feature from actor, writer and filmmaker Harry Macqueen, is a heartbreaking tale of an older couple grappling with early-onset dementia.

Colin Firth’s Sam and Stanley Tucci’s Tusker are 50-somethings who embark on a mini-road trip through the Lake District, retracing their steps from decades before, reuniting with friends and family, all on the way to a cottage where Sam is set to perform a piano recital. And, last but not least, they bring their adorable dog Ruby along for the ride.

But it’s not all dogs, friends and stunning scenery, as Supernova takes an honestly bold look at the way Tusker’s condition of early-onset dementia takes its toll on both of the characters. The film takes it slowly, introducing us to a charming couple, before taking a more serious turn. The tension builds as Sam discovers that Tusker isn’t coping as well as he’s pretending to, and how the secrets they’re keeping from each other build-up to a dramatic set of scenes and a big dilemma.

There’s a real sense of the love between the two characters – they playfully bicker over the directions in the van, Tusker is overly protective over Sam’s fame, while Sam doles out patient and loving care over Tusker. The chemistry and the dialogue between the two protagonists are what really elevates the already great, though simple travel-style narrative. The little nuances of behaviours, the quiet moments and the heated arguments, all come together to paint a stunningly intimate portrait of two people facing one of the most difficult periods of their relationship and life.

Tucci’s sublime performance is bolstered by a painfully honest set of powerful lines capturing his character’s emotional state. Firth is more reserved, but equally strong, especially when faced with tough decisions. He’s reticent, as he tries to hide his emotional troubles while remaining strong for his partner.

On their journey, Sam and Tusker, and the audience are faced with compelling, yet harsh truths about the condition, but told through the partnership of the two, which is a joyful relationship, filled with humour, grumpiness and love. That said, the film sets out and succeeds in exploring the heartbreaking conflict between the selfishness of love, wanting not to lose your partner, and the selflessness of being a burden, feeling like you’re no longer the same person you were and losing control – “becoming a passenger [when you’re not] not a passenger.”.

Along with the acting and script, the other highlight is the cinematography. Aside from the stunning autumnal tones and vistas of a dramatic Lake District, the couple’s camper van is a remarkable set in itself. Masterfully shot, lit and staged, the van feels like an intimate world for the couple, yet still managing to create distance between the two, as well as capturing several different settings – everyday domestic life, a confessional space and a place of loneliness.

Supernova is a charmingly honest and sweetly romantic, yet brutally heartbreaking take on early-onset dementia and the traumatic effects it has on the body, mind and relationships. One of the frontrunners for the best film of the London Film Festival.

Kajillionaire LFF Film Review

Kajillionaire London Film Festival 2020 Review

The third feature from Miranda July, Kajillionaire is a surreal look at the life of Old Dolio Dyne (Evan Rachel Wood), named for a homeless lottery winner who the parents hoped would leave her money in his will. Sadly, we’re told, he spent it on experimental cancer treatments.

The quirky tale explores the strange lives of the Dyne family, conning their way through Los Angeles, stealing mail, forging signatures and living in a basement office which regularly floods with bubbles trickling down from a factory above. The actors play up the weirdness brilliantly, particularly Richard Jenkins, but the star has to be Evan Rachel Wood, who’s stubbornly suspended in an emotional prison of arrested development.

Gina Rodriguez plays the whirlwind of Melanie who flies into their life and mixes up the family’s very precise routines and chemistry, which Wood’s Old Dolio is so reliant upon. It’s hard not to see Melanie as the outsider, or the viewer – a normal person thrown into the kooky, surreal and bizarre world of Miranda July. Rodriquez brings charm, humour and strength to a role that works brilliantly in grounding a film in need of an anchor of realism.

Kajillionaire seems to set up the question – is the family in just a long-con – are familial bonds true or just a means to control, dominate and trick others? Either way, Wood’s Old Dolio is in much need of an outside perspective, and that’s where her intriguing journey with Rodriguez’s Melanie shines most. Definitely the most accessible of Miranda July’s catalogue, this is a strange, surreal and charming fairy tale of a lost woman trapped by her family, her upbringing and herself, and in much need of rescuing.

Stray – LFF Film Review

Stray – London Film Festival 2020 Review

Stray is the debut feature documentary of Hong Kong director Elizabeth Lo, who has featured in the New Directors Showcase at Cannes Lion and was named one of the ’25 New Faces of Independent Film’ by Filmmaker Magazine.

This feature is a beautifully charming, but sombre look at the lives of several stray dogs in Istanbul, along with the various residents they encounter as they wander the streets of the major city. A big part of the intimacy the film captures is down to the non-intrusive, natural and low-angle camera work, which tracks the canine stars through the course of 90 minutes. While the cinematography captures the fly-on-the-wall style, and most importantly, the dog’s perspective, there’s a countless beautifully composed shots of the stars and the city they inhabit.

The star of the show is undoubtedly Zeytin, a young female tanned dog, best described by one set of residents as a ‘fighter’. We follow her chasing cats, playing and fighting with other dogs, waiting to cross busy roads, searching for food and hanging out with several Syrian refugee teenagers, who are introduced while sleeping rough in a construction site. The teens, whose plight of homelessness and searching for food seem to mirror Zeytin and co., are one of many residents we encounter in the backdrop of the dog’s journeys. You get little snippets of dialogue from women complaining about their marriages, to young people discussing Instagram etiquette, and the backdrop of major demonstrations.

The Syrian teens’ story is the main backbone of the narrative in Stray, and sees them trying to find places to sleep, and then taking a young stray puppy, Kartal from his adopted owners, before eventually getting arrested for sleeping on the streets. We also follow Nazar, who is often with Zeytin. Elizabeth Lo and her team deserve a lot of credit for the amount of careful work that has gone into producing such an intimate, endearing and cohesive piece of documentary film-making that really captures a tiny bit of the lives of these transient dogs and the people they encounter along the way. Before the credits roll, the film announces the work is the product of two years of filming, and it was definitely worth it.

Mogul Mowgli LFF Review

Mogul_Mowgli Film Poster

Mogul Mowgli London Film Festival 2020 Review

The second feature and fictional debut from documentary filmmaker Bassam Tariq, which he co-wrote with its star Riz Ahmed, is a chaotic, but incisive release that more than begs repeat viewing. The film follows Z, or Zaheer, a second-generation British-Pakistani rapper on the cusp of success who returns home to his parents and faces not only a clash of culture, heritage and religion, but a debilitating disease which threatens his life and career.

Returning home to the parents is a well-trodden storyline, but this film masterfully manages to combine the obvious cultural differences, with rather disturbing flashbacks to both Z’s youth, as well as the past of his father’s escape to Pakistan during the 1947 Partition with India. This intergenerational trauma echoes through the film, with the juddering train literally shaking several scenes and scattering its dust over Z, and sits alongside the genetic trauma which has caused the disease in both father and son. The disease itself is autoimmune, and sits as a metaphor for Z’s anxiety about himself and his heritage, with the doctor describing it as being down to the fact ‘the body doesn’t recognise itself anymore’. Tariq’s documentary-style cinematography superbly captures some of these tense snippets of the past, and the extreme close-ups on materials, light and characters adds to the realistic style, which itself is balanced by moments leaning into magic realism.

Despite these rather haunting, horror-type moments, the film skips between serious drama and humour, with some of the best lines delivered by Nabhaan Rizwan as RPG, an up-and-coming fellow rapper, who gets to deliver the line “No Nando’s without apartheid”, which in combination with his music video for ‘Pussy Ass Chicken’, definitely had a slight Chris Morris influence, who Ahmed worked with on Four Lions. Ahmed is stellar, spitting out his lines, with several songs taken from Ahmed’s 2020 album The Long Goodbye, most memorably in a fantastic transition shot where he begins rapping backstage before leaping to the front of the house to begin his live show. There’s also a lot of boyish, rebellious charm, as he is thrown back into his parent’s household, channelling his younger self, but combined with some fantastic emotional scenes, particularly with Z’s father, played by Alyy Khan.

Mogul Mowgli is a fantastic piece of documentary-style fictional filmmaking, with the director/writer and actor/writer working together perfectly to produce an intense, but insightful leap into intergenerational relationships, attitudes and trauma.

Tenet Review

Tenet is the culmination of two decades of the film making behemoth that is Christopher Nolan.

It’s everything you’d expect from him – it’s big-budget, traditionally made, and has a Rubix cube of a plot that perfectly fits together at the end of the two hours and 30 minutes. While Nolan’s films have toyed with various action genres over the years, this has to be his finest try at making a James Bond film (or a Mission Impossible entry) to date.

You’ve got action set pieces that you can easily imagine the suited spy taking part in, but with the added twist of the ‘nonlinearity’ that Tenet brings to the table. Not getting too far into spoilers, Tenet is all about time, and the two directions you can take it in, forward and reverse. This concept works brilliantly in the car chases, fight scenes and grand battles that grace the film, but in fact, is at its best when used to puzzle the audience.

Just like Nolan’s 2006 film, The Prestige was all about misdirecting the audience and characters during grand illusions of magic, Nolan’s charm comes from the various clues he lets the audience glimpse as you’re thrown through the rollercoaster of a plot. Viewers, akin to the amnesiac Guy Pierce in Nolan’s Memento (2000), are kept darting around wondering whether this little nugget they’ve spotted will unlock the meaning of it all, or is it just one more piece of the puzzle? But all that aside, the unravelling of Tenet’s secrets is an enjoyable treat and doesn’t feel rushed in the slightest.

The acting is superb, with Washington doing a great ‘everyman’ role, adding in the wit of a secret agent combined with the dumbfounded confusion at being thrown into various inexplicable situations. Kenneth Branagh ‘s accent is a bit reminiscent of an old Bond film Soviet bad guy, but he has some great angry moments with rather bonkers dialogue. Both Patterson and Debicki have admirable chemistry with Washington, and it’s a shame they don’t get more scenes together.

The cinematography is effective, with lots of close-ups to emphasise the drama, along with some superb fast-moving action scenes which you could easily lose track of without well thought out shots and editing. In this film, Nolan has departed from his usual composer Han Zimmer, but Ludwig Göransson’s score is extremely effective in ramping up the tension and building on the surreal nature of many scenes.

If you love Nolan you’ll love this film, it’s the perfect culmination of his many years of filmmaking, honing all his skills to a massive blockbuster film we rarely see too many of these days. If you don’t, there’s a lot to admire here, and you definitely won’t be wasting any of the two and a half hours in the cinema.

Bill & Ted Face the Music Review

It’s been a long 29 years since the most excellent of dudes graced our screens, but is it the comeback show we all wanted or a soulless cash grab reunion?

While neither of the first two films were anything more than fun buddy comedies with a twist, they had a joyous sincerity that you couldn’t help fall in love with. Whether it was the surfer-style dialogue, their chemistry or the fact that they were essentially the same character all played into a loveable sense of camaraderie and adventure.

And the good news is that the latest in the series, Bill & Ted Face the Music, doesn’t disappoint in this department. Of course, it does rehash the time travel of Excellent Adventure and the doppelgangers, evil robots, hell and Death from Bogus Journey, but it adds a fun twist by having Bill and Ted’s daughters take centre stage on their travels to find history’s greatest musicians.

Of the two daughters, Lundy-Paine does the best take on Reeves’s spaced out Theodore Logan, perfectly capturing his trademark baffled expressions when being faced with even the simplest questions on space and time. Winter and Reeves both slip effortlessly back into their titular characters, and you can feel the fun they’re having especially when getting to play the various versions of themselves we see throughout the film. The returning cameos are great, and the short glimpse of Rufus is a lovely touch.

A rarity in most modern films, Bill & Ted Face the Music comes in at just over 90 minutes, but it doesn’t feel rushed in the slightest. As with its predecessors, you get a simple plot with charmingly dumb jokes and a loving sense of sincerity, and I am happy to report it was well worth returning to the phone booth for one last encounter with the two most excellent dudes of San Dimas.

Parasite Film Review

Parasite may well be a last minute entry, but is easily the best film of 2019, and possibly even the decade. So, what makes this South Korean release so special? Well, aside from being beautifully shot, cleverly scripted and full of vivid and often hilarious characters, it’s down to its central theme – class. Without getting too bogged down in politics, the film is bold in its break down of how class and a society built on wealth, connections and the luck of being born into privilege affects us all and really defines how we think, act and behave.

But let’s not get too philosophical. Parasite is the latest production from writer/director Bong Joon-ho, who rose to international fame with the monster horror picture The Host in 2006, and continued to receive acclaim with the sci-fi cult hit Snowpiercer (2013) and ecological adventure Okja (2017). Parasite ditches the sci-fi and adventure settings for a domestic thriller full to bursting with black comedy, despite rarely moving beyond two very different domestic spaces.

The script, which starts off as a witty, con-artist trickery plot, is crammed full of references to the forthcoming suspense and tension that slowly consumes the Kim family. We get hints at who will be the weak link in the Kim’s scheme through their struggles for money, subtle cinematography pre-empts major scenes and literal relics pop up which will come back to haunt them towards the end.

But what makes it all work are the charmingly scrappy family each with their own arcs, strengths and weaknesses, but who respect and support each other and overall provide a contrast with the upper class Park family they cannily insert themselves into. Not only are the two families contrasted, but their situations too – mass rains cause the Parks to return from a camping trip, while the same weather practically destroys the Kims’ basement home.

Tension is used exquisitely – being steadily cranked up with each scene, adding more and more obstacles in our protagonists’ way, until it reaches breaking point with an intriguing, yet completely out-of-the-blue twist that sends our family into a spiral from which it seems impossible to return. The tension works because Bong spends a lot of time getting to know the Kims, and playfully allows their tricks to prove surprisingly successful, despite their rag-tag, and often improvised nature. That said, the fantastic introductory scene, where the Kims humorously scramble for a decent Wi-Fi signal, is an incredibly nuanced and compact way to set out their relationships, bonds and status in society.

Not getting too much into spoilers, Parasite’s twist turns the story on its head and painfully takes the protagonists to a point of no return which culminates in a melancholic ending, with the audience’s emotions twisted even more by a somewhat cruel fake-out imagined ending. While such devices can be controversial, the masterful storytelling means nothing feels unearned in this film, and that’s what makes it a serious contender for film of the year, if not the decade.


Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Film Review

Tarantino has returned, and he’s still doing that cowboy schtick, but this time it’s not the real thing like in The Hateful Eight or Django Unchained, but actors doing the cowboy thing in late 1960s Hollywood. Throw in the tragedy of the Manson Family and the Tate murders and you’ve got yourself Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. Firstly, go read up on the Manson Family or Tate Murders before you sit down to enjoy this one – you don’t need to know much, but just an outline will allow you to appreciate the backdrop.

Now, down to business, the film business that is. Tarantino’s love for the movie industry, particularly in the 50 and 60s, oozes out of this picture. It’s his fairy tale send off to a bygone era, and it does a pretty damn good job of it.
You’ve got Leonardo DiCaprio as a washed-up TV cowboy Rick Dalton plying his way through guest spots hoping to resurrect his former glory. This allows Tarantino to play at director of several genres, whether its mini TV Westerns, action adventure films, or even reinserting Leo into some rather famous classics.

Dalton’s stuntman Cliff Booth, aptly played by Brad Pitt is Leo’s partner in crime, whether taking the punches, driving him around or just fixing stuff around his house. While Dalton’s tale takes him on a reflective journey surrounding his success and future, Booth’s adventures drive the major story and take him on an exploration of hippie culture and the Manson family, which ties into the Sharon Tate plotline, well helmed by Margot Robbie.
Not getting too much into spoilers, this film heavily channels Pulp Fiction’s interlocking mini stories, with some incredible memorable scenes which could easily stand by themselves as shorts. Unlike that 1994 classic, the dialogue in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is a lot more relaxed, no longer are scenes bursting full of witty dialogue, but there’s a more relaxed conversation style, added to the fact that some scenes were improvised – a relatively rare concept for Tarantino.

Coming in at just over 2 hours and 40 minutes, the film is in no way means bloated (apparently the original cut was 4 hours), but everything is perfectly balanced towards its aim. There’s a long scene that literally drips in tension, added to by the fact much of it is in the bright sunshine, which then turns into a darkly lit, isolated and anxiety-ridden moment. Sections like this are perfectly timed and balanced to create that punch-in-the-gut emotional connection that many big blockbuster films no longer aim to instil in the viewer. Overall, it’s so rare to have scenes where the actors can just ham it up and revel in the dialogue and interactions they’re gifted by the writer, and DiCaprio, Pitt and Tate all excel here – Pitt is the sure-fire star though, radiating with charisma, charm and playfulness, particularly in the backlot fight scene.

Would it have worked better with say a washed-up actor like Charlie Sheen, Christian Slater, or even Brendan Fraser? Who knows, but it may have lessened the comedic effect of having Leo bumbling through his lines, coughing his guts up and generally falling apart. The film also heavily focuses on Leo and Brad’s characters – their story, chemistry and acting works so well together that you could have released their tale on its own without any of the Manson murder backdrop, which feels slightly tacked on in places, but understandably sets the scene.
This isn’t a perfect film, or even the perfect Tarantino film, but it’s a picture that looks, feels and drips in dedication, excitement and just darn good celluloid fun.