Category Archives: On The Big Screen

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Unpopped Kernels: Begin Again (2014)

John Carney has masterminded some delicate stories and inventive musical pieces that have shot songs into our hearts, coating us with a balance of heart and despair. Working through our emotional cores through the power of song, Carney is one of Ireland’s best directors whose work with Once sent us on a soul-searching journey that has since taken to the West End and Broadway. Returning a couple of years ago with Begin Again, it was tricky to decide whether he’d capture the same magic as Once.

Instead, he created a new film filled with honesty, openness, and tunes.

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Begin Again revolves around music producer Dan and singer/song-writer Gretta who meet at the worst time in their lives. The former is an alcoholic, estranged from his family, fired from his job, and all prepared to kill himself. That is until he comes across the latter singing in a lowly pub. Gretta has just found out her boyfriend, now a famous rock star, has been cheating on her and fallen in love with someone else. When a chance meeting inspires the pair of them to produce a record together, they find a connection within the music and a chance to…begin again…

A movie that you’ll fall in love with despite rolling your shoulders so much at the premise and cast list. That being said, Begin Again is an endearing note. Though a little saccrine sweeter than Once, and therefore missing a step from the masterful iconic film, Begin Again still draws on the poignancy the two lead characters and the wholesome musical. The story is somewhat idealistic but brimming with sublime emotional arcs and a wondrous soulful journey paved by our characters and their inspiration for the music. There’s also some excellent points about the music industry (some cutting ones too) that allow this movie not to stray too.

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The small cast helmed by Kiera Knightly and Mark Ruffalo really help find Begin Again’s identity. Despite the big names, Carney still crafts this independent spirit defiantly. As Dan and Gretta, Ruffalo and Knightley explore the salvation of music as both producer and singer, using the art to work through the problems that vex them.  Knightly and Ruffalo are definitely the “lost” stars of the show but it is populated by incredible talents such as Adam Levine, James Cordon, and Hailee Steinfield who embrace the energy of the film and delicate excavate the aching, longing, and the journey one must go down – all together

Begin Again is about redemption and finding a home, not just in the adoptive city you moved to, but in the people you meet. It’s about recovery after pain and how beauty can come from suffering. Utilising the character of New York with this vibrant musical whimsy, the real crux of the tale is how Gretta and Dan help one another after each feels loss and abandoned. Having them not develop into the typical love story really hones the film in and sees humanity in its finest, propelling each other to discover the happiness they deserve with this beautiful acoustic soundtrack, brimming with the summer in the Big Apple.


Begin Again is available on Amazon Video! 

Road to the Oscars: Free Solo – Review

Destined for Oscar glory in the eyes of this reviewer, especially since Three Identical Strangers didn’t make the shortlist, the documentary Free Solo follows climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to climb the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without a rope. Husband and wife directing team Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi make us care about the obsessively single-minded Alex as he challenges himself to scale 3,200 feet of sheer rock face with no safety net and a significant risk of death.

From that description, you might think that Alex is some rich kid with an expensive but dangerous hobby. When we first meet him, he is living in a van. He has climbed many rock faces before but has never attempted ‘El Cap’. No other free-solo climber has successfully ascended it, with its seemingly insurmountable features such as the ‘Boulder Problem’.

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With many successful climbs behind him, as well as an autobiography, ‘Alone on the Wall’ the thirty-one year old Alex has a degree of celebrity. A high school student asks him how much money he has. ‘As much as a dentist,’ he replies. He donates a third of his earnings to a charitable foundation improving lives in Africa and considers himself lucky to turn his hobby into a living.

However, he has also been shaped by his father Charles, who ‘never hugged him’ and may have had Asperger’s. Alex describes himself as a ‘real dork’ at high school, earning straight As. However, he dropped out of the University of California in his second term, drawn heavily to the outdoors.

Does Alex share his father’s condition? He is honest – or unguarded – enough to say that he would never put the love of a woman before his hobby. Yet as he prepares for the El Cap climb, he has a girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, who met him at a book signing and thought he was cute. ‘I didn’t hear the word ‘love’ in my household,’ Alex explains. He’s being pedantic: his mother spoke French (she was a teacher) and uttered ‘Je t’aime’. He learns hugging – he wasn’t hugged growing up – and now he’s a big fan.

In the most revealing section of the film, we see him have a CT scan. Alex’s amygdala, not to be confused with Natalie Portman’s character in The Phantom Menace, doesn’t register fear the way most brains do; the amygdala processes emotions. He doesn’t fear death when climbing; rather he is motivated to achieving peak physical condition to negotiate precarious hand and foot-holds.

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Sanni was indirectly responsible for one of Alex’s few injuries – she let go of the rope. However, they didn’t break up and still climb together. However, during his preparation, Alex undergoes another fall.

In many ways, Free Solo is a generic sports story, with the requisite setbacks. There is also the alternative. Sanni attempts to give Alex a normal life – they buy a house together in Las Vegas. He finds a coffee machine puzzling and eats his meals with a spatula used for cooking.

The climbing sequence is genuinely thrilling: heart-stopping, suspenseful and gruelling to watch. We hear the debate about whether filming would distract Alex or threaten his safety if there was an accident with the drone. During the ascent, the cameraman on the ground can scarcely bear to look at the monitor.

How you feel about Alex’s climb may to some extent be determined about how you feel about rock climbing in general. I felt for the people Alex left behind as he continued alone. I didn’t marvel at his prowess – I just wanted him to live. I don’t think Free Solo will popularise climbing without ropes. But it does show how people with Asperger’s – or the son of a man with Asperger’s – have different abilities. Spiderman doesn’t need the bite of a radioactive spider to climb walls – just a differently functioning amygdala and an appetite for a challenge.


Free Solo is nominated for Best Documentary Feature. The Oscars will air on ABC on Sunday 24 February 2019 (01:30am, Monday 25 February, Sky Cinema in the UK)

On The Basis of Sex – Review: Does it do Ruth Bader Ginsburg justice?

by Catherine Courtney

I’m Ruth Bader,
Yes I’m the Real Bader
All you other Ruth Baders are just imitating,
So won’t the Real Ruth Bader please…. rise, court is now in session…

2019 is off to a pretty rocky start so far. It’s not as bad as 2018 – yet – but this film and the simply named documentary RBG have made these first couple of months a little more bearable. Honestly, when I was watching these movies, I actually forgot about Brexit.

The benefit that On the Basis of Sex has, is the subject matter herself – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s hard to imagine being a pioneer of something… anything… in a society where it feels like most things have already been discovered. But the Notorious RBG was a pioneer, a champion and quite simply an all-round total badass. Eager to become a lawyer, she was one of the very first women to be accepted into the Harvard program where still all content was driven towards men and men alone. She triumphed at school before becoming a professor herself, and has spent her entire career advocating gender equality and women’s rights, and has changed actual laws in the US which have revolutionised the treatment of men vs women. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Yep. Total badass.

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In eOne’s new release, Felicity Jones steps up to the plate to take on this formidable role – who is surprisingly manifested in a simply small, quiet body. While she gets much closer to the character than Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon does, there’s something so unique and special about the Original Ruth that isn’t quite tapped into in this role. She’s tough and determined, and Jones seems to walk with the air of owning a room – it’s the underestimation of Ginsburg’s peers that causes such a powerful impact.

There are some marvellously artsy shots such as the moment she’s the blue-blazered salmon swimming against the tide of black and grey male suits, but the magic of this woman’s story is in her words, and fortunately for this film her nephew wrote them all. This has given the story an insider feel, with sweet family dynamics and a mother-daughter relationship development that made me want to see more. Whether it was too close to home brings hesitation to the glossiness of the story, but it’s a story you want to believe in nevertheless.

One of the main beauties of Justice Ginsburg’s life is her incredible relationship with her husband, who genuinely glows in a limelight both separate and connected to hers. A man as sound as any young girl with a fluffy diary and a killer attitude could dream of – Handsome! Charming! Willing to do the dishes! Martin Ginsburg was a lawyer in his own right (and a very good one at that), climbing to the top of a tax career in New York and yet always looking next to him to make sure Ruth was achieving the things that she was capable of. It’s either luck or destiny that Armie Hammer was found for the role – a gentle giant, with eyes to melt any tough New Yorker judge, stories taller than petite Felicity and yet embodying a character that would happily put her on his shoulders so she could see and do more (suggestion for Hollywood’s obsession with sequels – On the Basis of Sex 2: Marty, Dreamboat Feminist…)

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The film itself is a fairly rose-tinted version of Ruth’s story, with incredibly powerful moments zipped past like the difficulties that have washed off Ginsburg’s back throughout her life. A truly defining moment comes at the dinner table of the Dean of Harvard, who gets each woman enrolled that year to stand in front of her peers and justify why she felt she had the right to take a place in school that could have been given to a man. No, really.

Look out for enjoyable performances from Justin Theroux and Sam Waterston, while Cailee Spaeny ignites sparks in a very early stage of her career – possibly a name to keep an eye on in future roles. But my concern for the film is in the viewer’s previous knowledge of Queen Notorious, as this film centres around one legal suit and the ebb and flow of the story may come across as slow and dragging at points for those who don’t know where it’s heading. I hope the tiny moments of defiance that built this woman are noticeable enough to those who aren’t looking for them. Does she simply come across as a stubborn woman with an obsessive tendency or can the UK audience see her true majesty and fire? Here’s hoping that the film will inspire people to find out more about the woman that’s helped to change the world.

A woman like this make us look at the world today. Gender equality has made leaps and bounds, but is nowhere near the end of its battle. Do feminists and champions for human rights have to be loud and brash? Can you still be classed as a feminist if you don’t attend every march with a witty homemade placard? And does it have to be that only the voice of many can make a difference while the voice of the few will struggle to make a sound? I think Ginsburg would say no – anyone can be a champion, and anyone can do it whichever way feels right to them. And every voice, no matter how loud or soft, has a right to be heard. So, Ruth – I think I’ll spend my life trying to make mine worth listening to.


On the Basis of Sex is out now in cinemas nationwide.

Cold Pursuit – Review

Favour for Liam Neeson has definitely taken a turn since he announced he once tried to take revenge on any black man back a couple of decades ago. Since his “outburst,” many have been debating his words.

In the midst of all the mayhem, his brand new – awkward – revenge thriller Cold Pursuit comes out which is probably the most insane movie he’s released lately.

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Directed by Hans Petter Moland, and a remake of  Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance, the film sees Neeson as Nelson Coxman – a snowplow driver in the glitzy Colorado ski resort Kehoe – and he’s just been nominated as Citizen of the Year. Sadly, his son dies from an  alleged heroin overdose and, in his grief,  Nelson uncovers a whole criminal underground that my have been the reason his son died. As gang members are bumped off one on one by one, Nels finds himself in the centre of a drug war – all equally out for….revenge.

Cold Pursuit is a ludicrous film and absolutely bizarre to watch. The tone of the film is like watching a baby deer on the ice. It slips and slides all over the place. It tries to balance on this serious, pouting drama such as Nels’ sorrow for his dead son then it slips on a bunch of mafia members having a snowball fight.

Here’s the thing, tonal shifts in movies can work when they are executed brilliantly such as last year’s phenomenal Blindspotting or Ryan Reynold’s The Voices. Cold Pursuit hasn’t fleshed out exactly what it wants to be and that makes the shifts in tone and pacing feel jarring. It is definitely trying to become some sort of homage to Coen Brother’s Fargo but along the way fails to be slick and clumsily falls short of a well made piece.

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Liam Neeson is  OK here. His barely audible anger and rage is well used here. Tom Bateman plays this really weird mafia boss who’s accent gets more and more like a poor imitation of Heath Ledger’s joker as time progresses. Laura Dern is…in it. And Emmy Rossum, a prominent actress, tries her best here as somewhat of a France McDormand character that is woefully under-utilised. Despite some lofty names here, they all feel as though they are in wildly different films which doesn’t elevate the confusion with the tone.

Cold Pursuit is a jumbled mess of a movie that is not cohesive enough to work. It’s a shame because there are parts here that are brilliant but the material is wasted. Cold Pursuit would’ve worked better as a more serious movie, rather than interjecting the humour.  Instead, it is a movie that’ll now provoke one or two chilly receptions.


Cold Pursuit is out 21st February! 

Alita: Battle Angel – Review

Robert Rodriguez has had a varying film career. From Once Upon A Time in Mexico to Spy Kids, the filmmaker has certainly immersed himself in different degrees of movie making.  Now he returns with sci-fi epic film Alita: Battle Angel.

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Based on a very popular Manga of the same name, Alita: Battle Angel revolves around a Robo-Doctor who finds the remains of a robot on a junk heap. The garbage is sent from a Zalom, a floating city in the sky where all the rich people live. All the working class live underneath the city and serve those above. No one from beneath can ever go up. Previously there was an attack on all the floating cities but Zalom is the only one still standing. OK. So Robo-Doctor (Ido,) takes this “core” and replaces it’s body with the cyborg one he built for his now dead daughter and promptly names her Alita (after said deceased daughter.) Seemingly new to the whole world, when Alita awakes, she wants to explore it, especially with the help of ragamuffin Hugo and his band of street friends. However, Alita finds that there is something more sinister afoot as she begins to uncover secrets from the past; all under the watch of the omnipotent and evil Nova.

Similarly to movies such as Jupiter Ascending or Valerian, Alita: Battle Angel is an…experience. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rodriguez, Jon Landou, and James Cameron have all produced a glorious sci-fi world because the special effects are astonishing. True, they alarmingly race into uncanny valley, but the details on features such as Alita’s eyes or Ed Skrein’s robot assassin body are wonderfully realised in this beautiful yet barbaric future.  It has impressive action sequences as it veers into a sports movie about a fierce skating sport called Motorball.

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The problem with Alita is that it is rather silly. If you pinpoint any moment, in any scene, throughout the movie, and it will always be absurd. Just a few moments standout: Robot-Dad (played by Christoph Waltz) growling in an overly sexual manner at his Robot-Daughter “Well look at you;”  a dog dying leading to an epic hero moment covered in the blood of said dog; a scene where she gobbles down an orange without peeling it; a 12A rated film sees someone literally slit in half; and Ed Skrein is just walking around as just a face – the list goes on and on and on. The film is so silly. It’s up to you to decide whether you can put up with that or not. (Personally, I love it, especially the hammy attempt to squeeze in the film’s title. When you spot it, let me know.)

Much like Alita, there is still a heart underneath all that. Alita: Battle Angel is a fun and thrilling movie, especially if you decide to flick your brain off and go along with the ride. There’s a heap of famous faces that make shocking cameos including an actor reveal that’ll will blow your mind.

Yes, Alita can be quite nonsensical but it is an enjoyable ride nonetheless.


Alita: Battle Angel is out in cinemas now! 

Blindspotting – Review

It’s hard to start a review for clearly one of the best films of the year. Definitely for a film that is about so much, packed into a ninety-five minute long opus about young black men and the horror that America has become. There is just not enough words that are going to explain why this is the film you should definitely go watch, this is a film that we definitely all need, and this is a movie that needs to be shown to everyone.

But I’m going to give it a try.

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Blindspotting revolves around Collin – a bright young man who has three days left of his probation. Keen to keep himself out of jail, Collin strives to better himself; getting a good job, sticking to his routine, and getting into healthier habits. Hanging around with Miles, his childhood friend who has stuck by his side for so long, Collin fears that his wayward tough friend is going to put him right in the centre of trouble again. When Collin witnesses a police shooting, he starts to unravel as fears are pushed towards the surface.

I just don’t feel like that blurb does this film justice. And I’m going to try and quantify this the best I can because I don’t feel I can either.

Let’s start first, with our leading man. Daveed Diggs is so phenomenal here. The performer who made a name for himself in Hamilton and comedy series Black-ish showcases that he is an incredible cinematic performer as well as a superb writer (no one man should have all that talent.) As Collin, Diggs engulfs the screen instantly. With his huge eyes and blessed smile, Diggs is spell-binding. After his stint in jail, Collin is desperate to not wind up back on the wrong side of law. Yet it’s not as simple as that: There’s a lot going on within Collin that Diggs holds on to beautifully. Even in the happier moments, there is weight to Collin that preys on him. The leading actor coaxes this out slowly until the shocking but entirely inventive ending. Diggs has pushed himself into becoming one of our must-see actors and that really shows here.

Rafael Casel is a great component and the pair literally bounce off one another both in front of the camera and behind it. Casel plays Miles and he’s the naughty one; the loud one that attracts most attention. He is a squawker of a man who is loyal and friendly but can flit into violence with a stroke of a button. Casel is engaging as Miles and ultimately charismatic. That’s important for Miles. Whilst it isn’t laid out that he is necessarily a bad guy, it’s apparent that he is just bred by a broken home and misled by a broken society. The more charisma that Casel exudes, the more his particular brand of chaos becomes chilling. In fact, there is one shot of him that is horrifying but Casel is so talented to bring him back from even that. There is no villain in Miles, nor a hero and the script and the acting keep it as such.

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With the writing, Diggs and Casel really hone in that realistic dialogue and friendship. The flow of dialogue is masterful and feeds into bounce of the film. Random spurts of rap also ripple with authenticity, even at its most heightened moment. The pair craft a whirlwind story of life on the edge of towns that are slowly being gentrified. Their characters are imbued with anger at hipsters, absolute terror of the police, and yet this hopeful nature that they can power forward, keeping their feet moving forward. The film is such a pitch perfect indie masterpiece that dives into so much but keeps the focus on Collin and Miles and their shifting relationship. The movie swerves through different comedic and dramatic tones but it is so fluid that you follow happily. Blindspotting is such a uniquely brilliant script that it deserves all the praise.

And luckily, they have director Carols Lopez Estrada onboard to bring this to fruition. Despite this being his first feature (come on, guys, come on) the director has excelled. His work on music videos certainly aids the film, guiding the camera in an almost musical-like manner that matches the youthful energy of our leads. Capturing the haze of the summer with the neon nightscape of the city allows for some great imagery to come through. The juxtaposition between the comedy and the drama sets up some brilliant scenes. The editing by Gabriel Fleming is crisp and concise, bringing for more energy that keeps this film bouncing. Cinematographer Robby Baumgartner catches a gorgeous array of colours here and the atmosphere of the city.

There are moments of clunky exposition. Certain (but very few) scenes stall as they come out the stables. True, they may eventually gallop with a heart-racing rhythm but the stumble is still there.

That being said, Blindspotting pushes past somewhat cheesy set-ups to deliver one of the most ground-breaking and brilliant movies of the year. The work here is necessary; it is a crucial opus on the struggles of black men and working class city folk who are pushed around by those in power – whether that be the police or the white rich hipsters who swan in to take over. This movie has so much to say and does it in a straightforward and epic way.

It’s a finely-written movie that is essentially a buddy-comedy that teams with social commentary and intense dramatic sequences. Beautifully shot and emotionally performed, Blindspotting is a perfect example of cultivating new voices in cinema and finding your film education in the independent movies. Never has a film been so succinctly put together and the result is electric. A thought-provoking and original exploration of working class men in America today that bites with humour and electric cinematography.

An absolute must-see.


Blindspotting is available on DVD & Blu-Ray today!