Category Archives: On The Big Screen

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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! 

A Simple Favour – Review

Paul Feig has made a name for himself producing and directing mostly female led comedies. Acclaimed hits such as Spy and Bridesmaids made it clear that this was a quick-witted man who could craft hilarious movies for everyone to enjoy. Despite gaining so much heat from the severely underrated Ghostbusters movie, Feig is still an accomplished director with an eye on how female dynamics works.

Now he takes his mastermind to dark, mysterious thriller A Simple Favour.

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Based on a book by Jessica Sharzer, who also wrote the screenplay, stars Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively as two mothers, Stephanie and Emily (respectively,) who form an unexpected bond when their children do. Stephanie is a hard-working affable single mother who runs a housewife themed blog whilst Emily is a mysterious PR agent who is blunt and direct. Despite their differences, the pair become friends. Only one day, Emily asks Stephanie for a simple favour to look after her son after school. But when Emily is never seen again, it is up to Stephanie to figure out what has happened to her best friend.

Kendrick and Lively are a superb pairing in this delicious thriller that bite. Kendrick is definitely the stronger player by a smidgen, though, and that’s because she takes the role with absolute gusto. Fast and fevered Stephanie is not just the bubbly mother we see at the beginning, As the darkness and sorrow within her unravels, Kendrick perfectly allows these elements to rise, portraying a woman barely holding on and quick to fall into the wide-open mouth of Lively’s Emily.

Lively is divine as Emily and that’s not just her wardrobe. She bounds into Stephanie’s life with a strange allure and her stand-offish nature combine with this attractive pull that sucks the audience into the world as she does Stephanie. Lively pulls off this character with bountiful secrets to hide and a smart off to deflect the attention.

The film slinks with a great style. Whether that be the French music accompaniment or simply every single one of Blake Lively’s outfits, there is a particular brand here. There’s also a great sense of erotica and as dark secrets resurface, the shallow slickness adds a bit of grit and depth to the proceedings. Twists unravel in a great way, and it’s a lot of fun to follow the plot. A Simple Favour is the peppier and more colourful version of thrillers such as Gone Girl or The Girl On A Train and whilst it deals with a lot of the same pulp, keeping it’s look as different as possible really helps here.

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It’s not an impeccable film and it certainly struggles finding it’s footing after the somewhat stilted Emily reveal. The story does save itself for a raucous entertaining finale but that stumble does not go unnoticed. And as much as he has been delighting audiences in Crazy Rich Asians, novice actor Henry Golding, as Emily’s Husband Sean, falters against the superb double act of Kendrick and Lively,

Still, A Simple Favour is juicy. That term may seem like a bizarre one to use, but it applies here. It is a sweet and sometimes bitter mystery romp that has a slick style and great humour. Like a perfect Martini, it pairs some impressive ingredients and has a wonderful kick to it too.

A Simple Favour is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

The Children Act – Review

There have been a lot of movies lately about religion and how religion can sway someone into doing the wrong thing. Similarly to recent drama Apostasy, The Children Act looks at Jehovah’s Witnesses and how their beliefs can nearly kill.

Directed by Richard Eyre and based on a book by Ian McEwan, The Children Act revolves around Judge Fiona Maye who has been swamped with loads of life altering cases. Her husband, miffed at her isolating behaviour, has decided to conduct an affair – telling her before he does it. After kicking him out, she is handed a case of a young Jehovah’s Witness boy refusing a blood transfusion because of his religion. With her marriage falling apart, Fiona becomes too invested in the case – but is there more going on than meets the eye?
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The Children Act is not the film you expect it to be and it is all the more better for it. The story starts in the usual dramatic way – everything you were given in the trailer – but shifts direction and at a fluid pace. It flows through this strange and unusual plot, twists in an unpredictable way. The plot thickens with many different emotions and elements. To underline the drama and enhance the poignancy, there is well-tuned humour within the film, especially in Emma Thompson’s frank delivery.

Why yes, the main focus is about this young boy and his somewhat manipulation into death, but it also turns into a movie about agency and life – how important it is to own who you are.

Speaking of Emma Thompson is a brilliant lead for this. She is a commanding force that drives the drama. She has this air of inhibiting a character; from the way she totters around without shoes whilst at home, a soft kick of a suitcase, or the fast and focused way she delivers verdict – it is very precise and amazing to watch. Thompson knows when to let Maye be calm and collect yet knows how to make her vulnerable – even in the moments where she has to keep regal and professional. It’s one of Thompson’s best performances (but, then again, when has she ever been bad?)

Stanley Tucci as Jack, the wayward husband, is the biggest complaint here. First of all, I understand that there is frustration and abandonment for him, but, also, he is portrayed as a petulant child. That’s may be how Tucci intends to play him but there is such a flagrant selfishness that keeps you at a disconnect with his side. He begins to feel completely unnecessary if only for a plot device to drive Fiona out of sync. Tucci is great but his character is not.

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Fionn Whitehead, star of Dunkirk, seems to fumble a little bit with a more wordy script. That being said, he has a lot of promise to be a proper lead actor but he needs to evolve better for an arch of this scope.

An unexpected drama that is sensitive with the issues it is trying to convey, The Children Act is less about religion verses medicine but about life verses death. It’s about looking at love and the world through youth and appreciating beauty whenever and wherever you can. The Children Act is a tough film to get your head around, but brilliant one to mull over.

On a final note: There are definitely seasonal movies. Summer blockbusters, spring animations, winter warmers. The Children Act is definitely an autumn film and is released at least a month too early.

The Children Act is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

Glass – Review

Glass, the new film from director M. Night Shyamalan follows on from the ending of last year’s thriller Split. The ending revealed multiple personality serial Killer Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy) is from the same universe as superhuman David Dunn (Bruce Willis) from Unbreakable, (a previous Shyamalan film).

The film unites the director with his cast from both films in a story that brings them all together. Despite having a brilliant cast and the premises of two strong works, Glass is sadly overdone. It starts off well but never fully establishes itself and ends on a shaky final act.

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The film begins as more young girls have been kidnapped by deranged killer Kevin. With Dunn now using his super strength to bring violent criminals to justice, he eventually crosses paths with “The Hoarde” while looking for the girls. The two battle it out but are both caught by authorities and sent to a mental institution. Once inside, Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) has three days to study the pair alongside long-time inmate Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson). But can two super humans and a genius really be contained?

In what Shyamalan has christened his Eastrail 177 trilogy, Glass is the third outing for the ensembled characters. The director is most known for his early works The Sixth Sense, Signs, and The Village. Shyamalan is also known for his twist/shock endings in his films.

Glass starts off very strong. Crumb has kidnapped more young girls and is still battling the multiple personalities he inhabits. Meanwhile Dunn has transformed himself into the vigilante known as the Overseer. While out patrolling he passes Crumb and sees a vision of the girls. Dunn pursues him but both are caught by the police, who put them into a mental facility. This brings them together with Elijah and the stage is set. Sadly, this is also where the film loses pace and begins to fall apart. Dr Staple studies all three and tries to convince them of their mental disorders but it all just feels to farfetched. Although the film is building to its finale, you never feel it. It lacks pace and tension despite the efforts of the cast.

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For those that are used to the troupe Shyamalan endings the film attemps to twist and turn for dramatic effect, but they fall flat. They feel segwayed in, rather than developed plot twists. With unbreakable the director deconstructed the super hero genre in an intelligent, if a little slow, thriller. Despite elements of the previous works being used the premise is messy and servearly under written.

The film may fail in terms of pace and narrativ but the cast are as you would expect superb. McAvoy flips between his multiple personalities easily, evoking horror one minute and sympathy the next. His character is just as much a physical performance as well as an emotional one with his superhuman strength being tested here by Dunn.

Bruce Willis reprises Dunn as a vililante that has aged and suffered loss. Whilst still being the overseer, he feels himself slowing down and the loss of his wife and his son’s concerns weigh on him.

Samuel.L Jackson is just as intringing as he ever was as genius super villain ‘Mr Glass’. He delivers his lines and theories that attempt to deconstruct the superhero genre with his usual flair. He remains ahead of the game and the shocks in the film that do surprise come from him.

Although Glass has a strong cast and the potential from its previous outings, the third in the Eastrail 177 trilogy is an overdone, drawn out mess.

Glass is out in cinemas now! 

Welcome to Marwen – Review

Jeff Maimberg’s celebrated documentary Marwencol is a must-see. The movie revolves around Mark Hogancamp, a man who was savagely beaten by a group of men and left for dead because they hated Mark for being a cross-dresser. With barely any memories of his former life and unable to afford therapy, Mark created the titular 1940s town with dolls representing himself, his friends and his attackers.

Inspired by Marwencol, Robert Zemeckis, acclaimed director of movies such as Back to the Future and Forrest Gump, tries to make a drama out of Hogencamp’s story but instead fumbles at every stage.

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The film, starring Steve Carrell as Hogencamp, takes place years after the brutal attack which left Mark with scarce memories of his former life and struggling to cope with PTSD. Once a former artist, he can barely write his own name. Instead to channel his skills and to help overcome his trauma, he creates the aforementioned Marwencol. His life is further disrupted by the appearance of a brand new neighbour.

Welcome to Marwen is a disaster of tone, pacing, and sheer surrealism. There are a lot of factors in Hogancamp’s stories that are just misused here. Though the dazzling effects of the animated dolls are somewhat impressive (if utterly strange,) these scenes throw the movie off-course and damage any intimacy or quiet exploration that this real-life story truly needs.

For some reason, it’s the women who suffer most in Zemeckis’ movie that is somehow trying to convey the message that women are the best. In a film that stars Diane Kruger, Janelle Monae, Leslie Mann, and Merrit Wever, their use here is confusing and befuddled.  In the film, Mark uses over-sexualised dolls that move like a stiff femme fatale of 1940 movies and garble trilobites at him during imagined warfare. There is even one point here one of the dolls, a plastic re-imagining of the hobby store clerk Roberta, who cares for Mark, is topless for a whole sequence. This bizarre obsession with the slinky sexiness of the dolls turns the film into an infantile adventure where  Zemeckis even casts his own wife as a porn star.

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Steve Carrell is a brilliant dramatic actor but even here he seems out of place. At points randomly screaming whilst thriving on the floor, his awkward and socially inept Mark falters because of this weird attempt to schmaltz him up for a big Hollywood inspirational story. Despite having most of the screen time with Hogancamp, it feels as though we barely get to know him as a character because we’re either deviating to the dolls again or Steve Carrell is shouting. It feels as though the intricacy of Maimberg’s documentary is lost and this now fictional realization of Hogancamp is a cheesy and shallow attempt at a Hollywood-style telling.

The movie is a mess. Instead of focusing on how Mark uses his art to , the film blends the fantasy and the trauma in such a haphazard manner that it is one of the weirdest films you’ll ever see. Nothing truly works here; each element at odds with one another: the actual horror that Mark went through is mislaid for a hammy romantic subplot, the actual aid those around him offered him is misused with the doll vignettes, and the actual effects of PTSD are waylaid and mismanaged.

Welcome to Marwen is an oddity and a movie that does a hefty disservice to Mark Hogancamp and the journey he went through.

Welcome to Marwen is out in cinemas now. 

Roma – Review

Alfonso Cuaron is a masterful filmmaker. His glorious work transcends decades, genres, and communities – boundless in his intricate intimacy. From Y Tu Mamma Tambien to Gravity (with a magical pit stop at Harry Potter,) Cuaron has shifted and shaped genres with his stunning work. Now he brings us Roma – a truly astonishing piece of work.

The film, semi-based on his own experiences, revolves around Mexico City in 1970 and 1971. It focuses on maid Cleo who works with an affluent family alongside other maid Adela. Head of the family is couple Sofia and Antonio, who are slowly going through a painful divorce and are keen to keep it from their three boisterous children. Cleo is also having a relationship with a young man and the film flows through snapshots of their lives all the while a rebellion is forming in the background.

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Roma is one of those films that has been constantly spoken about since it bounced around film festivals and many a (more accomplished) critic has tackled the beast with fervent glee and adoration. It’s hard to follow those review. It’s also hard to come up with better words that aren’t just “stunning,” “breath-taking,” and “perfect” all over again. The hysteria around Roma is warranted – it’s absolutely one of the most enchanting pieces of cinema around.

Cuaron strips back to the mechanics of family life, told from the point of view of “the help.” Played with stellar naturalism by Yalitza Aparicio, an apparent acting novice, Cleo is this lovely and complex woman who has a kind nature that is boxed in by the world around her. As a live-in maid, she rarely has a moment of respite before she is washing the copious amounts of faeces of the drive-way or cleaning away the children’s tornado-like lives. Aparicio goes through grief and anguish and the work is excellent. It’s surprising this film is mostly improvisation, these non-actors bring an intimacy to these characters that is unparalleled with a lot of films here.

The choice to shoot primarily in black and white is a bold choice and yet the absence of colour only enhances the vibrancy of Cleo and her world. Cuaron produces some impeccable shots and framing devices that will burn forever in your mind. Even if it is the first watery reflection of a plane overhead, mirrored in a later shot, or a burning shrubbery on fire that causes a wayward man to bellow songs. Cuaron has delicately and beautifully conducted one of the most visually appeasing movies that is redolent in its exquisite nature – burning into your mind with such a haunting presence.

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Roma has sparked off the Netflix verses cinema debate. There are those who vehemently believe that this stirring piece of art needs to be seen on the big screen. True, there are visuals here that call out for the big screen, moving with an equally captured audience. But Netflix’s cinematic release has eschewed the film to only a small set of screenings in the capital – it isn’t entirely possible for all of us to see it on a big screen.

It’s funny. This is a film so structured in its portrayal of glass, whether it is the encompassing house with its crooked flat attached or a woman cleaning up the mess of a whirlwind rich family who then criticise the mess. It’s absurd that people who take away from this film a snobby attitude about where people watch the movie – negating how limited and expensive those screenings are. True, I have fallen prey to this behaviour and if you can see Roma in a big screen, then watch Roma in a big screen. However, your experience is not lesser at home.

Regardless of how you see it, I cannot stress this enough – just see it. Turn off your phones, your lights, and snuggle in with a cup of tea just to absorb everything that Cuaron has poured into the story here. The intimacy, the texture, and the spirit of the film will surely capture you no matter the capacity that you watch it in.

Roma is out in select cinemas today. 
It hits Netflix on 14th December!