Category Archives: On The Small Screen

The Cloverfield Paradox – Review

It’s a bold move. It’s a very bold movie. It’s an exciting, terrific, and bold move.

For as you wake this sleepy Monday morning, you’ll wake to a brand new Cloverfield movie. That’s right: in a somewhat  familiar move from the trilogy, they’ve completely dropped a whole goddamn film right onto the streaming site Netflix. No press advance, no actual trailer, no idea.

And, as of now, at 3.51am GMT, there’s not even an IMDB page. It’s an interesting step for Netflix and J.J. Abrams, series producer, and we’re all a little bit gobsmacked .

So, as film journalists and critics race against time to be the first to watch The Cloverfield Paradox, is the film worth a watch?

Yes, almost certainly.

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Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris O’Dowd, Daniel Bruhl, David Oyelowo, and John Ortiz, the film revolves around a space station floating above earth doing some kind of bizarre test following a serious incident on the planet. With engineers and scientists from all over, the objective of their mission is unclear. However, with tensions mounting, it is imperative that they keep their wits about them as horror lurks upon their space station.

I’ll keep the plot as that because I don’t want to spoil anything for you as you should go in as fresh as possible. In fact, go watch it and then come back to discuss.

Directed by Julius Onah, The Cloverfield Paradox is an amalgamation of a lot of space-station survival movies. Basic monster plots such as Alien and Life combine with mind-bending films such as Interstellar and, yes, even Doctor Who. These main allusions come from the ship’s production design and the panic-induced struggle to stay alive and figure out what’s going on. This isn’t a criticism because it’s hard to be truly original in space travel movies but it is one that marks against an otherwise brilliant film.

The mysterious toe-curling plot spins through elements as dazzling and as terrifying as space can be. This is a movie where you’ll constantly mutter under your breath “what the fuck?,” increasing the infliction and volume until you are wailing it at the screen. It’s not just a movie where confusing moments happen, spiralling out of control through space, it is one weighted by emotion and mystery that’ll bewilder yet brilliantly entertain. It helps that that is a subplot on Earth which reminds you on the movies centre.

Though there are similarity’s to other films, the performances are superb. The movie is a pretty progressive one in terms of cast with a whole array of characters on the ship including Zhang Ziyi’s Tam who speaks pure Mandarin for the entirety of the film, master actor David Oyelowo, and the elusive and beguiling Elzabeth Dibicki. Each performer has there own entity and part to play within the film, though most are outshone by the charismatic and hilarious Chris O’Dowd whose line delivery is simply brilliant.

That being said, Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Ava Hamilton is spectacular. This is her film: A desperate mother looking for the answers in a world falling apart. She anchors the movie with humanity and grips you into the drama. Mbatha-Raw is an great lead who absorbs you into her plight, both on the space station and in her personal life. It’s an astonishing role, catapulting the actress further into the stratosphere of stardom.

Similarly to 10 Cloverfield Lane, there are only faint connections to the first and second film. However, the idea that this franchise could spiral off in many different directions, dipping into many different genres means that there are endless possibilities. Cloverfield doesn’t had to (and probably wont), end here.

For now, The Cloverfield Paradox is an entertaining adventure into J.J. Abrams world, led, once again,  by phenomenal performances.

The Cloverfield Paradox is available on Netflix now. 

The Snowman – Short Film Review

It’s Christmas Eve everybody and the festivities will soon kick off. If you haven’t noticed, your televisions have been filled with the greatest Christmas movies to fill your hearts with yuletide glee. And if you are looking at definitive Christmas shorts to watch with your loved ones, then look no further than The Snowman.

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No. I mean the classic short.

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Based on a children’s picture book by Raymond Briggs, this 1982 short has been delighting audiences for over twenty years. The story is about a child who creates a snowman in his garden one winter’s day. At the stroke of midnight, magic happens and his frosty friend comes to life. In different sections, the snowman tries to adjust to life and appliances at the boys home. That’s when the story lifts off as The Snowman takes him on a journey through the skies and through his world of ice and snow.

The Snowman boasts some wonderful animation that still stands up today. Touching on every level, The Snowman is still as incredible now; with a heartfelt ending. Directed by Dianne Jackson, this adaptation is magnificent in the most genius of ways. And let’s not forget the music. As the pair explore each other’s world, the score by Howard Blake dances and fills us with the most ironic warm feelings ever. With Aled Jones’ Walking in the Air, it is delightful and superb. Even in the sequel with The Snowdogthe Snowman is untarnished. It is innocent and pure; an incredible feat of imagination.

Brilliant and iconic, The Snowman is one of the definitive Christmas movies.

Dian Fossey: Secrets in the Mist – TV Review

Gorillas are incredible beasts. They have striking personalities and a strong presence. Part of our family, they are wonderful mammals. The woman who walked with them was Dian Fossey – a name now shrouded in mystery.

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The three-part miniseries due to screen on the Nat Geo channel revolves around Dian Fossey’s life and work in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda. She was well known for the conservation of the gorillas in the country as well as pioneering research into their behaviours. However, in December 27th 1985, Fossey was found brutally murdered in her Karisoke cabin. With her controversial tactics threatening relationships with local government and poachers as well as concern from her own camp, her murder still remains a complete mystery. In this series, we look at the life she led, the work she did, and the problems that had arisen when she faced off with the poachers who wanted to slay the gorillas.

Director Zara Hayes has put together a powerful portrait of a woman who strived for this species. Her work led to thousands of gorillas being saved as well as providing humanity with a deeper understanding of the mammals. In fact, gorillas have never looked so wonderful in this glorious documentary that showcases the animals then and now, showing not just their intimidating presences but also their tenderness and intricacies.

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Through stock footage, testimonies, and reconstructions, the life of Fossey is weaved in this powerful documentary. Included in the voices are Sigourney Weaver who played Fossey in real-life biopic Gorillas in the Mist and David Attenborough who visited Karisoke for a small period of time. There’s a carefulness about the documentary to balance many different voices. Though her work and connection with the Gorillas’ is unparalleled (even Attenborough says that there is no person who has single-handedly saved an entire species,) Fossey treated the local community and poachers with contempt. Secrets in the Mist allows this side to come through and instead of making judgements, lays bare the controversies of Fossey and keeps it alongside the great work she did.

Hayes also unearths a lot, including building up imitations of Fossey’s life with the scientists own items, including, sadly, Christmas presents that have not been opened in 22 years. It is with this astonishing commitment to detail that Haye’s work here strives forward in a compelling way and engrosses you to the story at hand.

There are stark and brutal images here, especially when the aftermath of poachers are revealed as well as the examination of Fossey’s own murder. One particular gorilla death is shown and it is deeply disturbing and highly upsetting. For those hoping for a sweet look at Fossey and the gorillas, this will be a harsh uncovering. However, intimate, intelligent, and incredibly filmed, Secrets in the Mist is a daring series that will intrigue completely.

Secrets in the Mist premieres tonight at 8pm over at the Nat Geo channel! 

Mudbound – Review

American history is muddied: Soiled by building its foundations on the back of black slavery. Despite this, the USA still faces these problems, it can be seen in so many different ways. Just look around you and you’ll probably find something which displays the racial divide.

It is important for cinema to keep unearthing truths. Whether they are packaged in a fictional story or based on real events, film can be a quaking art form that excavates these emotions and issues. Mudbound is one of those films.

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Based on a book by Hillary Jordan, Mudbound is an interweaving story of two families on a rural farm deep in South America during World War II. The white McAllens own a farm where city-bred wife Laura marries the quiet Henry but is drawn to the charms of his brother James, who heads to the war as a fighter pilot. Renting a home on their farm are the Jacksons, with father and mother Hap and Florence also seeing their eldest son, Ronsel, head off to do his duty. When the two men return, they start an illicit friendship in a town filled with racism, familial troubles, and poverty.

Director Dee Rees’ stunning historical drama is a break-taking and emotional depiction of the tensions and sheer violence that America is rooted in. In it’s sheer honesty,  Mudbound is a complex and pulsating piece of high-emotions, brooding underneath politeness and community. Rees showcases resilience playing opposition to ignorance, manners in place of wrath, and heated thoughts bubble until it’s cracked  and bloody finale. The weight of the events within the movie are shocking and Rees wields it with an engrossing gravitas.

The choice to have each character (bar the villainous Pappy) narrate elements of aptly showcases the inner-turmoil of each of the  roles. It also gives us some impressive performances. This is top tier acting from all involved. Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, and Garrett Hedlund are almighty in their standing as the McAllens. It is, however, Jason Mitchell as Ronsel and Mary J. Blige as Florence who excel. To properly explain this, the latter has a scene where you cannot even see her eyes and yet conveys the weight of a grieved and rage mother so phenomenally. Blige is breathtaking here. Mitchell has a task of playing a man at war who finds solace abroad but comes home to be brutalised and victimised by a backwards community.  As Ronsell, Mitchell is impeccable, making him a ferocious actor to keep an eye on.

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There is a lot of discussion about video on demand verses Hollywood studios. The landscape of films is shifting and changing, with more people gravitating to their own home set-up instead of venturing out to cinemas. Instead of using up the review of this really visceral and important movie to discuss why both VOD and cinema is fantastic, it’s important to note that something as impacting as Dee Rees Mudbound would not have an audience as big as what is available nor would it have the artistic freedom as it does in the hands of Netflix.

Beyond Netflix giving this film a platform, director Rees has produced a quaking and triumphant film that is steeped in the mud of history and the unbreakable spirit of man. A must-see film.

Mudbound is available on Netflix
It is also availabe in limited cinemas! 

Taika Tuesday: What We Do In The Shadows (2014)

by Cookie N Screen

Vampires. Man, they suck. By 2014, we’d certainly had our fill of them. They were just bloody everywhere. Horror films, romance films, Young Adult films, every single connotation of the fanged fiends had been portrayed on the big screen. We’d had enough. But, a plucky director from New Zealand had decided to do a mockumentary about blood-suckers in a flat share and, honestly, it is one of the most genius films you’ll ever watch.

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This mockumentary coming from the creators of ingenious film Eagle Vs Shark centres on a household of vampires who have allowed the crew to follow them around. There is Viago, the dandy nice vamp of the group. Deacon, the youngest and most rambunctious. Vlad, the seductive torturer. And Peter, the Nosferatu, 8000 years old. Like most people thrust together, the flatmates have issues living with enough but generally, they get along well. That is until Peter changes one of their victims into a vampire and the now modern and fanged Neil upsets the bat-nest. Can the vampires survive the night-time antics and shift in dynamics?

What We Do In The Shadows is one of the funniest films of 2014. The exuberance and intellect combine to drain us of laughter. Utilising the silliness that made Eagle Vs Shark such a delight and adding yet another layer of cleverness allows us to feast upon the jokes with great spirits too. Balancing the visual humour, the spark of humanity left in the vampires and the situations as the modern vampires unfold are hysterical, giving us a side of supernatural life that feels as fresh as a virgin. The aspects of the fanged life are wonderfully portrayed with this bout of glee such as drawing pictures of each other so they know what they look like (no reflection, you see.) You’ll be gutturally chortling and squealing with delight as the riotous movie hits you with joke after joke and is unrelenting in its comedy.

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Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement, who write, direct and star, have created characters you invest in too. The tender Viago (Waititi) centres the film with his naivety and charm. Vlad (Clement) lost his grip on his powers after battles with the illusive Beast. Deacon is rambunctious and Neil is trying to assimilate to the blood sucking life. Played impeccably by the cast, the vampires are not only elating, but the showcase a terrific heart that, though dead to them, beats throughout the film. It’s jovial and you really invest in the characters which merges with the humour in a terrific feast of imaginative and surreal comedy.

The mockumentary works on every level and is wrapped up nicely within an hour and a half so the concept doesn’t stretch further, becoming dull. You’ll be swept up by the sharp yet daft wit presented here, leaving you with a (fanged) smile on your face, What We Do In The Shadows is jests with this Kiwi sub-culture and deliciously leaves you gagging for more treats. Feeling very Monty Python yet wholly original. The film is teeming with pop culture references, and a clash of the ancient and modern culture is smart, but most importantly funny.

Happy Taika Tuesday!
Thor: Ragnarok is out now!  

The Weekend Binge – Mindhunter

Serial killers are haunting but horrifyingly interesting. What pushes a person to slaughter another? Not in a fit of rage or passion but by strategic planning systematic murders.

What are the motives? What are the causes? What can we learn about our own behaviours?

Some may want us to dismiss these people as monsters but the FBI Behaviour Unit has become famed at investigating patterns and types to predict crime and catch criminals. Now there is a television series all about their work.

Produced by David Fincher, ebbs of Zodiac, Gone Girl, and Seven flow through this precise and afflicting television series Mindhunter.

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Mindhunter revolves around Holton Ford, an FBI hostage negotiator who, after a failed case, is relegated to teaching. Whilst taking extra classes, Ford becomes interested in the behaviour of criminals, specifically “sequence” killer who have murdered three or more times. Enlisting Bill Tench to help him, Ford decides that to understand the root of evil, and use it to stop crimes, he must interview convicted serial killers in order.

Actor Jonathon Groff, who is best known in Loving, Glee, and on stage in Hamilton, is an adept and fantastic actor but here, he is phenomenal  here as the obsessive Ford. Groff starts his character as a man somewhat frustrated, turning him into a gleeful interpreters for the serial killers he interviews, and then finessing him into a character who is fuelled by his own pride, matching the twists and turns of the subjects he interviews that he is beyond terrified of his own nature. These intricacies are caught by Groff in this flawed lead man, but phenomenal lead performance.

As Tench , Holt McCallany is brilliant. Though he could’ve easily been played off as gruff, his uneasiness with the subjects plus family issues layer the bulky and angered Tench. Showing he is affected by the killers and murders he investigates, he never wavers from using his insights to help – although he does deliver one of the most chilling monologues about marriage and triggers.

Anna Torv as Dr. Wendy Carr and Hannah Cross and Ford’s girlfriend Deborah are welcome added additions to this thrilling piece, excavating social and psychological behaviours whilst also dealing with their own issues.

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The most fascinating characters, predictably, are the murderers. Bringing real life figures to the screen is no easy feat. Happy Anderson and Jackie Erdie highlight the difficulty of going under the skin of serial killer in effectively chilling ways. The most chilling, and also most celebrated, is Cameron Britton as Edmund Kemper. The way he holds himself, the slow drawl in which he speaks, the flitting between horror and humour is chilling. In one breath he talks about

Mindhunter has moments where the story dwindles, but that is part of the course: there is a slow pace and some of the side stories should be contained to one episode. But as a genre series, it twists and turns with an engrossing main story and taking a fascinating dive into the human psyche.

Mindhunter is available on Netflix!