BLACK WIDOW

Director
Cate Shortland

Starring
Scarlett Johansson
Florence Pugh
Rachel Weisz
David Harbour




Taking place immediately after the events in Civil War, Natasha Romanoff [Johansson] is on the run, hiding out in a remote part of Norway. There she receives a package that draws her back into her old life as a spy, before joining SHIELD and becoming an Avenger. Racing across Europe, she is reunited with the members of her childhood mission that made up her family (albeit a constructed cover story) and discovers that the Red Room that trained her is still active and chemically controlling the minds of their current members.

Helmed by Shortland, Black Widow is one of the least Marvel feeling movies in the current roster. It hits all the beats and is clearly part of the shared universe but the presentation of the first two thirds stands separate to the degree that this could easily be a disconnected action thriller. For some this will be a negative while for others it will be the perfect palate cleanser. Leaning heavily on it’s contemporaries, Black Widow heavily presents itself as an equal to the modern spy thriller, evoking Mission: Impossible energy with elaborate stunts and action beats across locales then cooling off with quiet moments in rustic locations stocked with guns to assess exactly what went wrong. On top of that, the film goes out of its way to make direct James Bond parallels with Natasha reciting old Roger Moore films in her spare time. For me, this was an incredibly smart move, it not only positions this release as an alternative counterpart but doubles down on the suspension of disbelief; the idea that if we are willing to accept that this spy can fight alien hordes and out-of-control AI robots, she can survive a fall that someone like James Bond or Ethan Hunt would be able to endure.

As much as the comic-book element is present with the continuation of the cold war legacy of mind control, manipulation and brainwashing, the film is largely presented as a straight thriller. The cinematography tilts more toward a grounded political cryptogram with a heavy chase element, while the direction is close and tight and continuing that sort of Jason Bourne kineticism. That is, all the way until the third act which sort of suffers from the same issues that plagued Wonder Woman – with the established setting and logic heavily abandoned for an obligatory CGI spectacle piece. Thankfully, this transition isn’t nearly as unpleasant as it could be, thanks to the unsurprisingly impressive score from Lorne Balfe which carries us through with great recurring leitmotifs and momentum. I would even go so far as to say that it stands alongside The Winter Soldier, Doctor Strange and Black Panther as one of the best all-round Marvel scores. Although it has to be said, studios teasing us with these bold trailer themes that are in no way present in the final score is an unfortunate industry necessity but make for a very frustrating time when they hit a really decent sound that is nowhere to be seen in the finished film. Looking at you Captain Marvel.

On an acting front, I was overall very pleased. The dynamic and chemistry between Pugh and Johansson as Natasha and Yelena is fantastic with Pugh’s chaotic younger sister vibes ensure she’s not just Black Widow 2.0 – even though that’s the very definition of what the studio is doing here. There’s also just enough self aware commentary that lambasts how Johansson’s character has been handled in previous instalments; things like mocking the way Romanoff performs a “superhero landing” then flicking her hair back, with Yelena accusing her of being “such a poser.” Some may believe the back and forth juxtaposition between the irreverence and severity of the situation invalidates its presence in the first place while others will see it as gallows humour in the vein of most standard marvel quipping in the face of certain death. I feel it’s probably a bit of both. Any time we feel we’re getting close to some actual deep-felt development, we are pulled back with an undercut of comedy – something that has been present in these movies since the beginning and very much a product of the Whedon-style TV writing of the late 90s. At one point Yelena ribs Natasha for her idea of moving on, highlighting that they are both serial murderers but only one of them is on magazines with little girls around the world calling her a hero. It’s a very interesting point that is never fully addressed. There is the idea that redemption is a thing but not really fleshed out enough for us to say whether it is ever truly earned, either by the titular character or anyone else in the Red Room programme. The irony here is that with Marvel’s plan, Yelena will have the exact same hollow transition that she chides Natasha for reaches for.

The film is also carried by decent supporting roles. The dysfunctional family element is one of the film’s strongest components when it is firing on all cylinders. Harbour and Weisz play the Incredibles roles of the big dumb but caring strong dad and the clever mum who’s under appreciated and “doing this for your own good.” I will admit that with the film pressing heavily on the who can you trust angle, the development of these characters can feel a little up and down and there’s an odd conceit that while undercover these individuals have the perfect American accents but for the point of the movie they adopt Russian accents for the rest of the film. Then we have the central villain, who I won’t get too deep into to avoid spoilers but I find it hard to separate the actor from the performance for this one. The role in question is played by Ray Winstone and what he does with the script is perfectly serviceable but I cannot fathom why he was chosen. Of the central cast, he is the third British actor playing a Russian and while he has the requisite menace, I feel this could have been done by anyone and for such a strong part of Natasha’s life and drive, he will eventually be remarkably forgettable.

My main complaint with this film is that it didn’t have any surprises for me. So much of this feature is competently executed and thoroughly enjoyable but ultimately nothing I didn’t see coming. And I think a lot of that stems from the delay to tell this story. As stated from the outset of this review, the events portrayed take place just after Civil War and that would likely have been the best time to release this film. More so than that, this is a long overdue outing considering Johansson has been in the on-screen MCU longer than Captain America or Thor. This is frankly a movie that you could have put out around the time of Iron Man 3 (2013 for those who have forgotten) and it would have stood out as one of the best. Instead what we get is a solid send off but also a frustrating glimpse of an entire trilogy that could have served as one of the MCU’s most interesting properties.

I also mentioned earlier that this movie feels like it’s trying to say something but whenever it gets too close to something of note, an overbearing censor swoops in and says “that’s far too serious, we need to add some levity here.” The themes of child abuse and trafficking are incredibly serious and the movie alludes to it in a way that feels like it scratches the surface. There’s a magnificently cold line which is that the one resource that is an abundance which can be easily exploited is girls. That is frankly chilling in how poignant it is yet being an escapist film, the movie never pushes hard enough on that to feel like it has taken any real stand.

Ultimately, at no point did I believe this story was being told because it needed to be, it feels more like filling a quota or meeting a contractual obligation. That being said, I think it is a strong standalone expansion which introduces us to a brilliant new player as well as a fitting tribute to a familiar one in this multi-billion dollar sandbox. But the truth is, as I have said time and again, Marvel films are structured like TV episodes now; they all feed into a larger narrative arc with big mythology episodes pushing the stories forward and smaller monster-of-the-week adventures that add to the whole but can be seen as self-contained tales. Black Widow has the unfortunate nature of being an early season standalone episode but was only bundled with a DVD release of the series; so it fills in a lot of blanks but if you missed it, you haven’t necessarily missed out. And for me, that’s a damn shame.


Release Date:
09 July 2021

The Scene To Look Out For:
I will say that Black Widow, arguably has one of the most engrossing cold opens in any Marvel film. Set in the mid 90s it quickly establishes the faux-harmony of the undercover spy family with a deep level of genuine affection shared among them. This is all heightened by the daring escape to Cuba under hot-pursuit from the law. Executed compellingly, maintaining a sense of urgency and threat, it pulls you right in. It’s a shame that we don’t really hit that high again for a long time but it’s a hell of a way to start a film.

Notable Characters:
We have to talk about Taskmaster. For the longest time Marvel has had a problem with its villains, with the best efforts either being turned into antiheroes (Loki and Zemo) or killing them off entirely (Killmonger and Thanos). For fans of the named character, this will likely feel like a sort of betrayal, for others it will merely be the start of a potentially long narrative journey. But while this remains to be seen, I felt the identity, role and motivation of Taskmaster became a sort of race against the clock. To explain, this movie has a full opening titles sequence with the top-billed actors named upfront. This meant that I gleaned a name which had yet to be seen or confirmed, so it was impossible not to start formulating theories based primarily on that actor as opposed to anything being teased on-screen.

Highlighted Quote:
“This would be a cool way to die”

In A Few Words:
“A gratifying eleventh-hour release that would have had significantly more impact if it were released when first demanded some eight years ago”

Total Score:

4/5

GODZILLA VS KONG

One Will Fall

Director
Adam Wingard

Starring
Rebecca Hall
Alexander Skarsgård
Kaylee Hottle
Millie Bobby Brown
Julian Dennison
Brian Tyree Henry
Demián Bichir




Following a storm which wiped out all but one [Hottle] of the Skull Island’s indigenous population, King Kong has been moved to a facility, monitored by Dr Ilene Andrews [Hall] for preservation but also to avert an all out fight between two alpha titans. After an Apex Cybernetics plant in Florida is attacked by Godzilla, a conspiracy podcast host (and Apex engineer) begrudgingly teams up with Madison Russell [Bobby Brown] and her friend Josh [Dennison] to uncover why Godzilla attacked without provocation. Meanwhile the head of Apex, Walter Simmons [Bichir] contracts geologist Dr Nathan Lind [Skarsgård] to charter an expedition to the centre of the earth to prove his theory of a hollow earth. Lind explains it will only be possible to breach the barrier if led by a titan and thus Kong is unwillingly conscripted but taking him out of his enclosure alerts Godzilla to his existence.

Since their first release in 2014, Legendary have been trying to get traction with their giant monster franchise and for the most part they have. Critical reviews have been decent and the box office has been a fairly solid half-a-billion dollars; admittedly this was not mirrored with the most recent instalment (Godzilla: King Of The Monsters) but this pitched universe has ultimately, at least at this stage, been building toward this fight. And if this is where this experiment ends, I’d be ok with this as a send off.

The film whips along at breakneck pace for the shortest runtime of the four features thus far (a fraction over two hours) and leans more on Kong than Godzilla. While one could argue that Godzilla had a sequel so Kong should get more attention, these aren’t people, it’s not about contract disputes, it ultimately comes down to Kong being a huge ape and therefore easier for writers to humanise and interact with. Having said this, the split makes sense to me and I take little umbrage with who gets more or less screen time; the problem I have is the opening credits. Far too much heavy lifting is given to a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-it images that cover the last five years of world building. Frankly there isn’t nearly enough cohesion from the end of King Of The Monsters, which ended on the climactic image of several giant titans making their way from all over the world to bow to Godzilla. Surely a world in which multiple titanic creatures exist is going to have major implications for how we progress as a species but seemingly very little changes for humans other than our technology advances a good five or six decades.

In terms of its construction, the film is actually a real treat. The action is clear and well directed – I think it’s fair to say the fight choreography could mostly be described as “What?” “You gonna step to me?” and “Stay down!” – the cinematography is rich and flooded with bright neon lights – something that will no doubt irritate some but with so many washed out, desaturated films, it’s a nice change of pace – and the CGI is incredibly impressive with very few problematic shots. While the sound design is decent, if a little busy, the score by Warner Bros’ current go-to composer, Tom Holkenborg is pretty dry. I absolutely loved the themes by Alexandre Desplat in 2014’s Godzilla and Henry Jackman’s score for Kong: Skull Island is genuinely the best thing about that movie for me. But Holkenborg’s offering here is mostly simplistic droning with little nuance, elevation or range. Listening back to it, there are so many really strong elements and the possibility of something memorable but at the end of the day, it felt a little smothered.

Oddly enough, no matter how many decades have passed since the eponymous character’s first respective outings, the main criticism hasn’t changed: more monster stuff, less human stuff. While the human/kaiju ratio has always been a point of contention, I think there’s a certain Mandela effect, a misremembering of how these films have always been structured. The problem isn’t too many human plot lines, it’s that that the human angle is rarely well written and fails to engage the audience, it should be just as engaging and entertaining as the monster fights and that is admittedly a very difficult balance. For a prime example of where it works well, you need only look at something like Jurassic Park or to stick with the kaiju genre specifically, Shin Godzilla or Gamera 3: Revenge Of Iris. There has to be a good harmony between the titan punch-up and the human plight and in an effort to counter this criticism the humans are woven into Kong’s story with reasonable ease but the elements carried over from King Of The Monsters don’t fare as well as there has never been a true connection between Godzilla and someone like Madison. But the boring truth is, it’s a cost factor, always has been. The budget can’t stretch to two hours of constant CGI monster fights and in a way this leaves Godzilla Vs Kong feeling very reminiscent of old 90s and early 00s blockbusters but now with the budget and technical ability to really sell the visuals.

Speaking of the human component, I’ll admit I didn’t find any of them particularly offensive. I thought the team of Drs Lind and Andrews with Jia was perfectly compelling and while they could have been severely grating, Madison, Josh and Bernie were perfectly serviceable and I’m sure if I were 12, they would have been a nice precocious audience surrogate for me. There’s very little illusion who the villains are, from the moment they are introduced, but again, if you’re pitching this to kids as your primary demographic, that’s not the weakness it could have been. I do wonder, however, if there were significant amounts of this film discarded to keep it under two hours as you have someone like Lance Reddick in a glorified cameo, despite being named in the title sequence and Kyle Chandler being whittled down to the point of useless in this film.

**spoiler paragraph**
I feel like a Godzilla film is released and it’s a serious allegory about war, death, climate control or just the idea of mankind being punished for its hubris. Then we get a follow-up and sticking with the established formula, we need to see a bunch of monsters punching each other in the face, the grandiose themes are stripped away and there is an element of fun to the general carnage and chaos. Time and time again we see this slide from grounded in reality to full-blown fantasy science fiction with aliens, psychic signals, secret realms and magic weapons. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that but I certainly enjoy them less. As stated earlier, this film’s world building seems to go a little Pacific Rim and imply since the discovery of these creatures we have developed the sort of technology that will allow us to create our own robotic kaiju and vehicles that can pass through the earth’s core. I will say this much, it was a bold gamble but it actually paid off well. Initially setup in Kong: Skull Island, getting to see this inverted gravity world that exists at the planet’s centre (like a scotch egg) was pretty bombastic and largely pleasing for the sheer Journey To The Centre Of The Earth ambition. While we’re talking about the hollow earth, it was interesting to see this film actually pick a winner. We weren’t given an entirely stalemate situation, Kong got whomped, had to upgrade, got whomped again. But this brings us to Mechagodzilla – arguably one of the worst kept secrets due to the toy companies being too keen – I was expecting the sort of pitch from 1974’s Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla wherein the Godzilla wreaking havoc on the world is an imposter with a robotic endoskeleton but what we got here made sense, I didn’t hate the design of the creature, I’m glad it was linked into the Ghidorah head from the previous film and using this new adversary as a common enemy will feel a little Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice for some but I can’t complain too much.

In summation, I think this film pretty much delivers what it has advertised. Here is a film wherein the titular characters fight each other, a few times, in a few different locations. There are additional mini fights and a lot of great set pieces. Yes the human element could be stronger but the connection between Kong and Jia alone was passable enough for me. In truth, this could be an example of the right film at the right time. After a year (in the UK at least) of cinemas being shutdown bar a handful of limited screenings, many are starved for big blockbuster films and this feels cinematic. It feels like an event film and the novelty of that might light a fire under tired critics and weary audiences. Naturally I would prefer to have seen this in the cinema but all films end up on home media (physical or streaming) so we can’t argue that point too much. But to circle back to how I opened this review, if this is the last instalment of this particular iteration of these characters, I’d say they’re going out on a high.


Release Date:
31 March 2021

The Scene To Look Out For:
So many audience members will be itching to get to the fight. A couple of teases and various human-based plot threads won’t suffice, they’ll want an all out, no holds barred brawl and I think the neon-lit nighttime showdown in Hong Kong absolutely delivers. The shots are clear, the camera work is clever, I literally didn’t care if anyone lived or died on the streets below (which should be worrying) because my attention was solely focused on the big lizard and the big monkey clobbering one another. What more can you ask for?

Notable Characters:
Another character that felt utterly undercooked but could have served as a very interesting individual was Ren Serizawa, played by Shun Oguri. I’ve seen Oguri in a few Japanese features and he’s a solid choice but he is so very wasted here. When introduced I immediately recognised the name and expected some sort of exploration of this but as little came out of it, I wrote off the link as something I projected onto the film. Only to later discover that Ren Serizawa is indeed supposed to be the son of Ken Watanabe’s character from the previous Godzilla films. So we had a character playing the son of the man who obsessed over and gave up his life for Godzilla but the justification for his transition to working for the company looking to effectively replace the titans is non existent. And a small addition, In a movie littered with subtitles due to sign language, why not just have him speak Japanese? You’d see fragments of sentences being said by Oguri but I feel the majority is reactionary footage from others around him, which reeks of ADR and is unfortunate.

Highlighted Quote:
“We need to go, the woman with the villain hair do is getting goons”

In A Few Words:
“Godzilla vs Kong: does what it says on the tin, at the expense of everything else”

Total Score:

3/5

ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE

Us United

Director
Zack Snyder

Starring
Ben Affleck
Gal Gadot
Ezra Miller
Jason Momoa
Ray Fisher
Henry Cavill
Ciaran Hinds




With the death of Superman [Cavill], a vast wave spreads across the world, signalling to three ancient devices that the planet Earth is no longer protected by an alliance of powerful beings and as such, the halted conquest by the alien conqueror Darkseid can once again continue. The emissary Steppenwolf [Hinds] hears this signal and begins collecting the three cosmic items to win back favour with his master and terraform the planet. Realising the threat at hand, Batman [Affleck] and Wonder Woman [Gadot] begin uniting a cabal of heroes to stop this. But with or without the mighty submariner metahuman Aquaman [Momoa], the super fast Flash [Miller] or technological hybrid Cyborg [Fisher], they may need to resort to extreme measures to bring back Earth’s strongest champion.

Throughout cinematic history, the existence of “director’s cuts” has presented a fascination for fans; the prospect of exploring interesting what ifs and experiencing the purest artistic vision, unfettered by studio interference. But these variant editions do not exist in a vacuum and it is almost impossible to go into this film without some knowledge of the background politics, the years of fan campaigning and the on set scandals by those who were brought on to fix it. And yet despite this, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is not what was intended. As a largely self indulgent experiment, it can offer insight into Snyder’s outline for the shared universe but Warner Bros were never going to release a 4 hour film in 2017. As such, comparing the two can be quite detrimental as the circumstances of their generation are so wildly at odds with one another, so I’ll try to avoid that where possible.

From the very outset we are informed that the movie is presented in the 4:3 aspect ratio as the director intended. While this format has been used for independent releases of late, it’s not necessarily that unorthodox as the final shot we see is often cropped to fit screens. In fact, 4:3 is quite close to the IMAX format. Personally I’m not the biggest fan but I will say that the aspect ratio neither adds nor detracts from the film itself but ultimately feels like a bit of an unnecessary insistence. The same could easily be said for the upcoming “Justice Is Gray” black and white edition, which I can’t imagine would really improve on what has been made or take from the already largely saturated image.

Coming off the back of Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, Justice League feels like an improvement and a positive step forward. It still has all of the setup baggage and doesn’t know what to do with a lot of the characters it’s introducing but it feels like a more coherent and fleshed out character-focused piece and has been structured and arranged fairly decently; both as a long film and as a TV series.

At the time this would have been our first major look at several leads, while we’ll circle back to Aquaman, I’d like to focus on both the Flash and Cyborg. Everything about Ray Fisher’s portrayal of Cyborg felt like an absolute after thought in the theatrical version but in this edit, he is one of the most compelling individuals. A teenager wise beyond his years who has suffered tragedy and a being adjusting to his new reality. Fisher is compelling and interesting and stands toe-to-toe with not only veteran actors but comic properties that even non-comic book fans are familiar with. Granted, some of his interactions are clumsy and smack of Man Of Steel logic. For example, Victor’s father Silas explains everything his Frankenstein-like creation can accomplish and in the process it feels like a zealot heralding a villain before pivoting with the fairly weak Jonathan Kent “you have to choose” schtick. And so Cyborg goes out into the world, scours the entire digital frontier of human existence and finds one woman struggling to pay her bills and awards her one hundred grand. This may not sound like much but it’s Snyder’s whole attitude to heroes and one that illustrates that he doesn’t understand this incredibly complex and stupidly powerful person – like using a top of the line Mac to solely browse Facebook.
The Flash is also much more tolerable in his current form. Presenting someone who is quirky and sarcastic is a fine line without making them unbearable but Miller’s Flash is handled decently, offering some much needed levity to the whole dour universe we’ve been witnessing thus far (speaking from a 2017 perspective, obviously this observation holds no water alongside something like Shazam or Birds Of Prey). Additionally, Steppenwolf may look like the contents of a cutlery drawer in a washing machine but the performance has nicely evolved. Finally this antagonist has an agenda and actual expression in his face. Although I will admit that far too many of his scenes are a retread of the same exposition over and over but we’ll get to that later.

From an aural standpoint the sound design is decent and the score works well enough, if a little forgettable at times and often veering into Mad Max Fury Road / 300: Rise Of An Empire territory. Cyborg’s whole suite is genuinely quite soulful and moving and the Hans Zimmer Superman leitmotif remains incredibly strong. The thing that really jars is Snyder’s music choices, which seemingly never fit, setting the wrong tone. A prime example would be Aquaman downing a bottle of whiskey before returning to the sea, accompanied by Nick Cave’s There Is A Kingdom. The lyrics are eye-rollingly on-the-nose, the “last song of the night” vibe feels remarkably out of place and even things like the instruments used leave the impression that the entire justification for this accompanying track was “I like this song.”

I touched on the trademark washed-out colours being paired with the boxy aspect ratio, as well as the excessive runtime but we really need to talk about the director’s obsession with slow motion. I appreciate this is almost to the point of parody now but we should address the fact that he has proven it can work extremely well. Case in point, the resurrected Superman turning to see the Flash while he is at full speed is still the best moment of the movie. But slow motion is a tool, like any other in a filmmaker’s kit, and should be utilised to accentuate a point or moment of significance. The problem is that Snyder just likes how it looks and subsequently just over 10% of this entire feature has had footage slowed down meaning a tenth of this movie is presented as if it is a moment of significance. And while one could argue a story about saving the world from an alien invader must have plenty of significant moments, a sesame seed falling in slow-motion is certainly not one of them. What’s more, for all the money sunk into this feature, the CGI is often muddy, clunky and obvious. Admittedly, we have to take into consideration that this is fallout due to the release schedule and the pandemic but regardless of these factors, the film is far too reliant on it and wasn’t given enough time to properly develop it.

While I was expecting a certain amount of frustration with how Wonder Woman would be handled or Batman’s pivot from I must kill Superman at all cost to I must resurrect him at all cost, I found myself arguably most frustrated with Aquaman. To clarify, I think Momoa’s version of Aquaman is actually very decent and still hold his standalone feature up as an example of the sort bombastic entertaining tone DC should be aiming for. And that’s the problem. Snyder’s entire vision for Aquaman is pretty weak; I’ll admit it’s better than Whedon’s interpretation but the dialogue about his origin, the constant forming of air pockets to hold conversations, they highlight the director’s limitations on how to handle this character. This film also falls into the classic DC pitfall of how to handle Superman. Multiple Christ analogies and a damned good theme aside, Superman remains overpowered and the entire league unable to stand up to him goes so far to prove you don’t actually need a Justice League if you have a single Superman.

I could continue and pick apart the minutiae from Lois being fairly inconsequential to Steppenwolf’s repetitive exposition dumps being prime “cut that” material, or the endless amount of sequel/universe setup culminating in a supposed lost planet with the anti-life equation being earth all along, or the Atlanteans and Amazons guarding their motherboxes for centuries while mankind just dug a 3 foot hole in the ground in the woods, or Martha having a seemingly meaningful talk with Lois that turned out to be an interaction with someone else entirely, or Wonder Woman killing multiple individuals and being rewarded with a “can I be like you when I grow up” exchange, or the idea that Lois might be pregnant but I won’t because it doesn’t matter. And that is the ultimate failing of the director’s cut in a world of shared universes.

Poor world building is what led Warner Bros to ditch the original vision because the projected shared universe wasn’t vibing with audiences or critics, leading to a shift from expensive underperforming projects to more standalone unique creations with their own identity and audiences. Granted, one of these audiences loves what Snyder has done and would desperately love to see how it concluded but this is operating under the mindset that these stories have an end. Even something like Avengers: Endgame, which was the culmination of over a decade of setup was never going to be the end because the studio simply won’t allow a fiscally successful property to die. Subsequently, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an interesting experiment but it shouldn’t be a springboard to relaunch an already sloppy universe that didn’t have the legs to maintain this march toward an apocalyptic future. I will absolutely hold my hands up and say this rendition is a vastly superior cut to what was released in cinemas four years ago. But the vast majority of audiences have moved on and I fear in an attempt to please every demographic, we’re going to end up with a series of course corrects that will still struggle to achieve what WB ultimately want – what Disney has. But hopefully I’m wrong.


Release Date:
18 March 2021

The Scene To Look Out For:
Despite the fact that this is likely the end of the road for the undeveloped storylines, Snyder still insisted on reshoots to further tease his apocalyptic vision of the future and frustratingly this is one of the most talked about moments because it’s the first interaction between Affleck’s Batman and Jared Leto as the Joker. With so much teased in the trailer, this entire thing boiled down to a remarkably flat damp squib littered with meaningless references and fan service posing as edgy content. If I had any flicker of interest for a continuation of this story, that scene firmly snubbed it out.

Notable Characters:
From the beginning I have stood by the casting of Jeremy Irons as Alfred and the playful chemistry he shares with the weathered Bruce Wayne continues to be a joy to watch.

Highlighted Quote:
“Not impressed”

In A Few Words:
“A stimulating and striking retread but one that still failed to exceed where necessary”

Total Score:

3/5

17TH ANNUAL RRH AWARDS (2020)

BEST MOTION PICTURE OF THE YEAR
Parasite
One Night In Miami
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
The Lighthouse
1917
The Invisible Man
Another Round (Druk)
JoJo Rabbit
Da 5 Bloods
Undine

WORST MOTION PICTURE OF THE YEAR
Dolittle
Artemis Fowl
Bloodshot
The New Mutants
Mulan

MOST DISAPPOINTING MOTION PICTURE OF 2020
Tenet

MOST UNDERRATED MOTION PICTURE OF 2020
Just Mercy

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Wolfwalkers
Soul
Weathering With You (天気の子)
Over The Moon
The Saga Of Tanya The Evil: The Movie (劇場版 幼女戦記)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Song Kang-ho [Parasite]
Mads Mikkelsen [Another Round (Druk)]
Gary Oldman [Mank]
Robert Pattinson [The Lighthouse]
Kingsley Ben-Adir [One Night In Miami]

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Evan Rachel Wood [Kajillionaire]
Noémie Merlant [Portrait Of A Lady On Fire]
Elisabeth Moss [The Invisible Man]
Paula Beer [Undine]
Charlize Theron [Bombshell]

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Delroy Lindo [Da 5 Bloods]
Leslie Odom Jr [One Night In Miami]
Willem Dafoe [The Lighthouse]
Roberto Benigni [Pinocchio]
Sacha Baron Cohen [The Trial Of The Chicago 7]

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Adèle Haenel [Portrait Of A Lady On Fire]
Cho Yeo-jeong [Parasite]
Elisabeth Moss [Shirley]
Maria Bakalova [Borat Subsequent Moviefilm]
Gina Rodriguez [Kajillionaire]

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING
Bong Joon-ho [Parasite]
Céline Sciamma [Portrait Of A Lady On Fire]
Sam Mendes [1917]
Robert Eggers [The Lighthouse]
Regina King [One Night In Miami]

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN WRITING
Parasite
The Lighthouse
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
Da 5 Bloods
The Trial Of The Chicago 7
Supernova

BEST ACHIEVEMENT FOR ORIGINAL MUSICAL SCORE
Jung Jae-il [Parasite]
Dario Marianelli [Pinocchio]
Trent Reznor / Atticus Ross [Mank]
Radwimps [Weathering With You (天気の子)]
Benjamin Wallfisch [The Invisible Man]

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY
Roger Deakins [1917]
Jarin Blaschke [The Lighthouse]
Hong Kyung-pyo [Parasite]
Nicolaj Brüel [Pinocchio]
Hoyte van Hoytema [Tenet]

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN EDITING
Kirk Baxter [Mank]
Yang Jin-mo [Parasite]
Andy Canny [The Invisible Man]
Shin Min-kyeong [#Alive]
Jay Cassidy / Evan Schiff [Birds Of Prey And The Fabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn]

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN PRODUCTION DESIGN
JoJo Rabbit
1917
Mank
Wonder Woman 1984
Pinocchio

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN COSTUME DESIGN
Birds Of Prey And The Fabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn
JoJo Rabbit
Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
1917
Mulan

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN HAIR & MAKEUP
Pinocchio
Possessor
#Alive
Birds Of Prey And The Fabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn
Mank

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND
The Lighthouse
The Invisible Man
The Saga Of Tanya The Evil: The Movie (劇場版 幼女戦記)
1917
#Alive

BEST ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS
Wonder Woman 1984
The Invisible Man
Parasite
Tenet
1917

WONDER WOMAN 1984

Director
Patty Jenkins

Starring
Gal Gadot
Kristen Wiig
Chris Pine
Pedro Pascal




Nearly 70 years after the events of Wonder Woman, Diana of Themyscira [Gadot] is the only survivor of the original cast. She lives a life of pure service, dividing her time between social isolation from those around her, holding down a day job at the Smithsonian and keeping the streets of Washington DC safe as “Wonder Woman.” But everything changes after a simple robbery unveils an ancient relic which seemingly has the ability to grant wishes. In the care of newly appointed gemologist Barbara Minerva [Wiig], the stone is sought after by television entrepreneur Maxwell Lord [Pascal] who believes it is the remedy to all his woes. And to complicate matters further, Diana’s long-dead love interest Steve Trevor [Pine] has woken up in another man’s body, unsure of how he arrived there.

I have a simple theory that to enjoy this movie you have to come at it in a very specific way and once this epiphany dawned on me, I was able to genuinely enjoy the experience for what it is. In a world where Superman breaks necks, Batman uses guns and there seems to be almost no superhero material for children, Wonder Woman has stepped in to fill the gap. More than that, this film emulates the benevolence and tone of the Richard Donner Superman films. No matter the obstacle, Diana refuses to kill, protects the innocent and ditches the sword and shield in favour of the lasso of truth. No doubt this will rile a lot of fans who are used to a certain type of superhero film or those who are expecting certain seminal moments of comic lore but this feature is trying to push past all that and recreate something that has been absent from cinema for a very long time.

The DCEU’s opening was dominated by both the success of The Dark Knight trilogy as well as Zack Snyder’s branded version of hyperviolence and pessimism, in terms of tone and visuals. But there has been a distinct alteration and there are now as many features pushing away from that image as there were those that defined it. Like Shazam or Aquaman, Wonder Woman 1984 is big and triumphant but more importantly is imbued with a fun wholesome energy throughout. The sheer lack of cynicism, globe-trotting adventure and literal wish fulfilment allows this movie to really stand apart from everything that has come before. Admittedly, the narrative isn’t doing a lot that’s new other than the female focus but in earnest, that is new and therefore feels fresh.

Speaking of the DCEU, the continuity doesn’t matter. None of it makes sense. It’s a shared universe with very little cohesion, so the fact that this film doesn’t fit into something like the events in Batman v Superman makes no difference to me, it flows from its 2017 predecessor and that’s all that matters. As we find her, Diana is alone and unlike someone like Steve Rogers who woke up to everyone he knew gone, Diana has watched them live, grow and die. This has given her a slight edge to start with and a hesitance to let people in. Which is a fantastic place to introduce Barbara Minerva. Barbara walks every cliche of the 80s but does it well – although I feel how you receive this character will depend entirely on your opinion of Wiig’s brand of comedy. And then there’s the primary antagonist, Maxwell Lord. Comic fans have grown up with a few versions of Lord and this is really none of them, it’s a unique creation for the movie but one I very much enjoyed. Maintaining that light sense of redemption, no one in this film is truly evil, Barbara and Max are just two weary downtrodden people desperate for a way out of their misery. While the first Wonder Woman film had a solid adversary in the idea of Aries and war in general, this led to a fairly displeasing climax that was the weakest element of that feature. With Barbara being Diana’s mirror opposite at the cost of her humanity and Lord’s selfish drive to prove to the world that he’s not a failure (with the noted tragedy of his son innocently wishing for his dad’s greatness), there’s something sympathetic to them and rather than snapping their necks or piercing them with a spear, the audience should want them to be redeemed as much as the titular character does.

Gadot once again shines as Diana and with every return to the character it becomes clearer and clearer that she was a fantastic pick for the role. As a fan of the Azzarello comic run, I’m desperate for something steeped in mythology and titanic monsters but a magic wishing stone cursed by a god offering elements of Wishmaster and Quantum Leap is a solid compromise. Although there’s something amusing about the real-world parallel of wishing on a monkey’s paw to sing a simple song to make the global lockdown not seem so bad – wish granted.. but at a price.

Curiously, you’d almost think these movies were directed by completely different individuals. Where the 2017 feature was desaturated and dark, due to its war-time setting, WW84 is as vibrant, bold and colourful as it can be. It’s not that this tonal shift is a disservice to the character or the continuity but it serves to highlight the incredible versatility Jenkins has and her ability to retain a recognisable emotional core regardless of setting and premise.

Of course, the movie isn’t perfect. The clichés and tropes are a little dulled by setting it in the 80s but they’re still present. There’s also the handful of questionable CGI moments that seem like a mandatory prerequisite of contemporary blockbusters these days and Barbara’s “end” feels somewhat unresolved, possibly open for a sequel or merely an oversight. But to my mind these are fairly minor flaws if you have been sold on the overall concept. Much like Black Panther, it’s not the finest version of what it can be but it feels like the start of something and the effort made is noteworthy and important.

It’s entirely possible that without a pandemic raging globally, Wonder Woman 1984 might not have made the impact it needed to, suffocated by the competition around it but as an optimistic beacon of hope, it stands out. In a world of r-rated superhero films geared primarily to middle-aged men with a disposable income (i.e. me), this feels like a movie you can take your kid to. Not just a teenager but a child and I think we’ve been quietly seeking that for some time. Furthermore, depicting a version of humanity which is able to shirk off selfish desires for the greater good thanks to the inspirational actions of a powerful female figure is something we so desperately need and for that alone the film deserves undying praise.


Release Date:
25 December 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
Rupert Gregson-Williams’ 2017 score managed to use the frankly laughable guitar motif from Batman v Superman, adding it to a bold but ultimately sombre suite. Curiously, WW84 brings back Hans Zimmer for a strikingly different collection of almost care-free playful themes – the track 1984 in particular feels like it came thundering out of the last century. Despite that, toward the end of the movie, we are treated to John Murphy’s Adagio In D Minor from Sunshine, which felt wholly out of place and reeks of hold music (wherein a director uses temporary tracks in the edit but becomes so attached to them that they end up saying “make it sound like this”). The scene in question is also arguably the key emotional moment for Diana and it deserved better than taking me out of the film and stirring thoughts of an entirely different movie.

Notable Characters:
Arguably, a hero is only as good as the villain and it’s interesting that there is a third adversary under the surface yet constantly present. More subtle than a conman selling happiness for your soul or a cat/woman hybrid, it’s just living in a man’s world. All too often the female characters bat away unwanted advances and attention and understandably, there’s no conclusion to this. People like Diana and Barbara exist in a quietly oppressive world and despite all their power will still be subject to forms of sexual harassment and invalidation. Ultimately it could have said or done more with this but the scene with Barbara holding the wrists of an attacker and defiantly saying “No” is a clear enough message.

Highlighted Quote:
“I give everything I have every day and I’m happy to.. but this one thing–”

In A Few Words:
“A welcome return to big joyful superhero films of the past that instructs its youngest viewers to be good and aim high”

Total Score:

3/5

MANK

Director
David Fincher

Starring
Gary Oldman
Lily Collins
Amanda Seyfried
Charles Dance




In 1940, screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz [Oldman] is contracted to pen a script for Orson Welles (played by Tom Burke) but ends up in a car crash and is forced to take on assistance writing the script; this comes in the form of Rita Alexander [Collins]. Isolated, Mank’s mind wanders and through flashback we learn of his time at MGM and his friendship with Marion Davies [Seyfried] and paper tycoon William Randolph Hearst [Dance] that went on to inspire the story for Citizen Kane.

Other than pieces like Trumbo, Barton Fink and Adaptation, films about screenwriters are few and far between and very rarely flattering. And why would they be? Writers are very under-appreciated in Hollywood yet absolutely integral to its success and when scrutinised by fellow screenwriters, they often fall victim to whatever insecurities the individual holding the pen sees within themselves. With this in mind, it’s worth noting that Mank is very much an accompaniment piece like Ed Wood or Shadow Of The Vampire, that works fantastically on its own but really needs an understanding or appreciation of the movie that inspired its conception; in this case Citizen Kane.

One thing that is absolutely undeniable, even to the laymen, is that this film is marvellously constructed. The script is brimming with incredibly witty, fast paced banter and oozes charm. Curiously enough, there’s a nice parallel between the rhythm of the score and that of the dialogue. Speaking of which, Reznor/Ross’ jazzy transportive score is superb. Musically speaking their talent has been undeniable but few could have predicted the impressive range they have put on display in the last few years alone.

Unsurprisingly for Fincher, this movie is masterfully shot. The cinematography, grading, scene transitions and direction all bear the distinct stylings of Kane. Even the sound design has the echoy resonance to the dialogue from the 40s and that’s before we get to the subtle buried details like cigarette burns prompting reel changes followed by an ever-so-slight shudder implying the projectionist has just fitted the next part of the movie. But for all its focus and attention to minutiae, this obsessive love letter surprisingly does very little to dissect the classic Hollywood machine or bring anything new to the Welles/Kane story.

Anyone who knows the rough history around the writing of one of cinema’s greatest films will know that certain liberties have been taken and aside from the narrative structure there’s not as much about Citizen Kane as one would expect, more the individuals and events that inspired its creation. Most curiously, while Hollywood loves Hollywood, this film truly thrives in the politics it puts on show. Set in the formative late 30s, with war in Europe on the rise, one can hardly avoid politics but it’s more Mankiewicz’s combative personality and lack of filter that really exposes his peers and provides the movie with some of its greatest scenes.

Regrettably, there’s a distance from everything, unlike other biopics, you feel like a passenger as this film careens past, with a cavalcade of drinks, scripts and witty put-downs. The trouble is, you don’t get a chance to really connect with anyone. The Hollywood machine is so vacuous and fake and distant from the real-world struggles that feeling for these individuals is nigh on impossible and even peripheral individuals like Herman’s wife Sara, his housekeeper Frieda or typist Rita never get fully explored, despite bluntly revealing fascinating developments that could bring the audience closer, save a few throwaway lines.

It’s also notable that this film has been created for a specific and intended audience, making little consolation for the casual viewer. This is in no way a slight – it’s good to create something with integrity, regardless of any supposed audience – and the film seems to actively challenge that concept when Mank is instructed to “write hard, aim low.” But while I was watching the film, I couldn’t help but question why Fincher chose to make this film. I feel this becomes a little clearer when it closes with a heavy emphasis on Mank dying at 55 years old and the credits reveal the screenplay was written by Fincher’s own late father – who died some seventeen years ago. Suddenly this shifts from a simple passion project biopic to an extraordinarily personal production. But regardless of intentions or technical prowess, Mank’s ultimate flaw is that it exists in Kane’s shadow and will never escape it; more than that, in spite of the love and care that has been injected into every single frame, it is forgettable.


Release Date:
04 December 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
During one of Hearst’s many parties, conversation turns from industry gossip to politics, the rise of the right and the differences between socialism and communism. Despite a fairly simple setup wherein characters are almost entirely stationary, it’s magnificently framed, constructed and acted. If there was going to be a single scene released to highlight what this film sets out to achieve, it’d be this one.

Notable Characters:
Amanda Seyfried is magnificent in a cast of deeply magnificent actors but in truth, Oldman’s permanently inebriated Mankiewicz delivers perfectly crafted barbs and dissections in almost Shakespearean monologues and does it with effervescent dexterity. Frankly, he carries the film effortlessly and serves as another example of why he’s one of the best.

Highlighted Quote:
“The narrative is one big circle like a cinnamon roll, not a straight line pointing to the nearest exit. You cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours, all you can hope is to leave the impression of one”

In A Few Words:
“A beautiful celebration of talent and eccentricity but one that falls just short of excellence”

Total Score:

4/5

AMMONITE

Director
Francis Lee

Starring
Kate Winslet
Saoirse Ronan




In the early 1800s, Britain saw a rise in independent excavations of fossils. One particularly talented and prolific palaeontologist was Mary Anning [Winslet], who unearthed several important findings which altered how the scientific community assessed prehistoric life. Ammonite is the story of Anning’s later years, her major finds behind her, struggling to makes ends meet by selling paltry common fossils to tourists. The work is hard and the environment unforgiving but the abrasive Anning’s misery and toil is lifted when she is asked to chaperone Charlotte [Ronan] the wife of a rich aspiring geologist. Despite being from different worlds, the two find a kinship through shared strife and a relationship blossoms.

Ammonite is nothing if not magnificently constructed, with Lee continuing his flare for capturing what it actually looks like to live in a place and extends that to an entirely different century with ease. The washed out colours perfectly capture the bleak landscape and unforgiving life of someone so shut out by a hostile society of male academics. On top of this, the absence of a score for the majority of the film heightens both the uncomfortable pauses and the realism of it all.

Both leads respectively bring something fantastic to the screen. Winslet is caustic and short-tempered but it’s a roughness that has been borne out of mistreatment and neglect by her peers. So many lingering pauses and glances that say so very much without having to resort to overt dialogue, allowing her backstory and inner monologue to be pieced together by the audience from the fragments of telling looks and fleeting softness that shines through.

Similarly, Charlotte is introduced with eyes raw from tears an affixed expression of sorrow. With her husband unable to process the depression that comes with the loss of a child, Charlotte is painted as little more than a burden. In this way, there is a quiet isolation to Ronan’s performance; this is represented extremely well by her initial fear of the sea and the abject terror of being wheeled out to it in a wooden shed, only to be confronted then battered about by an angry tide.

But frustratingly, while these two incredible actors offer marvellous performances, they run parallel to each other rather than interweaving. It would be very easy to say this is down to a lack of chemistry and I think there’s definitely some validity to that but I think it’s more that Ammonite is a solid character study but not an especially good love story. There’s an inevitability to the romance, one which is arrived at as a result of formal hesitation, rather than one of passion and desire.

There is a fair amount of talk about the “historical accuracy” of the events portrayed, regarding Mary’s sexuality, but that doesn’t necessarily matter if the story is well portrayed and well acted. My immediate, and admittedly unfair, comparison was with something like Portrait Of A Lady On Fire which performs similarly but with a vastly superior outcome due to its heavier focus on melodrama and transcendent passion. Again, I don’t necessarily think that’s entirely negative, just a different perspective. While Portrait Of A Lady On Fire is bold and exciting and impassioned, Ammonite is repressed, distant yet deeply emotional and ..entirely English.

For so many positive qualities, I would definitely say Ammonite is worth the watch and for the latter scenes where Mary is credited for her findings with something as simple as a sticker over the name of the man who purchased one of her finds, the message resonates.


Release Date:
13 November 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
The scene when Mary and Charlotte excavate their first sizeable fossil together is presented differently from anything else in the film. The score starts to take centre stage, the cuts are quick and the shots largely handheld, it feels altogether different to mark its significance but oddly enough this means it just feels out of place, somehow rushed and given more direct attention than the climactic love scene.

Notable Characters:
All the men are wonderfully pathetic. On the one hand we have Roderick Murchison [James McArdle] with his eloquence and manners but complete lack of empathy and availability for his wife. There’s also Dr Lieberson (played by Alec Secareanu) who is progressive in the sense that he believes the rehabilitative methods prescribed to Charlotte are little more than archaic water torture but still believes a woman’s place is “to care for her fellow sister” and sees Mary as a simple opportunity for marriage than a person.

Highlighted Quote:
“I’m pleased my rock was worth the work”

In A Few Words:
“Two very powerful central performances guide this passive tale yet somehow never truly meet”

Total Score:

3/5

ROSE: A LOVE STORY

Til Death Do Us Part

Director
Jennifer Sheridan

Starring
Sophie Rundle
Matt Stokoe
Olive Gray




Sam [Stokoe] and Rose [Sheridan] are an outwardly normal couple but Rose is struggling with an illness that requires them to live in almost complete isolation, relying on a handful of supplies regularly couriered to them by a trusted source. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Rose is afflicted by a form of vampirism. While the couple have been able to survive all this time in secret, their safety and stability is jeopardised when a young lady, Amber [Gray], is caught in one of Sam’s traps and requires medical attention.

Rose: A Love Story is an impressively tight, contained piece reminiscent of Scandinavian features or something like It Comes At Night. The fact that Stokoe is both writer and male lead is an additionally interesting factor, with the attention to detail, the lore and the routine having been carefully and cleverly thought out. Only to be thoroughly disrupted by the introduction of Amber to the dynamic. But the truth is, every day Sam and Rose are pushing their luck and running out the clock together.

With such beautiful chemistry between Rose and Sam, it’s didn’t surprise me in the slightest to learn that they are now a married couple in real life. The relationship dynamic, the conversations are voyeuristically believable and this empathetic familiarity is through the cultivation of captivating performances.

While Sheridan has a solid history in television, this is her feature debut and it is a very strong one. Beautifully shot, magnificent, atmospheric sound design and a eerily winding score, start off a very unassuming tale which compiles tension ever so slowly and subtly beneath the surface, unfolding perfectly to the extent that as the last 15 minutes approach you start to realise everything has been fairly consequence free up until this point.

In truth, vampires are spectacularly well-trodden mythology. Since cinema’s inception we have been flooded with a host of different interpretations from the perspective of the victims and even the creature itself but this movie is a rather humanising look at vampires. The twist or gimmick here is that it is framed as any other story about a couple, one of whom has a degenerative illness or an infirmity that requires niche care and attention. In that way, one could draw a strange parallel with something like Supernova with the intensity of the bond between the leads and the crushing affliction that is eating away at them. You could also add that there is an additional unique layer to this film regarding the timing of its release; specifically, the notion of being locked in a cabin, having everything delivered to you and only able to leave your house with a mask on – it’s a painfully relatable scenario during a global pandemic that may stir a resonance within certain audiences.

Other than a few genre tropes and cliches that make their way into the film, it’s a very promising directorial debut and arrival for a lot of the central cast who have mostly been utilised in television up until this point but I would be very interested to see what they all respectively have lined up next.


Release Date:
13 October 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
Nursing Amber’s broken leg, still debating what to do with her, Sam is very cold. This is broken with a moment of earnestness wherein Sam explains to Amber what it’s like to fall in love with someone and how it can not only cloud your judgement but also press you to act against your own interest or endure strange circumstances. In this way, it’s one of the rare opportunities to get into one of the leads’ heads and a welcome one.

Notable Characters:
Being such a contained piece, there are almost no supporting elements. We have a handful of faces that make sporadic appearances but ultimately it comes down to the co-leads. And while I mentioned Sam opening up in a previous scene, I found Sophie Rundle’s performance particularly impressive, with its combination of affability and a deeply suppressed ferocity.

Highlighted Quote:
“I will help you forever because I love you. But the second you lie down and give up, I’m sorry, but that’s the second I lie down and I die next to you”

In A Few Words:
“A remarkably twisted tale of devotion”

Total Score:

4/5

ANOTHER ROUND [DRUK]

Drink Up

Director
Thomas Vinterberg

Starring
Mads Mikkelsen
Thomas Bo Larsen
Magnus Millang
Lars Ranthe




Following a conversation about the benefits of operating with a specific steady amount of alcohol in your system, four teachers Martin [Mikkelsen], Peter [Ranthe], Tommy [Larsen] and Nikolaj [Millang], embark on an experiment to secretly do just that. To their elation, they feel more vibrant and energetic than ever before but soon enough their secret indulgence becomes a problem and edges closer to addiction.

From the outset, the framing of teachers facing a midlife malaise, surrounded by unengaged kids enjoying their lives, is clear. There’s a simple contrast between the opening scene illustrating the uproarious hijinks of the teenage students playing a game which requires them to run around a nearby lake, downing bottles of beer along the way and the flat, dim pastels of the classroom headed by frankly dull older men. This parallel never really leaves the story because the longer the experiment goes on, the more childish these supposed adults become, toying with pseudoscience to justify a petulant defiance. There’s an amusing rationalisation based on this notion put forth by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, with the group going so far as to set out a trial manifesto, imbuing their study with an official air, drawing up clear rules such as no drinking after 8pm or at weekends and buying breathalysers to maintain the desired 0.5 level. This is largely based on the anecdotal evidence of a handful of individuals who performed great feats despite being seemingly constantly intoxicated – Churchill, Hemmingway, Heerfordt, etc – but this direct causality is a clear falsehood.

The group dynamic is magnificent with each pillar acting as much as a supportive strut as a point of peer pressure. This is aided infinitely because each character is individually rounded and relatable and more importantly, charming. Having said that, at times it’s framed as an endearing friendship, other times there’s a sense that these bloated older men are rather pathetic and immature. A fantastic example of this is the third part of their experiment which looks at pushing the theory to its maximum, leading to the four men, painfully drunk, collapsing in supermarkets, haphazardly fishing on a pier by chucking rods into the sea then obnoxiously taking over a local bar before staggering off into the night. The social cohesion and support of the group lifts Martin’s spirits but in a prime example of post hoc ergo propter hoc, the teachers chalk this up to the alcohol, not being open with each other.

Thanks to Vinterberg’s ability to shine a light on tight-knit groups, Another Round is a rather thought-provoking analysis of drink culture, the social pressures to drink as well as the camaraderie that goes hand in hand with with imbibing. While it also offers a fleeting exploration of the rituals surrounding drink, it never truly delves into a pure damnation of alcohol, more about its ability to corrupt, the film offers a talking point about excess and moderation. Serving as a reminder that booze is not a substitute for happiness, that these men already had problems and the drinking wasn’t the direct cause, merely the catalyst that brought these feelings to the surface.

What makes the story initially engaging is the clinical aspect to it, the playful armchair philosopher. It’s something that was front and centre in Lars Von Trier’s Idioterne, pitching these men not as desperate old men but four worldly scholars set out to better themselves through unorthodox methods. Early in the experiment, Martin is off his chair, he’s engaging the students, challenging them, charming them and one of the most universally important requirements of life is a good teacher and Martin clearly believes the alcohol allows him to do this. But unlike other works covering social experiments, say Kinsey, Another Round never really explores the depths of depravity. It acknowledges that this is a supremely selfish endeavour and the leads’ lack of separation from their normal lives means the results cannot be purely academic but it fails to fully explore consequence, even though the movie directly deals with death.

As a character study, Another Round is well performed and very entertaining but I’m not entirely sure if it’s supposed to be a neutral statement about alcohol, an outright approval due to the inevitability of humans drinking or a stark criticism. In a way, much like the central characters, there’s no real outlined conclusion to thesis so it seems largely up to the audience to continue the conversation.


Release Date:
20 November 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
To the film’s detriment, the world is never really explored outside of the core unit. At one point, Peter encounters a morose student, desperate to get into medical school and unable to cope with the general pressures of school life. Not operating to the fullest of his faculties and a little emotional that he never had a child of his own, Peter bluntly suggests the student take a shot before his exam to take the edge off. In terms of writing, this should setup a dilemma – a bit of a Chekhov’s gun – but there’s no real fallout, the film never has any form of ramification for this frankly crazy act. Which is a shame.

Notable Characters:
Mikkelsen has always been an amazing talent but it seems his work with Vinterberg produces his finest performances. Martin’s lethargic displacement erupting into peak emotional outbursts, both positive and negative, is deep, nuanced and spellbinding.

Highlighted Quote:
“I miss you too”

In A Few Words:
“A wonderful if ever so slightly toothless study”

Total Score:

4/5

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI

One Night. Four Icons.

Director
Regina King

Starring
Eli Goree
Kingsley Ben-Adir
Aldis Hodge
Leslie Odom Jr




Based on the critically acclaimed play of the same name, One Night In Miami tells the story of four friends celebrating the success of one of their group and the frustration of just staying in the hotel room rather than hitting up the bars and clubs. It just so happens the friend in question is Cassius Clay [Goree] and his success was beating Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion. On top of that his friends are influential soul singer Sam Cooke [Odom Jr], Cleveland fullback Jim Brown [Hodge] and Nation of Islam leader, Malcolm X [Ben-Adir] who reminds the group that even on a night of uproarious celebration, with the respect of millions across the nation, they are still considered second-class citizens and must make strong public statements to be truly recognised.

Taking on the challenge of portraying any one of these four legends would be daunting in its own right but together, each man is represented spectacularly. Being young, driven and talented in so many fields, it was of the utmost importance that the casting drew from the top shelf and King has assembled some genuinely fantastic actors who display the most magnificent chemistry. The relay race of discussions about a black man’s place in American society and the responsibility of those with a spotlight and a platform is fiery and kinetic, with each pillar representing various outlooks.

Bringing these individuals together comes down to an adept and discerning leader at the helm and for a directorial debut, King has performed astonishingly. Not only for the functional accomplishment of making an engaging story building on an already successful play but juggling a multifaceted release: part sports drama, political biopic, tale of friendship, musical evaluation, family discussion, race-relations explorative piece and religious study. On top of the 90 minute play we are given an additional half an hour of of character and world building at the start that adds so much. While the transition from regular feature to chamber piece should be stifling, slamming the breaks on the story, the character study ramps up everything that came before it and with the period appropriate score mirroring the energies of the leads, upbeat and full of energy but soulful and weary from the onslaught of daily strife, the entire feature flows seamlessly.

As well as being a tale of four friends celebrating, it’s also a clearly galvanising piece. The poignancy and relevance of this story and the exchanges had within could not be more pertinent. Discussing the pros and cons of actions like black artists earning solid royalty money from allowing a white band like The Rolling Stones to cover a song, against someone like Bob Dylan saying something more aggressively powerful than a seemingly trite song about being in love. Topped by Malcolm X shouting furiously, “Our people are literally dying in the streets every day. Black people are dying! Every day!” What should be a look back on a time of change, allowing us to appreciate how far we have come (and that’s not to say there hasn’t been progress) is more a stark reminder that the same battles are still being fought. Not to mention the fact that a year after the events of this film, half of the group were killed.

It’s hard to draw any form of negative against this release. Grandly acted, superbly crafted and taking a spectacularly written play, transposed to a spectacularly written script, littered with charmed and nuanced oration, is just wondrous.


Release Date:
15 January 2021

The Scene To Look Out For:
Early in the film, Brown has an exchange with family friend Mr Carlton (played by Beau Bridges) wherein he is extolled for his performance in the NFL with Carlton going so far as to say he has never been more proud to be a resident of that area than when Brown achieved what he had. This warm welcome is monumentally soured when Brown offers to help move a bureau, only for Carlton to matter-of-factly retort that he knows they don’t allow African Americans in the house, with the same cordial upbeat tone. Suffice it to say, he didn’t say “African American.” It’s such a rug-pull that will be all too familiar to many people but the repugnant lack of self-awareness still completely sucker punches you. Which is both heightened and mirrored later when Jim Brown says to Malcolm X, “some white folks can’t wait to pat themselves on the back for not being cruel to us.”

Notable Characters:
Not one of these actors stands above any of the others, each is an integral part to the story and the varied views and attitudes of a community – as any group of friends are. That ensemble is vital to this film’s power and success. There’s a sort of unspoken rule of quality with ensemble TV that states for characters to be rich and well-drawn, you have to be able to separate two of them off to one side holding a conversation and ensure it’s just as engaging as any other combination. And this film’s ability to do that is one of its greatest achievements. The diverse bonds that make the friendship feel real.

Highlighted Quote:
“We’re all just gladiators, Cass, with our rulers sitting up there in his box giving us the thumbs up or the thumbs down. Well I don’t want no damn ruler”

In A Few Words:
“A sharp, touching and auspicious release and a vitally important reminder for our times”

Total Score:

5/5

WOLFWALKERS

Be Fierce. Be Wild. Be Free.

Director
Tom Moore

Starring
Honor Kneafsey
Eva Whittaker
Sean Bean
Simon McBurney
Maria Doyle Kennedy




Set in 1650s Kilkenny, we are introduced to Robyn Goodfellowe [Kneafsey] and her father Bill [Bean], a hunter conscripted by the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell [McBurney], to rid the neighbouring countryside of wolves. The precocious Robyn wishes to follow in her father’s footsteps and, with her falcon Merlin, enters the woods to hunt wolves. After an altercation, Robyn meets a woodland girl of similar age, Mebh [Whittaker] and the two begin a friendship despite their conflict of interests.

For those unfamiliar with the history, Oliver Cromwell was a member of parliament who led the English civil war against the crown. With Charles I executed, he began various conquests with his New Model Army, one of which was the Irish Campaign. This invasion was driven by religious zealotry and a disdain for the Irish population; subsequently he is a very contentious historical figure and one of disdain for the Irish. This whole film is a running commentary on the effect of the English invasions of Ireland with Cromwell trying to tame the wilds as a direct parallel for trying to subdue Ireland. But in spite of this it’s important to point out that the presentation is allegorical and more about culture clash than animosity.

The first and most important thing about this feature (and all of Moore’s films) is the singular signature art style that makes it so appealing and engrossing. Critics have rightly adorned Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse with significant praise for its use of varying styles and the work done by Cartoon Saloon is no different. There’s such a beautiful simplicity to the juxtaposition between the wild Irish setting – with its rough outlined line work, free-flowing pencils and almost sketch quality visuals, that show the unrefined shape guides and contouring – and the English occupation of Kilkenny – which takes on the darkly-printed and angular nature of seventeenth century woodcuts. There is a somewhat false adage that one should be able to pause a movie and marvel at that single cell, in essence that every frame is a painting. Regrettably this doesn’t necessarily apply to most films but in truth, it does with many artistic works and this is no exception. Literally every single shot is radiant and layered with exquisite detail and soul. Put simply, Japan has Miyazaki, Ireland has Moore.

Atmosphere is very much at the heart of this film with the stunning visuals accompanied by the mystical, drifting score from regular collaborator Bruno Coulais. It seems only fitting that this film is a joint work from Irish, French, Luxembourgian talent, a cultural meeting and exchange creating something perfectly autumnal. Politics and history to one side, the story has a more relatable and oft-running theme through Moore’s other films of city vs countryside, nature vs civilisation and immediately made me think of tales like The Fox And The Hound.

In my initial synopsis, I didn’t mention the heavy supernatural aspects to this movie. Mebh isn’t just some feral girl, she is a wolfwalker: girl by day, wolf by night and runs with the pack of wolves that are seemingly terrorising the local farmers. It turns out that when Mebh and her mother Moll [Doyle Kennedy] take on wolf form, they perform a sort of astral projection or transference of power that causes them to leave their bodies. Turns out, Moll has been missing for some time, looking for a new safe haven for the pack to run free. While roaming the woods, Robyn is caught in a snare and in freeing her, Mebh accidentally bites her, meaning that Robyn is now also a wolfwalker. In this way, it’s the story of two rambunctious, rebellious girls with a mutual bold playfulness, both in need of a friend. A key illustration of this is Robyn abandoning her crossbow to follow Mebh into the woods; the literal setting aside of the tools of war to forge friendship.

Both Whittaker and Kneafsey are fantastically cast. I believe this is effectively Whittaker’s debut and the only thing I’ve seen Kneafsey in is A Christmas Prince, where she was utterly wasted. The casting of Sean Bean as Robyn’s father is also magnificent. It would have been all too easy to project this as an English vs Irish story, but it’s more a question of acceptance of a mindset and sensibility than nationality. And Bean embodying the hardworking Englishman who is merely trying to do the best for his family, terrified of what will become of his daughter should she not follow the rules, is understandably relatable.

**spoiler within**
Like all fairytales, Wolfwalkers follows a very set-out path and structure making it, arguably, quite a predictable affair. Casting this as a negative, however, would be a mistake. If anything it offers a mythical sense of familiarity. Additionally, one could argue there’s a historical inaccuracy to the death of Cromwell but that’s inconsequential pedantry and works for the narrative; more than that, for a moralistic fable, it’s vital.

As with everything put out by Cartoon Saloon, this film is an absolute flawless joy and marvel that rightfully deserves its place among lofty greats such as Studio Ghibli and Disney.


Release Date:
11 December 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
I mentioned earlier on about the unique and engaging art styles at play. One that really captivated me was the wolf POV which illustrates how the wolves see the world, as a mix of shapes, sounds and smells. As a Daredevil fan this was remarkably pleasing.

Notable Characters:
Aside from the main characters, all of which are terrifically portrayed, I really enjoyed Tommy Tiernan as Sean the woodcutter.. or shepherd. Either way, I’m a sucker because I love Tiernan, I find him hilarious and his upbeat jovial manner mixed with his superstitious pessimism make him a very fun addition. A prime example would be when Mebh takes Merlin away, Sean tells Robyn that “She may heal him.. or eat him” with the exact same pragmatic tone, regardless of the girl’s feelings – for a lack of a better descriptor, it’s wonderfully Irish.

Highlighted Quote:
“What cannot be tamed must be destroyed”

In A Few Words:
“A sensory delight”

Total Score:

5/5

SUPERNOVA

Burn Bright

Director
Harry Macqueen

Starring
Colin Firth
Stanley Tucci




Couple, Sam [Firth] and Tusker [Tucci], travel north to reunite with friends and relatives before Sam, a concert pianist, is due to give a comeback performance. Early on, we learn that Tusker has been diagnosed with early on-set dementia and his wanting to deal with it alone, without causing significant harm to Sam, is putting a clear strain on both men and the relationship.

From the very outset, it’s clear that this story will be a painfully human, tender and most importantly sincere experience. With its calm slow pacing, the entire first half an hour sails by as we get to know the couple and explore the reality of what they’re facing. And with so little visually happening, this is primarily down to the delightful chemistry between Firth and Tucci. Tusker is a monstrous tease, Sam is slightly cantankerous and they are both gut-punchingly charming – brought effortlessly to life by two incredibly confident and capable actors.

Without sounding too obvious or redundant, anyone who enters into the contract of a long-term relationship inevitably confronts the fact that life is finite, that your time together is limited and you will die. Yet despite this fundamental part of love and life, hitting that reality is always a shock and watching these two individuals approaching the inevitable together has an empathetically tragic familiarity. Firth observing Tucci struggling to get dressed or perform other simple tasks never gets any less heart wrenching to voyueristically watch as an audience. And as much as the performances sell this to us, it’s ultimately the script that bluntly cuts through: “You know what the hard part is? You’re not supposed to mourn someone while they’re still alive.”

On a technical level, Supernova is exceptionally well made. The score is light and unobtrusive, to the degree that you don’t realise it’s all that’s present until you’re a few minutes into Sam and Tusker silently driving through the winding roads flanked by towering hills. Speaking of which, Dick Pope’s cinematography work is striking, with wonderfully framed shots. Being from Britain, I naturally fall into stages of under-appreciation but the landscape can be truly stunning and Pope captures the haunting beauty fantastically.

**spoilers throughout the next two paragraphs**
While this is an extremely well-acted, constructed and devised chamber piece, there was one major element that brought it all crashing down for me. That isn’t to say I’m about to rip this movie apart, simply illustrate a single decision in the writing process which sullied the film for me: I’m not entirely sure I was happy that the film became a suicide story. Of course a conversation about dementia will likely lead to a conversation about death but, as much as it pains me to say it, this conclusion felt a little lazy. With something like Million Dollar Baby, the film catches you off guard and evolves in the most painful way. Even something fairly trite like My Life tries to cover how a man with a form of degenerative cancer and his wife deal with the diagnosis and the impact it will have on their yet unborn child who will grow up without his father. I didn’t get that with this film.

Disappointingly, it felt that the narrative didn’t know where it wanted to go and ended up at a fairly safe conclusion. Suddenly a lot of what I liked about the film (take my highlighted scenes below for example) felt similarly overt. In that way, like an old familiar play, Supernova failing to traverse any new territory was ultimately discouraging. The saving grace, for me, is the fact much of this feeling is allayed with the ambiguity of the shared look between Sam and Tusker at the end of the movie, with Sam saying, “Let me be with you.” Is he making another plea to stay by his side as dementia takes hold or is he saying he accepts Tusker’s wishes and wants to be with him at the end? The only thing the audience is offered is Sam’s concert performance. Which is a fine ending to this tale.

In conclusion, Supernova is a satisfyingly constructed story with a few predictable exchanges but this doesn’t detract from the fact that they are delivered with such passion that one is able to completely overlook any reservations.


Release Date:
27 November 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
To address what I stated earlier about simple but solid metaphors, I have highlighted two moments in particular. The very opening shots depict a bright star in central focus as a galaxy of pin-prick lights form around it. As the music begins to swell, the star burns brightly before disappearing. The second is Sam quietly turning the pages of Tusker’s notebook – which should house his new novel – to see the first few pages filled with notes and prose, only to degenerate into faint scribblings and torn-out pages before revealing the blank void of the remainder of the notebook. Both are admittedly serviceable and cutting but they’re also undeniably on the nose.

Notable Characters:
The supports are used sparingly but choosing between Tucci and Firth is frankly impossible. Both exude such presence and deeply viced emotional turmoil and rather than a battle between the two, there’s a distinct harmony. Nowhere is this more apparent than the speech reading scene – wherein Sam has to read through Tusker’s prepared notes, for their family and friends, addressing his eroding memory – which is heartbreaking from both sides.

Highlighted Quote:
“You know, you just sit there, doing nothing.. propping up the entire world”

In A Few Words:
“A thoroughly beautiful miserable journey, taken by two absolute powerhouses of cinema”

Total Score:

4/5

UNDINE

Director
Christian Petzold

Starring
Paula Beer
Franz Rogowski
Jacob Matschenz




The film opens with an introduction to Berlin historian Undine [Beer] as her boyfriend Johannes [Matschenz] is breaking up with her. Despite this, she rushes to work and gives a talk on the history of the city’s urban development for international groups at the Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung und Wohnen. Rushing back to the cafe to talk with her ex-partner, Undine is followed by Christoph [Rogowski], one of the group who politely commends her talk and asks her out but awkwardly stumbles shattering a fish-tank. Undine pulls the young man to safety and the two embark on a relationship together. As the narrative progresses, Christoph takes Undine on a dive to show her his work in the Rhineland, only for the film to veer into the obscure.

As a contemporary reimagining of Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s fairy tale novella, there is something of a battle for prominence between romance and fantasy. What starts off as a very unambiguous romantic drama, takes a diversion to the subtly supernatural and leads the audience down a path they didn’t realise they were on. Punctuated with stunningly shot underwater scenes and captivating, almost dreamlike qualities, there is a disconnect between the leads and the rest of the world, ensuring your focus fixates on them. This, of course, would be impossible if the performances were in any way lacking.

A fair portion of the runtime is devoted to lectures on the development of Berlin pre and post reunification and what should be monumentally dull and dry material is given life by Beer. Not only that, she draws a quiet intensity to the character of Undine that makes the still moments natural and the eerie moments somewhat unsettling. Furthermore, the deeper we dive into Undine as a person, the more we see how disconnected she is from the world, living in temporary lodgings, holding a freelance position as a historian and how few people seem to know her at all; more than that, her only connection seems to be these two men and a boss who is largely indifferent to her existence.

Then we have the two men in Undine’s life. The caddish Johannes, a confident and self-serving man of wealth and success who never seems to express any real emotion to Undine outside of his base drives. And the rustic and courteous Christoph who is simply overflowing with emotion and tenderness while being a very grounded and thoughtful soul. These diametrically opposed suitors represent – at least on a very simplistic fairy tale level – the standard male archetypes with the stark contrast between confrontations with Johannes in the city and the quiet with Christoph in the countryside.. The bounder and the gentleman. And both are performed compellingly by Matschenz and Rogowski respectively.

To my mind, this is a perfectly structured release replete with plenty of symmetry and repetition. Distinctly turning at the start of the third act, the supernatural element manifests ever so faintly, almost as if not to spook the audience, and suddenly all the foreshadowing of whispered voices, the broken diver statue and the averted drowning scene take on an entirely different meaning. All the while aided by the sombre, ethereal tones of Bach over an original score. In this way, the film remains overtly unpredictable.

But it’s not perfect. Personally, as much as I love the use of water in several forms to highlight her true nature as a water spirit, I would have preferred if Petzold leaned further into the fey aspect, giving us something akin to Under The Skin because as it currently stands, a fair amount goes unexplained – especially if you’re unfamiliar with the source material – and these unanswered questions may frustrate audiences.

Having said that, I feel it’s ultimately part of the story’s charm. A question of how well we know those in our lives and the lingering effects of the people we meet; a literal haunting. In that sense, Undine excels.


Release Date:
12 October 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
Watching this movie, I was struck by the question, “What makes a film compelling?” It’s extremely difficult to quantify but talent is undeniably apparent most notably when nothing is happening. The film opens on a wonderful contemplative stillness. As viewers we are patiently waiting for the prologue to end but it keeps going, merging into a surprisingly compelling guide to the architectural history and planning of Berlin. Yet all the while, in the back of your mind, you’re waiting for something – something catastrophic like a breakdown or some simple time jump to take us out of this moment and transition to another scene. Yet it continues unabated. It’s only when looking down on the city model that she sees the exact spot she was sat at and we are confronted with the very image in Undine’s head that she has tried to push to the background. It’s fantastic

Notable Characters:
**fairly mild spoilers**
At the exact halfway point, Undine sees Johannes again. In an example of that aforementioned repetition, we watch her walk away from the cafe, give the exact same talk and then return to her conversation. The film replays a lot of the same shot formation as the opening act, only this time free from the apprehension she was previously racked with. Following her conversation, we are treated to another long unknowable stare and a certain power to her smiling slightly then confidently walking away. For me this is the reason Beer commands this entire film.

Highlighted Quote:
“If you leave me, I’ll have to kill you. You know that”

In A Few Words:
“An altogether thoughtful and spellbinding tale”

Total Score:

4/5

SHIRLEY

Be Careful Which Idols You Worship

Director
Josephine Decker

Starring
Elisabeth Moss
Odessa Young
Michael Stuhlbarg
Logan Lerman




Young newlyweds, Fred and Rose Nemser (Lerman and Young respectively) have travelled to Vermont so Fred can begin work at Bennington College. Upon arrival they are immediately greeted by fun and magnetic professor Stanley Hyman [Stuhlbarg] and his caustic but remarkably talented wife Shirley Jackson [Moss], famed horror/thriller author. While Rose is a fan of Shirley’s work, being asked to take care of the reclusive and difficult writer takes a toll on her mental health. However, over time, with her husband preoccupied with college affairs, she is drawn closer to the mercurial author who is working on her latest novel.

As an adaptation of a novel, Shirley is a fairly unorthodox study of clearly talented but deeply toxic individuals. Even uproarious celebration has an undercurrent of tension – Stanley giving his feedback on Fred’s dissertation, for example, is a petty crushing under the guise of constructive criticism. Yet Shirley is far from a saint, manipulating the events of Rose’s life to generate inspiration for content; giving the film a sense of part detective drama, part brainstorming exercise, spinning the standard biopic tropes.

While I will expand on this further later in the review, Moss’ portrayal of Jackson is a fantastically immersive performance. From her introduction in a crowded party, rasping venomous gibes, Shirley’s personality ensures a prevailing sense of tension runs throughout, causing those around her (Rose specifically) to constantly tread on egg shells for fear of disapproval. In truth, there are plenty of portrayals of the tortured artist, shutting themselves off from the world to capture inspiration and perfect their work but unlike a lot of similar biopics, the character of Shirley doesn’t draw focus, allowing the supports to be just as compelling and interesting in their own right.

Speaking of which, the three major buttresses are Stanley, Rose and Fred. I can’t think of a time when I haven’t heaped immense praise on Stuhlbarg and this time is no different. Hyman is immediately framed as an enigmatic and charming individual that appeals to his young, impressionable, and predominantly female, students and it’s only as events unfold that the outwardly loveable charismatic professor has a painfully overbearing critical streak and a very nasty edge to him. In a way, the entire dynamic reminded me of The Wife but only partly and it’s better that we don’t fixate on that release too long as it is the superior story.

This leaves us with Rose and Fred. Fred is remarkably paint-by-numbers: ambitious, hardworking but disloyal and ultimately dull. Lerman plays this well enough but is off-screen more often than not. This is, however, not necessarily a bad thing as any screen-time with Shirley and Rose is where the film shines. I’ve only seen a handful of releases from Young but not only does she stand shoulder-to-shoulder with acting greats, she is able to offer a beautiful dual role in both the young, naive Rose and the fictional embodiment of Shirley’s character, Paula.

For me, the music is one of the absolute standout elements of the film. Tamar-Kali continues her stellar work on Mudbound, bringing a truly haunting, delightfully tense score. A momentous building of intrigue and unease that compels the viewer when the on-screen events come off as merely functional, with layers of female choral voices acting as an extension of the strained psyche of the leads. Overall there is a very slight air of Hitchcock to the whole thing.

Visually the film is exceptional, with Decker’s strong visual style playing beautifully throughout. A keen example would be the representation of Jackson trying to form prose, working out the character, seeing her in her mind’s eye, etc. It’s a very solid yet straightforward way of portraying creation through imagination as well as harvesting external influence. If there’s one thing this film does well, it’s explore the female gaze. Whether from the perspective of Shirley or Rose, the world and how it sees you because of your gender, actions or intentions, is made painfully apparent. Additionally, the juxtaposition between college sexual awakening and the embittered slump of ageing talent is magnificent. Every shot has a presence, every frame feels intentional – like a more grounded Terrence Malick feature – and yet somehow the whole suffers as the story is never truly enough to keep us going.

While my review thus far has been steeped in praise, you may have noticed that I only awarded this movie a three out of five. Regrettably, that comes down to one major issue, which is the entire movie’s downfall. I was left with a feeling of striking inconsistency. The performances are great, the visuals are marvellous, the sound design and music are second-to-none but the pace was surprisingly languid and while admittedly, every time I felt the film lagging or pulling away from me, I was thankfully drawn in again but these distinct peaks and troughs were enough to make half of the movie fascinating, while the other half a chore.


Release Date:
30 October 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoiler warning**
The following is going to sound utterly nonsensical for anyone who hasn’t seen the film but Rose marking down Paula’s name in the library book is a turn that doesn’t entirely feel justified; or at least one that was a little too rushed. I fully understand the narrative reasons for it being there and for Jackson to react the way she does but the revelation that there is no Shakespeare Society quickly robs this moment of the importance it needed; especially as it builds to the final exchange between the Nemsers, which shows a sort of transition into Jackson – notably in terms of cadence and delivery.

Notable Characters:
This is very much Moss’ film with so many extreme close-ups pushing into these twisted and manic expressions that say so very very much. Moss is one of those individuals that I will watch in anything, just to see what she brings to the role but while this movie has its flaws, Moss’ portrayal has none.

Highlighted Quote:
“Let’s pray for a boy, the world is too cruel to girls”

In A Few Words:
“A decently acted analysis that stumbles only due to the amount of bloat and padding that keeps it from soaring”

Total Score:

3/5