Marriage Story (2019) – Non Spoiler Review

A Netflix Original Picture, Written and Directed by Noah Baumbach.

Marriage Story is a great film in a year of great films, and it’s so good that it stands out as one of the very best. It is an intimate look at a divorce, but it’s also an examination of undying love, parenting, art, and life. Noah Baumbach has crafted something beautiful here.

The screenplay is easily one of the best of the year, with every conversation feeling entirely natural in a way that they rarely do, and every character move feels both inevitable and shocking. The very personal, painful moments of a divorce between two people who deep down love, and don’t want to hurt each other, is horrific to watch play out, but the film is also tinged with beauty.

The single camera setup used here adds a real sense of intimacy to the film and makes us feel like we are really there with the characters, and it also paints a fascinating picture of both New York and LA (although the repeated comment about ‘space’ in LA is hilarious).

The supporting cast is really good, and I love Laura Dern and have seen a lot of awards buzz for her. However, whilst she is very good, I do not feel this is a performance where she should win her Oscar, but there’s absolutely no denying what an amazing actress she is. Ray Liotta and Merritt Wever are stand outs in a supporting cast that do what a supporting cast should, allow for its leads to thrive.

Driver and Johansson will likely be powerhouses throughout awards season, and rightfully so. Baumbach makes his actors follow the script down to every detail, and it is to the actors credit that the scenes feel so natural. Some of the long takes in this film are so electric that it is impossible to take your eyes off the screen, and an argument between Driver and Johansson at the end of the second act is one of the best and most devastating scenes of the year, and will be great for its leads Oscar reels.

This is a startling piece of cinema and another feather in Netflix’s cap, as they have a sensational year and look like the frontrunners overall this awards season. Love lives forever…

Rating = 4.5/5

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) – Non Spoiler Review

A Pyramide Films Picture, Written and Directed by Céline Sciamma.

This is a film full of love, beauty, sensuality, art, and heartbreak. It is one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in years, in both the story and the visuals.

From a cinematography stand point, this is surely a front runner for awards, with the use of the stunning and rugged landscape brilliantly representing the turmoil of the characters.

Director Céline Sciamma brings a truly unique voice to this french language film, and the main thing I feel she adds is that while the sexual tension in this film is intense and there is a lot of sexuality, she focuses on what these characters are feeling instead of just using it as a chance to get them naked to sell tickets.

The two romantic leads have some of the most simmering chemistry that I have seen for years, and it is used to full extent here. They are great together, but they also each have their distinct personalities and story. Both Noemie Merlant and Adèle Haenel are beautiful and visually striking, and both have extremely expressive faces. You can see everything they are feeling by just looking at them, and this is extremely powerful.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire should be seen the world around and praised for its splendour. One of the best films of the year.

Rating = 4.5/5

The Nightingale (2019) – Non Spoiler Review

An IFC Films Picture, Written and Directed by Jennifer Kent.

This is one of the most devastatingly brutal films I have ever seen, and at times it is almost too hard to watch, with such constant brutality inflicted on the most vulnerable. However, if you make it through, the film proves to be a very moving and emotional experience.

The commentary on race and gender relations are taken so head on, and with such unflinching savagery, that you have to respect Jennifer Kent, whilst also wondering if she went too far at times.

Sam Claflin is very convincing as a truly evil British soldier, a racist and rapist who simply has no redeemable qualities, and you therefore have to credit Claflin with taking on the role and making it more than just a stereotype.

Baykali Ganambarr proves to be a real talent in what could have been an incredibly difficult role to pull off, and hopefully we will see him get more roles going forward.

However, the main reason this film works is the performance of its protagonist, played by Aisling Franciosi. I have been a fan of hers for years due to her roles on The Fall, Clique, and Game of Thrones, but this is a true tour de force performance that will hopefully launch a huge career for her. She is subjected to horror after horror and yet brings such determination, devastation, and a true sense that this is a real person to the character of Clare. She will likely be overlooked this awards season, but in a fair world, she would be a front runner for Best Actress.

Rating = 4/5

No Time to Die (2020) – Trailer

The trailer for the 25th James Bond film launched yesterday and caused quite a stir, mainly due to how good it looked.

Following the merely okay Spectre in 2015, there’s been a lot of false starts on what is widely believed to be Daniel Craig’s final 007 adventure, but this looks like they finally got it right. The exciting behind the scenes duo of True Detective’s Cary Joji Fukunaga and Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge seem to have crafted a story and film that look interesting and stylish.

Judging from the trailer, Bond’s life is flipped upside down by an apparent betrayal of his wife Madeline, leading him to reunite with Jeffrey Wright’s Felix, the usual MI5 team, and Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld, and to cross paths with Lashana Lynch’s 007, rising star Ana De Armas’ Pamela, and Rami Malek’s villain.

We have no real idea how all these events link together, but what this trailer does tell us is that despite the many question marks and attempts from others to rip it off, Bond is still relevant and it looks like the best ever James Bond may have a worthy swansong.

Black Widow (2020) – Trailer

The 23 film ‘Infinity Saga’ is over, Avengers: Endgame is the highest grossing film of all time, and Natasha Romanoff is dead. It therefore seems slightly odd that a Black Widow film starring Scarlett Johansson would be the launch pad for the MCU’s phase 4. However, Scar Jo has earned the chance to get her own film after 10 years and this film looks really interesting to me.

It is a prequel to the events of Avengers: Endgame (obviously), with the rumour being that it will mainly be set between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, with scenes from the trailer seeming to imply we will also learn about Natasha pre her first MCU appearance in Iron Man 2.

The film looks like a departure for the MCU as it seems very derivative of the spy genre and Jason Bourne in particular, a genre the MCU has leant into once before (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) with great success. Hopefully it is packed full of genre thrills that differentiate it from the rest of the competition.

The cast is one of its biggest selling points. Despite her multiple terrible PR moments, there is no denying Scar Jo is a good actor and is very good in the role of Black Widow. The cast also features Stranger Things star David Harbour as Red Guardian and Oscar Winner Rachel Weisz. However, the main stand out is current ‘it girl’ Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova. Pugh is a young actress who has shown incredible range in such a short career, is soon to likely become an Oscar nominee herself, and is very possibly going to be a stand out here (and could potentially carry the mantle of Black Widow after this film).

I still need to see more, but as it stands, this looks like an interesting and unique launching pad for the new era of the MCU.

Gone With The Wind (1939) – Review

A Loews Inc. Picture, Written by Sidney Howard, Directed by Victor Fleming.

This is one of the most instantly iconic and widely watched films in cinema history, and rightly so. It is an incredible achievement.

It was one of the very first technicolour pictures and still to this day stands the test of time with some simply startling visuals and a score that is so important to the film working that it almost feels like another character.

It is an epic and sprawling story of love, death, and war that was ahead of its time in many ways. However, when it comes to the films depiction of race and slavery, it is very obvious the time period it was from and how much things still needed to change, and thankfully much progress has been made in this area (although we do still have a long way to go).

The runtime is incredibly long (and not all entirely necessary) but it does move along at a steady pace and it doesn’t ever feel like the film is dragging. Most of that is due to the incredible performances of its cast, especially the lead three.

Olivia De Havilland brings such great heart and likability to the role of Melanie that it is tough when you see such hardship come to her, but she is a hopeful and truly kind person, and a key part of why the film works.

Clark Gable has often been labelled the ‘King of Hollywood’ and he truly lives up to that here, with a performance that starts off as charming and roguish, and eventually emotional and broken. He is a good man with some rough edges and someone we root for. He also delivers one of cinema‘s most famous lines – “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”.

That brings us on to the person who was on the receiving end of that line, the infamous Scarlett O’Hara, played by Vivien Leigh. This is a role that is so complicated and layered that it is almost unbelievable that it was a female role in 1939, a time when women rarely were given parts even slightly as impressive as this. She is feisty, independent, manipulative, and surprisingly naive. A truly great role and performance.

This Oscar winning epic is not perfect and politically has some definite issues, but taken at face value, it is a sweeping epic that stands the test of time.

Rating = 4.5/5

The War of the Worlds (2019) – TV Review

The BBCs mini-series adaptation had all the ingredients to succeed. It had a solid cast, a setting in a source material faithful time period, and enough time to properly tell the story. With all this in mind, it’s even more disappointing to see the result that we got.

The three part show turned H.G.Wells’ iconic sci-fi epic into a soapy melodrama. It is a strange decision to make and I cannot possibly understand why they did it, but in doing so they sucked out all the potential dread and societal foreboding the story really should focus on.

The structure of flash forwards also took the drama out of the current time storyline, therefore making much of the show seem almost pointless. As for the flash forward themselves, they were arguably the stand out parts of the show due to the impressive post-apocalyptic visual choice, but the way they were used was still very poor.

Eleanor Tomlinson is the only actor worth mentioning here, she is very talented and does her best with that she is given, but there isn’t much to really work with.

This could have been something great for the BBC, who have been on an incredible hot streak in recent years for dramas, and instead they completely botched it.

Rating = 2/5

Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) – Review

A Paramount Picture, Written by Sergio Donati and Sergio Leone, Directed by Sergio Leone.

This film is regarded by many as one of the greatest films of all time, and has been cited as an inspiration by filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and George Lucas, and this is all rightfully so, as it is a true epic of its time.

The score from Ennio Morricone is undoubtedly one of the most soaring and instantly iconic in history, and it adds so much tension to the film.

It is also brilliantly shot and looks amazing for a film made in 1969, and Leone’s creative choices elevate the material enormously.

Claudia Cardinale is quite simply one of the most beautiful women in history, and while her striking look is well utilised, her role and performance are incredibly strong too and she gets much more to do than women traditionally did in these films. Fonda and Bronson are both very striking too and are strongly brooding to add to the classic western feel.

One of the greats…

Rating = 5/5

The Report (2019) – Non Spoiler Review

An Amazon Original Picture, Written and Directed by Scott Z. Burns.

This film is both gripping and intentionally unflashy. It is a well researched and brutally honest depiction of a crucial time in recent history, and therefore provides one of the best screenplays of the year, which really should receive awards attention.

The fallout of 9/11 and the way the American government dealt with it has already been depicted in multiple different ways, but rarely has it been this honest and unflinching.

While I don’t see this film playing a big part in the awards season, potentially aside from its screenplay, I think it should be in much more consideration and the only reasons it isn’t are that it is intentionally under-played in many moments, and this is a very competitive year.

Adam Driver is exceptional (and is one of this years Oscar front runners for another film of his, Marriage Story) and I think it now goes without saying that he is one of (if not the best) the best actors of his generation.

Rating = 4/5

The King (2019) – Non Spoiler Review

A Netflix Original Picture, Written by David Michôd and Joel Edgerton, Directed by David Michôd.

This is an adaptation of legendary Shakespeare work that somehow seems targeted at a teenage audience without fully embracing that, if that was the direction they wanted to take.

The film is too long, with not enough in the way of captivating moments or character interactions. It features a very talented cast that is almost completely wasted. Thomasin McKenzie, Lily-Rose Depp, Ben Mendelsohn, and even Pattinson (armed with a ridiculous accent) only really have extended cameos.

The biggest supporting part belongs to the talented Joel Edgerton, who is a very unconvincing Falstaff. Chalamet is in almost every scene and initially seems painfully miscast, although due to his considerable talents, he does grow into the role.

With the cast and the source material, the fact that this is only a mediocre film is a huge missed opportunity for all involved.

Rating = 3/5

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