PREVIEW: April 2020

If you had told me at the start of the year that cinemas would temporarily close and dozens of releases would be postponed before Easter then I would have told you to stop being a nincompoop. Well…more fool me. As such, I cannot promise to review any new releases in April, for the first time since I began this blog. Nevertheless, I will continue posting content during April and, although I am unsure what film and television content will be published, there will be reviews for some Roald Dahl books as (since publishing Post 800 on this blog) I am looking ahead to marking Post 1000 later this year, and those reviews are part of the lead-up.

Thank you as ever for visiting this blog and, as always, I wish you Happy Reading for the month ahead. More importantly, however, I hope you all stay healthy and safe during this time of uncertainty and pandemic.

Top 10 Films of 2019

Well, all of the Awards’ favourites of 2019 have played in UK cinemas now, and three months into 2020 I think it is time to make my Top 10 films of 2019 list. These are my critical Top 10, and not necessarily a reflection of the 2019 films that I enjoyed the most. It was a hard list to make, as 2019 had a lot of fantastic films, and I would have loved to have been able to include Ad Astra, Avengers: Endgame, Beanpole, BeatsBooksmart, The FarewellI Lost My Body, JokerKnives Out, Le Mans ’66Little WomenThe Mustang, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, The Peanut Butter FalconPortrait of a Lady on FireSorry We Missed YouToy Story 4, The Two PopesUs and Waves on this list. However, the fact that I did not can only be a good thing though, as they were great films, but there are 10 that are even better, so here we go…

10) Apollo 11 (Dir. Todd Douglas Miller)

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Kicking off the Top 10 is this unique experiment in documentary filmmaking. Todd Douglas Miller uses only archival footage (most of which had been previously inaccessible to the public), with no narration or interviews, to present an overview of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, and celebrate the marvellous efforts and achievements of the thousands of hardworking people on the Earth below, which had been incredibly overlooked since 1969. The archive footage is stunningly restored, and this heartfelt tribute to the unsung heroes of Apollo 11 was a breathtaking cinematic experience.

9) The Souvenir (Dir. Joanna Hogg)

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Directed with real sensitivity by Joanna Hogg (who loosely bases the film on her own real-life experiences), this is a nuanced and slow-burn exploration of a relationship’s gradual descent into toxicity, and the saddening reality of how difficult getting out of such a relationship can be. However, it is not a totally gloomy affair, as there are some lovely scenes in which the creative arts are a discussion point, and these moments serve as beautiful love letters to the creative arts and their wonderful abilities to bring people together and evoke discussion.

8) Pain and Glory (Dir. Pedro Almodóvar)


For veteran director Pedro Almodóvar this was a highly personal project, that aspect of its nature being acutely seen through its honest depiction of the impact of ageing and the feelings of regret which are evoked by memory, as well as its sincere comment on how perspectives on art and filmmaking can change and evolve with time. It is a highly intimate film which boasts a beautifully multilayered performance from Antonio Banderas in quite possibly the best turn of his career, that is absolutely captivating to watch and testifies to Almodóvar’s enduring flare and sensitivity as a director.

7) Uncut Gems (Dirs. Josh Safdie/Benny Safdie)

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Directed with real flare, Uncut Gems cements the status of the Safdie brothers as two of the freshest and most original new talents on the American independent filmmaking circuit. Directed, shot and edited with real energy and a breakneck pace, quite possibly the best way to describe this film is as an assault on the senses. It is one of the most intense and gripping films of 2019, which will leave you feeling exhausted yet blown away by the end, and features a career-best performance from Adam Sandler, who shows just how brilliant a dramatic actor he can truly be.

6) The Irishman (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

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Another masterpiece from the legendary director, this is further testament to Martin Scorsese’s gift for filmmaking. The Irishman will make you think of Goodfellas (which remains Scorsese’s greatest work), but it differs by presenting a sombre and reflective take on the ageing process and the long-lasting impact which people can continue to have on one’s life decades later. In this, Scorsese is clearly reflecting with nostalgia upon his own career and the lifelong friendships he has made through it, which is made most clear by his casting Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, who (along with Al Pacino) are a true treat to watch.

5) Marriage Story (Dir. Noah Baumbach)


Utilising long takes to give the film a much more naturalistic quality, Noah Baumbach presents a dialogue-heavy film which is truly captivating to watch, thanks to rich dialogue which is sincere and heartfelt, in a film which takes a very realistic, highly serious and frankly heartbreaking look at the messy realities of the divorce process and its impact upon everyone involved. The character arcs are an emotional rollercoaster to watch, and Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson give phenomenal leading turns, and are supported by a unanimously excellent cast, the standout of which is Laura Dern.

4) Bait (Dir. Mark Jenkin)

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Experimental films are by no means rare, but ones shot on celluloid film by a director/cinematographer/editor using a very old hand-cranked camera are. Mark Jenkin created with Bait an absolutely captivating piece of cinema, which is a heartfelt tribute and touching love letter to the art of filmmaking, and in this he presents a down-to-Earth and mature social commentary on class and generational differences in modern-day Cornwall. It may not have topped the list, but it is a wonderful and unique experiment made in an era where too few filmmakers try to be different.

3) The Lighthouse (Dir. Robert Eggers)

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If only this film (which looks at isolation and cabin fever) was premiering this year, it would be the most timely release possible. A slow-burn narrative, The Lighthouse is a brooding and intense psychological-horror which looks at the impact which isolation and a desperation for intimacy can cause in the extreme. Shot beautifully in black-and-white, every frame has a haunting and atmospheric quality to it, which just increases the sense of horror, although even that does not make it as intense an experience as the raw, passionate performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. Yet the true horror of this film is found in the ambiguity as we are never certain of what is real and what is a hallucination triggered by madness.

2) Parasite (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

With Parasite, Bong Joon-ho once again proved himself to be an incredibly talented and versatile director, presenting us with a film that is so different to anything which he had done before, yet which is still distinctly Bong. A magnificently acted film with a rich focus on character, this is simultaneously a hilarious satire and a heartfelt, poignant reflection on social class differences and capitalism’s impact upon society. Furthermore, it is easily one of the year’s most intense films, the constant increase of tension and suspense beautifully exacerbated by all manner of ingenious twists and turns which will keep the viewer on the edge of their seat. Did it deserve all of its Oscar glory? Absolutely!

1) A Hidden Life (Dir. Terrence Malick)


Like any Terrence Malick film, this is visually a masterpiece, with every frame having a stunning, painterly quality to it that makes it absolutely breathtaking to look at, while a brief use of point-of-view shots is easily one of the best uses of such shots that I have seen in a very long time. As well as being a visual masterpiece, this is quite possibly Malick’s best film to date. Telling the true story of a conscientious objector who defied the Nazi Party due to his unrelenting faith in God, this slow-burn film is a very reflective and philosophical film which explores humanity and forces the viewer to ponder what they would do in such extreme circumstances, while it is also incredibly sobering to watch as we see prejudiced attitudes on display which still exist in society today. Ultimately though, the narrative is a beautiful and tender depiction of the importance and endurance of personal faith in God in the face of extreme persecution and suffering, which moved me to my core as both a Christian and a film critic. A criminally overlooked masterpiece of filmmaking which more people need to see!

There were some bad films in 2019 (I endured Cats, and I feel dirty every time anyone brings that up with me), but it was absolutely a terrific year for cinema! There were plenty of fantastic films, and the fact that my Top 10 and the honourable mentions which preceded it between them contain films from Britain, America, Canada, Korea, Spain, France, Russia and Italy testifies to the fact that cinema is a truly international art form! While it is a lot harder to be excited for 2020, given that the cinemas are closed and multiple release dates have been pushed back indefinitely due to coronavirus, I do look forward to making my Top 10 Films of 2020 list around this time next year!

FILM: Bait (2019, Mark Jenkin)

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Drama film Bait is distributed by the BFI, following its premiere at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival. In a picturesque Cornish fishing village, fisherman Martin Ward (Edward Rowe) is struggling to make ends meet as he fishes without a boat, due to his brother Steven (Giles King) using their late father’s vessel to provide cruise trips to tourists. Meanwhile, tensions arise between him and the Leigh family, out-of-towners who bought his late parents’ house and have turned it into a seasonal holiday home and short-term rental business.


  • Filmed on 16mm monochrome celluloid film in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, using a vintage hand-cranked camera, as a cinematographer Mark Jenkin embraced an old filmmaking style wonderfully, the simplicity of the shots and the monochrome being perfect for the natural lighting which he captures emphasising the charm of this technique. Furthermore, he does not attempt to airbrush the blemishes on the film, and in doing so makes this film a heartfelt tribute to celluloid.
  • Fully aware of the physical limitations of a hand-cranked camera, Mark Jenkin directs the film at a very naturalistic pace, and in doing so draws focus to the characters as they interact with each other, through which generational differences and class differences come to the forefront.
  • In his screenwriting, Mark Jenkin grapples with gentrification and the breakdown of older, local customs in 21st Century Cornwall – an issue which is very relevant and keenly felt today. Through this he examines issues of generational differences and class differences in a manner which is very down-to-Earth and grounded in reality, the differences being conveyed predominantly through smaller, seemingly trivial things. Ultimately, the mature and down-to-Earth nature of it all is in Jenkin highlighting that, regardless of who is more in the wrong, these types of clashes could be so easily avoided if people just took the time to speak to one another calmly and tried to understand each other’s perspectives.
  • In his editing, Mark Jenkin is quite experimental, transitioning between parallel moments of different lives, putting a lot of emphasis on smaller details which foreshadow later events, and drawing attention to characters’ body language in his studying of their emotional complexities. These little experiments that he undertakes with his editing play a big role in making Bait as intriguing and captivating to watch as it ultimately is.
  • An excellent cast who show a perfect understanding for Mark Jenkin’s vision of a down-to-Earth depiction of class issues in 21st Century Cornwall. None of them give big, bold performances, rather they are all very naturalistic and subdued in their performances to just the right degree, making their characters feel very down-to-Earth and authentic. However, Edward Rowe naturally steals the show by conveying beautifully Martin’s emotional complexities through the nuances of his body language.


  • A couple of scenes end in quite an abrupt manner and could have done with being 30 seconds or so longer to make their endings feel more natural.

VERDICT: 10/10

FILM: Mulan (1998, Barry Cook/Tony Bancroft)

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Inspired by the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, Mulan is the 36th feature-length animation from Disney. When the Huns invade China, one man from every family is called upon to serve in the Imperial Army. Knowing that it would be the death of her father (Soon-Tek Oh) – an elderly and frail veteran – Fa Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) disguises herself as a man and leaves to join the army, accompanied by tiny dragon Mushu (Eddie Murphy) who goes to protect her on behalf of her ancestors’ spirits. Can Mulan survive a war against the greatest threat China has ever faced? And can she do so without her true gender being exposed?


  • One of the more mature Disney narratives and probably their most serious, which grapples with subject matters such as warfare and family honour, while also completely subverting Disney’s usual tropes for female protagonists with their most multilayered and progressive one up until that point.
  • The screenwriting is very character-driven and gripping, but its real genius is two-fold. Firstly, the tone shifts to reflect Mulan’s emotional journey and how the realities of warfare change her, and secondly that they make excellent use of the four songs to develop both her character arc and her dynamic with her fellow soldiers.
  • Absolutely stunning hand-drawn animation, which boasts a rich colour palette and wonderful attention-to-detail in its recreation of Ancient China and its cultures, while there is terrific scale and spectacle brought to the battle sequences – especially the iconic one in a snowy mountain range.
  • A very good voice cast, with Ming-Na Wen and BD Wong bringing depth and nuance to Mulan and Captain Li Shang, while George Takei, Harvey Fierstein, Pat Morita, Soon-Tek Oh and Miriam Margolyes all use their moments to shine very well. Eddie Murphy, however, regularly steals the show with his highly energetic and passionate voice performance as Mushu.


  • The character design for the Huns is very problematic and feels out-of-place with the rest of the animation, as they have a greyish tinge to their skin, claw-like fingers and yellow eyes, which causes them to look inhuman and makes it much harder to take them seriously as an antagonistic threat.
  • Due to the more mature and serious nature of the narrative, several moments of comic relief and a very upbeat final two minutes to the narrative feel quite contrived and are certainly not in-keeping with the rest of the film.


LITERATURE: George’s Marvellous Medicine (Roald Dahl, 1981)

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British children’s fantasy novella George’s Marvellous Medicine was originally published by Jonathan Cape. Eight-year-old George is left home alone with his ill-tempered Grandma, who is due to take her medicine in an hour. George decides to create his own medicine for her with all manner of things from the family farm and house, one which will do more good for her than the one which she currently takes. However, he could never have foreseen the outcome which comes from a dosage of this medicine.


  • The narrative implements a child’s perspective excellently in both how the adult characters are viewed and the purpose of various chemicals and ingredients are understood, which leads to quirky characterisation and humour.
  • With a writing style that is descriptive yet not verbose, the narrative displays Roald Dahl’s wonderful imagination and way with words, while touching upon the realms of fantasy in a manner with feels quite plausible.
  • A good balance between energetic physical humour to entertain children, and more adult humour which will amuse parents – not least fathers who lack close relationships with their in-laws.


  • The constraints of a novella are all too apparent in the more rushed and condensed nature of the Second Act.
  • The final few pages feel just a bit too mean-spirited for children’s literature, and I felt that way about them even when I was as young as seven-years-old.


LITERATURE: The Enormous Crocodile (Roald Dahl, 1978)

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British children’s story The Enormous Crocodile was originally published by Jonathan Cape. Set in Africa, the titular Enormous Crocodile sneaks out of the jungle to the nearby town with the intention of eating some human children. However, Humpy Rumpy the hippopotamus, Muggle-Wump the monkey, the Roly-Poly Bird and Trunky the elephant make it their mission to ensure that he fails in doing this.


  • A quirky and fast-paced narrative which reflect Roald Dahl’s darker sense of humour without being overly scary for younger readers.
  • Roald Dahl brings the jungle and human town to life with a writing style that is descriptive yet not verbose.
  • Good characterisation – the titular Crocodile being a character whom you love to hate due to his craftiness and cleverness.


  • The narrative is predictable, as even as a small child I knew early on that the Crocodile would fail to eat children thanks to the other animals.
  • While the first and last methods of foiling the Crocodile are daring and exciting, the middle two are not, and therefore feel quite underwhelming.


LITERATURE: Fantastic Mr Fox (Roald Dahl, 1970)


British children’s novella Fantastic Mr Fox was originally published by George Allen & Unwin. Having regularly been robbed of their livestock by Mr. Fox – who takes it to feed his family – cruel farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean make it their mission to kill the Fox family. As they try to dig them out of their underground home in the hill, Mr. Fox must race against time and manpower to find means of providing his family and friends with safety and food.


  • A fast-paced narrative with a good level of suspense, as we are constantly left wondering how Mr. Fox will outwit the farmers, whose ideas are actually logical and quite clever.
  • Roald Dahl’s writing style flows beautifully and is distinctly Dahl in the conciseness and cleverness of the sentence structure and wordplay.
  • A deft blend of Roald Dahl’s darker and more adult humour for parents, with his knack for subtle and gross humour for children.
  • Excellent characterisation, particularly with the animal characters, who are both anthropomorphic in their lifestyle and distinctly animal in their biological traits, with Roald Dahl managing a fine balance of the two.


  • The novella could simply do with being longer, as the final third feels quite rushed.
  • A particularly illogical moment comes in Roald Dahl’s descriptions of adjusting to light, e.g. animals who have just been in a tunnel find it hard to see things in a dimly-lit cellar.


Looking ahead to Post 1000…

Well, earlier this month I published Post 800 on this blog, which feels crazy – I genuinely cannot believe that I have published that much content on here! In the wake of that, I began to think to myself “Hang on, that means that I will almost certainly publish Post 1000 before the year is over…I really should do something specific and a little special for that.” After a lot of deliberating, I have decided that for Post 1000 I am going to publish something that is very specifically related to Post 1!

Post 1 on this blog was my review of The BFG (2016), back in April 2017, so to commemorate that I will make Post 1000 a list of the Top 10 Roald Dahl books. Not only is this clearly related to the content of Post 1, but this will be a slight passion project on my part as I still love Roald Dahl, whose books were a big part of me finding a love for reading over twenty years ago! As such, in the run-up to that I will be posting reviews for all of the Roald Dahl books that I read as a kid (and have kept my old copies of into adulthood). This will be fun for me, and also a means of ensuring that I still publish plenty of content during a time of social isolation and temporary cinema closures.

So, that is the plan, and I look forward to hitting that milestone post! In the mean time, stay safe and stay healthy, and (as always) thank you for visiting this blog and Happy Reading!

LITERATURE: A Game of Thrones (George R.R. Martin, 1996)


American fantasy novel A Game of Thrones is the first in the franchise A Song of Ice and Fire, and was originally published by Bantam Spectra in the USA, and Voyager Books in the UK. Set in the fictional world of Westeros, Warden of the North, Lord Eddard Stark, reluctantly agrees to become Hand of the King to his closest and oldest friend, King Robert Baratheon. However, after moving to King’s Landing, Eddard begins a path of discovery that leads to some truly shocking discoveries, the knowledge of which will put his life in danger. Meanwhile, his wife (Catelyn) and eldest son (Robb) go to war with Robert’s in-laws – the Lannisters. And were that not enough, Viserys Targaryen – the vengeance-mad heir of the late Dragon King – has grown to maturity in the Free Cities, and is looking to rally together a great enough force to claim the Iron Throne from Robert.


  • George R.R. Martin boasts a great imagination with his writing, as he not only crafts a narrative that is sent in a fictional world, but he also cleverly uses characters and locations to detail some of Westeros’s history, as well as its cultures, geography, family trees amongst the nobility, and the political relations found therein. Like the narrative, he pens this with a good writing style – detailed yet not verbose, which can be read fairly quickly.
  • It is always daring to shift focus between several parallel narratives, but George R.R. Martin pulls it off magnificently, never leaving too great a gap between moments of focus on one, meaning that we easily remember what has already gone before, and Martin also trusts his readers to pick up on the small details to work out what events happened in parallel to others.
  • The narrative is told with eight different viewpoint characters, yet everything is told in third-person. This is done very well, as George R.R. Martin describes things as the viewpoint character perceives them, meaning that we have a good understanding of their viewpoint while being like spectator ourselves. Furthermore, by seeing perspectives from two sides of a political divide, we get to understand both perspectives very well.
  • Excellent characterisation, with the personalities, backstories and viewpoints of viewpoint characters and prominent non-viewpoint characters alike realised wonderfully, while the viewpoint characters are especially well developed over the course of this novel, the events of which increase anticipation for their character arcs in the next instalment of the franchise.
  • While the writing style is fairly quick to read, the content is far from light and fluffy, with battles that are rich in gritty and vivid detail, and descriptions of external injuries and internal pain which will make you wince.


  • There are some minor typos here and there, which cause grammatical errors. Anyone can make typos though, so this is more a fault on the editors’ part for not spotting them.
  • Given that some battles are penned in riveting detail, the fact that there are some which are not depicted (rather their events are described by one character to another post-outcome) feels like a missed opportunity or two.


FILM: Carnage (2011, Roman Polanski)

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Adapted from the French play Le Dieu du carnage, black comedy Carnage was distributed by Sony, following its premiere at the 2011 Venice International Film Festival. When their son Zachary (Elvis Polanski) assaults his friend Ethan (Eliot Berger), Alan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) go round to Ethan’s parents’ – Michael (John C. Reilly) and Penelope Longstreet (Jodie Foster) – apartment to call a truce. While the conversation between the two sets of parents is civilised enough to begin with, soon their idiosyncrasies and differing opinions really come to the surface, and the four begin a verbal warfare amongst themselves.


  • Director Roman Polanski keeps the running time to a very concise 80 minutes (including end credits) by keeping a constant flow of dialogue, much of which takes the form of brief monologues, and ensuring that the faces of those not speaking in a moment can regularly be seen, which conveys the change of people’s moods and creates the sense that an explosive outburst is imminent.
  • Four adults engaging in verbal warfare ends up being highly engaging, thanks to a lot of very sharp and witty dialogue, establishment of clear, underlying reasons for anger boiling beneath the surface, and exploration of how class and generational differences can inform differing perspectives.
  • A terrific central cast of four carry this film, with John C. Reilly being a fantastic straight man and deliverer of dry wit in equal measure, Christoph Waltz displaying excellent comic timing, and two emotionally intense and raw performances from Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet.
  • The production design department did an excellent job of transforming a Parisian sound studio into a New York apartment (to get around Roman Polanski’s fugitive status), with real attention to detail in the mise-en-scene.


  • The major issue with the concise running time is that it primarily stems from the sheer speed of dialogue-delivery and the minimal pauses between other characters’ lines, which makes it often feel like watching a play instead of a film, and that kind of direction does feel somewhat out of place in a film.
  • There are several points in the narrative which feel quite forced and contrived, such as the two occasions when the Cowans try to leave but then agree to stay, and the fact that Nancy makes no effort to reach a sink or bucket when she feels like she is about to vomit.