PREVIEW: September 2021

Another month has come and gone, and I got a fair few cinema trips done in August. I still am yet to publish my reviews for Censor, Candyman, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins and Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon, but I will do soon. I am also yet to see Our Ladies, so that will be my first September cinema trip. Other cinema trips planned for September include The Duke, Malignant, The Many Saints of Newark, No Time to Die, Respect and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. There will of course be more, but UK cinemas continue to leave it until the eleventh hour to announce their new releases, which is understandable given how often last-minute postponements by studios continue to happen. Regardless of how many new releases come out this month, I will endeavour to post as often as I can on this blog (time permitting, obviously).

Thank you as always for visiting this blog, and for the month ahead I (as ever) wish you Happy Reading, and hope that you and your loved ones stay healthy and safe!

FILM: The Courier (2020, Dominic Cooke)

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Historical spy film The Courier is distributed by Lionsgate, following its premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The film tells the true story of how, in the early-1960s, British businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) was approached by MI6. They assigned him to make regular trips to Russia – under the guise of it being for business deals – to exchange messages with rogue Soviet intelligence officer Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) in the hope of ultimately prevent a nuclear war.

PROS

  • Despite having no real action, this is a highly intense piece of cinema thanks to Dominic Cooke’s highly nuanced direction as he gradually ratchets up the tension and the sense of peril facing Wynne and Penkovsky, masterfully utilising the slow-burn approach.
  • An excellent slow-burn narrative penned by Tom O’Connor which gradually builds in tension and is highly respectful to the subject-matter. O’Connor’s screenplay rightly celebrates the work of Wynne and Penkovsky, whilst refusing to downplay just how terrifying and at times horrific their experiences were.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze both give brilliantly nuanced performances, whilst also developing an excellent chemistry with one-another over the course of the narrative that is highly engaging to watch.
  • Detailed production design and costume design give the film period authenticity, while cinematographer Sean Bobbitt’s excellent use of low lighting, shadows and cold colours aids wonderfully in creating genuine tension.

CONS

  • Several scenes could do with being a bit longer to flesh out the contexts and characters, the scenes themselves ultimately being a little rushed.
  • Several supporting characters receive minimal characterisation, the cast members resultantly getting little to work with and their performances ultimately being forgettable.

VERDICT: 8/10

TELEVISION: Tattoo Fixers (2015-2019)

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British reality television series Tattoo Fixers originally aired on E4 for 74 episodes. In a Hackney studio, a team of tattoo artists give members of the British public the chance to have their ill-conceived or poorly executed tattoos covered up with new designs.

CONS

  • It is an interesting premise that would have worked well for a one-off documentary exploring the art of tattoo cover-ups, but stretching it out for so many episodes resulted in it all getting awfully repetitive, tiresome and frankly dull.
  • Members of the tattoo industry criticised the lack of proper hygiene on display and, although members of the public would generally be unaware of this, it enormous corner-cutting and disregard for people on the part of the producers.
  • Some of the producers did this series for the pay cheque and had zero interest in tattoos, and the ongoing lack of fresh ideas reflects this, plus it was just appalling that they let the artists take the heat for their corner-cutting.
  • The receptionist Paisley proves to be highly irritating, coming across as rude, condescending and judgemental to the customers, a number of whom are visibly nervous, and doing nothing to put them at ease or show kindness.
  • At the end of the day, this series just exploited people’s wishes for 15 minutes of fame and the premise boasts an obvious oxymoron – having the tattoos that you do not want anyone to see briefly revealed on national television.

PROS

  • The premise was interesting at first and the artwork of Jay Hutton especially highlights to those who are snobbish of tattoos that tattooists are often genuinely talented artists. As such it is interesting and fun to watch for 4 episodes, just not 74.
  • The tattooists always treat people with respect and do everything they can to make them feel comfortable and welcome, and even manage to engage in banter with some customers, coming across as nothing short of genuinely kind and sincere individuals.

VERDICT: 2/10

FILM: Reminiscence (2021, Lisa Joy)

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Neo-noir science-fiction/crime film Reminiscence is distributed by Warner Bros. In the near future, the seas have risen and much of Miami has flooded, meaning that people get around by boat and (due to extreme daytime temperatures) have to live at night. Veteran Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) runs a business that uses technology through which people can relive specific memories, and using this technology he hopes to be able to find out what happened to Mae (Rebecca Ferguson), the love of his life who vanished several years ago. However, his pursuit of the truth will make to him some truly shocking revelations which will completely change his understanding of the past and expose some utterly heinous crimes.

PROS

  • There are some quite interesting concepts in this film, some of which are brought to screen by some very good production design, while the take that the film has on man’s ability and inclination to be nostalgic feels fresh and different, and is resultantly rather interesting.
  • Solid performances from Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson, who have good chemistry with each other, while Thandiwe Newton and Cliff Curtis are the stand-out supporting cast members, and all four of these actors throw themselves into the film.

CONS

  • Lisa Joy’s direction and screenwriting are unfocused and convoluted as she goes for a non-linear approach and tries to juggle too many ideas. The final film stylistically and with regard to some concepts feels derivative of many older and better noir, science-fiction and crime films, dating back to the late-1920s.
  • The action scenes are very poorly shot and choreographed, with some of the worst use of shaky-cam this side of The Bourne Ultimatum (and that is saying something) and, like much of the film, matters really are not helped by the poor quality CGI ($65 million or so does not go that far).
  • Many of the supporting cast are forgettable due to having little to work with (Brett Cullen is especially underused), whilst several (particularly Mojean Aria and Marina de Tavira) simply give poor performances.

VERDICT: 4/10

TELEVISION: Pearl Harbor: Into the Arizona (2016)

Watch Pearl Harbor: Into The Arizona | Prime Video

Pearl Harbor: Into the Arizona is an American documentary by PBS. As the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor approaches, scientists use technology to explore the sunken wreckage of the USS Arizona, to learn how the interiors have changed over the course of 75 years in the shallow waters of the harbour. Joining the scientists is Donald Stratton, one of the few remaining survivors of the ship’s sinking, who has decided to make the most of what may be the only chance he gets to see inside the ship in which he had once worked and lived again.

PROS

  • The documentary provides a fascinating exploration into the wreckage of the USS Arizona which provides an excellent science lesson whilst also providing most of all a moving and quite haunting exploration of the humanity of life on that ship, which has remained visible and striking even after the ship has spent 75 years as a war grave.
  • To give the necessary context, the documentary also provides a well-researched and rather concise overview of the attack on Pearl Harbor on that fateful December day in 1941, with particularly focus on the horrifying and tremendously tragic sinking of the USS Arizona, which is bolstered by use of archive footage of the attack and the sinking, as well as very moving testimonies provided by some of the very few remaining survivors.
  • To give Donald Stratton the opportunity to see inside the USS Arizona again was a beautiful and kind idea, as he was clearly moved and tremendously thankful that he got to see inside it again when he viewed the camera footage that the radio-operated technology brought back. Furthermore, he was able to provide first-hand testimony to how much or how little had changed on certain parts of the ship.

CONS

  • By simultaneously providing a history lesson about the attack on Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the USS Arizona, as well as an exploration of the wreckage, there are ultimately too many things to contain in a one hour documentary, and the constraints of this runtime can be clearly felt at times.

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: The Night House (2020, David Bruckner)

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Following its premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, horror film The Night House is distributed by Searchlight Pictures. In the days following the suicide of her husband Owen (Evan Jonigkeit), Beth (Rebecca Hall) is struggling with her grief and starts becoming increasingly convinced that there is a spirit in their marital home. However, she soon discovers that Owen had been building another house, which is just one of the big secrets that he was keeping from her and also the least sinister of them.

PROS

  • A generally atmospheric film, thanks to a chilling score by Ben Lovett, and cinematographer Elisha Christian making excellent use of low-lighting, the darkness of night-time and shadows to create very haunting imagery indeed, while the exterior daytime scenes have a cold quality that makes them eerie and chilling too.
  • Rebecca Hall gives a tour de force performance unlike any that she has given before, a nuanced turn that is rich with raw emotion and a sensitive form of vulnerability that draws in the viewer and is absolutely compelling to watch develop and make gradual shifts on screen.

CONS

  • Director David Bruckner is just a bit too reliant on cheap jump-scares in a number of scenes, which is a shame given how atmospheric a horror film this is for the most part, and at least three scenes are robbed of tension by the excessive jump-scares.
  • The film is let down most of all by a screenplay (with accompanying direction) that is highly muddled and unfocused as it tries to be a supernatural horror film, a serial killer flick, a psychological thriller and a harrowing exploration of both grief and mental illness, without committing to any or achieving a balance.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: Josee, the Tiger and the Fish (2020, Kotaro Tamura)

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Romantic anime film Josee, the Tiger and the Fish is a remake of a live-action Japanese film from 2003, and is distributed by Funimation in the Western world, following its premiere at the 2020 Busan International Film Festival. As he works multiple part-time jobs to save up money to study abroad in Mexico, university student Tsuneo (Taishi Nakagawa) takes on another role as as live-in support/helper to a paraplegic 24-year-old woman named Josee (Kaya Kiyohara). As the two spend more time with one another, Josee helps to change Tsuneo’s perspective on life and the world; and Tsuneo in turn helps Josee to come out of her shell, grow in self-confidence and feel motivated to pursue her dreams, following a lifetime of isolation.

PROS

  • Although a little like something out of a soap opera at times, there is a lot of heart and warmth to the central relationship, which develops well during the film’s run and through which screenwriter Sayaka Kuwamura explores well themes of identity, the wonders and beauty of nature, and the power of art.
  • Tsuneo and Josee are multi-layered characters who are developed well over the narrative’s run, and voiced very well by Taishi Nakagawa and Kaya Kiyohara, making for very engaging central characters.
  • Beautiful animation which boasts charming and expressive character designs, stunning designs of all things nature and a rich colour palette, making for very eye-catching and visually pleasing viewing.

CONS

  • As mentioned previously, the central relationship feels like something out of a soap opera at times, and the pacing of the narrative and said relationship is inconsistent, with some aspects feeling rather rushed.
  • Moments of jeopardy lack any real sense of danger and are played safe within a narrative that is a little too sweet for its own good at times and is a little too child-friendly for a film whose unsubtle message is that life is full of dangers as well as beauty.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Don’t Breathe 2 (2021, Rodo Sayagues)

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Horror/thriller Don’t Breathe 2 is distributed by Sony. Set 8 years after the original, blind Navy Seal veteran Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang) has been raising an 11-year-old named Phoenix (Madelyn Grace), whose parents’ home had burned down years earlier and who believes that her mother died in the fire. One night, her biological father Raylan (Brendan Sexton III) – a gang leader – and his men turn up at their house to retrieve Phoenix and kill Norman. However, Raylan’s motives for wanting to get Phoenix away from Norman are far more sinister than he is willing to let on. Can Norman survive the assault from Raylan and his men, and ensure Phoenix’s safety?

PROS

  • The narrative has some well-executed suspense due to the sinister sense of mystery surrounding Raylan and his intentions for Phoenix, whilst the fights that Norman has with him and his gang are well-choreographed and frankly brutal viewing, made all the more vividly engaging by excellent practical make-up effects and cinematographer Pedro Luque’s brilliant use of low-lighting and shadows.
  • Stephen Lang gives a brooding and intense performance that is rich in raw emotion, and he has a good chemistry with Madelyn Grace, who proves to be a natural talent. The only memorable member of the supporting cast is Brenda Sexton III, who brings a good sense of malice and intensity to Raylan.
  • Screenwriter Fede Alvarez creates multi-layered and well-rounded characters in Norman and Phoenix, thereby making the former far more likeable than in the original film and in doing so avoids that film’s biggest flaw.

CONS

  • The narrative gets increasingly convoluted and is at times quite contrived (especially in the second half), whilst Norman’s abilities to both fight and survive get too farfetched for the film to be that suspenseful.
  • With the exceptions of Norman and Phoenix, there is the absolute bare-minimal characterisation and the supporting cast resultantly have very little (if anything) to work with. While their performances are perfectly okay, none of them are at all memorable (bar Brendan Sexton III).

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Jungle Cruise (2021, Jaume Collet-Serra)

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Fantasy-adventure Jungle Cruise is inspired by the Disney attraction of the same name. In 1916, botanist Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) head to South America in search of the mythical tree Tears of the Moon, whose petals can cure illnesses, heal injuries and lift curses. They hire steam cruiser skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to take them down the Amazon River to their destination, but he may just have his own reasons for wanting to find the tree. Furthermore, things are made even more complicated as they are pursued by Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who believes that the tree’s petals could well make it possible for Germany to win the Great War.

PROS

  • A generally fast-paced and most certainly action-packed narrative that is full of energy and has a real sense of adventure to it makes for an often engaging and altogether enjoyable and quite fun viewing.
  • Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall all absolutely throw themselves into the film with bags of energy and bring real personality and charm to their characters, while Jesse Plemons clearly had fun playing a camper antagonist than he has done in the past.
  • Very detailed and rather creative production design is utilised to create the Amazonian jungles and ruins that the characters explore, as well as 1910s’ London, with the former having a real sense of wilderness that makes for a great setting for an adventure film, and the latter having period authenticity that is aided by the costume designs.

CONS

  • The narrative has some pacing issues, whilst also feeling quite derivative of a number of other adventure films and is convoluted at times, the final film resultantly feeling a little messy, lacking the desired emotional weight and leaving some loose ends.
  • While the production design is very good, the CGI is not, with a) far too much of it crammed into the frame at once, and b) a lot of it standing out like a sore thumb (particularly the animals).
  • Some pretty forgettable and underwhelming supporting characters, whilst Paul Giamatti is wasted in this film as he has little screen time and no opportunity to stretch his excellent acting muscles.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: Stillwater (2021, Tom McCarthy)

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Crime-drama Stilllwater is distributed internationally by Universal, following its premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Bill Baker (Matt Damon), an oil worker from Stillwater, Oklahoma, moves to Marseille, France, where his daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) has spent the last four years imprisoned for a murder which she did not commit. Bill starts an unrelenting pursuit of both the truth and the actual killer, with help from his new friend and roommate Virginie (Camille Cottin). However, his determination to prove her innocence may just lead to him doing things that are out-of-character and also unveil truths that will rock him to his core.

PROS

  • The first-half of the narrative is a well-paced, heartfelt and often gritty legal drama which presents an investigation which gradually develops as pieces of the puzzle are revealed and we, along with Bill, piece them together and try to work out just how they can be used to get Allison exonerated.
  • There is good heart to the film, not only in the central relationship between Bill and Allison, which has an interesting and engaging dynamic, but also in the bonds that Bill develops with Virginie and her young daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud).
  • A good cast, led by an excellent Matt Damon who brings a brooding intensity and some very raw emotion to the role of Bill, whilst also developing an excellent chemistry with his co-stars.

CONS

  • The narrative becomes increasingly unfocused and thereby increasingly unengaging in the second-half as it incorporates middle-aged romances and midlife introspection subplots.
  • A revelation in the final Act robs the film of a lot of its raw power and emotional weight, gives us far less reason to care for the characters and is a slap in the face of the real-life Amanda Knox story which the film is loosely inspired by, all in one fell swoop.

VERDICT: 6/10