PREVIEW: October 2022

Yay! We are well and truly entering my favourite of the four seasons! I may not celebrate Halloween, but I love Autumn – cooler temperatures, orange/brown foliage, and pumpkin spice lattes for the win! This October will see an abundance of posts on this blog as I write about something horror or macabre related every single day for The Third Annual October Scare Fest, and also do other posts (namely new releases that will not make up part of the Scare Fest).

There will be reviews for some late-September cinema releases, such as Hatching, Moonage Daydream, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris and Smile, and I also have a number of cinema trips planned, including Amsterdam, The Banshees of Inisherin, Barbarian, Black Adam, Emily, Halloween Ends, The Lost King, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, Prey for the Devil and The Woman King. I will endeavour to get reviews for all of these films published during October – some of them will make up part of the Scare Fest.

September was a busy month and I was away from the blog for about a third of it due to my holiday in New York (I am a city breaks kind of guy, and it is my favourite city break destination!), but that ultimately impacted the blog as my visit to the Museum of Modern Art ultimately twisted my arm to occasionally start writing about fine art on the blog.

Thank you as always for visiting this blog, and for the month ahead I wish you Happy Reading and most of all good health!

FILM: Juniper (2021, Matthew J. Saville)

Comedy-drama Juniper is distributed by Transmission Films, following its premiere at the 2021 Bari International Film Festival. In 1990s’ rural New Zealand, Robert’s (Marton Csokas) estranged, alcoholic mother Ruth (Charlotte Rampling) comes to stay with him and his teenage son Sam (George Ferrier) whilst her broken leg recovers. Initially the acerbic, heavy-drinking Ruth gets under Sam’s skin but, as they gradually begin to bond as they spend more time together and come to increasingly understand one-another.

PROS

  • Director/screenwriter Matthew J. Saville has a clear vision and takes a nuanced and sensitive approach to some difficult issues, but also pens some excellent moments of sharp wit.
  • The central relationship between Ruth and Sam is grounded, naturalistic and full of heart and emotional authenticity as it develops over the runtime, making for engaging viewing.
  • A solid cast with two excellent leads. Charlotte Rampling is of course sublime and does the sharp wit brilliantly, whilst George Ferrier proves a naturalistic talent in his debut performance.

CONS

  • The film could benefit from being 10 minutes or so longer as the as a lot takes place in the third act and a number of these events are rushed through rather quickly.
  • Whilst the performances are not bad, a number of supporting cast members are a tad forgettable due to a lack of characterisation and opportunity to stretch their acting muscles.

VERDICT: 7/10

TELEVISION: 9/11: One Day in America (2021)

American documentary miniseries 9/11: One Day in America ran for six episodes on National Geographic. As the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the deadliest terrorist attacks of all-time which have shaped and informed the 21st Century more than any other day could, the attacks are revisited and survivors of and eye-witnesses to the horrific events reflect upon their experiences. Eye-witness testimony and archival footage (including some never-before-seen footage) provide an overview of the tragic events – both the larger scale aspects of it and some of the individual experiences of that day, from the arrival on the site before the planes hit the towers to the time spent on the site after their collapse.

PROS

  • This is an absolute tour de force of a documentary, and it is abundantly clear from the offset that a painstaking amount of careful, thorough research has been conducted in order to provide a tremendously detailed overview of that fateful, tragic day and the horrific events that happened – the South Tower getting hit does not happen until 40 minutes into the 75-minutes-long first episode. There is also insight into the aftermath – namely the hope in the immediate 24 hours after the towers collapsed that there may be some survivors within the rubble, and the poignant reflection that over 1,100 of the victims remain unaccounted for due to not having any physical Earthly remains.
  • There is of course archive footage which many of us have seen before (particularly those of us who were alive and old enough to see some of the televised news coverage back in September 2001), but there is also a plethora of never-before-seen content that includes some helmet-cam footage from some of the firefighters who were amongst the first on the scene, which forces the viewer to experience that devastating day more directly and to a greater and more up-close degree of intimacy than any of the many other documentaries had managed to before. It makes for utterly gut-wrenching and truly harrowing viewing that is ultimately fitting for such a horrific and tragic event.
  • The creative team wisely interview a large number and good variety of people, including first responders from the emergency services (including some of the small number who were pulled alive from the rubble after the towers collapsed), office workers and visitors to the sites who managed to get out in time, people who volunteered to help at the World Trade Center site after the collapse, and even some relatives who were contacted by loved ones as they went through the most terrifying and unforeseen experiences imaginable. As such, this overview of the attacks includes a variety of perspectives and provides a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the events than we would get if it was just some emergency service workers’ testimonies that it was all based upon.
  • The testimonies provide utterly compelling insights into stories of heroism and sacrifice that are truly harrowing but also truly inspiring to hear. And with these interviews being with people who are ultimately reflecting upon the events of 20 years earlier, we get a compelling insight into how their understanding of those events has changed with time as they have come to terms with what happened, and how those events ultimately went on to have a life-changing and long-term impact upon them, and have continued to do so 20 years on.

CONS

  • One episode provides a slightly rushed, but nevertheless detailed overview of what happened that day both at the Pentagon and aboard United Airlines Flight 93. These were two major aspects of that day and the attacks, but ultimately lesser known than what happened at the World Trade Center, and therefore they should have each had a whole episode dedicated to them.

VERDICT: 9/10

FILM: Ticket to Paradise (2022, Ol Parker)

Romantic-comedy Ticket to Paradise is distributed by Universal. When Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) goes on vacation to Bali to celebrate her university graduation, she embarks on a whirlwind romance and gets engaged to Gede (Maxime Bouttier). Her long-divorced parents David (George Clooney) and Georgia (Julia Roberts) cannot stand each other in the slightest but, when they fly out to Bali for the wedding, they find that they both agree that Lily is rushing into things too quickly, so they agree to put their enmity aside to sabotage the wedding.

PROS

  • Screenwriters Ol Parker and Daniel Pipski pen a screenplay with a good sense of warmth and fill it with consistently witty dialogue.
  • George Clooney and Julia Roberts have outstanding comic timing and delivery, and bring great energy to screen. Kaitlyn Dever provides good support, but Billie Lourd absolutely steals her scenes.
  • Filmed on location in Australia, cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland captures the stunning natural beauty of the location, and provides us with a visually gorgeous film.

CONS

  • The screenplay is altogether rather predictable due to it being formulaic and incorporating a plethora of genre clichés.
  • The film is at its least funny when physical comedy is incorporated, due to just how uninspired it is and the fact that it is poorly executed.
  • Several supporting cast members fly under the radar and are not at all memorable, not least due to a lack of characterisation to work with.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Don’t Worry Darling (2022, Olivia Wilde)

Following its premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival, psychological thriller Don’t Worry Darling is distributed by Warner Bros. In an idyllic 1950s’ California company town Victory, Jack (Harry Styles) and Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) live a seemingly perfect life, the one catch being that they do not leave the town due to the dangers of the outside world. However, a series of events lead to Alice suspecting that all is not what it seems. As she starts to do some digging and realise that there is something sinister afoot, she also comes to realise that the community leader Frank (Chris Pine) and Dr. Collins (Timothy Simons) will do absolutely anything to ensure a) that not even Jack believes her, and b) stop her from getting word out beyond the borders of Victory.

PROS

  • A clever, tense and captivating screenplay by Katie Silberman that is paced very well, and complimented by the nuanced hand and clear vision of director Olivia Wilde. They really do trust the audience to pick up on small clues and indications regarding the true nature of things. Plus, although we expect a twist, the one that we get is not the twist we assume that we will receive.
  • The ending has proved polarising and understandably so, but it worked for me (and my super-analytical brain) for similar reasons to why the ending of Invasion of the Body Snatchers worked.
  • An altogether strong cast, with Chris Pine’s passionate yet also unsettling performance making him the stand-out of the supporting players, whilst Kiki Layne is chilling in her relatively brief screen time. However, this is Florence Pugh’s show all the way, as she gives an intense, multi-layered performance that is replete with raw emotion and utterly captivating to watch.
  • A beautifully framed film, with cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s shot composition having a wonderful, painterly quality that captures the brightness, beauty and rich colour palette of the idyllic location, and he also crafts some rather unnerving imagery as Alice faces seeming struggles with her mental wellbeing.
  • Exquisite work by the production and costume design departments give this film a very good sense of period authenticity, whilst the make-up department craft solid practical effects and make effective use of fake blood.

CONS

  • The twist renders the first real indication that something is not quite right far more illogical and ultimately a plot-hole.
  • An inconsistent performance from Harry Styles – it starts off very over-exaggerated, but improves as Jack becomes more intense.

VERDICT: 9/10

FINE ART: The Starry Night (Vincent van Gogh, 1889)

An oil-on-canvas painting by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night depicts the view from his window when he was in an asylum room in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France. Since 1941, the painting has been the star attraction at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where I saw it up-close earlier this month – like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, there is constantly an abundance of visitors crowded around it, taking photos of it (guilty as charged, your honour!).

Now van Gogh’s brushstrokes had a unique style and he consistently brought them to his paintings, making his works instantly recognisable as van Goghs. He absolutely brought those brushstrokes to The Starry Night, making it a distinctive and eye-catching depiction of a commune at night, but what one cannot appreciate until they see this painting with their own eyes is the wonderful sense of texture that his brushstrokes give to the canvas. Beholding them up-close, I really did find them stunning to look at – it was by no means my first experience of van Gogh, as I have been to exhibitions of his work at the Royal Academy of Art, London, but it certainly reinforced my opinion that van Goghs are must-sees in galleries.

It is a beautiful recreation of a view (I can only assume that it is an accurate recreation as I have never visited Saint-Rémy-de-Provence) with gorgeous, quintessentially van Gogh brushstrokes, but it is of course most famous for its wonderfully eye-catching night sky. I love the fact that van Gogh made the sky a dark blue rather than the black that most people think of regarding the night sky – not only does it give make it easier for his fabulous brushstrokes to catch one’s eye, but it really does make it feel like a sky illuminated by the brightness and dazzling qualities of the stars and Moon. What stands out most in that night sky, however, is the painting’s namesake – the stars. And I love that just as much as I love the utterly wonderful brushstrokes.

Now van Gogh could have just painted any old sight from his window and it would likely have been a lovely painting, but the fact that he made the stars in the sky, along with the Moon, be the most eye-catching aspect is – I believe – a testimony to a) the fact that a bright Moon can be very eye-catching, and b) the utterly captivating quality of stars in the night sky. There have been a few occasions in my life (typically in the summer) when I have laid back on the grass outside at night-time and stargazed. You may be thinking right now that I am a weirdo for that, but hear me out – stargazing is wonderful, particularly on a quiet night when the air is still (and I will forever be thankful to my friend Towner for first recommending it to me). By pausing and looking up to the stars, you realise just how bright and beautiful they are in a way that you simply cannot when walking home. They catch your eye and they captivate you in a way which is somewhat indescribable – ultimately you are beholding the beauty of creation and find yourself appreciating how stunning they are. And for me, The Starry Night captures that quality. Sure, van Gogh was not lying on the grass when he painted it, but he no doubt would have seen the stars and Moon from his window, and this painting captures just how beautiful they are, just how much they stand out in their brightness when one simply pauses and takes the time to look upon them.

Fine, Art last I shall start discussing it…

Fine art is something that has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Sure, I only studied it up until GCSE, before doing Graphic Design instead of it at A-Level, but it has never stopped being a part of my life. Earlier this month, I had a week’s holiday in New York – an utterly incredible city and easily one of the best holidays of my life, I wish I was still there quite frankly, and my trip there is why there was scarcely any activity on this blog during the first-half of the month. Whilst there, I spent an afternoon at one of the greatest art museums in the world – the Museum of Modern Art, and since stopping for a coffee on the top floor there, I have been considering something new for this blog, and I have now decided to go ahead with it…

…I am going to occasionally discuss fine art on this blog. The Museum of Modern Art got me considering it in a way that the Tate Modern in London could not (no disrespect intended to the latter – it is a great museum with fascinating works), and I cannot quite put my finger on why. At the end of the day though, I am surprised that is has taken me this long, and this fact surprises some of my closest friends too. At the end of the day, I have been visiting art galleries and museums since I was a toddler, and my parents took an active role in helping me appreciate it by discussing works with me, getting me to think about what I was looking at – I still remember going to a Marc Chagall exhibition when I was 6-years-old and discussing with my parents why I liked certain works more than others. So, you can probably see why it was inevitable that fine art would make up some of the content on this blog one day.

Before I start my occasional blog posts on fine art, however, here are two points of clarification:

  1. The fine art forms that will be discussed on this blog are all the visual art forms that come under that umbrella – paintings, drawings, mosaics, printmaking, calligraphy, photography, architecture, sculpture, pottery and conceptual art.
  2. Posts on fine art will not be reviews, but instead they will be short discussions about pieces that generally concern what I like about them or my own interpretation of them. Fine art is just impossible to review in the way that film, literature, television and video games can be reviewed, not least because it is the most historically subjective thing that there is (ask my friend Katie what she thinks of the Mona Lisa and you will see the best example ever of what I mean). As such, do not expect me to give a piece of fine art a mark out of 10 at the end of the relevant blog post.

The first post on fine art shall be posted before the weekend is over, and in it I shall discuss Vincent van Gogh’s magnum opus – The Starry Night. It really is the biggest attraction on the fifth floor of the Museum of Modern Art, if not the entire site – during my visit there, it was a tad difficult to get a close view of it due to the hordes of visitors taking photos, not unlike how the masses crowd around Mona Lisa in the Louvre, but I managed eventually (being 6″7 has its advantages, and I remind myself of that every time I hit my head on something).

Watch this space…

TELEVISION: Pokémon: The Arceus Chronicles (2022)

Anime Pokémon: The Arceus Chronicles is a spin-off to the main Pokémon anime (namely the ongoing Journeys sub-series) that originally aired on Amazon Prime in Japan for 4 episodes, with the dub later premiering on Netflix. Ash (Sarah Natochenny) and Goh (Zeno Robinson) head to Sinnoh to learn more about the region’s history, where they reunite with Dawn (Emily Jenness), Brock (Bill Rogers) and Cynthia (also Jenness). However, Team Galactic have reformed and are working to open a portal so that they can bring back their old leader Cyrus, so now Ash and the gang have to once again stop them as to do so would save the world.

PROS

  • This is a logical follow-on to the original Team Galactic storyline of the Sinnoh saga as it reminds us of just how much admiration and devotion Cyrus received from the team, features the return of the Lake Guardians (Bella Hudson), and old rivalries are revisited. Plus having Ash, Brock, Dawn and Cynthia all take them on together again appeased us long-term Pokémon fans.
  • The Pokémon battles and the teamwork of Ash and the gang to stop Team Galactic feature some quite exciting and fast-paced moments that stay true to their characters, whilst the climax is especially creative, with concepts that show the screenwriters really thought outside the box.
  • There are some quite creative designs in the climax that are beautifully animated and rich in detail, whilst the designs of ancient, historic Sinnoh are quite eye-catching and evoke well the imagery of the latest Pokémon game – Legends: Arceus.

CONS

  • Very inconsistent animation – some the imagery in the climax and featuring Arceus is gorgeously designed with a rich colour palette and a lot of detail, but much of the animation lacks smaller details and feels altogether rushed.
  • The first 15 minutes or so have a rather sluggish pace and lack tension, even when Team Galactic begin to get the wheels rolling on their scheme, and it feels like there was zero passion behind the screenwriting here.
  • With the original Sinnoh saga having ended in September 2010, there is a lot of very forced, almost patronising, expositional dialogue to explain to viewers who did not watch the series back then about Team Galactic and Brock.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: See How They Run (2022, Tom George)

Mystery-comedy See How They Run is distributed by Searchlight Pictures. In 1953 London, the cast and crew of Agatha Christie’s (Shirley Henderson) play The Mousetrap are celebrating 100 performances, but the party is ruined by Hollywood director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody). He is then found murdered in the theatre, and multiple people have a motivation. It is now up to the experienced but regularly intoxicated Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and the young, overly-effusive Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) to get to the bottom of it and catch the killer before they strike again.

PROS

  • There are a fair number of amusing gags over the course of the narrative, and the Stoppard-Stalker dynamic is cleverly rotated halfway through.
  • Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan have a fun double-act and good chemistry, whilst Adrien Brody is the most memorable supporting player.
  • Handsome costume and production design work give this filmic recreation of 1950s’ London a sense of period authenticity.

CONS

  • There are a number of gags that miss the mark due to screenwriter Mark Chappell’s constant and indecisive efforts to evoke old school British B-Movies and create witty send-ups of Agatha Christie adaptations.
  • The constant references and send-ups of Agatha Christie is to the film’s detriment as it just makes you think of older (and frankly better) films.
  • The supporting cast are mostly forgettable – a shame given that it includes Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith and David Oyelowo.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: The Forgiven (2021, John Michael McDonagh)

Drama The Forgiven is adapted from Lawrence Osborne’s novel of the same title and is distributed by Universal, following its premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. When driving through the Moroccan desert one night to visit their wealthy friend Richard (Matt Smith), bickering couple David (Ralph Fiennes) and Jo (Jessica Chastain) accidentally run over teenager Driss (Omar Ghazaoui), killing him. David goes to Driss’s village for the burial, where he is forced to confront what happened and his own downfalls as a person; whilst Jo parties with Richard and his other guests, indulging in champagne, cocaine and the freedom that Richard’s absence provides.

PROS

  • Two excellent leads in Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain, the former especially bringing real emotional range to screen, whilst Matt Smith and the ever-quirky and strangely captivating Caleb Landry Jones.
  • Whilst David cannot truly be sympathised with, he does have a well-realised arc that testifies to the fact that it is possible for people to change when forced to evaluate themselves or their actions, or when their worldview is challenged.

CONS

  • John Michael McDonagh’s efforts to satirise the wealthy by portraying them as bigoted and considering the Moroccans to be beneath them, as well as indifferent to Driss’s death, miss the mark as he tries to make it too grounded and sincere for it to work as an effective critique.
  • In an overlong and unfocused screenplay, the dialogue lacks naturalistic qualities and feels rather forced in both its phrasing and in how it is delivered by the cast – in their defence, the screenwriting is ultimately the issue, as is the direction that makes the party feel very rehearsed.
  • The non-Moroccan characters are all impossible to care for or invest in (bar David in the final half-hour) as they are such deplorable, disrespectful and shallow individuals, and any chance of us caring for Jo go out the window when she lets her hair down at the party.

VERDICT: 4/10