Author: Liselotte Vanophem


Why You Need To Watch The Queen’s Gambit Right Now

February 13, 2021
The Queen's Gambit - Anya Taylor-Joy

While Netflix started off as a streaming platform whose primary focus was on streaming film and series, its goals shifted to making original content and especially series. While we had top-rated series such as House of Cards, Stranger Things and The Crown, the most influential one was last year’s The Queen’s Gambit. The limited series about chess prodigy Beth Harmon didn’t only set some audience records but it also rose the popularity in chess. If you haven’t seen The Queen’s Gambit yet, then you better start watching the series. Here’s why!

More than just a series about chess

The title of this series refers to one of the oldest chess openings you can use to start a chess game and The Queen’s Gambit itself is based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel with the same name. Chess is the main ingredient of The Queen’s Gambit, but that doesn’t mean the series only focusses on the game. There’s also a lot of focus on each character’s emotional arc, going after your passion, defining the odds, human relationships, etc. Even if you’re not into chess, you will connect with the characters because of these topics.

Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny Watts and Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in The Queen's Gambit
Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny Watts and Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit // Credit; Netflix

Anya Taylor-Joy as the stunning female lead

She already shone in movies such as Thoroughbreds and Split, but The Queen’s Gambit was the most impressive performance from Anya Taylor-Joy without a doubt. She portrays Beth with such flair, dignity and emotional depth and she takes this series to an entirely new level. During the chess games, she oozes cleverness, wittiness, and when she talks to her opponents, it becomes even better. Taylor-Joy is being surrounded by a superb supporting cast. First, there’s Isla Johnston as the young Beth. Her performance involves a lot of innocence, intelligence and sweetness, and she’s just a thrill to watch. Can’t wait to see Johnston in her upcoming short movie Unmourned and television series Ray James.

Another strong performance comes from Marielle Heller as Alma Wheatley, the woman who takes orphan Beth under her wings. Heller’s performance is hugely diverse. At first, she makes you feel uneasy about Wheatley, especially because you get the feeling that Wheatley’s intentions aren’t honest and sincere, but thanks to Heller her warm and emotional performance, you open up to Wheatley more and more throughout the series.

The male cast you know from somewhere else (but just can’t put your finger on from where)

There are also amazing performances by the male cast of The Queen’s Gambit. Thomas Brodie-Sangster (who hasn’t change a lot since his days in Love Actually) also gives a two folded performance. In the beginning, as the harsh, distant and relentless Chess champion Benny Watts but when the story of Benny continues, and more scenes involve Brodie-Sangster and Taylor-Joy, his performance becomes much more likeable, open and heart-warming.

There’s also Harry Melling (yes, Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter) as the state champion and Beth’s friends Harry Beltik and Melling certainly know how to portray both the competitive spirit as well as the poignant side of Beltik. Last but not least, there’s also Bill Camp as Mr. Shaibel, the withdrawn but caring custodian at the Methuen Home for Girls and Beth’s chess teacher. Camp brings much sweetness and emotions and the scenes between him, and the young Johnston are just so joyful.

Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon and Harry Melling as Harry Beltik in The Queen's Gambit
Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon and Harry Melling as Harry Beltik in The Queen’s Gambit // Credit: Netflix

The magical combination of stunning cinematography and astonishing editing

The excellent performances will draw you to the screen but the extraordinary cinematography from Steven Meizler and the impressive editing by Michelle Tesoro take this series to a whole new level. There are the many long takes used that show the audience the powerful and confident appearance of Beth. Think about Taylor-Joy entrance and walk through the Vegas hotel and Mexico City hotel. The most emotional and impressive long-shot is, without a doubt, the one right at the end of the series. The way Taylor-Joy walks amongst the other chess players while being filmed with a handheld camera brings so many emotions.

However, while the long shots are awe-inspiring, the most extraordinary scenes are certainly close up ones during the chess games. You can feel the tension, the pugnacity and the hunger for a victory from every player in a way and not only because of Meizler’s cinematography. No, also the editing of Tesoro’s heightens those emotions. The fewer chess pieces are on the board, and the higher the stakes become, the faster the editing becomes, and the more excited the audience feels! We’re pretty sure that you will get that thrilling feeling instantly when watching The Queen’s Gambit!

What’s next for The Queen’s Gambit?

So far there are no plans for a second series, but there’s “Creating: The Queen’s Gambit”, a documentary that gives you more insights into the making of this spectacular series. Watch it now and don’t forget to practice your chess moves, might come in handy at some point.

The Queen’s Gambit (Official Trailer)

Also Read: It’s time To Talk About Marielle Heller

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Review: Bliss

February 4, 2021

While finding love can happen in so many forms (via parties, mutual introduction, dating applications, etc.), it never comes easy. There will be doubts, the insecurity but also the happy feelings and incredible and unforgettable moments. But can you only imagine what finding love must be and feel like in a computer-generated world? Well, thanks to writer/director Mike Cahill and his Bliss, you can now. Let us tell you, it’s much more different than what you would expect. Whether that’s good or bad, is something for you to decide.

When two worlds collide, people change

Love comes when you don’t expect it, and that’s certainly the case for graphic designer Greg (Owen Wilson). After being divorced, fired and having to deal with losing his job, he finds himself at the bar drinking away his sorrows. Luckily for him, his day becomes much more intriguing when the beguiling Isabel Clemens (Salma Hayek) steps into his world. A world that will change drastically.

Isabel lives on the streets and takes Greg around the city in a way that will open his eyes forever. It makes Greg questioning his actions, the relationships and his future. Even more so when Isabel tries to convince him that the polluted and sad world they live in is a computer simulation. At first, Greg is very sceptical, but when he starts to see the life through Isabel’s eyes, his mindset (literally) changes in ways he could have never imagined (and neither could you)…

Salma Hayek as Isabel Clemens and Owen Wilson as Greg in Bliss // Credit: Amazon Studios
Salma Hayek as Isabel Clemens and Owen Wilson as Greg in Bliss // Credit: Amazon Studios

All over the place without any direction

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a movie in which many different worlds come together. It can be captivating and gorgeous, and if you want to add romance, you can also focus on human emotions. Sadly, that’s absolutely not the case for Bliss. One of the main reasons for that is the lack of direction. While we get it that in a movie about two different worlds, you undoubtedly have to make some sudden jumps from one to another, the jumps in Bliss are just too big. At first, there’s a lack of background information but throughout the movie, you just get too much information. It creates a confusing vibe. You will probably feel as confusing as Greg is during most of the part of this film.

Sadly, that confusing feeling is the only emotion the audience will be able to connect with. While this movie involves romance, a broken father-daughter relationship, the dramas of life and human feelings, it’s just impossible to connect with the characters due to the baffling storylines. There’s just too much going on, and because of that, the human feelings don’t come out fully. While Wilson (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Midnight in Paris) brings feelings such as anger, fatherly love, defeat, curiosity to the screen, Hayek (Frida, The Hummingbird Project) offers darker emotions such as hatred, despair, lost and combines it with an extremely high fighting spirit, they can’t keep the viewers engaged due to the tiresome storyline.

There’s one element that’s continuous throughout this movie, and that’s the dark cinematography of Markus Förderer (Stonewall, Finsterworld). The black and grey colours and shadow he uses to heighten the “doom and gloom” vibe of the story contribute to the movie’s bewildering feeling. There aren’t many other colours in this movie, but if Förderer uses them, he does it beautifully. Just don’t expect many of those scenes in this movie.

Owen Wilson as Greg and Salma Hayek as Isabel Clemens in Bliss // Credit: Amazon Studios
Owen Wilson as Greg and Salma Hayek as Isabel Clemens in Bliss // Credit: Amazon Studios

Not as much bliss as you hoped for

After focusing on human relationships and sci-fi in I Origins and the changing society in Another Earth, Cahill decided to combine both worlds’ best elements. It’s just a shame that, despite the intriguing premises and fitting cinematography, this movie doesn’t provide much bliss. This is because of the average performances, the repetitiveness of the storyline and the overall confusing vibe.

Bliss is available via Amazon Prime from the 5th of February

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars (1 / 5)

Also Read: Dynamic Duos: Iconic Actor Match Ups

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Review: Synchronic

January 24, 2021

How many times haven’t we heard ‘carpe diem’? Probably way too much. But how many days do we really seize? Probably not enough. Mostly because we take our lives and days for granted, but if there’s one thing the two paramedics Steve and Dennis from Boston know like no other, it’s that life can be over in an instant. Day in, day out, they are being confronted with death, and while they’re trying to beat that darkness with joy, family and hours at the local bar, it’s easier said than done. That’s being proven in Synchronic, the latest movie from directors Justin Benson (The Endless, Spring) and Aaron Moorhead (Spring, The Endless). While this film reminds us that life, friendship, and family are vital, it also reminds us that time-bending movies always balance the wire of uniqueness and over-the-top.

Jamie Dornan as Dennis and Anthony Mackie as Steve in Synchronic
Jamie Dornan as Dennis and Anthony Mackie as Steve in Synchronic
(Source: IMDb)

When the light at the end of the tunnel becomes darker

A man in the living room with a gunshot wound or a woman on the brink of an OD in the kitchen is sadly nothing unfamiliar to Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan). While the two paramedics and friends saw already gruesome scenes and wounds during their days, they couldn’t have predicted what life has in store for them. After coming across many unexplainable and unrelatable instances, such as a hallucinating woman bitten by a ‘should-be extinct’ snake or a man catching fire by himself, they find the link that connects all of them: A drug called Synchronic.

While Dennis and Steve are descending into the strange world of Synchronic and the shocking findings that come with it, they both have to fight a dark battle on a personal front as well. While this only hasn’t impacted their mental and physical state, it also affects their friendship in a big way. For one, the only solution seems to descend into the dark spiral of Synchronic himself…

Both highs and severe lows

Some drugs give you extreme highs, and some give you severe lows (at least I heard) and this movie hands you pretty much the same. There are highlights and let-downs in it, and this duality becomes clear even more when you look at the overall movie. The first part of Synchronic focusses much more on the emotional relationships and the impending death while during the second part, the movie turns into a time-bending, sci-fi and time-travelling film with a dark edge. Your emotional and personal rollercoaster turns into a dark and head-spinning one, one that abruptly stops.

Because of the change in the direction, topics and overall vibe of the movie, you need to have some terrific leads who can pull off every aspect and emotion of their character. Well, luckily for Benson and Moorhead, they found Mackie and Dornan who prove to make a great match and who certainly know how to create a beautiful and heartwarming friendship and brotherhood on-screen. It’s without a doubt Mackie (Avengers: Endgame, Detroit) who steals the show in the movie. He portrays every emotion on the spectrum, mostly because his character goes onto the fastest and highest rollercoaster possible. Whether it’s from showing the emotional strength that a paramedic needs to the feelings of uncertainty, confusion, anger, defeat and sadness, Mackie puts it out there wonderfully.

Anthony Mackie as Steve in Synchronic
Anthony Mackie as Steve in Synchronic
(Source: IMDb)

He gets excellent support from Dornan (A Private War, The Fall), who doesn’t only even more emotions to this movie (in a more restrained way because of Dennis’ character) but who also gives this movie the edgy and mysterious vibe it needs. It’s just a shame that the emotions and performances aren’t coming through as much as they could have because of the relatively fast editing.

That speedy editing is both a curse and a blessing for this movie. On the one hand, it makes it harder for the audience to connect with the characters and the emotions, but on the other hand, it heightens that sci-fi and world-spinning feeling of the movie.

Low, high, and then totally out of control

When taking a pill, you probably go throughout a million emotions and feelings all in once, and your thoughts are racing at high speed. Well, that’s actually what watching Synchronic does to you as well. During the first few minutes, it feels very slow, but then after some brief moments, it picks up the pace, and from then on, it becomes a fast rollercoaster that takes you to a peculiar world.

Synchronic is available on digital platforms from the 29th of January.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Synchronic (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Mark J Blackman’s 5 Must See Sci-Fi Films

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These Ten Movies Ruled The U.K Box Office in 2020

December 23, 2020
UK Box Office 2020 Film Collage

2020 has been an incredibly demanding year for the film industry. From postponing filming to delaying releases and to having to deal with fewer cinemas and more streaming platforms. While we certainly didn’t have many cinematic releases, there were still many movies that hit our big screens. When looking back at the ten most popular films, that were released in the cinema before hitting streaming platforms, it makes 2020 certainly feels much longer than only 366 days.

1917 (Official Trailer)

1. 1917

Yep, that stunning movie by director Sam Mendes was released right at the beginning of this year. It feels ages ago since we saw the one-shot stunning looking cinematography from Roger Deakins, telling the thrilling story of two soldiers having to prevent an extremely deadly attack during World War I. However, nothing could be further from the truth. 1917 hit the UK cinemas on the 10th of January, right before the award season during which it won 111 awards amongst which were three Oscars and seven Baftas. No wonder that this movie generated £43,903,280, especially when you look at the outstanding performances by Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay.

2. Sonic The Hedgehog

After being critiqued because of the bad CGI and the need to re-invented Sonic for his latest movie, director Jeff Fowler probably couldn’t have predicted that his film would be number 2 in the top 10 movies of 2020. With Ben Schwartz voicing the hyper-active Sonic and James Marsden and Jim Carrey accompanying him in this adventurous and joyful movie, Sonic The Hedgehog raced towards £19,148,545.

3. Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker

Ok, this movie was released in 2019 but due to its 19th of December release date, Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker was part of the 2020 box office. Director J.J. Abrams decided to bring the Skywalker saga to an end with the legendary and thrilling conflict between the Jedi and the Sith. Even after all those years, the likes of  Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca and Rey are still relatively popular as they helped Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker gaining £18,830,197 at the UK Box Office.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

4. Little Women

Little Women didn’t only mean another collaboration between Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan but also a new revival of the story of the four March sisters. With a cast including Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen and Timothée Chalamet, the beautiful Louisa May Alcott’s story and the lovely cinematography, it’s no surprise that the movie collected £17,705,104.

5. Tenet

If there’s one movie that was talked about the most this year, it’s without a doubt Tenet by director Christopher Nolan. Not only because this was the only movie (apart from the recent Wonder Woman 1984) released mid-pandemic but also because of its mind-blowing storyline, cinematography and cast. The movie ‘only’ generated £17,454,173, but knowing that it was released when not a lot of cinemas were open and that it still made it into the top five, Tenet didn’t do too bad.

6. Bad Boys For Life

It was more than 17 years since we saw the last adventures of the detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and it was time to bring them together for one more investigation. The audience loved Bad Boys For Life as the movie got £15,969,160 and another sequel.

Bad Boys For Life (Official Trailer)

7. Dolittle

Seeing Robert Downey Jr. talking to adorable animals while stepping into the fantasy world of Hugh Lofting and his creation Dr. John Dolittle? This was something the audience could do from the 7th of February. Some people were hailing Dolittle as a wonderful escape while others were declaring it one of the worst movies of 2020. Despite those mixed reactions, the film still had a box office of £15,938,399.

8. Jumanji: The Next Level

Just like Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker and Little Women, Jumanji: The Next Level was released at the end of last year. Still, it was eligible for this years’ box office, and therefore it made it into this top 10. During this sequel to the 2017 movie Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan came back together, and this latest adventure generated £14,798,295.

9. Parasite

If there’s one movie that described the darkness and strange time we’re going through, it’s Parasite. While the storyline is different, it’s as twisted as 2020, and it seems that both the critics and audiences loved it. The story of one family taking over the lives of another wasn’t only the biggest winner of the Oscars (that photo from director Bong Joon-Ho holding those four awards seems like it was taken so many years ago) but it was also £12,033,376 worth at the box office.

10. The Gentlemen

This latest Guy Ritchie was the very first movie released this year, and despite its £11,555,773, The Gentlemen delivered an entertaining and action-packed movie. Not surprising though, if you know that the stellar cast includes the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Henry Golding and Hugh Grant.

The Gentlemen (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Top 10 Films at the UK Box Office in 2020 (So Far)

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A love letter to Cinemas, Film Companies & Movie Fans

December 6, 2020
Picturehouse Central

Last Friday, Warner Bros. announced that Wonder Woman 1984 will be released in the US on the 15th of December on HBO Max and on the 25th of December in cinema. At the beginning of this week, we found out that the UK cinematic release will happen on the 16th of December and the other countries will follow. While I was happy that we would get a new big release this year, after Tenet, it was news that I welcomed in two ways. With happiness but also with sadness for the cinema. While the HBO Max release won’t be affected by COVID-19, the cinematic one will undoubtedly be.

While it’s understandable that the cast and crew wanted to release this movie ASAP after its many postponements, the Christmas date seems to be the wrong decision. If we get the chance to go out during Christmas, we probably spend that time with family and not at the movies. That’s why it felt that the company behind Wonder Woman 1984 focussed only on HBO Max. Even more so because another release postponement would have been understandable if that would have meant that more cinemas would be able to show the movie.

This is absolutely no criticism to anyone working on Wonder Woman 1984, because many companies would have made the same decision. Still, it feels like it’s another slap in the face of the cinemas and fans who want to watch this movie in a safe cinema. That’s why I want to send a love letter to every party affected by a decision like that: film companies, cinemas and fans.

Wonder Woman 1984 (Credit: Warner Bros)

…to the film companies

Just as any industry, the film industry needed to adapt, and so I salute you for making the difficult decisions about postponements and skipping the cinema release and going straight to streaming platforms. I also want to applaud the many companies who decided to grace the few cinemas with great new releases (think of Saint Maud, Babyteeth, Saint Frances) and who are planning to do the same for the rest of 2020.

While your goal isn’t only to please the audience, it’s obviously also to make money and try to tip over the scale to the profit side instead of the loss one. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using different media (streaming platforms, cinema, television, etc.) to distribute your movie. However, just remember that there are movie fans out there who are willing to wait for a major release on the big screen, no matter when that will happen. We did it before 2020 and pretty sure we will do it after this year as well.

Babyteeth (Credit: Picturehouse)

… the cinemas

Sorry to hear that you had to close your doors again during the last few weeks and that a completely re-opening won’t happen for a very long time. Based on the experience I had before lockdown, cinemas is an extremely safe place—social distancing, hand sanitizers, air-filters, etc. You made sure that it was all there. While there weren’t any new big releases after Tenet, you did bring light into the cinema files lives by programming smaller releases and re-screening movies that need the big screen.

Many of the screenings were sold out. While that was probably because of the limited seats, it was also because film lovers want to go to the cinema to escape from 2020. Understandably, not everyone wants to return to the movies (I respect everyone’s decision), but for the ones who went to a film screening, you as the cinema provided the much-needed escapism, so we thank you for that. Let’s hope that must of you can re-open again soon.

County Lines (Credit: BFI)

… to the fans

Saying that 2020 was a year that changed the way we watch films would be a massive understatement. While Netflix and Amazon Prime already had many subscribers before this year, they gained even more, and we also saw the rise of Disney+. With every postponement, our heart sank to the floor because we would have to wait much longer to be able to do what we want: watching new movies in the cinemas. It’s the same as game lovers having to wait longer for the release of a new console or game.

If you’ve been to the movies during this pandemic, you know that, while it doesn’t feel, as usual, the big screen makes you forget the world we live in for a moment. If you haven’t been, then I’m glad that you can still enjoy some great releases from the comfort of your home. Fingers crossed that we will meet up in a cinema in the near future.

Body of Water (Credit: Verve Pictures)

Also Read: Coronavirus: How It’s Affected The Film Industry

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Review: Stardust

November 7, 2020

10th of January 2016. The day that the music industry stood still as we had to say goodbye to one of the greatest and most influential musicians, David Bowie. Whether you stepped into Bowie’s eclectic world right at the beginning with The Man Who Sold the World or more towards the middle because of Let’s Dance you know that the musical chameleon would have a massive impact on the fans and music industry. Even after his death, Bowie’s influence is still visible and not only in the music industry. During the past few years, we had director Henry Hey bringing Bowie’s iconic characters and songs to life in the theatrical version of Lazarus, and now we have the biopic Stardust by director Gabriel Range. While that first one excels in every way possible, the latter doesn’t.

Johnny Flynn as David Bowie in Stardust
(Source: IMDb)

What’s a musician without music?

When seeing a movie about David Bowie, you would expect songs such as Life on Mars?, Rebel Rebel and Under Pressure. Well, you will get none of that as Bowie’s estate didn’t want his music to be used in this film. However, that didn’t stop Range from creating a wonderful story. Together with co-writer Christopher Bell, he tells the story of the young David Bowie (Johnny Flynn) who’s trying to get his international breakthrough. After being rejected by many radio stations, record labels and concert promoters for being too rebellious and too different, Bowie’s career seems to come to a permanent standstill. However, he gets one more chance as his manager sends him on a solo promo tour in America. Both Bowie and his pregnant wife Angie (Jena Malone) think that this will be the beginning of an internationally successful career.

However, their dream is being shattered when the trip doesn’t turn out exactly how they want. Once arrived in America, Bowie learns that there’s no tour and that he can’t perform any of his songs. No tour, no fans, no songs but there are still the promises of his publicist Ron (Marc Maron). While playing covers from other iconic artists in very unusual venues, Bowie also visits the many radio stations. Sadly, they don’t welcome this remarkable, withdrawn, insecure, sarcastic and peculiar artist with open arms which has a massive impact on Bowie’s mental state.

It becomes even worse when he starts to ease the rejections with booze and drugs. The more he experiments with his genderbending outfits, the substances and his ground-breaking music, the less he’s being accepted by the music industry. Will this tour ends in a glorious musical career or will Bowie’s life spiral completely out of control?

Johnny Flynn as David Bowie in Stardust
(Source: IMDb)

Hitting high notes and low keys

Well, we all know what impact the American trip had on Bowie. It resulted in selling 100 million records worldwide, getting a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and becoming the “Greatest Rock Star Ever” according to Rolling Stone. Sadly, we can’t praise this movie as much as we can praise the iconic artist himself because Stardust has (too) many flaws.

While the writers were able to create a story that doesn’t include any of Bowie songs, the absence of the music is the reason why the movie can’t captivate the audience to the fullest. We see Flynn playing some covers that Bowie performed such as The Yardbirds’ I Wish You Would and My Death from Jacques Brel but you don’t get that big final that could have been reached by including Starman or The Man Who Sold the World.

A very solid cast

If you want to make a biopic about a rock star, then as a director you need to have a lead who can pull it off. Not only musically but also charismatically. In an interview at the Raindance Film Festival, Range mentioned that while Flynn (Beast) might not look as Bowie, he certainly has the right charisma. Well, we agree with that. Flynn isn’t the spitting image of Bowie, but when you put him in the perfect clothes and the right light, then you will get a silhouette that could be the one from the man himself. During many moments, Flynn’s performance feels a little bit too forced, but when Bowie hits the stage, we see Flynn giving a much more open, charismatic and entertaining performance.

Maron (Joker) brings with his genuine and emotional performance much warmth, vividness and personality to this movie. Malone (Nocturnal Animals) is a little bit underused, but she’s still capable of capturing that fierceness and boldness from Angie beautifully.

Johnny Flynn as David Bowie and Marc Maron as Ron in Stardust
(Source: IMDb)

Don’t expect it to be another Rocketman

If you’re going to check out Stardust, don’t expect it to be another Rocketman or Bohemian Rhapsody. No, this movie works much better if you see the story as one about a musician and his publicist trying to get his career off the ground instead of one about the great musician we all know. If you’re a Bowie fan, then you might be disappointed after seeing this movie, but if you want to enjoy an emotional, easygoing and clever film, then Stardust is one you should see.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Stardust (Official Trailer)

Also Read:

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Review: Relic

October 26, 2020

A visit to your grandmother should be fun and heart-warming. Whether it’s just to have a short chat, to enjoy a nice meal or to celebrate Christmas, it always has to be an enjoyable time. That’s what Kay and Sam had in mind when they visited Edna, Kay’s mum and Sam’s grandmother. However, that’s not what they got at all. No, if you watch the stunning Relic from writer/director Natalie Erika James, then you will know that they wished they could have remembered their visit differently.

The curse of growing old

Their trip starts like any other. Ready to cuddle up, share stories and to eat delicious food. However, when Kay (Emily Mortimer) and Sam (Bella Heathcote) learn that Edna (Robyn Nevin) is missing, the family visit takes a darker turn. Kay and Sam try to find their lost family member but what they see is certainly not what they were expecting. Bloody clothes, strange black mould on the walls and strange (human) noises are what they encounter. After having to deal with multiple search parties and many sleepless nights, Kay and Sam are perplexed when Edna turns up on the doorstep (or better said: in the kitchen). You would think that it would be a happy family reunion, but it’s everything but that.

It seems that Edna can’t remember where she had been, and while at first, that could have happened due to the shock, it’s clear that she has dementia. The disease is significantly evolving, and Edna’s mood swings become incredibly dark. She starts to harm herself and her family for no reason, she talks to people who aren’t there, and the dementia seems to be eviler than expected. Will Kay and Sam be able to save Edna from whatever she’s going through or will Edna’s disappearance have a much darker and lasting impact than initially thought?

Emily Mortimer as Kay and Bella Heathcote as Sam in Relic
Emily Mortimer as Kay and Bella Heathcote as Sam in Relic
(Source: IMDb)

A typical horror movie combined with some unique elements.

We can hear you say it. ‘Another horror movie’ and ‘what makes this movie different than any other horror movies before?’. Well, let us tell you. Relic isn’t just an ordinary horror film, and here’s why.

First of all, it’s because of the perplexing fact that Relic is just the debut feature of Erika James. Together with her co-writer Christian White (Creswick), she created a refreshing, unique and suspenseful movie with some very subtle elements to it. At first, the story itself seems straightforward. A missing family member turning back up and not knowing what she has done because of her dementia. The relationship between the three women is being tested. Not only because of the disease but also because of events from the past and plans for the future. However, there’s much more to this story than what meets the eye. We don’t want to say too much, but we dare to say that you probably didn’t see that climax coming.

The ‘dark versus light’ aspect of this movie is beautifully brought to the screen by the usage of mainly lamps, candles and the moonlight. Many of those lights will help you out discovering which darkness is lurking behind those closed doors. Cinematographer Charlie Sarroff (American Bistro) brings the unique story great to live thanks to the stunningly created perfect balance between the darkness and danger and the light and hope. Sarroff’s work is one of the reasons why this movie is a delightful one.

Robyn Nevin as Edna in Relic
Robyn Nevin as Edna in Relic
(Credit: Film Installation)

Three stunning leading ladies

Other reasons why you should watch this movie are outstanding acting performances. The most dazzling one is, without a doubt, the one from Nevin (Gods of Egypt). She rocks in this movie as the sinister grandmother you don’t want to hug. Edna feels like the dark version of the Mona Lisa. Wherever you and the camera go, her ice-cold and creepy look will follow you all around the room. Nevin knows how to make the audience feel very unease. She, and cast, doesn’t have a lot of lines and so the emotions and the story need to come to life with body language, and Nevin certainly succeeds in that.

In Relic, we see Mortimer (Mary) as her on-screen daughter who pleasingly portrays Kay. She brings the feelings of guilt, distress, hate and love emotionally and fabulously.  Thanks to her touching performance, the personal connection between the audience and the leading characters is being established instantly. Heathcote (Professor Marston and the Wonder Women) joins those two terrific women in a beautiful and captivating way. At first, her performance is just a nice one that doesn’t stand out in any way. However, the closer the unexpected climax is coming, the bigger, bolder and more memorable her performance becomes.

An excellent and tense watch

What makes from Relic such a great watch is the fact that it’s not a blood or gore horror story but instead a story that can happen to any of us (well, if you leave the cinematic aspects aside). There’s a chance that we might have to deal with dementia one day, and that’s why the movie is so appealing. If you combine that real-life element with the stunning dark performances, the well-balanced light versus dark relationship and wonderfully made cinematography, you know that this is an excellent debut movie.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Relic (Official trailer)

Also Read: Saint Maud (Review)

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Review: Mangrove [London Film Festival]

October 21, 2020
Mangrove - Steve McQueen

This year many industries had to make some (drastic) changes, and the film industry (and the whole entertainment industry) was one of them. Releases postponed, filming temporary suspended and film festival needing to adapt. Many film festivals went online, and some were cancelled entirely. The BFI Film Festival took it to another level as they decided to host a hybrid edition with both physical and online screenings. Despite all the changes, there’s still one thing you can count on, and that’s an impressive line-up. The opening night film Mangrove by director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) is the perfect example of that. After his Widows in 2018, McQueen is returning to the festival with an even more impressive and extremely relevant movie.

Taking place in the ’70 but never as relevant as now

Today, on the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, conversations and about injustice and racism are at the forefront of conversation, making Mangrove a very timely film. After having to close his previous bar, Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes) is now opening his Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill. The restaurant isn’t only black-owned, but it’s also the place where the entire black community comes together to have a great time and enjoy Caribbean cuisine. The film does a great job of conveying the intimidation tactics and the Metropolitan Police used against the afro-Caribbean residents in Nottinghill, West London. As part of that, we see Frank’s friends and family are being harassed, and the numerous raids on his restaurant – and the burden that comes with this.

The more the police brutality increases, the more the black community stands up for their rights, and the more Mangrove becomes the place for activist meetings. Amongst the attendees are Darcus Howe (Malachi Kirby), Altheia Jones-Lecointe (Letitia Wright), Barbara Beese (Rochenda Sandall) and Frank himself. After many small riots, the black community organises a protest, on 9 August 1970, during which 150 people march to the local police station. Sadly, that results in a massive clash between the police and the Mangrove Nine, and that was the start of the 11-weeks lasting trial between Pc Frank Pulley (Sam Spruell) and the Metropolitan police and the “Mangrove Nine”. A trial that was a watershed moment in “race relations” within the UK.

Letitia Wright as Altheia Jones-Lecointe in Mangrove.
(Source: BBC)

Oscar-worthy film for many reasons

While Mangrove is being screened at film festivals around the world, it’s actually part of the BBC’s Small Axe series. We hope that the movies in that series will be eligible for the many award ceremonies because if so, Mangrove should be nominated in many Oscar categories.

The main categories would, without a doubt, be the acting ones. Wright (Black Panther) excels as Jones-LaCointe, the headstrong, feisty and supportive representative of the Black Panthers. Wright brings the dialogues with so much power and dignity that they will go straight to your heart. That protest speech is one we will never forget. Another standout in this movie is Parkes (Trick or Treat). Thanks to his performance, we feel the pain, the determination and the courageousness of Frank. The further the story goes, the more impactful the emotions become. His last scene in court will bring tears to your eyes.

The stunning cast of Mangrove
(Source: BBC)

They’re surrounded by an immensely strong cast of which every member brings raw emotions to the screen in his or her unique way. Spruell (Outlaw King) his performance as Pully is also on point. We feel the corruptive, violent and mischievousness characteristics of Pully coming through the screen. We also want to applaud the smaller but still memorable performances by from Llewella Gideon (Second Coming) and Jack Lowden (Dunkirk). Gideon’s portrayal as Aunt Betty, the witty, funny and blunt cook from the Mangrove, and Lowden performance as the barrister of the Mangrove Nine, bring a bit light to this extremely rough story.

We wouldn’t be surprised if the movie would also be selected in categories involving costume design, production design and original screenplay. Saying that McQueen and his crew bring such an authentic vibe to this movie would be an understatement. The real and genuine element is represented by the combination of the 35mm film shot by Shabier Kirchner (Only You), the brilliant period costumes designed by Lisa Duncan (Peripheral) and the fantastic production design provided by Helen Scott (Dark River). From the very first scene of the Rio, in which men are enjoying gambling, smoking and drinking, to the very last one, in which black and white people come together in the Mangrove, it all feels exceptionally authentic.

Impactful triumph

While Mangrove will be only available at the small screen for the moment, we hope that it finds its way to the cinemas. Not only because of its extremely relevance but also for the immense authenticity and strong performances.

Mangrove will premiere on BBC One and iPlayer on the 15th of November.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Mangrove (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Review: Kajillionaire [London Film Festival]

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Review: Siberia [London Film Festival]

October 13, 2020

You would think that after having to spend too much time in a lighthouse, Willem Dafoe would choose something more uplifting for his next project. Well, think again. This time he went for an even darker role and pretty sure that co-writer/director Abel Ferrara (Tommaso, Pasolini) was thrilled with that. Ferrara and his life-long muse Dafoe work together again, and Siberia is undoubtedly a movie you will remember but sadly not only for the right reasons.

A mind-bending story

Where do we begin? Not quite sure but let’s give it a shot anyway. The movie starts in Siberia (what a surprise, right?) and Clint (Willem Dafoe) is the owner of a decayed and remote bar. Not many people, but at least he gets a few customers. They’re the only people that make sense in this movie cause apart from that, everything seems to be surreal. What follows is a cacophony of events. A pregnant woman making Clint’s life even stranger, men being beaten up and Clint hearing and seeing his dead dad. Do you want to know where this disturbing journey is taking us? Then that’s for you to discover by watching this movie.

Willem Dafoe as Clint in Siberia
Willem Dafoe as Clint in Siberia
(Credit: The Match Factory)

Peculiar to say the least

During an interview with Sundance, ahead of the shooting of Siberia, Ferrara mentioned that he wanted to “see if we can film dreams—our fears, our regrets, our nostalgia.”. Well, we have to applaud the director for achieving that because having to deal with fear, regrets and our dreams is precisely what Siberia is about. We all know that our dreams can be very disorientated especially if you wake up in the middle of one. When it comes to that element, Siberia feels exactly like a dream because of all the different worlds and events and no explanation whatsoever.

If you have a perplexing story like this, you have to make sure that it’s still a captivating one; otherwise, the audience might drop out before the movie even becomes interesting. Luckily for Ferrara, he can count on cinematographer Stefano Falivene, who already brought stunning films to life such as Aspromonte: Land of the Forgotten and All You Ever Wished For. Falivene succeeds in putting every dream on the screen in a beautiful way. Whether it’s the quiet and white Siberia or the heated and sandy desert, it all looks gorgeous, vibrant and intriguing. It’s just a shame that this movie includes too many dreams and because of that, we can’t enjoy every dream and the whole cinematography to the fullest.

Willem Dafoe as Clint in Siberia
Willem Dafoe as Clint in Siberia
(Credit: The Match Factory)

Enormous credit to Dafoe

If you have a twisted story like this, then you know that you need an actor who put on an even crazier performance. It’s understandable why Ferrara went for Dafoe. Not only because both men got together many times but also because, as we all know from The Lighthouse, Dafoe is a master in portraying unusual and broken figures. This time is no different. Whether it’s as the lost man longing to see his deceased father, the lifeless guy who’s looking for his soul, the passionate lover or the very amusing dancer, Dafoe gets the chance again to show his wide range of capabilities.

Why so serious?

Apart from the magnificent cinematography and the excellent performance by Dafoe, there’s one more element that might make you enjoy Siberia a bit more and that’s the seriousness of this movie. We should actually say ‘the lack of seriousness’ as it’s clear the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are many cliches, moments that don’t make sense at all and scenes that are too unoriginal.

Where’s your head at?

We have absolutely no clue in which state of mind Ferrara and co-writer Christ Zois (Jersey Guy) were when they wrote the script of this movie and not sure if we want to go there. It’s certainly not a mindset we’ve experienced. While the cinematography is a breath-taking one and the acting performance from Dafoe is impressive, the storyline is just a bit too much all over the place to make from Siberia a delightful and enjoyable movie.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

Siberia (Official Trailer)

Also Read: Lighthouse (Review)

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Review: Saint Maud

October 6, 2020
Saint Maud

If you’ve been following writer-director Rose Glass, then you know that she’s not afraid of putting strong emotions out there. A young couple and their obsession (The Silken Strand), two people living in isolation together (Storm House) and two lonely neighbours growing closer (Moths). Yes, all her short films focus on human feelings. She’s doing the same now in Saint Maud, her first full-length film, but she adds a massive horror twist to the story. The result? A unique and tense movie in which Morfydd Clark excels.

Heaven and hell are mixed up

Being a nurse or caretaker is one of the hardest jobs there are so we have the utmost respect for any woman or man out there doing the job. They take care of us but who’s taking care of them? Well, Maud (Morfydd Clark) is being taken care of by her God. According to her, He’s navigating her to her ultimate goal and is with her along the entire (twisted) way. Now He guides her to her next patient called Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). While former dancer Amanda is ill, she still enjoys life by doing what she loves: smoking, drinking and enjoying the company of other people.

Maud and Amanda are the opposite. Light versus darkness. Monotonous life versus vibrancy. Firm believer vs atheist. Despite their different lifestyle, the women grow close to each other. It all seems to go fine. Amanda brings enjoyment into Maud’s life, while Maud teaches Amanda about God. It’s clear that Maud is excessively devoted to God as he takes over her life completely. However, it’s not only figuratively speaking. No, he’s also taking over her own body. Once that happens, the way to the light becomes extremely dark as we’re pretty sure that the Bible doesn’t include self-harm, bloodshed and jealousy.

Morfydd Clark as Maud in Saint Maud
(Source: IMDb)

Slow start but rushed ending

When making a movie, as a director, you always have to make sure that the audience can connect to your film in one way or another. In this film, Glass gives you the time to step into the shoes of Maud (although maybe that’s something you don’t want to do after all), get to know her lifestyle and her dedication to her patient and to God. Therefore Glass opted for a slow start and a low-key middle.

A real connection is established between the audience and Maud during the first hour, but sadly, that’s also the reason why the ending feels rushed. A lot is happening towards the end, and so it feels like as the movie is a bit unbalanced. It maybe would have been better if the start and the middle come to life a bit more or that the ending was stretched out. Nevertheless, the story of Saint Maud is a very unique one. One that’s brought to the screen stunningly by both the cast and crew, led by the magnificent Clark.

Clark leads the way

When watching Saint Maud, it’s clear that this movie must have been a very demanding one, both physically and emotionally for Clark (The Personal History of David Copperfield, Crawl). Whether it was Maud going through different emotional phases or devoting her body to God, we can still feel her pain thanks to Clark’s knockout performance. Clark also guides us to the story via a dark voice-over, and because of that, Maud’s feelings become even bigger.

Ehle (Vox Lux, The Miseducation of Cameron Post) her portrayal of the flamboyant but also the broken Amanda is big in its fragility and emotions. The chemistry between Ehle’s and Clark is the glue that holds the whole movie together. Even the more supporting roles coming from Lily Frazer (The Gentlemen, Tomorrow) as Amanda’s lovers, and Lily Knight (Their Finest, Brand New-U) as Joy, a young woman who knows Maud from the past and thanks to who we get to learn more about Maud’s dark past, are lovely to watch.

Jennifer Ehle as Amanda in Saint Maud
(Source: IMDb)

The crew brings even more darkness to Saint Maud.

Not only the stunning cast make from this movie an entirely captivating one to watch but also the crew certainly adds a lot of darkness to Saint Maud. First of all, there’s the terrifying and terrific score provided by Adam Janota Bzowski that certainly brings that haunting vibe to this movie. There’s also the tremendous cinematography from Ben Fordesman who always finds a way to put a sinister element into the scene. Saint Maud is for both men their full-length feature debut and what a debut it is!

Big and bold

We were lucky enough to have seen Saint Maud on both the small screen during the virtual press screening and in the cinema. Let us tell you: there’s only one way to watch this bold movie in the best way, and that’s by seeing it on the big screen. Not only for the genuinely well-balanced cinematography, the horrifying score but most importantly for the impressive performance by Morfydd Clark.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Saint Maud will be released in U.K. cinemas on the 9th of October.

Also Read: 5 Captivating Performances From Method Actors

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Review: Fernando

September 29, 2020
Fernando Alonso

Winning 24 Hours of Le Mans twice. Winning two Championships. Making it 97 times onto the stage while 32 as a winner. Yep, saying that the Spanish driver Fernando Alonso has an impressive palmares would be a massive understatement. While his career has been a tumultuous one with a few comebacks, his influence is felt both on and off the tracks. He already rode for a few of the most significant F1 teams such as Ferrari and McLaren, and earlier this summer, he announced that he would sit behind the wheel for the Alpine F1 Team during the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

Amazon decided to release a five-part documentary about both his personal and professional life to honour this well-respected and well-loved driver. If you’re an F1 fan, then this documentary is one you should absolutely see as ‘Fernando’ takes you on a high-speed rollercoaster with lows, highs, and some crashes in between.

Racing to victories

I’m not going to stop, probably the thought that was on Alonso’s mind multiple times, is also the title of the very first episode of Fernando. It deals with his final months at McLaren and shows us his first victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the one that happened in 2018. Later it will turn out that Alonso would also win the 2019 edition of that same race (which you will be able to see in the third episode). While during this episode, we see a lot of highs, such as his first victories (both as a young driver as well as the champion we all know) and how he became a hero in Spain, we see many lows during the second episode, “I don’t know what to say”, such as Alonso having to deal with not passing some pre-qualifications.

As mentioned before, you will see all the action of Le Mans 2019, during which Alonso raced towards his second title, in this third act. “Everything is possible,” doesn’t only show the possibility of winning prestigious races but also the possibility of cracking down almost under the heated pressure. This episode takes you to Dakar where Alonso prepared himself for the Dakar Rally. This series isn’t only about the professional life of Alonso but also the more personal one. Throughout the series, we don’t only meet his inner circle that consists of his manager Luis García Abad, his partner Linda Morelli, his sister Lorena Alonso, and his colleagues Marc Gené and Carlos Sainz, but we also see his off-track appointments.

That fourth episode, “Out of my environment,” heightens those personal gatherings as it focusses on the museum that Fernando Alonso has in Asturias in which his trophies and his cars are on display for everyone to watch. Right at the end of the episode, we see him stepping back into his car to participate in the Rally of Morocco. “Mission Accomplished” concludes this documentary and focuses on the apotheose, the Dakar Rally. You won’t only get breath-taking footage from the race, but you will also see what it’s like for an experienced driver to take part in a race for the very first time.

24 Hours of Le Mans 2019 Full Highlights

Loads of respect from both sides

Ahead of this release, Alonso shared some insight into the making of this documentary. He’s very protective about the people around him when it comes to his and their privacy and having cameras on him for almost 24/7 wasn’t easy for him. There was a lot of negotiation between him and the production team to make sure that everything was filmed in the right and most respectful way. Alonso made the decision about what he wanted to see in the documentary and what not. The respect is clearly visible in Fernando. The team really treated the rider with the utmost respect. We see his personal life brought in an emotional and intimate way, but it never feels like it is being exploited for entertainment.

Unique, thrilling, and exciting portrayal

What will the upcoming months bring for Alonso? Probably rigorous preparations for the upcoming season with a brand new sponsor. It was also announced that the filming of the second season is already underway and that it will be about Alonso’s return to the F1. Fernando is a unique, thrilling, and exciting portrayal of a World Champion that doesn’t only Alonso’s deepest personal feelings but also the biggest victories in F1.

Fernando (Official Trailer)

Fernando is out now on Amazon Prime

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Also Read: The Film Fan’s Guide To Time Travel

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Review: Rocks

September 17, 2020

That director Sarah Gavron has a love for female voices is proven by her Suffragette and Brick Lane. Now, she’s doing it again as she brings some new voices to our attention. Not only ‘new’ as in ‘voices we’ve never heard before’ but also ‘new’ as in ‘voices from first-time actors. Her Rocks is a beautiful and uplifting but also heartbreaking movie full of raw emotions.

When you have to go through a difficult time all on your own

Shola (Bukky Bakray), nickname Rocks, is a very vivid, creative, and full-of-life young woman who has a great time with her friends. Always cheerful, always getting into minor trouble, and always showing the world her make-up skills. On the outside, seems to be a typical teenager, but underneath her bubbly personality, there’s also sadness and pain. After her mother’s sudden departure, she needs to care for herself and her little brother Emmanuel (D’angelou Osei Kissiedu). Paying bills and getting food on the table becomes extremely difficult for Rocks, even with the little money her mum left her.

She’s doing her best: attending school, not getting into trouble anymore, and being there for her brother. There’s just one thing. She’s afraid of showing her emotions to her friends, and therefore, she has to face this massive burden alone. When this is starting to pressure her friendships, it’s all becoming too much for Rocks. Right when she thought she had seen the worst, people turn up on her doorstep, and they’re not coming to socialize.

The ensemble of Rocks
(Source: IMDb)

A first-class ensemble brings a lot of authenticity to this movie

During the Dublin International Film Festival, “Rocks” won the Best Ensemble award, and it’s that stunning ensemble that keeps this movie going. The performances of the overall cast are poignant, beautiful, and right from the heart. Because of the acting, you feel that you’re watching a real-life documentary instead of a movie. Every time Bakray appears on the screen, she will either make you laugh or cry.

Her performance is compelling and brings out that fighting spirit of “Rocks”. The on-screen chemistry between her and Kissiedu, who also deserves credit for his adorable and emotional performance, is such a wonderful one to see. The girls are all together in most scenes, but Bakray has the most time together with Kosar Ali, who’s playing the hip-hop loving Sumaya. Ali is such a delight to see, both her performance as the upbeat Sumaya and the more emotional young woman. However, again, congratulations to the entire cast of this movie!

There’s also a very high element of authenticity connected to this movie. The slang that the friends use, the secrets handshakes, and the entertaining classes are beautifully interwoven in the story. It feels like we’re back in school again. When seeing places like Rio Cinema and London’s landscape view, we’re out there on the streets, side-by-side with the girls. Also, the fact that every girl is different in her unique way is so refreshing to watch. No matter what class they’re from or which god they believe in, they’re friends who take each other for who they’re.

The wonderful cast of Rocks
(Source: IMDb)

A must-see gorgeous and moving film

Rocks was already part of film festivals such as the BFI London Film Festival and FilmBath Festival and is now getting a nationwide UK release. Not only because it proves that the film industry is slowly getting back up again but also because it will give you the chance to see this truth-full, emotional, and beautiful movie.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Rocks is released in the U.K. on the 18th of September

Rocks (Trailer)

Also Read: Underrated Movies: Ma

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