Category: Reviews

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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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Review: #Alive (2020) [Spoilers]

January 5, 2021
#Alive [Source: Forbes]

Zombies have definitely become overexposed in the past decade, but does Il Cho’s recent zombie film #Alive offer anything new? Join me as I review the Netflix original to see if it’s worth checking out.


Oh Joon-woo (Yoo Ah-In), who lives with his family and spends most of his time streaming himself playing videogames, wakes up one morning to find the news talking about the spread of a disease that is causing people to become rabid and consume human flesh. He soon becomes trapped inside his parent’s apartment. Although he posts a rescue request on social media, he soon faces the prospect of surviving on his own. Driven to despair he thinks about ending his life. However, he is saved when he finds another living person in his apartment complex, Kim Yoo-bin (Park Shin-Hye). Finally having something to live for they both decide to manoeuvre to the top of the complex to be safer. But is it really as safe as they think?

What Did I Like?

With the themes of disease and isolation playing on everyone’s minds this year, #Alive seems very relevant. And the way it explores these themes feels quite captivating from a cinematic perspective. In the first half, the film has long stretches without dialogue. As Joon-Woo attempts to navigate through the world’s ever-growing craziness. And sometimes Joon-Woo speaks to himself or people who can’t respond. Which is a very accurate dramatic way of showcasing the isolation and growing mania of the main character. The film conveying information to the audience through television news and social media also feels very realistic. And is an effective way of placing us in Joon-woo’s perspective.

Coupled with this the film has some fantastic central performances. Yoo Ah-In is impeccable as the immature tech-obsessed Oh Joon-Woo. Managing to make us laugh at his obliviousness and over the top actions while also making us empathise with his position. Park Shin-Hye is also really good as survivalist Kim Yoo-bin. She’s very much the straight person to Joon-woo’s more animated personality, and her cold put-downs of him are very funny. Combined with this she is also a very warm presence in her private moments and she really sells her action-heavy scenes. Making her into a funny heroine who knows how to handle herself in a hairy situation but still has a very relatable human core. And special mention must go to late player Jeon Bae-soo who leaves a great impact as the only survivor on the top floor, with an outwardly inviting attitude hiding something sinister.

What Did I Not Like?

Unfortunately, #Alive is held back by much of its story feeling rather generic. Most of the film’s plot beats – the outbreak, failure of the government to respond, survivors teaming up to take on the horde – are by now standard for zombie films. Making #Alive seem very stale. While the potentially refreshing elements (the idea of facing the peril alone or how social media might affect someone’s understanding of the apocalypse) are either underdeveloped or are jettisoned by the halfway point. Which leaves the film feeling like just another zombie movie with some half-hearted gimmicks added on.

The production work is also lacking. With the constant jump cuts being very distracting; making the film seem rather amateurish instead of contributing to any sort of presentational effect. The lacklustre musical score also adds little to the overall experience. Not to mention the only standout visual decision is to incorporate drone footage into the narrative. Otherwise, the film’s visual presentation is very conventional. Leaving little of interest from a stylistic perspective.

Finally, the film’s climax feels very out of step with the rest of the film. With the ever-darkening tone suddenly dropped for a hopeful ending. It sees the two main characters rescued by the army because of Joon-Woo’s social media post. Not only does this feel tonally contrary to the rest of the movie but it also feels very implausible. As the post was made days before the rescue effort. Meaning there was no guarantee that the main characters were still alive. So why would army resources be used on this? And with the film focusing little on social media outside of the first act, this conclusion feels inappropriate.


#Alive has some great central performances. As well as some unique ideas for how to explore isolation and the spread of disease. With that said #Alive is let down by not committing to its more interesting ideas. The result is a project that despite some inventive ingredients ultimately becomes like every other zombie movie. Which is further diminished by some poor production decisions. As well as the out-of-place conclusion. Consequently #Alive is little more than a fun disposable distraction. 

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

#Alive (Official Trailer)

Also Read: A Quiet Place 2: A Film Too Far?

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Retro Review: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

December 18, 2020
the-empire-strikes-back [Source StarWars.com]

To mark its 40th anniversary and the sad passing of actor David Prowse today we are reviewing the original version of what many (including myself) consider to be both the best Star Wars film and one of the best films ever made, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.


Three years after destroying the Death Star, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and the rebels are hiding from imperial forces. Who are led by Darth Vader (David Prowse & James Earl Jones). After the rebels retreat from the planet Hoth, Luke leaves for Dagobah. To continue his Jedi training with Master Yoda (Frank Oz). Meanwhile, Vader, at the behest of the Emperor (Clive Revill), relentlessly pursues Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) to use them against Luke. The story culminates at Bespin’s Cloud City where the battle for the galaxy changes forever.

Empire Strikes Back
Vader and Luke’s lightsaber duel from The Empire Strikes Back [Credit: Lucasfilm]

What did I like?

Empire’s production work is astounding. Sequences like the asteroid field chase required an incredible amount of work to accomplish, in terms of effects. But it feels more fluid and dramatically engaging than many modern action films. Wonderful creations like Yoda, despite being a puppet, feel very real. Thanks to the great puppetry and direction. And I must mention John Williams’ score. Which weaves between, romance, mysticism, blistering action, and oncoming doom without ever feeling overdone or misplaced. And contains the introduction of arguably film’s most iconic musical piece, the Imperial March.

Then there is Empire’s fantastic script. Which makes each character, even minor ones, feel fully rounded. While managing to be both funny, with plenty of moments of levity. And brave, as many characters end the movie having lost something. But because these emotions are built-up effectively and feel in keeping with the character’s personalities it all works. Also many may not notice Irvin Kershner’s direction thanks to the film’s natural flow. But subtle touches, like showing Vader’s power through his ship’s shadow falling over the imperial fleet, or the slow-motion Dagobah cave fight, create an effective foreboding atmosphere. Without being distracting.

And there’s the fantastic cast. A New Hope’s leads (Hamill, Ford, and Fisher) now feel more comfortable in their roles and really show their range. Believably taking their characters to brave new places. Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) is an intriguingly complex addition, who effortlessly navigates many conflicting motivations and emotions throughout his journey. Frank Oz’s Yoda is fascinating, with his weary voice and broken speech hiding the galaxy’s wisest being. Clive Revill and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) leave a great impression with incredibly brief screen time. But the MVPs are James Earl Jones and David Prowse who have more time to shine as Darth Vader. Prowse’s intimidating figure and mannerisms and Jones’ deep vocals make Vader feel like a terrifying force of nature. But they also give Vader a lot of depth through subtle vocal ticks and physical actions. Making him into the perfect cinematic villain.

Empire Strikes Back [Source Empire]
David Prowse and James Earl Jones as Darth Vader [Credit: Lucasfilm]

What did I not like?

Reluctantly, some criticisms of Empire are worth addressing. Firstly, the special edition releases, which update the film’s effects and included elements to fit later series continuity e.g. including Return of the Jedi’s Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor, aren’t needed. The original version is so brilliantly constructed that even minor green screen glitches never ruin the experience. Other changes serve only to remind you of other franchise films. Or to fix what didn’t need fixing (e.g. Luke screaming as he falls in Cloud City) rather than improving the story. The original version is superior.

Some also feel that Empire isn’t as strong without the first movie to attach us to the characters. However, through action and dialogue, Empire does a great job at filling in the gaps. Allowing us to easily invest in our players without needing prior knowledge.

Finally, many point to storytelling elements like the time scale and Luke’s ready belief of the twist, as narrative flaws. Regarding the time scale – Luke appears to train with Yoda for days while the Millennium Falcon crew appears to be fleeing for only a few hours – there is no concrete timeline for the length of each story. So there’s enough room for it to not affect the overall narrative flow. And while initially, Luke appears to swallow the twist too easily, plenty of information is seeded about his father’s dark past and Luke’s downfall is his unwillingness to believe the seemingly impossible. Making Luke’s ready belief make more sense.

Luke Skywalker [Source StarWars.com]
Luke Skywalker learns the truth [Credit: Lucasfilm]


Empire’s only flaws are either softened upon repeat viewings, problems of public perception, or the product of unnecessary re-editing. Everything else about Empire is perfect. Whether it’s the writing, directing, performances, the score, or the production work. The Empire Strikes Back is, for me, the greatest film ever made.

Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Also Read: The Mandalorian: A New Hope For Star Wars

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Was It Really That Bad? Waterworld

December 2, 2020
Waterworld [Source Empire]

Everyone knows Waterworld. The Kevin Costner post-apocalyptic action film has gained a reputation as one of the most expensive flops in history.

Waterworld also earned many lukewarm reviews. Currently, it sits at 46% on RT and a 6.2 rating on IMDb. But today we’ll be looking back at Waterworld. Seeing what worked, what didn’t, and asking, was it really that bad?

“Nothing’s Free in Waterworld”

After the polar ice caps have melted, humanity survives by scavenging the seas. The one hope to find dry land is Enola (Tina Majorino), a young girl with the supposed location tattooed on her back. But who will find land first? The destructive Smokers lead by Deacon (Dennis Hopper) or the self-centred water breathing Mariner (Kevin Costner)?

In 1995 Waterworld was the most expensive production ever made. The production costs ballooned from $100 million initially to around $175 million. And with marketing costs that eventually became $235 million (over $400 million today). This was due to the expensive nature of filming on water which ruined filming positions for the boats and caused seasickness for cast and crew members. This isn’t even mentioning setbacks such as bad weather destroying the set, the constant disagreements between Kevin Costner and director Kevin Reynolds and near on-set accidents. Waterworld made over $264 million worldwide though reportedly Waterworld didn’t breakeven until its home media release.

Kevin Costner Waterworld [Soruce Forbes]
Kevin Costner looking worried about Waterworld’s future [Credit: Universal Pictures]

“I Like You”

Waterworld does have positives. You can definitely admire the work produced with that budget. Of particular interest is that most of Waterworld was filmed on the ocean off the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, with little CGI. Seeing the sets and high-octane action sequences being shot on water, is impressive. It also gives you a great appreciation for what the crew accomplished.

Then there’s the design work. The sets, costumes, and props effectively evoke the future post-apocalyptic aesthetic of films like Mad Max. As well as the classic cinematic look of old westerns (with saloon sets) and swashbuckling pirate adventures. All of this makes the world of Waterworld feel familiar and pleasingly unique.

And there is Dennis Hopper’s performance as Deacon. Deacon is a classic over the top pantomime villain. He lays waste to entire cities and threatens to kill people when they bring him bad news. All while wearing a fitting eyepatch. But Hopper commits to it with enthusiasm. Managing to be both funny and intimidating. He is undoubtedly the film’s bright spot.

waterworld-hopper-barge [Source cinemastance]
Dennis Hopper having fun lording over the Smokers in Waterworld [Credit: Universal Pictures]

“Do Something, I Hate Sails”

Unfortunately, Waterworld’s unique ideas are underserved by a film that is thoroughly generic. The film’s characters never advance beyond broad post-apocalyptic movie archetypes: the morally dubious loner who ultimately has a good heart, the innocent family, the villains obsessed with consuming the world’s resources, etc. But because they do little to differentiate themselves from other similar characters it becomes hard to invest in them.

Which isn’t helped by the acting. Aside from Hopper, everyone else reaches nothing beyond passable. The worst offender is Costner who has neither the edge needed to pull off his character’s supposed amoral nature nor the enthusiasm to make his emotional turn feel earned.

Finally aside from the sea setting, the promised land in a ravaged post-apocalypse narrative has little to make it stand out. The story does have details that would have been worth expanding on. Such as how Deacon rose to power and accumulated so much oil, the Mariner’s mutant abilities, and how Enola came to have the tattoo on her. But these details are either skirted over or avoided entirely. Leaving us with a dull story and intriguing details that don’t add up to much.

Kevin Costner screaming for the critical panning to be over [Credit: Universal Pictures]

Was It Really That Bad? Yes

Waterworld’s production scale and technical execution are awe-inspiring. And the unique set and production design and Denis Hopper’s performance are great. But unfortunately, the positives are a minority.

Most of the film is generic. The characters are flat, stock archetypes rather than fully rounded people. Which isn’t helped by the lacklustre performances, especially that of Kevin Costner. The story is cookie cutter. And potentially interesting story details are either skirted over or not expanded at all. For a film that costs so much, everyone should expect more.

Also Read: Breaking Through The Box Office

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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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Retro Review: The Shining

October 22, 2020

The BBC have spoiled us all by making The Shining available on iPlayer (until 16th November) and to celebrate here is a retro review of this classic of horror cinema. WARNING – THERE ARE SOME SPOILERS AHEAD

What’s Going On?

Danny and the Grady twins
Danny and the Grady twins (Credit: Warner Bros)

Aspiring writer Jack Torrence is given the job of winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, a grand and isolated property, in which he, his wife and young son will be completely cut off. It is also revealed that the son, Danny, has The Shining – a supernatural gift that can warn Danny of danger, glimpse the future and see what has happened in the past – allowing Danny to see the various horrific things that have previously happened in The Overlook Hotel. Not long into their stay things begin to get strange and forces seem intent on driving Jack to repeat the horrific things in the hotel’s past.

Behind The Scenes

Nicholson and Kubrick on set
Nicholson and Kubrick on set (independent.co.uk)

The film was based on Stephen King’s 1977 horror bestseller of the same name, this only being King’s third book his legendary status had not yet been cemented. Not true of the director Stanley Kubrick at the time seen as one of the best directors in the world and whose reputation has only increased since. Kubrick is famous, or infamous, for overthinking his films – by which I mean years of research, hundreds of takes, layer upon layer of meaning and attention to detail like no other director. The Shining is a classic example of this and it has been endlessly examined and re-examined by critics and fans.

In Front Of The Camera

Jack Nicholson in The Shining (Credit: Warner Bros)

The Shining has a small cast and is essentially about three characters: married couple Jack and Wendy, and their young son, Danny. Jack is played by Jack Nicholson, Wendy by Shelley Duvall and Danny by Danny Lloyd, who has done little acting before or since. All three give amazing performances. Nicholson gives perhaps a career-best and bear in mind this is a career in which he has won two Oscars (neither for The Shining), his descent into madness and violence is utterly believable and compelling. Duvall arguably has the hardest job – she is an ordinary woman in an extraordinary situation with no supernatural powers or evil forces preying on her to explain her actions. Once things start ramping up she is terrified essentially for the rest of the film – but she never stops trying to defend her son, managing to convey her horror at the events going around her and how her need to protect Danny overrides everything. Lloyd is practically perfect as Danny and his portrayal of the “supernatural child” is almost the textbook example for every film that came after.

Does It Work?

Wendy finally seeing what Jack’s been writing (Credit: Warner Bros)

To put it bluntly – yes, magnificently so. To me, The Shining is the best horror film ever made and one of the best films ever made, it is a genuine masterpiece. The escalating tension over the course of the film as Jack is slowly overcome by madness is incredible. The wildness in Nicholson builds to an absolute fever pitch. The glimpses of Jack trying to battle the darkness overwhelming him are difficult to watch as he can see what he is being driven towards and Kubrick’s horror is as much about the unhealthy dynamic in that family as anything supernatural. Even without the intervention of ghosts, you suspect it would not have been a happy stay (indeed some fans are of the opinion there are no ghosts and it is just the isolation that pushes Jack to madness). Duvall becomes ever more frantic as things unravel around her and the scene where she discovers just what Jack has been writing all this time is phenomenal.

The hotel is hugely important in this film, this vast and grand hotel that is eerily empty. We see Danny riding around the hotel on his tricycle, the camera almost in point of view, giving a very unusual visual perspective. The design of the hotel is glorious – the hotel carpets are genuinely famous and I recently bought a face mask that features the iconic design. Somewhere so big and so empty is inherently spooky, simple things that are in themselves perfectly innocuous because deeply sinister when there is no one who could have them.

The Shining is a perfect film for the Halloween season and is in fact my go-to Halloween film. If nothing else watching this film will clue you in on forty years of references to creepy twins, Red Rum and taking an axe to a door.

Obviously and easily 5 out of 5 stars but that does not really do it justice – a truly unmissable film.

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

Also Read: The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey

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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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Retro Review: Frankenstein (1931)

October 19, 2020
frankenstein 1931 [Soruce: Letterboxd]

This Halloween season we are looking at James Whale’s Frankenstein. A movie so recognisable that many may think of this film adaptation before Mary Shelley’s original novel. But after almost 90 years does it still hold up?


Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has lately been walled up in his laboratory. So, his fiancé Elizabeth (Mae Clarke), her friend Victor (John Boles), and Henry’s former mentor Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan) decide to investigate. Upon confronting him they find that Frankenstein aims to give life to a monster. Made by stitching together dead body parts and inserting an abnormal brain stolen from Dr. Waldman’s classroom. Ultimately Frankenstein succeeds. But can “The Monster” (Boris Karloff) be controlled?

What did I like?

Frankenstein works well for many reasons. First being its tight and well-paced script. In a short time-space, the script intrigues us with the mystery of Frankenstein. And then emotionally invests us through exploring Frankenstein’s motivations and how his various relationships affect him, and consequently the Monster. And because the film is full of interesting, now iconic, scenarios like the grave robbery, the monster’s introduction, the windmill finale, and more, it’s never boring.

Secondly, the cast is almost uniformly excellent. Mae Clarke, Edward Van Sloan, Frederick Kerr, and Dwight Frye particularly stand out, investing heart, humour, and discomfort where needed.

But the film also features two truly legendary performances. First being Colin Clive’s Henry Frankenstein. Clive really sells us on Frankenstein’s drive and ambition through his stern; occasionally frantic manner, without making him unlikable. But when The Monster enters the picture, Clive makes us empathise with his emotional vulnerability. As he takes responsibility for The Monster. And Boris Karloff’s portrayal of The Monster is unforgettable. Not only is he immediately frightening and imposing thanks to his tall frame and Jack Pierce’s iconic makeup design. But Karloff’s performance engenders a lot of sympathy. He feels like a vulnerable animal. Causing pain because he’s unfairly victimised or doesn’t know better. This makes us want to see him nurtured not persecuted. Because otherwise, the consequences could be deadly.

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster [Source: Movie Monster Wiki – Fandom]

And there’s some brilliant technical work on display. The set and production design are fantastic. The classic romantic feeling of the period costumes and picturesque Victorian decorated sets and backlots greatly contrast with sets like Frankenstein’s gothic laboratory and the expressionistic graveyard. Which when combined with the inventive direction that has cameras gliding through rooms, interesting camera angles, and a lack of music creates a uniquely horrific and disquieting atmosphere.

What did I not like?

There are some flaws that prevent Frankenstein from being perfect. For one Henry’s emotional recovery and wedding seemingly happen only a few days after he decides to kill the monster. As it’s hard to believe that Dr. Waldman’s disappearance and discovery would take more than a few days to happen. And this short time frame does somewhat lessen the emotional impact of Frankenstein’s decision to destroy the creation he cared about.

The character of Victor also doesn’t contribute much to the story. His use as emotional support could easily have been filled by a more prominent character and the film would remain the same. Which isn’t helped by John Boles’ wooden performance. A shame as everyone else does such great work.

And the film has a fair amount of editing choices that can pull one out of the movie. As this is an older film before modern film language was perfected this is expected. But the breaking of the 180-degree rule in some sections as well as some imperfect matches between cuts and a sped-up crucial moment are unintentionally jarring.


The script’s limited timeframe undersells some moments. Victor doesn’t add much to the story. And the bizarre editing choices can be nit-picked. But they pale in comparison to Frankenstein’s strengths. With stellar performances from most of the cast including iconic turns from Clive and Karloff, brilliant atmosphere thanks to inventive direction; beautiful set and production design and a well-structured script packed with iconic moments that keep you riveted till the end, love for Frankenstein will remain alive for years to come.

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

Also Read: Horrors On Horror Sets

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Review: Cicada [London Film Festival]

October 14, 2020

What happened to the web series? For one brief and shining moment, around the early 2010s, it was flourishing. It gave us creators like Issa Rae, Desiree Akhavan, Abbi Jacobson, and Ilana Glazer. It seemed ripe for the picking of talented individuals who had stuck their middle finger up at the perceived norms and taken their fate into their own hands instead of that of older white dudes who handed out the cash. In 2016, Matthew Fifer debuted his web series, Jay and Pluto, after a successful Kickstarter campaign and now he returns with Cicada, a meditation on the impact of trauma.

The film, co-directed by Kieran McClure, follows Ben (Fifer), a bisexual man going through the motions in New York City, painting apartments for West Side “DILFS”, and seeing the doctor for nausea that can’t be explained as he repeatedly vomits in the morning seemingly to expel something. After a broken engagement he is, as his sister refers to it, “back on the dick”, meeting (mostly) men online, in work, at clubs, on the subway platform, in the bathrooms of bars. Ben hasn’t been out for long, due to trauma he refuses to deal with from his past, and admits that he has never been able to be truly intimate with someone without being drunk or high. This is until he meets Sam (Sheldon D. Brown) while browsing at a bookstore. It isn’t clear what makes Sam different, why Ben decides to ask him for a drink rather than a fuck, but the two begin to bond and slowly fall into the regular patterns of a relationship.

One night Sam asks Ben about his first time with a man. At first, Ben is cagey, describing the experience of Kirsten Dunst in The Virgin Suicidesleft alone on the football pitch when he awoke in the morning, rather than his own experience but Sam persists. Ben, reluctantly admits he was “young” and leaves it at that, but Sam understands the implications. The film focuses itself mostly around this issue; how do those with trauma try to move on? Both men are carrying it, as Sam is reluctant to hold hands or kiss in public due to being the victim of a homophobic drive-by and we see flashes back to Ben’s childhood aware that something happened there that he can’t let go of. 

Cicada / BFI

Cicada, an autobiographical story from Fifer’s own life, seeks to understand how this trauma manifests in both men. Ben is seemingly doing great with Sam, he wants to be committed and, for some reason, no longer needs substances to do that, yet he’s haunted by an ongoing molestation trial that is all over the news. Sam, however, lashes out when he feels like he’s not in control. First, when Ben shows up to his place of work with flowers and, second, when Ben introduces him to his friends, Sam picks a fight as things are becoming “real”. This is most likely related to his father, to whom he is not out, and the internalised homophobia he is harbouring since his attack.

Trauma and its effects have been depicted more commonly in film over the past few years, and Cicada joins a recent few that don’t aim for sensationalism but rather work to explore that experience realistically. For example, Jennifer Fox’s experimental and ground-breaking film The Tale told the story of the sexual abuse she faced as a young girl, and Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale followed a traumatised woman who was seeking revenge. All of these are creating a new wave in cinema, led by women and minorities, that refuses to be silent about the things that make us, as a society, uncomfortable. However, engaging in discussions of sexual abuse with the realm of queerdom navigates some tricky optics, ones that have to contend with decades of pseudoscience that have tried to link the two. In its personal focus, it feels like Cicada never reaches to make a grand statement about queer people, but it also doesn’t feel like it has fully considered where this conversation might go. 

Cicada / LFF

This is all fascinating territory and, as a film, it is a bold choice to try and engage with it, yet it doesn’t quite all come together. Still, that doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting in various ways; it just doesn’t rise to the severity of its subject matter. It’s ending feels a little neat for a story about how trauma manifests and its script, at times, can feel a little by-the-book, especially during the early scenes of Ben and Sam’s relationship.  It all feels somewhat trapped within that millennials-in-New-York-style indie movie that has risen in popularity since the premiere of Lena Dunham’s GIRLS in 2013 (though it’s definitely one of the better ones).

Cicada is a strong debut for Fifer and his team. It made me wonder what they could achieve with a bigger budget and more time. Fifer has managed to navigate that tricky terrain from the internet to the big screen and has been able to manifest something emotional, artful, and thought-provoking. As is typical for debuts, it’s imperfect but shows promise. It asks a lot of questions but doesn’t quite find every answer. It’s bold, yet limited, but what comes next is something to keep an eye on.

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

Cicada has yet to be given a UK release date.

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On the Value of Youth

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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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