The Power of the Dog – Review

Rating: 12
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKenzie
Written by Steven Knight
Length: 116mins

Available now both in cinemas and on Netflix, Jane Campion’s latest feature film has an impressive amount of awards buzz around it already – and for good reason. The Kiwi director has shown time and again that her films aren’t to be taken lightly, and once again, ‘Power of the Dog’ delivers an incredible story which is both deeply complex, and yet deceptively simple.

The film features a brilliant cast all at the top of their game. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers the captivating and cruel character of Phil Burbank, a ranch owner who has his own small army of followers amongst his workers. Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons also match each other’s energies excellently, allowing their on-screen relationship to rise and fall completely naturally throughout the film’s runtime. Perhaps the highlight of the film when it comes to the acting, however, would have to be Kodi Smit-McPhee as Peter Gordon, a seemingly unemotional aspiring doctor who simply wants to see his Mother happy. The perfect poker face, Smit-McPhee appears to know exactly when to reveal a truth, and what to hide for later in the story, maintaining a measured and cold outlook throughout.

Jonny Greenwood delivers an incredible score which heightens the tension and intrigue of the storyline through his use of music. Benedict Cumberbatch’s character of Burbank demonstrates his abilities as a banjo player on multiple occasions, and even goes as far as to use the instrument to mock others and establish his power over them. As a result of this, Greenwood’s decision to incorporate similar sounding stringed instruments into the soundtrack unconsciously reinforces Burbank’s status as the all-seeing, all-hearing ruler of the land, and it’s this small detail, amongst many others, that have lead to the Radiohead guitarist being considered a modern master when it comes to composition.

Bringing her love of natural landscapes across from previous works such as ‘Top of the Lake’, Jane Campion proves once again that the setting of a film can be a character entirely of itself. For her latest project, Campion makes frequent reference through Ari Wegner’s beautiful cinematography to the vast and yet inescapable mountains which surround the ranch which comprises most of the film’s backdrop. The Montanan setting plays a great variety of roles within the film, at times as an escape for some characters, whilst also being shown as a threat to those unequipped to deal with its treacherous pathways. Furthermore, there’s also a brilliantly written scene in which two previously contrasting characters solidify a strong bond after they realise that their perceptions of the landscape are the same, and yet so different from everyone else’s. Through her depiction of rolling hills and river streams, the director develops a complex and mysterious character out of the setting alone.

‘The Power of the Dog’ is an incredible film and definitely one worth seeing. Any opportunity to go and see it at the cinema should definitely be taken, but if not a watch on Netflix is absolutely worth it too.

Active Spectator Film Awards 2020/2021

After the success of last year’s Active Spectator Film Awards, we’ve decided to gear up for the end of this turbulent year with another celebration of all the most interesting and exciting films to have been released throughout the last twelve months. Today we’re releasing the nominations for each of our categories, and in a weeks time you’ll be able to come back and discover who’ll be taking home the coveted and currently fictitious Active Spectator Trophy!

P.S. Our honourable mentions can be found in the brackets below each category.

Best Picture:

  • Another Round
  • Power of the Dog
  • King Richard
  • Minari

(Dune, The Father)

Best Lead Actress:

  • Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman)
  • Kristen Stewart (Spencer)
  • Jennifer Hudson (Respect)
  • Jodie Comer (The Last Duel)

(Frances McDormand – Nomadland)

Best Lead Actor:

  • Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal)
  • Anthony Hopkins (The Father)
  • Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog)
  • Will Smith (King Richard)

(Mads Mikkelsen – Another Round, Steven Yeun – Minari)

Best Supporting Actress:

  • Olivia Cooke (Sound of Metal)
  • Youn Tuh-jung (Minari)
  • Olivia Colman (The Father)
  • Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard)

(Rebecca Ferguson – Dune, Gaby Hoffman – C’mon C’mon)

Best Supporting Actor:

  • Vikesh Bhai (Limbo)
  • Benicio Del Toro (The French Dispatch)
  • Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog)
  • Jon Bernthal (King Richard)

(Lakeith Stanfield – Judas and the Black Messiah)

Best Director:

  • Chloe Zhao (Nomadland)
  • Kelly Reichardt (First Cow)
  • Denis Villenevue (Dune)
  • Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog)

(Ben Sharrock – Limbo, Steven Spielberg – West Side Story)

Best Cinematography:

  • Joshua James Richards (Nomadland)
  • Greig Fraser (Dune)
  • Claire Mathon (Spencer)
  • Ari Wegner (The Power of the Dog)

(Andrew Droz Palermo – The Green Knight, Janusz Kaminski – West Side Story)

Best Original Score:

  • Hans Zimmer (Dune)
  • Jonny Greenwood (Spencer)
  • Jonny Greenwood (The Power of the Dog)
  • Jeymes Samuel (The Harder They Fall)

Extra Categories

Once again we’re trying to give the less ‘awardsy’ films a chance to be in the spotlight, whether that be something a family can sit round and enjoy on a Sunday afternoon, or the film that got audiences going back to the cinema over and over again. Enjoy our nominations for these bonus categories, perhaps there’s something in here worth checking out that you might have missed the first time round!


  • Dune
  • Spiderman: No Way Home
  • Power of the Dog
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Cruella

Based On a True Story:

  • King Richard
  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Respect
  • The Last Duel
  • The Dig


  • Spiderman: No Way Home
  • A Quiet Place: Part II
  • Dune
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Get Back


  • Spiderman: No Way Home
  • Cruella
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Clifford the Big Red Dog
  • Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Spider-man: No Way Home – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina. Directed by Jon Watts. Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. Length: 148mins

After a Covid affected shoot and postponed release dates, the fans finally flocked to cinemas to see whether the long awaited third instalment of our present day Spider-man lived up to the hype. No Way Home seemed to have heaps of extra pressure piled onto it’s release, fired by casting rumours, teaser trailers that made the most restrained Marvel fan squeal and of course, the long wait to finally see the film released. Fear not, as per the ‘Active Spectator way’, this will be an spoiler free review, so if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s safe to continue reading…

So, the end of the second film ended with the big reveal – that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. That was the perfect springboard to start the third film with high energy, allowing the audience to focus in on what was to come. From here we see the issues that Peters fame brings, how it impacts his life and the lives of those around him, which leads to him approaching Dr Strange in the hope that he would cast a spell which would cause people to forget that he was Spider-Man. The spell doesn’t go quite to plan and we see from the trailers that some familiar villains come crashing into Peters world, and a multiversal drama ensues… 

The plot is full on. We have action, humour and heartbreak around every corner and, even if an audience member wasn’t a full blown fan, I think it would be difficult to not enjoy. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is so endearing, he’s funny and Holland does such a great job in committing to the character that he’s built. Even though he’s been Spider-Man for years now and has appeared in several films within the MCU, Holland really maintains the fresh, youthful feel of the character, which at this point in his Spider-Man career, could easily slip. This film is so full of talent, you can’t even comment on them all. Every single cast member brings it, the nostalgia of seeing the familiar faces has such a power on an audience; particularly around a film with such a committed fan base. It would be easy to allow sloppy writing when playing the nostalgia card but I don’t think that was the case, everything fit with the atmosphere that they created. 

One thing that is worth commenting on, is the ‘moment’ that a lot of audience members find themselves, known as ‘Superhero fatigue’. The feeling that we’ve just had SO many superhero films thrown at us over the last few years, taking away some of the initial excitement and wonder that the earlier films brought. If that is how you feel, then maybe you need to take a break and come back to this one. It’s full of everything you might expect and relies on an audience that has kept up to date with all of the previous films and TV series…you need to go in to this with a level of anticipation and openness for accepting what it is.

I’ll be honest, I went into this film a little bit hesitant. I was aware that so many people had such high expectations and I was nervous that it would completely miss the target. I didn’t need to worry. Spider-Man: No Way Home hits all the right notes, both as a part of the MCU as a whole, and within it’s own little Spider-Man world. Full of emotional beats, witty one liners and stellar performances, I would go as far as saying it’s one of my favourite Marvel films so far. With concerning news headlines around Covid back in the limelight, it’s a perfect opportunity to step into your imagination, escape from the real world and support your local cinemas. 

Spencer – Review

Rating: 12
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Jack Farthing, Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall and Sean Harris
Directed by Pablo Larrain
Written by Steven Knight
Length: 116mins

Rising to mainstream prominence in 2016 with the release of his political biography concerning Jackie Kennedy, ‘Jackie’ put Pablo Larrain on the map as a promising filmmaker, and many were keen to see what else he had in him. Now returning to the same genre in which Larrain made a name for himself, ‘Spencer’ promises a deep exploration into the mind of Princess Diana over the course of three days in the early nineties, from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day. Though this time of year is seen as something to be celebrated by most, for Diana the idea of spending three days locked away with the Royal family, along with all the whispers and secrets they enjoy, is enough to invite in waves of anxiety.

When the title of any film is shared with the lead character’s name, it’s no surprise that all eyes will be on the actor who takes up the titular role. In this case, Kristen Stewart, known by some as the star of the ‘Twilight’ franchise, but to others as a more recent star of indie and arthouse cinema, ‘Spencer’ was an opportunity for Stewart to make a name for herself as a top flight actress. In this regard, there’s no denying her excellence. Disappearing into the role of Diana and emerging as a true personification of the royal, the actress ensures that even the smallest of motions – from the poised uncertainty of a head twitch, to the unsettlingly consistent shake in her voice – works to bring the prolific public figure to our attention once again.

Slowly developing into arguably one of the greatest musical talents working today, Jonny Greenwood takes up the role of composer for ‘Spencer’, and delivers one of the most anxious and detailed scores heard this year. Dealing frequently with scenes of heightened emotion, Greenwood was able to implement dissonant and anxiety-inducing compositions which perfectly match the tone of the scene, whilst ensuring that the presence of his music never overwhelms or distracts.

The cinematography from Claire Mathon delivers some incredible images, particularly prevalent in their ability to summarise the exact emotion of any scene. The way in which recurring symbolic themes are used to highlight certain ideas from the script such as authority, power and tradition, is both extremely captivating and thought-provoking, with many such notions only needing to be seen rather than heard. Lighting is also successfully used in this way, with frequent juxtaposition delivering further uncertainty, such as scenes of unflinching illumination being the ones in which both the audience and Diana herself wish to hide away the most.

Although Diana’s may be a familiar story to many, Pablo Larrains captures a very small moment in time and brings it to life as a pivotal series of events for the young royal. There may be some oddities and absurdities within it’s story, but ‘Spencer’ does a great job of delving into what made Diana who she was, as well as creating further excitement amongst audiences for what Pablo Larrain will do next.

King Richard – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Saniyaa Sidney and Demi Singleton. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green Written by Zach Baylin Length: 144mins

King Richard follows Richard Williams, as he executes his long imagined planned for two of his daughters, Venus and Serena, to become tennis champions. The genre of this film isn’t explicitly clear – it’s sort of a sports flick, sort of a family drama, but I’m not sure it matters. The brilliance of this film is the fact that it’s based on reality, with both Venus and Serena Williams serving as executive producers on the movie which relieves concerns about the use of too much artistic licence. As well as this the flawless cast that bring the characters to life; Will Smith, a fan favourite, leads the charge and certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Smith, who is arguably the main draw of the movie, plays a man who refuses to acknowledge anything besides his own opinion, yet he is hauntingly effective when forced into silence.

The scenes where he shows Williams’ vulnerability have a damaged quality that lingers long after the moment has passed. The silence and the subtext are so powerful in this film and Smith lands them expertly, allowing the audience to capture a glimpse of the wounded man under all the bravado. While she doesn’t feature quite as predominantly as Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, matches Smith in screen presence in her portrayal as Brandi Williams. She brings a warmth and dignity as well as expressing a quiet power that she isn’t afraid to release when necessary. The scenes where she stands up to her husband, are some of the more powerful scenes in the movie and Ellis is flawless. It would be unfair to comment on the actors without a nod to Sidney and Singleton, who play Venus and Serena; they both shoulder the responsibility of mimicking two of the greatest athletes with absolute class. They do well to match the pressure on their characters against the warmth of their youth and lives within their family, it’s a pleasure to watch their work.

Reinaldo Marcus Green’s direction is wise, he clearly knew that the strength of the storytelling is in the acting, in trusting his cast to carry the story. He manages to hit the beats that you want without falling into melodrama, allowing the fact that it’s the telling of a true story to resonate with it’s audience. The most frustrating element of this movie for me, is the marketing, which is know is a bizarre aspect to comment on. I have spoken to so many regular cinema goers who haven’t even bothered to give it a look in due to the name – many people assuming that it’s Shakespeare or a period drama of some sort, while also commenting that the poster isn’t particularly eye catching. It just seems a shame to know that people are missing such a brilliant film due to relatively simple problems.

I don’t say this lightly, but I truly believe that King Richard is one of, if not, the best film released in 2021 (so far). Obviously everyone has different taste and that is to be celebrated but I really do feel that most people would enjoy; or at least take something from this film. It’s a shame that it seems to have flown somewhat under the radar but I really do encourage you to watch this film in a cinema if you can, but definitely at home once it’s been released for the ‘small screen’.