Red Rocket – Review

Rating: 18
Cast: Simon Rex, Bree Elrod, Suzanna Son and Brenda Deiss,
Directed by Sean Baker
Written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch
Length: 130mins

Rising from the indie filmmaking scene in recent years, and becoming known as the director who innovated the low budget, iPhone-utilising style of storytelling, Sean Baker is progressively growing from one strength to the next. Perhaps best known for his previous two films, ‘Tangerine’ and ‘The Florida Project’ – the first of which made heavy use of non-professional performers, as well as being completely shot across three iPhone 5S’s, and the latter containing many similar traits, Baker is clearly a director who’s unafraid to try new ideas.

‘Red Rocket’ tells the story of an ex-porn star named MIkey Saber, who has to return to not only his small-town name of Mikey Davies, but the town itself, residing deep enough into Texas for the film to be engrossed in the strong drawl of the deep South. As previously mentioned, Baker clearly has a love for working with unconventional actors, a technique which brilliantly builds the world of ‘Red Rocket’. Led by a former MTV performer in Simon Rex, as well as other cast members being scouted whilst waiting tables or walking their dog, there’s a clear authenticity in the way they bring their characters to life, which merges perfectly with the impulsive camera movements and narrative points of the film. Simon Rex in particular stands out, delivering what could be argued as one of the greatest performances so far this year. Throughout the film, you’re unsure as to whether you love him or loathe him, and yet if you read about the actions of Mikey Saber in some newspaper article, you’d never have any doubt than to pin him as a villain. To play with the audience’s emotions in such a way takes true talent, and considering that Rex only had a three-day trans-American drive to prepare for the role, as well as filming the entire movie without the knowledge of his agent, it all seems to have turned out fairly well.

Texas has a habit in films of being portrayed as a low-poverty area that appears unwelcoming to newcomers, but is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in the entirety of the US. ‘Red Rocket’ never claims anything on the contrary, but is undeniably infatuated with the skylines that plague this strange and chaotic land. Cinematographer Drew Daniels’ lens captures the South in its most tender moments, with the pinks and oranges of the lit-up sky providing a perfect backdrop to the donut shop or rundown houses which comprise the majority of the film’s locations. Once again seeming to paint our ill-intentioned protagonist as a hero, the way in which the landscapes are shown throughout ‘Red Rocket’ merge deeper into the uncertainty over what the audience feels towards Mikey, as he eagerly bikes through town towards whichever poor soul is next to cross his path.

Although on the surface ‘Red Rocket’ may appear to be a deeply sad film about broken homes and corrupt relationships, there are some excellent moments of comedy littered throughout. Bakers’ talents when working with larger-than-life characters and exaggerated dialogue was one of ‘Tangerine’s’ greatest strengths, and is something that shines through in many scenes throughout ‘Red Rocket’. Moments of sincerity are interrupted by complete stupidity or foolishness in a way that never feels unjustified. The natural performances and style of Baker’s work remains consistently great throughout, making it hard for any cinema-goer to look away, even if they may want to.

‘Red Rocket’ might not break the box office or ever receive the recognition it deserves at mainstream awards shows, but it would be a shame to let the film slide away uncelebrated. Sean Baker has once again shown himself to be one of the most creative indie filmmakers today, with each new release bringing another delight to the table.

Uncharted – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas. Sophia Ali and Tati Gabrielle. Directed by Ruben Fleischer Written by Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Jon Hanley Rosenberg and Mark D. Walker Length: 116mins

Uncharted is a straightforward action/adventure flick and a bit of fun for all the family. Of our leading characters we have Nathan Drake (Holland), a tough kid with a passion for history, making money as a cocktail waiter/pickpocket, ripping off rich people in the bar and ‘Sully’ (Wahlberg) who observes Nate’s thieving and presents him with a proposition: a scene with similarities to that of George Clooney meeting Matt Damon for the first time in Ocean’s Eleven. Sully entices Nate into helping him track down a golden key that could lead them to riches, riches that Nate had heard about and studied with his brother, who incidentally is now missing. In preparation for their quest to seek out Magellan’s  16th century loot, Sully’s admission that he once knew Nate’s brother, only adds a personal drive for Nate to assist his new partner in crime. 

Nate and Sully’s relationship is the heart of the narrative, though the film takes an origin story approach in this first instalment. Our two heroes learn to trust each other as their adventure unfolds, even if the road to get there is a bumpy one. They’re a far cry from the chummy partners in crime that are portrayed in the origin materials, with Nate questioning Sully’s motives every step of the way. Chloe Fraser (Sophia Ali) adds an extra layer of intrigue as a fellow treasure hunter, with a steely focus and determination of her own. Nate is never quite sure who to trust, or if he can trust anyone at all.

Tom Holland is the real driving force of the film. He brings his usual ‘cheeky chap’ vibes while throwing himself fully into the widespread story. Wahlberg has been criticised for his role in this movie, it seems several fans of the games were upset with his casting initially, but his portrayal of Sully is a bit flat – it’s fine, but nothing to shout about. Sophia Ali and Tati Gabrielle bring sass and strength to both of their characters which helps to broaden the overall feel of the movie. Of course, Antonio Banderas is the ultimate family movie villain, he’s just threatening enough to know he’s the ‘bad guy’ without engaging in a darker side that wouldn’t be appropriate for a movie of this type and certification. 

Uncharted isn’t a great action movie, but it is a good one. It’s definitely a good option as a film for all the family. It’s simplistic ‘solve the clues onto the next’ type plot doesn’t keep you guessing and it’s twists are obvious to audiences to enjoy a film of this genre. But purely based on entertainment value, I can’t really criticise it too much – it’s simple, possibly a bit forgetful, but enjoyable in the moment. 

The Duke – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Helen Mirren, Fionn Whitehead, Matthew Goode, Aimee Kelly and Charlotte Spencer
Directed by Roger Michell
Written by Richard Bean and Clive Coleman
Length: 96mins

In August 1812, somewhere in Madrid, Francisco Goya painted the portrait of the Duke of Wellington, a tired but successful general. In August 1961, somewhere in Newcastle, bus driver Kempton Bunton – also tired, but hoping to be successful – headed down to London to steal the very same portrait. Starring classic British performers Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren, ‘The Duke’ makes for an entertaining and easy-watching drama with an added layer of morality within its contempt for the rich-poor divide in the UK. 

Although Bunton (Broadbent) is not a man with a great deal of money to his name, ‘The Duke’ brilliantly shows the beauty in what he does have, and what is most precious to him – namely his family, and the burning desire inside of him to do right by others. He’s a clear hero to the story, allowing the real-life narrative to be framed as a quest for equality in the name of selflessness. Through the writing, as well as a delightfully playful use of music, the Bunton family are shown to be compassionate and caring people, who simply want to get along and make the world a little easier for those around them. A reflection of so many other families at the time, as well as in today’s world, it’s films like ‘The Duke’ which leave audiences with a deeper appreciation for what it is that they have, rather than what they feel they need – not something that can be said of many other heist films.

Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren’s natural chemistry on screen highlights the talent shared between the two, which has been cultivated through years of experience. Whether they’re dancing around their living room whilst the radio signs happily, or battling a speechless argument through facial expressions and simple gestures, the relationship experienced by the audience is one that has clearly had its ups and downs, but remains strong throughout. Furthermore, Fionn Whitehead’s performance as their youngest son brings a great new dynamic to the family, as well as some charmingly funny moments between father and son. 

In terms of the crime itself, the absurdly grand nature of its occurrence contrasts brilliantly with the simple nature in which it’s carried out, as well as presented within the film. The idea of waltzing into the National Gallery and picking out a piece of century-old artwork for the good of the working class may seem like something out of a Billy Bragg song, but the fact that this actually took place is heartwarming, and allows for some great moments of humour amongst the severity of its action. The film works really well to frame this scene as a moment of comedy, and reflects the mischievous, schoolboy nature of Bunton shown within most other moments in the story.

From a filmmaking standpoint, ‘The Duke’ isn’t going to be breaking any barriers or pioneering any techniques, but it sets out to tell its story in a way which is fair to its non-fiction roots, and manages exactly that. There’s a distinct charm amongst the performers and filmmakers at work here which British productions often seem to so easily tap into. For anyone wishing to experience two hours of unbridled positivity amongst situations which aren’t always the easiest, ‘The Duke’ is definitely the film for you. 

The Batman – Review

Rating: 15 Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Paul Dano and Andy Serkis Directed by Matt Reeves Written by Matt Reeves and Peter Craig Length: 175mins

One of the most anticipated movies of the year has landed after delays from it’s original release date due to Covid:19. A famous character, a famous city, a top billed cast and a whole lot of pressure to satisfy one of the more vocal fan bases. The Batman, presents us with the Riddler; a sadistic serial killer, who begins to murder key political figures in Gotham and forces Batman to investigate the city’s deep rooted corruption in positions of power, and causes our hero to question his own legacy. 

Immediately, audiences are going to compare this movie to The Dark Knight trilogy which is so well loved by many. Fans of the character seem fairly loyal to Christian Bale’s portrayal of Batman in the Christopher Nolan films which places a lot of pressure on Pattinson to perform. Pattinson is not shy of a challenge though, and while he shot to stardom in 2008 teen hit ‘Twilight’, he has constantly proven himself to be a highly skilled, deeply intricate performer. His presentation of Batman is fairly standard, it’s a shame we don’t get very much of Bruce Wayne in this film, while Pattinson is great as the Dark Knight, I don’t think he’s given very much material to utilise his abilities as an actor. Perhaps, if more films do follow, we will be allowed to explore more of Bruce Wayne’s personality rather than the vigilantes hard exterior. Having said this, I put none of this on Pattinson’s performance, he works intricately with the dialogue and plot that is in front of him, quietly portraying ‘vengeance’  and the dilemma that presents as the plot progresses. While the casting of our hero was largely talked about, no one seemed to doubt the immovable Zoe Kravitz when she was cast as Selena Kyle. Kravitz brings a really human reaction to the events in the film and the chemistry between her and Pattinson brings their shared scenes an exciting level of energy. Her mystery, vulnerability, strength and humanity create a really layered character and is captivating every moment she’s on screen. With a cast of this calibre it’s difficult to not write an essay on each performance, Paul Dano is haunting and unique in his role as Gotham’s sadistic villain, entirely captivating throughout andJeffrey Wright is solid in his portrayal as James Gordon, highlighting the characters’ need for justice to prevail even when surrounded by corruption.

The length of this film may be it’s downfall. At a run time of nearly three hours it’s a commitment to ask of a paying audience. While the majority of the film remains captivating, I feel like the first half hour could take cuts without anything being lost to the story. It’s a shame, as the rest of the content really does serve the plot. While a slow start may put people off, I hope that they give the rest of the movie the attention it deserves.

Matt Reeves takes on a very particular challenge with this movie, no doubt aware of the big boots it has to fill and the comparison that would follow. Reeves somehow manages to create a real piece of art with this film, visually it’s really impressive; it’s dark, yes, but that’s to be expected in Gotham. They took such care with the choices around cinematography and I think it paid off beautifully, theres a lovely balance between pleasing the technical ‘film buff’ and the ‘Batman fan’ and I hope that audiences recognise the detail put into creating the overall look and feel of the world we step into. 

The plot is great. It’s clever without being confusing, it’s not predictable and has so much intricacy written into the dialogue that knits the film together. I personally really enjoyed seeing the detective side of our hero, it’s not just about rocking up and knocking out the ‘bad guys’ (though there is plenty of that, don’t worry), it’s a wise choice to move in a slightly different direction with the lead character, giving audiences a fresh perspective. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this film, it’s escapism at it’s finest, and as often is the way with hero movies, allows us to consider basic themes of good vs evil, right vs wrong, bravery, discernment and wisdom in our choices. It’s length is forgivable for the feeling that the audiences leave with and I highly recommend going to watch this on the big screen. It is worth noting, however, that for UK audiences it is certificate 15, which does limit those who can go and enjoy in cinemas.