The Last Duel – Review

Rating: 18 Cast: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck and Alex Lawther. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Length: 152mins.

Inspired by Eric Jager’s 2004 account of France’s last officially recognised duel, Ridley Scott takes on the task of telling this medieval tale broken down into three chapters and told from three perspectives. The story is one of rape-revenge focussing primarily on three characters – Jean de Carrouges (Damon), his wife Marguerite (Comer) and Jacques Le Gris, exploring the downward spiral of de Carrouges, the arrogant rise of Le Gris and the impossible choices facing Marguerite as her husbands absence is taken advantage of. 

The Last Duel gets somewhat bogged down in the mud and blood of its period; a whole mix of arrows-in-the-face type violence and war, none of which I have a problem with, but it seemed to drag the film out and distract from the main story. While it did assist somewhat in setting the scene, I didn’t feel that it was fully necessary to include so much.  Having said this, the actual storytelling was really clever and very well written. Each perspective was similar enough for the audience to know what’s happening, but with brilliantly subtle changes, contrasting tone and dialogue – right up until the rape scene which was, in line with telling the story from perspectives, a significantly different event to each character. 

This film was expertly cast. Adam Driver played his role perfectly, he is fully believable in his arrogance and aggression but allows an appealing vulnerability into his role that just keeps his Le Gris interesting, until, of course, you realise the sort of man he is. This is one of Matt Damon’s finer performances in recent years. He plays in contractions – he’s clearly a well respected, strong warrior, but he is overwhelmed and constantly trying to keep his head above water. We see a good amount of Damon’s range in this film, he really is a brilliant watch. Jodie Comer is phenomenal. Those of us who have watched her rise in the acting industry are very well aware of how brilliant she is but this film is a mighty task and she’s flawless. She fully holds her own while working with Hollywood A-Listers, she demonstrates depth, innocence and the complexities of her character and without her the film would not have such an impact.

Interestingly, many reviews are not speaking of The Last Duel too favourably. It seems that many issues from a reviewers point of view surround the fact that, though Comer is brilliant, the drama is centred on the men; the three part structure means Marguerite can only get one third of our attention. I can see what is being said here – it’s an important topic and it could seemingly pull focus. However, there were three parties involved at the centre of the story, the time period would not allow or listen to a woman making accusations without the backing of her husband and so I cannot see another way to tell this story. Also, the films title is The Last Duel – an act that could only be undertaken by the men, the duel is featured (perhaps taking a little too much screen time in my view…) and therefore the history of the two men, their perspectives and the journey that got them to the duel are important. The story is told, the impact on Marguerite is brilliantly portrayed and audiences are walking away with her story at the front of their mind. For me, that tells me that the film has done what it intended to do.

Limbo – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Ola Orebiyi, Kwabena Ansah
Directed by Ben Sharrock
Written by Ben Sharrock
Length: 104mins

Stuck on a remote Scottish island whilst waiting for asylum in the UK, Omar, a young, but talented musician finds the will of himself and those around him tested as they wait in desperation for a better life, whilst living in a place that seems to have no life of its own.

‘Limbo’ balances humor and tragedy with a skill that few films possess, which is made even more impressive when you consider that this is only director Ben Sharrock’s second film. At times you’ll find yourself unable to hold back your laughter, as the film delivers some hilarious moments which play on the attitudes of the islanders, as well as the hopeless “real-world” training that’s assigned to those on the island. At the same time, ‘Limbo’ delivers some eye-opening moments of sincerity which build up a dramatic tone throughout the film, turning the film into something more than just a comedy.

Ben Sharrocks’ film may be one of the most beautiful films put to screen this year, drawing from the symmetrical nature of Wes Anderson’s style and applying a darker and more hopeless tone to it. It’s through this bleak cinematography that we feel sympathetic for those stuck on the island, and it doesn’t take long for their hopes to escape become our own hope, simply through the visuals. However, later elements of the film which explore who these people were before they became stuck in this strange limbo utilise some beautiful moments of cinematography and sound, introducing themes of nostalgia and longing which contrast with the bleak nature of the world found around Omar and the other asylum seekers now. Through this, the director shows the conflict within the characters of whether they should keep pushing forward in hopes of a new life, or return to the safety of what they know. However, the safety of what they know may not be as safe as it once was, and Sharrock has created a brilliant film which meditates on this conflict.

It may not be as easy to find as our usual recommendations, with ‘Limbo’ coming and going from our big screens without too much fanfare. However, it’s a film with so much to offer, and I can safely say it’ll be near the top of my year-end list. If you get a chance, definitely give this one a watch.

No Time To Die – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Rami Malek, Christoph Waltz, Ana de Armas and Lashana Lynch. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge Length:163mins

 Finally – the long awaited 25th instalment of Ian Flemings well loved British agent, 007, has hit our big screens. After having it’s release postponed several times throughout the Covid:19 pandemic, the world seemed to hold it’s breath as thousands returned to the cinema. With all eyes on it’s release, No Time To Die not only wanted to end the ‘Daniel Craig as James Bond’ era with a bang; but shouldered the pressure of enticing customers back to the cinemas.

In No Time To Die Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace and quiet is short-lived when his old friend and CIA agent Felix Leiter turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology. 

While this film has been criticised for not being ‘Bond enough’, I would have to disagree. The writers have done a good job in creating a story that is fleshed out with action, relationship, humour and, of course, gadgets. There are some lovely nods to past Bond films through the use of its score, one liners and the familiar location of a private island which calls to mind 1962 release, Dr. No. It was a wise move to bring the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge into the writers room, you can certainly see her influence around the strong female characters and wit, as well as being mindful of keeping the essence of James Bond in a post #MeToo society. 

No Time To Die gives it’s audiences the chance to experience the deeper relationship between James and Madeleine, showing a more emotional side of 007, a side that we don’t usually get to see. The chemistry between the two, in my opinion, was better than it was in Spectre which made the whole relationship feel more authentic. Due to the deeper relationship and their history, it presented an opportunity for another two strong women to enter the story without being love interests. Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas didn’t disappoint. Both brought flair and humour to characters who were fiercely capable and complimentary to moving the story forward. As far as Bond villains go, this film hits the jackpot. While having two different villains does take away from the impact of one sole threat, you can’t really complain when the characters are manned by the cool, controlled calm of Christoph Waltz and countered with the somewhat wired, yet considered, Rami Malek. 

Visually this film doesn’t disappoint and is full of action. As Daniel Craig’s final Bond film it does have loose ends to tie up so the franchise can move forward. Unfortunately the length is a slight sticking point, at 2hrs43 it is quite a commitment and there are certainly moments that could have been cut, as they serve no purpose in moving the plot forward. No Time To Die is absolutely worth a watch, and on a big screen. There’s something wonderful about returning to a packed cinema to watch a film from long running franchise, with multigenerational audiences all enjoying and connecting to a character that has graced Cinema and TV screens for years. 

Annette – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg and Devyn McDowell
Directed by Leos Carax
Written by Ron and Russell Mael
Length: 140mins

A slightly detached and dystopian version of modern day LA takes up the setting of Leos Carax’s latest release, ‘Annette’, and although the film takes on the usual extravagances of a high-budget musical, between the high-functioning characters and their equally high-stakes public appearances, you can’t help but feel that there’s something more sinister going on behind the scenes. 

Adam Driver’s electrifying performance as Henry McHenry, a comedian with a tendency for indulging in the darker side of things when it comes to his shows, is another in the multitude of brilliant characters taken on by Driver in recent years. His intense and unmistakable presence on screen is established not only through his quite-literally massive physical appearance, but also in the erratic subtleties that he applies to this role as an equally erratic performer. Marion Cotillard also puts in a great performance as Ann Desfranoux, an opera singer who’s seen in the public eye as a divine and delicate figure – the beauty to Driver’s beast. Together, ‘Annette’ explores the power couple dynamic which forms when the two begin dating, and as the narrative progresses, so does the state of their relationship – for better or for worse.

In terms of pacing, Carax’s modern musical blockbuster hurdles along at a blistering pace, and isn’t afraid to move things forward quickly, with a good number of years being covered during the 140 minutes runtime. Combined with the incredible production design which emphasises the extravagance of this story, ‘Annette’ has an undeniable feeling of grandeur, whilst still managing to maintain an arthouse aesthetic which benefits the more surreal undertakings of the director. Love it or hate it – which I imagine many will – aside from its musical origins, ‘Annette’ feels like an entirely new kind of film, and one which I’m sure will influence future generations, but remain untouchable due to the unique nature of both its story and production.

Written by the infamous ‘Sparks’ brothers, it seemed almost obvious that ‘Annette’ would deliver its story through the use of music. However, I felt that it was actually the songwriting within the film that let the whole thing down. Often extremely repetitive and lacking in subtlety, it seemed a shame that a surrealist narrative delivered from the minds of songwriters who’ve been at it for over forty years couldn’t provide some more exciting or ambiguous lyricism. A multitude of sequences felt as if they dragged on simply because the characters were unable to do more than repeat the same lines of music over and over. Perhaps after multiple viewings, and time to allow the songs to become earworms, their presence may seem more necessary, but upon a first watch, I can’t say I was completely won over.

All in all, it’s undeniable that ‘Annette’ is a bold achievement in both extravagance and absurdity from the French-born director, and whilst there is a lot to love about the film – in particular its performances – it’s difficult to imagine any audience being in one-hundred percent agreement over this one, but that’s no reason not to give it a go and make your own opinion of it.

The Last Bus – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Timothy Spall, Phyllis Logan, Ben Ewing and Natalie Mitson. Directed by Gillies MacKinnon Written by Joe Ainsworth Length: 86mins

The last bus follows Tom, a retired engineer, who, upon losing his wife decides that he wants to make one last, long bus trip. After a tragedy early on in their marriage, the pair moved from Lands End up to John O’Groats and the film picks up with Tom as he sets about making the trip back down to the most southernly part of England to wrap up the story of their love. 

In theory, this Brit-flick should be a warm, relatively easy watch; pulling at the heartstrings of it’s audience as they follow the elderly hero as he sets off on his nostalgic journey. Unfortunately, for me it just didn’t translate. Although it was a short film, I was checking my watch, it just didn’t move quite as smoothly as I’d hoped and I found it quite disjointed. Each new scene brought a whole new drama, it almost became funny as every possible thing that could have happened to Tom on his trip, does. 

Having said this, Timothy Spall plays Tom with integrity and commitment. He doesn’t present the total cliche of ‘cute old man’, which at least makes the character a bit more of a ‘real person’. We are allowed to feel his heartbreak and confusion as he negotiates the trip. It was a nice touch to have the memories of Tom and Mary’s relationship when they were first married, it broke up the action and allows the audience to connect with the pair and their experiences.It’s through Tom’s memories that we find the film’s emotional core – why he and his wife moved from Cornwall to the most northern point of the UK and the reasons for some of his stop-offs.

It’s a shame but this film just doesn’t hit the mark, it’s a slow mover that feels like drama has been added simply to push the story along. The writing feels lazy to the point that even with fantastic actors, there is only so much that could be done. Not worth a watch in my opinion. 

The Green Knight – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Dev Patel, Barry Keoghan, Alicia Vikander, Sean Harris and Joel Edgerton
Directed by David Lowery
Length: 130mins

Another film caught up in the unfortunate delays which have affected so many releases in the last year or two, ‘The Green Knight’ has finally been able to hit the big screen and be appreciated by audiences across the world. A promising, if fairly typical A24 trailer built a great amount of anticipation for the latest release from up-and-coming director David Lowery, hinting at a twisted and unsettling adaptation of the classic medieval tale of Gawain and the Green Knight, and in many regards the film managed to deliver on its promises.

Firstly, a review of ‘The Green Knight’ wouldn’t be complete without an appreciation for the incredible visuals which define the story. Capturing the mythological nature of the film through a wide range of techniques, cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo brilliantly conveys the themes and aesthetic through visuals alone. The often barren and untouched landscapes which Gawaian travels across are shown with an eye for detail that feels reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s filmography. Another key aspect which Palermo delivers on is his ability to show the status of a character simply through positioning of the camera and their framing within the shot. Dev Patel’s introduction as a young man not yet come-of-age within the first scenes of the film are reinforced by the way that the camera is used, and immediately shows the audience what to make of him.

Speaking of Patel, his performance is another of many great ones from the last few years. Mark Kermode described his body language in 2018’s ‘David Copperfield’ as Chaplin-esque, and Patel carries this same energy and attention to detail into ‘The Green Knight’. As his character develops throughout the narrative, so does the way in which he presents the character of Gawain, beginning as an inexperienced but slightly overly confident boy, and developing into something else entirely after experiencing one hardship after another.

David Lowery is not a director known for his conventional approach to filmmaking or narrative, and will often tell stories in a way unlike many I’ve seen. His slow and hypnotic ‘A Ghost Story’ from 2017 entrances the viewer through its use of simplistic, yet beautiful visuals and story. With ‘The Green Knight’, a more extravagant and action-oriented fantasy tale, Lowery once again thinks outside the box, and delivers brilliant moments within the story that turn all expectations the audience could have had on their head. However, in terms of pacing, the film does suffer as a result, with the final act delivering a very interesting ending, but one which the audience feels like they have to work towards, slightly diminishing the satisfaction of a final resolution somewhat. Despite this, I wouldn’t criticise the director for what he’s trying to do, as I think it’s great to have filmmakers working today who are willing to challenge conventions.

‘The Green Knight’ is a must watch for anyone with a love for beautifully filmed fantasy stories, and I’m sure even those who aren’t interested in such things would still get a lot from it. Dev Patel and Barry Keoghan are both excellent, and I would recommend not giving up the chance to see this one on the big screen.

Last Letter From Your Lover – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Shailene Woodley, Joe Alwyn, Felicity Jones, Nabhaan Rizwan and Callum Turner. Directed by Augustine Frizzell Written by Nick Payne, Esta Spalding and Jojo Moyes (based on the book by) Length: 110mins

Last Letter From Your Lover, a 2021 release based on the book of the same name, promises a good old fashioned romance switching between two timelines which focusses on two different couples. Boasting an array of established young talent, it’s bound to attract the attention of any romance fans. 

The film begins in 1965 in London, as socialite Jennifer Stirling (Woodley) returns home from the hospital. It’s clear that there has been some sort of accident and that Jennifer has no memory from before. Her best friend informs her that she has ‘the perfect life’, but upon discovering a love letter from another man that she had hidden in a book, Jennifer sets about discovering the truth and searching for a love that she’s forgotten. Meanwhile, in the present time, Ellie (Jones) is introduced as a less than interested thirty-something, emerging from a one-night stand with a clear desire to avoid any sort of meaningful relationship. She’s a journalist working on a profile, who upon discovering a letter in the paper’s archive, begging “J” to run away with him, is absolutely determined to learn the romantic story of the mysterious ‘pen pals’ from the past. With the help of an eager archivist, Rory (Rizwan), Ellie begins to piece together the romance, presented to the audience through flashbacks, between Jennifer and Anthony O’Hare (Turner).

 The Last Letter from Your Lover is  definitely watchable. It’s an entertaining enough story which, while relatively predictable, holds the attention of it’s audience. The writing has moments that are beautifully poetic, particularly in the letters, which I assume are taken directly from the book. It helps the establish the differences between the two timelines and adds to the romance at the core of the story.  Having said this, it’s not quite the sweeping romance it feels like it should be. I can only attribute that to the lack of on screen passion, particularly in the flashback timeline. We aren’t given the opportunity to watch the relationship actually develop, we are presented with a hint of their true passion through the letters, but in the action we’re given limited dialogue, some nice montages and no real exploration of the story of their falling for each other.

The story gives us four characters who have had or are having unhappy experiences of relationships which creates drama. It immediately presents conflict which makes a romance more interesting, but the lack of exploration into three of the four backstories leaves its audience wanting. I quite enjoyed the modern day story; they didn’t push it too much or over romanticise a situation that was clearly just starting which makes it a little bit more authentic. The flashbacks are definitely romanticised but it fits the essence and world that is created in the flashbacks. You can see moments where the filmmakers clearly try to mirror the two stories. This works quite nicely as a link and to highlight the differences between the two times, but it feels like it could have been used to a greater level; to really show similarities in heart, frustration or hurt, particularly between the two female leads who had plenty of differences. 

While this review has been somewhat critical, I would still recommend watching it. It’s entertaining, has moments of romance and is led by a solid cast. My frustrations stem from a story that has so much potential. It just feels that the end result is lacking, and if we had been given more backstory and character development I think it could have been great. 

Candyman – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Yayha Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Colman Domingo
Directed by Nia DaCosta
Length: 91mins

2021’s ‘Candyman’ takes the ritualistic horror of the 1992 original and brings it up to speed for a contemporary setting, adding a new sense of societal and cultural awareness which influences a major part of the film. Now in the hands of rising star Nia DaCosta, this new ‘Candyman’ promises just as many thrills as the last.

Although the horror genre is one known for infrequent character development, with many performers being introduced with very little background, simply for the purpose of an easy murder scene, there are always some which take the time to bring the audience into the world of those they’re watching, and often it’s those same films which receive a great amount of success. However, this latest ‘Candyman’ is sadly not such a film, as each character receives only a surface level introduction, and are often only used to perform a certain task or reflect a certain issue, rather than feeling as if they actually live within the world of the film. As a result, the real thrill of seeing such characters being put through variously terrifying situations loses its edge fairly quickly, as the consequence of their death or escape is one of the last things on the audience’s mind.

From the very start, DaCosta’s ‘Candyman’ establishes itself as a film which will use its horror as a means to delve deep into issues revolving around race and inequality. The bourgeois Chicago neighbourhood which comprises the film’s setting is a newly-gentrified area, having taken the homes of those generally in poverty, and renovating them to make such a place more attractive to those from wealthier and more privileged backgrounds. The lead character himself, Anthony, is one such resident, and his careless attitude to the origins of the Candyman work as a reflection to the disregard shown towards such neighbourhoods by the city on a more metaphorical level, and as the beginning of the end for his character in terms of narrative. Whilst it’s important that films use their own medium as a way to explore key issues such as this, and the horror genre is definitely seeming to catch up to others in this way, it’s the overly heavy-handed manner in which ‘Candyman’ goes about developing its themes which can take an audience both out of a scene, and out of the film entirely. Rather than using subtlety and implicit meaning to allow the viewer to think for themselves, the narrative constantly makes reference to specific details in a way that very easily allows the audience to switch off from what’s trying to be said.

‘Candyman’ definitely has moments where it feels as if it’s trying something new, and I imagine that Nia DaCosta has big things ahead of her, but for now I can’t say I’d recommend this film to many people, even those who love horror. The trailer delivers a brilliant use of animation, but other than that, ‘Candyman’ has fairly little to offer.

Summer of Soul – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson, Nina Simone, B.B. King, Mavis Staples and Moms Mabley
Directed by Ahmir-Khalid Thompson
Length: 117mins

The Summer of 1969 was infamous for its association with the ‘Free Love’ movement sweeping across America, and in particular its ties to the now-infamous Woodstock festival, a historic moment in modern American history. However, in the centre of Harlem that very same summer, it could be argued that a festival of even greater importance was taking place – the Harlem Cultural Festival. Some of the biggest artists in the black community took part in the festivities, which ran every weekend over the course of six weeks, showcasing the incredible talents of a range of artists from Nina Simone to Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone to B.B. King and many more.

Before even diving into the qualities which make ‘Summer of Soul’ a great documentary, the fact that it brings to life a key historic event which had been hidden away for over fifty years is something to be celebrated in itself. As the trailer says, if the festival hadn’t been recorded over the course of its runtime, it would be hard to believe any of this ever took place. The six free concerts culminated in a total attendance of around 600,000 people, solidifying the Summer of ‘69 in New York as one of great importance for the Black community.

Moving from act to act over the course of the films two hour runtime, each performer provides a new and unique perspective on not only their music, but the state of the modern world and how they hope to influence the future, which is greatly fleshed out through a variety of filmmaking techniques, from the colourful cinematography to the well-timed editing. It’s hard to pick out individual artists as really dominating the film, as everyone featured provides something important, but out of all the artists, Nina Simone stands out as an untouchable presence, delivering her songs with such great purpose and power that you can’t help but feel slightly amazed that such performances ever really took place.

Not only is the festival which unfolds throughout ‘Summer of Soul’ one of great cultural and social importance, it also just looks like a great amount of fun. Every artist who takes part in a retrospective ‘talking head’ interview speaks extremely highly of the festival, and often mentions the disbelief they felt when they first realised just how many people were in attendance. Knowing that the audience mainly comprised of fellow people of colour as they walked on stage, the entire show feels more like a communal celebration rather than a concert, creating an atmosphere of one giant party. Furthermore, the level of technical ability displayed by these artists is completely mesmerising, whether that be the forward-thinking funk movements of Sly & the Family Stone, the incredible blues capabilities of B.B. King or the deeply moving and powerful vocals of Nina Simone.

‘Summer of Soul’ truly feels like a summer film, and although it may be nearing the end of its runtime on the cinema circuit, I would highly recommend keeping an eye out for it wherever you can. An incredible insight into the music of America in 1969, there aren’t many other films out there like it.

The Suicide Squad – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, David Dastmalchian and Daniela Melchior
Written and Directed by James Gunn
Length: 132mins

After the fairly disastrously received first ‘Suicide Squad’ film, DC were well aware that they had to try something new. Now, five years on, they’ve brought in experienced superhero director James Gunn to take the reins for a reimagining of the team. One of the first major blockbusters to reach the big screen this Summer, ‘The Suicide Squad’ is an exciting and interesting new addition to the DC universe.

The thought on many people’s minds going into this film was likely not too different – can Gunn do it again? After taking control of the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ franchise for Marvel in the early 2010’s, the director contributed a fresh style which brought some great new ideas to the table, and which Marvel would continue to draw from to this day. Bright colours, an exciting soundtrack and characters who don’t take themselves too seriously all accumulated in a great superhero film, and displayed the sort of innovation DC desperately needed. Now, with the fate of a bunch of criminals and misfits in his hands once again, James Gunn has delivered a gripping and entertaining watch which brilliantly articulates the unlikely teaming-up of these bad guys.

One of the essential elements of the Suicide Squad’s creation is that it shouldn’t matter if any members of the team are lost, as they are all dispensable. A good contrast to the often predictably happy endings found within most modern Superhero stories, Gunn leans into this idea fairly heavily, and utilises such an ethos in a great way. From the get-go, he makes it very clear that no one is safe throughout the film, killing off characters very early on who you were sure would have a much greater presence in the story. Furthermore, the way these characters go out is often completely unexpected and shocking, perhaps giving reason for the 15 rating. This delightfully cruel take on extreme comic book violence allows the audience to see a new side of the DC world, balancing comedy and violence in an excellently dark way.

If there’s one thing that’s been learnt from the creation of dystopian or futuristic stories, it’s that everyone loves to see the strangest and most bizarre creatures imaginable brought to life onscreen. Whether that be the Wookies from Star Wars, or the overly-goofy superheroes created by Marvel in the 70’s, ‘The Suicide Squad’ delivers no shortage of wild and interesting creations who influence the story in their own unique way. Due to the fairly short life-span of many of the squad’s members, Gunn is able to bring in these surreal creatures for only a short space of time, and then quickly move on to the next exciting moment.

‘The Suicide Squad’ may not be top of the list for most moviegoers after the fairly underwhelming release of the original, but it would be a shame if that was the reason why anyone missed this release. Filled with life, colour and excitement, James Gunn’s first film for DC picks up on all the things that makes a superhero film great and delivers them in a consistently entertaining way throughout.