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. 

The Card Counter – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Tye Sheridan, Tiffany Haddish, Willem Dafoe and Alexander Babara
Written and Directed by Paul Schrader
Length: 111mins

When the phrase, ‘Directed by Paul Schrader’ appears on any cinema screen, there’s a certain sense of dread that can form in a viewer’s mind. Known for his solitary and tormented characters, worlds which seem lacking in any joy, and yet a great awareness of how as humans we can be united – and therefore divided – it’s this harsh edge which has kept the Writer-Director above water in Hollywood for nearly fifty years. 

When it comes to Schraders core themes, ‘The Card Counter’ slots in very easily amongst the rest of his filmography. Oscar Isaac’s lead role as William Tell – a dedicated ex-con who’s developed a talent for Poker during his time behind bars – seems like the kind of man who wouldn’t seem out of place in a police lineup with any of Schrader’s previous characters beside him. This idea of having a self-reflexive solitary protagonist who keeps either a notebook of thoughts, or simply delivers them through voiceover, is a constant theme within Schraders films, and can almost feel at times as the most pure instance of Shrader conversing directly with the audience. It could be easily argued that after implementing this style for so long, it’s become a stale and played-out technique – but within these cold worlds which the director creates, this navigation of thoughts seems necessary as a way to enter the frequently closed-off mind of his leads. 

‘The Card Counter’ makes great use of cinematography and editing within certain areas of the film to deliver moments of extreme impact. Gruelling flashbacks to William Tell’s earlier life within the darkest pits of military intelligence extraction are made ever-more disturbing by a brilliant use of cinematography. Like the opposite of a fish-eye lens, the screen becomes distorted, and yet opens itself up even further to the viewer, ensuring that not a single painful detail is missed. Sadly, it can’t be said that this type of innovation is maintained throughout the film, and often the overtly-precise nature of both the look and style of the modern cameras which Schrader works with, can make a story feel as if it loses its edge slightly – particularly when compared to the dark grain of the directors films throughout the seventies and eighties. It would be harsh to directly compare eras of film which are half a lifetime apart, but there’s just something about classic Schrader films which you can’t help but look for in his later work. ‘The Card Counter’, however, seems to become at times something new within Schrader’s filmography, and whilst there are moments where it succeeds in developing new ideas, the overall aesthetic can, at times, fall easily into the tropes which we expect to see from this director.

In terms of performance, the cast do an all round solid job. Oscar Isaac and Tye Sheridan build a strong relationship which isn’t always explicitly laid out for the audience – developing a sense of uncertainty which evolves intriguingly as the story plays out. Tiffany Haddish can at times feel out of place and fairly wooden, but the dialogue that she’s delivering doesn’t do much to help her develop an interesting character. It’s this type of inconsistency within Schraders writing which makes his films interesting to watch, but a far cry from the great heights which audiences know he’s been capable of achieving.

‘The Card Counter’ isn’t a film to be entered lightly, and deals with some very heavy topics. However, it encounters these ideas in a way which still feels fresh and exciting, despite them being closely intertwined with Paul Schrader’s classic style. I’d definitely still say that the film is worth a watch, just so long as you know what you’re getting yourself in for.

Death On The Nile – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Tom Bateman, Emma Mackey, Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot. Directed by Kenneth Branagh Written by Michael Green (Screenplay) and Agatha Christie (Novel) Length: 127mins

In the second of Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot adventures, the famous detective finds himself tagging along on the honeymoon of the extremely wealthy Linnet Ridgeway (Gadot) and her new husband, Simon Doyle (Hammer). Others accompanying the happy couple include Linnet’s godmother, the bride’s former fiancé, a mother and son pairing, and a celebrated jazz singer and her niece as well as Simon’s jealous ex (Mackey), an uninvited but unshakable presence throughout the story…

It’s always tricky to comment on the plot of a movie that is an adaptation from a much loved author, especially one that has been made into film more than once. But to me, this story seems like a bizarre choice. The audience finds itself waiting for a good portion of the story until we  are presented with a murder, up until which point our lead character; a detective, is just awkwardly tagging along to a couples honeymoon party. Once he is released to do what he does best the plot becomes a little more interesting, though to me, the whole case is relatively predictable. 

While I would love to say that Death on the Nile was excellent, it falls slightly flat. The plot, as previously mentioned, accounts for a good portion of that. But also some of the creative choices throughout. The film is long, much longer than it needed to be and the time was used commenting on unusual aspects, for example, Poirot’s moustache gets its own pre-titles origin story, which is considerably more background detail than most of the other characters are afforded.

Some of the acting, however, was fantastic. British breakout star Emma Mackey was truly brilliant. Surrounded by Hollywood A listers, her scorned, possessive Jacqueline de Bellefort stood up to the ranks of those around her, bringing a deeply emotional, interesting performance. While Mackey is the one I chose to mention by name, as per Branagh’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, the film is filled with outstanding talent. This talent, and of course Branagh’s direction (which has just seen him nominated for an academy award), is the main draw of the movie. 

This film was a victim of Covid:19 and was due to release originally in early 2020 which means that audiences were left waiting and wanting to see the picture. I think that this can have a negative affect on it’s audiences – keen fans were left building up hopes for this film that may not have reached such heights had the film released when originally planned. It also suffers due to the controversy around several of it’s top billed cast which perhaps leaves a foul taste as people finally get in to watch the film. 

Death on the Nile is ‘fine’. It didn’t blow my mind, I wouldn’t rush to watch it again, but it’s a film that I could see myself re-watching at some point in the future as something to have on in the background. It isn’t as engaging or exciting as Murder on the Orient Express and left me wanting more. 

Jackass Forever – Review

Rating: 18
Cast: Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Dave England, Jason Acuna, Ehren McGhehey, Preston Lacey and Zack Holmes
Directed by Jeff Tremaine
Written by Spike Jonze, Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine, Eric Andre, Derrick Beckles, Andrew Weinberg, Colton Dunn, Knate Gwaltney and Sarah Sherman
Length: 96mins

For over two years there’s been a great deal of uncertainty over the future of local cinemas, but now, along with the help of one or two superhero movies, it seems that all was needed to return audiences to the big screen experience was a gang of foolhardy midwestern americans with a penchant for landing without style. ‘Jackass Forever’ may be the first film I’ve seen in a cinema where audiences laugh, groan and flinch in unity, with no other intention than to enjoy these madmen and women taking on increasingly unbelievable stunts.

As a Jackass film, it would be a hard sell for anyone who already knew it wasn’t for them, but there’s so much enjoyment to be gained from watching these group of excitable and carefree friends mess around on a scale that allows them the ability to essentially try out anything they like – a power that in the hands of the likes of Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O results in some mesmerisingly unbelievable footage. Their passion for taking off their clothes in front of the camera as well as their mates comes into its own in this latest film, resulting in some nail-bitingly tense scenes. Like the playground of a child’s imagination, ‘Jackass Forever’ allows its audience to bear witness to (as far as I know) the world’s first triple wedgie, body surfing and underwater farts being set alight. If you’re a zookeeper then you made need a word of warning, any requests from the Jackass guys to make use of your animals could lead to bears eating salmon from an electrified maniac, or a screaming Wee-Man desperately trying to avoid the bite of a falcon’s jaw as it devours the meat from his daringly small thong. It could almost sound as if the group are unkind to these animals, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, in a moment of hilarity, member Dave England proclaims that he’s a vegetarian, right after having been soaked in an unholy amount of pig semen.

Amongst the stunts, pranks, and general hi-jinks, ‘Jackass Forever’ provides a feeling that the group of hard nuts really do care for one another, and on the whole walk away from each inconceivably daring event with a smile on their faces, even when that departure from the set involves a stretcher and a fair few rolls of gauze tape. Aside from the newer – though equally as entertaining additions to the Jackass crew – the gang have been carrying out these wild escapades for a long while now, and know how to put on a good show. No scene throughout the film feels like filler, with each moment coming along at exactly the right time to deliver a new level of excitement, as well as perhaps a new chorus of winces from the audience. To see Johnny and Steve-O up on the big screen is something that a whole generation of Jackass-lovers have never been able to experience before, and now with restrictions lifting more and more, ‘Jackass Forever’ couldn’t have come at a better time to show the world that hanging out with your friends is still as fun as ever.

‘Jackass Forever’ is of course not for the faint of heart, but it’s still a great film to watch if you want to spend ninety minutes lost in a world of high energy madness. Truly, you have no idea what’s going next, and a lot of time neither do the poor souls on screen – but that’s all just part of the fun.

Belfast – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Jude Hill, Lewis McAskie, Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds. Directed by Kenneth Branagh Written by Kenneth Branagh Length: 98mins

 As Belfast starts, beginning in crisp colour and then fading into black and white, we the audience, are transported back to 1969. We are immediately given a glimpse of harmony, a tranquil moment of community and togetherness. This moment of bliss is broken within moments, shattered as petrol bombs and exploding cars hurtle through the previously calm local street. It is within this chaos that we start the story, witnessing the life of a family struggling to pay off old tax debts and wrestling with the choice of whether to stay in Belfast, their home, or move to England for the potential of a safer upbringing for the children. 

The story is explored through the eyes of 9 year old Buddy, it brings an innocence to the world that is presented to us, a world which was the reality for so many, of course. Young Jude Hill, brings such a sweet performance, full of integrity as his character tries to understand the violence that is surrounding his life. Caitriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan, playing Ma and Pa, manage to create a really authentic feeling of family. One that truly loves each other, but is frightened, has disagreements and walks the paths of their struggles as one unit despite differing opinions at times. Dench and Hinds bring some of the lighter moments of comedy and an extra layer to to importance of family throughout a frightening and unsettling time. 

It’s a movie of formal beauty, precise performances, complex and textured writing. While the bulk of the story is wrapped up in highly emotional drama, be that of the tensions between aggressive Protestants demanding that the Catholics leave the street (countered, of course, with neighbours who happily lived peacefully despite their differing beliefs) or the rising financial tensions in the home of our focal family; we are still treated to a through line of togetherness, despite all of the highly emotional events that take place in the story.

It’s a movie that seems to pack in an awful lot, while simultaneously maintaining the feeling of ‘just keeping on’. With a focus on people, their relationships and what is important, Branagh manages to still highlight some of the devastating political issues of the past. What keeps a relative lightness throughout the darkness is our young lead, the moments of innocence written in – such as the trip to the cinema to watch ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’. The balance that Branagh achieves through both his writing and direction, is really quite brilliant. Neither the light nor the dark can be forgotten throughout this film, you can really sense the truth in its writing, reminding us that while darkness and awful situations descend around us, moments of joy can be found in unexpected situations.   

Belfast is arguably the most personal story Branagh has told to date, written from his own perspective as a child growing up in Northern Ireland. It will have certainly captured the attentions of the awards circuit and I hope that it is enjoyed by many. Although not a film I would necessarily sit down to watch on repeat, it is a valuable audience experience and is worthy of the praise it’s receiving.

Nightmare Alley – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Rooney Mara, Willem Dafoe, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman and David Strathairn
Written by Guillermo Del Toro, William Lindsey Gresham (Adapted from the novel by) and Kim Morgan
Length: 150mins

After a Best Picture winner, a cult classic fairytale retelling, as well as a few action movies, Guillermo Del Toro has firmly established himself within Hollywood as a great storyteller. Each of his films delve completely into the setting and history of the environment they play out in, and ‘Nightmare Alley’ is no different. In the film, a young man establishes himself amongst all the intriguing going-on’s of a local travelling circus, becoming further and further embroiled in trouble of his own making. 

Bradley Cooper leads the film as a mysterious and unpredictable character. His simple introduction tells us everything we need to know, and nothing at all. For the first twenty or so minutes, his character of Stanton Carlisle seems content to sit back and let others run around him, barely saying a word. His apparent satisfaction from remaining quiet shows his intelligence, and understanding of how words can be manipulated – a key skill needed for his mystical future employment as a psychic. Cooper is excellent as the leading role, and, combined with his recent appearance in ‘Licorice Pizza’, is showing the world that he’s a brilliantly versatile actor who can deeply involve himself in any role he plays. You’re never quite sure what to make of him, and even in moments of sincerity, there’s an underlying feeling of manipulation that provides an intriguing extra layer to his performance.

Of course, with a cast to rival that of a Wes Anderson film (well, perhaps not quite that good), it would be a shame to not highlight some of the other performances on display. Toni Collette delivers as excellently as always as the charming and warm Madame Zeena, a supposedly mystic character who knows when her act has gone too far. However, the real stand out supporting character falls on the shoulders of David Strathairn, the alcoholic husband of Zeena. His early relationship with Stanton allows the story to consider the ethics behind the tricks conjured upon the circus stage, as well as what the young man should do with his ability to seemingly manipulate others using only a few words. Scenes between the two are completely engaging, as we watch their apprentice-teacher relationship experience its fair share of high and low points.

Aesthetically, ‘Nightmare Alley’ brings to life the magic of the circus. Not entirely sure what you’re seeing, but unable to turn away, the bright lights of travelling entertainment draws in crowds just as much as it does the audience, and by allowing us a look behind the curtain, Del Toro is able to deliver some really intriguing scenes. The film is very much composed of two parts. The first, showing the hidden secrets of a 1940’s circus, visually contrasts with the high society setting of the film’s later action, whilst establishing through characters and dialogue an idea that in neither location is everything as it seems. Vague references to political powers and key historical events not only establishes a clear setting, but considers the ideas of the film’s fictional story within a real, historical context.

With a runtime of two-and-a-half hours, I can’t deny that you do begin to feel the length towards the later half of the film. However, the detail that Del Toro applies to every scene consistently keeps your attention, and strengthens the moments which are already exciting or intriguing. Just like many of his other films, ‘Nightmare Alley’ feels as if it came straight from a storybook that a parent would never want their child to read. 

The 355 – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Diane Kruger, Lupita Nyong’o, Bingbing Fan, Sebastian Stan and Jason Flemyng. Directed by Simon Kinberg. Written by Simon Kinberg and Theresa Rebeck. Length: 122mins

When a top-secret weapon falls into mercenary hands, scorned CIA agent Mace Brown (Chastain) goes off grid in an attempt to retrieve the weapon. She joins forces with former rival and German intelligence agent Marie (Kruger), her MI6 ally and computer scientist Khadijah (Nyong’o) and Colombian psychologist Graciela (Cruz) to track the weapon down, all while staying one step ahead of a mysterious woman, Lin Mi Sheng (Fan), who is tracking their every move.

The plot is relatively basic in the ‘spy film’ genre; a threat is established and the intelligence agencies around the world race against time to get their hands on it. Although somewhat generic, the fast pacing of the movie keeps the audiences attention, meaning the audience doesn’t sit and think too deeply into logistics or intricate details. The writing does lack surprise, the main twist isn’t difficult to see coming, and its missing any real suspense or humour. But I think it works. Audiences have such high expectations in this genre and of course it will be compared to the well established, male led franchises like James Bond, Mission Impossible or Jason Bourne, but I think it’s our job as audiences to try to avoid such comparisons. Not to say that it shouldn’t be scrutinised to the same level – we have expectations and a desire for those to be met, but I think it’s an obvious concept that a female led movie in a genre that is dominated by male leads should be different. Celebrating the strengths and weaknesses of the characters, as you would expect in any other film, depending on who they are and how their stories unfold.

While the character relationship development is perhaps a little clunky, particularly between Mace and Marie, the group forms with an interesting chemistry. The writers do manage to avoid some of the cliches one might expect to see; our group doesn’t become really close, really quickly, they don’t all use their appearances to get what they want (apart from one of the characters, once…but even then it’s not a massive plot point). The focus relies on the concept of five, highly trained individuals who are going after their mission. The writing also allows our leading ladies, to retain their own sense of feminimity throughout, without changing for the sake of making any of it’s audience ‘feel better’, they are strong, they are determined, they are skilled, they have vulnerabilities and they are human. It makes it work.

It’s been said that the cast are ‘wasted’ in The 355, and yes, I can understand that the acting abilities of the cast were not stretched to reach the full potential of their skill, but the work didn’t need it. Chastain’s character goes through real emotional turmoil throughout and she rides it with just the right level of drive, Kruger brings a real strength and passion to Marie, while Cruz doesn’t push too hard for her character to be anything other than it’s written to bes. Nyong’o and Fan play roles who are somewhat more mysterious with their past experiences hinted at but not really explored. All of the women are generous in their performances, none demand focus and quite frankly having 5 leading ladies in an action movie who are all aged between 38-48 is something I would like to see more of.

Unfortunately, I’ve already seen some folk turn their nose up and not being willing to watch the film purely because it features “women playing mens roles” (not my words, but a quote from a moviegoer who didn’t buy a ticket for this particular feature…), which is really sad to me. It’s a thoroughly entertaining film that isn’t trying to push any agenda and it’s really worth a watch. While not a perfect movie it had everything that I wanted from a film in the action/spy genre.

Licorice Pizza – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie and Skyler Gisondo
Written and Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Length: 134mins

If Quentin Tarantino has set a precedent of highly established directors creating fun and stylised films about the period they grew up in with ‘Once Upon A Time in Hollywood’, then Paul Thomas Anderson has just released a great addition to the collection. Like George Lucas’s ‘American Graffiti’ and Richard Linklater’s ‘Dazed and Confused’ before them, everything’s cool in these films – it’s just teenagers running around, having a good time and getting into trouble. Set in 1970’s L.A, ‘Licorice Pizza’ follows fifteen-year-old Gary Valentine, a successful child star, as he grows up hoping the girl he’s in love with might be won over by his charm, whilst also somehow seeming to get involved in just about everything that was going on in the valley at the time.

Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim are brilliant as the two lead characters. Despite it being the feature debut for the both of them, their chemistry onscreen is effortlessly engaging. Whether they’re arguing about pinball machines or making up over water beds, the constant highs and lows of their relationship is central to the story of ‘Licorice Pizza’, and captures everything that’s exciting about being young in a beautiful place like San Fernando.

Looking back through his filmography, it’s hard to argue that Paul Thomas Anderson is anything less than a modern master of filmmaking. His style is unique, but adapts with each new story he tells, whether that be the early twentieth century oil industry, or the trappings of dressmaking in Britain. ‘Licorice Pizza’, although arguably less direct in its storytelling, doesn’t disappoint. Scenes pass by effortlessly as a result of Anderson’s excellent direction, hailing back to the films which established his career like ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘Magnolia’, where the camera moves with grace, whilst capturing everything around it. When the kids are excited about some new business venture or plan they’re about to lay into action, so is the camera, moving with a degree of its own energy that you can’t help but be drawn in by.

There are some absolutely brilliant moments within the film. Bradley Cooper lights up every scene he’s in, not only because of the blindingly white outfit he’s wearing, but also from the energy and intensity he dedicates to every small detail. Benny Safdie’s role as a candidate for the local mayoral position brings a great level of sincerity to the film, showing that not everything is bright and cheerful in the world of the characters. Although the narrative is fairly loose, jumping from one moment to another with little explanation, the choice to play the film out in this way works as a reflection of the energetic and impulsive way in which Valentine’s mind functions. Furthermore, it reinforces the idea that this is a nostalgic film for Anderson, reflecting on the times in which he grew up with a great amount of fondness, which, like a memory, is thought back on like a patchwork – some things are more vivid and others aren’t.

‘Licorice Pizza’ is exactly the kind of fun and relaxing film that could do really well at the cinema these days. It looks beautiful, the characters are engaging, and it transports you back to the feeling of excitement you had when you were a kid and the summer holidays were in full swing, even if that wasn’t in the 1970’s L.A. It’s not without its flaws, but as a fun trip out to the cinema, you can’t fault it.

Tick, Tick…BOOM!  – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus, Vanessa Hudgens and Joshua Henry. Directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda Written by Steven Levenson (screenplay by) and Jonathan Larson (based on the musical by) Length: 115mins

Tick, Tick…BOOM is a heartfelt tribute to Broadway talent Jonathan Larson, played here by Andrew Garfield. A show written by Larson himself to tell his story and express his struggle, adapted by screenwriter Steven Levenson from Larson’s autobiographical piece that came just before Rent to tell the story of his first major musical project: a wildly ambitious futurist fantasy called Superbia that almost no one seemed to get. In short; it’s a musical about making a musical based on an autobiographical one man show…

This film is explicitly theatrical, going back and forth between Larson’s story and his one-man show of him telling that same story. This will undoubtedly not be to everyones taste, however I feel like this film was created for a certain audience; then if others enjoy it then its a bonus. It’s a true love letter to musicals and the artists that create them, with a wider scope of anyone who is grinding for a career in the arts. Tick, Tick…Boom throws its audience into the Larson’s ordeal of the quarter-life crisis, the first glimmers of approaching mortality and the realisation that options are closing down, something that particularly afflicts those approaching their 30s in the creative arts who don’t seem to be making it. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda saw Rent on his 17th birthday, he saw that musicals could be about every day people in places and situations that he understood..two years later he started writing his tony award winning show‘In The Heights’. It’s a really great to see a director take on a movie about someone who directly impacted his life – Larson was the composer who inspired his own creative awakening. Miranda, who also starred as Larson in a theatrical performance of this, directs the film with a deep understanding of the passion, struggle, and ebullience of an artist committed to an art form that requires a lot of money and a lot of other people to be brought to life.

Some people will be frustrated by Larson’s sense of his own importance and neglect of those around him. But theatre kids of all ages will appreciate that it’s not his own importance he’s excited by, so much as the importance of the stories he wants to tell, even if they are not yet awards worthy.

This film is really stylised which fits perfectly with the somewhat chaotic narrative and you can see how much heart has been put into it’s creation. As stated earlier I’m not sure it’s for everyone, but it’s an opportunity to get a glimpse of struggle demonstrated on this particular path of life. Had this film been based around another subject matter, I probably wouldn’t have connected to it to the same degree, but for what it is, I think it’s brilliant.

Jonathan Larson died at 35, just before the opening night of Rent, an almost unbearable metaphor for the backstage heartbreak of musical theatre. This film helps remember him and his creativity in a beautiful way.