Movie Review – Education

Education (2020)
Written by Steve McQueen & Alistair Siddons
Directed by Steve McQueen

During the 1970s, it was discovered that some London councils were secretly following an unwritten policy to push Black children out of mainstream schools and into “subnormal” schools that were underfunded and poorly staffed. This practice was exposed by Bernard Coard, an education activist from Grenada who worked as a teacher in England. He found that this policy had a long-term effect of making children “neurotic about their race and culture.” This was yet another in a long line of exposure of systemic racism in Western culture directed at Black minds & bodies.

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Movie Review – Mangrove

Mangrove (2020)
Written by Steve McQueen & Alastair Siddons
Directed by Steve McQueen

The summer of 2020 was a season marked by the continued spread of COVID-19 and a massive civil unrest movement that came out of a reaction to the state-sanctioned murders of a growing number of Black people in America. What followed in major cities across the country were all-out police riots with hordes of uniformed officers revealing what brutal thugs they indeed were. The media narrative pushed was that there were riots, but in hundreds of videos released across social media, anyone could see that these attacks from police were made on peaceful demonstrators who were being very direct about their thought on law enforcement in America. Steve McQueen reminds us that this is not merely an American phenomenon or even something specific to our point in history. Police and the justice system are inherently racist, and they cannot be engaged in good faith.

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Movie Review – Red, White, and Blue (2020)

Red, White, and Blue (2020)
Written by Steven McQueen & Courttia Newland
Directed by Steven McQueen

In this film, director Steve McQueen explores the intersection of blacks & immigrants with the police. To say this is a politically and emotionally charged issue to take on would be an understatement. Much like the United States, England’s law enforcement has had a very tense relationship with Black and Asian communities. The majority of the London Metropolitan Police in the 1970s were white men from conservative backgrounds who saw any guff from a non-white civilian as an attempt to humiliate them. There was an ongoing sentiment that these populations need to be “put in their place” to hold up the law.

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Movie Review – Attack the Block

Attack the Block (2011)
Written & Directed by Joe Cornish

In the wake of Edgar Wright’s success with Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, there was suddenly a demand for smart takes on genre movies, and it seemed like the British were very talented at writing these stories. Joe Cornish was a comedian who co-hosted the popular Adam and Joe Show, a skit comedy series that ran on Channel 4 for five years. He went on to do a radio show with his writing partner Adam Buxton and that ended when production on Attack the Block began. After being mugged by youths from a housing project, Cornish started to wonder how these very tough kids would handle an alien invasion in their neighborhood, and the story was born.

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Movie Review – Lovers Rock

Lovers Rock (2020)
Written Steve McQueen & Courttia Newland
Directed by Steve McQueen

I fell in love with director Steve McQueen’s work when I saw his first feature film, Hunger, a decade ago. The way he told the story of Bobby Sands, an IRA member who took part in a prisoner hunger strike and died standing up for his beliefs, was told beautifully. As someone who knew nothing about Bobby Sands beforehand, I was in tears during the beautiful final scene. McQueen hasn’t disappointed me since, and I consider every film he’s directed to be one of the best of that year’s releases. So, in 2020, a year that has been unconventional in every possible aspect, McQueen has done something unconventional with his filmmaking as well, releasing the Small Axe Anthology.

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Movie Review – Oliver Twist (1948)

Oliver Twist (1948)
Written by David Lean & Stanley Haynes
Directed by David Lean

David Lean’s second attempt at adapting Charles Dickens is even better, in my opinion. This time around, instead of relying on other screenwriters, Lean and Stanley Haynes worked out the script together and managed to keep most of the story’s high points. Lean was audacious enough to add to the story with two critical bits at the beginning and end that work beautifully and are some of the best scenes of the entire film. Even more so than Great Expectations, we find the director leaning into noir-ish Gothic production design and lighting, which leads to an incredibly memorable viewing experience.

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Movie Review – Great Expectations (1946)

Great Expectations (1946)
Written by David Lean, Anthony Havelock-Allan, Cecil McGivern, Ronald Neame, and Kay Walsh
Directed by David Lean

The success of Brief Encounter rocketed David Lean into a level of acclaim that would only grow for the remainder of his career. His next projects would be adaptations of two classic Charles Dickens novels, starting with Great Expectations. The idea to adapt the story to the screen came after Lean saw a stage production that abbreviated the text and turned it into a digestible narrative while cutting away subplots. It took a couple of years of drafts, explaining the writing credits until Lean was satisfied with the final product. On Boxing Day (December 26) 1946, Great Expectations premiered in the U.K.

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Movie Review – Billy Elliot

Billy Elliot (2000)
Written by Lee Hall
Directed by Stephen Daldry

In 1984 in the United Kingdom, the Thatcher government led an effort to shut down coal mines and oppose strikes as a means of union breaking. This led to violent clashes between striking miners and police to protect the corporation’s property and help get scabs into the mines. These strikes were declared illegal by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and by 1985, the unions had been weakened to the point that they took concessions that were much less than they had been fighting for. This is the background of Billy Elliot, an unexpected time and place to set this story. When I first saw this film around 2001, I did not expect to be introduced to this conflict, and it is a pretty great thematic element for Billy’s story.

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Movie Review – The Nest

The Nest (2020)
Written & Directed by Sean Durkin

It’s been a full decade since Sean Durkin’s last film, Martha Marcy May Marlene. That movie was the subject of my first and so far only Cinematic Immersion Tank, an experiment where I watched the same film for five days in a row and recorded my evolving thoughts and interpretations. I am a big fan of Durkin’s work and was highly anticipating this picture. The two lead cast members are fantastic actors, and Durkin knows how to build compelling character-centered dramas that border on psychological horror. He most certainly lives up to this with The Nest.

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Movie Review – Sexy Beast

Sexy Beast (2000)
Written Louis Mellis & David Scinto
Directed by Jonathan Glazer

Jonathan Glazer has been working in the performing arts for over thirty years, starting as a theatrical director and building a reputation for himself in the world of music videos through the 1990s. He was responsible for some iconic Radiohead, Blur, and Jamiroquai videos, which displayed his creativity and ability to build powerful moods through images and music. Glazer also directed some brilliant advertisements, with his Levis ads being some of my favorites. So before he had settled on a feature film debut, those who were aware of Glazer’s talents knew he was going to make incredible movies. That debut ended up being 2000’s Sexy Beast.

Gal Dove (Ray Winstone) is a retired English criminal living happily in Spain with his wife, DeeDee. They have been joined by friends Aitch and his wife, Jackie. Every day is spent lounging by the pool, eating at fantastic restaurants, and drinking wine as they joke about the old days. It all comes crashing down when Jackie receives a call from Don Logan (Benjamin Kingsley), a criminal associate and cold sociopath they thought was a memory. Don shows up demanding Gal take a job being offered by crime lord Teddy Bass (Ian McShane). Gal doesn’t want to go back to that life and wants to be left alone, but Don’s insistence and eventual violence are pushing him into giving in.

Sexy Beast is a gorgeous mood piece. The characters are incredibly well-written, but what makes the film are the stylistic flourishes Glazer adds on. The entire movie, despite some intense and violent moments, is overflowing with passion and love. Gal is whole-heartedly devoted to DeeDee, a fact that Don Logan knows and attempts to undermine by digging up sordid details of DeeDee’s past. She has already shared these with Gal, and his pain is less about the besmirching of his honor but knowing how much it must hurt for DeeDee to be reminded of regrettable choices. 

Before we see Don Logan on screen, we feel his presence. The movie opens with an iconic scene of a boulder that nearly kills Gal and falls into the swimming pool behind the house. Later, Gal has a dream about a monstrous anthropomorphic rabbit coming to gun him down. These are all portents of something terrible on a direct path to ruin the idyll that Gal and his friends have created. When Kingsley shows up as Don on the screen, we immediately understand the characters’ gloom. 

Don is this angry, little dog that just won’t let go. He tries to engage in social niceties, but it’s clear he’s disinterested in it all. He wants to make sure he dominates the space and that people do as he says. Don doesn’t show emotions; he assumes behaviors he’s observed in people but delivers them awkwardly. One minute, Don pretends to want to know what you’ve been up to, and in a hairpin second, he switches to not giving a shit and getting down to business. A compliment can transition to a ribald joke about your wife moments later.

I’m not such a great fan of Kingsley. He can be excellent in the right roles, but more often than not, I think he picks terrible projects, and it ends up being embarrassing. Here we get to see a side of the actor not glimpsed often. Gone is the fatherly gentleness of Gandhi, and in its place is a vicious pit-bull of a human being. It becomes evident that the story cannot end in anything but violence when such a person is present. Gal is steadfast that he won’t do the job, and Don cannot handle this fact. The madman teeters between angrily accepting the decision to physically strike Gal to the floor when he doesn’t comply.

Jonathan Glazer picked a fascinating film to begin with, the most accessible film in his very selective film directing career. When you look at his later two features, Birth and Under the Skin, they are very different in aesthetics, themes, and tone. Unlike his contemporaries, Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, Glazer is a more versatile filmmaker. You might not always know a movie is a Glazer work because he is malleable without losing his insistence on smart stories and striking visuals.