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.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Billy Elliot”

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.

Continue reading “Movie Review – The Nest”

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.

TV Review – The Third Day

The Third Day (HBO Max)
Written by Dennis Kelly, Kit de Waal & Dean O’Loughlin
Directed by Marc Munden & Philippa Lowthorpe

I have been a massive fan of Dennis Kelly & Marc Munden since I first saw their collaboration in the UK version of Utopia. I haven’t yet sat down to watch the American remake on Amazon, but the reviews & comments I’ve seen from those familiar with the original doesn’t put me in any rush to do so. These two creators are brilliant at constructing character-centered stories around fantastic concepts and presenting them in visually striking ways. The bells & whistles never got in the way of the story and, in fact, served to enhance the narrative, a rare feat. The duo has done it again, this time with more collaborators on HBO’s recent The Third Day.

Continue reading “TV Review – The Third Day”

TV Review – Flowers Season 2

Flowers Season 2 (Netflix)
Written & Directed by Will Sharpe

Flowers is such a difficult show to explain if you haven’t seen it. While watching the second season, I thought it’s like The Addams Family but grounded and about mental health. The tone and characters are realistically macabre, a tormented family of creative types whose communication has broken down so badly they just simply can’t communicate with each other any longer. Creator Will Sharpe has given us a second beautiful season that goes even more in-depth with the Flowers’ history and works to heal the damage.

Continue reading “TV Review – Flowers Season 2”

Movie Review – Threads

Threads (1984)
Written by Barry Hines
Directed by Mick Jackson

If you’ve spent any amount of time perusing YouTube for the 1970s/80s British Public Service Announcements, then you know they are some of the most horrific content produced for television. They are unflinchingly direct and severe in how they communicate warnings. It was that this sense of not holding information back that led to the BBC commissioning the filming of Threads. Mick Jackson had done a short film about Armageddon and the result of a nuclear war a couple of years earlier, but the BBC wanted a full-length feature to air on their network.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Threads”

Movie Review – The Personal History of David Copperfield

The Personal History of David Copperfield (2020)
Written by Simon Blackwell & Armando Iannucci
Directed by Armando Iannucci

David Copperfield is a dense 600 page+ novel and adapting it to the screen is a daunting task. It has been adapted to television and film fourteen times ranging from ninety-minute movies to thirteen-part mini-series. When you take anything from page to screen, you must make cuts and take artistic liberties. The focus should be on preserving the themes and tone of the work, and if certain scenes have to go, that’s okay. British filmmaker Armando Iannucci manages to pull off this feat in two hours by reinventing the text and providing a thematic framework through bookends. The result is one of the most genuinely joyous celebrations of life’s complexities and coincidences that I have seen in a long time.

Continue reading “Movie Review – The Personal History of David Copperfield”

Movie Review – Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Written by Emma Thompson
Directed by Ang Lee

I am not against Jane Austen, I just do not find her style of writing matches with my personal aesthetic and narrative tastes. That said, I really enjoyed the tone of this year’s Emma adaptation with all of the stylistic flourishes that the director brought. 1995’s Sense and Sensibility feels exceptionally flat in its presentation. I think Ang Lee is a pretty good filmmaker, not the best in the world, but he has made movies I’ve enjoyed or at least find interesting. The actors in this film aren’t bad at all, some fantastic performers, but I was never drawn in by the story they were telling. If this is a movie you love, then, by all means, love it, it may just not be for me.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Sense and Sensibility”

Movie Review – Little Joe

Little Joe (2019)
Written by Jessica Hausner & Géraldine Bajard
Directed by Jessica Hausner

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is one of the most recycled narrative tropes in cinema, and more often than not, those adaptations fall short. The original and the 1970s remake stand above the fray. Little Joe is a secret Body Snatchers picture, telling a very well thought-out variation on the official story. However, there’s so little to the script that its slow burn actually becomes a hindrance to the character development and tension that should be present in a picture like this. Technically and aesthetically, Little Joe has a lot going on that entices the audience, but ultimately it fails to deliver on the promise of these things.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Little Joe”

TV Review – Jeeves & Wooster Season One

Jeeves & Wooster (ITV)
Season One, Original airdates: April 22 – May 13, 1990
Written by P.G. Wodehouse and Clive Exton
Directed by Robert Young

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie were a very well-known comedy duo in the U.K. coming out of the late 1980s. They had a top-rated skit comedy series, A Bit of Fry & Laurie, while making appearances in Rowan Atkinson’s Black Adder show. When it came time to cast the iconic English valet and his buffoonish employer Fry & Laurie were hesitant to step into such significant roles. When it became apparent the show was going to be made whether they were in it or not, they took the parts believing they could do the original text justice.

Continue reading “TV Review – Jeeves & Wooster Season One”