Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019) Movie Review

A Spoiler-Free Review

Directed By: Quentin Tarantino

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the ninth (tenth if you count the Kill Bill volumes separately) feature film production from Quentin Tarantino, arguably one of the most famous and idolised contemporary directors. Six of his movies are in the IMDb Top 250, and two of the others which didn’t make the cut still won Academy Awards. Therefore, when he releases a new movie, Tarantino is always being compared to great competition: his previous work.

Like Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino’s latest venture inserts our fictional antiheroes Rick Dalton, a westerns actor played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Cliff Booth, a stuntman played by Brad Pitt, into a very real history: the end of the Hollywood Golden Era in 1969. Several historical figures make appearances, notably Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, Rafal Zawierucha as Roman Polanksi, Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen, Damon Herriman as Charles Manson and Mike Moh in the film’s most controversial portrayal as Bruce Lee (there is no shortage of articles on this if you would like to read more). The acting is excellent from start to finish, I particularly enjoyed Margaret Qualley as Pussycat and Julia Butters as Trudi.

A few of the other reviews which I have seen of this film have criticised it for one reason or another, citing Tarantino’s nostalgia for the late 1960s as regressive and misplaced, and his manipulation of historical accuracies as damaging. But for me, the real question is always: is it a good film? Is it well-made, well-acted, well-written and entertaining? Yes, yes, yes and yes. I interpret Tarantino’s nostalgia for the sixties purely in the context of Hollywood film and not the wider attitudes of society. LA is brought to life in vivid colour, replete with memorabilia, reference and brands which were staples of the time. Manipulation of historical fact has been done countless times to suit a narrative, and in this case, I feel it is especially fitting; the title starts Once Upon A Time – we know that this isn’t real, that this is a fairy-tale and while it may bear similarities to the real world, it is an illusion presented to perhaps teach us something, give us someone to root for and, hopefully, comfort us.

Though not as instantly iconic or crowd-pleasing as Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs, I like this movie for a lot of reasons. As it is based in a reality similar to our own, and in typical Tarantino fashion, this is a character-driven drama peppered with irony and dark humour, long camera shots and a worthy score. Though it is two hours and forty minutes long, I was fully engaged from start to finish and did not once check the time. It presents us with complex, flawed and believable male and female characters in a fantastically realised setting, to retell a story which haunts Hollywood’s history. I’m glad it’s been told this way.

My Rating: I give Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 5/5 stars, placing it in my Don’t Miss category.

Don’t Miss…the first time that iconic stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt pair up on-screen. They have great on-screen chemistry and balance each other brilliantly. Don’t Miss the opportunity to read up on some of the interesting and terrifying history of the events surrounding 1969 Hollywood before or after you watch the movie. Don’t Miss the references and tie-ins to other movies in Tarantino’s library; I spotted Jackie Brown, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds and the Hateful Eight to name a few. There are also hundreds of cameos from Tarantino regulars such as Kurt Russell, Zoe Bell and Michael Madsen, and their children, such as Bruce Willis’ daughter Rumer Willis and Uma Thurman’s daughter Maya Hawke.

Public Opinion: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood averages 80/100 across IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: The Party scene at the Playboy mansion is filmed on location, despite the death of Hugh Hefner.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is currently showing in cinemas. Please support film and the art of filmmaking by watching this movie legally.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What did you think of this film? If you enjoyed this piece, give it a like, comment or share, tweet me @emmalhooker, or subscribe to this blog via my Facebook Page ‘In Touch with Humanity’ for access and updates on all my content. Cheerio!

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Quick Reviews: 11 Recent Watches

I got some great positive feedback after my last ‘Quick Reviews’ post, so here we go again. Sometimes, you don’t have time to read a full review and you just want to know if it’s any good. So here are 11 movies I’ve watched recently (which weren’t released this year), some general information alongside my opinions, a rating for each one compared to the public view, and a fun fact for good measure. For more information on how I rank and score movies please refer to my first ‘Quick Reviews’ post from May. Without further ado, here’s the list!

DON’T MISS

BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018)

Directed By: Spike Lee (Malcolm X)

Starring: John David Washington (The Book of Eli), Adam Driver (Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens), Laura Harrier (Spider-Man: Homecoming) and Topher Grace (Spider-Man 3)

This was my top movie for 2018. It’s aesthetically rich, the score is sensational, the dialogue is fast-paced and often extremely funny. The acting is great all-round, particularly from John David Washington who is amazingly believable and likeable. Also, I was glad to see Adam Driver perform so well in a role outside of the Star Wars universe (where I was unimpressed with his acting). It has a little bit of everything and still hits home its strong political message. An absolute winner.

My Rating: I give this movie 93/100 with a score of 27/30 in Writing, 19/20 in Acting, 24/25 in Filmmaking and 23/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movies averages 84/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: The real head of the KKK, David Duke, is not a fan of the movie, but strangely he did not object to the source material novel from Ron Stallworth.

WATCH BECAUSE

THE IRON GIANT (1999)

Directed By: Brad Bird (The Incredibles)

Starring: Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious), Jennifer Aniston (Friends), Eli Marienthal (American Pie) and Harry Connick Jr (Independence Day).

I never saw this movie as a child, but I knew that it was supposed to be one of the most emotional animated movies of all time, so when I found it at a charity shop I decided to give it a go. Even now, I seriously enjoyed this movie and it tugged at my heartstrings. I do love a bit of science fiction which this definitely sates; it’s consistently amusing and it’s nice to watch a traditionally animated hand-drawn cartoon. Great characters, great script, great animation. Can’t fault it for a kids’ movie!

My Rating: I give this movie 89/100 with a score of 26/30 in Writing, 17/20 in Acting, 22/25 in Filmmaking and 24/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 88/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

(Not So) Fun Fact: The book was written by Ted Hughes for his children after their mother, Sylvia Plath’s, death.

SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)

Directed By: Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard)

Starring: Marilyn Monroe (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), Tony Curtis (Spartacus), Jack Lemmon (The Apartment) and George Raft (They Drive By Night).

This movie was revolutionary for its time, the main premise being that Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon’s characters dress in drag and participate in an all-female band in order to evade capture by gangsters. The comedy holds up surprisingly well, the costumes and general aesthetic are fun, the music brings a showmanship and levity which is very entertaining. There was some controversy surrounding Marilyn Monroe’s performance as she was suffering deeply with her addictions and afflictions at the time which made acting difficult for her, but she is still enigmatic and captivating. It’s one of the classics and worth watching.

My Rating: I give this movie 85/100 with a score of 23/30 in Writing, 16/20 in Acting, 22/25 in Filmmaking and 24/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 92/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: This movie was banned in Kansas for being ‘too disturbing’ due to the cross-dressing.

GET OUT (2017)

Directed By: Jordan Peele (Us)

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya (Black Mirror), Allison Williams (A Series of Unfortunate Events), Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods) and Catherine Keener (Capote).

As a long-time horror fan, I was so pleased to see that Jordan Peele clearly has such reverence for the genre. Every scene, every detail has been chosen meticulously, and regardless of what you think of horror, it is hard to deny that this is excellent filmmaking. The script is tight in terms of plot, theme and character, it is well-acted and visually impressive. While not ‘scary’ in terms of levels of gory violence or shock-value, the concept is deeply disturbing, the atmosphere remains mysterious and eerie throughout, and the climactic scenes should twist the stomach.

My Rating: I give this movie 82/100 with a score of 25/30 in Writing, 18/20 in Acting, 19/25 in Filmmaking and 20/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 86/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: This was Jordan Peele’s directorial debut.

I, TONYA (2017)

Directed By: Craig Gillespie (The Finest Hours)

Starring: Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad), Sebastian Stan (Captain America), Alison Janney (The Help) and Julianne Nicholson (Black Mass).

A non-traditional take on the biopic, filmed in a documentary-style where character’s testimonies often directly contradict the action which unfolds on the screen. It is interesting to watch a movie which follows an anti-hero of popular culture, someone people hate to love and love to hate in equal measure. The violence in the movie is unnerving and, in my opinion, totally necessary and not exploitative (which has been a criticism). Special credit to the casting, costume and makeup department who have done an excellent job recreating these characters as the world remembers them.

My Rating: I give this movie 78/100 with a score of 24/30 in Writing, 19/20 in Acting, 19/25 in Filmmaking and 16/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 82/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: Margot Robbie does a lot of her own skating, but she does not perform the triple axel. This is fair, seeing as there are no professional skaters who can currently perform it.

WATCH WHEN

SCHOOL OF ROCK (2003)

Directed By: Richard Linklater (Waking Life)

Starring: Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda), Joan Cusack (Toy Story 2), Miranda Cosgrove (Despicable Me) and Sarah Silverman (A Million Ways to Die in the West).

I can’t believe I had to wait until I was 23 to see this movie, and I really wish I’d seen it as a kid. It’s not going to win any Oscars, but it’s light-hearted, family-friendly entertainment with a kick-ass soundtrack. Jack Black stars as the character he’s played in every single one of his movies ever (except maybe Kung-Fu Panda), but there’s a reason he plays this role over and over: he’s good at it. He’s more than capable of carrying this lead role, well-supported by Joan Cusack to balance his chaotic energy. The acting from the children does vary, but there are some wholesome characters and they are clearly talented musicians.

My Rating: I give this movie 75/100 with a score of 19/30 in Writing, 15/20 in Acting, 20/25 in Filmmaking and 21/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 77/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: All the kids really play their instruments.

BIRD BOX (2018)

Directed By: Susanne Bier (After the Wedding)

Starring: Sandra Bullock (Miss Congeniality), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons) and Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story).

This movie is not what I expected it to be. It’s a moody, slow-build drama with horror elements, and it’s a mystery from start to finish. It does require some patience, focused attention and most crucially, the willingness to continue thinking after the movie has ended. Personally, I enjoyed it, and I really like sitting down after a movie and wondering and discussing what it all means. You have to be in the right mood to watch this, and even then, just because something warrants discussion doesn’t mean you’ll like it! More one for a film discussion group or the avid psychological horror fan, perhaps.

My Rating: I give this movie 73/100 with a score of 21/30 in Writing, 17/20 in Acting, 20/25 in Filmmaking and 15/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 61/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: This movie sparked the Internet phenomenon ‘The Bird Box Challenge’.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017)

Directed By: Bill Condon (Dreamgirls)

Starring: Emma Watson (Harry Potter), Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey), Luke Evans (High-Rise) and Josh Gad (Frozen).

If you’ve seen the original Beauty and the Beast, then you’ve pretty much seen this. There are some minor additions regarding the Enchantress and slight changes to the order of events and characters, but it’s very similar. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: why mess with a brilliant and iconic story? But likewise, why not just stick to the cartoon? Well, I will say that the live-action version is beautiful, particularly as I saw it on the big screen, and there is that obvious nostalgia. The Big Gay Moment™ was extremely disappointing, so it’s not worth watching for that! It’s simple really: if you like Disney live-action remakes, then you’ll like this. If you don’t, you won’t. Personally, I don’t regret seeing it, but I probably won’t watch it again.

My Rating: I give this movie 69/100 with a score of 21/30 in Writing, 11/20 in Acting, 22/25 in Filmmaking and 15/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 72/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: Luke Evans wore fake teeth during filming, as his natural canines are so long that he looked too much like a vampire.

ONLY WATCH IF

GLASS (2019)

Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense)

Starring: Bruce Willis (Die Hard), Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), James McAvoy (Atonement) and Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story).

Oh, this was so annoying! It’s not that it’s a downright bad movie, it just doesn’t live up to the quality of its two predecessors: Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2016). Having watched the trailer, I was extremely excited by the concept and the coming together of these characters I know and love. However, the movie felt rushed, unnecessarily cruel and hollow. I love Sarah Paulson, but this is not a great performance from her. The direction is odd, the script is weak and the concepts which were most intriguing were barely explored. The ultimate fault for me was that the key characters are kept in isolation for the majority of the movie, when the reason this movie even exists is because we want to see them interact in this world! Don’t watch it before you’ve seen the first (excellent) two movies, watch it to finish the trilogy, but expect to be a little frustrated with this conclusion. Gutted.

My Rating: I give this movie 65/100 with a score of 14/30 in Writing, 16/20 in Acting, 19/25 in Filmmaking and 16/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 58/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: This movie was a surprise finale to a trilogy spanning almost 20 years.

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (2014)

Directed By: Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy)

Starring: Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy), Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Huntsman), Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls) and Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother).

Seth MacFarlane’s writing is crude, offensive and hit-and-miss, but there are just so many jokes per scene that it’s hard not to find at least one to laugh at. The movie does not take itself seriously at any turn, has an all-star comedian cast and is rich in cameos, and the characters are able to carry the predictable plot arc. If you don’t enjoy offensive comedy, don’t like Seth MacFarlane’s other work or don’t like his acting, then you probably won’t enjoy this film. However, if you don’t mind these things, and you’re happy to sit down and watch a movie which will offer nothing more than trying to make you laugh, then you’ll have a good time. And I laughed. Hard.

My Rating: I give this movie 60/100 with a score of 16/30 in Writing, 11/20 in Acting, 13/25 in Filmmaking and 20/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 45/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: Liam Neeson agreed to do this movie if he got to use his Irish accent.

DON’T BOTHER

TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE (2018)

Directed By: Susan Johnson (Carrie Pilby)

Starring: Lana Condor (X-Men: Apocalypse), Noah Centineo (The Perfect Date), Janel Parrish (Pretty Little Liars) and Anna Cathcart (Spring Breakers).

I appreciate that this movie fought so hard to be made. It is important to have solid representation in the media for every minority group, and this movie has a lot of great representation. And, it was directed by and written by women, which I wholly support. However, I didn’t like it. I think maybe I’m too old for tween romantic comedy dramas, but this plot felt contrived and cliched, the acting was patchy, the aesthetic cloyingly bright and cheesy, the drama felt forced and the jokes didn’t land. It got great reviews from the public and the critics, but so much didn’t work for me here that I can’t recommend it.

My Rating: I give this movie 38/100 with a score of 9/30 in Writing, 9/20 in Acting, 12/25 in Filmmaking and 8/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 80/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

(Not So) Fun Fact: This movie struggled to get funding due to the fact it had an Asian female character in the lead role.

And that’s my list! Let me know what you thought of these films in the comments. If you enjoyed this piece, give it a like, comment or share, tweet me @emmalhooker, or subscribe to this blog via my Facebook Page ‘In Touch With Humanity’ for access and updates on all my content. Cheerio!

LGBTQ+ Movies: An Introduction

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending my very first Pride parade in Leeds. Earlier this summer, I visited Stonewall and the New York Public Library’s Love and Resistance exhibition in honour of Pride month and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. I’ve taken a photo of myself underneath the iconic Gay Street sign, seen the stand-up shows of iconic drag queens Katya, Trixie and Sasha Velour, and celebrated a personal ten-year anniversary of accepting my own sexual orientation.

Feeling proud and inspired, I’ve decided to run a series of quick reviews of movies which contain LGBTQ+ content, from biopics to dramas to romantic comedies and beyond, all alongside my usual reviews. Before we get into those, however, I thought it would be interesting to discuss some of the history of LGBTQ+ film and why the demand for more inclusive and varied representation for LGBTQ+ characters and storylines is so vital for us to meet.

For a long time, there was a dearth in the number of movies which contained any explicit LGBTQ+ content. This has its roots in many places. Homosexuality was illegal in the United Kingdom until 1967, and Illinois became the first state of America to decriminalise homosexuality in 1962. Empires such as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China destroyed countless records which appeared to represent or celebrate queerness. The AIDS crisis in the 1980s made acknowledging queerness seem ‘dangerous’, to the extent that EastEnders suffered public outcry after a man kissed another man on the forehead in a 1987 episode. Another, perhaps less well-known, factor was a document known as the Hays Code. This ‘Magna Carta of official decency’ enforced censorship on American cinema from the early thirties until its dissolution in 1965, however its effects have worn on well into the present day.

The Hays Code had a number of rules. The clergy could not be mocked, resulting in the change of Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice to a librarian. Love scenes were not allowed unless the woman had one foot on the floor, resulting in the ‘foot-popping’ trope when kissing or embracing. Critically, ‘sexual perversion’ could not be explicitly depicted in cinema, the definition of which included same-sex attracted or gender non-conforming characters. This was the nail-in-the-coffin for explicitly queer characters for thirty years.

Filmmakers who wished to defy the code in small, quiet ways, would utilise subtext and stereotype for viewers to infer queerness. We came to experience masculine and emasculating ‘cross-dressing’ women, or flamboyant, stereotypically effeminate men. However, in the few instances where a character was implied to be LGBTQ+, the character would often be written as morally bankrupt, to show that this ‘sexual perversion’ was associated with villainy, violence and depravity. The code also spawned the infamous ‘bury your gays’ trope, as it was also a loophole for filmmakers to allude to homosexuality or transgenderism by killing off these characters.

How many villains carry the stereotypical characteristics associated with queerness? Look at Joel Cairo from The Maltese Falcon (1941), who was explicitly gay in the source material, Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Addison de Witt from All About Eve (1950) or even Norman Bates in Psycho (1960). You can look no further than Disney villains to realise how this trope has continued since the end of the Hays Code, such as Hades in Hercules who is quite literally ‘flaming’, Ursula in The Little Mermaid whose look was based on infamous drag queen Divine, or the effeminate Scar from The Lion King. Outside of cartoon, this trait is evidenced in such characters as gender non-conforming bisexual serial killer Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, or the quartet of man-killing bisexual and lesbian women in Basic Instinct. The list goes on and on. This is not to say that these are not great movies and should not be enjoyed: they absolutely should. It’s just not a coincidence that the borders of queerness and villainy blur.

Before the Hays Code, it was the 1920s. While the world was by no means liberal at the time, not least with a surge of white nationalism and new immigration laws in America (oh, how history repeats itself), it was a defining era for women. They had abandoned gowns in favour of flapper dresses and cut their hair short. Prohibition gave rise to the speakeasy, where women were welcomed. Jazz music, the Charleston dance and promiscuity became commonplace for women to openly enjoy, and women’s suffrage was gaining traction, especially after women won the right to vote in the United Kingdom in 1918.

These newfound freedoms were seen by conservative groups at the time as being indicative of a moralistic downturn in society which they viewed as being reflected in film. In 1922, Manslaughter became the first movie to depict an erotic same-sex kiss. Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo both kissed other women on-screen, to mixed reviews. In 1927, the movie Wings featured the first male-on-male kiss on-screen. Conservative, primarily religious, groups began boycotting such films and it was in discussions that Hollywood have an independent, legally bound censoring board to ameliorate these traditionalist concerns. The Hays Code was Hollywood’s response: a document which was not legally binding, but offered a series of ‘suggestions’ which, if were not adhered to, resulted in public backlash, reduced movie funding or otherwise destroyed the careers of filmmakers and actors alike. So, Hollywood relented, allowing their LGBTQ+ characters to appear only when shrouded in subtext, immorality and tragedy.

While I strangely appreciate that filmmakers found loopholes in the Hays Code rather than omitting representation altogether while constricted, damage has still been done. LGBTQ+ characters are repeatedly relegated to comic relief roles, they are among the first to die in horror movies (alongside people of colour), and they are often still stereotyped as the binary opposite of their assigned sex. Women-loving-women (or WLW) are often overtly over-sexualised, whereas men-loving-men (MLM) rarely are given tender love-scenes. Gender non-conforming or transgender characters are few and far between, as are intersectional characters, such as queer people of colour, queer people with disabilities, or queer people of different nationalities, religions and cultures outside of the white American Christian. Crucially, whilst it is important to have narratives in which sexual orientation or gender identity is a major character arc or plot point, it would be great to start having characters who are explicitly LGBTQ+ but where this is not an obstacle which must be hurdled: they just are who they are.

Luckily, the world is changing. This year has already seen some great leaps for the LGBTQ+ community: Botswana decriminalised homosexuality, Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage and San Marino banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. These issues are obviously more important in the fight for equal rights than media representation, but in a westernised world where we claim to no longer be homophobic, Hollywood has been finally been able to start changing too.

The resurgence of television via streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime plays a huge role in this shift in attitude, since TV was never restricted by the Hays Code in the same way that film was. Though there are now more nuanced issues for LGBTQ+ representation such as queerbaiting, the Russo Test and the ‘plot twist’ trope, in both television and film, we are being gifted more and more stories which explore LGBTQ+ plotlines and characters. Slowly, we are moving further away from the stereotypes and are finally starting to share the stories of notable LGBTQ+ people from history, explore issues with care and vulnerability, and most importantly, give the LGBTQ+ community the heroes and the happy endings we deserve.

What did you think of this article? Let me know in the comments! Please like and share on social media, and find me @emmalhooker or via my page In Touch With Humanity. Until next time, cheerio!

Chernobyl (2019): Series Review

A Spoiler-Free Review

Directed By: Johan Renck

Genre: Drama, Biography

Episodes: 1 series, 5 episodes at approximately 1hr.

For me, this series really seemed to come out of nowhere. I didn’t see any advertising for it until the first few episodes had already been aired and it had shot to the number one spot on IMDb, claiming it as the best television series of all time and a final episode sitting at a score of 9.9/10 after over 200,000 reviews. Obviously, I was deeply intrigued, especially after having seen several of the other so-called best series of all time, including Band of Brothers, Planet Earth and Breaking Bad. Chernobyl supposedly outranked them all.

I was already familiar with some of the history around Chernobyl before watching the series, but this didn’t detract from the tension, the suspense or, in some cases, the sheer horror of what was unfolding onscreen. The radiation leaking from the reactor is treated at times like some surreal and supernatural or extra-terrestrial beast, something out of The Thing or Alien, burning or poisoning those who encounter it, decaying the filaments in torches to plunge characters into darkness, a looming and misunderstood evil which threatens to destroy everything around it. The persistent fear and search for knowledge is a journey as exciting and gripping as any thriller I’ve seen. However, Chernobyl has other elements to its genre which break up the tone: part family drama, part courtroom drama, part historical and scientific biography, even part comedy.

The cast are a smattering of familiar and unfamiliar faces. Jared Harris, known best for his role as King George VI on The Crown, plays our protagonist nuclear physicist Valery Legasov. He gives an admirable performance of the tortured intellectual, particularly when paired with the wonderful Emily Watson (Red Dragon) as the only fictional character of Ulana, an amalgam of hundreds of scientists who helped to discover the truth about what happened on 26 April 1986. Her character was made female to best reflect the Soviet Union at the time, which had a higher percentage of female scientists than comparable countries, and I think this was a wise decision as Watson turns in a stellar portrayal. I often enjoy the work of Stellan Skarsgård (Mamma Mia) and this was piece was no different, with a nuanced character arc constantly growing just beneath the surface. Jessie Buckley’s (Wild Rose) ability to pull the heartstrings and an unrecognisable Paul Ritter’s (Friday Night Dinner) believable arrogance are also commendable.

The score from Hildur Guðnadóttir is definitely worth mentioning. She captured ambient sounds inside an abandoned Lithuanian power plant which inspired the haunting and often beautiful composition that complements the bleak cinematography and impending dread; a truly unique influence. The direction is all but faultless from Johan Renck. Nevertheless, the real hero of the production is the script from Craig Mazin. Who would have thought that this mastery would come from the man who penned The Hangover II and III? The research is extensive, scientifically accurate and emotionally rich, the plots of each episode are complete and concise but the narrative swells as the series progresses, climaxing brilliantly with its final episode which lurches between the night of the disaster and the court trial a year later.

So, the question remains: is it the best series of all time? It’s a daunting title, one that has played on my mind and forced me to question yet again what it is that separates something from being good to being great. Does Chernobyl hold something special or is it just that I cannot find anything which is wrong with it? I think if this were a fictionalised tale, then perhaps it would fall into the latter category. However, the attention to the details, the chronology and the faithfulness to the history of Chernobyl to tell this story respectfully does raise it higher. The fact that this is a true story which can be told at all is something which twists the stomach and violates the eyes. This too raises it higher.

The cynic in me believed, before I watched this series, that it was going to be vaguely disguised anti-Soviet, anti-Communist and anti-nuclear propaganda. I found Chernobyl to be a surprisingly fair account which, when I conducted further reading, actually downplayed some of the more morally questionable actions of the government. Rather, it takes the political and social questions and expands those into the philosophical to ask: what is the true cost of lies? Though it would have been adequate and easy to look no further than the confines of the event, the narrative pushes the audience that little bit further, which is what elevates it to that universal level which becomes instantly relatable and remains relevant to today’s world. This is what raises it to greatness. I can’t say for sure if it’s the best of all time, but it’s up there.

My Rating: I give Chernobyl 5/5 stars, placing it in my Don’t Miss category.

Public Opinion: Chernobyl averages 96/100 across IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: The writer of Chernobyl claims the best script ever written is Finding Nemo.

Chernobyl is currently streaming on Sky Atlantic, accessible via Now TV.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What did you think of this series? If you enjoyed this piece, give it a like, comment or share, tweet me @emmalhooker, or subscribe to this blog via my Facebook Page ‘In Touch with Humanity’ for access and updates on all my content. Cheerio!

Rocketman (2019): Movie Review

A Spoiler-Free Review

Directed By: Dexter Fletcher

Genre: Biography, Drama, Musical

From the director of Eddie the Eagle and the producer of last year’s Academy Award winning Bohemian Rhapsody comes Rocketman, the biopic around the life of the legendary Elton John. Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, a more chronologically faithful and straightforward depiction of the life of Freddie Mercury and the genesis of Queen, Rocketman feels more like a fantasy musical akin to Moulin Rouge than a conventional biography. Elton’s music is used as a narrative device as done with Jukebox musicals like Mamma Mia or We Will Rock You. Frequently, the narrative breaks the confines of reality and descends into fantasy to better mimic the emotional, mental and even physical state of our protagonist. This alone will divide audiences: some people don’t appreciate or understand musicals. For me, an avid musical enthusiast, this was a breath of fresh air which departed so greatly from the storytelling structure and style of Bohemian Rhapsody that it is able to stand on its own two feet. It was an entertaining and visually explorative romp which complements the real-life extravagance of Elton John, his music and his performance style.

Obviously, the music throughout the film is sensational and all the cast have been highly praised for singing their parts, but particularly Taron Egerton (Kingsman) who plays Elton John. In both singing and acting, he evokes Elton’s mannerisms and intonations without ever attempting to exactly mimic – which I think is far more effective. There is not a comparison between Taron and Elton as singers, but Taron utilises his natural talents to bring forth a version of Elton which we can follow, sympathise and delude ourselves into believing is the real thing. As another reviewer so neatly put it: this is a painting, not a mirror. It took me a few scenes to be convinced that Egerton was the right choice for the main character, but once I saw him sing and dance for the first time, I was completely on board and thoroughly enjoyed his interpretation.

For the remainder of the cast, Richard Madden (Bodyguard) is a brilliant choice for John Reid. He and Taron have amazing on-screen chemistry and I could totally believe why Elton would fall for and be completely manipulated by this man. Jamie Bell, the titular Billy Elliott all grown up, gives a nuanced and lovable performance as Elton’s long-time lyrical collaborator Bernie Taupin. A criticism of the film would perhaps be that while the emotional friendship is certainly understood and portrayed throughout the film, it would perhaps have been nice to explore more of the working relationship which they have simultaneously shared and maintained for so long. I also particularly enjoyed Gemma Jones (Harry Potter) and Charlie Rowe (The Boat That Rocked) in their smaller roles. Usually, I am a fan of Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World), but she gave an uneven performance here. She appeared to struggle with the English accent and I found her disconnected from the character. There were definitely a few shining moments, but I feel that another actress would have been better suited to the role.

What absolutely must be mentioned is the outstanding work from the Costume department. There would be plenty to feast your eyes on even if this were a silent film. So many iconic looks have been recreated here and they are so gloriously outrageous and beautiful. Even in the credits, we are treated to side by side stills of each of the costumes worn by Taron Egerton and Elton John respectively so that you can see the history and verity of all these insane articles.

In fact, Elton worked closely with the whole team throughout the creative process, and I think it really shows. This movie, unlike Bohemian Rhapsody which was an audience-accessible crowd-pleaser, took the risk to push for an R rating and took the opportunity to showcase the darker moments in Elton’s personal history without ever really detracting from the overall levity and enjoyment you’d anticipate from a film like this. I didn’t realise before I watched the film just how little of the story I knew, and now I can’t stop listening to his music. He’s an absolute legend, worthy of having a film to tell his story, and I’m glad it’s this one.

My Rating: 4/5 stars, putting it in my Watch Because category.

Watch Because … it’s the Elton John musical extravaganza! It’s something a little different from what you’d expect (and what the trailers portray), with that always-enticing nugget of ‘True Story’ attached.

Public’s view: This movie averages 82/100 across IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. 

Fun Fact: Elton John’s middle name is Hercules!

Rocketman is currently showing in cinemas. Please support film and the art of filmmaking by seeing this movie legally.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What did you think of this film? If you enjoyed this review, give it a like, comment or share, tweet me @emmalhooker, or subscribe to this blog via my Facebook Page ‘In Touch With Humanity’ for access and updates on all my content. Cheerio!

Lunatics (2019): Series Review

A Spoiler-Free Review

Directed By: Chris Lilley

Genre: Comedy, Mockumentary

Episodes: 1 series, 10 episodes at approximately 30min

Lunatics is the latest invention of Chris Lilley, the actor and mind behind such characters as Ja’mie: Private School Girl and Mr G from Summer Heights High. Admittedly, I was not that familiar with Chris’s work before Lunatics, but I was intrigued enough by the trailer and his reputation to give the show a go.

The show follows six different characters, all of whom are played by Lilley: a pet psychic, a retired porn star, a preteen heir, a real estate agent, a fashion designer and an unusually tall college girl. While some of these characters are occasionally amusing or have somewhat engaging story arcs, others are grating or downright unwatchable. The show teeters between being an attempt at comedy farce and fictionalised reality television, where I’m never quite sure if I’m supposed to be laughing at or feeling sorry for the people onscreen. This is particularly highlighted in the instance of Becky, the college student, who just wants to make crafts and friends but is cruelly bullied and relentlessly isolated. This character next to a fashion designer named Keith who opens a store named ‘My Dick’ and is in a romantic relationship with his cash register doesn’t make much sense. I’m not sure what Chris is trying to say, if anything.

Lilley has been accused before of crossing the borders of political correctness, but this doesn’t have to be an inherently bad thing. However, in this case, we often wander into unsavoury territory which feels odd and dated. Some of the jokes may have played better in an earlier socio-political climate, indicating that Lilley has declined to develop his comedy and grow with the times. Even the title Lunatics demonstrates this discord. So many jokes depend on shock value, mostly cussing, but after a few hundred uses of the C-word there’s little more response than an eye-roll or maybe pressing the mute button.

There is no reason for this show to span the ten episodes which it does. After an hour or so with these characters, the series becomes a dire slog of predictable crassness. If some more care had been taken, if some characters had been refined, if the tone had been firmly set, there could have been something worth watching here; an interesting dissection of our obsessions with social media and reality TV, something challenging expectations and pushing boundaries in an incisive and inventive way. The reason I kept watching is I was hoping that at some point the show would make this turn and pull the rug out, but it never did. Sadly, everything feels cobbled together and the set-up has been done before – about twenty years ago. It really could have benefited from someone trailing after Lilley and questioning his choices; he’s been given a little too much free reign, generating something rushed, confused, offensive and ultimately hollow.

This all being said, Chris is clearly a talented actor, and though the tone and message were confused, all the characters were fully realised and distinct from one another. The reputation he had already garnered shows that there is something about him and his comedy which works. However, all comedians have the daunting and unforgiving task of ageing with their audience, though I appreciate it can be difficult to accept that what was funny a decade ago isn’t funny anymore. Hopefully Chris can chalk this one down to experience and will return to our screens with something fresh in the future.

My Rating: I give Lunatics 1/5 stars, placing it in my Don’t Bother category.

Public Opinion: Lunatics averages 64/100 across IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.

Lunatics is currently streaming on Netflix.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What did you think of this series? If you enjoyed this piece, give it a like, comment or share, tweet me @emmalhooker, or subscribe to this blog via my Facebook Page ‘In Touch with Humanity’ for access and updates on all my content. Cheerio!

Quick Reviews: 11 Recent Watches

I watch a lot of movies. And sometimes, you don’t want to read a whole review of each one, you just want to know if it’s worth watching. So, here are eleven movies which I have watched recently (that weren’t released this year). They’ve been ranked in order of my preference, with a little bit of info on who stars, who directs and what to expect. As usual, you can find the public opinion and a fun fact for each one.

This is also a good opportunity for you all to see just how I score and rate movies. I score 20 categories out of 5 each, which are grouped into what I think are the main aspects of a film: Writing, Acting, Filmmaking and Entertainment. Movies which score:

0 – 40 are ‘Don’t Bother’ films. These are movies which I don’t recommend or didn’t enjoy watching or both. Don’t Bother.

40 – 65 are ‘Only Watch If’ films. These are movies I generally wouldn’t recommend but aren’t totally without merit. A good example is the Saw franchise: objectively bad but entertaining. So, Only Watch If you really like gory, torture movies.

66 – 75 are ‘Watch When’ films. These are films I enjoyed that I would recommend, but usually with a caveat. They’re movies I see as flawed one way or another, but still good. A lot of movies fall into this bracket. Watch When you’re in the right mood or with the right people.

76 – 90 are ‘Watch Because’ films. These are movies that I enjoyed, and I would recommend. Watch Because the acting is good, the script is good, it’s well-made and it’s entertaining.

90 – 100 are ‘Don’t Miss’ films. These are the absolute best of the best and I don’t give out ‘Don’t Miss’ lightly. These are the movies which have something really special about them, that little something extra beyond just being all-around good.

Now that’s out of the way, on with the Quick-Fire Reviews. Starting with…

DON’T MISS

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Directed By: Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)

Starring: Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist), Jared Leto (Suicide Squad), Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) and Marlon Wayans (White Chicks).

I absolutely loved this movie. It’s a good sign when you sit in stunned silence as the credits roll. This movie is not an easy watch and has some intense subject matter, but it is beautifully created and the performances of all the lead cast are strong and powerful. The whole movie runs like an acid trip, for better and worse.

My Rating: I give this movie 92/100 with scores of 27/30 in Writing, 19/20 in Acting, 24/25 in Filmmaking and 22/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 81/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: Jared Leto made friends with addicts and whenever they would shoot up heroin, he would shoot up water.

WATCH BECAUSE

Atonement (2007)

Directed By: Joe Wright (Darkest Hour)

Starring: Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), James McAvoy (Split), Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean), Brenda Blethyn (Pride and Prejudice).

This was a movie that I have seen before and wanted to see again, and I enjoyed it even more on a second viewing. Profoundly moving, this is a character-driven story with the best work I’ve ever seen from Keira Knightley. Other young actors and actresses make smaller appearances, including Juno Temple and Benedict Cumberbatch. Based on a book by Ian McEwan.

My Rating: I give this movie 88/100 with score of 27/30 in Writing, 20/20 in Acting, 21/25 in Filmmaking and 20/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 82/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: Saoirse Ronan was nominated for an Oscar for her work in this movie – she was eleven years old.  

No Country for Old Men (2007)

Directed By: Coen Brothers (Fargo)

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, (The Fugitive), Javier Bardem (Skyfall), Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War) and Kelly MacDonald (Trainspotting).

This movie really got under my skin. I would advise anyone who is a fan of Westerns to give this movie a go, but don’t expect a typical cat and mouse tale. It takes the formula of a classic spaghetti and subverts expectations in an intriguing and unnerving fashion. Javier Bardem’s iconic performance is one you’ll remember.

My Rating: I give this movie 85/100 with a score of 26/30 in Writing, 18/20 in Acting, 20/25 in Filmmaking and 21/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 88/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: This movie is based on a 2005 book by Cormac McCarthy and is known as a post-modern western.

Spirited Away (2001)

Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki (Howl’s Moving Castle)

Starring: Rumi Hiiragi (Ponyo), Miyu Irino (A Silent Voice), Mari Natsuki (Isle of Dogs) and Takashi Naito (From Up On Poppy Hill).

I’ll admit – I have not seen much anime. This movie was vastly different from what I was expecting ;it was visually stunning, emotionally rich and remarkably complex for a children’s movie. I imagine this is one you could continue to enjoy again and again, interpreting and reinterpreting the events and message to suit the mood of the viewer.

My Rating: I give this movie 81/100 with a score of 20/30 in Writing, 15/20 in Acting, 25/25 in Filmmaking and 21/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 94/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: This movie was not made with a script.

WATCH WHEN

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Directed By: Bryan Singer (X-Men: Apocalypse)

Starring: Rami Malek (Mr. Robot), Lucy Boynton (Murder on the Orient Express), Gwilym Lee (Midsomer Murders) and Ben Hardy (EastEnders).

Props for acting. The entire band are completely embodied by their actors. I loved the cameo from Michael Myers. Obviously, the music is incredible. I do have issues with the portrayal of Freddie’s bisexuality in the movie as it appeared to be equivocated with his fall from grace. It would have benefited from being rated 15 to really explore more of the man and less of the legend.  

My Rating: I give this movie 75/100 with a score of 18/30 in Writing, 18/20 in Acting, 22/25 in Filmmaking and 17/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 71/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: Rami Malek wore prosthetic teeth which he had cast in gold after the suit.

Cruel Intentions (1999)

Directed By: Roger Kumble (The Sweetest Thing)

Starring: Ryan Phillippe (Crash), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Selma Blair (The Sweetest Thing) and Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde).

It’s a classic. Sexy people being horrible to one another. It’s funny, it’s opulent and the characters just teeter on the edge of caricature. It’s amazing how many of the young actors who starred in this movie went on to have longstanding careers in Hollywood. It’s a great slumber party, cheese-and-wine-night black-comedy with a thin layer of sleaze. Available on Netflix.

My Rating: I give this movie 74/100 with a score of 24/30 in Writing, 15/20 in Acting, 16/25 in Filmmaking and 19/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 65/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: This movie is based on another book and film, Dangerous Liaisons.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Directed By: Ron Howard (Rush)

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich (Hail! Caesar), Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones), Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Donald Glover (Community).

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. It’s an original story with a great mix of classic and new characters and environments. I think Alden Ehrenreich does a great job of evocating Harrison Ford’s speech and mannerisms. It’s not quite as good as Rogue One, but it’s still far better than Episodes I and II. It might even be better than Episode VIII.   

My Rating: I give this movie 71/100 with a score of 19/30 in Writing, 14/20 in Acting, 20/25 in Filmmaking and 18/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 67/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: The only Star Wars film to date which does not mention the Jedi.

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

Directed By: James Wan (Saw)

Starring: Vera Farmiga (Orphan), Patrick Wilson (Insidious), Madison Wolfe (Ouija: Origin of Evil) and Francis O’Connor (Bedazzled).

The Conjuring is one of the best horror movies of the century, so I was really excited at the prospect of a sequel following another Ed and Lorraine Warren case. I enjoyed the implications that the Enfield poltergeist may have been a hoax, but I wish it was explored even more. It’s well-made, not particularly scary, but does have that splash of history that we all love in a horror. Available on Netflix.

My Rating: I give this movie 68/100 with a score of 16/30 in Writing, 12/20 in Acting, 22/25 in Filmmaking and 18/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 75/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: Loosely based on the real-life Warren’s investigation of the Enfield poltergeist, the longest recorded case of poltergeist activity in UK history.

Deadpool 2 (2018)

Directed By: David Leitch

Starring: Ryan Reynolds (The Hitman’s Bodyguard), Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men), Morena Baccarin (A Series of Unfortunate Events) and Zazie Beetz (Geostorm).

It’s crude, it’s funny, it’s got some great moments. However, this movie felt a little overstuffed for me. Three different villains, numerous new allies, remarkably few returns from the previous movie. In all, it felt a little rushed and I would have preferred to wait another year to refine this entry, so that it didn’t feel like a cash-grab setting up myriad sequels.

My Rating: I give this movie 66/100 with a score of 15/30 in Writing, 14/20 in Acting, 18/25 in Filmmaking and 19/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 78/100 a across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: This sequel was announced only three days after the release of the original.

ONLY WATCH IF

Creep 2 (2017)

Directed By: Patrick Brice (Creep)

Starring: Karan Soni (Deadpool), Mark Duplass (The Lazarus Effect), Desiree Akhavan (The Bisexual) and Kyle Field (The Overnight).

Creep was an interesting venture for underground horror fans, filmed in documentary-style with hand-held cameras and just two actors. Personally, I think the sequel improves on the original, having a much more interesting, and far less predictable, premise. It certainly gets points for originality and is entertaining enough. Available on Netflix.

My Rating: I give this movie 48/100 with a score of 10/30 in Writing, 13/20 in Acting, 8/25 in Filmmaking and 17/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 78/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: The majority of the film was improvised.

DON’T BOTHER

The Lodgers (2017)

Directed By: Brian O’Malley (Let Us Prey)

Starring: Charlotte Vega (American Assassin), Bill Milner (X-Men: First Class), Eugene Simon (Game of Thrones) and David Bradley (Harry Potter).

While this movie is set in a beautiful location and has some intriguing moments and imagery, it meanders from dull to confusing and back again. No movie should feel like an effort to get through, but this one did. Astoundingly anticlimactic, the ambiguity did not leave me guessing what could have been implied, rather I assumed that the writer didn’t even know what they meant. Available on Netflix.

My Rating: I give this movie 37/100 with a score of 10/30 in Writing, 8/20 in Acting, 12/25 in Filmmaking and 7/25 in Entertainment.

Public View: This movie averages 51/100 across IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes.

Fun Fact: Filmed in Loftus Hall, one of Ireland’s most haunted houses.

And that’s my list ! Let me know what you thought of these films or if you liked this format for quick reviews. If you enjoyed this piece, give it a like, comment or share, tweet me @emmalhooker, or subscribe to this blog via my Facebook Page ‘In Touch With Humanity’ for access and updates on all my content. Cheerio!

Pet Sematary (2019): Movie Review

A Spoiler-Free Review

Directed By: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer

Genre: Horror, Thriller, Mystery

Pet Sematary is the second Hollywood attempt to bring Stephen King’s terrifying novel to the big screen after the 1989 mediocrity of the same name. Sadly, the source material is not best reflected by this latest offering. While there are admittedly a few scares, some solid actors and above-average production value, the movie never quite ascends to where it should. So many plot and exposition elements were stripped from the book, and while this prevents the movie from being over-explained and having too many extraneous characters, what is left is simplistic and predictable, falling into the traps of cliché and digging graveyards of plot holes.

One of the biggest issues with the film was that Jason Clarke’s protagonist Louis was not particularly interesting to follow. His dialogue was monotonous, his actions moronic and his character one-dimensional. By comparison, Rachel, played by Amy Seimetz, had an intriguing past which gave us the creepiest moments of the movie, but she is underutilised, often written as being away from the family home so that the audience can spend more time with the father. John Lithgow’s character could well have been made more interesting than it was. He is a very talented actor who made the most of what he is given, but his role is reduced to primarily exposition. Richer emotional moments for his character are skirted around and since he serves as the only other main character outside the family, he often speaks and acts contradictorily. These characters were not written well enough to hold up the movie by themselves, overshadowed by an actual cat.  

The themes of religion and the history of the titular pet cemetery (it is misspelled by the local children) are surface-level at best, believing a panning shot over some open textbooks is sufficient for the audience to understand the complex Native American lore. Darker character arcs are teased but never explored, story lines are half-finished and not properly integrated with the primary plot, which feels like a tremendous waste of potential. The film could have been an interesting dissection of life-after-death and faith in the face of tragedy, but we sadly never get a chance to go six feet deep. The script is weak, the plot and characters are thin, the dialogue is shallow and sometimes laughable for all the wrong reasons. More positively, the cinematography is adequate, the makeup and CGI do not pull you from the reality on-screen and the young actors are talented enough to work with their adult co-stars. This is not enough to save the movie, however.

In conclusion, I almost felt my intelligence and attention span were being a little insulted by this movie. An audience is willing to spend time understanding characters, setting and key plot elements and does not need foreshadowing to be as obvious as an early jump-scare. I was disappointed with the final product and think this movie will be easily forgotten. Perhaps a third iteration will be attempted in a few years with some success; it would not be hard to write a script better than this one. Or perhaps Pet Sematary lives up to its tagline:sometimes dead is better.

My Rating: 1/5 stars, putting it in my Don’t Bother category.

Don’t Bother … seeing this movie in cinemas, if you see it at all. The most enjoyable part of my night was discussing all the ways in which this movie could easily have been improved. My recommendation is that you read the book by Stephen King; the source material is full of rich lore.

Public’s view: This movie averages 55/100 across IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. 

Fun Fact: There are numerous references to other works by Stephen King, including Cujo, The Shining, The Dark Half and Graveyard Shift.

Pet Sematary is currently showing in cinemas. Please support film and the art of filmmaking by seeing this movie legally.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What did you think of this film? If you enjoyed this review, give it a like, comment or share, tweet me @emmalhooker, or subscribe to this blog via my Facebook Page ‘In Touch With Humanity’ for access and updates on all my content. Cheerio!

Us (2019): Movie Review

A Spoiler-Free Review

Directed By: Jordan Peele

Genre: Horror, Thriller, Mystery

Us is the latest feature length release from Jordan Peele, the mind behind the phenomenal 2017 psychological thriller Get Out. With such a dynamic directorial debut, one which garnered recognition from the Academy Awards, Us was in placed in a difficult position: it had to live up to its predecessor. While the movies are very different in content and ambition, the elegance and care of Peele is evident in Us and I do believe it succeeds in its intents, sparking a discussion around the contemporary American experience as Get Out did. This discussion is delivered more ambiguously in Us and to me, this indicates that Peele has no intentions of preaching to his audience, rather to highlight complex class relationships in an intelligent and creepy manner. It is not a scream-a-minute jump-scare fest, it is a critique demonstrated with horror, mystery and whispers of science-fiction.

Us follows a nuclear American family on their trip to the beach with some vapid friends. Our focus is firmly planted on matriarch Adelaide whose childhood we periodically visit in flashbacks, but we are given time with each of the family members setting up their characters. This is done through a script peppered with humour and obvious foreshadowing which concealed some of the subtler clues to the film’s conclusions. The family members appear close to one another and are predominantly very likeable, particularly Winston Duke’s Gabe, who felt fully realised and was tremendous fun to watch. This keeps you engaged and caring for the characters throughout; I truly rooted for them and wanted them to succeed, which becomes a fascinating comment on the viewer by the time the credits roll.

All the family portray dual roles in the film as their own shadow ‘Tether’, which is not only impressive from an acting perspective but also technically, with both versions of characters engaging seamlessly verbally and physically with one another. Again the focus is on Lupita Nyong’o’s (Black Panther) twins of Adelaide and Red. As Red is the only Tether who speaks, Nyong’o is given more freedom to separate and develop her two characters differences outside of non-verbal animalistic qualities which plague most of the Tethers. She gives a dynamic, layered and unsettling performance in both roles and the screen is unabashedly hers throughout.

Michael Abels returns as the composer for Us after his work on Get Out. This score feels like a character itself, which is the best kind of score. It refuses to be ignored, is often haunting and intimidating, but is also infused with hip-hop elements which is a fresh and effective twist on what we come to expect from horror thrillers. It mirrors the script and cinematography perfectly, so perhaps we are seeing the beginnings of a longstanding partnership between Abels and Peele who seem to know how to combine their talents to bring out the best in the other’s work.

This all being said; the film is not flawless. Where Get Out was incredibly localised and sat squarely within its niche, it was nearly perfected. Its concepts were restrained enough to be bound by one strand of logic and consistently follow its own rules. The sheer magnitude of what Us is trying to achieve and show on-screen automatically requires the audience to suspend their disbelief much higher and move decisively away from logic and towards metaphor. However, I don’t think the audience were provided this pathway with the script. It constantly tried to over-explain itself and the timings of these explanations were either plot holes in themselves, unnecessary or detracting from the fear and tension. There was too much jumping around following the different characters in isolation which exposed issues as rules could be exploited by one character and ignored by another as the script saw fit. It became too much about trying to understand the world presented to us than following breadcrumbs to create our own conclusions, which I think would have allowed the audience to let go and enjoy the movie more, eliminate plot holes and encourage discussions which perhaps could be successfully interpreted even if they were not Peele’s original intent. The script could maybe have spent a little longer in development and refinement, so that the remainder of the movie can be fully appreciated.

There is a lot to appreciate. The film is beautifully shot, full of nuggets of trivia, self-references and memorable imagery. There are also countless minute references to iconic directors, novels and films of the genre, fleshing the history and purpose of each frame in his work. Here I particularly felt the influence of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine thematically and plot-wise. Peele is pushing his limits as a filmmaker and I for one am excited to see what else he could bring to the world of cinema. I hope that he will continue to explore horror and psychological thriller territory, as he seems to truly understand and respect the genre’s potential for nightmarish beauty and liberating concepts. He is elevating his craft; I see increasing similarities to the work of Kubrick and Hitchcock, steering clear of cheap thrills in favour of solid acting, quality production and tense atmosphere. If Peele can continue this upward trajectory, maintain his love for direction and take the time to hone his scripts to the standard of which we know he is capable, he could be well on his way to becoming an iconic filmmaker himself.  

My Rating: 4/5 stars, putting it in my Watch Because category.

Watch Because … this film has a lot to say and any audience member will have a lot to say afterwards too. It is exceedingly well-made, and I wish to see more from Jordan Peele in the future, so his work should be seen, studied and critiqued. This is a very successful addition to the world of horror, and it should be known that an audience is not only searching for cheap jump-scares, overused CGI and liberal gore. Horror is one of my favourite genres, but it is often inherently associated with objectively bad movies, and filmmakers like Peele are those who move to change that image and prove that it does not all have to be cliched and unoriginal.

Public’s view: This movie averages 80/100 across IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. 

Fun Fact: Us is a play on words: it can also stand for US, or United States.

Us is currently showing in cinemas. Get Out is currently streaming on Netflix or is available on DVD. Please support film and the art of filmmaking by seeing these movies legally.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What did you think of this film? If you enjoyed this review, give it a like, comment or share, tweet me @emmalhooker, or subscribe to this blog via my Facebook Page ‘In Touch With Humanity’ for access and updates on all my content. Cheerio!

After Life (2019): Series Review

A Spoiler-Free Discussion

Directed By: Ricky Gervais

Genre: Drama, Comedy

Episodes: 1 series, 6 episodes at 30min

After Life has a simple premise: a man’s wife dies of cancer and he grows depressed, adopting a devil-may-care attitude and generally mistreating everyone around him. Over the course of the six episodes, however, we start to see flickers of the sympathetic character buried beneath and watch as sometimes the most unexpected people and encounters elicit acts of kindness and gratitude.

I’m aware that Ricky Gervais has a polarising reputation, but he does have a knack for constructing British dramedy, such as The Office, Derek and Extras, all of which I enjoyed. His blend of observational and shock humour allows us space to laugh at things that we perhaps shouldn’t, treading a line between hilarious and awkward with delicate expertise. Not everyone wants to feel themselves squirming uncomfortably as they laugh, but if you enjoy challenging your own boundaries and exploring the border of political correctness, Ricky Gervais often does not disappoint.

After Life is the darkest venture that I’ve seen from Gervais’ series and does include potentially triggering content when we see our protagonist at his lowest. The depiction of depression has some honest moments: the inability to perform menial tasks like the washing up, buying groceries or cooking; the small reasons, such as needing to look after the dog, are the ones which ultimately keep him going; and the impulse decisions towards self-destructive behaviours. The cardboard characters become increasingly three-dimensional and start to serve less purpose to our protagonist’s narrative as he starts to realise that they are all their own people with their own lives outside of his own, which was unexpected from the first couple of episodes and a welcome change of pace.

Ricky Gervais puts in a commendable turn as our grieving widower, though this feels less like acting than a close iteration of Gervais himself placed in an unfamiliar situation; there are a number of monologues which I know reflect Gervais’ own views, especially with regard to religion. As a fan, I am more than happy to follow him as our lead, but others may struggle to lose themselves in the character. Among the supporting cast, there are a great number of familiar faces: the hilarious Roisin Conaty as sex-worker Roxy, David Bradley of Harry Potter fame as Gervais’ ailing father and a welcome return from Extras regular Ashley Jensen as his nurse. We also see Downton Abbey’s Penelope Wilton in my most endeared role, the widowed Anne, and Diane Morgan (a.k.a. Philomena Cunk) provides my favourite comic relief in Kath.

As a standalone series it does perhaps end a little twee, but a second series is in the works. The comedy does perhaps restrict the depth of darkness that the characters were allowed to explore, resulting in some surprisingly bleak or morally questionable moments being quickly glossed over or otherwise forgotten. However, for the episode time-span and wider audience accessibility, I think this is an allowable concession.

The show explores familiar ground in a way that feels fresh and relevant with rising discussion of mental illness, occasionally reaching highs of poignant clarity. In my opinion, very much so worth a watch. Looking forward to Season 2!

Favourite quote: Happiness is amazing. It’s so amazing, it doesn’t matter if it’s yours or not.

Public Opinion: After Life averages 82/100 across IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.

After Life is currently streaming on Netflix.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What did you think of this series? If you enjoyed this piece, give it a like, comment or share, tweet me @emmalhooker, or subscribe to this blog via my Facebook Page ‘In Touch With Humanity’ for access and updates on all my content. Cheerio!

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