News of the World (2020)

Watched in HD, Dolby Digital+ 5.1 on Netflix

News of the World (2020) at IMDb

Even though I’m not a Tom Hanks fan (strike me down) I still look out for his work.

After the American Civil War a Captain of the army that has taken up the role of a traveling news reader comes across a girl whose family were killed. He takes her with him to find a home across a state still recovering from war and finding its identity where racism, gun slinging and sinister intentions remain.

Whilst it’s disappointing to see the same problems are still evident today (racism, lack of tolerance of others), I think I must have missed the supposed grip of this film. An interesting tale with a fairly obvious conclusion. But still, Tom Hanks, based on his holding the room telling the news I think he needs to work for BBC News 24.. Someone snuck inspiration from Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in the score, which will serve as an ear worm for the night.

Greenland (2020)

Watched in 4K HDR, Dolby Digital+ 5.1 on Amazon Prime

Greenland (2020) on IMDb

A meteor strike is easy pickings for a disaster movie. A family of three have to make it to a safe area before the inevitable, fighting through panicking people whilst rebuilding their marriage. There’s nothing like a meteor strike to remind you of your wife and kid.

Two hours of ramping up tension, watching people sinking to new lows to survive. A hard watch emotionally, not a great thing to watch at the moment if you’ve got bad nerves, but maybe that’s what humanity needs. Reminds me of what a colleague once told me, “things can always get worse”.

Sunshine (2017)

Watched in HD, Stereo on Rakuten (Chromecast with Google TV)

Sunshine (2017) at IMDb

A second mission is mounted to follow a failed mission to “re-ignite the Sun” and save humanity. Dodgy physics aside (even if Brian Cox was involved), the story becomes personal with tensions and difficult decisions to be made about individuals vs. humanity. A little weird to see Michelle Yeoh almost sidelined by lesser-known British actors but those actors more than made their leads worthwhile.

If the wisdom of calling a spaceship that is heading towards the Sun to save humanity “Icarus” is foolhardy, calling the first one “Icarus I” is pure fortune telling. It is difficult to keep up with the pace of the manoeuvres of the ships, Kubrick definitely got that right. Boyle’s point of the Sun being bright was impressive and tested my retinas to the max. I can now see 256 shades of pure white.

I also discovered that Rakuten doesn’t support anything more than Stereo on my varied and capable set-up so that’s the end of that. Back to physical media.

Life in a Day 2020 (2021)

Watched in HD, Stereo

Life in a Day (2021) at IMDb

Following on from the 2010 version, on 25th July 2020 people from 192 countries filmed over 300,000 hours of amateur footage depicting their lives. Marriages, proposals, births, deaths, racism, break-ups, masks, no masks, protests, homelessness, effects of climate change, solitude, spirituality and some awesome trains.

I’m not a fan of the “day in the life” videos, but this collection of quick edits adds more during the Coronavirus pandemic. You don’t get chance to build a relationship with the characters – people – but their joy, sadness, satisfaction and plight is no less impactful. The close-ups with animals are better than any David Attenborough, the deliberately unfinessed production is certainly authentic.

Saint Maud (2019)

Watched in HD, DTS HD 5.1

Saint Maud poster

Saint Maud (2019) at IMDb

The damage that religion can do to the weak minded and vulnerable. What is experienced vs. what happens in the rational world and the damage that does to her and those around her.

A young nurse with a past of drink, parties and sex had a mental breakdown and a revelation and dedication of her life to God. She carries the arrogance of faith and expects others to feel what she does, meeting people who challenge her beliefs and the authenticity of those beliefs.

Weird camera angles keep you unsettled as Maud unravels. Welsh was spoken by God indeed, sounding amazing with some awesome design. That final frame will stay with you.

Tenet (2020)

Watched in 4K/HDR, DTS HD Neural:X 7.1
Tenet (2020) on IMDb

What feels like the only cinematic release of 2020, and for good reason. Nolan demands big viewing for big experiences. The frames seamlessly switch from vistas to close-ups to examine the feelings behind plot elements with frame resizing to help. A big screen is a must. The sound design is almost threatening with its speed and energy. Ludwig Göransson’s score is a highlight.

What happens happened

Neil (Robert Pattinson)

A weapons dealer has a new weapon, which “The Protagonist” (we never hear his actual name) has to prevent from use and sale. Meanwhile a personal story of blackmail, estrangement and suicide within a marriage wraps the (typically Russian) antagonist’s global evil plan.

Between lack of ability to read lips due to masks, heavy accents and softly spoken lines the dialogue is indistinct – frustrating when you have to hear every word. Shame on you Kenneth Brannagh. There’s so much noise and effects it’s difficult to know what to focus on. This is a film that will need multiple re-watches. There’s a mirroring of time and a progression that is impressive and confusing. It leaves you wondering if this is because of someone else’s assumed genius or you’re not able to “get it”; either way, it got mediocre reviews and didn’t break even in the box office. Multiple plot points occur simultaneously and in different directions. Nolan is messing with time again. Definitely worthy of the time, or was it, or will it be?

Joker (2019)

Watched in: 4K/HDR, 5.1 Dolby Digital

Joke (2019) at IMDb

It’s always enjoyable to look deeper into the Batman world, so many themes can be explored: dystopia, greed, crime, mental illness, vengeance and family/friends and colleagues. There’s also a lot of opportunity for comedy. I highly recommend the Lego Batman films for comedic value, which recalls the weird 1960s Batman (“I don’t know what was going on there”, Albert) and explores the symbiotic relationship between Batman and Joker.

This film covers the genesis of Joker, or Arthur Flick, and how he became hell-bent on crime, greed and control. Through a failed comedy career, Arthur is beaten up both physically and mentally and failed by multiple support networds: social services, his family and his employer. His declining mental health is on full display, so it’s no wonder how he became the psychopath he’s known to be.

I hope my death makes more cents than my life

Arthur Flick, Joker

It’s clear throughout that there is a feeling that he’s finding himself and trying to discover the greater thing he could yet be. It’s a fascinating insight into his mental condition, too. Though the line in his journal, “the worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t”, was a little too much exposition. The film is exceptionally good – recalling The Taxi Driver, the script, the direction, the photography, the sound; so why try and make it even more obvious what was happening?

Quentin Tarantino raises an excellent point about the powers of film, where they subvert the audience into thinking – or expecting – a scene to go a particular way. That’s epic Directing: the film is directed to direct the audience. Tarantino interview at IGN

Ad Astra (2019)

Just climb into the bottom of a live rocket during launch on a hostile planet. Then murder everyone on board, because those people were obviously superfluous to requirements. (Why send one when you can send 4?) Fly by planets in close proximity so we know where you are and pass derelict spacecraft by chance in the vastness of space. “The Sins of the father are visited on the soon” indeed. He’s not Brad Pitt, he’s James Bond.

Small Axe (2020)

Small Axe (2020) on IMDb

How society has and continues to view Black people and its culture has been of particular interest and concern in this last year. Between rioting under Trump following brutality and murder by the Police to massive inequalities in responding to the Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen inequality and hatred made clear and accepted through mainstream politics. Watching this brings it home how hard it could be presuming guilt based on just your skin colour by people who should be protecting you.

Steve McQueen has created a series of shorts for the BBC, “Small Axe”, that puts the historical inequalities of the Black community under the spotlight. Thought provoking and disappointing. It’s difficult to accept we’re members of the same society that created (and continues to do so) this inequality.

Mangrove (Episode 1) covers the case of the Mangrove Nine, accused in 1970 for “riot and affray”. The Mangrove is a new West Indian restaurant in Notting Hill struggling alongside an institutionally racist Police force. The restaurateur Frank is faced with Police brutality and victimisation and wants to avoid any trouble by The Black Panthers’ help. Ultimately ending at The Old Bailey.

“The thing about the black man is they’ve got to know their place and if they step out of it, they need to be nudged back in.”

PC Frank Pulley, Small Axe, Episode 1

Lovers Rock (Episode 2) is set in a house party with some funk, soul and early disco where we see rejection, dancers pairing off and sweating walls. At one point the music is cut and we hear the dancers singing, lost, underlining the meaning of the song (Silly Games by Janet Kay). Some epic music and dancing, you can appreciate the true origins of disco and house music and dance and the euphoria music can bring. It’s an epic DJ set with bits of story attached.

Red White and Blue (Episode 3) stars John Boyega of Star Wars fame, in an attempt to prove that Star Wars is no longer just white men in spaceships. Leroy leaves science and research and joins the Police to try and effect change from within, removing the racism that saw his dad beaten up by coppers. Family conflicts and paternal disappointment

I don’t suppose you get many people from my background – science – thought I’d be the first.

Leroy Logan, Small Axe, Episode 3

Alex Wheatle (Episode 4) is the true story of the successful author who grew threw a challenging childhood and youth amidst racism and rioting. Alex imbibes from multiple cultures (drugs, music) and attempts to integrate with his Surrey-Englishness whilst he understands where he’s from and where he’s finding himself to be. Eventually, putting himself to achieving significant literary success.

“If you don’t know your past, then you won’t know your future”

Rastafari, Small Axe, Episode 4

Education (Episode 5) reveals the inequalities in education and how Black people were segregated into “special schools” in the guise of their providing appropriate education and improving the opportunities for their white contemporaries. Kingsley wants to be an astronaut but is struggling in his education. His family are proud and difficult to help and expose the schools for what they really are, for the “educationally sub-normal”.

“You can’t have a black man in space, who told you that?”

School pupil, Small Axe, Episode 5

Brüno (2009)

Brüno (2009) at IMDb

Stomach cramping through awkwardness and laughter. Lots of easy targets but that’s because American culture makes it so easy. Between racism, homophobia, celebrity culture, fundamental Christians and Rednecks, they make easy pickings.

Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles are genius. I love anything from Larry anyway (Seinfeld, Dilbert, Curb Your Enthusiasm). Loving Snoop Dogg, too. Typically underplayed.