The Undoing

The Undoing (⭐⭐⭐⭐)

Director: Susanne Bier. Cast: Nicole KidmanHugh GrantEdgar Ramírez, Donald Sutherland, Noah Jupe.

The undoing might not be the most original story ever told, but that’s counterbalanced by the very stylish and incredibly atmospheric way it’s presented. With a pre-pandemic New York serving as the beautiful background the series is also a showcase for some very very powerful performances.

Nicole Kidman, of course, who’s never been bad before shows that even with all her botox restricting her facial movements (she should really stop doing that!), she can still act her socks off.

Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and Emmy Award winning writer and director Susanne Bier, films everything very tight on the characters’ faces, a stylistic choice that seems to pay off here, since pretty much all the performances are just beautiful to watch.

Hugh Grant has completely abandoned his “romantic-comedy stuttering character” and has now fully embraced a much darker one and he plays it better than anything. And then of course Donald Sutherland who’s here to remind us all why he’s been in the business for as long as it has. There are a couple of scenes with him who will most probably earn him an Emmy at some point.

And then, the little Noah Jupe, who might be just a teenager, but his range of emotions, especially towards the last part of the series, is as powerful as any of his co-stars.

I’ve enjoyed watching this slick murder-mystery immensely. This kind of things is very reminiscent in terms of mood and style of those Scandinavian TV series which have changed he way TV is made, or at least this genre.Yes, the last of the 6 episode ends on a bit of a downer and it felt a little bit underwhelming and ultimately a bit disappointing (well… the last 20 minutes, not the whole thing), but the journey to get there was certainly worthwhile.

On Sky Atlantic

Yes God, Yes.

Yes God, Yes. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Directed by: Karen Maine. Cast Natalia DyerTimothy SimonsWolfgang Novogratz, Francesca Reale, Susan Blackwell, Alisha Boe.


Beyond the all-a-but-too-easy critique at the hypocrisy of strict Catholic schools in the 90s, there’s a warm and affecting coming-of-age tale here, which captures adolescent (female) sexual desire with both great honesty and sweetness. It may touch some of the same subject matters as films like “American Pie” but it’s really on a different planet alltogether. Some people may find it all rather “objectionable”, but it’s actually a rather smart film and touching one too. The fact that it’s directed by a woman clearly shows and I mean that in the best possible way. Even the “masturbation” moments (yes, you heard me right) are done very tastefully, they’re never titillating, just like the women in the film are never objectified.
Straight from “Stranger Things” fame, Natalia Dyer’s perfectly pitched performance carries the whole film on her shoulder: she comfortably manages to be naive, ignorant, curious, confused and.. well, plainly horny and makes it all not just very believable and beautifully human and very sweet too. Yes, there are stereotypes left and right, some of the depictions might a bit on the nose and the short duration feels more like “ops run out of things to say” rather than “let’s keep it tight”, but I have to confess, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

Anima

Anima ⭐⭐⭐

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Cast: Gala MoodyDajana RoncioneThom Yorke

An interesting exercise by Paul Thomas Anderson, which barely can be passed as a “MovieADay” item. A short film, or rather an extended music video, which plays to the music by Thom Yorke (frontman of the Radiohead) in a sort of surreal nightmarish distopyan setting (apparently it was filmed in Prague). Whether it’s meant to signify the dehumanisation of workers in modern times, or whether it’s about people sleepwalking in their daily lives or about two lost souls managing to find each other… I don’t know: I don’t understand it and actually I don’t really care much. It is undoubtedly a mesmerizing silent film and some of the imagery is indeed rather beautiful, but I have to say this feels a bit just like a big budget student film, just as pretentious. But hey, it’s only 15 minutes long and it’s an interesting watch, by one of the greatest American directors alive today.

On Netflix.

The Book of Life

The Book of Life ⭐⭐⭐

Director: Jorge R. Gutiérrez. Cast:

I’ve been hearing a lot about this one, but I’ve only got around to watch it. Produced by Guillermo del Toro (you can just about see his imprint in some of it) , this has always been eclipsed by the similar-themed Pixar Coco (even though that was released 3 years later). Comparing the two of them comes rather natural : they are both beautifully animated (though two different styles), they are both set in Mexico, the both take place on the “Day of the Dead”, they both deal with the “other world”. However this one seems to cram so much storyline in it that it feels like it would have needed at least 3 hours to allow it to breath and given it the time a subject and a story like this deserves.

This film seems to run so fast that you hardly have time to catch your breath. Not a moment goes by without an action scene, a sudden twist, a slapstick gag (often a quick side one, coming in just about in the corner of the screen), people screaming, fighting, running. Whether it’s doing this because it thinks its viewers have a short attention span and it’s afraid of losing them if it slows down, or whether because there is just too much story in it, or possibly because they’re afraid that dealing with such a subject like death might feel too gloomy if it wasn’t counterbalanced by all the rest, or maybe all of the above. Whatever the reason, the result is something which is yes beautiful to look at, yes brave, well-intentioned and potentially deep, but it’s so crammed with stuff that unfortunately it doesn’t give you the time to digest it and crucially to “feel” it. There’s no reflective moment to realise the importance of what we are seeing, no time to feel sorry for the dead or happy for a son finally being able to see his deceased mother again, nor to enjoy the amazing colours and beautifully designed world, nor the costumes or details of the characters, just because everything moves so fast.

The music by the usually reliable Gustavo Santaoalla (who does his best for the understated cues) never seem to stop blasting through, once again contributing to the “cacophony” and feeling of everything being “overstuffed”.

But I don’t want to sound too down on it. In fact I quite liked it and there’s certainly a lot to take away from it, but Pixar’s Coco is just on completely different level, emotionally and in terms the message it’s carrying and how it’s delivering it.

A Night in Miami

A Night in Miami ⭐⭐⭐

Director: Regina King. Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Lance Reddick

An extraordinary night in 1964 when 4 amazing men (Cassius Clay, Malcom X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown) met to celebrate the unexpected victory of Clay. It will be the night that will mark a sort of turning point in all the men’s lives. After a very dynamic and lush beginning, the film soon settles down into a more claustrophobic setting, inside a hotel room, clearly exposing its stagey origins (it is based on a play). It is indeed a very dialogue-heavy film, not all of it very subtle (and some feels actually a bit forced and some slightly impenetrable), but there are undoubtedly some very powerful moments too. And by the time you get to the epilogue you feel like you’ve witnessed something quite profound. It is obviously a very timely film with all the talk about #BlackLivesMatter, and it’s clearly screaming to be noticed at the forthcoming Award Season (It’s going to be released at Xmas in the cinema and later in January on Amazon Prime to capitalise on that too).It’s not completely success as a film in my view, but the charismatic performances and a very controlled, un-showy direction by Regina King (here on her debut film) remind us all about these extraordinary people in an extraordinary time.

Collective

Collective (Colectiv) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Director: Alexander Nanau. Cast: Razvan LutacMirela NeagCatalin Tolontan 

This is an astonishing piece of work about the power that freedom of press can still have in uncovering the shocking truths about a whole nation rotten to the core: from scandals within the health care (patients left abandoned on their beds for days to the point that worms start to grow on them!), to criminal pharmaceutical companies, right to government itself. In doing so it exposes the corruption, the mob mentality, the lies, the cover-up, the hypocrisy, the cynicism on which the whole Romanian system seems to have been built on over the past decades. Filmed, edited, constructed and paced like a political thriller, this documentary manages to tell a rather complicated story in the clearest of ways, without ever resorting to voiceover, captions or talking heads: it’s exciting, gripping, infuriating, mind-blowing and incredibly sad. Every now and then we keep on cutting back to one of the survivors from a massive fire during a concert (the “Colectiv’’ of the title) where 80 young people died. A scene where she tries on a prosthetic hand is not just incredibly moving, but also a reminder that beyond all the criminal corporations, all the lies, money stolen and the political agendas, there are human lives at stakes here. Towards the second half, unexpectedly the film-makes go beyond closed doors, behind the scenes within the Goverment itself as we follow a newly appointed minister of Health, crusading to expose the corruption that came before him: maybe a little glimmer of hope that things one day might improve a little bit.

One of the best documentaries of the year.

On streaming platform right now (Amazon, Apple+, Sky)

Host

Host ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Director: Rob Savage. Cast: Haley BishopJemma MooreEmma Louise Webb Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward, Alan Emrys.

I’ll come out clean straight away: Host is one of the best horror of the last few years and definitely one scariest films I’ve seen in a long long time. In my life I’ve seen more horror films that I’d care to admit. I think I’ve now become sort of immune to most of them these days (mainly because most of them are actually quite bad, but also because the tropes are pretty much always always the same), but this one caught me by surprise and had me glued to the screen, terrified and delighted at the same time (I know… I’m a bit weird: I love to be scared)It is incredibly timely: it was made during the lockdown and it capitalises on our fear and paranoia of being stuck at home alone with such ingeniousness and intelligence. Yes, it does rely on the “usual” jump scare tactics, but it’s so well executed that you can’t help by admire it. I loved how it slowly builds the tension, how real it all feels (well, up to a point: it probably goes slightly over the top in a few places towards the end), how each person is being framed within their screen and how your eyes are constantly moving from one person to the next, checking for those suspicious lights in the background, for that open door right at the back… and so on. Of course it’s not a masterpiece, but I had so much fun with this that it deserves to be up there with the best of this awful 2020.

The film is out on the 4th of December

and it’s available on Shudder.

And this is a lovely interview with the makers and my friend Mike

Fireball: visitors from darker worlds

Fireball: visitors from darker worlds (⭐⭐)

Directorsç Werner HerzogClive Oppenheimer

Those familiar with Herzog’s documentaries will know what to expect: somebody may call them ‘indulgent mental masturbation’, others deep and philosophical reflections… I’ve always been more towards the first lot of people, though I do recognise at times there are some fantastic moments. The same goes with this one. In among the various detour and pointless jokes, some of this is undoubtedly fascinating. I know that if at work I came up with a documentary so unfocused and meandering like this one I would probably get my ass fired. But because it’s Herzog, all is forgiven (very unfair, but that’s how is is): lines like “I will not bore you with the details of what’s he said…” interrupting an interview with an expert or “I couldn’t resist interrupting the interview…” are just some of the most pointless flourishes from Herzog and come across pretentious and uninteresting. All we want to see is gorgeous shots of meteors, of the sky and listen to the voices of the experts. But the film doesn’t have too much of that, so it’s even interspersed with clips from other movies including deep impact to make it more visual.Also the film seems to belong less and less to him as most of it is given to interviews and led by Oppenheimer, so when his deadpan growls… erm I mean voiceover, comes in, at times it feels like it belongs to a different film… and one that’s really not as good as the rest and not as interesting as the subject it’s trying to cover. In the end there was just not enough to hold my attention.

On Apple+

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