Russian Doll

Russian Doll ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Cast: Natasha LyonneCharlie BarnettGreta Lee, Elizabeth Ashley.

The first season of Russian Doll came out of nowhere back in 2019 (Only 3 years ago, but as anything before Covid, it feels like a long time ago). As it happened, it turned out to be one of the best series released on Netflix.

What started off as a Groundhog-Day-stuck-in-a-time-loop story, soon evolved into something which really transcended the whole premise, moving from comedy to a deep emotional journey through mental illness, trauma, life and death.

At the centre of all that, Natasha Lyonne as Nadia was a true force of nature. Her powerful multi-layered performance, just like a Russian doll, hilarious and sad, strong and broken was brilliant to say the least.

It was a tightly-scripted perfect season, an intriguing puzzle, full unexpected twists and turns. Nominated for 13 Emmy awards and directed entirely by women, the series constantly played with the audience’s expectations and just when we thought we had a grip on it, it introduced us to a brand new main character after a few episodes, pulling the rug under our feet and hooking us to the screen like only the best TV can do.

When Season 2 was announced many wondered how could they possibly top that?

Wisely they decided to follow a completely different direction and yet they still managed to maintain that same vibe, mood and capture that irreverence that made the first season so unique.

Just like in season one, the least you know about it, the better, but I’ll just say that it’s still about “playing with time” except that now it’s all about “time travel” and about searching the past in order to fix the future.

This feels a much more complex, deeper, weirder (yes, even weirder) story. It is also possibly a little bit too convoluted in its construction and consequently it feels like bumpier ride and it’s not as fun to watch as the first time around.

It’s a very audacious series which at times suffers from the weight of its own ambition. Some of the metaphors are a bit too much in your face and the two main storylines this time don’t gel as fluidly as they used to, but there are plenty of good moments throughout and when the ending comes it’s just as rewarding and its final message is undeniably powerful.

On Netflix

Season 1 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Season 2 ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2


Ennio ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore. Cast: Ennio Morricone, Clint EastwoodQuentin TarantinoHans Zimmer, Terrence Malick, John Williams, Barry Levinson, Dario Argento, Quincy Jones

34 years after “Cinema Paradiso” swept us away with all those “stolen kisses” in one of the most beautiful and iconic ending in cinema history, director Giuseppe Tornatore has found his voice again, and even if this time it’s through a documentary, his ability to melt our hearts, make us laugh, to inspire us and move us to tears seems unchanged.

“Ennio”, the film, covers the life and works of music composer Ennio Morricone.

I don’t think I need to state here what a huge film buff I am (though some people may call me “film-nerd”, or “film geek), but even I was oblivious to most of the stories told in this splendid documentary. I’ve always considered Morricone one of the greatest film composers, certainly up there with John Williams (my ultimate favourite), Bernard Herrmann, John Barry, Max Steiner and Hans Zimmer, but it was only by listening to extracts from some of his pieces, one after the other throughout the 2 hours and 47 minutes of this documentary, that I realised not just the incredible body of work (around 500 scores and apparently 20 of them in 1968 alone!), but also how revolutionary they were, as well of course beautiful.

Tornatore has made a real letter of love to the man and to cinema itself, not unlike his Oscar winning Cinema Paradiso. Through dozens of interviews, little hidden gems from the archive and hundreds of snippets from classic films, all spectacularly weaved together by editor Massimo Quaglia (who’s at times a bit too enthusiastic, but he really delivers when it comes to editing to music), Tornatore is able get us as close to Morricone as I had never hoped I’d be. And what a treat this is! The film also makes you want to go back and re-discover many of those less-seen films (not to mention the ones we watched over and over).

Morricone speaks like a man from another era, with his old-fashion ‘polished’ and refined Italian. We learn so many little stories from the horse’s mouth (his interview, which runs throughout the documentary was filmed just before he died in June 2020), as well as from all the key players in his life. I don’t think they missed a single one: from Clint Eastwood, to Tarantino, Dario Argento Barry Levinson, Terrence Malick, Bernardo Bertolucci, Quincy Jones, Olive Stone and even (quite randomly) Bruce Springsteen and many others. And for those who have passed away (Like in the case of Sergio Leone or Gillo Pontecorvo), they found old interviews and some great archival footage.

And so we learn about Ennio’s early life and how he wrote music for some of the most iconic Italian songs in 60s. I really had no idea! In fact I think it’s a film that certainly speaks even louder to Italians I guess and will touch a special cords to those who remember those early composition so iconic today).

So many wonderful little bits of trivia, like how writing music for films was considered to be almost “vulgar” among composers and how that pushed Ennio to use a pseudo-name for some of his first few films, because he was “ashamed” in front his peers. Well, who’s ashamed now?

But as well all the many entertaining stories (too many to tell here), we get the chance to listen to some of his great scores and learn how they came about and what the reaction was at the time.

This might also be one of the few chances you’ll get to hear some of these wonderful pieces, as some of these films have never actually been released outside Italy.

The film came out less that 24 hours ago in the UK, but I’ve already seen it twice.

Cinema lovers, music lovers, art lovers and everybody else with good taste for anything Italian and more, this documentary is a sublime and inspiring piece of work, which I will never forget.

Out in selected cinemas and available to buy on most of the major streaming platforms.


Roar ⭐️⭐️

Stars: Betty GilpinNicole KidmanAlison Brie, Merritt Wever, Issa Rae, Fivel Stewart, Cynthia Erivo, Meera Syal.

Based on a book by the same name, this anthology series is a collection of 8 short films (30 stories in the book), all about women, in what feels like a mixture between Aesop’s fables, “the twilight zone” and “Black Mirror”, merging horror, surrealism, social issues, dark comedy and probably more…

Each story is very different from the others and they should probably all be reviewed independently, but they all have things in common: they’re all modern fairy tales about female empowerment, beautifully filmed, with a great cast (Nicole Kidman among many) and to a degree they all have great premises, but they all fail to go beyond the simple one-line synopsis and do something really meaningful with it.

“The Woman Who Disappeared” is about Wanda (Issa Rae) an author who’s in LA for a movie deal on one of her books, but who soon realises what it’s like for a black woman to be in an industry run by mostly white men: invisible. An interesting start, but just when you are becoming invested in the concept, it all just peters out.

In “The Woman Who Ate Photographs” Nicole Kidman is trying to grapple with her mother’s dementia, discovers that by eating her childhood photographs she can relive those memories. And that’s pretty much it. Nothing else happens. A bit of a disappointment and a waste of a great Nicole Kidman.

Zero subtlelty for chapter 3, “The Woman Who Was Kept on a Shelf” in which a model whose only life purpose seems to have been competing in beauty pageant, is kept by her husband on a shelf as a trophy. A rather cheap premise, which is so on the nose that it’s just embarrassing, but once again a great central performance Betty Gilpin

In “The Woman Who Found Bite Marks on Her Skin” a woman struggling to balance her job and her life as a mother and wife, discovers strange bite marks all over her body (they are clearly a metaphor for the guilt she feels in neglecting her family).

Chapter 5 is “The Woman Who Was Fed by a Duck” in which Merrit Weves begins to date… a talking duck! Yes you heard me right… And believe it or not, there’s even a sex scene with it. Enough said.

“The Woman Who Solved Her Own Murder” stars Alison Brie as a ghost who unhappy about how the local detectives are handling the case of her murder, begins to investigate herself. A pretty obvious one, but rather fun.

“The Woman Who Returned Her Husband” tackles the realities of Indian women in arranged marriages. Meera Syal plays Anu a woman who after many years of marriage decides to return her husband to a store and try some new ones. This was probably one of the best ones: sweet and funny and with rather predictable ending, but an ending nonetheless.

The final story, “The Girl Who Loved Horses” is a classic western tale of revenge, though with a woman at the centre of it. By this time I was just do bored that I couldn’t wait for it to finish.

All of these stories are pretty clumsy, they lack subtleties and hit you over the head with their “not-so-well-hidden” meanings. In the end they pretty much all fail to really get under the skin of the issues they are trying to raise, instead they just trivialise them and simplify them too much making a mockery of the ultimate message they want to deliver. And just when they’re about to get interesting, they end… Just like this review.

The Northman

The Northman ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

Director: Robert Eggers. Cast: Alexander SkarsgårdNicole KidmanClaes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke

“The Northman” is based on the 10th century Nordic legend, which eventually became the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But don’t expect anyone mulling over a skull here. This is a pulpy, gory, violent revenge story, which shares more with Conan the Barbarian , Gladiator, Braveheart and Game of Thrones than anything the Bard might have written.

That should not surprise those who’s familiar with director Robert Eggers’s previous films, from the fascinating (and rather gruesome) “The Witch”(2015) to that descent to madness that was “The Lighthouse”, both of which were just as unsettling and intense as “The Northman” is.

The film starts with a rather long prologue, during which I struggled a bit to find my bearings. We are introduced to Amleth, the 9 year old boy, son of a Viking King (played by an unrecognisable Ethan Hawk). After witnessing his father being slaughtered by his uncle and barely escaping with his own life, Amleth swears.

Fast forward a few years and the film finally gets going as we find Amleth, now grown into a bundle of muscles (courtesy of Alexander Skarsgård and his bulging abs), grunting and screaming as he and his tribes attack another Viking village somewhere in the North.

This is possibly one of the most impressive sequences in the whole film: a one-take wonder (clearly the preferred style of film-making for Eggers), which seems to go on forever and immerses the audience in a middle of a violent spree across the village with extreme realism.

It’s an ambitious shot which, like the rest of the film wants to show the not just the chaos of the attack, but the uncompromising brutality of the Vikings too.

Interestingly the film is “only” rated 15, because whenever actually look closely you rarely see the most gruesome details. There’s a lot of suggestive sound off-camera, silhouetted body shapes being knifed and slaughtered and people killed relentlessly left and right, but the camera rarely lingers on.

It is possibly one of the most authentic depiction of the Viking world we’ve ever seen on screen. “I did try my damnedest to do everything as historically accurate as possible.” Eggers said in a recent interview. And his works clearly shows off.

Right next to all this stark realism, Eggers also fills the film with several hallucinatory scenes, either the result of psychedelic drugs taken by the Vikings during various ceremonies and rituals or feverish nightmares dreamt by the some of the characters.

This is where the film goes almost abstract, aided by sinister lighting and a nerve-racking soundtrack blasting through the speakers.

If I have to be honest, I didn’t think the mix between the two styles always work for me and often I found those sequences took me from the film. They did however give a little breathing space from the all the blood.

All realism and accuracy aside, the story itself is pretty simple and the characters are fairly sketchy and two-dimensional. The only two main women in the film, Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit) and Nicole Kidman, do their best with the little they’re given. This is for better or worse (definitely worse) a world that belongs to men.

Kidman in particular felt a bit miscast here: her clean, glamorous and porcelain-like beauty felt a bit out of place among all the dirty, muddy grunginess), and yet despite this she commanded the screen every second she appeared. Watch out for her astonishing and revealing monologue in the third act, but also for a brief appearance by Bjork (she came out of her acting retirement just for this) and another short speech by Willem Dafoe as a jester… and later as a… erm… head.

To conclude, while on a technical level this is an impressive film, I found it a little bit empty. Also, for a story that is born out of a passionate declaration of revenge, “The Northman” isn’t actually very emotionally engaging.

I couldn’t help thinking back at Leonardo di Caprio in the Revenant and drawing parallels between his character and Skarsgård’s Amleth: two similar depictions, both pushing themselves to the limits and both looking for revenge. But the truth is that beyond his transformative appearance, all his grunts and roars, Skarsgård is really not that interesting to watch for the 2 hours and 17 minutes.

Coming out of my local cinema where I watched this I heard somebody commenting to his friends: “Wow, what a f**ked up film”. While it might not be the most highbrow or complex review, I must confess I do share that feeling a little bit.


Navalny ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Daniel Roher. Stars: Alexei NavalnyYulia NavalnayaDasha Navalnaya 

I’ve been making documentaries for about 28 years, but if somebody asked me what kind of films I’d like to make, I would probably answer “one like Navalny”. Which might give you an idea of how much I liked it.

It doesn’t even feel like fly-on-the-wall documentary, but it’s constructed, edited and scored more like a real edge-of-your-seat thriller. In the cinema where I watched it, the audience gasped, laughed, held its breath and was gripped, as we followed Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, recovering in Germany after an attempt on his life, putting the pieces together trying to find out who tried to poison him (and almost succeeded) and finally getting ready for his return home… whatever the consequences.

Right at the start of the film Navalny is asked by director Daniel Roher what kind of message he wants to send his Russian people if he gets killed. Navalny stops him straight away “Oh, come on, Daniel! No, no way. It’s like you’re making movie for the case of my death! This is a thriller!”. And boy, it really is!

There’s a sequence half way through in which he’s trying to catch a possible murderer red-handed, with a phone call, which is so tense that I must have held my breath as if I was underwater for minutes for fear of making any noise.

One of the (many) striking things about this film is the incredible access they managed to get (though we will find out right at the end, that some was concealed from them too). You really feel privileged to be so up-close and personal with this Navalny.

The picture that comes out is one of a confident man, with great charisma (he’s very good in front of a camera), a wonderful sense of humour and exceptionally brave.

Of course we also watch this with a little bit of hindsight. 18 months after his interview for the film Navalny is still in a Russian prison with little hope of coming out anytime soon. All of which makes the documentary even more poignant. At the same time everything that’s going on in Ukraine right now, adds an extra layer of urgency to the whole thing.

It is obvious that Roher has an agenda and his anti-Putin sentiments are very apparent throughout the film, but that doesn’t stop him to ask Navalny some uncomfortable questions about his nationalist past. At some point Roher even leaves his camera running and films some revealing behind the scenes with his man, showing how much he’s aware of being in front of camera (“your eyes are too harsh” he’s whispered at some point by an assistant. “Smile a bit”) as well as some of his insecurities (“My English is not good enough”). They are small moments, perfectly calibrated and intentionally well-placed in the film, which make Navalny even more human and likeable than he already is.

Whether it’s actually Roher directing or Navalny himself pulling the strings behind the scenes is not 100% clear, but that doesn’t make this film any less gripping, entertaining and infuriating at the same time.

“Navalny” won both the documentary audience award and the festival favourite award at the Sundance Festival and it’s not hard to see why.

It is a timely, important, daring and inspiring piece of work, as well as a terrifying and depressing testament to the power that the current Russian leader still holds over his country (and the rest of the world).

On a side note, it’s interesting to notice how this film has glorious reviews everywhere (rightly so) and yet it mysteriously scores only 5.6 (out of 10) on the IMDB website. Spooky.

One thing you can do is go and watch it and tell your friends too!

Navalny is showing at the Curzon and it’s available for streaming on its website.

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