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Movie Reviews

Mudbound #LFF2017



Director: Dee Rees

Stars:  Carey MulliganGarrett HedlundJonathan Banks

Released: 2017 (London Film Festival)

Reviewer: Marion Donnellier

Adapted from the award-winning novel by Hillary Jordan, Mudbound, directed by Dee Rees, has received nothing but praise since its premiered at Sundance earlier this year.

In 1940’s Mississippi, two young men return home from World War II. One is Jamie McAllan, brother to Henry, head of the McAllan family. The other is Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers, living on the McAllan farm.

The film opens on a rainy day. Jamie and Henry are digging a grave for their late father when they come across the skull of dead slave. A sombre omen that could only predict death. Nevertheless the McAllan brothers have no choice, they must dig there. The Jackson family approaches on a chariot and are requested to help lower their dad into the ground.

The film then takes us back a couple of weeks earlier as members of both families narrate and share their inner thoughts and everyday struggle.

The two families mirror each other in very similar ways as if almost perfectly balanced. While both are working the cotton field in Southern Mississippi, they are also both awaiting a son, fighting the same war and on the same side. Both families have a wife, a husband and children. Both husband will have a wounded leg and both families will regretfully loose one member to murder. Predictably the reason behind these murders will differentiate these families forever.

The structure is unusual and made up of short dialogues juxtaposed to longer and richer monologues. Each monologue is another clue that will bring us back to that ambiguous and gloomy burial.

Dee Rees builds tension using the elements and sound. The rain and the mud are used to both distance the families and bring them closer. The fields are covered with mud but only the little white girls are wrapped in it. It is Laura McAllan who first mentions the word “mud”, in fact it is the word she uses to describe the farm, her home. It is also Laura who feels the need to wash away the mud and the dirt, bathing once a week. And if the Jackson family need water at all it is when Florence Jackson requests hot water to cure the McAllan’s children.

When the rain falls it floods everything but when it does, there is nothing any family, white or black, can do about it. They must equally wait and listen to the very same radio program. Unfortunately when the sun rises and dries the land, nothing much has changed and racism still hovers over the land.

Apart from Pappy McAllan and Ronsel Jackson, who embody the purely evil and purely good, the rest of the characters rest in the neither completely likeable nore utterly detestable category.  They all give, at some point, a glimmer of hope. They greet each other, help each other and cure each other.  There is even a possible friendship between the two alienated soldiers.

The entire cast give powerful and convincing performances.  Jason Clark is great as the lamentable Henry. Henry is just like his damaged leg. Still mourning the lost land his father selfishly gave up, he cannot seem to commit to any side. Instead he staggers between his dad and his brother, cowardly. Everything that comes out of Mary J. Blige, as Florence Jackson, is warm and honest as she holds on to her small dream. But when there are children involved she, also, is undecided.  Carey Mulligan as Laura is a strong character, constantly determined and supportive throughout the film.

Following the most violent scene of the film, in which both families loose one member, she almost makes us believe she could step up. But in the morning neither Laura nor Jamie can tell the truth. One leaves and one remains, leaving the McAllen family unbalanced and mudbound.

Mudbound is not drenched in violence. The very painful sound of a broken leg and a soundless torture scene are effective enough. Instead the film fluctuates beautifully between tension and hope. More of a testimony than an accusation, things are not always black and white in Mudbound and sometimes, even fore a minute, there is a grey area. Dee Rees does not end on a positive note but on a hopeful one. By bringing Ronsel back to life, she lets him go home and writes his own ending, hopeful that others will do the same.

Editor-in-Chief of Movie Marker. Likes: Scorsese, Spielberg and Tarantino Dislikes: The film 'Open Water' I mean, what was that all about?

Movie Reviews

Bad Times at the El Royale ★★★★

Bad Times at the El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp.



Director: Drew Goddard

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman

Released: 12th October 2018 (UK)

Bad Times at the El Royale has seemingly fallen foul of the particularly hectic October release schedule in the U.K. As Venom and A Star is Born dominate the box-office and with the London Film Festival in full swing, El Royale has not received the recognition it deserves.

Boasting an impressive cast, Bad Times at the El Royale follows seven strangers whose stories intertwine at the El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe. As each person’s agenda for being at the El Royale is revealed, tensions inevitably rises and the characters collide.

From the get-go, El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp. Director Drew Goddard, no stranger to managing madness following his debut A Cabin in the Woods, has crafted an immersive, intricately linked murder-mystery that feels like a grindhouse version of Cluedo. The violence is garish but necessary, the dialogue is short and snappy and the characters are most importantly, interesting. The hardest part of any film with so many moving parts, is making the audience actually bond with those involved. Goddard, who also wrote the screenplay, has nailed this – giving enough back-story for each, whilst holding enough back to keep us learning more.

Between Jeff Bridge’s bad-ass priest, Dakota Johnson’s kill-happy hippy and Chris Hemsworth’s dancing cult-leader, the wider cast have somehow managed to create a credible on-screen dynamic, despite the stark character contrasts. Cynthia Erivo’s soulful singer Darlene is the obvious standout and her interactions with Bridge’s Father Flynn provide some of the most film’s most satisfying scenes. Lewis Pullman’s unassuming concierge Miles is another strong performance deserving of a mention.

The film swaggers along accompanied by its killer soundtrack, which plays a crucial part in the films tonal change from chapter to chapter. It’s dark and violent, yet at times it’s engaging and even emotional. The sharp edits that mash-up the timeline don’t over-complicate the plot, but accentuate the frenzied feeling that Goddard is creating as we head towards the plot’s crescendo.

As expected there are some areas where a film with so much going on inevitably suffers. Jon Hamm’s Seymour is arguably the biggest victim of this, with his character perhaps not utilised as much as it could have been. The film also feels a little too fleshed out in parts, lingering on some of the less necessary aspects and leaving one or two plotlines unexplored as a result.

Bad Times at the El Royale really does feel like a Tarantino movie and that’s no mean feat, Goddard has taken his own style and applied tried and tested techniques to create a compelling, genuinely exciting movie and one that deserves to be enjoyed by a wider audience.


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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Arctic ★★★★



Released: 5 December 2018

Directed by: Joe Penna

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir

Reviewed by: Lauren Tina Brady

An expanse of white as far as the eye can see, gently sloping mountains in the horizon, a polar bear pads silently across the snow, pausing briefly to gaze back at the watching man across the valley.

At first Arctic reads as a classic survival narrative; the basic man vs. nature conundrum. I’d recently seen The Mountain Between Us, which draws some very obvious similarities; plane crash, hostile snowy environment, a great expanse needing to be crossed for a chance of survival. However, unlike relying on the pairing of Kate Winslet and Idris Elba for context,  Arctic’s dialogue is bare. This is largely due to the fact that there is only the protagonist for the first third of the film, played by Mads Mikkelsen.

At first it appears to lull you into that false sense of security of knowing exactly how this works out; he sticks to a routine of catching fish, laying out black rocks spelling ‘help’ against the snow and signalling for nearby aircraft. However, crucially, we don’t know who he is. He speaks very little, in both Danish and English. He offers no information to help us piece together a backstory and remains an enigma throughout, which feels fresh. The character becomes more than a person; he becomes the flicker of hope for survival, the spectrum of emotions that occur in the darkest of hours.

There is plenty of drama to keep us on the edge of our seats; he has a chance of escape quite early on – a small helicopter has spotted him and attempts to make it’s way towards him in strong winds leading to a crash. There are two people on board; one is killed with the other, a woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir), who survives but is badly hurt and must be cared for. Suddenly the odds of both surviving are halved; the danger is intensified.

Here is a tale of endurance over survival. This is where Mikkelsen excels; he digs deep to portray every possible emotion through a gruelling and ice-cold journey. He is silent but his face says everything. I laughed in delight, I wept quietly. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing this role.

It’s a feat for Joe Penna, directing his feature film debut. See it for Mikkelsen, stay for the sensitive direction and the stunning cinematography.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Museum ★★★★



Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios

Stars: Gael García Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Alfredo Castro

Released: London Film Festival 2018

It’s Christmas Day, 1985. College dropouts Juan Nunez and Benjamin Wilson are ready to pull off an audacious heist that will have authorities searching for professional art thieves for years. Based on a true story, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ film sees the duo attempt to steal 140 priceless artefacts from the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Winner of the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, Museum explores the mindsets of two would be criminals with nothing to lose.

The tale is narrated by Wilson, played with subtle compassion by Leonardo Ortizgris. Wilson’s role is much like Nick’s in The Great Gatsby, an opinionated and somewhat loyally biased eye through which Juan is diluted. Played by Gael Garcia Bernal, Juan is the film’s focus, a Mexican Cool Hand Luke drifting through his young adulthood. In the hands of another actor, Juan may have come off as entitled, lazy even, but Bernal’s performance layers the character with sympathetic naivety and relatable desire. A perennially youthful, multifaceted actor, Bernal paints buckets of emotion into every micro-expression.

The crime takes place after Christmas dinner, a lively family affair that sees Juan alienated and berated. At first, the silence is reminiscent of the hanging scene from Mission: Impossible; the tension equally palpable. But soon the action changes, pared back to a static style similar to the panels of a comic book. It is a technique repeated throughout the film, the continuity broken up into freeze frames that are not quite motionless, still alive with a touch of movement. Reducing these scenes to a childlike fantasy, Ruizpalacios succeeds in creating the ultimate sense of idyllic, youthful adventure.

Something often ignored in heist films is the aftermath, when the thieves must deal with the fallout of their decisions. Museum’s second act focuses on this aspect, allowing the introduction of an English art dealer, played by the superb Simon Russell Beale. Uncertainty builds from the start of their meeting, as the camera endlessly pans until Juan’s misguided perceptions come crashing down around him. In a script littered with intelligence and comedy, it is a pleasant surprise to see the characters’ raw emotion become the focal point.

Ruizpalacios seems content to pose questions that hang wispily in the air, unanswered: questions of cultural ownership, of morality and greed. He is more interested in the character study at the heart of this story, of a man who commits a crime out of boredom, a sense of nihilism or a desire for adventure, or perhaps a little of all three. It is a fresh idea in a crowded genre, making for a film that is impressive but never quite brilliant, a wonderful adventure that doesn’t aim to blow minds. But does that matter? As Juan says and Wilson relays: “Why let the truth ruin a good story?”, a sentiment Ruizpalacios takes quite literally. Luckily for him, Museum is without a doubt a good story.

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