Judas and the Black Messiah

Review by Lila Funge

“You can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.”

Striking. Powerful. Enraging. These are the words that came to mind when the credits for Judas and the Black Messiah began to roll down my screen. Director Shaka King proves he can stand with the greats in this gripping biopic of the late, great Fred Hampton. Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield give career-best performances as the leads; assassinated Black Panther Party deputy Chairman Fred Hampton and FBI informant William “Bill” O’Neal respectively. With brilliant supporting acts from Jesse Plemons as FBI agent Roy Mitchell and Dominique Fishback as Hampton’s girlfriend Deborah Johnson, this film elegantly portrays a historical event that, in the hands of the wrong director, could have become nothing more than a muddled mess. 

Judas and the Black Messiah takes viewers through the duty and struggle that comes with being a black revolutionary in a country unwilling to accept change. The film opens on O’Neal impersonating an FBI agent in order to steal cars, but when a job goes south, he brokers a deal with Agent Mitchell to collect information on the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in exchange for his freedom. Unknowingly, Hampton welcomes him into his close circle, and before long the FBI is in on every move the party makes. Shaka King allows viewers to  follow the inner turmoil O’Neal is battling directly paralleled with the battle for freedom Hampton fights until the film’s gut-wrenching conclusion. 

This may not be the description most would think of when it comes to heavy and important pieces, however, I would characterise this film as refreshing. Never before had I seen a group as demonised by society as the BPP so beautifully humanised on screen. Even Spike Lee’s masterpiece BlacKkKlansman failed to portray the party members as much more than what we’ve seen before – somewhat underdeveloped characters with stagnant dialogue. King takes this group and breathes life into them for Kaluuya, Stanfield, and Fishback to spit out into their riveting speeches and heartbreaking monologues. Although the script feels unoriginal in places – particularly in the more cliché biopic scenes – the dialogue itself feels natural and free-flowing. Reminiscent of classic 70s crime thrillers and noirs, the cinematography and set design feed into the story seamlessly. Accompanied by an incredible score and brilliant editing, I have no doubt this film is on track to sweep awards season.

The White Tiger

Review by Saoirse Mulvihill

The White Tiger (Ramin Bahrani, 2021) is the dark, rags-to-riches story of Balram Halwai (effectively portrayed by Adarsh Gourav) within India’s corrupt democracy and classist caste system, adapted from the novel of the same name. It is an excellent film for anyone who wants to view a faithful representation of Indian culture. Through a high-budget, major-motion picture lens, this film expertly captures exquisite shots of humanity and its scenic backdrop. It is heartening to see this more authentic representation of Indian culture, which has throughout history suffered heavily due to stereotypes, prejudices, and Orientalism. 

Unfortunately, that is where the joys of viewing this film end. If you subtract its representational merits as described above, all that remains of The White Tiger is a difficult watch – and not just because it depicts demanding concepts surrounding poverty and class. Upon finishing my first viewing, I was struck by how similar the narrative was to Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, 2019) – only without all of the comic relief, likeable characters, and endearing dynamics between them. This also meant that I spent the entire runtime wishing I was watching Parasite instead, which obviously did no favours to the film I was supposed to be viewing. 

I admire the story for its overall concept and cannot deny that the cast deliver impressive performances. Unless you begin a film well-prepared to despise every character, however, the runtime can be extremely challenging. They are not simply ‘well-rounded’; they’re all truly terrible people. The few characters with minor redeeming qualities (I’m looking at you, Pinky Madam (Priyanka Chopra Jonas)) commit acts so detestable that it remains impossible to hope for a happy ending for any of them – including our narcissistic protagonist. As such, if you’re anything like me, you will have little reason to care about the stakes at hand or the people they affect, leaving you with no reason to continue watching. 

Despite my reservations about its characters, I don’t think that this is an irredeemable film. It can’t be overemphasized how beautifully it is shot, and what a breath of fresh air it is to see such an honest insight into the culture and society of India (without any white, male saviours). Those are two feats of which I cannot stress the importance enough but, personally, this only made the rest of the film’s downfall all the more disappointing. If you’re more capable of rooting for ‘anti-heroes without the heroism’ than I am, then I would recommend trying it solely for its progressive steps taken towards unbiased, equal representation. If you prefer to actually like some of the people on your screen, however, I’d give it a miss.

Malcolm and Marie

Review by Katie Lynch

Dear Reader,

Malcolm & Marie is an in-depth look at the nuances of a couple’s relationship directly after Malcolm (John David Washington), a filmmaker, enjoys the successful premiere of his first big movie. We join him and his partner, Marie (Zendaya), as they arrive home from the event and they begin to have the worst fight they’ve ever had. Filmed during the Covid-19 pandemic with limited resources, Malcolm & Marie is a simple story, with a loose narrative, highlighting the fluidity of conversation and argument between two deeply entangled people.

The acting here is the main attraction. It is shot in black-and-white, letting us know that the vibrancy of the characters is the central focus of the film. Zendaya is brilliant, as usual. She gives a sophisticated performance, heightening and softening with ease, and Washington proves himself well-able to hold his own opposite her. The meandering ebb and flow of emotion between the two is engaging, insightful, and – dare I say – authentic, giving the film its raw, intimate feeling. The long shots are some of the most beautiful in the film, framing the characters through windows and doorways either alone or together according to the state of their argument at the time. The film presents two people who can fight so nastily and hurt each other like no one else can, but who can love each other more fiercely than their harsh words can injure. 

Overall, Malcolm & Marie has the same energy as a Stewart Lee comedy routine: pretentious, repetitive, funny in a way that makes you wonder why you’re laughing, and eager to point out the hypocrisies and shortcomings of its own audience. When Malcolm and Marie begin to discuss authenticity in filmmaking and the ignorance of film critics, they dare to call out their audience of film lovers as frauds who grasp at the straws of identity politics to appear knowledgeable about the movies they try to discuss. Malcolm & Marie isn’t afraid to make viewers uncomfortable, to make them reflect on their own biases and limitations.

You start watching Malcolm & Marie for Zendaya’s performance, and you stay for the grandiose yet enjoyable chattering in cool greyscale.

Yours sincerely,

Karen from the LA Times. 

Space Sweepers

Review by John Dugan

Despite a name that would suggest a larger than life story, Space Sweepers (Sung-hee, 2021) remains a film strongly centred around the humanity found in its story and the emotional grounding of its characters. The main cast consists of pilot Tae-Ho (Song Joong-ki), Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri), engineer Tiger Park (Jin Seon-kyu), and robot Bubs (Yoo Hae-Jin). The four shipmates are challenged emotionally and morally as they discover a young girl, Kot-nim (Park Ye-rin), aboard the vessel they have collected for scavenging. As they are brought into world-altering events, Space Sweepers follows the crew’s creation of the classic ‘found family’ trope. 

One of the films weakest points was certainly its antagonist, as there were many moments throughout the film during which I felt that he lacked proper characterisation. Besides a devastatingly tragic backstory and a eugenicist-level understanding of morality, the CEO of the menacing “UTS corporation” James Sullivan (Richard Armitage) was only loosely explored. Furthermore, parts of his backstory intertwined with many of the main characters’, only causing me further frustration at the lack of exploration of these past events. While each of the main characters are decently fleshed out, their backstories attempt to connect them each to the overarching plot of the film in some way. This somewhat works against the film, as it breaks immersion and leaves questions as to how these characters managed to meet at all. 

The action within the film is balanced well, dynamic and easy to follow. It also allows for breathing room between moments of emotional development and character exploration. I found myself in many scenes genuinely laughing or connecting with the characters in a way I was surprised by. One of the main characters, the robot Bubs, is actually shown to have a desire to transition, as she is referred to using masculine pronouns throughout the film, but then expresses a desire for a female presenting upgrade. While it is questionable that this character, as what appears to be an attempt for transgender representation, was a robot rather than a human, in spite of this the scene between Bubs and Kot-nim when this is revealed is a very tender and endearing moment.

Frankly, because of the ‘Hollywood’ quality of the movie- with its reliance on special effects and a rather archetypal villain- Space Sweepers initially failed to catch my interest, but I found this redeemed within these emotionally engaging moments, even if at points they felt close to pandering.

Penguin Bloom

Review by Catherine Callahan

A bird with a broken wing and a newly paraplegic woman: though the parallel seems immediately on-the-nose, Glendyn Ivin’s new Netflix film, Penguin Bloom (2020), is more than just a feel-good family drama. The ever-talented Naomi Watts portrays the true story of Sam Bloom, a young, adventurous mother left unable to walk after a traumatic fall while on holiday in Thailand. A year later, Sam is struggling to adapt to new realities, retreating further from her three free-spirited sons into depression. In flutters Penguin, an injured magpie the boys take home to foster, that is ready to capture hearts, wreak antics, and rehabilitate the mind and body of its thematic counterpart. All this can be predicted from the start of the movie, if not the trailer. However, Penguin Bloom embraces its predictability and formulates an emotive family portrait of broken spirits relearning to fly.

Penguin Bloom exceeded my expectations, as I was expecting a light family caper that might at best tug at heartstrings, and maybe have an actual penguin. Following the Soul Surfer (Sean McNamara, 2011) injury-to-success narrative and combining it with the unconventional house pet trope seemed so formulaic to the feel-good genre that I was taken aback by how dark Sam’s character study is. Sam suffers; she lashes out and misses out when it comes to the boys, and when she is standoffish she is understandable and human. 

The unexpected intensity of the film is only magnified by a series of stressors: we wait anxiously as Sam ascends the stairs before her cataclysmic fall, we worry constantly about the will-she-won’t-she-return nature of having a pet bird, and we gasp horrified when the boys, even in the wake of such trauma, leap off the roof onto a trampoline and scale out of windows (it might not be Ivin’s intended conflict, but those boys need some supervision!). Penguin Bloom is an emotion-fuelled journey that still manages to keep its viewer on the edge of their seat, making them more and more invested in the well-being of the family and the safe return of their avian saviour. 

The film’s cinematography highlights the idyllic natural setting of Sydney, Australia with bird-framed aerial views of the family’s home that maintain a hopeful, glowing atmosphere. Interspersed amongst these are Sam’s dream sequences. The metaphors of Sam’s dreams may be simplistic, as when she eerily sinks into blue depths in her wheelchair, drowning. However, their seamless integration into the cinematography adds something additional to an otherwise realist narrative by supplying pensively wide-angled shots. A wheelchair dripping water upon Sam’s waking up almost establishes a magical realist element to the piece: after all, Sam’s conflicted mind manifesting into her home setting is essentially at the heart of the character study. 

Naomi Watts’ performance remains impassioned and affecting, and the birds that portray Penguin are perhaps the best-trained show-birds to be seen. Aside from a few cheesy lines of narration and a tendency toward the predictable, the characters form a compelling family unit, one with all the sentimentality that accompanies trauma and recovery, triumph and flight.

The Dig

Review by James Mahon

The Dig (Simon Stone, 2021) is a noticeable exception to the increasing trend of repetitious Netflix content. Based upon John Preston’s novel of the same name and inspired by real events, it follows Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan), a wealthy widow in Suffolk. She hires self-educated archaeologist Basil Brooks to excavate mounds on her property, leading to the eventual discovery of an Anglo-Saxon burial ship. The film shines a light on Brown, who for many years received little or no credit for his work in discovering the precious artefact, although goes far beyond the simplistic conventions of a biopic.

Occupying the two central roles, Mulligan and Fiennes excel: Fiennes perfectly embodies the unique Suffolk accent along with Brown’s affectations. Whilst criticism has been directed at the casting of Mulligan, who is two decades younger than the real Mrs. Pretty was at the time, her technical dexterity ensures she captures the inner resilience of an ailing mother, an impressive feat considering she replaced Nicole Kidman at short notice. Moira Buffini’s elegant and emotive screenplay provides a vital platform for both actors to engage with their real-life characters.

The first half of the film centres upon Brown’s discovery of the burial ship and his blossoming relationship with Mrs. Pretty, and the wide-sprawling shots of the Suffolk countryside’s subtle beauty contribute to the rhythmic meandering feeling. This is further infused by Archie Barnes as Edith’s son Robert: his initial childlike innocence and paternal friendship with Brown adds to the fundamental sentimentality of the film. Under Stone’s direction a tonal shift occurs, and the obvious foreshadowing of war through RAF planes and radio announcements is delicately interwoven with the overarching storyline. Brown’s work is being encroached upon by professionals from the British Museum, a symbolic commentary on class conflict, and Robert must accept his mother’s imminent death.

The film is a mature and refreshing interpretation of human ingenuity, fear, love, and mortality. Nevertheless, it is not without its faults. There is an element of artificial contrivance in the romance between Peggy Piggot (Lily James) and Rory Lomax (John Flynn) romance, and at times certain scenes seem to be utilised for dramatic effect and disrupt the organic flow of the plot. Ultimately, none of the subplots quite match the unique relationship between Mrs. Pretty and Brown.

It’s a Sin

Review by James McCleary

Ritchie Tozer (Olly Alexander), aged eighteen, moves out of home and straight to London, where  he takes up residence with four friends in a dingy flat called The Pink Palace. For most of his life,  Ritchie has remained closeted in fear of his tough father (Shaun Dooley) and traditionalist mother (Keeley Hawes), but in London, Ritchie is freely, prolifically gay, as are all of his housemates bar  Jill (Lydia West), his endearingly outgoing best friend. By the twenty minute mark of the first  episode, The Pink Palace has become a hub for London’s queer night scene, an endless party  wherein it becomes quite literally impossible to walk from room to room without blundering into  the middle of someone’s wildest sexual fantasies. For Ritchie and his friends, these next few years  are set to be the best, most liberating years of their young lives. And then they start to die,  because this is 1981 and the Aids pandemic is on the rise. 

In an op-ed for The Guardian, writer Russell T Davies writes that: “the stigma and fear of Aids was  so great that a family could go through the funeral, the wake and then decades of mourning  without saying what really happened.” His aim with It’s A Sin, then, is to shine a light on those who  even in death have had their lives denied. To that end, Davies has constructed an elaborate, often  terrifying tragedy spanning a decade wherein the gay men of London lost every battle, suffered  every possible humiliation, and more often than not died alone out of shame and the dread of  judgement. 

Essential to this approach is the show’s laser focus on the queer perspective. With the exception  of Jill, who stands as a beautifully consistent ally played to perfection by Lydia West without ever  trying to steal the spotlight, all of the characters who we follow identify as LGBT+. The  heterosexual gaze on Aids is largely sidelined except when antagonistic, as is the case with the  doctors, government officials, and law enforcement whom the residents of The Pink Palace must  face. Consequently, the feelings of isolation and loneliness are truly, devastatingly palpable  throughout. As our lovable protagonists start to get sick and even pass away, the survivors are left  with fewer and fewer pillars of support in their fight against the unknowably large society that  loathes them, even coming to shut out one other in fear of their own possible toxicity.  

Though Davies’ unmatched ability to create the most imperfectly human of heroes is the  backbone of It’s A Sin’s emotional power, the work of director Paul Hoar and composer Murray Gold are not to be overlooked. Their most effective trick is the deployment of musical montages to transform the story of five people into a fully realised world. Early in the series, elaborate sequences of Ritchie’s sexual awakening and gradually mounting career make for exciting, giddily victorious achievements, which become increasingly corrupted as the looming shadow of Aids begins to infect every corner of his world. One particular beat, wherein a montage cuts away into total silence for a pivotal twist, is among the most harrowing statements I’ve seen on television in  quite some time. The show will never permit you to love the characters for long without reminding you what kind of story this is; one where their own people would like nothing more than to see  each and every one of them dead and buried. This culminates in one of the most audacious, unrelenting finales in recent television history.  Scaling back the spectacle, score, and the affable character beats, the last hour of It’s A Sin takes the shape of several long, agonisingly unfair scenes where events set in motion from the first  minutes of the pilot finally collide, and the ultimate evil that had always been holding Ritchie and his friends back from true queer liberation takes hold.

You’ll laugh and you’ll cry; those are truths I  am as confident in as anything in the world, but if It’s A Sin can linger in your mind for as long as it has in mine, it is safe to say that Davies’ vision for bringing the repressed, quietly suffering victims of the Aids pandemic to the forefront is nothing short of a devastating triumph.

The Film Zine

Article by Cathal Eustace

The greatest privilege and curse of our generation is constant access to the largest amount of art and knowledge ever available to humanity. The Library of Alexandria was one of the largest libraries of the ancient world yet only held 64 gigabytes of information in its bookshelves. Meanwhile, the internet is estimated to contain an ever-expanding 1.2 million terabytes of information, all of which we can access via a chunk of metal and plastic that we keep in our back pocket. Overwhelming, right? The never-ending stream of data coursing through your phone, the 500 hours of footage uploaded to YouTube since you started reading this review; the volume of knowledge and art being made available to us right now is too immense to comprehend. 

So why waste time sifting through oceans of stale memes, clickbait, and Instagram poetry in search of art when The Film Scene has curated a staggeringly beautiful collection with their debut issue of The Film Zine. The Zine showcases visual art, poetry, performances, documentaries, and short films from multiple artists around the country. Its presentation feels smooth and seamless; I can’t express the joy you’ll feel scrolling through the beautiful patterns of The Zine which act as a serene backdrop to the array of art on display. The Zine acts as a portal to another world – one inaccessible to us – where our memories of the year gone past were not marred by 2 million deaths.

Enter this alternate reality and listen to Killian Kirwan’s formidable rendition of We are Dublin, with footage of the city cast in a neon glow as the poet brandishes before your ears mighty memories of Hibernian nightlife. Masquerade as an audience member amongst friends, feel the estrangement of the fourth wall disappear as you sit down with Keegan Andrulis in Arianna Owens’ Ripple. Enjoy the discourse, stories, jokes, and nuances of real human conversation that you have been denied the past year in Cáit Murphy’s She Talks in The Afternoon.

Sometimes, The Zine’s escapism manifests itself in piquant depictions of the past – another world inaccessible to us. This yearning for a time gone by is vividly expressed in Laura Hutchinson’s “The Femme Fatale”: a stunning collection of artfully-curated photographs, and in Aoife Raeside’s quietly melancholic The Last Dance.

The Zine does not feel arrogant; it does not bypass the world we have been forced to live in as it chooses to selectively remind us of the sorrow of isolated life. These reminders are dispersed throughout The Zine, one example of which can be found hidden amongst the first collection of portraits: in Ella Sloane’s “Masked Creativity,” another in the poignant “Grangegorman” by Pádraig Ó Gríofa/Gwaukee. 

The Zine offers companionship and solace at a time where we all need it most. What was supposed to be one of our most invaluable, formative years has been robbed from us all. Nothing can change the past. Nothing can reverse the grief our generation will suffer, but let it be soothed by the wonderful display of imagination, kinship and love that you can find in The Film Zine.

You can access The Film Zine at thefilmscene.ie/the-film-zine-issue-1

Outside the Wire

Review by Katie Lynch

Outside the Wire (Mikael Håfström, 2021) is a sci-fi action flick set in the near future during a civil war in Ukraine. The protagonists are an emotionless drone pilot (Damson Idris), detached from the horror he inflicts upon the people on the ground, and a robot man (Anthony Mackie) who believes humans aren’t emotional enough. Both are part of the US military whose alleged purpose in Ukraine is to mediate the various forces in conflict. There was a lot of opportunity for this movie to make meaningful points about contemporary issues like race, toxic masculinity, the effect of rapidly developing technology on our lives, philosophical questions about the value of human life, the ethics of war, and the role the US plays in foreign conflicts. The script falls short in this regard, forcing the audience to follow a complex story with little incentive or reward. 

The film opens on a fairly unoriginal scene in which the drone pilot defies direct orders, sacrificing the lives of 2 soldiers to save 38 others. As punishment he gets sent to Ukraine to fight on the ground to learn about the realities of war and the value of human life. A frustrating element of this movie is that it never lands on a point of view regarding the drone pilot’s decision to sacrifice the few for the many. It makes very confusing points about the US involvement in the conflict, at first presenting itself as against US interference, but undermining this through the ‘twist’ ending. Even the discussions of human emotion, toxic masculinity and the realities of technology are completely undercut and muddled by the end of the film. 

Outside the Wire tries to do far too much, and would have benefited from a focus on one of the themes it tries to tackle. Unfortunately, the resolution only serves to provide a baffling end to a movie whose priority is ‘epic’ robot fighting scenes, which ultimately fall flat without a meaningful narrative to support them. There are some beautiful scenes and settings, particularly in the third act, but it’s not enough to make up for the clumsy storytelling. 

The film’s attitude toward discussing important topics is epitomised by its treatment of race. Mackie’s character tells the drone pilot that his creators made him look like a black man rather than an “all-American” blond-haired, blue-eyed man, because “[His] sleeve might say US, but [his] face conveys neutrality.” This essentially meaningless exchange is the first and last time the film mentions race, and without any follow through, it feels like the white director and white writers only brought it up because they felt as though it were an elephant in the room. It really isn’t. 

It’s a shame that a movie with so much potential drowned itself in too many big themes and failed to pack an emotional punch, a common theme among many factory-pumped Netflix original films. Audiences deserve better than Outside the Wire. Even Outside the Wire deserves better than Outside the Wire

One Night in Miami

Review by Luke Bradley

One Night in Miami (Regina King) is a fictitious account of a real meeting between four Black icons – Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) – in the aftermath of Clay’s heavyweight championship victory in February 1964. Based on the play of the same name (and adapted by its original playwright, Kemp Powers), the film largely takes place in the confines of a hotel room, setting the stage for a dialogue-fuelled character piece. 

The directorial debut is a film type that is promising no matter the end result, as it marks the emergence of a new voice in cinema. You’re always rooting to have a new favourite director, especially if they’re already a proven talent, as is the case here. King’s first outing as a director proves to be an engaging and powerful effort, filled with stellar performances, even if it doesn’t quite escape its stage roots.

The success of this play’s adaptation to the big screen really hinges on its performances, and they do not disappoint. Goree, Ben-Adir, Odom Jr., and Hodge are all fantastic in this film. They all get their moment, each set up individually and effectively in the film’s opening sequence. Ben-Adir in particular is outstanding, taking on the intimidating task of portraying Malcolm X, following in the footsteps of Denzel Washington. 

It’s great that their performances are this good, considering the film lives and dies by them due to its very premise. One Night in Miami never really introduces many elements beyond those of its stage version, save for the opening and closing sequences of the film. As such, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that King doesn’t make a large impression on this film, given its strict adherence to its acclaimed legacy onstage. While it’s excellent that this story is now immortalised in cinema, it falls into the classic pitfall of echoing its origins. But, thanks to its stellar cast, it’s nonetheless compelling for it.

One Night in Miami inhabits a fascinating slice of history as it accounts for a meeting between these four great minds, as the specifics of their conversation will never be public knowledge. Considering both the fates of some of those portrayed and the current state of affairs for Black people living in America, this 1960s story remains tragically relevant today. While it may deter historians, One Night in Miami makes for a perfect vehicle for King, Powers, and their supremely talented cast.