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The 79th Annual Venice Film Festival

By Shane McKevitt

The 2022 Venice International Film Festival held its closing ceremonies last weekend and, in the wake of eleven days packed with screenings from 8am to midnight, there is plenty to discuss.  While I am eager to get into some of the festival’s highlights, I should also note some of its lesser points.  Waking up at 6:45am every morning to join an online queue certainly didn’t help with what was already a packed screening schedule, nor did the booking system’s tendency to send you back to the end of the line after making just a single reservation.  Nonetheless, I was lucky enough to see virtually every film I had wanted, as well as many others that hadn’t even been on my radar.  As for the selection overall, I’d say my impression was mixed.  Marquee films such as Tár (Todd Field, 2022), Blonde (Andrew Dominik, 2022) and White Noise (Noah Baumbach, 2022) left me extremely underwhelmed, although I recognize that I may be in the minority.  Nevertheless, there were some massive highlights that I cannot wait to get into.

The Whale, dir. Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky’s latest outing, The Whale, not only proves to be yet another success for the director but also a monumental rebirth for its star, Brendan Fraser. He plays Charlie, a 600-pound man attempting to reconnect with his daughter after having abandoned his family years prior.  The casting of Fraser – which mirrors Aronofsky’s casting of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (2008) – was inspired and the praise Fraser has received since The Whale’s premiere has been well deserved.  The film is heartbreaking, riveting, and – to my surprise – remarkably funny.  Hong Chau delivers an excellent performance as Charlie’s friend, Liz, and the relationship between her and Charlie made for some of the film’s most moving moments.  Nonetheless, certain character decisions and narrative developments during the film’s second act make it feel slightly out of focus at times, acting as peculiar detours from the film’s narrative through line.  This is a minor complaint, and my only real issue with The Whale, but I feel that it is something that keeps it from ascending to the heights of Aronofsky’s best work.  Moreover, although it absolutely worked for me, the ending might not be for everyone.  Overall, The Whale is a very good film with a career-revitalizing turn by Brendan Fraser and an understated, yet perhaps equally impressive performance by Hong Chau.

The Banshees of Inisherin, dir. Martin McDonagh

The Banshees of Inisherin sees director Martin McDonagh reunite with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in what is a subtle, heart-wrenching, and hilarious film. Colin Farrell plays a man whose best friend (Brendan Gleeson), has decided to abruptly end their friendship.  The performances by both Farrell and Gleeson are excellent, with the actors deftly balancing the script’s heart-breaking dramatic turns with frequent moments of levity.  Although the film’s plot unravels at a relatively slow pace, the riveting dialogue between Gleeson, Farrell, and the entire supporting cast manages to keep you engaged throughout.  The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Ben Davis, who truly makes you feel like you are on the island with them, crafting an environment that feels strikingly real.  Additionally, the film doesn’t hold anything back and I was pleasantly surprised by the director’s willingness not to pull any punches when it came to disturbing themes and imagery.  Finally, MacDonagh never feels the need to spoon-feed the audience and, particularly with the film’s conclusion, entrusts them with coming to their own conclusions, an admirable trait that I feel many more filmmakers should adopt.

Pearl dir. Ti West

After the credits rolled on Ti West’s slasher X, audiences were treated to a teaser for a prequel. Pearl was set to be released just six months later.  The studio’s willingness to greenlight a prequel to X before it was even released was bold, yet after seeing both films, it was clearly the right call.  The premise of X could have easily been plucked straight out of the slasher boom of the late 70s or early 80s.  This familiar formula was deftly combined with excellent direction, deep characterisation, fascinating overarching themes, and engrossing narrative turns, making for one of my favourite films of the year.  Ti West has made some of the most unique and refreshing horror films of the last decade and a half, with The House of the Devil (2009) being a personal favourite of mine.  Thankfully, after the recent success of X, Pearl continues this trend, thrusting audiences into a narrative that is familiar, yet doing so in a manner that is decidedly unique. The plot, which details the origin of X’s antagonist Pearl (Mia Goth), doesn’t offer up many surprises, nor does it have to.  We know how this story ends, what’s important is that we have a lot of fun getting there, and Pearl achieves that to a tee.  Mia Goth’s lead performance unsurprisingly steals the show.  Nevertheless, Emma Jenkins-Purro, David Corenswet, and the rest of the supporting cast are all given plenty of room to shine as well.  The film’s use of bright, pastel colours is reminiscent of colorized versions of black and white footage, apropos of the film’s 1910s setting.  To this effect, the film uses the influenza pandemic as an equal parts fascinating and disturbing emulation of modern times.  While – for me – it doesn’t quite reach the heights of The House of the Devil or X, Pearl is certainly a worthy addition to West’s filmography and one of my favourites of the year so far.

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Everything Everywhere All at Once

Review by Katie McKenna

Going to the cinema alone is one of my guilty pleasures. A lot of people ask me why I love seeing films solo so much and I usually give them a pretentious answer like; “having other people around ruins the immersion”. That’s not the truth. It’s because I cry easily at films and I’m so embarrassed about this, that my nightmare would be for someone to see it happen. Hearing about the time I was three and cried during Madagascar (Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell, 2005) still makes me audibly cringe to this day (It was during the scene where Alex realises he can’t be friends with Marty anymore because he wants to eat him. In case you were wondering). And as I got older these tears during movies became a bigger and bigger source of shame. Until one day I stopped crying during films. In the battle between what I thought was willpower (but I now know was humiliation) and sincerity, willpower had ‘won’. But I kept seeing films alone, just in case I had a moment of weakness.

Everything Everywhere All at Once (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, 2022) follows middle-aged Chinese immigrant Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) as she struggles to run her laundromat, keep her family together, please her disapproving father (James Hong), and most importantly do her taxes.

It’s hard to where to start when writing about Everything Everywhere All at Once. You can write about how the directors were originally meant to direct the Marvel series Loki (Kate Herron, 2021-), but left because they felt a big studio was suppressing their vision. And by sticking to their guns and telling the story they truly wanted to tell they made a film leaps and bounds better than anything produced by Marvel. Or you could write about the huge amount of multiverse films being made at the moment, and what this newfound desire to explore different realities, just like ours but with a few small tweaks, says about a society who lost two whole years to a pandemic. But all this seems like a disservice to the Daniels’ film and everything it stands for.

As I taught myself not to cry and detach myself from films, it seemed like Hollywood was doing the same. I wasn’t the only one finding sincerity more and more scary. In the last ten years it seems like every blockbuster is becoming more self-deprecating. With characters pointing out clichés and plot-holes within the film or undermining any genuine moment with some quippy dialogue. Everything Everywhere All at Once is the antithesis to this. Unlike myself and a lot of modern blockbusters, it isn’t crippled with self-doubt and fear of what other people may think. The only word I can think of to describe EEAAO is nice, and I mean that as the highest form of compliment. It’s a rare type of film that takes itself seriously in all the right ways, and had me beaming for every second of it, even as tears streamed down my face. The Daniels have crafted a film that wears its heart on its sleeve and is all the better for it.

Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017) has one of my favourite quotes about heartbreak ever, “To feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!”.  I think this quote applies to films too. It takes bravery to be simple and sincere. To believe in what you’re saying, to present your emotions to others and leave them there, not undermining them, and ask others to feel them with you. That’s what so rare and special about Everything Everywhere All at Once. Why are we watching films, if not to feel something? What is the point of a movie devoid of emotion or meaning. Being ironic is the easy, and lazy choice. After I would cry at movie, I would feel embarrassed, but long after the shame left the film would stay with me longer than any quip ever could. These moments that could move me to tears would live in my brain forever, and come back as memories when I needed it the most. I hope more filmmakers take the Daniels’ lead, because if EEAAO has taught me anything it’s that in a confusing meaningless world, all that matters is kindness and sincerity. And I’m ready to cry at movies again.

The Woman King

Review by Lila Funge

In the West African kingdom of Dohemy, 1823, we find ourselves thrust into the world of the Agojie – real life Amazonian warriors. These women, led by General Nanisca (Viola Davis), are highly skilled warriors trained to defend their homeland against rival tribes and slavers. The Woman King (Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2022) follows the next generation of Agojie as they train to follow in these womens’ footsteps while preparing for battle. This is not only a tale of life on the battlefield, but on the battlefield of a woman’s body as well. Oscillating between a sweeping, bloodthirsty epic and an intimate study of female trauma, The Woman King goes beyond a summer action film and dives into something much deeper. If left in the wrong hands these tonal shifts could cause viewers emotional whiplash, however Prince-Bythewood does so with the ease only a seasoned director possesses. 

While Viola Davis gives a knockout performance (shocker) it is the film’s supporting star Thuso Mbedu who steals the show. Mbedu plays Nawi, a young girl given to the Agojie after her refusal to marry an abusive older man. From the start she has the fighting spirit of the Agojie but her stubbornness lands her in trouble with General Nanisca time and time again. The interactions between Nanisca and Nawi are perfectly contrasted by Nawi’s relationship with Izogie (Lashana Lynch). The two bounce off each other naturally, as if they’ve known each other forever. Their banter feels natural and their emotions are raw. In a film full of heightened tensions, the comedic relationship between them is a welcomed breath of fresh air. This duo is the thread that ties to the two tones of the film together. Without their relationship, I highly doubt The Woman King would feel as seamless as it does. 

This film is not without its flaws, and one is glaringly obvious; it’s another movie about slavery. Obviously this is not all the film is about, but it is a driving plot device. There’s serious catharsis that comes with watching these women slaughter slavers, but another film depicting Black trauma is maybe not the escapist cinema most people are looking for. Since the film already takes creative liberties with regards to historical accuracy, focusing solely on tribal disputes rather than slavers may have worked in their favour. 

Thrilling, gut-wrenching, and endlessly entertaining, The Woman King is a battle cry for women past and present. If you can stomach heavy subject matter, this film is a must-see-in-cinemas triumph for Gina Prince-Bythewood.

Flux Gourmet

Review by Sarah Murnane

Flux Gourmet (Peter Strickland, 2022) is an independent movie that fails to hit the mark. The film follows a group of artists who join an institute dedicated to culinary performance. The ‘culinary collective’ made up of Billy (Asa Butterfield), Elle (Fatma Mohamed) and Lamina (Ariane Labed) gradually deteriorates in the search to find what it truly means to produce culinary inspired art.

This film had two major problems: lack of direction and timing. The lack of direction, manifests in the overall themes of the film. Flux Gourmet attempts to do too much at once. Resulting in an uncoordinated and messy final product. The main themes the film attempts to showcase are horror, drama and comedy. The attempt to balance and handle these three complex themes is done through the use of dialogue, sound, music and production. In some areas Flux Gourmet hits on a certain theme excellently. The horror scenes in the movie create a nice tension and compliments the main plot of the movie. However, when these horror elements are offset by attempted comedy or drama, it not only confuses the plot, but the audience as well.

Furthermore, the comedic aspect of the film was distinctly lacking. Flux Gourmet appears to aim for two types of humour: dark comedy and gross comedy. The scenes intending for dark humour regularly fall into pretentiousness.  The gross elements to the film fail to be funny enough to off-set the ‘shock’ value of those particular scenes. The comedy in the film actually impinges upon the characters and plot. This is primarily because it is poorly executed, not because the idea itself is inherently bad. 

Alongside the comedy and horror elements, there are certain scenes that aim for drama. While these are portrayed better than the comedy scenes, most of them are overall pointless and add nothing to the character development or plot.

This ties in with the second issue of the film: timing. Flux Gourmet is simply too long for what it is trying to achieve. The film is nearly one hundred percent character based, with the plot serving as a secondary factor. With a runtime over just over two hours, it leaves the audience lethargic. It is possible that if the film had been more focused, this runtime would not have mattered as much. However, it does become tedious near the end.

What is to be commended are the performances. The big names in the film, Asa Butterfield and Gwendelyn Christie excel. Lesser known actors are also impressive. Particularly Fatma Mohamed, who shines throughout with her comedic charisma. Added to this is the incredible cinematography of the film. It is truly beautiful at some points, evidence that a  significant amount of effort went into making the aesthetics of the film to make it look as spectcular as possible.

Ultimately, if character development is your time of cinema, this film could tick the right boxes for you. However, overall it is not a film that you would be missing out on if you did not get around to watching it.

Bullet Train

Review by Alex Garrett

!!Spoilers Ahead!!

No matter how pretentious and contrarian my opinions about films may be, ultimately, I am a simple man. When I was about 14-15, I believed that Kingsman: The Secret Service was one of the greatest films of all time, valuing its visceral fight scenes and curse-laden dialogue (that I confess are still very entertaining) over any sort of themes or character development — mainly to scandalise my mum. Even today, after a long week of cerebral black-and-white dramas and avant-garde European wankery, there’s still nothing like a nice indulgent action-comedy to wash off the stench of “art-house” dreck. One cannot live on Dogme 95 and My Dinner with Andre (Louis Malle, 1981) alone; you need a balanced diet, comfort food — perhaps some Edgar Wright or Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller, 2008). In this light, films like Bullet Train (David Leitch, 2022) can serve a certain purpose, not just to “turn your brain off” and let any semblance of critical taste leak out your ears (that’s Disney’s job), but to relax a little, have some fun, and let the quips and carnage unfold.

However, since this is a review, a bit more scrutiny is required. You’ve got “Ladybug” (Brad Pitt, looking like a middle-aged Kurt Cobain), a reformed ex-hitman whose confused New-Age mantras and absurd obliviousness provide some excellent comic relief. You’ve got “the Twins”, “Lemon” (Brian Tyree Henry as the world’s deadliest Thomas the Tank Engine enthusiast) and “Tangerine” (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, treading a fine line between Guy Ritchie gangster and Jay from The Inbetweeners), two sharp-dressed London assassins with great back-and-forth chemistry, arguably the highlight of the film. You’ve got Yuichi (Andrew Koji, downtrodden contender for Father of the Year), blackmailed into an assassination plot by “The Prince” (Joey King, devilishly deceptive apart from her dodgy British accent), injecting the narrative with tension and smug malevolence. You’ve got major characters getting gratuitously killed off after about three minutes of screen-time — always a fun genre staple. You’ve got a briefcase full of money owed to infamous crime-lord “The White Death” (Michael Shannon, whose sinister scenery-chewing is so indulgent that his dodgy Russian accent only makes it better). Lastly, you’ve got the shittiest bullet train in Japanese history, whose staff and security exhibit the kind of ludicrous and actively spiteful negligence only found from Franz Kafka or Ryanair. Is this film car-industry propaganda?

As you might expect, Bullet Train has to manage a lot of spinning plates, a task further complicated by the constant procession of flashbacks, callbacks, Chekhov’s guns, and cutaway gags littered throughout the narrative. Some are executed surprisingly well (the boomslang), others not so much (that fucking Fiji bottle, I swear to god), but overall it is the sheer quantity of diegetic interruptions — on top of multiple intersecting storylines — that makes the viewing experience rather exhausting. By the last half-hour, the unending barrage of twists and fake-out endings felt like I was re-watching Return of the King. However, in any standard action-comedy, having a consistently compelling plot is usually just a pleasant side-dish; cathartic action and character-charisma are what keep arses in seats. In this regard, Bullet Train delivers impeccably, exploring practically every possible manner in which you can fight on a train (LUAS passengers, take notes). Personally, my favourite highlights included the quiet car fight scene, Ladybug and the Twins’ dire attempts at deception, the final katana duel — my inner weeb teenager was in heaven — and, of course, Channing Tatum’s cameo. Take a bow and accept that Oscar. Overall, if you’re craving some well-choreographed martial arts and decently-written violent humour to scratch that action-comedy itch, Bullet Train should be right up your alley. If not, then go back to pretending to enjoy Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda, 2015) or Conversations with Friends (Lenny Abrahamson, 2022), you miserable dead-eyed psychopath.

Blonde

Review by Shane McKevitt

Premiering at the Venice International Film Festival earlier this month, director Andrew Dominik’s Blonde (2022) chronicles the career of Marylin Monroe, with Ana de Armas in the lead role.  An adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel, Blonde takes liberties with its subject matter, conveying the story of Monroe with the benefit of half-truths, rumors, and even total fictionalizations.  The film doesn’t hide this fact; Blonde is clearly a stylized, loose retelling of a life story, one that has become a facet of American folklore and Hollywood legend.  Prior to its premiere, Blonde received attention, both positive and negative, for having been given an NC-17 rating by the MPAA.  With Monroe’s tumultuous rise to stardom and subsequent demise, many saw this as a positive sign, one indicating an appropriately honest, brutal, and unsettling portrayal of the starlet’s career.  Unfortunately, I found this to be far from the case.  

Is the rating warranted? I suppose.  Are there some unnerving sequences? Sure.  However, it never felt as though they served the story in any meaningful way.  Consider, for arguments sake, Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible (2002), a film with some similarly repugnant depictions of sexual assault and violence.  While these scenes are extremely difficult to watch, they serve the narrative perfectly, adding dramatic and emotional weight that wouldn’t be there otherwise.  The same simply isn’t true for Blonde; it feels as though these sequences were included just for the sake of it, rather than as a means to add narrative weight or intrigue.  This brings me to my main issue with the film overall: the story.  Of course, Blonde is bookended by Monroe’s traumatic upbringing and premature death.  As for the parts in between, it often feels like a dull highlight reel, for lack of a better term.  Armas is good in the role, yet her character is woefully underdeveloped.  Monroe is depicted as a childlike, vapid vessel who is routinely cut off at the knees. The film does a good job of building sympathy for her, but to what end?  I never found myself narratively engaged or interested in what was going to happen next.  Instead, I was just left waiting for another awful thing to inevitably happen to her.  All of this wasn’t helped by some peculiar stylistic choices, particularly the CGI fetus that makes routine appearances and, at one point, actually talks.

With all of this being said, there are certain aspects of Blonde that I really enjoyed.  The juxtaposition of black and white footage with colour is extremely well done, as are all the sequences depicting the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood; the costume and set designers did an amazing job.  Moreover, the scenes where de Armas is superimposed into clips from Monroe’s films is done flawlessly, it’s a visual effect that I always get a kick out of.  Finally, the supporting performances are largely very good, particularly Bobby Cannavale as Joe DiMaggio, who is excellent as always.  Overall, despite a few bright spots, I was left extremely disappointed by Blonde.  The film is a perfect example of style over substance.  While it is admirably brash in its brutal, unapologetic approach to storytelling, it does so at the expense of interesting characters and a compelling narrative.

Don’t Worry Darling

Review by Eve Smith

In the opening scenes of the sun-bleached Americana-world of Don’t Worry, Darling (Olivia Wilde, 2022), life seems a little too good to be true. Women in swing skirts smile and wave their husbands off to work in a technicolour coordination that looks like it could be a colourised 1950s infomercial. And when Jack (Harry Styles) comes home to Alice (Florence Pugh) that evening, they throw aside the meal she’s spent all day preparing, and Jack eats her out on the table. This is when alarm bells start to ring. No married couple is having that much good sex. 

Alice and Jack are part of a group of young couples living in a nondescript new-build desert town that was pioneered by Frank (Chris Pine) and Dean (Timothy Simons). The wives spend their days cleaning, lounging by the pool or preparing for their husbands return from the Victory Project. This is the men’s mystery job, which Alice spends the movie trying to uncover.

The reason it ‘feels like a movie’ is because Florence Pugh is carrying it almost entirely on her back. Supported by Margaret (Kiki Layne), the woman who goes ‘mad’ before her, they keep the viewer suspended in tension. Chris Pine, so scarily polished he could be an A.I fed on only the male gaze and raw steak, hits just the right notes as their chilling cult-like leader. 

But the logic behind why the women can’t go beyond about the edge of town, or how they are contained in a state of such semi-sentience that they have no desires of their own, are never fully addressed. And in his character, Harry Styles’ doesn’t commit to one way of being. He feels flat and his motivations stay obscure: a light breeze could blow his character away. The sci-fi reality of the film means Styles can get away with a degree of the bad acting he’s been bashed for, but even the flashbacks to the couple’s past life, Jack is defined only by good costume design and the laughably overplayed ‘man whose masculinity is threatened because he recently lost his job’ card. 

John Powell’s disjointedly upbeat swing tunes and score that careen up frets like gasps, will suck you in. But all the tension built up in the first half of the film’s two-hour running time is dropped into a twist that is so aggressively on the nose, you’ll feel like you’ve been bonked over the head with a sign that has ‘metaphor’ written all over it. The imagery of female suffocation is a little too obvious and the film lingers in the lack of nuance of late 2010s gender revenge. It feels like an all-too-easy shot at the backwards views of certain men with podcasts.

The buzz from the set of this film was trouble in paradise for the slick-world of Hollywood. The film itself has been a reminder that if it feels too good to be true (A-list cast, breakout director, a sizeable chunk of Warner Brother’s bottomless budget), then it probably is.

After Yang

Review by Sadbh Boylan

In one of After Yang’s (Kogonada, 2022) most touching scenes, Justin H. Min’s ‘technosapien’ Yang quotes Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu: “what the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.” His human owner-slash-guardian, Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) asks if Yang believes the same logic applies to humans when they die. He is unsure, and questions whether he is programmed to be able to think about the end in such a way; Kyra wonders if it’s even in human’s best interest that they have this ability. It’s a standout scene that exemplifies After Yang’s greatest strength: examining the human experience of life, death, and everything in between, through the guise of a being that is almost human, but not quite.

Based on the short story “Saying Goodbye to Yang” by Alexander Weinstein, After Yang is the brainchild of writer, director, and editor Kogonada. It follows weary father Jake (Colin Farrell) as he endeavours to repair his family’s malfunctioning android, Yang.  On the brink of losing Yang, Jake, his wife Kyra, and their adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) are left to grapple with a new dynamic as they come to terms with Yang’s unspoken role in their family.

Set in a stylized future painted in neutral tones, After Yang raises questions of ethical technological progress and over-reliance on it, though doesn’t quite probe them as much as one might expect. Likewise, it alludes to cultural identity and intercultural adoption, though the exploration remains largely surface-level. After Yang instead functions best as a story about grief and loss, with a very human sensibility despite pivoting on an artificial being. The most poignant moments excel as reflections of grief, love, and loss, delving deep into the defining features of the human experience with a delicate but effective hand. Yang himself acts effectively as both foil and mirror to his human companions, offering ripe grounds to explore what it means to be human.

Despite clocking in at a timely ninety-six minutes, After Yang does trod a little slowly. It demands a degree of patience from its viewers, with gratuitous establishing shots and quiet moments of stillness aplenty. Still, the film rewards those who wait, with emotionally rich and existential scenes that elevate it above the standard ‘this could be us’ sci-fi. The young Tjandrawidjaja is a stand-out, while Min also makes his short screen time count and lends an ‘uncanny valley’ effect to droid Yang. In spite of the film’s outlandish setting, it is easy to identify with the themes of grief and loss that echo through After Yang. The strong cast bolsters a thought-provoking script, providing sufficient emotional beats to make the slow pace worthwhile. Although it demands a certain mindset and patience that precludes casual viewing, those who are willing to give it a go are sure to be pleasantly surprised by its strong emotional resonance that would tug at the heart of even an almost-human droid.

Blackbird

Review by James Mahon

If Michael Flatley’s recently released self-directed and produced film Blackbird (Michael Flatley, 2022) was a satire of the spy film genre it would be a ‘tour de force’.  It possesses such a derivative plot, ostentatiously bad acting, and generic clichés that it perfectly parodies everything inherently wrong about the thriller category. Unfortunately, there is a high probability that this is a film intended to be taken seriously, makes it one of – if not, the most – atrocious film I have ever seen.

This is immediately apparent with the sheer stupidity of a plot, which is so evidently constructed without any forethought or planning; it seems that neither Flatley or the cast knew which scene they would film next. Formerly ‘Lord of the Dance’, Flatley is Victor Blackley, a former MI6 agent, who has abandoned the agency after a botched mission resulted in the death of his fiancée, and current owner of ‘The Blue Moon’, a luxurious nightclub in Barbados that caters to the financial elite and international criminals alike. However, upon the surprise return of a figure from his past, Blackley can no longer escape his personal trauma. 

If such a convoluted plot written down already leaves you with a feeling of exhaustion, imagine it brought to fruition on screen. The script is the biggest issue among many. Besides the initial absurd storyline, the lack of character depth or any form of progression is astounding. Side characters are so nakedly used as tools for plot development that the audience barely remembers their name. The dialogue is almost indescribably bad, predominantly consisting of Flatley – or should I say Blackley – shouting “Let’s dance!” before a hilariously surreal gun fight sequence or a solemn deliverance of the line “Forgive me father for I have sinned and I’m about to sin again”. Interspersed with this are sickeningly superficial Irish notes – presumably designed to lure in the population of the Emerald Isle. Most conspicuously, Our Father is recited in Irish with no reference to how a former MI6 agent would know the language. Perhaps it was part of his training.

This is not to forget Flatley’s directing. Framing himself as an auteur in the pantheon of Jean Luc Goddard or Federico Fellini, Flatley’s USP seems to be the dramatic scenes. The constant replay of his fiancée’s death, shot like a B-rated horror movie interrupts any flow the film possesses, and the laughable finale of the aforementioned shooting scene is exactly that: laughable.

You could hope for some redeeming features in Flatley’s acting and those around him, but unfortunately this is not to be. Flatley, viewing himself as Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942), is truly horrendous. His attempted style of blended exterior toughness and interior vulnerability is ridiculous in its execution, even more juvenile than amateurish. The fact that he apparently won best actor at the Monaco Film Festival must be some Joe Lycett inspired troll.

The remainder of the cast are not much better. Admittedly they don’t have a lot of material to work with, but Nicole Evans particularly struggles to do much in the heartthrob role. Eric Roberts manages somewhat to portray the stereotypical gangster role to some level of professionalism. Yet that is the extent of any acting prowess for the duration of Blackbird.

Ultimately this film is the embodiment of egotism and self-belief taken too far. It is of course commendable to believe in your skill and ability. But someone, anyone, should have taken Michael Flatley aside and told him to stick to dancing. Humanity as a whole and particularly film watchers would have been better for it.

Crimes of the Future

Review by Cat Earley

Do you mind if I ask you something intimate?” says Kristen Stewart’s character to Viggo Mortensen’s in David Cronenberg’s new Crimes of the Future. 

“No, go ahead.” he replies.

“That surgery is sex, isn’t it?” She continues, “surgery is the new sex.”

“Does there have to be a new sex?”

“Yes. Yes, it’s time.”

After nearly 20 years on paper, Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg, 2022) finally makes its way onto the silver screen, arriving at Cannes this year to great fanfare and quite a few notable critical walkouts. Despite many graphic and visceral scenes though, Cronenberg’s latest film seems a bit mild compared to his usual gruesome taste, seemingly content to limit the gore to only that which is thematically required.

In Crimes of the Future’s dystopian world, humankind has begun to evolve at an expeditious pace to survive in an atmosphere polluted by plastics and the effects of climate change – humans no longer experience pain like they once did or develop infections, causing surgical procedures to be performed in far more casual settings for artistic and pleasure purposes. The film follows Saul Tenser (Viggo Mortensen) and his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux), an internationally-famous performance artist couple who made their name by performing live surgical procedures on Tenser, who has a chronic medical condition that causes him to develop new organs at a rapid rate. The couple frequently report their latest findings to the Organ Registry, a new office upholding the government’s rules on controlling the expediency of human evolution, run by nervy Wippet (Don Mc Kellar) and unsettling Tamlin (Kristen Stewart), who seems to have become fascinated by both Tenser and his art.

The film is very much not beholden to its plot; in fact, it’s borderline plotless. Tamlin, for instance, who is arguably introduced initially as a character of interest has almost completely fulfilled her narrative goal by the first act – a doe-eyed spectator of Tenser’s performance, a reflective figure looking for meaning and solace in this very literal display of his ‘inner beauty.’ The echoes of her statement that “Surgery is the new sex” permeate the entire film, from the audience to the characters themselves; they signify the thematic core of Crimes of the Future, a longing for feeling and connection in a world that has necessitated a new form of intimacy. Or – perhaps – the film is not about intimacy, but about evolution itself. A large portion of the films plot focuses on the couple’s staged autopsy of Brecken (Sozos Sotiris), the murdered 8-year-old son of Lang Dotrice (Scott Speedman). Dotrice is the founder of a radical evolutionary movement that promotes the use of invasive surgery on the digestive system to make plastics edible. 

There are countless interpretations of Crimes of the Future, and doubtless more than one of them is accurate, but the film can be prone to losing itself in the barrage of all of these themes and ideas. The 90-minute runtime was a welcome and unexpected surprise amidst the stream of modern arthouse cinema normalising runtimes of up to 180 minutes, but it would be dishonest to say that Cronenberg managed to use this time effectively to convey his entire message. It’s a slightly over-ambitious film, but it’s enjoyable and enlightening all the same. Maybe it’s enough for the meaning of a film to provoke conversation and reflection. In this, Cronenberg has certainly succeeded.

See How They Run

Review by Luke Bradley

See How They Run (Tom George, 2022) launches straight into its ‘whodunnit’ narrative. Scored by the narration of Adrien Brody’s hot-shot director Leo Köpernick, he criticises the ‘second-rate murder-mysteries’ of the 1950s. ‘It’s a whodunnit; you see one, you’ve seen them all’, Köpernick laments. Opening with such a brazenly self-referential statement is seriously tempting fate. However, thanks to assured direction, whip-smart writing, and an embarrassment of excellent performances, See How They Run quickly alleviates such fears. 

The film is certainly bolstered by a wide array of talented supporting actors – the aforementioned Adrien Brody, David Oyelowo, Ruth Wilson and Harris Dickinson (who is especially charming as breakthrough actor ‘Dickie’ Attenborough). However, the film is largely fuelled by dual-leads Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell. While the ‘earnest rookie/alcoholic veteran’ dynamic is hardly original territory, Ronan and Rockwell turn in terrific performances that elevate good writing to greatness. Ronan is especially natural, and – in a rare but deeply enjoyable twist – is sporting her own natural accent. Mark Chappell’s screenplay is filled with witty one-liners and recurring gags, none of which lose muster throughout the film’s breezy runtime. See How They Run’s sharp dialogue and meta tone is a feast for its actors and, fortunately for the film, everybody’s game.

There is a notable elephant in the room that’s worth addressing – See How They Run feels strikingly like a Wes Anderson film. It’s a fascinating stylistic choice, and especially interesting to note considering this is director Tom George’s big screen directorial debut. Comedic camera tilts, symmetrical framing, interwoven musical beats (from Daniel Pemberton’s wonderfully overdramatic score) and a cheeky disobedience of the 180-degree rule are all present. While it would be a disservice to call this ‘Wes Anderson-lite’, there is a fair basis for comparison. Those averse to the stylings of Anderson, or deeply protective of them, may find this grating. Yet, be it ‘derivative’ or not, this approach lends itself well to the light and zippy nature of the film. The ‘murder-mystery’ genre is heavily oversaturated, and in a post-Knives Out (Rian Johnson, 2019) world there are some mighty high standards to reach for. While See How They Run may fall slightly short of such comparisons, it’s a charming and wildly entertaining addition to the genre, and an assured debut from George. “Second-rate murder-mystery”? Most definitely not.