The Mule: Drugging Running Is A Job For All Ages

2.5/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

The film follows an elderly man, Clint Eastwood, who begins to run drugs for the Sinaloa Cartel in an effort to make ends meet. It is based on a true story.

I thought this film was very mismatched tone wise, there were moments where the film felt serious and weighty, and others were it almost played the situation for laughs. I thought this dichotomy only served to weaken the film in the long term as it stunted any kind of real emotional pay off the film could have had.

Eastwood is good in the role and he still maintains the same level of charisma that he has always had. Though I must say seeing scenes, multiple, of him having sex or relations with much younger women is both awkward and a little uncomfortable, I don’t see why we need to see these scenes. It feels like Eastwood wanted to indulge.

Moreover, I would also say the film is on for entirely too long and as such the pacing really becomes an issue. The film feels far too drawn out with many of the scenes seeming like filler.

Overall, watchable but it struggles to hold your attention for the duration.

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6 Days: A Police Negotiator, The Most Thankless Job You Can Have

3.5/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

This is based on the true story of the 1980 London Iranian embassy siege. Where the SAS gather to storm and the negotiators try and avoid a bloodbath.

This was a surprisingly good thriller. Netflix based on a true story thriller films have a reputation for being terrible, but this was actually good.

The film managed to maintain a sense of tension consistently throughout, as the events keep you on the razors edge: not knowing what is going to happen. This is masterfully conducted by Mark Strong who plays police negotiator Max Vernon. Strong easily captures a wide variety of emotions and conveys them with a facial expression when best effecting the scene.

However, I find where this film trips itself up is with the rest of the cast. Jamie Bell and Abbie Cornish are both talented performers in there own rights, but unlike Strong they are given very little to do here, especially with Cornish, and it becomes a clear waste of talent as the film progresses.

Overall, surprisingly watchable and tense with a good performance from Strong. However, the usual Netflix problems, poor side characters with famous faces, drags this film down and makes it less than it could have been.

Pros.

Strong

The tension

The ending

Cons.

They waste the rest of the cast

It has pacing issues  

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Zola: The Twitter Film

3/5

Written by Luke Barnes

Summary

Based on the infamous twitter thread, Zola tells the story of a road trip gone wrong, highlighting how easy it is for people to end up in dangerous situations.

I had no expectations for this film going in, I didn’t really keep up with the thread when it was viral, though I was aware of the story itself.

I found the film to be on the better side of average but nothing to write home about.

On the positive side I thought the film managed to perfectly nail the tension and produced several scenes that were captivating as they feel so unexpected and threatening.  You could feel the danger these women would have been in, and honesty it is both terrifying and heart-breaking.

Moreover, Colman Domingo was magnificent as X, the pimp who runs the girls through the later stages of the story. Why the character works so well and why Domingo’s performance is so good is because it is unpredictable, one minute he is cool calm and collect and the next he is knocking someone through a wall, the character works as they are seemingly very spontaneous and that is reflected in the performance. Furthermore, the character represents the moral ambiguity of our tale as we don’t know who to trust or believe, none of these characters are morally good and each do good and bad things throughout the film complicating them further.

Switching gears, what didn’t work for me at all was the dialogue. I understand that the way the main two characters speak is based on the real life tweets, you even get the tweet sound here and there, but I would have preferred it if they could have written it as actual dialogue for the film rather than just inserting tweets. Not only is it hard to understand but it quickly becomes annoying and grating as you watch.

Overall, it has its moments, but the dialogue really brings it down.

Pros

Solid tension

An interesting premise

Domingo

Cons.

The dialogue

The performances from everyone other than Domingo

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Lansky: Even Mass Murdering Gangsters Have A Sensitive Side

3/5

Written by Luke Barnes

In many ways this is a deeply average crime/biopic film. There is nothing about the rise to infamy story told here that you have not heard before. However, there is something of an emotional nuance here that really takes the film in an interesting direction. We see the character as not just a cold blooded gangster but also as a man who cared deeply for and ultimately was unable to help his disabled son. There is a duality here, the film allows us to see outside the black and white and see a more accurate grey in regard to the situation.

Sam Worthington has not been in something in a while, or at least that’s how it feels to me, the last time I remember seeing him on screen in a big way was Avatar. However, this is not the comeback film or performance fans of his would want. Worthington is entirely forgettable here, and just about anyone could have played his role. Harvey Keitel fares better as the titular Lansky, it is nice to see him on our screens again and he does manage to leave an impression with his performance: proving once again why he is such a big force in the genre even now.

Furthermore, the film has pacing issues but not the ones you would expect. Indeed, the issue with this film is that it feels rushed, there is a lot going on and then bang it’s the credits. It all just feels rather abrupt and skipped over, there are a lot of unanswered questions left behind and the whole thing feels sloppy pacing wise.

Overall, Keitel and some nuance manages to push this film into being a slightly above average gangster affair that fans of the genre will fine pleasing.

Pros.

The emotional nuance

Keitel

The ending and the emotion

Cons.

Worthington

It feels rushed

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Captain Phillips: A Continuation Of Tom Hank’s Love Affair With The Sea

2/5

Written by Luke Barnes

There was no need for this film to be over two hours, none, it feels indulgent.

However, that is not the only issue, another thing that bothered me was how action man like the lead was. We are led to believe that this character was a calm, level headed, all American hero, but I for one find it hard to believe. There is something about this film that just doesn’t ring true to me, with it likely not being as historically accurate as it claims.

Hanks plays Hanks which is a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about him as an actor. The character is the virtuous hero and doesn’t get any more character development than that. I would have preferred it if we had also had more of Phillip’s family time spent away from the ship so we can get the measure of him as a human, rather than a national figurehead.

I thought the action scenes, if they can be called that maybe survival scenes would be better, were well shot and felt suitably tense. The end sequence when Phillips is separated from his crew and things don’t look good had me on the edge of my seat, sadly this was after an hour of lulling me to sleep; so it was less effective.

Overall, you have seen this before.

Pros.

The suspense

The ending

Cons.

The pacing is brutal

Phillips doesn’t feel like a person but rather a patriotic metaphor

It drags

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The Courier: Been Here Before

The Courier

2/5

Written by Luke Barnes

I had heard good things about this film, prior to seeing it, and was looking forward to my chance to see it on VOD. However, when it arrived I was left perplexed, whilst it is by no means bad, it is in fact very serviceable for what it is in terms of setting and genre. Yet there is something of a formula to it, it is very predictable and samey and that raises wider questions about historical dramas as a whole- namely is the genre played out?

In historical drama films set during the Cold War the narrative tends to go one of two ways, either the character, with an assumed western perspective as most of these films focus on western characters, defects to the Soviet Union after growing disillusioned with their own government, or the character tries to break into/ commit some sort of mission behind Soviet lines and ends up getting captured- this film is the latter.

I understand that the film was based on real people and events so there is only so much they can do with it, but honestly we have seen this story before and as such know where it is going. Viewing the genre for what it is, I question if this film even needed to be made, yes the actual person this film is based on deserves to have their story told, but on the other hand this film has nothing new to say so what does it contribute to the medium?

Cumberbatch is as strong as ever and manages to anchor the film, quickly becoming the only reason to continue on. Jessie Buckley is strong too, but sadly she is only given a few thin scenes and is mostly wasted.

Overall, nothing you haven’t seen before.

Pros.

Cumberbatch

Buckley

Cons.

Wasting Buckley

The generic nature of the plot

It is ease to lose interest in

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Pride: Fight For The Change You Want To See In The World

Pride

3/5

Written by Luke Barnes

This film made me both happy and sad, as paradoxical as that might be. On the one hand it was hopeful to see the miners embrace the LGBTQ+ activists, but on the other, seeing the horrible homophobia made me sad. I left the film feeling conflicted towards humanity.

This film can beautifully play with your emotions, as it did to me, and that is a testament to the writing, but also the real events that inspired the film. The film feels empowering to watch, inspiring you to make a change for the betterment of society.

The acting talent on display here is undeniable, Joe Gilgun, Dominic West, Andrew Scott and an always reliable Paddy Considine all perform well and leave an impression long after the film ends. George McKay is a little less strong and does drag down some of the scenes he is in, but thankfully he is not given much of the heavy lifting to do.

Furthermore, Pride does struggle with pacing and ends up feeling overly long and a little indulgent, by the time we reach the end the film is already starting to outstay its welcome.

A final note before concluding, Faye Marsay is terrific and should be cast in more films- a staggering young talent.

Overall, a good film that suffers with pace.

Pros.

The acting, bare McKay

The message

The empowering tone

Cons.

The Pace

George McKay

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Bernie: Jack Black Proves He Can Nail Drama As Well

Written by Luke Barnes

Bernie is a dark comedy film directed by Richard Linklater. The plot follows the events surrounding the death of Marjorie Nugent at the hands of Bernie Tiede.

Jack Black plays the titular Bernie and I think he does it perfectly. This killer in real life was adored by a large majority of people in the Texan town of Carthage, and with the way Black plays him you can see why. Black sells the likeability of his character, but also eludes to a hidden darkness, he plays the character mostly straight, though he does manage a few laughs in some darkly comedic scenes.

I think it says a lot of Black’s performance that he can comfortably go toe to toe with Matthew McConaughey, who plays the lawyer who sent Bernie away for life, who is known for his dramatic prowess; I think in terms of dramatic acting this is a career best for Black.

I also thought the film had a lot of great eccentric moments to it, such as having one of the opening scenes be Bernie giving a lecture on how to prepare a dead body for burial as well as a number of interviews with real towns people who would have known both the victim and the murderer in real life: these touches add character to the film.

Overall, a lot of fun and a great performance from Jack Black

Pros.

Black

McConaughey

The quirks

It was fun to watch

Cons.

The pacing could have been tighter

4.5/5   

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Operation Varsity Blues: Matthew Modine Rocking The Bowl Cut

Written by Luke Barnes

Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal is a drama documentary film based on real events, told using dramatic recreations and talking head interviews with those involved. The film explores the issues surrounding the college admissions scandal that saw a number of rich and in some cases famous people face jail time after bribing college officials to allow their children entry into the most prestigious universities in the United States.

Much like Netflix’s Fyre documentary this film will see you laughing and taking a small amount of joy out of seeing these privileged people be reminded that the rules do apply to them, and that they can’t just do what they want.

Also much like Fyre this documentary is fairly trashy and salacious, making sure to cram in and shame as many famous faces as it possibly can during its runtime, which is not inherently a bad thing more so it places this film firmly in the category of junk food documentary.

Something that bothered me about this film is the way they structure the ending sequence. As is fairly common practice the ending of a documentary usually features some text about ongoing events or updates that have happened since filming. This film decides to list the legal sentences that each culprit got instead, which is a novel idea, however, where it goes wrong is that in some cases certain people hadn’t been convicted or tried by the time of filming, and as such when the film shows them in the end credits it just says how they pled and not the conviction, which becomes jarring and confusing quickly.

Another thing that is quite confusing about this film is the use of recreations and talking head interviews, as we will be shown the real perpetrators on screen in an image but then for the purpose of the film be shown an actor standing in for the person, as they clearly didn’t want anything to do with the documentary, this again becomes confusing. More so when the film starts to blend the lines of based on true events drama and a standard documentary.

Overall, Matthew Modine sinks into his role as the mastermind of the scheme, Rick Singer and there is a lot of interesting and infuriating fun to be had here, however, several artistic choices hurt the film and I think the concept as a whole should have been better refined and adapted, the talking heads and the recreations together don’t work.  

Pros.

Modine

Trashy fun

A few interesting points raised

Cons.

An incomplete ending

The format doesn’t work as the recreations frequently clash with the talking heads

2.5/5

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Framing Britney Spears: Justin Timberlake Is A Bad Dude

Framing Britney Spears is a documentary film directed by Samantha Stark. The film explores the ideas around the #freeBritneyMovement and the fact that despite being only 39, Britney Spears has been under a conservatorship since 2008, with her father managing her estate and finances: this film aims to understand why that is.

This will make you angry, there is no other response you can have. It highlights flaws within the American legal system that are rife for abuse, it shows how the public’s obsession with celebrities can lead to destroying said celebrities life, and finally it show us just how sleazy Justin Timberlake is; in case you didn’t already know.

I think in terms of professionalism this is a solid documentary, as they speak to knowledgeable people on the matter and stick to the facts. Unlike other recent documentaries such as Netflix’s one about Elisa Lam, this documentary only gives a limited amount of time to online sleuths and activists, which makes for a more believable watch as you are not being bombarded with conspiracy theories.

I think the documentary is very needed, it deals with issues surrounding how women are treated in our society and the additional spot lights they are placed under, it is a very saddening watch especially when considering the impacts of self-reflection on how we the viewer see celebrities, though it does end with a message of hope, which personally I needed.

Overall, a well-done documentary.

Pros

Limiting the amount of online sleuths featured in the documentary

Using knowledgeable sources that had close ties to Spears

Causing inward reflection on celebrity

Pointing out holes in the legal system

Cons.

It is too short.

4/5

Reviewed by Luke