The Northman


Viewed – 30 July 2022 online rental

The last Robert Eggers movie I saw was The Witch, a movie that took two viewings before I could fully appreciate it. This latest effort follows a young Prince who grows up to become a Viking warrior, out to avenge his father’s murder at the hands of a ruthless uncle.

A simple set up is given a very (I’m guessing) authentic approach similar to The Witch, meaning that at first this could alienate some viewers used to the more Hollywood interpretations of history. However if you can get past some of the dialect and more unusual aspects, what Eggers has delivered here is a visually powerful, at times brutal and engrossing revenge tale. Camera-work is particularly effective and how shots are framed really impress with their other-worldly beauty. Performances are decent, including memorable (if brief) turns from Ethan Hawk and Willem Dafoe. Nicole Kidman is quite good too. Also as is often the case, Anya Taylor-Joy is again great. Yet the star here is Alexander Skarsgard in an uncompromising, animalistic performance.

At times some of the Nors mythology and weirder aspects went a bit over my head, and some of the rituals like howling like a wolf were a bit too theatrical – but overall this was gripping and a treat to simple take in.

Verdict: Recommended

Nightmare Alley


Viewed – 06 April 2022 Disney+

Guillermo Del Toro is one of my favourite directors, so anything he comes out with is going to grab my attention. However this latest effort seemed to appear out of nowhere with little of the fan fair his movies usually attract. Bradley Cooper plays a guy seemingly drifting from place to place due to a troubled past, and gets taken in by a travelling carnival in the 1940s. There he develops a skill from conning audiences with fake psychic ability and chooses to take that skill to con the social elite out of thousands.

Del Toro’s style is once again showcased, even if it’s more subtle than say Hellboy or The Shape of Water. The movie is beautifully filmed, given an old fashioned, somewhat silent movie aesthetic. The carnival setting is perfectly freaky too. However this is very much a film-noir with a femme fatale in the shape of Cate Blanchett and a flawed hero in Cooper. Support is also decent, with appearances from Ron Perlman, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara and Toni Collette.

Due to the mentalist/grifter plot this can be hard to follow at times, and at 2 and a half hours, the movie drags slightly, especially in the first half. However with a clever final act that does make you wish you’d concentrated more early on … as the movie hints and lays bread crumbs to its twist – I felt this was one of those movies that may benefit from repeat viewings. As it stands, whilst not Del Toro at his best, this was still a well acted, stylish and cleverly-constructed movie. Worth a watch.

Verdict: Good

Motherless Brooklyn


Viewed – 18 April 2029. Online rental

I had been quite hyped for this. A period set crime drama starring Edward Norton in his directorial debut as a member of a detective agency investigation the events surrounding his boss’s mysterious death. However despite a constant battle with Tourette’s and OCD, he has a brilliant memory and so makes for a skilled investigator. At the heart of his investigation is a ruthless development commissioner and a gutsy female campaigner.

Norton carries this movie with a convincing portrayal of a man battling with himself, capturing all the nuances of someone with that affliction – which is at times funny, other times heart breaking. It was also good to see him back centre stage like he used to be. However his performance can’t disguise the fact the plot just isn’t that gripping and is overly cryptic even when it’s trying to explain itself. Alec Baldwin is decent as property developer ‘Moses’ as is Willem Dafoe. The 50’s New York setting is fairly well done, but occasionally sits uneasy between absolute realism and exaggerated Hollywood-noir style. There’s also a clear influence of the classic Chinatown here but can’t come close to that movie’s impact.

Almost worth it for Norton alone, but overall this can’t rise above it’s narrative shortcomings. Still, I’d like to see what Norton does next if he chooses to continue as a director.

Verdict: Poor

Aquaman


Viewed – 23 June 2019. Blu-ray

When Nicole Kidman’s Atlantian queen washes up before a lighthouse, her forbidden love with land-dweller Temuera Morrison produces Arthur a half-breed who grows up to become underwater superhero Aquaman. However despite his reluctance to be the hero he’s destined to become, a war at his home world of Atlantis causes his own kind to come calling.

This colourful, energetic comic book adaption has a potentially star-making central performance from Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa and delivers a setting that immediately intrigues. It’s a shame then, that an over-use of CGI and green screen means that almost nothing in this looks like it was shot on location, leading to a largely artificial look and feel. Add to this a cliched story I felt I’d already watched with strong resemblances to the Thor films and Black Panther, with predictable revelations and plot twists … and what’s left is a movie that feels like it arrived too late for its own party. Momoa is charismatic and well cast and handles a plethora of fight sequences with genuine skill and showmanship, and the gorgeous Amber Heard is equally enjoyable. Willem Defoe feels kind of miscast and despite often being cast as the villain – should still have been the villain (Patrick Wilson is largely forgettable) and what really, is Dolph Lundgren doing here?

With that all said it’s hard not to be entertained. The action is slick and at times jaw-dropping (a particular roof top chase is heart-in-mouth exciting) and at times it’s really feel good. It re-introduces the character (following Justice League) well and brings with it a fascinating underwater world ripe for sequels. Just a pity it’s all feels so deja-vu.

Verdict: 3 /5

John Wick


Viewed – 22 April 2015  Cinema

During the nineties I had a bit of an obsession with Hong Kong action movies, everything from Jackie Chan to the two-handed gun-play of John Woo.  Hollywood quickly followed up on this and the action genre became infused with the influence of far eastern cinema, spawning the likes of Face / Off and The Matrix trilogy.  There we come to Keanu Reeves, perhaps not the first person you may have thought of to deftly wield guns and kick ass considering he came from Bill & Ted, but this good looking and decidedly cool actor soon garnered a reputation as the go-to guy for such movies.

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He’s been fairly quiet for a while so this come-back vehicle seemed perfectly suited.  He plays the title character who following the death of his wife, lives out a peaceful existence with his sleek muscle car and pet dog.  However an unfortunate brush with a Russian gang causes a break in at his house, his car getting stolen and his dog to get killed.  Only thing is, the gang had no idea who they were messing with.

Perhaps an unintentional homage to classic movie franchise Death Wish albeit with ultra-stylish action that borrows (to an extent) from John Woo … this also feels like it’s own beast, and is carried well by Keanu on ice-cool form as a non-stop killing machine.  I sometimes think he’d have made a great Terminator.  Support comes in the shape of Willem Dafoe’s seasoned veteran as well as a sultry, sexy Adrianne Palicki.  On villainous duties is Michael Nyqvist (Ghost Protocol, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) who proves a more than suitable if clichéd mobster.  The set-up is simplistic and the characters slight and under-developed … but for this kind of movie where action is king, we get several stylish, well-edited and gripping encounters, all with a little tongue-in-cheek humour thrown in.  I also loved the backdrop of the ‘agency’ that looked after Keanu and his kind (featuring a cameo by Ian McShane) … certainly an idea that could be further developed in sequels.

As the directing debut of former stunt co-coordinator Chad Stahelski, this shows promise for a new visionary in the action movie field.  Roll on the already announced John Wick 2.

Verdict:  4 /5