ANNOUNCEMENT – Re-branding and Relaunch

To all my readers, old and new,

Over the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve worked very hard at being the best critic I can be, but I can’t help but feel like I’m being held back.

To tell the truth, I’ve felt the ‘Mr Opinionated’ moniker has held me back; it’s very hard to take seriously someone who gives themselves a pseudonym, but I was stuck with the name after purchasing a domain.

But, with that domain due to expire, and after much thought, I feel like a re-branding is well overdue.

So, from January 1st of 2020, Mr Opinionated as you know it will be no more; in its place will be: Major Film Reviews, making use of my actual name and taking full ownership of my writing.

Volume 2 of my book will proceed as planned, and will be the final swansong for my alter-ego, as I work on re-building and re-branding my website, I have the wonderful Graham Musk Designs (who designed the lovely page logo you see at the top of the site) working on some new caricatures for this new era.

The reviews and their frequency won’t change a bit, just the site name, which I feel is well past its sell-by date, hopefully allowing me to take full responsibility for my words in the future.

Hopefully, I’ll enjoy the same readership into the New Year, and I hope you enjoy the rest of this years’ writing.

All the best,

Nathan

The Day Shall Come Review

It is my opinion that the principal aim of a film should be to entertain the viewer; however, it is also the job of a film, occasionally, to educate. To me, Film is at its best when it’s holding a mirror up to society and showing us its darkest recesses. That’s why films like Taxi Driver, and more recently Joker, hit home the way they do, because the world is recognisably grim.

So, Chris Morris then. I must admit to not particularly being an aficionado of his work; I’ve caught bits of Brass Eye when it is repeated, and I know of his ability to stir up controversy, which to me shows that whatever you’re doing is working, but he has a penchant for taking on taboo subjects head on.

This isn’t his first attempt at satirising terrorism. In fact his previous film revolves around a group of hapless wannabe-Jihadists from Britain, now his lenses are pointed squarely at our rowdier cousins from across the Atlantic, and looking at the issue with a fresh perspective.

Story

In the interest of national security; the FBI are busy making their own terrorists by moulding disillusioned people with their own contacts. After another successful sting, their focus becomes Moses Al Shabaz, a hapless and delusional preacher desperate to keep his community farm afloat.

Verdict

It is easy to make a film where the main threat is a terrorist; it is many measures difficult to make the main threat the people catching terrorists, but I’ll be damned if Chris Morris doesn’t achieve that.

I use the phrase ‘catching terrorists’ very loosely, as the FBI presented for us here are merely framing people who they believe to be dangerous, but who are otherwise ineffectual. Moses is no more a terrorist in this film than the biblical Moses was.

Depending on your viewpoint, it is either incredibly brave to satirise the creation of terrorists, or incredibly stupid, but Morris is no new hand with a baseless agenda, the story told here is one that is all to familiar in real life, wherein undesirable faces are merely moulded to fit the bill of a terrorist, rather than actually being a terrorist.

While this sounds incredibly heavy-handed, it is balanced nicely by portraying Moses, a character who claims he wants ‘Black Jihad’ but is appalled at the thought of killing anyone, as a bumbling moron who has conversations with his horse, he’s the butt of the joke, but he’s also somewhat sympathetic. Underneath the misguided talk of a great ‘judgement day’ is a man who really only wants to keep his farm afloat.

This film doesn’t so much skirt round these delicate issues as meet them head-on with a steam locomotive, the FBI are shown to be calculated vultures, more intent on making terrorists than actually catching them, bar one who genuinely wants to help; and the ‘black militants’ presented for us are nothing more than assorted weirdos whose excel uses include walking like ducks.

For balancing all of these elements with an under-current of pitch-Black satirical humour, I think The Day Shall Come should be applauded, and what really sealed it for me was an incredibly affecting ending, one that is somewhat unexpected, and will make you think twice about the system portrayed here, it’s a rare moment of emotion in a film that is otherwise heavy on political satire, and what’s more, it’s incredibly well executed.

It would be churlish of me to say that this film is wholly representative of the entire FBI and other American federal forces, as the bulk of their work is incredibly important to the continued security of the US and further afield, that being said however, I don’t doubt for an instant that this film has at least some roots in the truth.

In conclusion then, a bizarre yet darkly funny look at how we perceive extremism, wrapped up nicely by a memorable ending and some great performances; it’s a film in the same category as BlacKkKlansman last year, a film made to entertain, but also to make us look at society surrounding us, and how certain things are handled. It’s not on the same level as Spike Lee’s film, but it’s damn close.

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Gemini Man Review

Will Smith is one of those bankable actors who blows hot and cold in the quality of his films. He made his name in several late-90’s hits, so he can now take a few riskier ventures without really taking a hit to his box office appeal. But, it is still safe to say that Smith’s latest choices haven’t been so much risky as confusing.

Contrary to most people, it wasn’t Smith’s involvement that attracted me to this film, but rather its director, Ang Lee, who has shown himself in the past to be a very skilful filmmaker, with films such as Life of Pi and Brokeback Mountain, just to name a few.

The premise was also an intriguing one, even if it was a little close in some ways to 2012’s Looper, so perhaps I thought that with a dependable pair of hands on the reins and an interesting premise, that Gemini Man could be what restores my faith in Will Smith. How uncharacteristically optimistic of me.

Story

Focusing on the story of master assassin, Henry Brogan, who wants to retire to a quiet life after an assassination almost goes awry. After accidentally stumbling across classified information, a government agency marks Brogan for dead, and sends a very familiar face after him.

Verdict

You know, I’ve called mainstream action films many mean things before: brainless, excessive and pleased-with-itself are just a few examples, but I’m not sure a big-budget action film has ever left me so bored before.

When it wasn’t boring me with underdeveloped characters and rehashed plot points, it was making me very, very annoyed.

There are a few things in Hollywood that I would like to see end, and given a few hours and a bottle of whiskey, I’d gladly go into more detail, but the one prevalent here is the invincible protagonist. I get that you probably wouldn’t want to kill off your leading man quickly, but do they all have to be so bloody good at killing people and avoiding bullets? It’s too soon since I gave Rambo a good dressing down for this same thing, so I really shouldn’t be going over this again, but if your protagonist can soak up damage like Lemmy soaked up Jack Daniels, only to then kill their enemies with a single bullet, the audience is soon going to tire of it.

Their also going to tire of this de-ageing CGI gimmick eventually, which is stretched to its very limits in this film. A lot of the fight scenes look like a green screen taken to its next logical level, its very obvious that younger Will isn’t there, and I know that’s the best technology can do, but if that’s the best technology we have and it still looks bad, then is it maybe not worth doing?

Its not like it’s possible to warm to the CG-Smith, who really doesn’t seem comfortable with the whole motion-vampire malarkey, and you can tell because he’s as stiff as a viagra addict. His delivery is stunted and wooden and next to his actual self its like putting a crayon drawing of a bug-eyed hunchback next to Jennifer Lawrence, it does neither any favours.

While the screenwriters were dreaming up their little fantasy, they forgot some of the basics of storytelling, like characterisation, for instance. Characters from Brogan’s past are dropped in to the plot and we’re expected to care for them because they knew each other in the past, when we couldn’t see them, and when they’re inevitably dropped to be part of Brogan’s character arc, we’re expected to care, but we don’t, because we haven’t been given reason to.

The film looks nice I suppose, but you can’t really score points for that anymore. What with cameras and technology being as they are, you’d have to be really trying to make something look awful, but for what it’s worth, it doesn’t feel like they’re trying to make it look good either. A good amount of effort is made to linger on shots of tattoos that characters share, but it leads absolutely bloody nowhere, so we’re left wondering why they bothered.

In conclusion then, Gemini Man is a big old mess of a film, which subscribes to the general rule of giving away all its interesting parts in the trailers. It’s wastes the talent of Ang Lee, it wastes the charisma of Will Smith, and most importantly, it wastes the time of anyone unfortunate enough to watch it.

Billy Connolly – The Sex Life of Bandages Review

To me, Billy Connolly is the greatest stand-up comedian to ever live. His 1985 An Audience With performance is the Citizen Kane of stand-up, and his legacy is secured as the best.

Unfortunately, in the past few years he has encountered numerous health problems, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and prostrate cancer in the same week, he subsequently underwent treatment, and the cancer was removed, however his Parkinson’s remains.

As a result of this, earlier this year he announced his retirement from stand-up, due to the advancement of his condition, a great shame for sure, but with the body of work left behind, there is more than enough to enjoy for his many fans.

That’s why I’m here then, for a showing of one of his final performances from Sydney, Australia.

His command of an audience hasn’t wavered at all, despite his ailments, even if said ailments do slow his delivery down somewhat. He did have a tendency to look a bit bewildered between stories, but that’s to be expected.

Speaking of stories, Connolly proves himself a master at weaving a tale, often several tales, interlinked with each other, and never losing his narrative thread, his stories stretch from signing money in Aberdeen, to flying terrified in a small plane in Mozambique, no story falls flat or loses its punch, even if you may have heard them before.

This review will ultimately be shorter than normal, as this wasn’t as much a presentation to highlight how it was filmed, but rather to celebrate one of pop cultures Greatest touchstones, and in that vein it does rather well, The Big Yin basks in the tidal wave of laughter that comes his way in the same way he did 30 years ago, and still retains that sparkle in his eye, and slice of mischief.

It may not be his finest show, but there is no such thing as a BAD Billy Connolly stand-up set, even if he’s slowed down, he’s still pure magic, and now it’s time for him to enjoy his richly-deserved retirement, I doth my cap once more to the greatest stand up comedian who ever lived, in the words of the man himself: ‘you’ve made a happy man very old’.

Metallica S&M 2 Review

It’ll be a few days of unconventional reviews on my site this week, with today’s topic being a concert film, and tomorrow I have a showing of Billy Connolly’s final stand-up show at the cinema.

Obviously, these will not be under the same scrutiny as a typical film, there’s no story to follow, no acting (unless you count Lars Ulrich pretending to be a half-decent drummer) and no cinematography, in the traditional sense anyway.

What there is to analyse though, is how the concert experience transfers to film; and how skilfully it is filmed and presented.

Setlist:

1. The Ecstasy of Gold (Performed by the orchestra)

2. The Call of Ktulu

3. For Whom the Bell Tolls

4. The Day That Never Comes

5. The Memory Remains

6. Confusion

7. Moth Into Flame

8. The Outlaw Torn

9. No Leaf Clover

10. Halo on Fire

11. Scythian Suite, Op. 20, Second Movement (performed by the orchestra)

12. The Iron Foundry (performed by Metallica and the orchestra)

13. The Unforgiven III

14. All Within My Hands

15. (Anaesthesia) Pulling Teeth (bass solo by Scott Pingel)

16. Wherever I May Roam

17. One

18. Master of Puppets

19. Nothing Else Matters

20. Enter Sandman

Verdict:

For those who don’t know; S&M 2 is a sequel to a performance Metallica gave 20 years ago with the San Francisco Symphony, one of the world’s leading orchestras, with the benefit of twenty years of further experience and technological advances, I can say with confidence that this sequel surpasses its original.

The heavy sound of Metallica, combined with the classical tomes of the Symphony creates an intriguing, and mind-blowing sonic wall of sound, the cinema shook with the power these two entities combined, its sound mixed at the sweet spot of recreating a concert experience without over-burdening the audience.

Its direction as a concert film is typical of the genre, if a little hyperactive. The camera never feels like it settles on one focal point, while this may match the frenetic energy of most of Metallica’s output, it does lose a certain amount of focus during the longer songs.

Speaking of long songs, Metallica are sometimes accused of being over-indulgent in their arrangements, something that can be levied at them here, especially with the added factor of the orchestra, it was a balancing act to make the most out of the situation but not drag out their already lengthy songs; I think they toe the line effectively, sometimes falling into being over-indulgent, falling specifically on their drummer, Lars, who never seems to know when a song is over.

For Metallica fans, hearing the epic sound of their favourite songs turbo-charged with a world-class orchestra will be enough, when the camera-work is on point, it is stunning. I’m always amazed watching concerts on the big screen, seeing everything in such high resolution and under such focus, there are a number of great uses of the crowd too, one moment that springs to mind is a camera shot that swoops through a fans ‘devil horns’ sign in the crowd, a great piece of work from the Director of Photography.

Despite my few grumbles, I had a great time seeing a top class band playing some of their best works in a unique setting like this one, both band and orchestra were on top of their game, and a few faults weren’t going to derail this excellent experience of top class heavy metal.

Post-script: Since the recording of this show, Metallica frontman James Hetfield has entered rehab for treatment for his long-term addiction issues. If you or anyone you know are affected by addiction, there is help out there, I’m listing some phone numbers below for anyone who needs them. Don’t suffer in silence.

Drinkline: 030020123201110

Drugsline: 08082012060620606

Alcoholics Anonymous: 080020917720650

These are all U.K. based phone numbers, for local helplines, consult Google, or reach out to a friend.

Joker Review

It’s not an understatement to call The Joker the greatest comic-book character of all time, at least in my opinion. What Batman lacks in personality, Joker makes up for in spades, not only that, but because of this character we’ve had some of the greatest portrayals of superhero cinema; names such as Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, and, of course, Heath Ledger have all stepped up to the character, and each left their own mark.

Having said all that, it’s fair to say that Joker is not your typical comic-book affair, it occupies such a completely different space to most superhero films, that you could be forgiven for not recognising it as such.

On top of being an exciting, fresh take on the Joker character, this film also had a lot of critical buzz coning out of the Venice Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion award for Best Film, starting a steady Oscar buzz for both the film and its leading man.

But, with such a lineage of actors and stories to live up to, can Joker really live up to the hype?

Story

Charting the dark descent into madness of Arthur Fleck, as he goes from aspiring stand-up to raging sociopath.

Verdict

It’s sometimes really hard to write a story synopsis for these reviews, especially when the story itself may be more abstract, as it is here, it’s a complex and mentally exhausting story, anchored by a traumatic character study.

There will be a lot of talk surrounding where Phoenix stands amongst the portrayals of the iconic character, but I believe that to be counter-productive. Although there is plenty we recognise of the Joker, it’s a completely different character to what we’re used to.

Firstly, it commits the cardinal sin of giving the Joker an origin story, whereas this would be unforgivable in most cases (one of the Jokers great draws is the mystery surrounding him) in a film such as this, which shares no continuity with any established universe, it only enhances the character presented.

I’d say that the film is very reminiscent, in presentation at least, of classic Martin Scorsese films like Taxi Driver or King of Comedy, there is a lot of Travis Bickle about Arthur, in my opinion, and it’s gritty realisation of a city gone to hell reminds me of how Scorsese portrayed New York in his classic films.

There’s a lot about Joker that sets it apart from many of its counter-parts. It hasn’t got any character you could look upon as a ‘hero’ even though Arthur is sympathetic in parts, his actions make him alienating and confrontational, there’s very little redeeming about him, yet his character is so engrossing that you can’t tear your eyes away.

Speaking of characters, Joaquin Phoenix proves here why he is one of his generations best actors, with a performance that garnered a lot of buzz from the off, a buzz that is richly deserved by the way, he didn’t approach it as a typical superhero film, and it shows in his performance, which is as enthralling as it is completely terrifying.

The way it plays with your mind has an almost horror film feel, it creeps in and unnerves you with its portrayal of people at the very end of their rope and a city in chaos, its tense atmosphere sits over you like a layer of cling film, and it’s leading character becomes less and less empathetic as time goes by.

In short, there has never been anything quite like this film in comic book cinema before, it’s daring, it’s provocative, and it delivers an experience as genuinely unnerving as most horror films, and a leading performance which, by rights, should be hoovering up awards come the new year.

An absolute home run by everyone involved in delivering something that feels so fresh and new, with a character we’ve seen in several incarnations throughout the years. It’s staggering beauty is juxtaposes by the ugliness of its world and characters, and as a whole, it is absolutely fantastic.

In conclusion, this represents a new step into the unknown when it comes to uncovering a new sub genre within the comic book world; but I would warn against going back to the well, it stands on its own as an outstanding character drama, it doesn’t need revisiting, its legacy will one day speak for itself.

Judy Review

With the release of this and Joker this week, I think it’s fair to say that we are entering the early stages of “awards season”. Both had a lot of hype coming out of the tail end of the festival season and with the wide release it’s fair to say that the awards train has left the station.

Of course most of the hype surrounding this film, and Joker but will get to that later in the week, has been surrounding its leading performance, on this occasion given to us by one Renée Zellweger, but a film is not made by one performance, it is made by a multitude of facets working towards an end goal; one great performance can elevate a good film but can also expose a bad film, so what camp does this latest musical biopic land in?

Story

Telling the tale of the later stages of the career of the great Judy Garland (Renèe Zellweger) we see her plight as she struggles to keep custody of her children are made substance abuse, lack of work and a tense relationship with her previous husband; we also see how the role of Dorothy shaped her future, and her view of Hollywood.

Verdict

There is more than one way to view the classic Hollywood period, as we saw last month in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood you can idolise the past or, in this case, you can demonise it, and either way you can be justified.

I have to say this movie came as a pleasant surprise for me, I had heard whispers coming from the festivals earlier this month, but I didn’t expect the film to be as affecting as it was.

The acting is deservedly pointed out for most peoples praises, but what is lost amongst this is the skill and finesse which the film is presented as a whole. The musical numbers sparkle and pop off the screen with an elegance deserving its leading character; it really encapsulates the glamour of Judy Garland’s life, while also shining a light on its most dark and depressing moments.

Which brings me nicely onto the performance as a whole by Renèe Zellweger, she is a versatile performer, whether she is making us laugh as Bridget Jones or being a glamorous murderess in Chicago. She makes herself look worse for wear for playing Judy Garland, but it does wonders for her performance. She carries a mix of emotions from keeping up a facade of elegance in the public eye, to emotionally fighting for custody of the children, it really is a staggering and emotional performance from an actress we haven’t really seen much of of recently.

While the whole film is very well presented, it is as much a vehicle for a leading performance as Darkest Hour was for Gary Oldman, but with much better results, Judy would be an easy, entertaining, and emotional watch with any talented leading actress, it just so happened they made exactly the right choice for the film. It does mean that certain supporting characters are outshone in the film, and even perhaps a little under characterised, but they’re basking in the glow of an extraordinary performance from its leading lady, which helps to light up the film as a whole.

Zellweger is not the only one worthy of singling out for praise, however, as the cinematography of this film is extremely impressive. Its uses of extreme close-up is incredibly effective in the smaller moments, whilst the use of sweeping camera work in the musical numbers is reminiscent of musical films of the time. It helps enliven the genuine feel of the era it is trying to portray.

As much as the technical error filmmaking beyond cinematography and direction is beyond me, one of the things that really caught my attention, as small as it may seem, and as an insignificant, is the sound design. It makes the recordings of Zellweger singing Garland’s repertoire sound as though it is coming from an actual recording of the concert it is portraying; adding an accurate layer of crackles and fading as if recording with an old, 1960’s style microphone, it is these smaller things that really add up to a greater experience.

I have seen many film so far this year, even though we are running to October, and still having a crisis still to come, I will be very surprised if Judy doesn’t make my top 10 films at the end of the year. It is a film of wild juxtaposition, while showing us glitzy and lively musical numbers, with lines of dancing girls and live orchestra, it also portrays the harsh realities of old-time Hollywood as a young Garland is pressured and pushed to ruin by studio executives wanting perfection when it is impossible.

Overall though, I heartily recommend Judy is a must watch for all, not only for fans of Judy Garland in particular, but film fans as a whole to see just how backwards life is when you look behind the camera.