Beast (2022)

Quick Synopsis: Idris Elba fights a lion whilst mourning for his dead wife in this intense survival thriller by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur

“Man Vs. Animal” movies are tricky, for two reasons: 1) Man has a gun, so he already has a distinct advantage, you can’t shoot anybody with bear arms. 2) It’s going to be compared to Jaws. Especially when the best way to get rid of most giant animals is to blow them up. Jaws did everything so perfectly that being compared to it automatically knocks you down a few points.

Of course, I haven’t seen Jaws (yet, watching it next month), but I’ve read the book, and I’ve seen it referenced enough times in popular media that I can pick up references to it. Maybe that works in my favour as it means I’m not that familiar with the tropes and conventions, because it’s a genre I haven’t explored much I’m not watching this film thinking of the cliches. I’m guessing that’s why the reviews have been mixed, because a lot of people see it and all they can see is the cliches. I liked it though. It’s not the best film I’ve ever seen but it’s a snappy and entertaining piece of cinema. It’s not going to change your life, but you can sit there, forget your troubles, and be entertained for 90 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the dialogue could be better. A lot of the dialogue actually, there’s far too much clunky exposition. And there are times when the film veers into a slightly dreamlike territory which doesn’t really suit it. It’s at its best when it’s just Idris Elba panicking but hiding his panic for the sake of his family. It’s a simple story that’s easy to understand, easy to relate to, and already provides an emotional baseline for the film to work with. Most of the film is him, Leah Jeffries, and Iyana Halley. Iyana and Leah are relatively new, but do pretty well. Not “I’m going to watch their next film” good, but “I expect they’re going to do something REALLY good in the next few years” good. It’s a difficult film for them, as they have to act alongside Idris Elba, who (in my mind), is one of the greatest actors around at the moment. If their performance drops, it will be made much more noticeable by who they’re alongside. Thankfully, they work. Even when they deliver lines which could make them seem horrible, they deliver them in such a way that it works and you still sympathise with them.

Now onto the best thing about this film. The thing that means you can ignore the clunky dialogue, the somewhat predictable story, and some of the characters weird decisions: the directing. The only film by Kormákur that I’ve seen before is Adrift. This far surpasses that in technical brilliance. CGI lions are hard to do convincingly (as anybody who watched the live-action version of The Lion King can attest), you need to have them have expressive enough body language, while also looking real. You could, you know, just use real animals, but only if you don’t like your actors that much. I was watching this wondering how they did it, I assumed they had some incredibly tame animals, but nope, was CGI. That’s simply incredible, you never feel you’re watching fake animals here, everything looks real. They all have a physical presence on screen so if someone did tell you they were really there on set, you wouldn’t be that surprised.

Kormákur could have made it easier for himself by having them in darkness, and cutting away to reaction shots a lot, or having quite quick shots so your eyes don’t focus properly which would make it easier to hide CGI flaws. Whilst a lot of film is in darkness, that feels more like a storytelling method than a technical workaround, in terms of darkness it’s more Alien than Cheap Student Horror. A fair amount of the film takes place in the light, so you can see all the animals clearly, if there were any imperfections, you’d notice. And then there are the shots, they are long. When Kormákur has a choice between cutting away, and following the characters/action, he always goes with the second (and the most difficult) option. There are long action sequences, and I can only imagine how difficult that was for the effects team to work with, but the fact it all looks as good as it does is a testament to the skill of everybody involved.

So in summary, yeah you should watch this. Some films make you laugh, some make you cry, and some scare you, but this is one of the best examples of something that is both popcorn cinema and technical brilliance. I didn’t see Jurassic Park at the cinema (I watched it the way Spielberg intended, on a dodgy video from a market stall), but if I had watched it on the big screen, I imagine my feelings coming out of it would have been similar to this (albeit, that had better music), a feeling of amazement and wonder at what I had just seen.

Nightmare Alley (2021)

Synopsis: In 1940s New York, Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) joins a travelling carnival and meets Mary Cahill (Rooney Mara). Together the two of them set up a fake psychic act to con people out of money in this neo-noir thriller by Guillermo Del Toro.

This was not what I expected. I knew it would be dark, and I knew it would be impressive. But I thought it would be fantastical and strange. It’s not, it’s incredibly grounded, in fact, it’s downright sceptical towards a lot of the tricks of the trade, James Randi would be proud. The story isn’t as focused on the carnival as the advertising would make you think. Most of the characters are only that prevalent in the opening. Now in the past, I’ve talked about how I dislike that kind of thing, how losing all your characters after the opening can make it seem like it was pointless. But it worked for this. Even when the characters aren’t on screen, their presence is felt in the actions of the main character. So they never really feel like they’re not there.

Plus it helps that the rest of the film is incredibly compelling. This is essential a Del Toro film noir, and I love what he did with it. He’s perfect for that genre and it makes me wish he did more. His visual style suits it so well. There’s a dark beauty to the visuals and the lighting makes everything sharp and impressive. The music is good too, but it is probably the least memorable part of the film. Everything else is a 8/10 but that’s just a 6. Across the board the performances are fantastic. As much as I’ve enjoyed Bradley Cooper as an actor, this is probably the first time I’ve seen him in something and been truly lost in his performance. It baffles me how this film has been nominated for so many awards, yet his performance hasn’t (as of the time of writing anyway).

I should point out that this is a remake of a 1947 film starring Tyrone Power (whose daughter Romina makes a cameo in this), which itself was based on a book. I don’t know how much it changes from those two source points, but I want to know. Because of this film, I want to see the original, I want to read the book. The original was not a financial success, only finding acclaim afterwards. Sadly it looks like this might do the same. It’s a shame as this is probably the best-made film of the year so far. Seems like one of those films where people who see it like it, but not enough people see it. I’m hoping it makes it back on streaming etc as this deserves to be successful. If you sit down and watch this you’re going to like it. You might now enjoy it, but you’ll like it. This isn’t a happy film you watch with your family, this is a film you watch on your own like you would read a book. You set time aside, turn the lights off, and sit in the dark as you let the world take you in. Set aside something afterwards though, the ending is brutal. Well not the ending itself, but the inevitable aftermath. You know what the ending means, you know what it will end up leading to for the character, and so does he, but he can’t do anything about it. He has to just resign himself to his fate, and as an audience, so do you. It’s bleak, but really the only way this story could end.

This could be the final week this film is available for viewing at many cinemas across the UK, so get to it as soon as you can. I say it a lot, but this truly deserves a cinema viewing if you can.

Unsane (2018)

This entire film was shot on an iPhone. I think that’s an important point to start out on. With that knowledge, you admire the shots, you gaze at the beauty and creativity of some of the scenes. Without it, it looks incredibly amateur, the colours don’t match from shot to shot, with some scenes looking incredibly washed out. There are some places where it really worked, some of the long shots of the main character shot like it made it seem slightly voyeuristic, like the audience were following her without her permission, which REALLY suited with the script content (a great example of using filming techniques to compliment the tone of the story, one of the best I’ve seen in a while if I’m honest). Also, there were moments where the filming methods made her look slightly insane, like her reality wasn’t quite right. Again, for those moments it worked. But when you apply those same filming techniques to her just sitting there eating lunch whilst talking to her mum, it just seems a bit weird and pointless. It would be like doing a slow-motion sequence of someone taking a dump.

This film would have been great as a concept short, just to prove it can be done. And if it must be a full length I don’t think it should have been a cinema release, I’d have been a lot more receptive to this if it was a netflix release. But cinema, you have different expectations. You’ve invested more in a cinema release, not just money (seriously, I love my cineworld card), but also the time to get there, and being forced to stick to someone elses schedule. At home it’s different, you can watch it when you want, you can even pause it to go make a cup of tea in the middle if you want. You’ve invested less, so you have (not so much less) but different expectations, you’re more open to experimentation.

Now onto the weirdest down for this film, and I warn you this contains spoilers: too much Matt Damon. He has a random cameo in it and it’s really jarring. Because of how realistic the film is played, you forget you’re watching a film, you kind of feel like you’re watching almost like a found footage movie. Then he appears and you remember you’re watching a film. Also, is “unannounced Matt Damon cameo” now a trope? It seems to happen a lot lately. I’m now just going to assume he’s in every single film I watch from now, including porn (especially porn).

All of this is a shame because otherwise, it’s a pretty good film, the performances are pretty good, a lot of acclaim will go towards Claire Foy and Joshua Leonard, but I think more attention needs to go to Juno Temple. Her performance in this is so unsettling it’s a shame she’s not given more screen time. Her character, and the way that she plays her, are so well done it’s like they could be the main character in a horror film.

So to sum up: a Blockbuster film. By which I mean: it would have been the perfect film to rent a few times from a video store back in the day, but you don’t need it in your collection. Unless you’re a film student, in which case you’re probably going to be shown it by your lecturer a few times.

Why we Love…Nightcrawler


A reworking of Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote, “if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you” but I found ‘void’ to be more apt for when describing Nightcrawler, this seminal crime thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, who’s cold and warped performance inspired the ‘stare’ of the quote.


Set predominantly in the L.A. nightscape; Nightcrawler follows Louis Bloom, played by Gyllenhaal, an enthusiastic and creepy young person, who just wants to find a job he can be proud off, and he will do anything to achieve his goals. So when he stumbles upon the underground world of freelance crime journalism, he thinks he’s found his calling. And then comes, a dark, twisted, funny, and warped thrill ride into the life of a deeply strange man, as he strives to be the best him he can be.


This film is commonly referred to as “the modern Taxi Driver” and whether it measures up to that or not, is not the purpose of this post, but I see what they mean. Not that it shares a huge amount with the Scorsese classic, in terms of story, setting, or style; but both depict the life of disturbed people, with timely issues, and something to prove. Taxi Driver dealing with problems of a post-Vietnam America, with themes of loss purpose, and dislocation; while Nightcrawler similarly deals with a post-recession and jobless America. Louis’s obsession with finding a job that satisfies you, and an endless rotary of self-help empowerment mantras, tumblr_nenzi00tdU1tmssd6o3_1280combined with his veneer of a can-do attitude, echoes many promises the recession generation were educated on, but didn’t have delivered. Showing how ruthless someone really has to be to achieve the ever elusive American dream.

And it’s here the film has its first lair of satire; ingeniously parodying a classic rag to riches story, swelling inspirational music and all, but with a detestable character doing inhuman, evil things, to get his riches. And I won’t ruin what happens, but it does have a happy ending.

It also dives head first and balls deep into satirizing the News, as blood thirsty, network2manipulative, and downright evil at times. “If it bleeds, it leads” as is repeated multiple times in the film, with Rene Russo giving a chemical turn as the News show runner, clearly taking inspiration from 1996’s Network, with the satirisation of the ultra-violet media being the focus of that film, but as I haven’t seen it, can’t comment further.

From left to right: Riz Ahmed (great supporting character). Jake Gyllenhall, Dan Gilroy. Rene Russo

Though it’s a stretch to call anyone here a ‘hero’; the heroes of this film are Jake tumblr_njkba6QKKU1qej1i6o1_500Gyllenhaal, giving still a career best performance in an already well versed one, dropping 20 pounds and digging deep to portray a mere reflection of a real man. The other being Dan Gilroy’s dark, clever and witty script; both married perfectly to fully realize and bring this character and story to life, and give us a sociopath for the digital age. (Move over Sherlock)


Nightcrawler-Review-645x369Behind the camera Dan Gilroy does a clean job of making the L.A. nightscape a very cold and isolating place, reflecting its lead character, and sharing many shades with Michael Mann’s Collateral, which was clearly an influence. It’s a high-class and pristine looking film, especially for a directorial debut, having a gorgeous neo-noir style; and his motifs of focusing on camera screens to establish how the camera sees things – instead of exactly how they actually are – works as a great and sometimes surreal effect.

But at the same time its probably one of the films weaker aspects, not that there is anigif_enhanced-6602-1414793798-4anything wrong with the direction, just compared to its other elements. It doesn’t seem like it pushes the envelope as much, and has left me wondering how the film would have turned out in the hands of a David Fincher or a Nicolas Winding Refn who could really elevate the material visually- especially for the coherent, if a bit safe, action scenes.

But those little nit-picks aside, we love Nightcrawler because it showed there was still room in Hollywood for new and shocking things, which can be highly original and artistic, while still being major box office hits.


And good god Jake Gyllenhaal is fucking amaze balls.

If you enjoy Nightcrawler, I also recommend American Psycho and Collateral, two other stylish and darkly funny thrillers, that featuring characters with warped views on life.