The Guilty – Review | TIFF 2021 – Coastal House Media
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The Guilty – Review | TIFF 2021

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Despite having given some of the best performances of the past 20 years, Jake Gyllenhaal has only been recognized by the Oscars once after receiving a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain. His fantastic performances in Nightcrawler, Prisoners, Southpaw and so many other films went unnoticed by the Academy but now once again Jake Gyllenhaal is back in his latest film The Guilty. Whilst he’s quite unlikely to receive any awards recognition for his most recent role, Gyllenhaal is once againproving that he really is one of the greatest actors working today.

The Guilty is an American film directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and is a remake of the 2018 Danish film of the same name. The entire film takes place over the course of a single morning, and it follows Gyllenhaal’s call operator Joe Baylor in a 911 dispatch call centre. Joe receives a call from a woman named Emily who acts as if she’s talking to her young daughter and through asking her a series of yes or no questions, Joe determines that she’s been taken and is in danger.

Trapped at his desk in the call centre, Baylor must solve the issue and find the truths, rescuing Emily, all through a series of phone calls. Almost the entire film takes place from within the call centre and it’s a very interesting perspective to see in a film. I’ve not seen the original Danish film so I can’t compare the two and any differences they might have but it’s quite refreshing to see a crime thriller film confined to just one location.

Normally in a film like this the protagonist would be trying to solve the case by travelling to different places and talking to different people but instead Baylor can’t go anywhere and has to solve it all from his desk. There’s a point where he’s phoning up a police officer to go to Emily’s house to check on her kids and to search for any clues as to where she might be but instead of taking the audience to her house, we too are confined with Baylor in the call centre, feeling his frustration when he can’t get an officer to go.

The whole film is very tense and has you on the edge of your seat throughout. The direction from Fuqua is clear and he gets such a high level of suspense out of the situation. Not only with us fearing if Emily will make it out alive and if Baylor will save her in time but also through some of the subplots. Joe gets a couple of phone calls from journalists asking about his side of the story ahead of ‘tomorrow’. It’s not until near the end of the film where we find out what’s happening ‘tomorrow’ and what Baylor had done wrong and whilst perhaps it does add a bit of a dampener and it doesn’t entirely sit right with me, it creates another layer of tension and adds to the suspense.

Jake Gyllenhaal really is excellent and the standout in The Guilty. The film does have an impressive voice cast with Ethan Hawke, Riley Keough and Paul Dano all voicing characters over the phone, but Gyllenhaal really is outstanding. There are very few actors that can demand your full attention for 90 minutes like he does. The film is almost entirely just Gyllenhaal acting from his desk but you forget about this fairly quickly because of the way that Gyllenhaal takes control of every single scene. Seeing him react to both sides of the conversation over the phone rather than cutting backwards and forwards between the two ends is so enthralling to watch because of his excellent performance.

There are times when the film does begin to drag and when we do learn a bit more about the trouble Baylor got into at work, it needed to be developed a bit more to be wholly satisfying but nonetheless The Guilty is a riveting film propelled by Jake Gyllenhaal’s fantastic acting.

The Guilty premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and is released on Netflix on October 1st.

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Spencer – Review | Venice Film Festival 2021

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I can say with some confidence now that I’ve witnessed Kristen Stewart’s enchanting performance as Princess Diana in Spencer – the race for next years 2022 Best Actress Oscar has officially begun. And Stewart is out with a comfortable lead.

Spencer is directed by Pablo Larraín best known for his similarly-themed biopic about a notable female historical figure; Jackie. The script has been penned by Steven Knight (Locke) and Kristen Stewart stars as the titular Diana Spencer. While you might be thinking this is a biopic about Diana, Larraín has labelled the film as a “a fable from a true tragedy”.

Oddly enough Spencer joins the likes of Die Hard, Iron Man 3 and Carol as an unconventional Christmas film. Set over 3 days during the festive season, the film opens on a shot of a dew-kissed Sandringham estate where the Windsor family will be spending their Christmas together.



We watch as a cavalcade of staff roll into the grounds to set up the mansion for the royal familiy’s pending arrival. Everything runs like clockwork; the chefs, servants and security march in unison to their stations with military precision. Large carriers containing the most opulent foods are popped away in the fridges of the grandest of kitchens. The grandeur of this scene can not be overstated. It immediately tells us that even though the Royals may celebrate Christmas like everybody else – they aren’t like anything us.

We then cut to the Princess of Wales exclaiming “where the fuck am I?” Lost somewhere in the countryside, she pulls into a dingy little roadside café – the kind no royal would be caught dead in. She shyly walks up to the counter to a gawping worker and asks for directions.

This opening sequence is quite frankly genius. Not only is it intoxicatingly shot and paced but the everyday-relatability of Diana stopping to ask for directions cleverly juxtaposes the lavish, pre-planned, chauffeured lifestyle of the royals. This time we’re thinking she is one of us.

Jonny Greenwood seems to be everywhere at this years Venice Film Festival. Not only did he provide the score for Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog but he’s also produced the score for Spencer too which aches with melancholy. There’s a notable tinge of tragedy in the strings. However when Diana finally arrives at the estate, Greenwood infuses his score with some jazzy trumpets. Jazz by its nature is surprising, spontaneous and disruptive – so it makes total sense that when Diana walks through the hoity-toity entrance to the manor, that she herself is disrupting the status quo.

The keeper of the house Major Gregory (Timothy Spall) insists that Diana follows the strict regiment that has been laid out for her over the Christmas period. Everything has been set. From the food she eats, to the clothes she wears to the traditions she must upkeep; such as the yearly weigh-in before and after the 3 festive days. Everyone is expected to have gained 3 pounds as proof of just how much festive frivolity they’ve had. However a buleimc Diana is petrified of the notion of being weighed. But as Major Gregory insists not even the Queen is exempt from tradition.

This strict adherence to systemic tradition is what is causing Diana to feel like she suffocating. The family she has married into has removed so many of her individual freedoms that it’s squelched all semblance of who she once was. Her life is now so intensely planned out for her right down to the second. It’s why she insists on driving herself to the Sandringham estate because her car is one of the few remaining places where she feels like she has control.

I seriously believe that her turn as Diana Spencer will be the role that finally swings public opinion on Kristen Stewart as an actress. And rightfully so.



Think back to a decade ago during the Twilight years. Stewart had long been on the receiving end of public criticism about her acting style. The infamous stuttering and mouth-breathing became the source of many-a-meme. But much like her co-star and former Paramore Robert Pattinson, they’ve both slowly shed the stigma of wooden Twilight acting away.

Stewart has been taking on meatier roles in smaller projects like Camp X-Ray, Personal Shopper and Seberg – and earning herself a lot of critical clout in the process. She even became the first American actress to win the Cesar award for her supporting performance in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria.

And now she’s taken on the role of arguably the most famous woman who ever lived – mere months after Emma Corrin captured the worlds heart in the 4th season of The Crown. And yet Stewart still manages to come into the Oscars race with the full force of a wrecking ball.


Not only does she look like Diana from the signature blonde bob to the ballet-dancer frame. But she’s also nailed the mannerisms that were quintessential Diana. Like her posture as she posed for photographs; Stewart raises one shoulder, tilts her head down and flutters her eyelashes while letting the coyest smile curl around her lips. It’s perfection. And of course she gest the accent spot on too. Stewart really did her homework.

Not only can I foresee her winning the Best Actress Volpi actress in Venice but she’s sure to ride the wave of momentum all the way to the Oscars. It’s a role too irresistible for the Academy to overlook. It ticks many of the criteria they gravitate towards; tragic historical figure, the actress has 95% of the screen time, it touches on challenging topics such as Bulimia and the scrutiny/mistreatment of female celebrities in the media. And ultimately it feels like the right role, for the right actress at the right point in her career to celebrate. I can see the Academy choosing Stewart as their Best Actress champion.

But it’s not just Kristen Stewart who will be acknowledged come awards season. Spencer is likely to be a major player with potential supporting nominations for Spall and Sally Hawkins. A Best Picture nomination seems highly likely along with a screenplay nomination for Steven Knight. Jonny Greenwood’s painfully beautiful score is likely to be favoured and we mustn’t forget about Jacqueline Durran’s exquisite costumes. I’m convinced the montage sequence of Diana dancing was only added just so Durran could show off the dozens of fabulous outfits she had picked out for the film.

Kristen Stewart [Spencer – Komplizen Film]


Larraín’s direction is thoughtfully evocative. It’s often been said that Diana’s life was like a fairytale; an ordinary girl who became a princess. Larraín utilises a lot of trucking shots to symbolically suggest a storybook unfolding before our eyes.

The tracking shots which stalk Diana down the bellowing corridors help us to empathise with Diana’s headspace – the walls are closing in and all eyes are constantly watching her. The mansion maybe huge but there’s no space for her to hide.




The only creative step that won’t be to everyones taste is the repeated motif of comparing Diana to King Henry the Eighths second wife Anne Boleyn. Camilla Parker Bowles is even compared to Jane Seymour in one scene. While the execution is a little on-the-nose, Larraín’s astute grasp of his surreal fairytale makes this creative choice feel justified. There were some derisive sniggers in the audience audience of my screening – particularly when Diana at one point morphs into Anne but it didn’t feel overplayed or out of place.

Spencer is magnificent achievement for everyone involved. A career highlight for Kristen Stewart that’s sure to be on everyone’s lips once they’ve seen it. it’s lusciously shot and has an intoxicating atmosphere thanks to Greenwood’s tremendous score.

Spencer will be released in Cinemas internationally from November 5th but is also screening as part of the BFI London Film Festival.

If you want to follow more of Luke’s coverage from the Venice Film Festival be sure to check out his Youtube channel.

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Marvel’s What If…?- Season 1 Episode 5 Review

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What If…?  is the latest Marvel Studios project to arrive on our small screens on Disney +.

The animated anthology series, created by Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia writer A.C. Bradleyand Marvel vet Bryan Andrews flips the script on the MCU as following the creation of the multiverse in Loki’s first season finale, What If…? reimagines famous events from the films in unexpected ways.

In last weeks episode of What If…?, Marvel took an extremely dark and somber turn as Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) doomed the entire universe.



The dark streak continues in episode five of the animated series, as it truly leans into the more horror/gruesome tropes. Set during the events of Infinity War, episode five offers a totally difficult challenge as earths surviving heroes take on the Undead Avengers as Marvel Studios introduces us to ZOMBIES!!

The Watcher brings us to a universe where our Mighty Saviours are now the destroyers. It’s very reminiscent of The Walking Dead as these zombies are unambiguous and empty shells all wanting to do one thing to feast on flesh. 

Turning all of Earth’s mightiest Heroes into flesh-eating monsters has giving the MCU new abilities and challenges, they get to play with new styles and tones which have never been seen in a marvel project before. 

Two weeks earlier, Dr. Hank Pym journeyed into the Quantum Realm, searching for his long-lost wife. But in this universe, Janet van Dyne contracted a quantum virus that corrupted her brain. So when she finally reunited with her husband after thirty long years…”

The watcher

What If… Zombies?!

Synopsis

When The Avengers are infected by a zombie plague, surviving heroes search for a cure.

Review

The “What If…?” moment that causes Zombies is Hank Pym traveling to the Quantum Realm to rescue his wife Janet Van Dyne. Though he discovers that she’s picked up a nasty virus, which when they return runs rampant and infects the larger population. As the Avengers fall so does Bruce Banner, he falls straight through the Sanctum’s staircase with a warning that Thanos is coming. 

Bleecker Street is deserted, so Bruce is left to wander. Soon enough as seen in Infinity War he encounters members of the Black Order and, like in the film, is unable to transform back into the Hulk to fight them. 

©Marvel

Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Wong show up to fight, however alarm bells start ringing as Bruce realises that they are now Zombies. 

©Marvel

The episode then sees the surviving superheroes banding together to find a cure. The only ones who managed to save themselves  are Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Hudson Thames), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), Bucky (Sebastian Stan), Happy (Jon Favreau), Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and Hope (Evangeline Lilly). 

Spider-Man is filming zombie survival videos from New York rooftops, involving Happy hilariously. Thanks to all the movies Peter has watched, his cinematic brain helps the remaining Avengers fight off Zombies and ultimately stay safe for the time being. I absolutely loves Peter’s Zombie guides.

©Marvel

As the episode proceeds, trouble and losses increase and the remaining Avengers have to find a solution to put a stop to this massacre, as Earth’s Deadliest Heroes awaken. 

The Zombie angle is certainly an interesting take and I’m thrilled that these decaying heroes still retain their powers and abilities, which make for some fun encounters. This episode also feature tons of undead horror, especially when seeing iconic characters being torn, ripped and chopped apart. The bloody consequences truly bring something new to the MCU table.

This episode truly seems pulled and inspired from Phillip Kennedy Johnson’s Marvel Zombies: Resurrection comic book series.

The Zombies have Assembled and are now streaming on Disney +

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Review | The Champion of Auschwitz

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“I don’t know who I will be but I know who I want to be.”

Director Maciej Barczewski’s feature debut brings us the true story of Tadeusz “Teddy” Pietrzykowski, a boxing champion of Warsaw who was amongst the first prisoners to arrive at Auschwitz during the Nazi regime.

During his time in the camp, the officers learn of his sporting history and recruit him to compete in a series of fights in exchange for extra rations of food and medicine for him and his fellow inmates. ‘Arbeit macht frei’ takes on a different meaning, where Teddy’s work of fighting in the ring is not just to stay alive, but also to free himself and others from the hardship, pain and suffering. At the same time, there becomes a desperate desire by the German officers to not maintain a hero nor produce a martyr.

Indeed, Piotr Głowacki offers an extremely nuanced and layered performance as the central protagonist, a role which demands a strong physical performance and he certainly delivers. Not only must Głowacki provide the expertise of a champion in the boxing ring, he must also simultaneously portray the weariness and weakness of someone in his position. Even beyond the obviously physical nature of his performance, Głowacki shines even more so in the more subtle moments of physical performance, able to convey vast emotions through a fleeting smile or a pointed stare. However, it is a shame that at times it feels as if he was acting within himself; confined by the commitment to realism, Teddy must act within himself as a character due to his situation. His outward performance versus his inner struggle, aided by both external and internal strength.

The cast is composed entirely of Polish actors, even in the roles of German officers and such. Even if unintentional, such a choice reminds of how Taika Waititi – a Polynesian Jew – portrayed Hitler in his film Jojo Rabbit.

Like Głowacki, the film generally strives to achieve a fine balance between action and drama, between horror and beauty, between the external and the internal, and, at times, arguably between reality and fantasy.

The grim realism of Auschwitz is a consistent throughline, illustrated through all aspects of the film’s production, both narrative and technical. The omnipresence of violence is not concealed, but instead the audience is constantly reminded of the grim reality through harrowing depictions that never feel exploitative. The orchestral score is necessarily haunting, yet offers uplifting turns in moments of triumph.

The cinematography, courtesy of Witold Plóciennik, is largely impressive and helps to maintain the reality of the story. Particularly interesting in this regard was the decision to capture the boxing scenes almost exclusively with wide shots and long takes that were not too stylised or edited at fast pace. Such an approach can be typical with fighting scenes but instead, here the actual actor is consistently on screen without the aid of a stunt double, enabling the viewer to feel constantly connected to Teddy. The typical, more rapid approach of boxing scenes in films would likely have overpowered the fundamental themes and undermined the believability of the narrative.

The Champion of Auschwitz [Iron Films]

The colour grade too adds to the darkness of the story, a dim, washed-out look adorns the screen; the only uses of truly warm tones are in a single flashback sequence during the opening scene and then somewhat of an amalgamation of this light with the darkness of Auschwitz during an epilogue. Narratively, comparisons may be drawn to other titles such as Schindler’s List. Yet, where that film uses red prominently and brightly for attention, here the red of blood is merely dark and dirty. Agnieszka Kukulka and Miroslawa Wojtczak from the makeup department provide some truly grisly and brutal work, whilst the costumes too feel real.

Although the film depicts the harrowing events with painful authenticity, there is almost an untapped element of fantasy running under the surface. Prominent symbolism and consistent references to faith and religion – from carvings and paintings of angels, to introspective dialogue and even the camp spotlight taking on an almost angelic presence – remain a consistent presence.

The film does border on being too sentimental at times; more generic elements such as a training montage offer nothing new; and sympathetic sentiments towards some German characters may be undeserved. In addition, some rushed subplots resulted in an emotional disconnect from some characters or situations, but overall this is a tightly woven narrative that would have benefitted from a slightly longer run time than its 91 minutes and could have been slightly more refined, by reducing or even removing some sections entirely.

However, whether you know about Tadeusz Pietrzykowski or not, it is certainly worth checking out The Champion of Auschwitz for yourself.

 

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