Movies about movies: Why have they been popping up so much recently?

What defines a movie about movies? They remind us of the beauty of film, the appeal of the cinematic world, and the reason we go to see them on a big screen. A lot of movies reference movie-making in some way, but that doesn’t mean they are about movies. For example, King Kong is about a group of explorers who travel to Skull Island to document its inhabitants on film, but that isn’t what the film is about. The film is about adventure into the unknown, and the misunderstood creature that is Kong. I wouldn’t even describe a film like La La Land as a movie about movies. Whilst it is set in Hollywood and one of its main characters is an aspiring actress, it is not about filmmaking specifically.

Movies about movies weave films and filmmaking into their central themes. They remind audiences of the joy of going to the cinema, and the complexity of the filmmaking process itself. A quintessential example of this is Sam Mendes’s recent film, Empire of Light. Centred around a cinema set in Margate, it follows cinema workers Hilary (Olivia Colman) and Stephen (Micheal Ward) navigating the turbulent times of 1980s England as romance blossoms between them. The film integrates themes of racism, mental health and class, but to its core, it is about how film can bring people together. As Stephen so eloquently puts it to Hilary in one scene; ‘That beam of light, it’s an escape.’ Sam Mendes has himself stated it is based on his early experiences of going to the cinema, and many have regarded the film as his ‘love letter’ to cinema. Other quintessential examples of movies about movies are La La Land director Damien Chazelle’s Babylon, and Stephen Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical film The Fabelmans, both of which have hit UK cinemas in the past few months. Babylon is an outrageous, lavish, 3-hour picture about the transition of silent to sound films in the late 1920s. It stars Margot Robbie as aspiring actress Nellie LaRoy, Brad Pitt as declining actor Jack Conrad, and Diego Calva as Manny Torres – an up-coming filmmaker and Nellie’s love interest. The core of the film is about these characters navigating the 1920s-film scene, depicted through various sequences of film productions and showing how hilariously gruelling they could be. The ending encapsulates how far cinema has come, as Manny sits in a cinema in the early 1950s and reflects upon his life and how much of an impact film has had on it. Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, however, is quite the opposite of Babylon. It is a tender, heart-warming, coming-of-age story of aspiring filmmaker Sammy Fabelman and how films provide the vehicle for him to navigate his dysfunctional family life. Not only did the film garner critical acclaim, but was also nominated for over 100 awards, and won 23. What these films all have in common is (1) they were all released in UK cinemas in 2023; and (2) they illustrate how films play an integral role in the development and story of the lead characters.

This trend even extends to previous years, with films like 2022’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent and 2021’s Belfast reminding its audiences of the joy of filmmaking and going to the cinema. Unbearable Weight is effectively Nicholas Cage’s hilariously self-aware tribute to cinema, as he plays a fictionalised version of himself and pokes fun at his own career. Belfast meanwhile was Kenneth Branagh’s sleeper hit about a boy brought up during the political turmoil of Northern Ireland in 1969. As with Empire of Light and The Fabelmans, the film revolves around its central character navigating troubling times with a love for films presented as a hopeful escape. Even Ti West’s recent 2022 horrors X and Pearl, both starring Mia Goth, can be regarded as tributes to early and late 20th century cinema and what made it so special.

Whilst there have always been movies about movies, there has rarely been so many within a short space of time. In the past, movies with movies woven so centrally into their plots have come much more infrequently, with releases like The Player (1992), Adaption (2002), The Artist (2011), and The Disaster Artist (2017) only appearing every few years. Considering the movies previously discussed have been released in 2022 and 2023, it is reasonable to assume it has partly been due to filmmakers getting back on track in a post-COVID world. Considering the detrimental impact the pandemic had on filmmaking and cinemas, perhaps filmmakers are choosing to remind people how valuable the cinematic experience is, causing a ‘bump’ in releases of movies about movies. Many filmmakers have even commented on this. British director Philippa Lowthorpe once stated how saddened she was that the performance of her film Misbehaviour (2020) was affected by the pandemic. Combined with the rise of streaming, people are seemingly less inclined to travel to cinemas. A 2020 survey by Variety even found 70% of people would rather watch movies at home than go to the cinema. So, perhaps filmmakers are attempting to remind audiences through the craft of visual storytelling that watching a film in the cinema is one of the most encapsulating experiences you can have. Even Tarantino has recently announced that he has completed the script for his next and final film, The Movie Critic, which will be set in the 1970s and centred around movie critic Pauline Kael. It would be interesting to discuss with mainstream directors such as Tarantino and Spielberg whether their mind-sets have been influenced by the effect the pandemic and streaming has had on cinemas. For now though, as an avid movie-goer, I couldn’t be happier about filmmakers choosing to produce more movies about movies. Hopefully, reminding people of the magic of the silver screen and the whole cinematic experience will have audiences returning to cinemas.


100 years of horror – Does Nosferatu still hold up?

Horror classic Nosferatu (1922) recently turned 100 years old – a milestone most films have yet to reach. I recently watched this centennial film in all its glory on Amazon Prime, making it the oldest movie I’ve ever watched. But as a 24-year-old film enthusiast indoctrinated into films by superheroes, CGI and animation, how does Nosferatu rate? Do the grainy colour-changing textures of the film affect its enjoyment? Does the atmospheric orchestral score compensate for the film’s lack of dialogue? Most importantly, does the film’s creepy atmosphere hold up? Well, when it comes to film, age is just a number, because I still thoroughly enjoyed Nosferatu.

I can see why Nosferatu is considered to be the origin of horror and vampires. It was made in the wake of the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918, and plays on the real fears of widespread disease and death. Nosferatu’s arrival to civilisation is as allegorical as it is literal. He brings fear, death and disease and disrupts the safety and security of a an otherwise stable society. It’s an interesting take on Bram Stoker’s original Dracula story, except the titular antagonist is much more dehumanised in this film. He’s permanently hunched, has pointy ears, freakishly long fingers, two sharp front teeth, and a pair of haunting, black eyes. His movements too, are ominously slow, giving the impression that this is no human, but a creature of the night. You can always feel his presence throughout the film even when he’s not on screen, simply by the effect he has on people and through the film’s atmosphere. If anything, the film’s grainy look adds to the creepy, claustrophobic feeling it thrives on. I thought it was interesting that the version I watched used different washes to indicate times of day – yellow and pink to indicate daytime, and green and blue indicating night. Even the vampiric descriptions in the book protagonist Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) reads are menacingly beautiful – describing the vampire in a way that forebodes Nosferatu’s presence.

The score does a perceptive job of creating the film’s creepy atmosphere. Depending on its intensity, it is a key indicator of the mood in each scene. When Hutter is enjoying time with his wife Ellen (Greta Schröder), the score is somber and peaceful. But when there is any mention of the supernatural, or when Hutter is travelling up a rocky road towards Count Orlok/Nosferatu’s castle, the score is much more ominous and intimidating. It gives an indication that something sinister is coming, and that something is a hunched, bloodthirsty vampire. The lighting of this film also enhances its atmosphere. From the use of a negative filter to convey the eeriness of Hutter’s journey, to the iconic shots of Nosferatu’s looming shadow, these simple effects remain genuinely creepy a century on.

Nosferatu still holds up not just because of its score and minimal effects to create its ominous atmosphere, but also by the themes of death and disease it conveys. There hasn’t been much in terms of remakes or reboots in the last century, aside from Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake, Nosferatu the Vampyre, and Shadow of the Vampire (2000) which was a fictionalised account of the making of the original. The 1979 remake didn’t particularly resonate with me, with it’s wooden acting, poor writing, and severe lack of tension. Willem Dafoe as Max Shreck/Nosferatu in Shadow of the Vampire does however sound appealing. Nonetheless, the influence of the original has disseminated throughout the horror genre. Travelling a long, eerie, mountainous road to an isolated location to create a sense of foreboding can be seen in films like The Shining (1980) and Evil Dead (1981), and even Nosferatu’s silent, predator-stalking-prey stance can be attributed in slashers like Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980). The Lighthouse (2019) and The Northman (2022) director Robert Eggers is writing and directing a remake of Nosferatu, with Pennywise himself Bill Skarsgård set to portray the titular role and Anya-Taylor Joy in an unknown role. If there was any filmmaker today who could adapt the atmosphere of the original Nosferatu for a modern audience, it would be Eggers; and I’m very much looking forward to it.

‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ review: The MCU’s darkest, maddest film yet

When I first heard Sam Raimi would be directing Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, my first thought was – yes, he is exactly what the MCU needs. I knew we would be in for something substantially different to anything we’ve experienced so far in the MCU. Raimi’s history in both the superhero and horror genres made him more than qualified to helm what is quite possibly the MCU’s darkest and maddest film yet. His ability to maintain the integrity and grandeur of superheroism in his golden Spider-Man trilogy whilst incorporating elements of his horror roots set expectations for Multiverse of Madness to be one of the least MCU-esque films in all the right ways. Taking the reins on a story about one of Marvel’s most unique and mystical characters somehow seemed fit for the director, not to mention how the comic source material pushes the physical boundaries of the Marvel universe. So, was Multiverse of Madness the rollercoaster ride through the Marvel universe(s) it was expected to be? Let’s just say the rollercoaster took an ominous detour through the haunted house.

In Multiverse of Madness, Benedict Cumberbatch reprises his role as the (ex) Sorcerer Supreme for what seems like the umpteenth time, yet this being only his second solo outing. Cumberbatch maintains the appealing charisma of Stephen Strange, yet shows despite all his power how much of a flawed character he is. He always seems one finger lift away from causing diabolical consequences in the name of the greater good. To me, this has always has made Cumberbatch to Strange what Robert Downey Junior was to Iron Man, and something that Marvel always excels at; giving us flawed but likeable characters. Strange crosses paths with America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager with the ability to punch holes through the multiverse, and attempts to protect her from demonic forces looking to steal her power. MCU regulars Benedict Wong and Elizabeth Olsen also join the cast as Wong and Wanda/Scarlett Witch respectively, in addition to some returning faces we haven’t seen since the first Doctor Strange.

Strange’s relationship with Chavez is somewhere between friendship and mentor-mentee, providing a majority of the quippy MCU humour in the film we’ve become so accustomed to. They also bring some heart in the right moments, and their backstories are unexpectedly similar in interesting ways. Wong maintains his status as an underrated Marvel favourite of mine, his chemistry with Strange proving yet again to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of the film. It was also nice to see Rachel McAdams back as Strange’s periodic love interest Christine. The film provides us with a little more depth into their relationship and shows us how much Christine still means to Strange despite his new life as the world’s most powerful wizard. However, the real highlight of the cast in Multiverse of Madness was Olsen’s performance as the Scarlett Witch. Whilst providing us with a sympathetic plight, she delivers a new, edgy side to the character we have so far only had hints at. Without revealing the details of said plight, she shows us how far someone is willing to go in the name of love.

One of the main attractions of this rollercoaster ride is the visuals. Multiverse of Madness is possibly one of the most visually experimental films of the MCU. The visual atmosphere sells the otherworldly feel very effectively, reminiscent of Steve Ditko’s original illustrations of Strange’s world in the comics. The film plunges you through the multiverse with a plethora of colours and textures disassembled and assembled in different combinations; illustrating that when it comes to the multiverse, anything is possible. The visuals also display how truly powerful Strange and Wanda are, showing the full extent of what kind of house-of-mirrors tricks they have up their sleeves. I often see a lot of complaints about Marvel films being overly reliant on CGI. Whilst I can understand not everyone is keen on a substantial amount of CGI in films, to me, Marvel films have boasted some of the most impressive visual effects in the last decade, and Multiverse of Madness is no exception. The only effective way to stay true to the colourful, visual story-telling of the comics is to utilise modern technology. Make the most of CGI to express the scale of these stories as if they were real, and create an other-worldly feeling of escapism which is exactly what made the comics so popular in the first place.

As if the unique visuals weren’t enough, Multiverse of Madness also has one of the darkest atmospheres in the MCU’s history. As previously mentioned, the film illustrates how truly powerful Strange and Wanda are, and the film stretches its 12A rating to show us how far they’re willing to divulge in darker magic. The film is undoubtedly the closest thing we’ve had to a Marvel horror film since the Blade movies of the late 90s and early 2000s (except perhaps the recent Morbius). As the film progresses, you can see more and more of Sam Raimi’s sprinkles of horror and the supernatural. From unique cinematography to striking visuals, the film boasts some genuinely unsettling sequences in all the right ways. Be forewarned, the violence in the film is almost akin to fully adult-rated superhero content like Amazon Prime’s The Boys or Invincible. Anything in the superhero genre which isn’t afraid to go all out with the level of violence is something I always appreciate. It shows us how powerful the characters truly are beyond their conventional family friendly settings. The dark atmosphere of the film is only elevated by Danny Elfman’s hair-raising musical score, and I don’t think anyone else could’ve possibly been a better fit to score the film. Elfman’s signature supernatural style is very prominent here, using strings and choir to show of the film’s comic book grandeur whilst maintaining it’s frightening atmosphere. I was particularly impressed by some of the musical cues, with some high-pitched string sound effects elevating jump scares (yes, this film has jump scares) which almost reminded me of the Insidious films. If I’m comparing an MCU film to quite possibly one of the scariest horror movie franchises in recent years, you know you’re in for something special.

Whilst Multiverse of Madness was a thoroughly enjoyable film, I will acknowledge that it won’t be for everyone. Being the first MCU film after the cameo-filled phenomenon that was Spider-Man: No Way Home, I think Multiverse of Madness has become a victim of overhype. During the months leading up to its release, the internet was bubbling with fan-theories and rumours about the film’s cast and plot, and many came to believe it would top No Way Home with it’s level of cameos and crossovers. Whilst the film has it’s fair share of surprises, I couldn’t help but feel like it certainly would’ve left many fans wanting more. Personally, the fact that it may have been a little overhyped didn’t affect my enjoyment. It deconstructs the superhero genre and shows how much Sam Raimi excels as a director. It shows us that the multiverse isn’t about breathtaking cameos and plot twists, it plays with the idea that somewhere, somehow, there is a universe where we’re ‘happier’. Perhaps somewhere where things have worked out for the better, somewhere where we’re living out our ideal lives. So, the film asks; at what cost? This fundamental question gave the film a level of depth I was pleasantly surprised by.

The dark themes of Multiverse of Madness gave me the impression Marvel are experimenting with different genres; testing the waters to see how audiences react to a horror-themed MCU film. This is undoubtedly a good thing, as I’ve also seen complaints about the MCU becoming rather formulaic and substantially reliant on it’s humour. Multiverse of Madness has very little humour. It is a dark film which takes the MCU to places it hasn’t ventured before, and whilst it may not be the cameo-filled phenomenon that fans hoped it to be, it proves that after so many years Marvel are still willing to keep their franchise fresh and find new ways to make it appealing.

From hot tea to hospital sets: My experience being a film extra in Sam Mendes’ new film, Empire of Light

May 4th is known to many as International Star Wars day (‘May the 4th be with you’). I could never have imagined that I would be spending Star Wars day reading an article about The Empire Strikes Back in a 1980s-hospital ward. On May 4th 2022, I lay in a hospital bed with an intravenous drip taped to my arm reading an original magazine from the film’s release year in 1980. Before you wonder whether I had stumbled into some sort of Tardis, I was in fact on a film set, which to me is quite possibly the next best thing to time-travel. Everything from the 1980s style Cadbury’s Roses box on my bedside table, to the doctor and patient costumes worn by my fellow extras, the film-makers had considered every detail in setting of the scene.

The film was James Bond director Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light, a romantic story drawing on the director’s childhood experiences of cinema and starring Olivia Colman and Micheal Ward. I was called in at the crack of dawn for the hospital scene, but cameras didn’t roll until around 2 pm. I kept myself occupied by reading books, catching up with uni work, and chatting to fellow extras. It was a rewarding way to meet people who share an interest in film, and make contacts for potential future projects. Hanging out with like-minded people for long periods waiting for a call to the set forges friendships surprisingly quickly. Sitting around in 1980s attire with 21st century iPhones and overcoats provided a curious juxtaposition of different eras. The large team of extras were well looked after. I was pleasantly surprised by the food served by the on-set catering team too. The menu differed each day, and provided a variety of different dishes along with a plethora of beverages, desserts and cheese and biscuits (on my filming day I went for spinach and feta cheese quesadillas which were delicious). I also found myself drinking excessive amounts of tea; whether it was to maintain the caffeine boost from the early starts or simply pass the time – not even I could be sure.

In the two places I had my fitting and shot the scene there were plenty of noticeable indicators of the film’s setting. There were rows of late 70s and 80s Fords and Vauxhalls, and even some police cars and ambulances from the same time period. When I was on set the day before filming, there was a close-up scene being filmed in the back of an ambulance – indicated by the 1980 model with its back doors open surrounded by black screens, lights and crew members. Then of course, there were the costumes. At the fitting, there were rows and rows of 70s/80s fashion, in addition to various different patient, nurse and doctor’s outfits. My patient attire consisted of one of the more basic outfits, simply being a light green button-up shirt and bottoms over some white tights; which I could best describe as some fancy retro pyjamas. The walls were adorned with pictures of real photos of 70/80s outfits and haircuts, clearly a reference guide for those working in the costume, hair and make-up department. In fact, I was required to get my long hair trimmed as part of the role. A lovely Welsh hairdresser gave me a bob of sorts – utilising my inherited curls. At first I thought it looked like the Beatles‘ signature haircut from the early 60s, but when it was ruffled up for the role it was more akin to David Naughton’s hair in American Werewolf in London (a film released in 1981; the same year Empire of Light is set in). It wasn’t until I was actually on the hospital set for the film that the detail devoted to the set really sank in. As I sat ‘ill’ in my bed, I admired the work put in by the set designers, costume team, and the props guys who had put together a very authentic looking ward. At one point I was required to silently ‘mime’ a conversation with a doctor in the background of one of the takes. It was fascinating to see the cinematographers and mic operators in their element, adjusting every position and angle so they got each take just right. Sam Mendes himself even approached my bed at one point to adjust a table lamp. There were many people running and back and forth on the set; people shouting ‘rolling’ and ‘action’ every 5 minutes, designers adjusting extra’s hair and makeup, stand-ins for the main actors, and of course, the main actors themselves. It’s a surreal experience working alongside well-known actors who are so greatly admired. As much as you’re aware they are regular people doing a job, it is impossible not to become star-struck when they walk on set. I did however get a smile or two from Olivia Coleman.

The hospital scene was filmed on a set built at Ramsgate airport, but there was a couple of other scenes I was called for that were filmed in Margate. The first was in a cinema on the seafront built to capture the 80s aesthetic. It was classic art deco, with impressive Grecian pillars and marbled stairways, and the red curtains that were typical of theatres of the day. Many of us extras were paired up as couples going on a date night to the cinema, others were grouped into friends, and there were some older extras who sat alone. The props team even handed us the classic popcorn buckets, which were refilled with Sainsbury’s popcorn after every take. The scene we watched was a scene from the 1980 comedy film Stir Crazy starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. By the time we wrapped, we all knew every detail of that scene start to finish. Needless to say, watching a film in a cinema as an extra for a film was probably one of the most meta things I’ve ever done.

The other scene was shot right in the heart of Margate’s Dreamland; a recently reopened fairground with rides, arcades, and a roller disco. This was the most enjoyable scene I participated in. The scene they were filming was a living, breathing fairground. There were extras on rides, running fairground stalls, and real ice cream and candy floss stalls. It was a busy scene with a lot of extras present; from groups of intimidating skinheads smoking to families and school children on a day out (At my extra ‘interview’ I was asked if I would be willing to have my head shaved and smoke – I politely declined both!). Despite the large scale of the set, it was the closest I’d been to the main actors. One scene even involved Olivia Coleman and Micheal Ward going around a spinning ride, which made me think acting must be one of the best jobs ever. I was assigned to run a coconut shy in the background of one scene; with an army of 80s school kids ruthlessly smashing coconuts in between takes. At one point one of the youngest extras got upset because he didn’t win a prize on a stall as it wasn’t real: the wonderful Olivia Colman stepped and picked out a prize for him herself. There was such a positive energy on set that day. The sun was shining, the rides were rolling, and I don’t think I’ll ever get through so much candy floss in one day.

Being an extra on such a major movie was a unique and exciting experience. If the opportunity arises, I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in filmmaking or films in general. The job requires a lot of patience, as you spend long days waiting around to be called, or even wondering if you’ll be called at all. Regardless of whether your scene is in the final cut, being able to observe the film-making process first hand is a valuable and rewarding experience, and one that has only expanded my passion for cinema. It has forever changed my perspective on the process of movie production, and I would certainly be up for getting paid for lying in a fake hospital bed again reading a Star Wars magazine in the future (and yes, you can spot me in the final cut!).

Watch Empire of Light in cinemas from 9th January.

The fictitious cinema ‘Empire’ created at Dreamland on the Margate seafront, taken when I went for a costume fitting

‘The Northman’ review: An epic tale of vikings, valour and vengeance

I don’t think the word ‘Viking’ is uttered once in the entirety of The Northman. This appropriately epitomises the authentic Norse feel of the film, as you don’t always need words to convey a feeling in filmmaking. Director Robert Eggers absorbs us in a brutal yet ancient world which runs red with the blood of fathers and sons, overseen by the Norse all-father God Odin. In typical Eggers style, the film blends the real world with the supernatural, using tight cinematography and ominous lighting to create an other-worldly feel to a period of real history. Eggers and Icelandic writer Sjón tell a tale which runs a thin line between valour and vengeance, and how following one’s fate isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. In a world filled with axes, gods, and the threads of fate, good and evil doesn’t exist; it is simply whoever plunges the sword in first.

The Northman follows Viking prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) as he sets off on a path to avenge the death of his father, King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke). The plot is based on the medieval Scandinavian legend which inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which is very evident in the film’s story and performances. Every member of the cast give Shakespearean-esque performances, expressing raw emotion when needed and blending English with ancient Nordic tongues, which only adds to the other-worldly feel. Skarsgård gives a furious yet empathetic performance as Amleth; providing us with the raw, animalistic rage of a vengeful Viking, but also showing us he’s not completely unrelenting or heartless in the right moments. Anya Taylor-Joy is also a highlight, portraying Amleth’s love interest and Slavic sorceress Olga with supernatural charm, proving yet again her versatility in historical roles. Willem Dafoe was also a pleasant surprise to the cast, playing King Aurvandill’s fool in what would quite possibly be Dafoe’s ideal career if he lived in a Viking world. Ethan Hawke and Claes Bang’s performances as King Aurvandil and Fjölnir respectively also add to the authenticity of the world, and give modern day audiences an idea of how much Vikings valued bloodlines and vengeance.

The Northman also gave us with what is probably my favourite film score of 2022 so far. First-time film composers Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough experimented with ancient instruments to perfectly capture the scale of the world Amleth journeys through. From the resounding horns expressing the grandeur of Viking Norway and Iceland, to the atonal, sporadic strings conveying that unnerving atmosphere which has become so synonymous with Eggers’ supernatural style. Along with the soundtrack, the immense production design of the film helps capture the essence of the time period. The beautiful Icelandic landscapes make for some stunning cinematography, and the impeccably unclean and rough costume design give us sense of historical authenticity which I have the upmost appreciation for in these types of films. There’s even some sequences of what can only be described as recreations of traditional Viking rituals. Their ridiculousness by today’s standards is compensated by the fact that not many films would go that far in capturing the authenticity of the time. Only in a film like The Northman could a scene of a group of filthy Norse men dancing around a fire pretending to be wolves be so satisfying. The action sequences are slick and bloody as they should be, often consisting of satisfyingly long takes but never too gratuitous. There’s even a game of ‘Knattleikr’ which is like Viking hockey except much more brutal and appropriately violent as it would’ve been back then. As for the film’s supernatural elements, to the casual viewer they may seem slightly jarring at first, but similarly to Eggers’ other films, it elevates the genre just enough to make it unique and interesting. Eggers adds a supernatural element to his films to give modern day audiences a taste of the folklore of the time, and what makes it so effective is how realistically it’s portrayed. It’s never too much that it makes the world feel unrealistic, but never too little that it makes it unbelievable.

The Northman is one of those historical films that transports us back to a time in our world, but a time so long ago that it feels like a different world. It tells a revenge story not unlike others, but one fuelled by Viking rage and sprinkled with Norse mythology. It shows us that even in Viking times, our deeds aren’t always as simple as good and evil, but are better described as a matter of perspective. Amleth is presented as the protagonist, but commits violent atrocities for the sake of valour for his bloodline. Fjölnir is presented as the antagonist, but has moments of genuine sympathy and compassion for those around him. It is a story much like Shakespeare’s tales of old, that of a conflict between compassion for those you love and vengeance for those you hate, and how far one is willing to go to pursue one or the other. The film is long, dark and bloody, so it may not be for everyone, but those who are willing to divulge into some visceral Norse history for two and a half hours may find something special. The historical authenticity and brutal nature of The Northman, topped with the supernatural sprinkles of Norse mythology, makes it undoubtedly my favourite Robert Eggers film so far. It makes me want to pick up and axe and angrily chop up some wood (not bodies) whilst howling like Fenrir the Norse wolf. I’m very much looking forward to the next time period Eggers decides to tackle in a film. I have no doubt he has enough potential to make even the 1990s seem supernatural yet retain their realism. Here’s to a spooky yet sparkly take on PCs and the World Wide Web. Skal!

‘The Batman’ is everything Batman should be and more

Ever since the dawn of cinema, filmmakers have continually utilised the power of using ‘the’ in their film titles. Especially in horror, films such as The Shining, The Thing, The Exorcist, The Birds, all use ‘The’ in their titles to creating an ominous feeling of dread; something that overshadows everything and incites fear of the subject in the title. A simple but effective technique which director Matt Reeves uses in his new take on Batman. This film encompasses the title of ‘The Batman‘ by creating a dark, gritty Gotham city in which there lurks a force to be reckoned with. A force whose past trauma has led him to practically abandon his every day life and dedicate himself to a symbol. A symbol which targets Gotham’s corrupt and strikes fear into the hearts of criminals. This symbol is – The Batman.

Everything about this film encompasses what it means to be Batman. From Michael Giacchino’s chilling yet epic new Batman theme, to the stunning wide shots of Gotham’s skyline at dawn. The film provides not only a fresh take on the caped crusader himself, but also the storyline and world he is placed in. In The Batman, the titular character must follow a murderous trail left by the Riddler whilst becoming entangled with a variety of other characters such as Selina Kyle and ‘Penguin’. The Gotham City in The Batman felt more dirty and unkept than any other iteration so far, which is exactly the type of setting such dark characters would believably spawn from. It feels like a city run by it’s criminals who are haunted by a vengeful vigilante known only as ‘The Batman’. The scene in which you first see Batman himself genuinely felt like something out of a horror film. The way the camera shots linger when he is on screen and the colours of the scene around him only add to his intimidation and how he is truly perceived as a monster by criminals. Interestingly, the film focuses on Bruce Wayne’s fractured psyche, as Reeves practically abandons Bruce Wayne’s playboy billionaire persona and instead presents a more unnerving, unhinged Batman, and a much more antisocial, reclusive Bruce Wayne. Both Robert Pattinson’s Batman and Bruce Wayne are men of few words, mostly keeping their human interactions minimal as they learn to traverse their way through Gotham’s criminal underbelly. Even Wayne Manor looks more like Dracula’s castle than the abode of a playboy billionaire, and I appreciated one moment in particular which showed how Bruce Wayne doesn’t tend to go out during the day.

The film also shows off an excellent variety of supporting characters. Every scene with Paul Dano’s Riddler was chilling, and left the cinema in absolute silence. Dano effectively managed to balance the unnerving campiness of the classic Batman villain whilst adding an almost serial killer eeriness. This really suited not only the setting of the film, but also gave a realistic portrayal of the characters as if he was a real person in the 21st century. Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle was also a blend of the classic character with a realistically updated portrayal. She almost acted as Batman’s darker side (as if he could even have one), more at the mercy of her base impulses yet rooted from similar trauma to the caped crusader himself. As such, her relationship with Batman was one of the most intriguing aspects of the film; going from two self-serving individuals who happen to cross paths to two people whose shared trauma and reclusiveness naturally draw them towards each other. The other supporting cast members only helped to encapsulate the unclean feeling of Gotham City in the film. Jeffery Wright’s Jim Gordon makes you feel as if he has the entire weight of the Gotham police on his shoulders. He is constantly being told not to associate with the vigilante, yet he still knows full well that the Batman may be the only one capable of stopping the Riddler. Colin Farrell’s portrayal of Penguin was also more of a realistic mobster than the classic bird-brained villain. The use of prosthetics to make Colin Farrell almost unrecognisable made the character look like a real mobster who would plague the criminal underworld, which I really appreciated.

DC comics have really struggled to find their footing in cinema over the past decade. The company went from creating an extended universe of films to standalone films as we started to lose count of how many times we’d seen Bruce Wayne’s parents get shot on screen. Nonetheless, it is good to see such an iconic character receive the modern day treatment he deserves. I understand this iteration of the character may not be for everyone, since the film is quite slow and deliberate with a 3-hour runtime. On the other hand, in a world full of face-paced, energetic superhero films, it’s nice to have something which takes its time and has clear thought put into its characters and plot. The Batman reminded me a lot of the final season of Marvel’s Daredevil series. It shows how loss and trauma manifests itself into vigilantism; how a man can take every possible measure to overcome it and prevent anyone else from having the same experience. By doing this, they may isolate from society and become dedicated to an ideal bigger than themselves; which is reflected not only in the Batman, but in the Riddler too. The Batman is a classic comic book tale of one man fighting not only a battle against crime, but a battle within himself. The film left me very hopeful at the prospect of seeing more of Pattinson’s Batman in Reeves’s gritty iteration of Gotham City.

Robert is that you?

Spider-Man: No Way Home is a love letter to everything Spidey

The day was Wednesday 15th December, 2021. The time was approximately 21:42. A young man had just walked out of one of the first screenings of Spider-Man: No Way Home. This young man had been a Spidey fan ever since he was a young boy climbing in trees and collecting Spider-Man figures from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy. He had been there for every new Spider-Man film for as long as he could remember, and was very well informed on the comic book origins and timeline of the web-slinger. He knew that what it meant to be Spider-Man was not to have the proportionate strength, speed and ability of a spider. He knew what it meant to be Spider-Man was Peter Parker. A young man, a similar age to himself, who suffered and lost what he held most dearly as he battled between his life as a masked vigilante and a broke but clever student from New York City. On that particular Wednesday, the young man had never been in such awe of the web-slinger who had held such a close place in his heart ever since he was a young boy. That young man, was yours truly.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is a triumphant love letter to everything which makes Spider-Man, Spider-Man. It not only has its much needed doses of fan service, but it is quite possibly the best Spider-Man story to be portrayed on the big screen. The main cast gives it their A-game, from Tom Holland as the titular hero to Alfred Molina reprising his role as Doctor Octopus. For those skeptics who saw Tom’s Spider-Man as nothing more than Tony Stark’s golden teenager, No Way Home proves that Tom can in fact encompass what it means to be Spider-Man, which quite possibly makes him the best iteration of the character to date. He goes through things in the film which no previous Spider-Man has gone through before, yet they are experiences which ultimately defines what it means to be Spider-Man. The film not only changes the course of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also the course of the story of Spider-Man on the big screen. It is in a sense the Avengers: Endgame equivalent for Spider-Man. The stakes have never been higher, and the addition of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange adds for some intense multi-versal elements we have not yet seen on the big screen in the MCU. The fight scene between Spider-Man and Doctor Strange is impressive enough to rival Strange’s spectacular battle with Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. Taking inspiration from one of the most controversial Spider-Man stories in the comics, ‘Spider-Man: One More Day‘, the film places some MCU twists on the comic storyline whilst still remaining relatively true to the source material. It was brilliant to see so many iconic Spidey villains on-screen together in live action, giving us what is essentially the closest version of a live-action Sinister Six (even though there wasn’t quite six). It is often difficult to have so many supporting characters on-screen without making a film feel crowded, but No Way Home somehow does it perfectly. The villains’ chemistry with not only Spider-Man, but also each other, was one of the best aspects of the film which I was pleasantly surprised by. I genuinely could not stop myself from grinning all the way through the film, it made me feel so lucky to be a film fan, a Marvel fan, but most of all, a Spider-Man fan.

I would be interested to watch this film from the perspective of a non-Marvel or Spider-Man fan, as I have no doubt there is still much enjoyment to be found. To the casual cinema-goer, Spider-Man: No Way Home is nothing short of the story of a young boy becoming a young man. It is a story of how far a person is willing to go to do the right thing. It is a story of an average teenager attempting to balance his normal life with the responsibility of being a superhero, which is exactly what Spider-Man is all about. The film shows that no matter how much loss and suffering Peter Parker goes through he is still willing to make sacrifices to do the right thing, which is exactly why we love him. Any doubt about Tom’s iteration of Spider-Man is gone by the end of the film. He truly epitomises what it means to be Spider-Man and Peter Parker, and the film makes it clear that the person who does the right thing is not Spider-Man, but Peter Parker.

Stay tuned for a spoiler-filled blog…

Just hanging around…

How Ghostbusters: Afterlife is fan service done right

Fan service is a hard thing to nail. When dealing with a beloved classic like 1984’s Ghostbusters, there’s a very thin line between using fan service just to make a movie good and encapsulating the nostalgia which made the original such a cultural phenomenon. 2016’s Ghostbusters directed by Paul Feig undoubtedly leans more into the latter than the former. It focuses too much on attempting to pander for fans of the original than creating an original story which pays appropriate homage to the original when necessary. This year’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife however is a triumphant love letter for fans of the original. It provides an engaging original story with new, likeable characters, and provides appropriate plot links to the 1984 original rather than bombarding the audience with pure fan service.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife takes place 32 years after the events of Ghostbusters II, effectively acting as a ‘Ghostbusters III’. It follows single mother Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two children Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (McKenna Grace) as they move into an old house in a small town in rural America with an unusual link to the original Ghostbusters. The film is of course littered with references to the original, but unlike the 2016 Ghostbusters film, they’re actually more relevant to the story and feel ‘earned’ in a sense. It is directed by Jason Reitman, the son of the original director Ivan Reitman. Interestingly there’s a few horror elements thrown into Afterlife which perhaps distinguishes the directorial style between father and son, as the original focused primarily on comedy. Nevertheless, the laughs of Afterlife consist of McKenna Grace’s endearingly dry dad jokes, Podcast’s (Logan Kim) running commentary on the supernatural events, and of course Paul Rudd being Paul Rudd. As soon as I heard they were doing a new Ghostbusters film featuring Paul Rudd and Finn Wolfhard – I was in.

Interestingly I only watched the original Ghostbusters for the first time a couple of years ago, so I wouldn’t have experienced the same level of nostalgic throwback watching Afterlife than some of the OG fans. The original is such a loveably unique film, and I could appreciate how Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson made it an instant cult classic. The 70s and 80s gave rise to several of the classic supernatural horror films such as The Exorcist and Poltergeist. So naturally a film about about a group of paranormal enthusiasts forming what was effectively a ghost pest control service was probably exactly what audiences needed. Also, I can’t write about Ghostbusters without mentioning Rick Moranis. I think he quite possibly makes not only the first film for me, but also the 1989 sequel. For me, Ghostbusters took a very fearfully daunting concept and made it something audiences could laugh at. It showed that even the darkest concepts can be made light of, and that what we perceive as scary is very often determined by Hollywood and pop culture. Now whenever a supernatural film freaks me out to the point where I’m paranoid over the smallest sounds during the night, I just think of Rick Moranis walking out of the NYC firehouse in his Ghostbuster get-up to the sound of Ray Parker Jr’s titular track.

In a world where reboots, remakes and re-imaginings are abundant in cinema, it was nice to have what felt like a legitimate follow-up to a cult classic. I recently wrote about the latest edition to the Halloween franchise, Halloween Kills, in a previous blog, which similarly acts as a direct follow-up to the original decades later and also pays appropriate homage when due. Revitalising a classic franchise by producing a sequel set decades later in real time has become more and more common in the past decade or so. There are many examples of this which have done what I have come to refer to as ‘Force Awakening‘ a franchise; including Jurassic World, Tron, Star Wars of course, and the upcoming Matrix: Resurrections. Whilst I think this is generally the right way to go about revitalising beloved classics, it is a very tricky thing to do right, not only by the franchise but by simply producing an enjoyable film in its own right. Providing a modern day perspective on events of a classic can provide new generations of audiences (such as yours truly) with an appreciation for the by-gone ages of cinema. It is for these reasons I believe that Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a fan service film done right. It nails the nostalgia without pandering too much for the fans, and provides an entertaining new story for old and new generations of audiences. There are also some surprises along the way which I was not expecting, and are undoubtedly best experienced by watching the film first-hand.