How’s Your Lockdown Going?

Did anyone expect the year 2020 to play out like Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion? No, me neither. I can’t speak for anyone else but after yet another lockdown I’m starting to understand Jack Torrance’s meltdown in The Shining.

The first week of lockdown way back in March felt a little bit like a snow day, the panic buying was certainly reminiscent of the days just before “The Beast from the East” hit Dublin in 2018. I think many people were enjoying the novelty of being at home with nothing to do but sit on the couch eating all their lockdown food in 3 days and catching up on that boxset you’ve been meaning to watch. And yes like many I may have re-watched a few favourites, Buffy, Hannibal, Breaking Bad you get the idea. The feeling here at least was this might last a couple of weeks and then we’d all be back in work again. This was far from true and if someone tried to tell me back in March that things would be worse 9 months later I wouldn’t have believed them.

The months in the first lockdown only made me crave the cinemas more, I mean there’s only so many socially distanced walks and zoom quizzes one can take. So when the restrictions were finally beginning to lift I wasted no time getting back to it. My first film was Unhinged, yes I know what you’re thinking but as you can imagine there wasn’t a whole lot of options. This was quickly followed by Pinocchio and then finally the much anticipated Tenet. This moment of normality was short lived and what with one thing and another lockdown 2.0 was looming. I did manage to see Tenet one more time before the cinemas and all other “non-essential” businesses closed their doors but now with everything closed again and all upcoming cinema releases either pushed to next year or moved to online streaming I’m literally counting down the minutes until I’m back sitting in the comfortable, colourful seats in the lighthouse cinema. However, I don’t know when I’ll ever get to hear live music again, see a performance in the National Concert Hall, have a drink in a bar with my friends. Hell, even just spend time with my friends again doing anything! And if that thought isn’t enough to drive one to the brink of madness I don’t know what is. I’m probably one zoom quiz away from going completely insane.

The thing I’ve done the most during this shitshow of a year is read. I may not have been able to get to an actual bookstore and I’m not one for using kindles but if you can’t get to the bookstore bring the bookstore to you. I’m not saying browsing books online was the same as going into an actual shop but it did the job and it pays to shop around. Between online bookstores, both Irish and non-Irish I was able to add to my ever growing book collection.

Below are some of my book recommendations for 2020
Robin Cook

Pandemic


I know what you’re thinking but keep in mind this was early days during the Pandemic. Not only was this choice appropriate but I thought this might ease my fears…it didn’t. Great book though, a real page turner that I couldn’t put down and not just because I had nothing else to do. No synopsis needed, the title says it all really.

Robin Cook

Outbreak


No not that Outbreak. Don’t expect this to be like that movie with Dustin Hoffman & the monkey, it’s so much better. I promise the virus theme doesn’t last long but curiosity got the better of me. If you’re in the market for a medical thriller you can’t go wrong with Robin Cook.

Dean Koontz

The Eyes of Darkness


A mother sets out on a quest to discover if her son really did die a year ago or if he is still alive. The theory behind this book was it allegedly predicted the Covid-19 outbreak originating from Wuhan. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t but it’s still worth a read for all you Dean Koontz fans.

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The Best & Worst Movies of 2020

Well as the end of 2020 draws near it’s time to reflect on the best and worst that cinema had to offer. Unfortunately with one thing and another cinemas didn’t have nearly as much to offer compared to previous years and as I’m not one for using online streaming services the only movies on this shortened list are those that had a cinematic release. There wasn’t near enough to choose from and I barely had enough to make one list let alone two separate lists. Here it is, five of my favourite movies and two of the worst from 2020.

The Good:

5. Uncut Gems

In at number five is another terrific crime thriller from the Safdie Brothers, Uncut Gems, a movie so intense that during a stress inducing final act the fire alarm went off in the cinema and I didn’t even notice until the house lights went up and the movie stopped.

With a role so clearly written for Adam Sandler as the charismatic New York City jeweler, Howard Ratner. A man with a serious gambling addiction spends 135 minutes making a series of incredibly high-stakes bets that could lead to the win of a lifetime. Sandler’s character is so infuriating and unlikable and to see him get himself into constant situations with everything becoming worse and worse is insanely frustrating. Immersive cinema at its best, it grips you and doesn’t let go until it’s over. Uncut Gems definitely stood out as one of 2020’s best movies.

4. Jojo Rabbit

It honestly doesn’t get any quirkier than this and with director Taika Waititi at the helm I’d expect nothing less. Jojo Rabbit is one hell of an emotional roller-coaster and tonally a bit all over the place which will leave most of you an emotional wreck by the time the credits roll.

Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is dead set on becoming a member of the Hitler Youth during the last years of WWII. When he finds a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in his home he becomes caught between his moral conscience and his blind nationalism. You’ll be laughing one minute and nearly in tears the next. Jojo Rabbit has more than a few tear-jerking moments, yet the mood will quickly change any time Taika Waititi appears on screen as Adolf Hitler. Yes you read that right, Waititi portrays Jojo’s imaginary friend Hitler. I don’t believe any other person could have gotten away with that and on paper it sounds very strange but trust me on this, it works. It just about finds the balance between political satire and a moving story. Yes it’s a little outrageous at times but the acting from the entire cast is absolutely exceptional. Scarlett Johansson as Jojo’s mother and Sam Rockwell as Captain Klenzendorf give a standout performance, but it’s Roman Griffin Davis who really shines through. A black comedy that will warm your heart and if you missed the chance to see Jojo Rabbit this year I highly recommend it.

3. Tenet

Tenet was supposed to be the movie to save the cinemas and although I was lucky enough to see it twice on the big screen before we all went back into lockdown it wasn’t exactly the expected success at the box office. All I can say is I’m grateful I was able to see Tenet and be part of another mind bending cinematic experience from Christopher Nolan.

A Protagonist armed with only one word, “Tenet” fights for the survival of the entire world. If you really want a taste of what you’re in for then check out the trailer, you’ll still be confused but what can I tell you, it’s a confusing film. It’s got espionage, time travel, John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Debicki and a little bit of Michael Caine (it wouldn’t be a Nolan film without Michael Caine now would it). What more can I say? Nolan’s originality never ceases to amaze and Tenet has raised the bar for the sci-fi genre. The whole movie is one giant puzzle that demands your full attention. Tenet is original, complex and exceptional. Not afraid to push the boundaries and raise the standard for what comes next.

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Wonder Woman 1984

If there’s one thing we all need to distract ourselves from the sheer chaotic madness that is 2020 it’s to lose yourself in an entertaining superhero movie and Wonder Woman 1984 is the delightfully entertaining distraction we need right now.

We last saw Wonder Woman during WWI and now fast forward to the 1980s Wonder Woman is back on the big screen facing two brand new enemies Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) and The Cheetah (Kristen Wiig). Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) now working in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. comes across a mysterious stone with the ability to apparently grant wishes to anyone holding it. The stone seems ordinary enough to everyone except of course the power-crazed Max Lord. Fear not as Wonder Woman is safely back in the hands of director Patty Jenkins, and beautifully accompanied by another stunning Hans Zimmer score. Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig are great additions to the cast, both making believable villains with clear motivations. Pascal particularly is stealing the spotlight and doing some real scenery chewing any chance he gets. Look, it’s not perfect and it has its issues, most of which you can overlook. I did feel it was missing an action sequence and it’s a little disjointed in places but despite that I enjoyed seeing Gal Gadot kick ass on the big screen again. Wonder Woman 1984 is a bright burst of 80s nostalgia with an old school superhero feel to it.

The days of sitting in a packed cinema are long gone and it’s uncertain when we’ll ever get back to that but right now the cinemas are open and operating safely so when you’re ready to get back in front of the silver screen again Wonder Woman 1984 is waiting for you, although depending on where you live you might want to hurry up and see it quick. Recommended for all you film buffs out there.

★★★☆☆

Pinocchio

I don’t care how old you are, anyone can enjoy a well told fairy tale and although I wasn’t too sure what to expect from Matteo Garrone’s interpretation of Pinocchio, the result is a beautifully dark retelling of the classic fairy tale. It really is refreshing to see a remake not done by Disney these days. This adaptation of Pinocchio has found the balance between nostalgia and a faithful retelling of a film we all grew up loving/traumatised by (I can’t be the only one who found the donkey scene traumatic as a child).

I’m sure anyone reading this is familiar with the story of Pinocchio but just in case; a poverty stricken wood-maker Geppetto creates a wooden puppet who magically comes alive. In order to become a real boy he must prove himself to be truthful and unselfish. There’s also a cricket, a fairy and some other fun characters in there too, just don’t expect the cricket to sing. Immediately it’s clear that this adaptation is much more faithful to the original novel. Surprisingly dark and atmospheric but it’s visually stunning and accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack by Dario Marianelli. The makeup for everyone is also very impressive even a little unsettling at how realistic it looks. This is exactly the kind of film a live adaptation should be, true to its source material with a dark tone and not overly reliant on CGI.

Recapture your childhood and let the nostalgia wash over you with this remake of Pinocchio that’s sure to delight people of all ages. Recommended.

★★★★☆

Tenet

Alright cinema fans, it’s time for a Christopher Nolan film so you all know what that means. Get yourselves into a cinema, the bigger the better and prepare for another mind bending cinematic experience that I can barely explain but I’ll give it my best. I honestly wasn’t sure we’d get a chance to see Tenet this month or even this year. But here it is, the movie to get us all back in the cinemas again. Well it’s sure to get the Nolan fans back anyway because you can have all the online streaming platforms you want with all these seemingly endless choices but there are certain movies you need to see on a massive screen with surround sound and Tenet is that movie.

I normally give a brief overview of the plot but for spoiler reasons I obviously can’t go into any real detail. A Protagonist armed with only one word, “Tenet” fights for the survival of the entire world. If you really want a taste of what you’re in for then check out the trailer, you’ll still be confused but what can I tell you, it’s a confusing film. It’s got espionage, time travel, John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Debicki and a little bit of Michael Caine (it wouldn’t be a Nolan film without Michael Caine now would it). What more can I say? Nolan’s originality never ceases to amaze and Tenet has raised the bar for the sci-fi genre. The entire cast are outstanding, particularly John David Washington.

The whole movie is one giant puzzle that demands your full attention. Yes, that does mean no bathroom breaks, you’re not going to want to miss a second of this believe me. I’ve only just seen it and I’m dying to see it again and because of the complex narrative, Tenet is the type of film that would benefit from a second viewing. You get everything you’d expect from a Christopher Nolan film minus the Hans Zimmer score. Yet the score by Ludwig Göransson fits Tenet perfectly although I did find it overpowered some of the dialogue at times. Still, the exhilarating soundtrack will keep you on the edge of your seat. The stunts and practical effects are truly impressive. We all know Nolan favours real effects over CGI where possible and the results clearly pay off. Tenet is original, complex and exceptional. Not afraid to push the boundaries and raise the standard for what comes next.

The cinemas are open safely and ready so when you feel ready too be sure not to miss Tenet, better yet do yourself a favour and see it in 35mm or 70mm. Highly recommended.

★★★★★

Unhinged

Nothing says welcome back to the cinemas better than a deranged and demented Russell Crowe driving around the city in a rage-induced rampage.

Rachel’s (Caren Pistorius) already stressful day gets a whole lot worse after a confrontation with a highly unstable man at an intersection. Enter manic Russell Crowe and his roaring pickup truck. Rachel quickly becomes his target and spends the rest of this crime fuelled thriller trying to escape a severely unhinged man. Buckle up for a movie that’s not quite Duel and not quite Falling Down but somewhere in between. Keeps its foot on the pedal from the get-go and doesn’t let up till the credits roll. Stressful to say the least, but it does the job. It’s not the most original or memorable film you’ll ever see and honestly without Crowe Unhinged probably wouldn’t be on anyone’s radar. Yet he makes a great villain with a very menacing onscreen presence. It’s tense, entertaining, and may cause some paranoia the next time you get in your car.

Unhinged is the fun and immersive cinematic experience we need right now and after 157 days without seeing a single movie in the cinema I can tell you nothing felt better than losing myself in the big screen and forgetting all the other madness for 90 minutes. So if you’re itching to get back to the cinemas again and looking for something distracting and entertaining, Unhinged is waiting for you. Recommended.

★★★☆☆

The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man is better than I ever expected it to be

Cecilia’s (Elisabeth Moss) abusive ex Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) commits suicide and leaves her his fortune. The relief that he is gone from her life is short lived as a series of very strange occurrences begin to happen to her. She suspects Adrian’s death was a hoax and he has found a way to haunt her without anyone seeing. How does she convince everyone that she is being terrorized by something invisible?

First off I had low expectations for The Invisible Man after watching the trailer, I felt it had bad horror movie written all over it. Not only that, but The Invisible Man was supposed to be one of the many monster movies in the Dark Universe franchise. A franchise that failed after one movie, you can all go ahead and blame Tom Cruise’s Mummy movie for that one. But The Invisible Man is not that kind of movie. The opening scene sets the tone of the type of movie you will be watching, taking a real life frightening situation and builds a horror movie around it. It uses everything at its disposal to keep you in a constant state of unease. From the camera work to the score and absolutely everything that Elisabeth Moss is doing. She really is superb in this, her facial expressions and stunt work are brilliant. I thought The Handmaid’s Tale was showing us Elisabeth Moss’s full range of emotional capabilities but she is well and truly pushed to her limits with this performance.

Everything about The Invisible Man pushes it away from your average horror. It doesn’t restrict itself to one genre, yes it is for the most part a horror movie but it’s also dealing with a very serious subject matter. The physically and emotionally abusive relationship and the aftermath of that. It raises issues of how we treat victims of abuse and the devastating effect it can have on one’s mental and physical health. It’s incredibly tense, unexpectedly horrifying and jam packed with frights. It will make you jump out of your skin and with plenty of stress inducing moments you’ll be on the edge of your seat. I’m impressed with how this movie has been reinvented to suit today’s audience. It is well worth taking the time to see, highly recommended.

★★★★☆

Birds of Prey: and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Don’t let the abysmal Suicide Squad taint your enjoyment of this ridiculously fun film

Birds of Prey turned out to be the kind of movie Suicide Squad should have been. Fun, violent with a snappy script and the cast all having one hell of a good time. If you want something a bit lighter after awards season then join Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey on a fantabulous crime filled ride.

Harley and the Joker have broken up (yes that does mean Jared Leto will not be anywhere in sight, relax). After an unlikely series of events Harley Quinn teams up with Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) to rescue a young girl, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) from an evil crime lord. Enter Ewan McGregor as evil crime lord Roman Sionis and his trusty henchman/personal serial killer Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). Did you get all that? One of Suicide Squad’s only redeeming qualities was Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. She was the only character with any real development, not only likable but you can sympathize with her even when she’s doing all kinds of mad things. Birds of Prey expands on this further only this time you’ve got more female characters kicking ass and not just parading around in a pair of hot pants.

The stunts are straight out of a comic book or a video game, this is far from your serious, grounded in reality comic book movie. But it’s over the top without introducing anything overly far-fetched like witches or a badly CGI half man half crocodile. The action and stunts are ludicrous, particularly anything happening in the third act but hopefully you’ll be too busy having a good time to notice. And if that wasn’t enough, Birds of Prey also has a hyena and Ewan McGregor doing a full on 60’s Batman villain performance. Seriously all that was missing was the “POW” “SNAP” “BAM” colourful bubbles whenever he’s onscreen throwing a hissy fit or attempting to be menacing. It’s totally bonkers from start to finish. If you enjoy comic book movies at all then be sure to check out Birds of Prey: and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.

★★★☆☆

Parasite

Parasite is without a doubt one of the best films I’ve seen in years

I felt so many emotions watching Parasite and I’m dying to see it again. There is a reason you’ve heard so much about this film. Yes, it’s true some movies that receive a lot of hype end up not quite living up to it but in this case do not be afraid to believe the hype. It’s an original story with superb acting. I’ve never seen anything like it, one of the best films I’ve seen in years. Film fans this is not to be missed it’s phenomenal and will stay with you long after it has ended.

An unemployed family (the Kims) take a very keen interest in the wealthy and glamorous Parks family, quickly integrating themselves into their lives despite the stark contrast in social status. That’s all I’m going to say about the plot because the less you know about Parasite the better. It’s incredibly unexpected and does not play out the way you think it would at all. It gives you moments of extreme awkwardness and hilarity. There are times where you have to laugh just to release the ever building tension. It’s a comedy, drama and horror all rolled into one masterful movie. Bleak, violent, a dark and twisted story that will constantly keep you guessing.

Director and writer Bong Joon Ho has truly outdone himself with this masterpiece. Parasite is one of those rare films you can’t stop thinking about after you leave the cinema. It’s so profoundly disturbing and bizarre I’m still trying to process it. I understand not everyone takes the time to see subtitled films and to them I can only say you honestly don’t know what you’re missing. Foreign language films have the extra edge to them, and if you don’t believe me then just take the time to see The Host, The Raid or Pan’s Labyrinth. Very few foreign language films have the potential to finally break the record by winning a Best Picture Oscar but if anything can do it Parasite can.

Unpredictable and highly provocative, I cannot recommend this highly enough. If you only see one film this year let it be Parasite. What else do I need to say? Are you still reading this? Well stop, get yourself to a cinema and see it, you won’t be sorry.

★★★★★

The Turning

It’s not just as bad as you expect…it’s worse

Have any of you ever been to an average amusement park with a less than average haunted house/ghost train where half the machines don’t work and the ones that do are so far from scary you just want the whole experience to end as soon as possible? Yeah, that’s what it’s like to watch The Turning.

Kate (Mackenzie Davis) takes a new job in a totally creepy mansion as a live in governess for two orphans, Flora (Brooklyn Prince) and Miles (Finn Wolfhard). She soon discovers that the house and the children are harboring some dark, disturbing secrets. And in proper horror movie fashion it takes all the clichés you’ve seen before and stuffs them into an hour and a half desperately hoping something will scare you. Not only does it fail at it’s one job it also has nothing else going for it. There’s no atmosphere, it introduces various themes bordering on mystery or psychological thriller but the result is a bland boring mess. It’s all over the place with the horror movie tropes you’ve seen done before only better. As the story progresses it only gets worse and in the last act you could be forgiven for thinking you fell asleep only to wake up towards the end and ask yourself “what just happened?” I was awake the whole time and I felt like this, I was still asking myself that question when it finally ended. Only I don’t care enough to look into to the fact that it feels like a chunk of this film is missing, I honestly don’t care.

The casting was about the only thing The Turning got right. Davis, Prince and Wolfhard are better actors than The Turning would have you believe. So it’s painful to see them in such a badly written, generic horror. Not recommended, trust me you’ll regret wasting time on this one. But if you don’t want to take my word for it I can assure you the other four people in the cinema didn’t seem too impressed with The Turning either.

★☆☆☆☆