Understanding Michael Haneke: The Piano Teacher (2001)

I have to say that The Piano Teacher is an interesting specimen in Michael Haneke’s filmography, especially considering the entirety of what came before it, in that it is both a continuation of the journey throughout his longstanding thematic interests and a breath of fresh air at the same time. This is particularly with regard to Haneke’s proclivity towards detaching himself emotionally from the matter at hand and assuming the role of a cynical jester who takes pleasure from the simple act of torturing the viewer, which is almost completely absent from this film. 

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Nine Days (2020)

I have thought long and hard about how to bite into this review. In fact, I have spent quite a while trying to characterize what Nine Days reminded me of and I still don’t think I have a good or sassy enough idea. All I know is that I was really looking forward to watching this and that what I ended up seeing fell vastly short of my expectations.  

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The Vast of Night (2019)

Putting a debut together is no easy feat. Though, doing so completely independently and without any financial backing or a grant is a whole new kind of challenge. However, most often the resulting films will require a massive adjustment of expectations on behalf of the viewer in order to be enjoyed, appreciated or admired. One has to look past the cheap aesthetic, amateurish performances or any other kinds of shortcomings stemming from the veritable lack of experience behind the camera or money to sass up the production value.  

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)

There are showers and there are growers. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a grower. But even within those parameters, it is a bit unique because this film did not grow on me the way many others do – over a prolonged period of time. Instead. I woke up the very next day after watching it and realized I probably should see it again (I actually did revisit the final act) because it dawned on me that its greatness almost completely escaped me; I didn’t see the forest for the trees.  

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A Rainy Day in New York (2019), or Why Woody Allen Must Be Stopped

To be completely honest, I wasn’t going to review this film formally. Not because I fear the backlash of the court of public opinion, but because I don’t think I have anything meaningful to say about this film in the first place. However, this may be a good enough reason to reflect upon the trajectory Woody Allen has been on for the better part of the last two decades.  

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Education (2020)

As the title of this final instalment of the Small Axe series would imply, Education seems laser-focused on bringing attention to a highly specific issue casting a very long and ominous shadow over Britain’s relationship with what is commonly referred to as systemic racial discrimination. Even though the story Steve McQueen uses as the vehicle for this conversation isn’t directly tied to a historical figure, the problem at hand is real and tactile. Kingsley Smith, the young boy at the epicentre of the narrative, is likely a compound character meant to symbolize the plight of thousands (if not more) of kids from ethnic backgrounds who have been let down by the system and openly disadvantaged by a covertly racist policy of moving children from such backgrounds – who may also be struggling with the curriculum – to special needs schools, thus ruining their chances to have a successful life or a career.  

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Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Love them or hate them, the early DCEU films had some kind of personality about them. They weren’t completely driven by the overarching desire to build a constellation of stories working towards a big team-up event film, but rather by a common visual aesthetic. It is an open secret that Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were partially propelled by the vestigial momentum left behind Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy too. In fact, it is a matter of public record that at the very outset of this project the leading voices driving its evolution were openly trying to distance themselves from the immensely successful MCU by opting for a gritty and dark tone as well as a hyper-stylized visual toolbox brought to the table by Zack Snyder.  

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Alex Wheatle (2020)

“A tree with strong roots laughs at storms.” 

On the surface Alex Wheatle fits harmoniously within the greater thematic landscape of Steve McQueen’s anthology series Small Axe. Similarly to Mangrove and Red, White and Blue it uses a historical figure as an anchor to which he tethers a politically-relevant discussion about the trials and tribulations of black Britons. However, underneath the epidermis of its poignant social commentary, McQueen has hidden a tangential theme that gives the film a slightly different thematic hue. 

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Red, White and Blue (2020)

“Big change… that is a slow-turning wheel”, says Ken Logan (Steve Touissant) in the final scene of Red, White and Blue. He says it to his son, Leroy (John Boyega) and the two men share a moment together where they both acknowledge the burden of responsibility they carry, the crosses they both have to bear. Leroy’s cross is that of stalwart resilience as he fights against institutional racism deeply seated within the police force he is a part of. Ken’s cross is that of unwavering support for his son’s quest for change. They both realize the gravity of their undertaking as they raise their glasses before the scene cuts to black.  

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The Wes Craven Retrospective: Deadly Blessing (1981)

As the 1970s were coming to an end, the cultural flavour of genre filmmaking was also undergoing some changes. The rogue and unrestrained atmosphere of exploitation films was shifting towards something more aesthetically refined and anchored more decisively in what was happening in mainstream cinema of the time, a post-nouvelle vague, iconoclastic, self-aware recalibration. Having completed The Last House On The Left and The Hills Have Eyes, both revered as exploitation classics, Wes Craven’s filmmaking was also signalling he was ready to evolve his style into something else entirely.  

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