Whitney – Film Review


Whitney is a documentary-film that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Directed by Kevin MacDonald, the documentary explores the life of iconic musician Whitney Houston, examining everything from her early years, her unparalleled levels of success, to her battle with addiction, leading to her untimely death, aged 48 in 2012. While I was aware of Whitney Houston’s music, and recognised her stunning talent, this documentary gave me the opportunity to delve-deep into her work and the circumstances surrounding her life.

Major praise must be directed at this picture for gathering so many of the key personalities that surrounded Houston’s life to be interviewed, for the purpose of painting a picture of the life of this lauded artist. There is little to no bias, as even those closest to the “I Have Nothing” singer portrayed a complex and truthful image of the star. As the film progresses, some key figures come across far better than others, as we begin to see the manner in which they treated the star before her death. Still, MacDonald never sets-up anyone as a villain. Instead, he presents the information and the events in frank-fashion, ensuring no level of bias exists and crafts a well-rounded documentary.

Whitney Houston herself, thankfully and rightly so, is the heart and soul of the picture. Her vibrant presence illuminates the big-screen and is utterly infectious, just as it was on the various award and chat shows she appeared on during her various promotional tours. I so appreciated the film-makers efforts to highlight Houston’s innocence and organic passion for soul and gospel music in the years prior to her demons and addictions. She came across utterly lively and bright, and her connection to music was so utterly pure, making the lethal-spiral of addiction she would eventually face all-the-more devastating.

MacDonald’s film captures entirely the horror of addiction, without ever glorifying it, contrasting extraordinary highs with crushing lows. The sequences that capture her frightening and rapid downfall were disturbing, shocking, and ultimately serve as a warning about the dark-side of fame. I appreciated the decision to showcase in equal Whitney Houston at her best and Whitney Houston at her most self-destructive, for it seemed (unfortunately so) more honest and genuine as a viewer. One scene of Houston performing the U.S National Anthem was stunning, and is the ideal way Houston should always be remembered. The music itself will surely bring a smile to your face, whether it’s the crowd-pleasing hits such as “How Will I Know” or “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”. That being said, it’s in songs like “I Will Always Love You” that Whitney Houston’s voice truly soars to its full potential and strike a true chord with all those who hear it.

What makes “Whitney” standout from other documentaries on iconic musicians, is its ability to serve as a history lesson. The picture captures and explores the social and cultural scene of the U.S in the years Whitney Houston was dominating the charts, taking you back to a time that saw the rise of MTV, Pepsi commercials and where racial barriers were being broken. This had the ability to add a great deal of richness to the picture, even increasing the intensity and the emotion, while also serving as a wonderful background to the events of Whitney Houston’s life. These elements ensured that this feature is worthy of the big screen experience.

Something utterly haunting about “Whitney” is how familiar the main arc of the story is. The tale of a successful musician, overwhelmed by fame, battling addictions and facing an untimely death have been played out far too-much, and it never any-less saddening. It’s tragic, a warning against the dangers of the industry but reminds us of Houston’s rich legacy that will never be forgotten. If I had any quarrels with, what is otherwise a terrific documentary, it’s the certain rushed aspects of Whitney’s growing career. I would have liked to have seen how her hit tunes were crafted, written and produced and perhaps some studio footage. The songs are stunning when featured, its just that personally, I found that being able to witness the craftmanship that went into these musical compositions was a missed opportunity, and would have added slightly more weight to the picture.

Regardless of such an issue, “Whitney” is a breathtakingly magical yet grim and heart-breaking film, that captures the life of one of the all-time greatest singers. It’s a marvellous reminder of an extraordinary talent, while not deviating away from some of the harsher circumstances that Houston was faced with during her life-time. I highly recommend it for Whitney fans everywhere and is likely going to peak many non die-hard fan’s interest. It’s informative, un-biased, superbly edited and made with a lot of care and love for its singular subject. A memorable and poignant tribute to a revolutionary musician gone far-too soon.


The Dark Knight – 10th Anniversary Review


Today, July 18th, 2018, marks the tenth anniversary of the release of Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus The Dark Knight. A decade later and this comic-book film is still unmatched in its genre. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to discuss this celebrated film today, as it also affords me the chance to begin reviews on some of my personal favourite movies, to break up my regular posts on latest releases.

The Dark Knight” is Nolan’s second Batman picture in his Dark Knight trilogy and sees Christian Bale star as the Caped Crusader. The film further features an immensely competent ensemble including Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal. It finds the iconic DC hero embark on a mission, with the assistance of Gotham’s D.A Harvey Dent and Commissioner Gordon, to rid the city of organised crime. These plans are thrown into chaos as Batman faces a series of moral dilemmas as a sinister figure emerges in The Joker (Heath Ledger).

It’s difficult to know where to begin. For a review of a movie so renowned and so analysed over the past ten years, it seemed problematic to make my review standout. The only way I see how, is to incorporate my experience with “The Dark Knight” and all I take away from it. I can recall my parents being hesitant to allow eight-year old me to view, what was being portrayed as a more adult Batman flick. The film would eventually go on to be a critical darling, one of the best reviewed movies of 2008, and one of the first billion-dollar grossers. The eventually caved (thanks to my constant begging) a week or so into its release and I can still remember how excited I was. Even at that young age, I was aware of the worldwide anticipation for this follow up to the much-loved “Batman Begins”. I can recall sitting in the cinema, the lights dimming and the moody aesthetic of the Warner Brothers logo filling the screen, with echoes of Hans Zimmer’s menacing score in the background. As the movie began to unravel, I was quickly able to tell this would be far different from any other comic-book film I’ve ever seen.

The Dark Knight” is a masterpiece, a phrase I am hesitant to laude at many films, but when its deserved, its deserved. Christopher Nolan, who is forever one of my favourite directors, truly elevated the Batman character and the superhero genre to heights previously believed to be unattainable. The story of “The Dark Knight” wrestles with mature and complex themes. These range impressively from one’s morals, perception of justice and escalation, mainly of chaos. These ideas are what have helped “The Dark Knight” seem new at the time of its release and prevent it from being my challenged creatively in the comic-book film marketplace today. Whereas many superhero flicks aim for escapism, Nolan’s sequel explored topics and questions about modern society today that were thoroughly resonant, even if we wish they weren’t.

Christopher Nolan helms this picture stunningly and with a sense of grit and harsh realism, making this one of the best directed motion-pictures I’ve seen. The establishing shots of Gotham City are something that continue to astound me to this day. Nolan’s ability as a filmmaker to craft a haunting atmosphere is thoroughly remarkable, as he all the while displays his continued growth and maturity as a director following “Batman Begins”. Thanks to using the IMAX cameras beautifully, the visuals are darkly arresting, sharp and extremely visceral. Even in the most high-octane and awe-evoking action set-pieces, nothing feels fake or detached from reality, allowing the experience to play as a crime-drama first and a Batman summer blockbuster second. That doesn’t mean however the fun of seeing these DC characters in action isn’t some of the most exciting and white-knuckled sequences you can hope to witness in a film of this big-a-budget. The second-act vehicle chase through the streets of Gotham, that erupts into a sinister game of chicken between Gotham’s Knight and The Joker, is some of the most thrilling moments I can recall in film history, not to mention a wonderfully practical truck-flip, that adds to the ambience of the scene. Whether Nolan is helming well-considered scenes of dialogue or big-budget action, he approaches it with grace, honesty and realistically, delivering a blockbuster with thrills and brains.

Largely contributing to making this picture so iconic and thoroughly beloved is, of course, the late and great Heath Ledger’s perfect depiction of The Joker. Ledger was perfect. This I will ever say about a handful of performances, and this performance deservingly belongs in that category. This is my favourite cinematic performance, the type of illustration of a character that inspires me as a fan of film and acting. I so appreciated Ledger’s commitment to delivering the best possible version of the character he could. It’s utterly rewarding as a viewer to experience such a confident and assured performance. Ledger’s Joker menacingly chewed up the scenery, delivered his dialogue in controlled, yet chilling fashion and was utterly terrifying. Something I’ve always loved about this interpretation of the Clown Prince of Crime is that he doesn’t see completely out of control and non-sensical. He’s a psychopath and scarily evil, but undoubtedly methodical and clever, with clear and defined motivations. This is a performance I’ll never, ever forget, by a talent gone far-too soon, who left one final cinematic treat to his rich filmography. Extraordinary and remarkable work.

The rest of the cast are also excellent whether in lead performances or minor parts. Bale’s Batman is the Batman I grew up with. Exploring Batman’s rage and inner battle with his moral code was fascinating to behold in this entry, something that Christian Bale can evoke brilliantly. He impeccably captures Bruce Wayne’s flaws and relatability, yet can in equal measure be an intimidating presence as the Caped Crusader. Hollywood legends like Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine deliver typically superlative work, while Aaron Eckhart stunningly sells a rather heart-breaking character arc for his character, Harvey Dent. Furthermore, Maggie Gyllenhaal can stand out from the crowd and deliver some of the more vulnerable and emotionally-charged sequences of the film.

Hans Zimmer’s score is electric and embodies the emotional highs and crushing lows of the movie in equal fashion. Joker’s Theme stands out as one of the most effecting and simplistic compositions in movie history and is something that can eerily crawl under your skin. Still, the score is bursting with exciting superhero themes and a sense of hope, a theme that the film explores within its heart-racing climax. The script is extremely neat and given a great-deal of thought and care. In fact, “The Dark Knight” script has moments of levity and humour albeit mostly dark humour, such as Joker’s pencil trick or the occasional quips from Michael Caine’s Alfred. The cinematography is lush, the pacing is enticing from the beginning and overall there is a razor-edge tone to the piece that fails to leave you until the very end of the credits. It’s near impossible to say, but the Interrogation scene is probably the best scene of acting I’ve ever witnessed and an all-time great, thanks to the combined efforts of clever-writing and dramatic tension between The Joker and Batman. The Bank Heist, needless to say, is one of the best openings to a film I’ve ever seen and sets the stage for all the developments to come.

The Dark Knight” is, when given thorough-consideration, rather tragic. It defies genre conventions and isn’t tied in the same neat bow that most comic-book films are. It leaves a lasting impression and food for thought, rather than being disposable. The direction is grand, the visuals are unforgettable, the themes and action-sequences are resonant while the dialogue and story are expertly helmed. The performances from Christian Bale, my favourite Batman to date, to Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal are sensational, while ultimately the performance that stands-out the most is Heath Ledger’s flawless take on The Joker, that will live fondly forever in cinematic history. A posthumous Oscar undoubtedly deserved. There are so many iconic lines (Why So Serious?) that this movie has spawned, which in a day and age of comic-book film after comic-book film have stuck around with audiences, which is a real achievement. It’s a film that has style and substance, that works on some many different levels. I adore this film and I have since I first watched it, as it easily sets the standards for blockbuster entertainment. It’s bold, daring and I easily declare it my favourite comic-book film and in my top-three of all-time. Happy Birthday “The Dark Knight”. Here’s to another decade of expanding your rich legacy and entertaining audiences.