“Belfast”: A Cathartic Homage to Heritage & A Subtle Warning for America

The multi-talented triple-threat writer/director/actor Sir Kenneth Branagh spent his time in quarantine writing his most personal and introspective film to date. Belfast recalls his experience growing up in Northern Ireland during the civil unrest between the Protestants and the Catholics in the 1960s. Personally, it moved me more than any film has in a long time. But aside from its artistry, it also serves as a stark warning for a polarized society while offering some illuminating and crucial lessons for society.

First off, the aesthetics of the film are spectacular. From the cinematography to the acting, Belfast is a total gem of a film. In a toast to old Hollywood and riding a pulchritudinous wave of nostalgia, it’s shot in a pure picturesque black-and-white, thanks to the handy work of cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos. By venturing back into the past with complexity and warmth, Branagh encapsulates a world that echoes powerfully with our own.

Secondly, we have arguably one of the most remarkable ensembles of the year. Branagh has made a name for himself as a masterful filmmaker. But Belfast may be his capstone masterpiece due to his unforgettably vivid characters and deep storyline. Of course, the fact that the film is made with so much authenticity and heart certainly doesn’t hurt. But moreover, Branagh’s masterpiece offers, in my opinion, the ensemble of the year along with a vital message.

Dame Judi Dench is a complete riot as Granny. The alluring Caitriona Balfe is a sensation as Ma. And Jamie Dornan embraces the patriarch role of Pa with such a healthy and enthusiastic masculinity. Dornan also offers a rendition of “Everlasting Love” that is, in my opinion, one of the best song and dance sequences in the history of cinema. I had that song on repeat for months after the first screening, and it is still number one on my Spotify wrapped list.  But of course, it’s Jude Hill (Buddy) who is the star of the show. Seeing this story unfold from the perspective of an innocent child provides an extreme amount of value, objectivity, and impact.

Lastly, Belfast also serves as a love letter to cinema. While this is Branagh’s personal account, he places little Easter eggs in the film that show his own love for film. The one that really hit home for me, as a cinephile, is the theatre sequence when the entire family goes to the cinema to watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). The final shot of the movie is also something that will stay with me, like a moveable feast, for the rest of my life.

Beyond its aesthetic, there are so many universal themes and subtle warnings under its winsome surface intrinsically woven into its tour de force storyline. One could even draw a comparison to what happened in Northern Ireland in the 1960s to the modern political discourse, polarization, and tribalist culture in the United States– which makes this film essential viewing for our current climate.

In fact, Barbra F. Walter, a political strategist at the University of California, San Diego, claims in her new book (out later this month) that another American civil war is far from unlikely, especially since the insurrection on January 6th of last year. “I’ve seen how civil wars start, and I know the signs that people miss. And I can see these signs emerging here at a surprisingly fast rate,” Walter insists.

What’s more, Thomas Homer-Dixon, a violent conflict scholar, predicts that by 2025, “American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence.” Even more concerning, Politico’s John Harris claims that “serious people now invoke ‘Civil War’ not only as a metaphor but as literal precedent.” While The Atlantic’s Fintan O’ Toole advises that the prophecies of civil war can be self-fulfilling. And even goes as far as to cite the long conflict in Ireland, highlighting the fact that each side was motivated “by fear that the other was mobilizing.” Branagh even elucidated in a recent interview that they were a family who believed that nothing could change “until everything changed.”

There’s even a line in the film delivered by a warm and wise Ciarán Hinds (Pop) when he’s helping his grandson, Buddy, with his math homework. Buddy explains that there can only be one right answer. To which Pop replies, “If that were true, people wouldn’t be blowing themselves up all across this town.” Pop was alluding to the civil unrest stemming from a nationalist mentality and both sides, the Catholics and the Protestants, thinking they were on the right side of history whilst being willing to fight and kill others in order to defend their opposing beliefs simply because were not operating on the same baseline of truth. And for me, that line evokes thoughts of the alarming current state of the union in America.

Digging even deeper, the film also widens the lens of humanization and brings awareness to the necessity to migrate that some experience to flee their homeland in order to protect their families and provide a better life for their children.  At one point in the film, Ma (Balfe) exclaims that she could never leave Belfast. Despite the violence in the streets and high unemployment in their native country, she was concerned about nationalism and how her family would be treated as immigrants abroad. This highlights the courage it takes for a family to leave their home in search of a better life and the harsh realities of the world in which we live due to humanity’s xenophobic tendencies. And if that’s not a message worth sharing, I don’t know what is.

As far as awards go, I honestly can’t think of any other film more deserving of The Academy’s top-prize and coveted recognition that comes with a Best Picture win. Perhaps that’s why it is the only film with all four main guild nominations: Directors Guild, Producers Guild, American Cinema Editors, and the Screen Actors Guild.

Belfast is a cathartic homage that showcases a talented artist’s admiration for his heritage. It’s a symbol of respect for an entire nation. It’s also a subtle warning of the dangers of the polarization of people; therefore, it’s arguably the most vital film of the year.


“Gay Chorus Deep South” Tackles Discrimination Head On

The San Fransico Gay Men’s Chorus Artistic Director Tim Seeling and Film Director David Charles Rodrigues talk about tackling discrimination head-on in the film “Gay Chorus Deep South.” The MTV documentary follows the chorus as they embark on a tour of the American Deep South in response to a wave of discriminatory anti-LGBTQ laws and the divisive 2016 election. The film premieres Sunday, December 20th on Pop, Logo, and Pluto TV.

Tim Blake Nelson and Writer/Director Potsy Ponciroli Talk “Old Henry”

Writer/Director Potsy Ponciroli discusses the challenges of diving into the Western genre. While Tim Blake Nelson talks about playing the fastest gunslinger in the West in the new film “Old Henry.” Now available on VOD. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Bad Ass Jean Reno Talks “The Doorman”, Quarantine, His Favorite Genre, & more…

Ryûhei Kitamura takes Ruby Rose from Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black and puts her up against veteran Hollywood badass Jean Reno in The Doorman.

Rose, who is a former marine turned doorman, must try to outsmart a group of career criminal art thieves who have come to a luxury New York skyrise to steal back a famous painting. What unfolds is an action-packed cinematic experience that truly pays tribute to the action genre.  

Lando spoke with Reno about making this action thriller… watch below!

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Brandon Cronenberg & Cast Talk Possessor Uncut

Visionary director Brandon Cronenberg delivers an unforgettable experience with his latest sci-fi/horror film Possessor Uncut. 

By using brain implant technology, elite assassin, Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) takes control over other people’s bodies, but her last target may prove to be more difficult than she could imagine.

At a recent virtual press day, Screen Picks got to chat with writer/director Brandon Cronenberg and stars Andrea Riseborough and Christoper Abbott about what it was like making one of the most futuristic sci-fi films of the decade.

For more interviews subscribe to Landon’s YouTube channel.

Charlie Plummer & Taylor Russell Talk “Words On Bathroom Walls”

Words On Bathroom Walls is the heartwarming drama surrounding a high school senior, Adam (Charlie Plummer) who has schizophrenia. Together, with the help of his supporting mother (Molly Parker), a brilliant classmate (Taylor Russell), and a priest (Andy Garcia), Adam learns to come to terms with his illness while learning not to be defined by his condition. Paired with a stellar soundtrack from The Chainsmokers, Words On Bathroom Walls is not to be missed.  Watch as Landon speaks with the remarkably talented young cast about how they went about tackling their roles surrounding the important topic of mental illness. 

Taylor Russell

Charlie Plummer

For more interview subscribe to Landon’s YouTube channel.

Viola Davis & Allison Janney Talk Bullying & “Troop Zero”

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Amazon Prime’s Troop Zero is a delightful and inspiring film about dreaming big, making friendships and embracing one’s unique sensibilities.

The story is set in rural 1977 Georgia, where a misfit girl (McKenna Grace) dreams of life in outer space. When a competition offers her a chance to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troop of Birdie Scouts, forging friendships that last a lifetime and beyond.

Watch as Landon Johnson speaks with Allison Janney, Viola Davis, and McKenna Grace about bullying in today’s world.


Aldis Hodge On “Clemency” & Capital Punishment

Screen Shot 2020-04-20 at 11.05.23 PMThe drama Clemency explores what kind of toll death row and its executions takes on those who must carry them out.

The story revolves around prison warden Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard). After years spent carrying out death row executions, her psyche has been frayed. She grapples with psychological and emotional pressures of the job, as she drinks herself into oblivion most nights. When she is sanctioned to kill inmate Anthony Woods (Aldis Hodge), she finally confronts her demons and connects with him.

In an exclusive interview for ScreenPicks, Landon Johnson talks with Aldis Hodge about preparing for role as a death row inmate and his views on the controversial subject of capital punishment

Watch the engaging interview!




“Horse Girl” Writer-Director Jeff Baena Gets Deep!

With his past films including love stories about zombies in Life After Death and the medieval dark comedy The Little Hours, it’s not shocking that director Jeff Baena’s fourth film, Horse Girl, is just as abstract as it is compelling.

Baena uses an unreliable narrator to present a character study on an introverted, anti-social woman who is predisposed to mental illness in this psychological thriller produced by the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark.

Horse Girl follows Sarah (Alison Brie) a socially isolated arts and crafts employee, who leads a relatively mediocre and complacent life, until a series of strange and surreal dreams start to make her question that simple reality. Brie, who also co-wrote the screenplay, is perfectly cast as the lonely character that’s struggling with deciphering between her delusions and what is real. Can she trust her own mind?

Baena uses his tried-and-true, and extremely effective, storytelling method of following Sarah’s descent as she seeks the truth to her own distorted reality, no matter how abstract it may be.

Similar to the story build-up style used in Joshy, Baena allows the main character to provide their own exposition by following them in their day-to-day lives without spoon-feeding the audience any sorts of background. That is a testament to his exquisite storytelling skills and incredible ability to portray the complexities of the human experience on-screen.

At a recent press day, The Movie Mensch spoke with Baena about Horse Girl, mental illness and his top-tier storytelling skills … and we got deep!

On his tremendous ability to build up a story, Baena claimed that he’s “allergic to exposition.”

“I can’t stand being told (a story), so I think that’s just my way of not having to weigh too much into exposition. I like to give people more credit,” he explained.

On being able to use an unreliable narrator to tell the story, Baena said that he prefers to tell stories from “a more subjective perspective.”

He went on to point out that he feels that all narrators are unreliable. “I think every narrator is unreliable because we are all fallible, we’re human beings.”

“It’s all based on experience and memories. Whatever appears to us is not objective. It’s processed through our brains,” he explained, alluding to phenomenology and the idea that in a post-modern world, perception is reality, because reality is ultimately subjective due to our own individual experiences and memories.

Baena admitted that he wanted to show the audience that the experiences Sarah is having almost works “like a pressure cooker” to trigger whatever predisposed mental illness to the surface.

The writer/director also said that his main objective for telling the tale was that he wanted to remind audiences to “reserve judgement” for those who do experience mental illness that they themselves may not fully understand.

“Even if something seems impossible to you, it could be real to them. I think you have to have a little bit of faith or trust in that person. A sense of reality. I mean, who are we to judge?”

Baena then went on to suggest that hopefully, the film would motivate people to be a little more compassionate, understanding, forgiving and maybe even “put ourselves in their shoes and at least listen to them.”

Horse Girl starts streaming on Netflix February 6 and it’s arguably Baena’s best and most socially relevant movie yet.

Check out the trailer here.



Article originally published to: The Movie Mensch