Archive for September, 2022

See How They Run

Posted: September 25, 2022 in Film reviews

Directed by Tom George. Starring Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Harris Dickinson and David Oyelowo.

The year is 1953 and in the West End Agatha’s Christie’s The Mousetrap is celebrating its 100th performance. On hand for the after party is sleazy American director Leo Köpernick (a wonderfully weaselly Brody) who’s been hired to produce the film version of the play. He seems determined to annoy everyone, so it’s probably no surprise when he winds up dead, but who killed him?

Cue the arrival of world-weary Detective Inspector Stoppard (Rockwell), assisted by inexperienced and overeager Constable Stalker (Ronan). It won’t be an easy case to solve because everyone seemed to have a motive, but can Stoppard and Stalker work out whodunnit before the killer strikes again?

It’s easy to compare See How They Run to Knives Out, both are modern deconstructions of the whodunnit genre centred around characters involved in mystery stories, both feature a cast of top notch actors having a ball hamming it us as a motley array of suspects, both feature a lead actor eschewing his natural accent, both feature a standout performance by an actress who’s the beating heart of the film, and in some respects the clever and knowing script is almost a little too clever for its own good.

I loved Knives Out.

So, it was probably inevitable that I’d love this too.

Not that See How They Run is any kind of copycat, and there are as many differences as there are similarities. Rockwell’s low-key performance is the antithesis of Daniel Craig’s Foghorn Leghorn exuberance, and the film prefers a cosy theatricality in place of Knives Out’s biting blockbuster satire (though I think they cost about the same to make). One’s set in the present, the other the past, yadda yadda yadda…

In terms of the cast I’m going to talk about Saoirse Ronan first, because she really is the best thing about the film. Anyone who’s read other reviews I’ve written of films featuring Ms Ronan will know that I’ve long been a fan. I think she’s a fantastic actor and I fully expect her to win an Oscar or two before the end of her career (and I’m slightly perplexed that she hasn’t already). She’s had meatier roles than this, but I don’t think she’s ever demonstrated her comic timing quite so well. There’s a lightness to her performance than makes it all seem effortless, wide eyed and over eager she may be, but she’s no ingenue, she’s smart and resourceful, even if she has a tendency to jump to the wrong conclusions (with hilarious results) and the film leans into its post war setting by giving her a life outside of her uniform, and tragedy in her past.

It would be easy to side-line Rockwell somewhat given the strength of Ronan’s performance, but every comedy double act needs a straight man and Rockwell’s grounded performance anchors the film and never lets it fly away into cloud cuckoo land. Given Rockwell is very capable of playing larger than life comedic characters (see Galaxy Quest!) it’s refreshing to see him taking the quieter role here and let Ronan have the spotlight. It’s a nuanced performance. Stoppard is dishevelled, he’s often drunk and he’s probably depressed, but he’s also clearly much sharper than people think. Much like Stalker, Stoppard is given a backstory, and with both the war looms large in the making of their characters. Rockwell’s English accent isn’t half bad either. 

The rest of the cast are great too. Brody has fun and even manages a moment or two of pathos as the murder victim,  Oyelowo camps it up no end as the put upon screenwriter and Harris Dickinson and  Pearl Chanda luvvie it up as Dickie Attenborough and Sheila Sim, two of several real life characters in the film, see also the ever wonderful Shearsmith’s John Woolf amongst others. Charlie Cooper as an usher and Sian Clifford as Woolf’s wife do well with limited screentime. It would have been nice to see Ruth Wilson get more to do, but everyone is almost upstaged by a Shirley Henderson cameo late on!    

The script is knowing and inventive, and while I loved how meta it was your milage may vary and I suspect others might find it annoying. Fans of the Mousetrap and Christie will either love it or hate it, I doubt there’ll a middle ground. As I said it’s a script that is almost too clever at times, though for me at least it always stayed the right side of things.

George’s direction is effortless, and the evocation of post war London is nicely done. Balancing the bright lights of the West End with post war austerity is handled well. At 100 minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and if anything leaves you wanting more, and with that in mind I’ll mention Knives Out again because here’s hoping we get a sequel because  I for one would love to see another Stoppard and Stalker mystery!


Posted: September 3, 2022 in Film reviews, horror, science fiction

Directed by Jordan Peele. Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott and Brandon Perea

Seen in August

After the inexplicable death of their father (always nice to see Keith David, however briefly) the Californian ranch he owned passes to Otis “OJ” Haywood Jr (Kaluuya) and his sister Em (Palmer). OJ tries to keep the ranch running, working as a horse wrangler for Hollywood, while his sister tries to make it in tinsel town anyway she can.

With money tight OJ is forced to sell some of his horses to Ricky “Jupe” Park (Yeun) a former child star who now runs a small western themed amusement park nearby.

When their electricity starts to fluctuate, and the horses get spooked, OJ and Em begin seeing what they think is a UFO. With the help of local electronics whizz Angel (Perea) and legendary Hollywood cinematographer Antlers Holst (Wincott) they set out to capture footage of the spaceship that they can sell for millions, but is everything quite what it appears?

And so we come to Jordan Peele’s third film as a director and I went in with some trepidation. I really liked Get Out, but I really didn’t like Us, so would this be thumbs up or thumbs down?

I’m happy to report it’s thumbs up, although it took a little while to get there. Make no mistake, this is a slow burn of a film, but by lord when it kicks into gear does it kick into gear! It’s also fair to say that this is a film I expect to like even more with repeat viewings, because it’s a film that might appear a trifle confusing until you get into it, with hindsight a whole heap of things make a lot more sense, in particular the flashbacks to an incident that happened to Jupe when he was a child filming a sitcom about an intelligent chimp. No spoilers here because the first flashback is right at the start. Suffice to say that what happened with the chimp does have a huge bearing on the wider story, as does Holst’s obsession with getting the ultimate shot.

At its heart this is a film about spectacle. From OJ and Em trying to get a money shot of a UFO, to Jupe’s need to put on a show and Holst’s obsession. There’s even a deranged TMZ paparazzi just in case you don’t get the message (a trifle obvious and possibly one tiny misstep?)

There are other themes but I’m not going into them as it will give the game away, not that there’s a stunning twist, but the story does take a sharp tun and it isn’t the film you think it’s going to be.   

Kaluuya is an actor I’ve admired since I first saw him in The Fades and Black Mirror. His performance here is at once understated whilst also being intense, he’s very much a man of few words, the taciturn cowboy whose eyes speak volumes (and it should be noted that he does indeed look damn cool sitting on a horse.)

By contrast Palmer is anything but reticent, her character is bold and brash and very much in your face, she brings the spark to the story and she and Kaluuya make for engaging siblings.

At first Perea’s Angel seems like he’ll be a minor character, but he hangs around and he becomes very much part of the gang.

Wincott is spot on casting, channelling his inner Hertzog to make Holst an intense, near fanatical cinematic artist.

That leaves Yeun, another favourite actor of mine, whose portrayal of the child star still haunted by the trauma of his youth is central to the story, even if it feels he’s slightly short-changed by the turn the story takes.

There are some genuine scares, and one truly horrible moment that might be one of the most unsettling things I’ve seen in a long time. I’ve heard this film compared to Under the Skin, and I can totally relate to the comparison, even though they’re very different films.

Peele’s direction is great, and he makes good use of sprawling desert vistas, the open sky, clouds and the little amusement park (which apparently you can go visit!). He does tension very well, and this film did have me on the edge of my seat on occasion.

It won’t be for everyone, and I’ve already heard that while NOPE might stand for Not Of Planet Earth, I’ve also it’s so titled because Peele thought that would be half the audience’s reaction upon discovering what it’s actually about!

It’s maybe a trifle too long and maybe takes a little too long to warm up, but it’s also stunningly original in an era of cookie cutter films. It’s well directed and well-acted. Nope gets a Yup from me!