Archive for the ‘Film reviews’ Category

The Banshees of Inisherin

Posted: November 27, 2022 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Martin McDonagh.   Starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan.

It is 1923 and the Irish civil war is raging, but on the remote island on Inisherin all appears calm, until one day folk musician Colm Doherty (Gleeson) abruptly begins ignoring his long-time friend and drinking buddy Pádraic Súilleabháin (Farrell). His reasoning seems to be that Pádraic is dull and Colm wants to spend the remainder of his life composing music and trying to achieve something that will outlive him.

Pádraic doesn’t take rejection well, and though he has companionship in his sister Siobhán (Condon) and Dominic (Keoghan) the troubled son of the local constable, he misses his friend and the fact that he can’t get his head around why Colm should want to cut him out of his life sees him continue to try and mend fences, even though Colm continually tells him to leave him alone.

What starts as a mild disagreement quickly escalates when Colm says he’ll cut off one of his fingers every time Pádraic tries to talk to him.

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, or that this is only McDonagh’s fourth feature length film in almost fifteen years, but one thing is clear, his films are always worth the wait and The Banshees of Inisherin is no exception.

McDonagh excels in giving us something different each time, and this shares little with his other films, apart from the wickedly dark humour and obvious reuniting of Farrell and Gleeson from In Bruges. This is an original tale that starts off feeling like it might be a gentle comedy before venturing to some very dark places.

McDonagh’s writing is superb, and he can find humour in the darkest moments, as well as sadness, and at times this is laugh out loud funny, at others it’ll break your heart. For such a simple idea he weaves an intricate story that has a lot to say about male friendships, loneliness, the bleakness of growing old and even the Irish civil war itself (what else is Colm and Pádraic’s falling out if not a microcosm of the wider conflict taking place on the mainland?)

The cast are wonderful, but special mention really has to go to Farrell and I think it’ll be criminal if he isn’t at least nominated for an Oscar. There’s such sadness in his big brown eyes, disbelief that his best friend has abandoned him and you feel every moment of his heartbreak. Pádraic is such an innocent, decent person that it’s impossible not to feel for him, and it makes his eventual descent into something less noble all the more sorrowful. If the pain etched into Farrell’s face at various points doesn’t break your heart then frankly you must have no soul.

Gleeson perhaps has the harder tole because Colm isn’t as naturally engaging as Pádraic, but Gleeson still manages to make you, if not like Colm, then perhaps understand him, a man who’s woken up one day and realised his own mortality, realised that after he dies no one will remember him for long. Of course this makes certain actions of his in the film seem even more shocking than they already are. Colm is clearly a troubled man, a depressive, possibly even bipolar given how engaged he can get in his music one moment, yet how desperately unhappy he seems at others.

Condon plays Siobhán perfectly as a woman destined for bigger things than some tiny windswept island. Clearly the smartest person on Inisherin and torn between her desire for a better life, and her love for her brother.

In some respects the character of the village dullard is something of a trope for films and TV set in remote Irish communities, but even here McDonagh does something a little different, and Keoghan is spot on as Dominic, a man more innocent and less creepy than you initially think, not to mention the victim of horrible abuse.

The film is beautiful to look at. McDonagh and cinematographer Ben Davis making wonderful use of the natural landscape, even if sometimes that natural beauty is the backdrop to some very man made brutality.

An engaging and funny character study laced through with darkness, and there’s even a hint of something otherworldly in the presence of Mrs McCormack. Is she just a portentous old woman, or is she one of the banshees of the title?  McDonagh doesn’t give you any easy answers, because it isn’t that kind of film.

A fine script, fine direction and a great cast make this a must see film, just don’t expect to come out full of the joys of spring at the end.

Don’t Worry Darling

Posted: October 29, 2022 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Olivia Wilde. Starring Florence Pugh, Chris Pine, Harry Styles and Olivia Wilde

Somewhere in the California desert resides the company town of Victory. A bright and cheerful community that feels like an idealised version of the 1950s. By day the menfolk go to work at the nearby Victory Headquarters, while their wives cook and clean, shop and drink and look pretty. They are discouraged from asking too many questions and forbidden from venturing into the desert. The only mild disturbance to their idyllic existence is the occasional earth tremor.

All the women are happy, except for Margaret (KiKi Layne) who has become an outcast since she took her son for a walk in the desert and he was never seen again, though she claims Victory took him.

Alice (Pugh) is just another wife, married to Jack (Styles) and seemingly deliriously happy, but then she sees a plane crash in the desert and ventures out to look for survivors. Instead she finds Victory Headquarters, an apparently abandoned building, but when she touches its windows she loses consciousness. After some surreal dreams she wakes up back at home. No one knows anything about a plane crash.

Nothing seems quite right from then on and Alice becomes increasingly paranoid. She especially finds herself distrusting Frank (Pine) the mysterious founder and leader of Project Victory. Meanwhile her best friend Bunny (Wilde) encourages her stop asking questions.

Just what is going on in Victory, and will Alice and Jack ever be allowed to leave?

There’s a moment early on in this film where Alice is cooking and discovers that the eggs, which look perfect on the outside, are in fact empty shells with nothing inside. There really isn’t a better metaphor for this film, because it looks amazing, but there’s not nearly enough going on beneath the surface.

That the film works at all is in large part down to Pugh, an actor I have a huge amount of time for because I’ve yet to see her be anything less than amazing, even in less than stellar films, and she wrings every ounce of character she can out of the role of Alice. It’s hard to imagine anyone playing this role any better.

In support Pine makes for a fine foil as the larger than life, ever so slightly creepy, ever so slightly terrifying Frank. If there’s a flaw its that he isn’t in it enough, and that he and Alice don’t have some kind of final face off, but then it does make sense because that’s the point as Frank isn’t all he appears (but then no one in the film is.)

Styles has come in for criticism for basically not being remotely as engaging as either Pugh or Pine, which seems a trifle unfair. He isn’t as good an actor and doesn’t have the screen presence of either of them, but he isn’t remotely terrible, and his wide eyed ever so slightly uselessness mixed with a simmering resentment is perfect for the role.

Wilde is good as Bunny, although the character doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if you think about her for more than a few minutes. Gemma Chan is criminally wasted as Frank’s wife, and Layne gets too little to do as well.

Plotwise if you don’t figure out where this is going inside of the first five or ten minutes then you really need to see more films. There’s an Ira Levin/ Jordon Peele Stepford Wives/Get Out feel to this but it’s all very obvious. I kept hoping there’s be some kind of twist but no, outside of one mild surprise (the nature of Victory wasn’t quite what I thought) this is a relatively straightforward tale riffing on familiar tropes and, admittedly, issues that are still relevant today.

Wilde proved with Booksmart that she’s a more than capable director, and her framing of shots here is great, the fault sits with the script, but though she’s not credited as a writer she was involved and so has to take some of the blame, especially as she’s the producer as well.   

As I said earlier the film looks amazing, but even that counts against it somewhat. We realise early on that something’s very wrong with Victory, there’s no mounting sense of dread or creeping unease, so as the audience we understand immediately that this isn’t normal, which means we’re waiting for Alice to catch up with us.

There’s little internal consistency in the film, and far too many things make no sense or are never resolved. What was causing the earth tremors? Why do Frank’s men pursue Alice at the end when the place she needs to reach is seemingly unguarded? Worst of all, the ending suggests a character might be fated to starve to death.

This is a film that looks great, and features some great performances, but it’s a case of style over substance (and coherence). Diverting enough, but ultimately a waste of talent.

Clerks III

Posted: October 6, 2022 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Kevin Smith. Starring Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Trevor Fehrman, Jason Mewes, Rosario Dawson and Kevin Smith.

Seen in September

It’s been fifteen years since friends Dante Hicks (O’Halloran) and Randal Graves (Anderson) bought the Quick Stop in New Jersey where they once worked. Much has changed, RST video next door is now a medicinal marijuana shop, and tragedy has befallen one of the men, yet in many ways things haven’t changed a bit since they worked there almost thirty years ago. They still spend most of their day shooting shit about popular culture and they regularly shut up shop so they can play hockey on the roof with their friends.

Then one day Randel suffers a heart attack. He survives, but having faced his own mortality he decides that he’s wasted his life and that having spent decades watching movies, it’s now time for him to make one based on his and Dante’s lives at the Quick Stop. With the help of Christian turned Satanist Elias (Fehrman) and perennial stoners Jay and Silent Bob (Mewes and Smith) Randal begins work on his masterpiece, but Dante isn’t so sure this is a good idea, especially when he realises how expensive Randal’s opus will be, but will the price exceed mere money, could the cost be their friendship?

And so almost 30 years after he made his seminal first feature ,Clerks, and a shade over 15 years after he made the sequel, Kevin Smith returns to the well one last time to round off the story of Dante and Randal. I was a little uncertain about this. The last new film of Smith’s I’d seen probably was Clerks II, little of his newer stuff has appealed enough to watch it, and many of them haven’t garnered great reviews (though one of these days I will watch Red State) and beyond this, I’m a different person to the one who loved the 90s slacker comedies that Smith made his name with, did I really want to see what appeared, on the face of it, to be a repeat of the first film.

Thankfully I decided to give it a go, and it turns out I was supposed to be there that day, because I enjoyed this film a whole lot. A meditation not only on friendship and mortality, but also a love letter to film making itself.

With the best will in the world O’Halloran is not a great actor, but he does exasperation so well and he’s always been perfect as Dante and Smith directs him well, he has a couple of great scenes here. Anderson is a better actor, or at least feels more natural, which is why it’s surprising he hasn’t had a more successful career, like O’Halloran he is perfect as Randal, and as always they make a great double act.

As do Mewes and Smith as Jay and Silent Bob. I think Smith remarked a few years ago that JASB still standing outside the video store selling weed when they’re approaching their 50s would be ridiculous, but he makes it work here with the stoner equivalent of Laurel and Hardy actually owning the dispensary but still insisting on selling their product covertly! As usual the moment where Smith speaks is a joy as he explains why, as cinematographer, he’s filming Randal’s movie in black and white to emphasise the crushing drabness of the characters lives!

Rosario Dawson is always good to see but she’s short-changed here, and while I can understand Smith’s decision re her character it feels a little cheap, even though there is some payoff at the end.

There are a whole heap of amusing cameos, and several characters return from the previous two films. Trevor Fehrman threatens to steal the show though as Elias who’s increasingly unhinged persona as the movie progresses is a joy to behold

It’s a smidgen too long, and maybe there are one or two too many dick and fart jokes, but this is much more than just a cheap redress of Smith’s first film, more that pretentious navel gazing and, despite its foul language and lowest common denominator humour at times, this is a film that’s got genuine heart, a film that, in the end, is moving as hell. Maybe not the first film of Smiths you should see, but if you were there at the beginning, I can’t imagine you won’t get a lot of joy out of being there for the end.

See How They Run

Posted: September 25, 2022 in Film reviews
Tags:

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!

Nope

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

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!

Thor: Love and Thunder

Posted: August 12, 2022 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Taika Waititi. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson and Russell Crowe.

Seen in July.

Thor (Hemsworth) has been bumming around the universe with the Guardians of the Galaxy, saving countless civilisations and getting into lots of fights and trying not to think about how heartbroken he is that his relationship with Jane Foster (Portman) ended many years before.

At the same time Jane has problems of her own, she has stage four cancer and is facing her own mortality. Desperate for a cure she finds herself drawn to New Asgard, and the fragmented remains of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir.

Meanwhile an entire civilisation dies except for one man, Gorr (Bale). Finding himself in the presence of his God, Gorr discovers that the deity is vain and uncaring, and has barely noticed that his subjects, including Gorr’s daughter, have died. His philosophy seems to be that he can always get more followers. Enraged Gorr uses the God killing Necrosword to kill his own God, and then vows to kill all the Gods.

When Thor learns of Gorr’s crusade he travels to New Asgard to protect it. Gorr attacks but Thor is surprised to find that New Asgard has an additional protector. Jane now wields a restored Mjolnir and the hammer has imbued her with the power of Thor.

With time running out Thor and Jane must join forces with Valkyrie (Thompson) and Korg ( Waititi) to stop Gorr.  

So let’s be honest here, 2017’s Thor Ragnarok was a joy from start to finish, due in no small part to Taika Waititi’s direction and a great script coupled with Hemsworth’s wonderful portrayal of the God of Thunder, so when it was announced that we were getting a fourth Thor film, and that Waititi was again directing I got excited. When it turned out Portman would be returning, and would actually get something to do this time, I was even more thrilled. The casting of Bale as the bad guy and the presence of the Guardians of the Galaxy were just the icing on the cake.

This is the part where I tell you Love and Thunder is terrible, right?

Wrong. It’s a highly enjoyable romp. Is it as good as Ragnarok? No but could we get that lucky? It’s flawed, perhaps even a little forgettable, but while I was watching it I had a whale of a time, and I like to think most people will.

Hemsworth could probably play Thor in his sleep now, and while some people get annoyed at his loveable idiot persona, I think it’s perfect, playing Thor completely straight wouldn’t work, he lives in a realm of magic and giants, enchanted hammers and rainbow bridges, leave the grounded stuff for Cap and those like him and Thor, don’t ever change!

When reviewing Multiverse of Madness I pointed out that previously Marvel had hired great actresses, then gave them barely anything to work with. This was very true of Portman, but they’ve made up for it here. From Jane having to deal with her cancer, to kicking Arse as the Mighty Thor. It’s a great performance and I have to say she looks fab in her Thor get up. Hands down she’s the best part of the film.

There’s a hint of Eccleston’s villain from Thor 2 in Bale’s Gorr, but while Eccleston kind phoned it in, Bale throws himself into the role, and is truly terrifying at times, but also curiously empathetic at others.

Thomson as Valkyrie and Waititi himself voicing Korg are ok, but neither land quite as well as they did in Ragnorak.

That leaves Russell Crowe, with yet another extravagant accent playing Zeus. Some people have balked at Zeus being portrayed as a vain, gluttonous, lecherous buffoon, these people have obviously never read what Zeaus was like in the myths, and Crowe nails it perfectly, he also doesn’t outstay his welcome.

Oh and the Guardians of the Galaxy show up, on the downside they’re in the film for about five minutes, on the up side they’re very funny (although Platt felt a little off as Starlord).

Waititi direction and script are good, though the film does suffer tonally. There’s no reason a film can’t be both funny and serious by turns, but tonally Love and Thunder shifts too quickly from one to another. Some of the humour is very juvenile (not necessarily a bad thing) while Gorr as a character is deadly serious. Some aspects of Jane’s cancer land clunkily, and the least said about the child soldiers are a good thing aspect the better. It’s also relatively short as Marvel films go, which isn’t a terrible thing as some of them do go on a bit, but you can’t help feeling things are missing; in particular it’s a shame we don’t see Jane’s initial transformation into the Mighty Thor.

Suffers by comparison to Ragnarok, but if you’re a Marvel/Thor fan there’s still a whole lot to enjoy here, and I’m really hoping we haven’t seen the last of Natalie Portman with a big hammer…    

Top Gun: Maverick

Posted: July 5, 2022 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Starring Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Monica Barbaro, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris and Val Kilmer.

Seen in June.

Thirty years after his time at the Top Gun fighter school, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Cruise) is a navy test pilot flying the top secret Darkstar scramjet. After disobeying orders to prove the plane’s viability Maverick is approached by Admiral Cain (Harris.) If he could Cain would bounce Maverick out of the navy, but instead he is being sent back to Top Gun on the orders of Maverick’s friend, and former rival, Admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Kilmer.)

Kazansky wants Maverick to train a group of Top Gun graduates to fly a dangerous mission to destroy a rogue state’s uranium enrichment plant. The commander of naval air forces, Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson (Hamm) thinks this is a terrible idea, and makes it clear that Maverick won’t be going on the mission.

Maverick reluctantly agrees to train the group, but it won’t be easy, especially given one of them is Lieutenant Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Teller) the son of Maverick’s former buddy Goose. Things are further complicated by the presence of Penny (Connelly) an old flame who Maverick rekindles romance with.

As the mission draws closer can Maverick find a way to inspire these pilots to be the best they can be, and can the mission really succeed without Maverick’s involvement?

I still remember seeing the original Top Gun at the cinema as a 16 year old and I’m embarrassed to admit that it did encourage me to look into how easily one could become a naval aviator! It was an iconic film, and there has been much talk over the years of a sequel. I don’t think anyone expected it’d take over thirty years, and I don’t expect anyone thought it would work anywhere near as well as this does, and it does work really well.

It’s preposterous, it’s predictable, it was written by someone clearly obsessed with the Death Star trench scene in Star Wars (and one really hopes by extension the Dambusters) and yet it’s also hugely enjoyable.

Cruise makes no attempt to suggest Maverick has grown or changed in any way. He’s still flying by the seat of his pants, still bucking authority, still wearing the same leather jacket and sunglasses and still riding a motorbike without a helmet!

But he does it so well!

There are a few sops to Maverick aging, but it doesn’t help that Cruise looks infuriatingly good for a man on the cusp of 60 (he’s 60 now but he wasn’t when he made this, ok!)

The character shouldn’t work. He’s Peter Pan, a man who never grew up, a man who won’t follow orders and a terrible role model (seriously, how many billions does he cost the US taxpayer with that little stunt at the start of the film?) but he gets by with his innate flying ability and that damn smile. And clearly every senior officer, with the exception of Iceman, is a risk averse idiot by comparison.

As Rooster, Goose’s son (see what he did there?) Teller is very good, although this film has taken so long to make that not only is it necessary for Rooster to have unresolved issues with Mav over the death of his father, they also insert another issue, namely that Maverick got his initial application to the academy refused which put him four years behind, how else to explain how he’s an up and coming fighter jock when he’s several years older than everyone else? Teller plays it well though and there are hints of Anthony Edwards in his performance, and not all of them are subtle, just take the scene where he sits at a piano playing Great Balls of Fire in one of many call-backs to the original.

Another call-back is the presence of Kilmer in a very moving cameo. Kilmer’s health issues are well documented and the fact that his voice was recreated by AI is simply amazing.

Of course some people are notable by the absence, namely Kelly McGillis and Meg Ryan, one of whom is killed off camera, the other of whom isn’t mentioned at all. I’m sure they had their reasons, too many call-backs perhaps, but you can’t dismiss the arguments of good old fashioned Hollywood sexism, heaven forbid a woman ages.

Maverick still has a love interest however, and Jennifer Connolly is, well she’s ok, but frankly her character is one of the few missteps in the film. Supposedly she’s the admiral’s daughter Maverick had a dalliance with back in the 80s. The main problem with her is a distinct lack of chemistry between her and Cruise, and their relationship feels oddly inert. Given a huge part of Top Gun’s appeal was the electricity between Cruise and McGillis, it’s strange for this sequel to feature a romance that’s such a damp squib.

Ed Harris deserves better than the stock one note admiral he gets to play, and while he’s still nominally an antagonist, Hamm at least is allowed some nuance.  Monica Barbaro and Lewis Pullman make for an amiable double act as Phoenix and Bob (they do at least let women fly planes now), and whilst he’s something of a dick, Glenn Powell’s turn as hangman shows potential star quality in the making.

The plot is ridiculous and though it did veer off into surprising Behind enemy Lines Territory towards the end, I pretty much saw every beat coming a mile away. Subtle or unexpected this film is not.

But the action is soooo good! Yes it would be a misnomer to suggest this was a film that eschewed CGI for reality given Hollywood didn’t have access to any SU-57s, or in fact an F-14 given the only ones still flying are in Iran (just in case you were wondering who the rogue state was) but all the F-18 footage seems to be genuine, with actors sitting in the rear of two seat Super Hornets to make it appear like they were flying them and it looks AMAZING.

It lacks the sexual spark and testosterone fuelled in your face attitude of the original, but the flying scenes are so much better and at least this time they didn’t have to pass off some Northrop F-5s as “Mig 28s”

This is a film that does exactly what it says on the tin, and you know what? Sometimes that’s no bad thing.

Men

Posted: June 21, 2022 in Film reviews, horror
Tags: ,

Directed by Alex Garland. Starring Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear.

After the death of her abusive husband, Harper Marlowe (Buckley) travels to a remote village to spend some time alone. She rents a house from the affable Geoffrey (Kinnear). It’s a lovely house but when she goes for a walk in the woods she encounters a naked man (Kinnear). Striving to get away from him she finds the local churchyard where she encounters a foul mouthed child (Kinnear) and a vicar (Kinnear) who makes her feel uncomfortable.

Soon Harper finds herself under threat from all sides. She is surrounded by men, and they all appear to look like the same man!

I’ve been a fan of Alex Garland as a writer and director for some time. Ex Machina was his first film as a director (although if you believe some he at least partially directed Dredd) and it was a beautifully shot film with an intriguing story. He followed this up with the wonderful Annihilation, a joy of a film with only one flaw, it didn’t get a cinematic release in the UK so I’ve never been able to see it on the big screen. I imagine it’d be amazing. While I think it ran one or two episodes too long, I enjoyed his miniseries Devs as well. I saw the trailer for Men before I even knew Garland had written and directed it, his involvement was just icing on the cake because the trailer alone was fascinating.

The first thing to say is that I loved this film, the second thing to say is that you should see it on the biggest screen you can. It might be a more intimate story than Annihilation, but Garland’s direction and Rob Hardy’s cinematography deserve the biggest canvas possible.

The third thing to say is that when it comes to Men, you’ll either love it, or you’ll really hate it.

The central conceit of Kinnear playing (almost) every male role works surprisingly well for several reasons. The first is that Kinnear himself is such an accomplished actor that each role feels incredibly different, even before you get to the different costumes/makeup etc.  It helps that there aren’t that many of them, while he plays a good seven characters, only four are really that heavily involved in the story. It also helps that the fact that every bloke looks like Kinnear is never actively addressed. Harper never remarks upon it for example, which of course could be something about the film that riles a viewer up. What is the point? What is Garland trying to say? Are all men effectively the same, or is it merely a neat trick to distinguish this film from your more run of the mill woman in peril horrors?

Does it even matter? I’m not sure it does when a film is this mesmerising.

Kinnear is, as already stated, amazing in his multiple roles, but it’s Buckley at the centre of the film that holds it together. An actor—much like Kinnear—who I have a lot of time for, in fact part of what drew me to want to watch the film was the presence of them both. I’ve seen Buckley in many things, and I’ve yet to see her not be amazing, as she is here. She manages to make Harper both strong, yet incredibly fragile, brave yet terrified. She’s committed to the role, and, for me at least, the fact that she relates to each of Kinnear’s characters as a completely different person, is another of the reasons this works so damn well.

As stated the cinematography is just incredible, making full use of the glorious English countryside. It’s a beautiful and verdant backdrop to Harper’s terror, filmed so exquisitely that it lends the countryside a dreamlike quality. Add in the fact that one of Kinnear’s characters is clearly a representation of the mythical Green Man and this is most assuredly a folk horror.

Be warned however, there’s a slow burn and atmospheric feel to most of the film, but in its final act…well, it goes full on bonkers, and there’s some wince inducing body horror going on.

Beautifully shot and fantastically acted, this is a film that asks questions but provides few answers, and I suspect I’m going to watch it many times for just that reason.

Highly recommended, just don’t blame me if you hate it 😉  

Directed by Sam Raimi. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez and Rachel McAdams.

Seen in May.

Warning. I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum but it’s kinda hard to talk about this film without revealing certain things, most of which is revealed early on, but if you want to stay completely in the dark, don’t read on!

In another universe another Doctor Strange fights to protect a young woman named America Chavez (Gomez) who is being pursued by demonic entities intent of taking her power, the ability to travel between parallel worlds; although it is a power she can’t control. Strange is killed and America accidentally creates a portal that transports her, and Strange’s corpse, to the Earth where our Dr Strange (Cumberbatch) is reluctantly attending the wedding of colleague, and woman he loves, Christine Palmer (McAdams). Suddenly America arrives and so does the demon. With the help of the Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) Strange defeats the demon which followed America.

America is initially distrusting of our Strange as the Doctor Strange in the last universe tried to kill her to stop the demon gaining her power. In search of answers Strange visits Wanda Maximoff (Olsen) but soon discovers the individual who is really behind the demons hunting America.

Soon Strange and America are on the run, America gets them to another universe where Strange is revered as a hero, but is this place as welcoming as it first appears?

Marvel’s knack for using new and up-and-coming directors continues with a young man named Sam Raimi who I think has a bright future ahead of him. Ho ho. For some Raimi perhaps isn’t the first name that springs to mind but he’s the perfect choice here, though oddly that’s less down to his experience of big budget superhero movies (three Spidey films) and more down to his horror roots, because make no mistake, in many ways The Multiverse of Madness is a horror film, and the longer it goes on the less MCU it feels and the more Evil Dead (albeit a heavily sanitised, kiddie friendly Evil Dead! We’re talking Army of Darkness here not the first one!)

I’ve always been pretty up-front that initially I wasn’t sure about Cumberbatch as Strange, but he’s really grown into the role, and grown in my estimation, which is just as well as he seems to be one of the main focal points of the MCU’s newest phase. The accent still feels a little off at times, but he’s left the cold Strange of the first film behind and, along with in Far from Home, turned into something of a father figure, first for Peter Parker and now for America Chavez. Cumberbatch is also clearly having a lot of fun with the role. Plus, the fact that Cumberbatch is such a good actor means you’re never 100% sure you can trust him. He’s still a little vain, a little arrogant, all of which adds to the allure of the character, and makes it all the easier to imagine other universes where that vanity tips him over the edge into becoming something far darker.

However good Cumberbatch is however, this film belongs to Elizabeth Olsen. Fresh from an amazing performance in WandaVision, Olsen is incredible. Yes she’s the bad guy, but her rationale elevates her above most antagonists, and much as she did in WandaVision she gets to act every ounce of Wanda’s grief and pain and longing. The Academy won’t care of course, but I’m pretty sure there are some universes out there where her performance would get her an Oscar nod.

If there’s one thing Marvel has been guilty of its wasting talented actresses. Thankfully they seem to be putting this right. We’ll soon have Natalie Portman going all God of Thunder on us, and here Rachel McAdams finally gets something to sink her teeth into as an alternate Christine. 

Benedict Wong is rapidly becoming the glue that holds the MCU together, it’s just a shame that Wong might never get his own movie. He does get more to do here than he has in some of his recent cameo appearances at least.

Gomez is very engaging as America and I’m guessing we’ll see her again. It’s always nice to see Ejiofor, here as an alternate version of Mordo, though as with the first Doctor Strange film, again you feel that the MCU hasn’t figured out the best use of his talents.

There are a few other cameos, alternate versions of characters we know, or even new heroes we’ve yet to see in the MCU. There’s no need to spoil their presences here, though chances are you might already know about a few, and one is very obvious from the trailers. Suffice to say there’s a certain person with a shield I’m hoping to see again one day in some shape or form.

So, all in all I thought this was a very good film, and it seems to have gone down well with audience as well. My only concern was whether you had to have seen the Marvel tv shows WandaVision and What if…? In order to enjoy it? Maybe not, although I think seeing both heightened my enjoyment. Some people have said this film throws the Wanda of WandaVision under the bus but I’m not sure it does. It may have looked like Wanda had come to terms with her grief, but that was before she started studying the Darkhold. I really do hope this isn’t the last we see of Wanda, and I also hope that next time out Scarlet Witch gets to be on the side of angels.

I’ve also seen people complaining that we don’t really get a multitude of multiverses—most of the action takes place in just two—but I think that works to the film’s advantage. Things could have got very confusing.

Raimi’s direction is flawless. He’s comfortable with special effects and a big budget, but some of the jump scares he gives us are very old school, and in particular Wanda possessing an alternate version of herself if creepy as anything.

 For all that people claim MCU films are cookie cutter and all alike, well this one for sure isn’t. I certainly didn’t expect that the final battle would be between Wanda and…well, you’ll find out.

Funny, inventive, action packed and full to the brim with excellent performances, this is top tier Marvel.

Give this woman an Oscar now!

The Northman

Posted: May 6, 2022 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Robert Eggers. Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy and Ethan Hawke.

Seen in April

The year is 895 and King Aurvandill War-Raven (Hawke) returns to his kingdom on the Irish coast from his conquests overseas and reunites with his wife Queen Gudrún (Kidman), and his young son, Prince Amleth. Injured in battle Aurvandill decides to bestow his crown on his son and the two undertake a spiritual ceremony. Next morning they’re attacked by Aurvandill’s brother, Fjölnir (Bang) and his men. Fjölnir kills Aurvandill, takes his kingdom and his wife for his own and young Amleth is forced to flee, swearing vengeance on his uncle and vowing to save his mother.

Amleth is raised by a band of Vikings. Now an adult (Skarsgård) he has become a berserker. After helping to subdue a village in the lands of the Rus he encounters a seeress who tells him he will soon have a chance to enact his vengeance on his uncle. Shortly afterwards Amleth learns that Rus slaves are being sent to Iceland, where Fjölnir, now lives in exile having been overthrown. Disguising himself as a slave, Amleth allows himself to be taken to Iceland. On the journey he meets another slave, a woman named Olga (Taylor-Joy) who claims to be a seeress.

Set to work on his uncle’s farm Amleth begins to plot his revenge! 

Following on from The Witch (or The VVitch as its styled, a film I appreciated much more on second viewing) and The Lighthouse (a film I still need to see) Eggers’ third film is a different beast entirely, albeit one that clearly sticks to his artistic integrity. The major change is one of budget. The Northman is a full-on blockbuster with a budget rumoured to be in the $70-90million range, a huge upswing compared to the Witch’s $4 million and The Lighthouse’s $11million and not bad at all for only his third feature length film. It’s fair to say every dime is up there on the screen, from epic battles to sweeping vistas (Ireland standing in for Russia and Iceland) and it’s certainly a full-blooded film.   

Eggers hasn’t compromised his vison however, at least insofar as it comes to authenticity. His evocation of the 9th and 10th centuries feels incredibly real. A time of darkness and dirt, violence and hardship. Likely he’s taken artistic licence but just as likely this is probably as accurate a Viking blockbuster as you’re ever going to get. Much of the dialogue is in English but a fair amount is in Norse with subtitles.

As Amleth  Skarsgård is well muscled and stoic, and one can certainly believe he’s a Viking berserker. Taylor-Joy is an actress I’ve admired since I first saw her in The VVitch (credit to Eggers who manages to include all three of the main players from his debut feature in this film) and she’s good here, although her part feels wafer thin, she’s mainly there to give Amleth an ally, and someone to fight for. I didn’t recognise Bang as Fjölnir until I saw the end credits. He’s good as the bad guy, though perhaps not the character you initially think he is. For me the standout is Kidman however, though much like Taylor-Joy she’s short-changed when it comes to screentime. Still, it’s nice to see her in such a meaty role, and it’s definitely the best performance of hers I’ve seen in a while (and given she’s usually good that’s hardly faint praise) and in respect of her character Eggers does some interesting things. Always good to see Ethan Hawke in anything but this is little more than a cameo sadly.

So great cast, good direction and cinematography and an indie heart married to a blockbuster head.

So why didn’t I enjoy this more?

Partly it’s the story that lets it down. Based upon an ancient legend and it feels old. Seriously, the rightful heir escapes his death as a child and returns as a man to get his vengeance is a story we’ve seen time and time again, and no amount of money can quite make up for a generic plot.

Pacing wise the story trudges at times, and I’ll admit to shuffling in my seat more than once and wondering how long was left to go. The mystical elements don’t quite chime with the grounded nature of the world Eggers has created either. He seems to be trying to have his cake and eat it, and while ambiguity worked well in The VVitch, it jars here. How authentic can the world you’ve created be after all, when the hero has a magic sword that can only be unsheathed at night?

Visually impressive yet something of a slog, this is a film I admired more than I actually liked. Not terrible by any means but this Viking epic didn’t exactly pillage my emotions.