Posts Tagged ‘Film reviews’

Widows

Posted: December 1, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Steve McQueen. Starring Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson.

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Harry Rawlings (Neeson) is a career criminal, a renowned robber known for his meticulous planning. By contrast his wife, Veronica (Davis) is a straight arrow, she works for a teacher’s union and keeps her nose out of Harry’s business. When Harry and his team are blown up after a botched robbery, Veronica no longer has the option of looking the other way. The money Harry stole in that last job belonged to Jamal Manning (Tyree Henry) a crime boss who wants to go straight and who planned to use the money to fund his political campaign against Jack Mulligan (Farrell) the son of former alderman Tom (Duvall). Manning wants his money back and he doesn’t care that Veronica wasn’t involved in Harry’s dealings.

With her life on the line, and with the realisation that she owns nothing because everything was Harry’s, Veronica’s only option is to rely on Harry’s notebook, which contains plans for his next job. She needs help however, and so turns to the widows of the rest of Harry’s crew, including Alice (Debicki) who’s had to become an escort following her husband’s death, and Linda (Rodriguez) whose store was repossessed following her husband’s death. The only widow no interested is Amanda (Coon) who has a young son to look after, and so the women recruit Linda’s babysitter, Belle (Erivo).

Not only do they have to become a well-oiled team in a matter of days, but they also need to worry about Jamal’s psycho brother Jatemme (Kaluuya). Can they follow in their husbands’ footsteps and become master criminals, or are they doomed to fail?

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I heard a lot of good things about Widows, the cast is impressive, I love a good heist movie, was a fan of the original UK TV show, and the only other McQueen film I’d seen, 12 Years a Slave, was powerful stuff, so I was eager to catch this. Sad then to report that I came out feeling somewhat disappointed.

I can see why this has turned some critics’ heads, it’s well acted and covers more ground than the average heist movie ever will, but therein lies it’s problem, because I don’t think it really knows what kind of film it wants to be, and whilst it tackles some weighty ideas (domestic violence, inter racial marriage, political corruption, gangland violence, and police brutality amongst others) it never seems to have enough time to devote to each and every element, and as a result winds up being something of a curates egg rather than the complex socio-political crime epic it so clearly wants to be, and late on it features a contrivance so jarring it felt like a scene was missing, as characters are stranded by the road one minute, yet have a car in the very next scene. For a second I thought I was watching The Predator again, and you really have to expect better from a filmmaker as accomplished as McQueen.

Worst of all, as a thriller it commits the cardinal sin of just not being very thrilling, and even the twists and betrayals are predictable.

Where it scores points is in the casting, and McQueen has pulled an enviable group together. Davis is the centre that holds the film together, and she gets some powerful scenes as she transitions from sedate union worker to hardened criminal, and if the transformation isn’t completely sold this is more down to compacting a mini-series worth of growth into a film than Davis’ performance.

DoQ7ZCBUYAAtCJgAs Alice Debicki runs Davis a close second, and although her character suffers from the same shift in skillset, Debicki does manage to make it feel more organic, possibly because Alice had left less of a sheltered life than Veronica, and there’s a nice understated chemistry between the two characters. Debicki is an actress who’s impressed me in everything I’ve seen her in since I first watched The Man from Uncle (she’s definitely on my best Bond girls we never had list) and despite the character initially coming across as a willowy airhead, she quickly emerges in many ways as the most naturally competent member of the team.

imagesRodriguez is less well served with her part. There’s a nice subversion of her usual casting, in that she isn’t in Fast and Furious mode here, and she shows some nice vulnerability early on, but this is quickly shunted to one side because McQueen has too many other characters to focus on. Still she fares way better than Erivo who’s basically just there to make up the numbers.

Special mention has to go to Kaluuya, another actor I’ve had my eye on for a long time and, much like Debicki, an actor who constantly impresses, and here’s he’s genuinely terrifying as Jatemme, even if the character is little more than an obstacle to overcome, just a plot point. Farrell is also good, with a nuanced performance that doesn’t allow his character to fit neatly into a box. He’s a corrupt politician, yet clearly isn’t happy in the role. That leaves Neeson, who’s obviously doesn’t get much time to shine but is reassuringly Liam Neeson about it, and Duvall who, even in his late eighties, can still dominate a scene. His presence does raise memories of The Godfather though, and one can’t help but feel this was intentional, and if it was it sadly only underscores how far from The Godfather this is.

The action scenes are solid enough, but in going for gritty realism McQueen jettisons much potential for drama, and at times this is a heist movie that almost feels embarrassed at being a heist movie.

I didn’t hate it, and it’s possible that a repeat viewing would allow me to appreciate it more because there is a lot to like about it, but for now at least these widows haven’t managed to steal my affection.

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Bohemian Rhapsody

Posted: November 25, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Bryan Singer. Starring Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello.

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It’s 1970 and immigrant college student Farrokh Bulsara dreams of being a rock star, though he’s mainly earning money as a baggage handler at Heathrow. He’s been following a band named Smile for some time, and fortuitously approaches them with some lyrics just after their lead singer has quit to join another band. Although initially sniffy about the odd-looking Farrokh, guitarist Brian May (Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Hardy) are won over by his voice. On the same evening Farrokh catches the eye of a young shop assistant, Mary Austin (Boynton).

With the addition of bassist John Deacon (Mazzello) the band become a success, changing their name to Queen even as Farrokh changes his name to Freddie Mercury and becomes engaged to Mary.

As the band go from strength to strength however, it becomes increasingly clear that despite his love for Mary, Freddie needs to come to terms with his sexuality. As friction builds within the band, and Freddie’s hedonistic partying threatens to get out of hand, can Queen come back together in time for the Live Aid concert, or with this band bite the dust?

 

Ok, let’s lay cards on the table right away. Bohemian Rhapsody is a cheesy story, told with broad brushstrokes, clunky dialogue and a cavalier attitude towards historical fact. This is a film with a troubled history, and a film that couldn’t be more on the nose if it were Pinocchio.

And I bloody loved it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a great film, yet somehow it manages to surpass the sum of its parts, thanks in no small part to a fine performance by Mr Robot’s Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. Given what a larger than life showman Mercury was, it’s to Malek’s testament that he manages to not only to strut his stuff in an eerily accurate way, but also imbue Mercury with a vulnerability that forms the heart of the film. Yes the teeth get a little getting used to, but once you acclimatise Malek inhabits Mercury’s skin effortlessly, and if you get a chance watch the side by side movie Live Aid and real Live Aid to truly appreciate how good his performance is, and whilst you can see why Sacha Baron Cohen was originally cast, and why Ben Whishaw was considered, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role now.

DF-26946_R.jpgMercury cuts a sad figure, suffering racism and having to deal with being gay at a time when homosexuality might have no longer been a crime, but was still frowned upon, especially by the media. His relationship with Mary is heart-breaking at times, because he so clearly loves her, just not in the way she would want him to, and Boynton is also very good as the person who grounds Freddie.

Lee, Hardy and Mazzello are all good as the bandmates, each of them doing a good job of aping the real May, Taylor and Deacon, and despite the fact that the film is primarily about Mercury, the rest of Queen are more than just background (as you’d expect given May and Taylor’s involvement in the film).

There’s sterling work from solid performers like Tom Hollander, Aidan Gillen and Allen Leach, although a cameo by a heavily made up Mike Myers and a gag about Wayne’s World plumbs the depths somewhat.

bohemian-rhapsody-3.jpgIt’s amazing the film is as coherent as it is given the troubles on set, with Singer eventually stepping aside for personal reasons after clashing with the cast and repeatedly turning up late. Dexter Fletcher came in to finish the film, but Singer retains the directorial credit and I guess we may never know how much a hand Fletcher may, or may not, have had in salvaging the film.

The film’s at its clunkiest early on, and some of the dialogue is risible. “Ah you’re Brian May, astrophysicist, and you’re Roger Taylor, dental student.” It does get more fluid as it progresses however, and even in its down points the music of Queen is always a joy to listen to, especially if Malek and co are strutting their stuff at the time, and there are genuinely heart-breaking moments, and the recreation of Queen’s Live Aid set is a glorious set piece worth the price of admission all on its own.

The film does take liberties with the truth however; Freddie didn’t meet the band and Mary on the same night, he didn’t get his HIV diagnosis until after Live Aid and the band hadn’t effectively broken up before Wembley, but artistic licence isn’t exactly unheard of in biopics, and despite concerns that the film would sugar-coat Freddie’s life, his sexuality and partying are front and centre. Of course it could go a lot further (by all accounts one of Baron Cohen’s reasons for exiting was because he wanted an R rated film) but Freddie’s promiscuity and drug taking aren’t ignored so much as softened for a more audience friendly rating.

In the end the film is much like Queen themselves. As one of the characters remarks early on, we’re a band of misfits playing music for misfits, and yet they became much, much greater than the sum of their parts, much like this film.

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Halloween

Posted: October 27, 2018 in Film reviews, horror
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Directed by David Gordon Green. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer and Andi Matichak.

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Door to door salesmen get more intrusive by the year!

It’s forty years since Michael Myers returned to Haddonfield and murdered five people, forty years since Laurie Strode (Curtis) survived her own fateful encounter with The Shape.

Michael now lives in a mental institute. He can speak but chooses not to. Meanwhile Laurie struggles with PTSD, and has become obsessed with Michael someday returning. She’s turned her home into a fortress and trained herself to fight, although this obsession has come with a cost and her relationship with her daughter Karen (Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Matichak) is strained.

When true crime bloggers Aaron and Dana ( Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) visit Michael they show him his mask. Whilst there seems to be some sign that he senses the mask, he still says nothing. Michael’s physiatrist Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer—or Mehmet from EastEnders as some may remember him!) explains that Michael is due to be transferred to a maximum-security facility the next day.

Of course with it being almost October 31st it isn’t long before Michael escapes. Soon he’s headed for Haddonfield to wreak carnage once more, only this time Laurie will be ready for him.

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Knife to see you, to see you knife!

The Halloween franchise has a confused timeline, with sequel upon sequel upon reboot, so in many respects the decision to jettison everything after the first film, making this effectively Halloween 2 mk.2, seems a sensible one, although there are nods to the other films, in particular the original Halloween 2 which revealed Laurie was Michael’s sister (just an urban legend here). The downside of this is that it neuters Michael somewhat. Suddenly he’s not a supernatural force of nature who’s slaughtered hundreds, now he’s just a psycho who killed five people and was caught not long after Dr Loomis (the late, great Donald Pleasance) shot him and watched him fall from a first floor window. The ending of Halloween is a masterstroke of terror, heavily implying that Michael is something not quite human, now it seems he was caught with ease five minutes later, and one of several problems the film has is that Michael’s lost that sense of otherworldly dread he once had, and as horror movies go Halloween 2018 commits the cardinal sin of just not being scary.

Which isn’t to say it’s a terrible film, and isn’t to imply that I didn’t enjoy it, but it would have been nice if it had played more like a horror film and less like a Terminator 2 knockoff. Unkillable antagonist, check, survivor of an original encounter who’s gone from naïve young woman to hardened killing machine, check, child of said survivor who thinks mom’s just nuts, check…you get my drift.

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As an action thriller Halloween works well enough, and its clearly made by people who have a great affection for the original, and there are many nods to the first film, including clever reversals of iconic images (remember Laurie looking out of the window and seeing Michael across the road, well now we get Allyson seeing Laurie standing sentinel over the road) that help lift the film above being just another slasher film, and of course it’s great to hear the Halloween music again and see Michael on the big screen.

It’s a gory film, yet the increased body count does mean that a lot of Michael’s kills seem somewhat repetitive. Sure you can overdue the inventiveness to the point where it becomes laughable, but after you see Michael ram someone’s head into a wall/steering wheel/whatever multiple times it becomes a trifle boring, and too many kills seem to happen off screen as well which is a little strange (although even in the original this happened).

The cast are good and the #metoo notion of daughter, mother and grandmother coming together to battle the faceless patriarchy seems incredibly prescient given the film’s production started way before Weinstein et al.

imagesCurtis is superb, and this really is her movie, and you have to give props to a film with the balls to make a woman of nearly 60 an action hero (I mean you shouldn’t because it shouldn’t be any more ridiculous than turning Liam Neeson into the most dangerous man alive, but that’s sadly the current nature of Hollywood, though thankfully times are changing). Curtis does an excellent job of making Laurie strong and defiant, yet incredibly brittle. She wants Michael to come back so she can kill him, but she’s also still traumatised by her earlier encounter. We believe she can shoot a bullseye from half a mile away, but we can also believe she wakes up screaming in the night. If anything I wish she’d been given even more to get her teeth into. Similarly with Greer who should have got more to do (though I do think she has the film’s best moment) As Alysson Matichak is very good, and thankfully Alysson feels like her own person rather than just being a cheap copy of 1978 Laurie.

Special mention to Virginia Gardner as Vicky and Jibrail Nantambu as Julian, the little boy she babysits, who have such a affectionately snarky relationship that for a while you kinda wish the film was about them. And it’s always nice to see the ever-reliable Will Patton, here playing Deputy Hawkins, the only local cop (improbably) who takes Michael’s return seriously.

The script feels a trifle confused, and whilst some of the direction is very good in evoking moments from the original, at times it’s very flat, which feeds into the lack of atmosphere which is the film’s biggest downside. It doesn’t even have many effective jump scares because they’re telegraphed so far in advance. Even the ‘twists’ aren’t that unexpected.

As an exercise in nostalgia, and an acting canvas for Jamie Lee Curtis this is excellent, as a female led action thriller it’s good, but as a horror film it fails miserably, which is a shame because if they’d actually managed to give this film a palpable sense of dread it could have been a true classic rather than an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable curiosity.

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After 40 years Michael finally feels comfortable coming out of the closet…

First Man

Posted: October 16, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy.

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He looks like a nice guy…

In 1961 test pilot Neil Armstrong (Gosling) is flying the X-15 rocket plane, but after near disaster he’s grounded. It’s another blow on top of the trauma he and his wife Janet (Foy) are already struggling with because their daughter, Karen has a brain tumour.

In the aftermath of tragedy Armstrong applies for NASA’s Project Gemini, a precursor to the Apollo programme. Armstrong and his family move out to Houston where they quickly become friends with his fellow astronauts and their families.

As training progresses Armstrong is chosen to fly on Gemini 8, but every man sees Gemini as only a stepping stone, every one of them wants to go to the moon and Armstrong is no exception, but the earliest era of the space race is a dangerous time and for all their scientists and engineers, NASA are pushing the envelope in terms of what is possible. As accidents and tragedy befall the group, and Armstrong withdraws further and further into himself, Janet has to accept the very real possibility that her husband might fly to the moon, it isn’t certain that he’ll come back.

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It was a bad time to need a pee!

After the delight of La La Land it’s interesting to note that Damien Chazelle’s follow up is a very different kind of film, and even though he’s retained the services of Gosling, the locked down astronaut Armstrong is a very different character to laid back jazz aficionado Sebastian.

It’s been three days since I saw First Man, and it’s fair to say that it’s still haunting me. Chazelle has managed a rare feat, a film that, on the surface, is an epic tale of the race to the moon, but which underneath is an incredibly intimate character portrayal of one man’s struggle with grief and solitude.

For all that he was seen as an all-American hero, the reality of Neil Armstrong was something more nuanced. Here was a man who didn’t like being the centre of attention, who was incredibly introverted and who struggled to express his grief, bottling it up and retreating further and further into his work, and Gosling is just amazing. He’s awkward and insular, a man unable to tap into his emotions—in one scene he explains to his children that he might not make it back from the moon, but talks to them like he’s chairing a meeting. In another scene he bluntly explains to one of his friends, who asks if he wants to talk, that the reason he suddenly left a funeral was because he wanted to be alone.

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Suddenly Claire realised she wasn’t in Charlies’ Angels 3 after all!

It’s Foy as Janet who is our way into his life, and she continues to impress as an actress. In many ways it’s a thankless role, and yet an essential one to ground the drama, and often it’s Foy who’s left to express our exasperation, whether it’s decrying NASA as a club for schoolboys building toys out of balsa wood, or insisting that Armstrong talk to his children before he heads off to what could be his final mission. If there’s a misstep in the film it’s that she disappears during the Apollo 11 mission, I can understand why Chazelle did this, but her absence is notable.

The supporting cast is solid, in particular Jason Clarke is good as fellow astronaut Ed White, and Corey Stoll seems to be having a blast as Buzz Aldrin, who’s portrayed as something of a loudmouth, and is the perfect counterpoint to the buttoned-up Armstrong.

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Kept expecting Blofeld’s rocket to sneak up behind it!

The true wonder of this film is in Chazelle’s direction and Linus Sandgren’s cinematography however, and in fact the whole crew deserve credit for putting something so stupendous on the screen. The effects are amazing, and spaceflight in the 1960s in shown in all its cobbled together glory. The Gemini and Apollo space craft may look ultra-modern from a distance, but they’re not the sleek craft of science fiction, they’re metal and they’re clunky, bolted and riveted together like handstitched jeans, and when one technician asks if anyone has a swiss army knife just before take-off so he can fix something this makes perfect sense. Chazelle doe an amazing job of putting us in the capsule with Armstrong, and it isn’t glorious or heroic. It’s cramped and noisy, and when they launch the craft rattles so hard that it feels like it’s going to shake apart, and it’s bought brutally home to us that these men are strapped into tiny metal coffins that are jammed onto the top of rockets full of highly flammable liquid. Spaceflight is brutal, and for some of the astronauts it may be fatal.

Still, seeing the Gemini capsule in space, or the lunar lander approaching the moon, there’s a real sense of awe unlike anything I’ve seen before, and in particular the lunar scenes are just incredible.

But this is a film about claustrophobia, and Chazelle uses hand held cameras to film his stars in close-up to empathise this. It’s also film about solitude, and it’s clear even before he travels hundreds of thousands of kilometres to the moon that Armstrong is detached from the rest of the human race, shut off behind a façade to hide his grief.

There’s a moment, on the moon, that revolves around nothing more than Armstrong lifting his visor and then lowering it again, yet it’s an incredibly evocative moment that brings the whole story together, even before we get to a final scene that reinforces everything we’ve come to realise about Armstrong.

It maybe could have done more to show the work of those women and persons of colour at NASA who played their part, but this may have detracted from the focal point of Armstrong, and it is a long film. It’s also somewhat slow at first, but rewards your patience. An incredible film that’s been put together with the meticulous care of a Saturn V rocket, and I’ll be amazed if it doesn’t win big at the Oscars (but then again, I thought Dunkirk would so what do I know!)

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Fly me to the moon…

A Star Is Born

Posted: October 11, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Bradley Cooper. Starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.

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Jackson Maine (Cooper) is a famous country music star suffering from tinnitus who has a major alcohol problem. After one concert he’s so desperate for a drink that he gets his driver to drop him at the nearest bar, a drag club where he sees Ally (Gaga) perform La Vie en rose. Enraptured by her talent he talks to her after the gig and learns that she’s never been able to break into the music business because of her looks. They talk and sing together and he invites her to one of his concerts where he convinces her to sing on stage with him.

Ally proves a hit on social media and the two fall in love. As time passes she gets a manager and a record deal, but as Ally’s star rises Jackson’s falls and his drinking becomes more and more of a problem…

And so the 4th (or maybe 5th as there’s a Bollywood iteration) version of this story hits our screens, following on from the 1937 original and the 1954 and 1976 remakes. As far as I can tell the basic story has remained the same, though obviously the setting and the players changed each time.

This time it’s the turn of debutant director Cooper and debutant (in a leading role) actor Lady Gaga, and the first thing to make clear is that if you walk in with certain expectations about either of them, prepare to have them blown way, because both are very, very good in a multitude of ways. It’s clear Gaga can sing, but she can also act, as for Cooper not only can he act, but he can sing too, and direct…oh yeah, and he co-wrote the script and several of the songs.

On many levels A Star is Born is a broad, predictable film, but that’s not to demean it, far from it, taking an age-old story and reimagining it well takes talent, and one hopes this isn’t the last time we see Cooper in the director’s chair, or Gaga swap singing for acting.

I’ve been a fan of Cooper’s since he starred as Jennifer Garner’s best friend in Alias, surprisingly not playing the romantic lead. Suffice to say he’s been somewhat pigeonholed since then as the charming pretty boy, but here he clearly demonstrates there’s more to him that that million-watt smile. As Jackson Maine he’s all greasy and gravelly, with a voice that sounds like it’s the product of a million cigarettes, a million whiskies, and a million songs. He’s a broken drunk, albeit a high functioning one, most of the time, and he utterly convinces as a guy thousands would pay to see sing on stage.

As Ally, Gaga eschews the makeup and kooky outfits (at first at least) to effectively play the girl next door, the self-conscious woman with talent who’s too plain to make it. She does this so effortlessly that you’ll forget all about the million selling artiste. There’s a naturalness to her performance that’s honest and refreshing, and if there’s a flaw to her performance it’s that as the movie progresses she becomes less and less Ally, and more and more and more Gaga, but then that’s probably the point.

A STAR IS BORNAlthough it’s a two hander, it’s worth mentioning Sam Elliott as Jackson’s brother. He does sterling work with limited screen time, and I sincerely hope that Cooper, Gaga and Elliott all find themselves with Oscar nominations come next year.

The direction is exceptionally assured, and I really enjoyed the music, at its heart though is the romance between Jackson and Ally, and Cooper and Gaga sell it for all it’s worth. They have natural chemistry, and it helps that the relationship is flawed (as all are) rather than some fairy-tale romance, and in the end you can’t help but realise that each character has selfish reasons to make the romance work. For Jackson it’s the reinvigoration of his love of music, whilst for Ally it’s clearly an opportunity to make a career doing what she loves. It’s to the film’s credit that it never tries to sugar coat each character’s ulterior motives and makes it clear that their romance goes beyond these reasons anyway.

If the film does have a flaw it is in how broad it is, take for example Ally’s manager who’s straight out of central casting and acts exactly how you’d imagine a weaselly record producer to act, but this aside it’s a great film which proves that a simple story told well still has the power to engage and move an audience.

Forget a star is born, I think we’ve just seen several stars born.

Highly recommended.

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The Little Stranger

Posted: October 2, 2018 in Film reviews, horror
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Directed by Lenny Abrahamson. Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter and Charlotte Rampling.

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It’s a few years after World War 2, and England is gripped with post war austerity. Dr Faraday (Gleeson) has returned to the village he grew up in to work as a GP in the local practice. Very soon he’s called out to Hundreds Hall, the home of the Ayres family. Faraday’s mother worked there as a maid, and he has vivid memories of the house in its glory days, specifically a visit to the house he undertook as a child in 1919. Things have changed though, the house is in disrepair and the family are in financial straits thanks in part to the new Labour government’s death duties.

Nominally the head of the household is Roderick Ayres (Poulter) an RAF veteran who was horribly disfigured in the war, but in reality keeping the family together is his sister Caroline (Wilson). Their mother (Rampling) still dotes on her dead daughter, Suki and both Roderick and the family’s maid Betty (Liv Hill) feel there is a supernatural presence in the house.

Faraday doesn’t believe in ghosts, but as one tragedy after another befalls the family, can there be any other explanation?

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The follow up to the impressive Room, Abrahamson’s latest film as it once very different, yet bears certain similarities. Room was a contemporary story about a young woman and her son held captive, and on the surface a tale of post war austerity, class and the supernatural seems very different, except much as Bria Larson and Jacob Tremblay were held captive to an outside force, so are both the Ayres and Faraday.

Faraday is a man trapped by his own pride, the son of a working class family he’s made a success of his life, yet can’t help but feel like the help, like he doesn’t belong, and Gleeson plays the part to a tee. Ramrod straight, his accent as clipped as his moustache, Faraday is trying desperately to fit in with the upper class that he envies so much, and it’s testament to Gleeson that he manages to make Faraday both empathetic and yet somewhat creepy at times, a delicate balancing act meant to keep the viewer off kilter. Faraday is obsessed with Hundreds Hall and its former glory, to the point of acting like a jealous lover at times, and his every act, good and bad, can be linked, directly or indirectly to his infatuation with the house.

Bette-Liv-Hill-and-Caroline-Ayres-Ruth-Wilson-in-the-Little-Stranger-a-Focus-Features-release-600x320.jpgCaroline is a prisoner too, to her family having been brought home to care for Roderick, and to society’s idea of a woman’s place in the world. Wilson gives a superb, incredibly subtle performance, better even than Gleeson. It’s never explicitly stated, but there’s a clear suggestion that Caroline may be a lesbian, and here again she is captive to the conventions of the late 1940s.

And then there’s Roderick, imprisoned by his injuries, both physical and psychological, and Mrs Ayres, longing for her dead daughter.

The Little Stranger is gloriously shot, but it’s an incredibly slow burn of a film that won’t appeal to everyone. Marketed as a horror film it’s likely to annoy the jump scare generation by relying on more subtle chills, although at times you can’t help feeling the film is a little too nuanced for its own good, and maybe even a little snooty over its more supernatural elements, preferring to work as a class driven melodrama for much of its run time, to the point where, a few early comments aside, any indication of an actual haunting comes late on in the film.

Of course, the slow pace means that scares can creep up on you, there’s an unsettling air hanging over the house and the characters, and though it only gave me a shudder on a couple of occasions, they were quite creepy moments. As a film this owes more to The Haunting than Nightmare on Elm Street, although there are a couple of surprisingly bloody scenes.

The film’s done poorly at the box office, and whilst on one level I can see why (in many respects, like Faraday the film’s too stiff for its own good) in some respects it’s shame because there’s a haunting quality to the film that rewards a careful watch, even if Abrahamson chickens out a little at the end by explicitly showing just who’s really haunting the house, which was unnecessary because you can work it out from the clues you’re given.

A well-acted, well directed film that suffers from a glacial pace and more than a hint of embarrassment at its supernatural credentials, I hope this might turn out to be a film that’s reappraised with time.

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The Predator

Posted: September 25, 2018 in Film reviews, science fiction
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Directed by: Shane Black. Starring:  Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key and Thomas Jane.

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Someone asked for one retake too many!

During a hostage rescue mission sniper Quinn McKenna (Holbrook) and his team encounter a crashed spacecraft and are attacked by a predator. Quinn manages to incapacitate the predator but only after his team is wiped out. Realising that the government will cover it up and pin the blame on him, he mails some of the predator armour home to his autistic son, Rory (Tremblay) and estranged wife, Emily (a criminally underused Yvonne Strahovski).

Quinn is captured and, due to the incredible nature of his story, is treated like he’s suffering from PTSD. As such he’s placed on a bus with a group of other former soldiers, each of whom is suffering from mental health issues.

Meanwhile evolutionary biologist Casey Bracket (Munn) is recruited to study the predator that Quinn encountered. The only trouble is, the predator isn’t quite as incapacitated as everyone thinks.

As Quinn and Bracket’s paths cross, and the predator causes havoc, Rory has managed to activate the predator’s armour, drawing the alien to his small town, but also attracting the attention of a second predator who’s far more dangerous than the first.

Suddenly Quinn and his rag tag group of misfits not only have to save Rory, they might well have to save all mankind.

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When news of a new Predator film was announced I was vaguely excited, whilst I loved the first film it’s definitely been a case of diminishing returns. Predator 2 has its moments, but it’s dated far more than the original has, and whilst Aliens Vs Predator is a far better film than it has any right to be, AVP: Requiem is a disaster, arguably not only the worst Predator film but also the worst Alien film into the bargain. That leaves 2010’s Predators, which I’m actually a fan of, for me it’s probably the second best film in the franchise, though this isn’t a view held by all. When it was announced that the new film would be written and directed by Shane Black my interest ratcheted up significantly. Not only is Black an accomplished writer/director (who’s had a hand in a whole heap of great movies, going back to Lethal Weapon in 1987 (which he wrote) and right up to just a couple of years ago when he wrote and directed the superb The Nice Guys) but he also starred in Predator as one of Schwarzenegger’s ill fated men. It was a winning combination that suggested the next Predator film might well be a joy.

It isn’t.

It really, really isn’t.

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A film so bad even the predator has his head in his hands!!

Instead it’s a confused mess.  Tonally it’s all over the place, and it’s hard to tell just what kind of film Black was trying to make, on the one hand he’s talked about ET and Close Encounters from an awe inspiring perspective, and at times there’s an almost family friendly comic book sensibility of the kind you’d find in Ghostbusters or the Goonies, yet married to this is an R rated attitude to violence and profanity quite at odds with a family audience.

Black is clearly trying to emulate the testosterone fuelled banter of Predator, and Quinn’s band of PTSD sufferers do have their moments, but several are instantly forgettable (especially Alfie Allen who vanishes for long swathes of the film—maybe because he couldn’t keep his ludicrous Irish accent going) and even with those who aren’t there are issues. Thomas Jane’s Baxley has Tourette’s, which is played for laughs initially, and then which seems to vanish entirely as the film goes on! I can almost accept that once back in combat Baxley is too focused for the condition to affect his speech, but what’s more ridiculous is the fact that, as the film progresses, Jacob Tremblay’s Rory seems to get better from autism! It’s ridiculous, and a shame as, initially at least, the character is dealt with quite sensitively, but it soon becomes apparent that rather than choosing to make a point about inclusivity, Black just wanted a plot point. Autism as the next stage in human evolution!

As the lead Holbrook is a trifle bland, and whilst Munn does her best to rise above the material she’s hampered by having to go from serious scientist to an ass kicking gun wielder in about 24 hours, not to mention go through the wince-inducingly contrived scene where she has to get naked, for, you know, plot purposes. Keegan-Michael Key has a nice antagonistic buddy/buddy relationship with Jane, but really no one comes out of this film with too much credit.

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Black is famed for his wise cracking dialogue, and the film is genuinely funny at times, but it all gets a bit wearing when every character essentially sounds the same, to the point where even a small boy with autism becomes a foul mouthed wise cracker!

The script is all over the place and the plot makes little sense, there’s a ‘good’ predator who seems to kill as many people as the bad one, and the film’s clearly been attacked by a crazed editor with some scissors. Early on the misfits escape from military custody, and the next time we see them they’re driving a Winnebago and have amassed a small armoury of weapons, with no explanation! And late on one of the main characters is killed, not that you’d notice because it’s so badly handled.

An eleven foot super predator is stupid, but maybe not as ridiculous as the predator dogs that look like the dogs in ghostbusters and have, I kid you not, dreadlocks! Throw Predator subtitles and a Predator talking (rather than just aping human speech) and it’s just one bad decision after another.

It isn’t all bad, and at times it comes close to so-bad-it’s-good territory, just not often enough that it will ever become a cult classic. Too beholden to homaging(lampooning?) the original, and too confused about what kind of film it wants to be to have any hopes of success, this is a dire film. For 20th Century Fox it’s back to the predator drawing board, as for Black, please eschew the blockbusters and just give us The Nice Guys 2, Shane!

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I know how you feel, mate, I know how you feel…