Posts Tagged ‘Film reviews’

Unsane

Posted: April 3, 2018 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Claire Foy and Joshua Leonard.

uns_20171205._1.106.1.tif

“Seriously, mom. I keep telling them I’m the Queen of England but they refuse to let me out.”

Sawyer Valentini (Foy) is a young woman who’s recently moved cities to take a new job. This has taken her away from friends and her mother Angela (Amy Irving). Sawyer’s supposed reason for moving is that the job was too good to turn down, but what her mother doesn’t realise is that Sawyer actually moved because she was being harassed by a stalker named David Strine (Leonard).

After a panic attack Sawyer seeks help from a support group at a local hospital that specialises in helping victims of harassment. During a meeting with a counsellor she admits to sometimes having suicidal thoughts, and when given papers to sign to inadvertently commits herself to the psychiatric ward for 24-hours. Despite trying to back out, and even calling the police, she isn’t able to leave the hospital, and after a violent run in with a fellow patient named Violet (Juno Temple) her 24-hour stay is extended to seven days.

She finds an ally in a man named Nate Hoffman (Jay Pharaoh) who’s in the hospital recovering from drug addiction. He lends her his contraband phone and Sawyer is able to call her mother. Despite Angela’s arrival, getting her out of the hospital still proves difficult, and Sawyer has to face up to the fact that she’ll have to stay in for the full seven days, but things take a dark turn when one of the orderlies appears to be her stalker…or is he? Confused, and increasingly paranoid, is Sawyer imagining the presence of Strine in the hospital, or is she trapped in a building with a man who’s obsessed with her, and will do anything to posses her, even resort to murder?

K7MRRVDRDBGVZHAHC4WDXILIZ4

“Look all I’m saying is, maybe ease up on the Queen of England thing…”

Shot on an iPhone 7, Steven (didn’t you retire?) Soderbergh’s Unsane is a queasy, stripped back B-Movie that provides a showcase for Claire Foy to demonstrate that she can do much, much more than just play Queen Elizabeth II.

In almost every scene Foy is superb, and I suspect the film wouldn’t be half as good without her in the lead role. At times incredibly fragile, at times extremely resilient, she breathes life into a character who could have been just another stock final girl style heroine. Instead she wrings every last bit of character from the script, making Sawyer someone we can root for, whilst also making her seem real—she isn’t always the nicest of people, she’s manipulative when she has to be, and emotionally distant, using a dark sense of humour to spar with her co-workers (understandable given what she’d been through, but still a brave choice to not make her innately likable).

The decision to film on an iPhone allows Soderbergh to give Sawyer’s experiences an extra twist of the surreal. Foy and other actors are often viewed in closeup, adding to the sense of claustrophobia, and the iPhone lens further skews the images, adding to the Kafkaesque nightmare Sawyer finds herself in. In particular a scene where Sawyer is drugged is incredibly well shot to give us a glimpse into how disorientated Sawyer is.

I’ve never been a huge Soderbergh fan, though I’m not sure I could tell you why aside from the fact that his films always feel a trifle clinical, and despite the emotional intensity of Unsane it has that same, somewhat detached feel about it, but for the first two thirds of the film Soderbergh does a great job of discombobulating the viewer. Unfortunately in the third act things take a downward turn and the film becomes far more predictable. It wouldn’t have been so bad except for several elements that seem way too similar to a certain Stephen King adaptation to be coincidental, and these especially jarred, as did the inexplicable cameo appearance of a big name actor, which only served to pull me out of the story and remind me that I was watching a film.

Unsane-4

As a stripped down, exploitation horror/thriller Unsane works well due to its decent cast and inventive cinematography, and you have to admire a B-movie that actually has something meaningful to say about the American healthcare system, it’s just a shame the more intriguing and nuanced elements are pushed aside when the film reveals all and from then on treads a very well worn path.

Advertisements

Tomb Raider

Posted: March 24, 2018 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Roar Uthaug. Starring Alicia Vikander, Dominic West and Walton Goggins.

TombRaider

You won’t believe what the robot from Ex Machina looks like now!

Lara Croft (Vikander) is a young woman living hand to mouth in London. She can’t afford to pay the gym where she kickboxes, and her job as a cycle courier barely pays the bills. Of course, given she’s the heir to the vast Croft fortune it’s strange that she’s struggling, but in order to inherit the fortune she’d have to sign the papers declaring her father Richard (West) legally dead. Richard, a noted adventurer, disappeared in mysterious circumstances seven years before. Lara is reluctant but after she’s arrested when an urban cycle race goes wrong, she’s bailed out by her father’s former partner Ana (Kristin Scott Thomas) who encourages her again to sign the paperwork and let her father go.

Lara agrees, but after she does she finds evidence that her father had travelled to a mysterious island where a mythical Japanese queen, Himiko, was supposedly entombed. Himiko was known as the ‘Death Queen’ and Richard feared her powers would fall into the wrong hands. In a video he encourages Lara to destroy all his work, so no one can locate Himiko, but instead she travels to Hong Kong in hopes of discovering what happened to her father.

Enlisting the help of drunken sea captain Lu Ren (an engaging turn from Daniel Wu) whose father vanished along with Richard, Lara travels into the Devil’s Sea. She locates the lost island but fierce storms shipwreck her. On the island she finds a group of mercenaries led by the villainous Mathias Vogel (Goggins) who have been desperately searching for Himiko’s tomb. Suddenly Lara finds herself in a battle for not only her own life, but potentially for millions more should Himiko’s curse escape the island…

58

Computer game adaptations are always tricky business, and whilst it wouldn’t be fair to say they all fail, on average the bad outweigh the good. Lara Croft, of course, has been on celluloid before, twice in fact, both times played by Angelina Jolie essaying the then voluptuous, somewhat more sexualised video game version. I’ve seen both but could barely remember anything about them aside from the fact that Chris Barrie was quite amusing as her butler, of and one of them starred a future James Bond!

The 2018 version of Lara Croft owes more to the more modern version of the game, with Lara as a grittier, more grounded character, but despite the hiring of a great actress, the results are as uneven as they were back when Jolie played the part.

The trouble is that computer games are made to be played, and films are meant to be watched, and if you make a film too much like a game, what you end up with is viewers feeling like they’re watching someone else playing a game (this of course reached a nadir a year ago when in Assassin’s Creed we watched Michael Fassbender watching someone else playing a video game!).

Too often with Tomb Raider it feels like we’re watching Lara tackle different levels, each with increasing levels of difficulty. So first she has to cycle through London, then escape some muggers in Hong Kong, then things get more serious as she has to escape from the wreck of a plane that’s about to drop over a waterfall…and so on and so on…

All of this is fine, and most action films will throw their protagonists into increasing amounts of danger. It’s just that it feels so contrived and obvious in this case. At times I almost felt like I could pick up a joypad and make Lara run a bit faster or jump a bit higher if I could just tap a button fast enough.

The other problem with Tomb Raider is, of course, the fact that we’ve seen this all before, and usually we’ve seen it done better. The film tries, with an Asian-centric myth at its heart, but in the end Himiko’s tomb isn’t that radically different from the Well of Souls or the last resting place of the Holy Grail.

Nerdist_LuRenandLara_TombRaider_031618

“Hey I’m the star so how come I get the bow and arrow and he gets the assault rifle?”

Vikander is a great actress, it’s just a shame that she’s in a film that doesn’t require her to do a great deal of acting. She has her moments, notably after the first time she kills someone, it’s a great little scene and it would have been nice to see more of the psychological impact of her actions, but sadly this isn’t that kind of film, so soon enough she’s off firing arrows into men’s chests without a second thought, and much of her acting is relegated to looking slightly miffed, as if someone in the supermarket ahead of her just nabbed the last jar of humus. Kudos for the effort she put into her training through because she really does look like she could run/jump/fight like that.

Tonal problem dogs the film throughout. The early scenes in London are especially painful, playing out like a not very subtle romcom, but even on the island the film can’t quite decide how gritty it wants to be, so it very much falls between two stools. Not harsh enough to stand out, but a little too violent to be multiplex friendly.

The cast surrounding Vikander aren’t terrible, but nobody has to make much effort. West is reliably stoic, Goggins reliably villainous, Scott Thomas is reliably Machiavellian, and Derek Jacobi is reliably, well reliably Derek Jacobi. It’s just a pity as I know they’re all capable of so much more.

The stand outs, Vikander aside, are Wu as Lara’s sidekick, who manages not to be either a bumbling idiot or a potential love interest, and Nick Frost, whose cameo might be the best bit of the film.

It’s not terrible. The set pieces on the whole are well done, it’s coherent and I was never really bored, but overall it’s just terribly average, and given a great actress and an iconic character we deserve better.

dominic-west-richard-croft-tomb-raider-croft-manor

“Aren’t you a little short for a tomb raider?”

You Were Never Really Here

Posted: March 17, 2018 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Starring Joaquin Phoenix.

methode_times_prod_web_bin_ca63efc0-22d8-11e8-8ccc-a83211a65142Joe (Phoenix) is a contract killer with a very particular specialism. He rescues children from sexual exploitation and, if required (and it usually is), exacts a brutal and bloody revenge on those responsible for the child’s torment. He’s no clean-cut hero however. He’s a broken man suffering from PTSD, not only from his experiences in the Gulf War, but also from his own childhood trauma.

After completing a job in Cincinnati he returns home to New York and his aged mother (Judith Roberts). He has little time to relax however, because all to soon he’s made aware of another job. Senator Albert Votto’s teenage daughter Nina (An eerie Ekaterina Samsonov) has disappeared, but the Senator has learned that she’s being held in a brothel catering to powerful men with a desire for underage girls.

Taking on the job Joe prepares himself for the task, purchasing his weapon of choice, a hammer, but there’s more going on than he thinks. Can he rescue Nina or will he fall victim to a vile conspiracy?

 

In some ways You Were Never Really Here is a very familiar kind of film, and yet in others it really isn’t that familiar at all. It has more than a passing resemblance to Taxi Driver, and in it’s burley, bearded, broken protagonist endeavouring to protect a younger female character it echoes more recent films such as Logan and Mel Gibson’s Blood Father.

What is different is Ramsey’s approach to the subject matter. This isn’t always an easy film to watch, but that’s not in the way you might imagine. Yes, it deals with a harrowing subject, and yes it’s violent, but when I say it isn’t an easy watch, in part this is because Ramsey doesn’t give you what you expect, subverting all your expectations of what a film like this should be like.

Take the violence, and yes some of it is very gruesome, yet Ramsey rarely shows it head on, instead we view it obliquely; sometimes via CCTV footage, sometimes its seen only in reflection, and sometimes it occurs off screen altogether. For the viewer this lends the film an odd lack of catharsis, because we’re conditioned to want to see the hero mete out justice to the vile villains. Which doesn’t mean that justice isn’t meted out, just not in the way you might imagine, and on occasion the viewer’s frustration might mirror Joe’s, and that’s uncomfortable because it suggests we want to see the violence, and what does that say about us?

5165.jpg

“What’s in this body sized bag? Er…would you believe Koi Carp?”

Though there are other characters, really this is a one man show, and Phoenix is mesmerizingly good. A broken bear of a man, Joe is at once painfully human, and at others frighteningly inhuman. Witness him tenderly sing along with his mother, or gently comfort Nina, whilst at others he dispenses violence as casually as one might wave hello to a vague acquaintance spotted across the street. His brooding presence is supplemented by an intense thousand-yard stare. If you saw Joe on the tube you’d probably want to sit as far away from him as possible, and yet despite the similarity to Taxi Driver, Joe is no Travis Bickle, he’s infinitely more noble.

In showing us the broken nature of a man suffering from PTSD Ramsey’s direction is all about chaos, from fragmented imagery to an incredibly discordant soundtrack, and she provides no glib answers, leaving it up to us to piece together the precise nature of the traumas that have shattered Joes psyche. There are several moments of symbolic suicide for Joe, as if she’s showing us a man who’s constantly being reborn yet never seems to get the redemption he probably deserves.

A short sharp hammer blow to the head of a film, but one that Ramsey isn’t afraid to slow down at times, You Were Never Really Here is an intriguing entry into the genre, and one that will probably reward repeat viewings, but if Joaquin Phoenix ever asks if you’d like to go to B&Q, I’d pass if I were you!

you-were-never-really-here-2017-008-joaquin-phoenix-lying-on-bed-with-knife.jpg

Joe liked his knife, but he really wanted a hammer.

Lady Bird

Posted: March 13, 2018 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Greta Gerwig. Starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.

feature-lady-bird-saoirse-ronan-lucas-hedges-thanksgiving-vintage-lace-dress

Young love. What could possibly go wrong?

Seventeen-year-old Christine McPherson (Ronan) is a high school senior in Sacramento in 2002. Desperate to escape the confines of her upbringing she insists everyone calls her Lady Bird, and she’s determined to get a place in an East coast college, where she imagines artists and more cultured people live, despite the fact that her grades aren’t that great, and her family is living under severe financial pressure since her dad lost his job.

Lady Bird is constantly at odds with her mother Marion (Metcalf). Lady Bird feels like her mother is always getting on her back, while Marion despairs at what she perceives as Lady Bird’s snobbish attitude to her family and her home, and her selfishness at not understanding the economic peril the family are in.

As Lady Bird approaches adulthood she struggles to fulfil her dream of an Ivy League college, and as relationships and friendships come and go she will finally come to realise who she really is, but will this come too late to prevent permanent estrangement from her mother?

 

Lady Bird is a small scale, and intimate film, but that doesn’t mean you should perceive it as merely lightweight fluff; with a good script, assured direction and superb performances this is a film greater than the sum of its parts, and whilst I don’t think it was ever really strong enough to challenge for the best picture Oscar, I can certainly see why it was nominated, and frankly on another year I could totally have seen Ronan snagging a golden statuette.

Written and directed by Gerwig this is clearly a story that was very personal to her, and whilst she’s said that it isn’t strictly speaking autobiographical, and that none of the events depicted happened to her, it’s clear that her own teenage years have informed this script, which lends it an authenticity that many similar coming of age films lack. There’s a sense that the film directed itself, so easy does it all seem, but somehow I doubt it was that straightforward. It takes real skill to make something look effortless, and Lady Bird really does have an effortless feel to it.

Aside from her direction, Gerwig’s script is very good. In particular her dialogue feels natural. Each of the characters has their own voice, and at no point do you feel like characters are having words they wouldn’t say put in their mouths. Never is this more evident than in the moments where Lady Bird and her mother go from arguing to agreement then back to arguing in the space of a single conversation and it never, ever feels forced.

28-lady-bird-ending.w710.h473

You can argue the plot, such as it is, is wafer thin, but then this is a film based around character much more than narrative, it’s about watching a girl transition to womanhood, with all the attendant heartbreak, humour and awkwardness that entails.

For me my first sight of Saoirse Ronan was in Atonement, and it was clear even then that she had the potential to be a fantastic actor. Of course not every great child actor goes on to become a great adult actor, but Ronan genuinely has. In particular her ability with accents is amazing, and the girl who grew up in Ireland utterly convinces as a Californian native. She’s a subtle actor, but not afraid to go big as the scene requires. On the whole this is a nuanced performance though, with every ounce of the character’s pain, elation and frustration reflected in those expressive pale blue eyes. She may have lost out at the Oscars this time, but it’s a case of when, not if, she eventually wins one.

lady-bird.png

As Marion Laurie Metcalf is similarly wonder, albeit in a different way. The character’s frustration with Lady Bird is palpable, and she moves around the screen with the weight of the world on her shoulders. You really do feel like she’s just pulled a double shift at the hospital at times. It’s a wonderfully weary performance.

As dad Tracy Lett’s gets to play the good cop to Mom’s bad, but he too gets to shine on occasion. Special mention has to also go to Beanie Feldstein as Lady Bird’s best friend Julie, and Lucas Hedges (seen recently in Three Billboards) as her boyfriend, and arguably it’s Hedges who has the most heart-breaking moment in the film as he breaks down on Lady Bird’s shoulders.

In the end this is a nice film, nothing truly terrible happens to Lady Bird and there is a certain diaphanous quality to it. That said just writing about it has reminded me of how much I enjoyed it, so I suspect it’s something I’ll return to from time to time and constantly be surprised at just how good it is.

At times very funny, at times heart-breaking, shifting from melancholic to joyous in the space of a single scene at times, this is an assured showcase for Gerwig’s skill as writer and director, and Ronan and Metcalf’s skill as actors.

vf_main_lady_bird_9914.jpeg_north_760x_white

It was only a matter of time before a female led reboot of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back was greenlit.

 

 

Black Panther

Posted: February 27, 2018 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Ryan Coogler. Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya and Letitia Wright.

MLD-01496_R.JPG

“What do you mean, Batman has bigger ears?”

To the outside world the African nation of Wakanda is a poverty stricken, third world country, but this is a deception, in reality Wakanda is a super advanced society based on the possession and application of vibranium, a rare extra-terrestrial metal (Captain America’s shield is made from it). Vibranium is also the substance used to make the suit of Black Panther. For centuries the king of Wakanda has drunk a special potion of give him super strength so he can become Black Panther.

In the aftermath of the death of King T’Chaka (as seen in Captain America: Civil War) his son T’Challa (Boseman) assumes the throne of Wakanda, and the mantle of Black Panther. His position is precarious however. Almost immediately he faces a challenge for the throne, and shortly afterwards he leaves Wakanda in pursuit of Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) a black-market arms dealer who’s come into possession of some vibranium. Klaue is also responsible for the death of the father of W’Kabi (the ever brilliant Oscar nominated British actor Kaluuya) an ally of T’Chaka. W’Kabi wants Klaue dead, but Klaue has allies too, including a mysterious man named Killmonger (Jordan), who has ties to Wakanda that will shake the nation to its core.

T’Challa has many other allies, from his former lover, and Wakanda secret agent, Nakia (Nyong’o), special forces general Okoye (The Walking Dead’s Gurira) his baby sister Shuri (Wright) who’s also the brains behind Wakanda’s advanced technology, and CIA operative Everett K. Ross (Freeman). But when regime change comes to Wakanda even these formidable allies might not be enough, and T’Challa’s stint as Black Panther may end up being rather short.

black-panther-cast_feature.jpg

Black Panther isn’t a character I’m familiar with, but I liked what I saw of him when he debuted in Civil War. It soon became clear that a standalone Black Panther film would follow, and just a few months before we get uber crossover Infinity War, and a few months after the hugely enjoyable Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther arrives heralded by a tsunami of positive reviews.

See this is where sometimes film reviewing get’s boring, because I’m not sure what I can say about Black Panther that hasn’t already been said—though that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try!

Those reviews weren’t damning Black Panther with faint praise, because this is a very well put together, very enjoyable blockbuster, with an exceptional cast and a smart script that has a lot to say about a whole host of things, and best of all it’s a Marvel blockbuster that manages to do something very different, to the point where it almost doesn’t feel like a Marvel blockbuster at all, certainly it’s streets ahead of something like Dr Strange, or even Ant Man (as enjoyable as those films were, especially Ant Man) and whilst it might not be as knock down enjoyable as Ragnarok, it’s certainly a deeper film, and I think it may well be in the top five of Marvel’s output for me.

In many respects it’s amazing it got made. For many years now the perception in Hollywood has been that black led blockbusters won’t make money (and you can see their point, what with losers like Will Smith and Denzel Washington out there…). Black Panther puts that notion thankfully out of its misery, turns out a black led, black written, black directed film can make as much money as any other blockbuster—see also Wonder Woman for doing the same for female led/female directed blockbusters. Only time will tell whether Black Panther is the sea change people think it will be, but whatever happens it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Coogler shows a deft directorial touch, there’s a fair bit of exposition/world building going on here, and in lesser hands this could have been dull. Black Panther is most assuredly not a dull film. It runs two and a quarter hours, but for me it raced past (until the credits waiting for the obligatory end credit scenes—there are two and you do need to stay right to the end for one of them). It feels like a leaner film than it actually is, and Coogler directs his action scenes and more contemplative scenes with equal aplomb.

Really I only have two quibbles with the film. I’ll get to the second later, but the first is Black Panther himself. Seems odd to say it given he’s the titular character, but in many ways T’Challa is one of the least interesting characters. Boseman is good, it’s just that not only is his saddled with being the upright, noble warrior, he’s also surrounded by a whole heap of brilliant actors, each of whom it seems, decided they were going to steal the movie! Don’t get me wrong, the film falls apart without him, but this does mean Boseman has to be the solid defensive midfielder whose presence allows everyone else to have a ball.

black_panther_still

Don’t worry ladies, it’ll be your turn to kick arse soon enough!

So where to begin with that extended cast? For me the best character was Danai Gurira’s Okoye. She’s strong, fierce and has a nice line in humour, and not for one second does she fail to convince as a warrior who could kick your butt. Coogler’s also not afraid to give her flaws, specifically her patriotism, yet she still comes out as a rounded, empathetic character. As T’Challa’s sister Wright is wonderful; smart, brave and with a mischievous streak that made her a joy to watch, and I hope we see a lot more of these two characters in future films.

As Nakia Nyong’o isn’t quite as convincing, but mainly this is down to a slight lack of chemistry with Boseman.

black-panther-movie-cast-images-6

“You try being a good guy with a name like Killmonger!”

Michael B Jordan plays Erik “Killmonger” Stevens and he proves an excellent foe for T’Challa, physically imposing with great screen presence and, best of all, a character you can relate to, even if you don’t necessarily agree with. When it comes to blockbusters Killmonger is a more nuanced villain than you might usually find.

Finally Martin Freeman does a good job with a character who could have easily been merely comic relief (as I believe the character is in the comics)

There really are too many great performances to mention, but suffice to say each and every one has his or her moment to shine. The talent on show in this film is incredible, it’s just a shame some of them won’t be coming back for a sequel.lupita-nyong-o-black-panther-ht-mem-180111_4x3_992

In terms of plot Coogler’s created a smart tale that plays on multiple levels. You can read it as a straightforward superhero film, but there’s deeper stuff at work here, from a deconstruction of colonialism to a critique of isolationism and the notion that only Africa can solve Africa’s problems. It’s a film that will reward repeat viewings, heck just the other say someone pointed out the symbolism of the fact that the final fight takes place in an underground railway!

Wakanda itself is wonderfully realised, as is its people, drawn from five separate tribes, each of whom has a distinct style all their own. The film is awash with colour and has a great soundtrack.

I said I had another issue with it, didn’t I? That issue is the cgi, which I thought looked a trifle ropey at times, but given the choice I’ll take great characters and slightly substandard cgi over photorealistic effects and carboard characters any day.

This is a smart, well-paced and well directed action adventure film that features great performances from a superb cast. It’s a film with something to say, and a film that champions not only persons of colour, but specifically women of colour, putting them front and centre where they prove they belong.

Wakanda Forever!

unnamed

“No I can’t introduce you to Benedict Cumberbatch!”

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

Posted: February 15, 2018 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Jake Kasdan. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Kevin Hart.

DF_05153_R_2040.0

A gentle Sunday afternoon orienteering was about to get a whole lot more exciting!

When four high school students are placed in detention and tasked with clearing out the school cellar, they discover a strange old-fashioned games console. It’s twenty years since the magical board game Jumanji wreaked havoc. The world has moved on, but so has Jumanji, sensing that people no longer play board games its redesigned itself as a computer game.

The four students grab a controller and choose a cheesy character to play in the game. Before you can say “Jumanji!” they’re sucked into the game and find themselves in another world, and that’s not the only change, because they’ve each become their own avatar. So nerdy gamer Spencer Gilpin is now a musclebound explorer named Dr Smolder Bravestone (Johnson) whilst Spencer’s former best friend, a jock nicknamed ‘Fridge’ is now a weedy zoologist nicknamed ‘Mouse’ (Hart). Cynical loner Martha has become a scantily clad kung-fu expert named Ruby Roundhouse, and most shockingly of all, selfie obsessed Bethany is now an overweight cartographer named Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Black)

The only way to escape the game is to return a fabulous jewel to it’s resting place in the eye of a statue, but whilst the group have heaps of special skills to call upon they’re facing an army of bad guys. They each have three lives to help them along, but once they expend them death might just get a lot more permanent!

When four high school students are placed in detention and tasked with clearing out the school cellar, they discover a strange old-fashioned games console. It’s twenty years since the magical board game Jumanji wreaked havoc. The world has moved on, but so has Jumanji, sensing that people no longer play board games its redesigned itself as a computer game.

The four students grab a controller and choose a cheesy character to play in the game. Before you can say “Jumanji!” they’re sucked into the game and find themselves in another world, and that’s not the only change, because they’ve each become their own avatar. So nerdy gamer Spencer Gilpin is now a musclebound explorer named Dr Smolder Bravestone (Johnson) whilst Spencer’s former best friend, a jock nicknamed ‘Fridge’ is now a weedy zoologist nicknamed ‘Mouse’ (Hart). Cynical loner Martha has become a scantily clad kung-fu expert named Ruby Roundhouse, and most shockingly of all, selfie obsessed Bethany is now an overweight cartographer named Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Black)

The only way to escape the game is to return a fabulous jewel to it’s resting place in the eye of a statue, but whilst the group have heaps of special skills to call upon they’re facing an army of bad guys. They each have three lives to help them along, but once they expend them death might just get a lot more permanant!

 

Though it came out in December, the fact that Jumanji was still in cinemas way into February finally gave me to time to catch up with it. With a great cast and an amusing trailer I’d been tempted, but something held me back. Having finally gone to see the film all I can say is, I was a fool! If I’d gone to seen this in December I might have got a second viewing in!

‘cos Jumanji is very enjoyable, in fact it’s ridiculously enjoyable. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it won’t win any Oscars, and it’s not really deep and meaningful (though there’s some nice morals hiding in there) but sometimes it’s just enough for a film to entertain, and Jumanji entertained me a whole lot.

It’s been a while since I saw Jumanji, but aside from a few call-backs you don’t need to have seen the 1995 Robin Williams’ vehicle to enjoy this one, and the premise is a straightforward fantasy quest. It pretty much takes the route you expect it to. What makes the film so fun is the script, the performances and its sheer energy. I was never bored, I laughed a whole lot, and I may have even inched my bottom towards the edge of my seat on occasion.

41E023F400000578-4651146-_Enjoy_He_s_noted_that_I_play_a_world_explorer_adding_I_may_have-m-43_1498750226956

“Hey, where’d my hair go?”

Dwayne Johnson is a man with enough natural charisma to power a city. His imposing physique is allied with great comic timing, and a dash of old school Hollywood charm; the fact that he has no qualms about taking the mickey out of himself is just icing on the cake. Is he the greatest actor in the world? Not remotely. Does it matter? See previous answer. He has a lot of fun playing the nerd who’s afraid of everything, and his special skill of being able to ‘smoulder’ to order is used to great comic effect.

Jack Black’s had a varied career. For every High Fidelity or School of Rock there’s a King Kong or The Holiday, but given the right material he’s a hoot, and boy does he get the right material here. Tasked with playing a self-obsessed teenage girl he throws himself into the part with vigour. It would have been so easy to overplay this, to camp it up into caricature, but for the most part he keeps it just the right side of too much, and along with Gillan he has the funniest scene in the film as Shelley has to teach Ruby Roundhouse how to flirt, and both actors completely nail it.

DF_04495_PM2230_ROD_v0007.1119_00930_rv4_2040.jpg

Gratuitous Karen Gillan picture.

Karen Gillan’s come a long way since Amy Pond, and as a big fan it’s no surprise that I loved her in this. Yes she’s dressed a little too revealingly (words I never thought I’d say), but thankfully her character has enough agency that you just go with the flow. She’s brave and kicks ass with the best of them, and just when you think the film’s going to go down the route of her learning to be womanly…well…you’ll see. Plus, as stressed above her skit with Black is pretty much worth the price of admission alone.

Rounding out the team Kevin Hart is amusing as the high school jock trapped in the body of a nerd. He has great chemistry with Johnson and you can see why they’ve made several films together. He too has good comic timing, but thankfully gets his share of heroic moments, in fact each of the ensemble gets their chance to shine.

Bobby Cannavale’s villain is a little lacking, but in the main it’s because he isn’t given much to get his teeth into, and given he’s a virtual character I guess that makes sense, but Nick Jonas rounds out the in-game characters nicely with an intriguing role. Outside of the game I give props to the four actors tasked with playing the teen (and in fact real) versions of our heroes. It’s testament to their performances that despite limited screen time I’d have happily seen more of them.

Well acted and directed, with laughs and thrills aplenty, you can argue Jumanji is a trifle lightweight, but when a film is this entertaining that hardly seems to matter. I’m not sure how they can wangle a sequel, but I really hope they do.

Jumanji!

p1sdmjf654MZc14Y1q3-o

Hopefully these guys are back in any sequel too!

Directed by Martin McDonagh. Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.

5a14585720c84662636099

Just when would the costume designer pay for their crimes against fashion?

Mildred Hayes (McDormand) is angry. It’s been seven months since her daughter was raped and murdered, and the police in Ebbing seem no closer to finding out who killed her. Consumed by rage and grief Mildred rents three abandoned billboards and uses them to very pointedly ask why the police haven’t solved the case.

The appearance of the billboards upsets the local sheriff, Bill Willoughby (Harrelson) who feels Mildred’s ire is unfair. He feels there’s a limit to what the police can do when there’s no evidence and no witnesses. Though he tries to assure Mildred that they haven’t given up on the case she is not to be dissuaded and has no intention of bringing the billboards down.

The locals are sympathetic to Mildred’s loss, but they’re more sympathetic to their sheriff, and as time passes the locals become more and more angry at Mildred, none more so than Officer Jason Dixon (Rockwell) an angry, racist cop who idolises Sheriff Willoughby.

As tragedy strikes Mildred finds an increasing array of obstacles in her path; is there any hope of getting justice for her daughter?

 

It’s hard to believe that Three Billboards (yeah I’m not gonna type the whole title each time, so sue me) is only the third full length film written and directed by McDonagh in almost ten years. He burst onto the scene with In Bruges in 2008, a wonderfully spiky gangster film that established him as a man who could make even the coarsest curses sound almost poetic and who could marry humour and extreme violence seamlessly. He followed In Bruges up four years later with Seven Psychopaths. Whilst not up to the standard of In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths was an enjoyable film that followed a similar path to McDonagh’s first work; it was spiky, foul mothed, violenct and a lot of fun.

Now three years later we have Three Billboards. In many respects it follows the pattern of the first two films, it’s a film that bristles, it deals with a cast of engaging characters, it’s a drama that revolves around a violent crime and, of course, it’s incredibly funny and foul mouthed. In all other respects however, Three Billboards is very different, this is a more grown up affair.

It’s a difficult film to pigeonhole. Yes it’s a very black comedy, but beyond this it’s a tale of grief and the extremes it will push people too, and it’s a story about how nobody is all good, nobody all bad, and how some people can surprise you.

McDonagh’s script is excellent, every word seeming chosen with meticulous care, and his overarching message that violence begets violence is never far away. In his casting he has actors each of whom is able to take those words and do something wonderful with them, and it’s in the dialogue and acting that the film primarily succeeds.

McDormand is a great actor, and she will forever be Marge Gunderson in Fargo. Mildred is about as far away from Marge as you can get, where Marge was innocent, Mildred is anything but, and McDormand wrings every drop of emotion from the role, swaggering around town like a female John Wayne (a metaphor ably supported by her own twangy Western theme) she’s angry, grief-stricken, tough as nails and yet also incredibly fragile. I don’t think there are many actors who could have pulled this off without either making Mildred too sympathetic, or making her too unlikable, and however much we might be rooting for Mildred, the film never shies away from the fact that she’s going too far. I won’t be at all surprised if McDormand ends up with another Gold statue in a few weeks’ time.

 

Harrelson imbues Willoughby with a huge amount of humanity, and in many respects he’s the most sympathetic character in the film—though special mention must be made of Peter Dinklage who excels in a cameo role as the local car salesman with something of a crush on Mildred—and Harrelson’s performance helps the film enormously, he’s so darn nice that it makes Mildred seem all the more extreme.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI

“I’m telling you, sheriff, she’s that pregnant cop from up north!”

Rounding out the main case is Rockwell, who I’ve been a fan of since Galaxy Quest. He has great comic timing, but also essays Dixon’s anger management issues to a tee, and it says something about Rockwell as an actor that he can make Dixon sympathetic.

You can probably tell I enjoyed this film, but that said I don’t think it’s quite as fantastic as a lot of critics would have you believe. There are plot contrivances that are a little too convenient, one of which relates to the Ebbing police station’s opening hours, and whilst many have singled out the reading of some letters as a masterful scene, I’m not so sure. They seemed a little too eloquent, and though the character’s voice is heard I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was really hearing McDonagh. There’s also the small matter of one character’s evolution, they’re overplayed as an idiot to begin with, which makes where they eventually end up stretch credulity a little, although the actor’s so good they manage to pull it off. I also found the eclectic soundtrack jarring, skipping from Spaghetti western to classical, to showtunes and pop; who knows, perhaps that was supposed to be jarring?

1273904_samrockwellinthefilmthreebillboardsoutsideebbingmissouri.photobymerrickmorton_668205

You shouldn’t need a magnifying class to see what’s great about this film.

Overall the strengths outweigh the weaknesses, though it won’t be a film for everyone. The language is beyond fruity, and the lack of a neat resolution will infuriate some. Me, I loved the cursing, and as for the moral ambiguity, that was another one of the strengths of the film, and for me the final scene as one of the most note perfect endings I’ve seen, for some reason evoking the end of John Carpenter’s The Thing (from the perspective of a weary “Let’s see what happens” kind of way, I’m not suggesting anyone in this is an alien shapeshifter!)

Sharp, funny, heartrending and incredibly foul mouthed, it’s not perfect by any means but I will certainly be paying another visit to Ebbing soon.