CHARLIE’S ANGELS

Unseen. Undivided. Unstoppable

Director
Elizabeth Banks

Starring
Kristen Stewart
Naomi Scott
Ella Balinska
Patrick Stewart



Established as a sequel to both the TV series and the early 2000s films, the Townsend group has expanded to a global initiative headed by a number of “Bosleys” with their own international teams of angels. The film opens with a successful mission in Rio de Janeiro headed by contrary angels, the slick and semi-recalcitrant Sabina [K Stewart] and the no-nonsense former MI6 heavy-hitter Jane [Balinska], which is then followed by the retirement of the first Bosley, played by Patrick Stewart. We are then introduced to Elena Houghlin [Scott], the head of a programming team for tech conglomerate Brock enterprises. Elena has finished work on a project named Calisto which can act as a new renewable power source but Elena is concerned that the current design means the device could be weaponised and should therefore continue development. With her manager disagreeing, Elena breaks rank and contacts the Townsend group, only to be ambushed and caught up in a major conspiracy.

The first and overall standout takeaway from this release is that no one is having as much fun in this movie as Kristen Stewart. I will admit that many years ago, I did my fair share of Stewart-bashing off the back of her presence in the Twilight films but like her co-star she has gone on to forge a truly impressive career in independent cinema and expands that diverse range with this incredibly funny and pleasing performance. Scott also proves once again that she is an incredibly reliable and entertaining addition to any story and Balinska decently holds her own alongside her co-stars. The angels also have fairly decent chemistry but this could largely come down to Sabina’s excess of personality bleeding into the other characters. Also as a bit of a side-note, while the remainder of the film is populated with plenty of dumb, obnoxious men, Saint is a refreshingly ridiculous character that stands out as one of the few decent, selfless examples.

Banks is still new to directing but already she has proved she can handle mainstream releases with ease and while Charlie’s Angels is very different from something like Pitch Perfect 2, the action is cleanly directed and edited action and everything flows commendably. Having said that, there are some examples of some questionable Photoshop and CGI work – explosions in particular – but these are minor quibbles. The real frustration is that despite this film seemingly hitting all the right notes, something still feels missing with everything coming off as somewhat low-stakes. The script is filled with international espionage, female empowerment, snappy dialogue, plenty of action solid scenes and the franchised Townsend operation is a decent plot device but the story threading all of these elements together fails to captivate enough to justify this film existing in the first place. Having said that I feel any of this film’s flaws will be unnecessarily magnified because despite the amount of progress we feel cinema has made, it’s still a female led feature film and therefore will undergo amplified scrutiny. Although the biggest drawback is how significantly formulaic the story is, unaided by obvious misdirects, it’s no worse than something like Hobbs and Shaw which will be infinitely more successful in spite of these issues.

Regardless of preconceptions and what people think they want from a release of this nature, the fact that Charlie’s Angels doesn’t cut any new territory or bring anything especially revolutionary means it ultimately feels disappointing and very disposable. Thus I’m torn because despite this not being a functionally very good feature, I found myself enjoying it for the most part and genuinely wouldn’t mind a continuation with this team.


Release Date:
29 November 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
Part of the trouble with this feature is that, in truth, almost nothing stood out to me. There was no heightened action sequence or emotional exchange that stuck with me enough to single out as a noteworthy positive or negative; which is probably the very best summation of this film’s foible. Having said that, there is a strange moment before the initial presentation of Calisto that calls for Elena to set one of the units on a podium next to a lit candle. Then, for seemingly no reason, she starts a capella rapping the opening lines to It’s Tricky by Run DMC. In terms of context, setting and the fact that she is stood in front of an audience of press and peers, it’s a really tonally-weird moment.

Notable Characters:
**spoilers within**
In addition to directing, Elizabeth Banks also plays the role of Bosley (another one), the group’s senior liaison. Her character is quickly embroiled in a twist which plays out rather predictably but I like the idea of her character. As the plot progresses we learn that Rebekah is the first former angel to be promoted to the rank of Bosley and thus holds a degree importance and prestige, which is a plot point I found myself genuinely enjoying.

Highlighted Quote:
“The world is on fire, Alex, but I’m sure your generation is going to figure it out”

In A Few Words:
“Light action comedy fluff regrettably devoid of any real presence”

Total Score:

2/5

KNIVES OUT

Hell, Any Of Them Could Have Done It

Director
Rian Johnson

Starring
Ana de Armas
Daniel Craig
Christopher Plummer



In the wake of the suicide of prolific crime writer, Harlan Thromby [Plummer], on the night of his 85th birthday, famed private detective Benoit Blanc [Craig] is hired to investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death. Subsequently, Blanc has all of the family members present interviewed and we slowly uncover that everyone has a potential motive with something to gain from Thromby’s demise. All except his nurse, caretaker and friend Marta Cabrera [de Armas], who has a strange disposition of being unable to lie without violently vomiting. Because of this, Blanc decides to keep Marta close as a confident as he goes about his investigation and uncovers the various secrets the family members do not want explored.

Filled with Johnson’s characteristic whimsy and playing to his love of narratives based on Rashomon style character perceptions of shared events, Knives Out is a true breath of fresh air. It wastes absolutely no time, painting an intriguing picture with clues and foreshadowing masterfully laid out, ensuring the audience is hooked and drawn in by both the circumstances of the suicide but also the ridiculous characters brought to life by a truly magnificent ensemble cast. On top of that, apart from the end of the second act, where everything loses a little steam, this film has great energy and pacing with a surprising amount of political undertones and arguments that make this an oddly perfect Christmas/Thanksgiving film as well as contemporary social commentary.

In terms of direction and cinematography, this film is littered with references, nods and homages to decades of classic thrillers and the camera largely relies on static shots, glides, pans and dolly zooms. Thus it is a very noticeable shift when Marta leaves the house following an event (this review was so much longer but I decided to remain 100% spoiler free, so my apologies for the ambiguity) and the entire scene comes off the tripod and is shot almost handheld. As a representation of the chaos and discordance for both our lead and the story, it is a beautifully simple but effective piece of direction. Perfectly complimenting the dramatic thriller side of things, there is an extremely powerful vein of humour running from end to end and everyone has a genuinely memorable moment or line that highlights this perfectly. The whole thing is very reminiscent of something like Kind Hearts And Coronets and countless other Ealing Studios films.

Following up her standout performance from Blade Runner 2049, de Armas is a joy to watch and with Marta being so wonderfully pure, creates a sympathetic co-lead that we want to survive the viper pit of her duplicitous employers. I would also add this is the most enthusiastic and engrossed I’ve seen Daniel Craig in years. Full of personality and absurdity verging on caricature, he is clearly having an exceptional amount of fun with this role but manages to keep it grounded enough to ensure said caricature is never realised. A prime example of this takes place in the third act as Blanc is giving the classic final exposition, unravelling the entire case for the audience, manically rambling about doughnuts within doughnuts. It may sound odd but it’s fantastic. To save this becoming a bullet-pointed list of endless praise (which I could quite happily do), I will just summate that there isn’t a single dud performance. Every single actor brings a wealth of energy and talent to their role, no matter how small and makes for compelling viewing throughout.

In all fairness, Knives Out isn’t especially original or ground-breaking but by revisiting a long absent genre, it feels fresh and exciting. It also helps that Johnson has assembled a cast of extremely capable serious actors to indulge in devilishly wicked performances without a single ego getting in the way of telling a captivating, lively and wholly silly tale.


Release Date:
29 November 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers – I know I said that I was trying to keep this 100% spoiler free but this is as close as I can get**
It is quite the novelty to solve the mystery extremely early on by showing the actual events. I had my initial concerns that by doing this, the film would become farcical or dull but by doing this it gives the audience an added element of tension while Blanc tries to solve the case, despite the fact that the viewers know when he is getting hot or cold. But then, just when we are lulled into a fall sense of security and complacency, the story twists again and we are given another level of mystery which becomes doubly intriguing for the very fact that we do not have this information to hand. It’s a marvellous example of a master director establishing the rules the film will follow and then surprising you by revealing that you too are a component in this game; mirroring the line Jamie Lee Curtis’ character says about her father playing games and communicating in code for those who know what to look for.

Notable Characters:
Absolutely every member of this cast is a treat to watch and highlight just one has been bloody difficult but as a source of constant comedy, with his fanboy glee is the supporting detective, Trooper Wagner played by Noah Segan. A subtle and simple portrayal but as one of Johnson’s regular players, he never disappoints.

Highlighted Quote:
“A strange case from the start, a story with a hole missing in the middle… a doughnut”

In A Few Words:
“Extraordinarily fun”

Total Score:

5/5

FROZEN II

Step Into The Unknown

Director
Chris Buck
Jennifer Lee

Starring
Idina Menzel
Kristen Bell
Jonathan Groff
Josh Gad




Set a few years after the events of Frozen, life in Arendelle is healthy and prosperous under the rule of Queen Elsa [Menzel], with her sister, Princess Anna [Bell] acting as counsel. But Elsa is troubled by a voice that calls on the wind which seemingly only she can hear. Torn between her duties as a ruler and the overwhelming pull to uncover its origin, Elsa accidentally (this is never exactly clear but I’ll come back to that) sends out a magical signal which throws Arendelle into chaos as elemental spirits attack the kingdom. In an effort to uncover both the origin of the queen’s powers and free the city from its curse, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff [Groff] and Olaf [Gad] set out to find an enchanted forest from the stories of their youth.

As with the first film, Frozen 2 delivers more lush Scandinavian world-building with detailed designs that are wonderfully evocative of their real-life counterpart and that’s before taking into account the sweeping vistas which offer truly breathtaking visuals. For all the natural flare on show, there is an equal effort put into animating the elemental effects and Elsa’s various magical abilities. Case in point, at one point in the story Elsa is trapped in a whirlwind which she disperses with an icy shockwave, leaving these half formed impressions that offer a really subtle but captivating visual. But I think a lot of the opportunity for these moments originates in the fact that Frozen 2 feels somewhat different to what has come before; less a contained palace melodrama, more a wide-reaching journey of discovery. Ultimately, the whole thing feels like a merging of the new wave of Disney’s show tune-heavy progressive tales and the darker adventure-driven tales that Ron Miller pushed for in the 1980s.

Anna and Elsa continue to be well grow as confident and driven heroines but there’s a decent balance ensuring that one doesn’t outweigh the other. It’s also refreshing that the film continues where the previous left off with a lack of a distinct and traditionally drawn adversary and that Elsa still doesn’t require a love element to function. I also appreciated the addition of Lt Destin Mattias, voiced by Sterling K Brown, and Kristoff’s subplot which, while incredibly rudimentary, was entertaining and didn’t feel the need to pull centre stage. However the really interesting point is OIaf and his maturity arc to mirror the ageing primary demographic (going so far to break the fourth wall to say “you all look a little older too”). Olaf continues to get the biggest laugh from the entire audience but there’s a pleasant sense of him slowly ageing and confronting darker themes with the same innocence.

Speaking of darker themes, there are plenty of them running throughout that address the problems that today’s kids are facing – whether they realise it or not. Having used Frozen to pick apart some of the classic Disney developments while still hitting all the classic tick-box tropes was an amusing bit of self reflection and mild hypocrisy. This remains present but the newer themes are much loftier, rather than being careful who you invest your feelings in, there are aspects of abandonment, depression, isolation, responsibility, climate change, colonialism (through the concept of a kingdom favourably dictating their history) and the responsibility on the youth to correct the mistakes of the past. Sure, a lot of this will go over the heads of the kids and many adult audience members will reject that they’re even there but for those that identify with these issues, the message will ring loud and clear and remarkably the majority of them are extremely well-handled.

Unfortunately, you can’t talk about a Frozen film without addressing the songs and holy crap there is an abundance of singing. Other than the prolific ear-worm “Let It Go,” Frozen’s songs weren’t as wide-ranging and well placed as the height of the 90s tracks but Disney have already refined this formula, as seen in Moana. But the very nature of “Let It Go” being so ingrained in the public consciousness means people will be unable not to make a comparison. It doesn’t help that the film’s songs feel like they follow the same pattern and styling of its predecessor; you only need to put Olaf’s 2013 and 2019 upbeat songs side-by-side to see that. Then there’s the direction of Kristoff’s song, with its cheesy 80s power ballad video homages that shouldn’t work but surprisingly do and feels very much a consolation for the adults who have been begrudgingly dragged to the cinema. But the real star of this entire show isn’t actually a single track but a simple haunting siren call leitmotif that I found both catchy, memorable and is incorporated beautifully throughout the entire score. Yes, the songs are what people talk about first but Christophe Beck’s deep and ominous score work continues to shine magnificently. I would also add, the disconnected title music from the first film is finally incorporated as a traditional song and it has now shifted from out-of-place oddity to greatly appreciated bit of foreshadowing.

I’m not the biggest fan of Frozen. I thought it was a fairly disappointing step after Tangled but appreciated the themes of sisterly love and the subversion of expectation. The sequel is no different and far from perfect but admittedly in different ways. Firstly, while I can spend hours praising the concept of a female-led family action adventure film, the film has a tough time getting the story rolling with a fairly clumsy opening scene. It probably doesn’t help that the actual opening scene (rather than the one I referenced in my synopsis) is a flashback with magic, sword fighting and overall portent. I would also add that there is a development between Anna and Kristoff that wasn’t as awful as it could have been but still felt incredibly forced and frustrating. On top of that, we have to contend with Elsa continuing to display infinite and unlimited deus ex machina powers that remain largely undefined to ensure they can be utilised as the plot requires them; blasts of ice? no problem, summoning CCTV-style memories from water? that’s a bit of a weird one. The twist of Queen Iduna’s identity was painfully obvious but thankfully the entire story didn’t rest upon the reveal, more the consequence of the actions she took, so we’ll skip over that. And finally, as much as I can happily laud this film for the important themes they weave into the narrative, I still have to look at Disney as a company and frown because of the sheer wealth of plastic merchandise the success of this movie will generate. I mean, keep it up, it’s important to discuss climate change in a way that our kids can understand it but maybe don’t simultaneously ensure that outcome becomes a reality?

A mere six years have passed since Frozen became the highest grossing animated film ever made (until it was dethroned this year by a fellow Disney title) but it will likely garner a Star Wars reception where nothing will ever surpass the feeling of familiarity that comes from watching a film on repeat several times per week for years on end. Subsequently it wouldn’t surprise me if audiences and critics mark this film down but have difficulty expressing why outside of “it doesn’t feel the same.” In many ways Frozen 2 is better than the first film, if only for its tight structuring and marrying of everything Disney is trying to put across as a company, but I doubt it will have the same lasting impact of the first one which, lets face it, no one saw coming. And while there will probably not be a third instalment, this outing offers a solid way to close Anna and Elsa’s story.


Release Date:
22nd November 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers in this section**
Anna is a very interesting character if only because she has no powers. She is not her sister and selflessly plays the role of the support throughout. When they are pushed away by Elsa, Anna and Olaf become lost and trapped in a cave surrounded by sleeping giants. This is a fairly bleak predicament but despair sets in for Anna when Elsa’s hubris causes her to be petrified and Olaf to – for lack of a better word – die. Everything about the imagery is dark but then we have the song “The Next Right Thing” which explains that while odds may seem insurmountable, you have to just focus on what’s in front of you, in over to put things right. Which anyone who has struggled with mental health will confirm, is essentially what every councillor would advise.

Notable Characters:
As stated before, Arendelle is caught in the grip of vengeful spirits that represent the four basic elements of earth, air, fire and water. Three of these spirits are individual characters – a gust of wind (usually represented by two leafs on a breeze) called Gale, a pink flamed salamander and a rather aggressive horse made of water. But the earth element isn’t an individual but in fact several giant rock monsters. I just found this a bit of an odd move.

Highlighted Quote:
“You don’t want me to follow you into fire? Then don’t walk into fire”

In A Few Words:
“More adventure focused, Frozen 2 will stand apart from Frozen but overall I feel it is in an improvement”

Total Score:

4/5

LAST CHRISTMAS

Sometimes You’ve Just Gotta Have Faith

Director
Paul Feig

Starring
Emilia Clark
Henry Golding
Michelle Yeoh
Emma Thompson



Set around the festive period in 2017, we are introduced to Kate [Clarke], a young aspiring singer working at a Christmas decoration shop in London. As the story progresses, we learn from her prickly boss Santa (Michelle Yeoh playing a character who has genuinely changed her name to Santa), her mother Petra and her sister Marta that since her operation last Christmas, she has become distant, cold, lazy and selfish. This has gotten her into a great deal of trouble and left her without a place to stay after a series of disastrous house-sharing mishaps. But Kate’s outlook on life slowly starts to change when she meets the wholesome, charming Tom [Golding]. But as Tom has avowed to live life and get away from his mobile phone (locking it in a cupboard), she has difficulty forming a lasting relationship with him, which impacts both her professional and private life.

To give full credit to Paul Feig, he has produced a very visually pleasing chameleon of a film. Aesthetically different from his usual fare, Last Christmas has a distinctly British feel to it, serving as a bit of a love letter to London and the random hidden eccentricities of the city. Admittedly, it’s likely this is due to the script being penned by someone who knows London extremely well, but the direction and production design feel more grounded in a form of reality than the affluential projection of London. More than that, it nails a great sense of rhythm and editing that utilises everyone involved and gives the film a pleasant, familiar sheen and air of quality. On top of that, the cast are fantastic, displaying sublime chemistry throughout. Golding is delightfully charming and wholesome, Yeoh goes from stern to caring to hilarious with great ease and Clarke proves comedy is better suited to her strengths, giving off heavy Sandra Bullock vibes. But despite this, the film is not good. It is a strange aberration, a melting pot of pitch-perfect ingredients with an ultimately disastrous final product. The actors are well cast and perform decently, the synopsis is functional with that hint of festive magic, the direction and cinematography are warm and inviting, there’s a subtle commentary on the current political crisis and the score is a mix of nostalgic George Michael/Wham hits and tender themes by Theodore Shapiro; but none of it comes together.

**spoilers**
To discuss this film and the problems therein, we need to spoil the twist, so consider yourself warned and skip to the final paragraph if necessary. So as the song Last Christmas suggests with the line “Last Christmas I gave you my heart” this film is about a young woman who, on the anniversary of her heart transplant, meets a man who turns out to be the previous owner of that organ. She falls in love with him and becomes a better person in the process, rediscovering who she is and connecting with her family and community in a way she never had before. In essence, this movie is A Christmas Carol by way of Fleabag and Fight Club but with none of the lofty qualities of those titles. For anyone looking, the twist is pretty predictable from the early scenes but I will expand on that further in my highlighted character section. With this twist in mind, the movie goes out of its way to show Kate as a difficult person but rather than seeing someone who is exceptionally selfish, rude, lazy or malevolent, she is just a little immature. In fact, her worst quality seems to be that she is a bit clumsy and a tiny bit promiscuous, which is hardly damning traits to the degree that all her friends kick her out of their flats and that’s before we consider the fact that she had a heart transplant months prior which cast members often refer to as “when you were ill.” It’s this tug-of-war between making Kate both a lost cause and a loveable scamp that constantly finds both the character and the film in this odd middle ground of mediocrity; her roots are showing and she wears a lot of eyeliner therefore tramp, she accidentally breaks things in people’s homes therefore she’s a menace, she doesn’t like her menial retail job therefore she’s lazy. When you breakdown the situations and apply some common sense to it, the conclusion is people are frankly awful to Clarke and it’s a miracle she hasn’t lamped someone sooner.

The whole movie also closes with extreme consequence free ease, like a fairy tale or fable, all it takes is a slight change of outlook and every peripheral issue resolves itself. As with most things in this film, the moral makes sense and has a positive message. Kate’s gestures of atonement are small and simple but they are heartfelt and sincere and because her friends and family recognise this, they accept the act of contrition. But in typical Christmas movie fashion, this works without fail every time and unifies everyone in a flashy, showy finale. Earlier comments about middle class white saviour syndrome are then dismissed with carefree abandon as Kate puts aside her selfish goals (if you consider getting a job as a performer selfish) and spends her spare time trying to help the homeless. That sentence elevates Kate, it should fundamentally make her a better person in the audience’s eyes but it reeks of hackneyed convenience to force a conclusion. What’s more, because of the poorly-defined flaws at the start of the film, the improvements made are hard to quantify.

In truth, it’s less that the film is riddled with a myriad of destructive properties but more one colossal problem. Everything about this film should work but seemingly none of it does and while it is perfect on paper, the execution falls flat. If I had to put a finger on what is to blame, I would have to say it’s the script. The simple synopsis or even elevator pitch for this yarn is perfectly serviceable but when said script made its way on-screen it either lost something in translation or could have done with a few rewrites because it’s all too trite, recurring supporting characters come off as irksome caricatures and nobody in this whimsical nonsense feels real. One could argue that a film of this type doesn’t benefit from grounded reality but again with the script not leaning into more of a Love Actually-style saccharine sweetness, it ends up twee and forced. In a way, it is very reminiscent of Yesterday, which also didn’t really work and failed to execute a decent premise despite an ideal cast and crew, becoming bogged down with absurd, directionless plot lines and far too neat a resolve. But this may all be for naught because while it feels like a heightened made-for-TV movie that got a lucky break, people will likely love it and no doubt return to it again and again, citing it as their favourite Christmas film. A prime example of critic vs audience, as I experienced with the acceptable but altogether mediocre The Holiday, which people still singing their praises for some thirteen years later.


Release Date:
15 November 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
A minor recurring subplot addresses the fact that Kate’s family are refugees from the former Yugoslavia. More specifically, as the film is set in 2017, it gleans the fears and treatment of European nationals in Britain in the wake of the Brexit referendum verdict. On a bus ride, Kate witnesses a man shouting at a couple speaking in a different language proclaiming that in England you have to speak English, before extending this to anyone else riding the bus. In an attempt to comfort the couple, Kate speaks in their native tongue and says they are indeed welcome. This commentary strikes a chord and feels painful for the fact that this country has endured horrific division off the back of this political act but the film addresses it with a passing nod, aware it cannot simply fix that problem with a local sing-song. I’ve always maintained the era of Brexit and Trump will be prime fodder for cinema but the fact it has cropped up while still in the middle of it all is quite surprising and will no doubt rub some audience members the wrong way; even if the film does deliver a hard truth.

Notable Characters:
**spoilers again**
Henry Golding is great, always is. In this movie he displays an energy, passion and earnestness that pushes through the lacking script. Having said that, while this film relies on emotional connection over technicalities, his character still required a smarter draft and there are so many things about his situation that don’t sit right. Things like Clarke gaining access to his flat. I understand he continually dodges people because he’s not there and I also understand the film’s concept that her new heart is guiding her to information she couldn’t know but that doesn’t explain how she gains access to a dead man’s flat. What’s more, once the revelation hits, you wouldn’t expect to see or hear from Tom again, showing him only in flashback but in spite of this reveal, Kate and Tom have one last interaction, which felt a little uncomfortable as it feels neither mysterious or magical, just a touch awkward followed by Tom literally walking away. Nothing fantastical just a wave and “see you later.”

Highlighted Quote:
“We have this Christmas gibbon”

In A Few Words:
“Decently constructed but far too formulaic and uninventive to properly succeed”

Total Score:

2/5

LE MANS 66 (FORD V FERRARI)

They Took The American Dream For A Ride

Director
James Mangold

Starring
Matt Damon
Christian Bale
Caitriona Balfe
Josh Lucas
Jon Bernthal



In the mid-1960s the Ford motor company are feeling the pinch with fellow US rivals pushing them out of the market. The head of the company, Henry Ford II [Tracy Letts] sets his team the task of finding a way to revolutionise their company. Lee Iacocca [Bernthal] highlights that Ferrari are the leading company for winning global racing competitions but because their handmade output is so minimal, they are facing bankruptcy. Several Ford representatives visit the Ferrari heads in Italy but are turned away and mortified when word of the failed merger gets out to newspaper. As an act of revenge, Ford declares he wants to replace Ferrari as the manufacturer of the fastest cars and tasks his team to set to work immediately. The Ford executives then turn to ex-racecar driver Carroll Shelby [Damon] who takes on the impossible task but knows that his only chance of success is pairing the fastest car with the best driver, who just so happens to be Ken Miles [Bale], a highly opinionated and difficult individual that Ford do not want staining their company image.

If you’ll forgive the racing analogy for a moment, this movie functions on the concept of the car and the driver. The car can have all the technical specs aligned perfectly but if it isn’t operated by a driver in peak condition, the results can be anywhere between lacklustre and catastrophic. From a technical standpoint, Le Mans 66 is as good as it can get. The sound design is magnificently on point, working in harmony with a jazzy-rocky score that mirrors and elevates the upbeat, hopeful, fun tone and helps give the entire feature a vibrant, very fun energy. On top of that, the direction is exhilarating and the road-level camera weaving in and out of the thundering cars creates an amazing sense of tension while the script maintains its electric pacing. Then we have the subtle elements of the period aesthetic and production design, which lovingly recreate the mid ’60s and celebrate the craft of racecar manufacturing. But it would be so easy to flood the film with these components and smother the audience but Mangold has the marvellous ability to make big budget releases feel intimate and keep a blinker-vision focus on story and character; which brings us to the driver or our analogy.

Whether music, sport or politics, biopics are rarely about the subject matter or surroundings that the leads find themselves in and more about the personalities that populate them. Equally, Le Mans 66 is a film about friendship and obsession, more than cars and racing. At first glance, it’s not easy to see the similarities between Shelby and Miles, with the former’s business savvy and the latter’s excess of personality but as the film unfolds, it becomes apparent that both men are extremely dedicated and talented drivers who have been held back from succeeding and doing what they love by their own faults. In the case of Shelby that’s his heart condition and for Ken it’s his brash personality and refusal to compromise. Ultimately, both men are extremely arrogant but Ken’s confidence and Carroll’s charm quickly win the audience over and it’s made clear that these men have both a rivalry and a respect for one another. One of two great examples of this is when Shelby is arriving by private plane to a launch event and takes control from the pilot (citing his WWII experience as justification) before banking heavily and performing quite the daredevil landing. The other is during a fistfight between the two leads which is immediately robbed of any threat when Miles’ wife pulls up a chair to watch and Shelby reaches for something to hit Miles with, putting his hand on a can, realising that would be too dangerous and so reaches for a loaf of bread instead. These are subtle little inclusions but ones that deftly demonstrate the bond between the two reluctant friends.

But the friendship between Carroll and Ken is also a problematic one. It is given such importance that it pushes out room for the true racing rivalry and the bond between Miles and his family. For a film called Ford v Ferrari (in the States at least) the film is less about the rivalry between two drivers, as is the case in Rush, and feels more like Ford executives v its own teams. This constant stop-start yanking of the chain creates an extremely frustrating friction for the story’s flow. What should be a straight shot to victory with various trials and tribulations on the way is marred by in-house disagreements and hindrances. My problem, however, is not necessarily with this in-fighting but how it is neglected in the script. We have the incompetent head desperate to stand up to his grandfather’s legacy, the supposedly good guy suits who have no real influence other than to kick the story off and the weasely lieutenant whose motivation is never made explicitly clear other than to keep some sort of structured order on the company but without any clear personal gain or consequence. Other than a few sneers and mean comments from Enzo Ferrari and his lead racer (whose name I don’t even remember because he’s barely in the movie), Ferrari fails to provide much of an antagonistic presence. Coming back to Miles’ family, this film’s poor gender and race representation – although probably historically accurate – serves to illustrate that this movie can be boiled down to a petty pissing contest between two rich white men. The stakes are actually fairly low and the finale loses a little of that great pacing by shifting the emotional high from Le Mans itself to a handful of loose targets. So the longer the film stays with you, the more those heady moments fade and all you’re left with is a competent rowdy petrol-head film – or to put it another highly unfair way, an entertaining but unfortunately dated boys film geared to a very specific demographic.


Release Date:
15 November 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
Repeatedly throughout the film, Ford traipses all over Shelby’s decisions and encroaches on any freedom he has to run his team. The primary source of this contention is Ford’s inability to keep Ken on message. Subsequently, the officials flex their muscles and bench Ken from competing. The following scene doesn’t actually show the race but the audience experiences it by proxy as Ken listens to race via the radio. It’s a simple scene but a well-executed one that doesn’t rely on flashy CGI visuals, only the passion and expressions on Miles’ face.

Notable Characters:
Earlier I briefly mentioned the central antagonist, Leo Beebe played by Josh Lucas in a role he usually finds himself in. To reiterate what I said earlier, his motivation is arguably to preserve his position and the company image but the execution is so painfully pantomime. To be clear, I don’t think Lucas does a particularly bad job, I think the tonal nature of the movie sets him up as a very one dimensional adversary. For a two and a half hour film, I’m not suggesting more runtime is devoted to this individual but some of his scenes could have benefited from illustrating if there was any actual fallout should Ford’s racing venture fail, aside from a decrease in share value – which is a notoriously dull but very grounded reason.

Highlighted Quote:
“James Bond is not driving Ford, sir”

In A Few Words:
“A wholly agreeable, fun and gratifying release, if a little formulaic, predictable and ultimately safe”

Total Score:

4/5

DOCTOR SLEEP

Dare To Go Back

Director
Mike Flanagan

Starring
Ewan McGregor
Rebecca Ferguson
Kyliegh Curran



Set three decades after the events in The Shining, Dan Torrance [McGregor] has become an alcoholic vagrant going from town-to-town, drinking, brawling and keeping himself distanced from those around him. He is then drawn to a small town where he tries to start over, gets clean and begins working in a hospice. At the same time we are introduced to a young girl who has similar abilities to Dan, a telepathic and telekinetic ability dubbed the shining, named Abra Stone who hides her abilities from her parents, fearing they will treat her differently. The film then jumps ahead several years later reintroducing us to a teenage Abra [Curran] and Dan as a stable and contributing member of society. Running concurrently to this, we follow a group of almost vampiric cultists – called the True Knot – who feed off of this shining quality (which they call steam), led by the eerie Rose the Hat [Ferguson]. After they claim the life of a young victim, they become aware of Abra and sensing her powers are potentially greater than any they have experienced before, set out to consume her. In order to prevent this, Dan must confront all of his literal and figurative inner demons.

It is my firm opinion that there are only a handful of flaws present in this release but they are of such a sizeable nature that it knocked my rating down from a four out of five, to a three; the first being the antagonists. It will likely be unanimously agreed that Rebecca Ferguson’s turn as Rose the Hat is a very enigmatic and commanding one. She is a fascinating and haunting individual but the group she operates with brings her down somewhat. Possibly my biggest frustration with this movie is that the True Knot troupe are a knowable enemy, which detracts a little because for all their actions the threat is never entirely real or felt and despite decent performances, there is never any doubt that the protagonists will succeed. As I haven’t read the source material, I cannot claim to know the differences between the book and the film but I have read both The Shining and watched the film and there is a distinct difference in their presentation. If you follow the book, the expanding knowable world of evil entities makes sense and Doctor Sleep is a wonderful addition. If your only experience of this setting is the movie, the answers and expansion that this new script provides somewhat cheapens the events of 1980’s The Shining with absolute clarification rather than broad interpretation. But I’ll expand on this point further later.

While Ewan McGregor may feel like an unusual choice to play an adult Danny Torrance, he proves himself extremely deft at giving us a conflicted, cagey individual eking out an existence as the son of an alcoholic and extreme trauma survivor, let alone someone who is continually visited by images of the dead. But despite the rough opening, it was genuinely rewarding to find Dan discover both a purpose and closure working in the old people’s ward and making the connection with Billy. I also felt Abra was an interesting and savvy character but as stated earlier, her levels of confidence ensure that we never overly worry for her wellbeing, even in the face of death. Without delving straight into spoilers, Abra seems more cut-up about the death of a stranger than a loved one. Maybe this is to illustrate a desensitisation or maturation but with a limited runtime, it simply felt rushed and regrettably undercooked.

Doctor Sleep provides a very engaging story but its predecessor is so iconic that it is an almost impossible act to follow. This isn’t merely some beaten-up horror franchise, it’s one of the few examples of high-brow horror adaptation by one of the true masters of cinema. What’s more, the imagery presented has become so exemplary and burned into the public consciousness that it creates a spectacularly daunting target for any creative to reach let alone surpass. Having said that, Flanagan has done an extremely impressive job walking the fine line of compromise between Kubrick and King’s clashing visions to create a very pleasing hybrid continuation that honours both versions. Things like the recasting of familiar roles is well played and in an era of de-aging technology, this serves to highlight that a part-imitation part-celebration performance can be something incredibly powerful. The only thing I could knock Flanagan for would be the fairly rudimentary direction. That isn’t to say he doesn’t do a good job or is in any way fundamentally lacking , it’s just that some of the most notable imagery comes from semi-fetishistic recreations of Kubrick’s concepts and never stands on its own two feet. Put another way, I don’t think I could put my finger on any particular shot or scene in the film that would stand the test of a decade to the degree that others will be imitating and studying it. But as with my very similar critique of Terminator: Dark Fate, this may be too much of a demand. Sometimes creating a solid instalment is more than enough and although it never exceeds what came before, the fact Doctor Sleep is able to pick up the baton and take it to the film’s close is a fantastic accomplishment in and of itself.


Release Date:
01 November 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
While I derided the amount of time we spent with the True Knot, one of the earlier scenes where they recruit Snakebite Andi was particularly nice. In terms of establishing characters, motivations and abilities as well as intrigue and mystery, it is extremely well handled.

Notable Characters:
As stated the returning characters and recasting were dealt with proficiently but the increased usage serves to weaken the effect. For a specific example, let’s take the old lady in the bath. As a recurring piece of imagery her presence in The Shining is baffling and terrifying and unsettling. She’s not, as depicted in Ready Player One a fast, scuttling, knife wielding maniac, she’s just a creepy-ass naked decrepit lady. But for the fact we end up seeing her four or five times in this feature, even as a good recreation, she becomes almost comical and loses any edge of scariness. Which is likely intended to illustrate the idea that we can overcome our fears but sometimes scary stuff needs to stay scary.

Highlighted Quote:
“We’re all dying; the world is one big hospice with fresh air”

In A Few Words:
“A very strong postscript celebration of both the written and cinematic versions of The Shining and for that, it should be praised but without giving us anything truly captivating, it serves as little more than a decently crafted shadow”

Total Score:

3/5

THE ADDAMS FAMILY

Think Your Family Is Weird?

Director
Greg Tiernan
Conrad Vernon

Starring
Charlize Theron
Oscar Isaac
Chloe Grace Moretz
Finn Wolfhard
Nick Kroll
Allison Janney



Following an initial introduction and the nuptials between Morticia [Theron] and Gomez Addams [Isaac], the central characters escape their unwelcoming surroundings (it’s not clear where but I’ll get back to that) and settle down in an abandoned isolated asylum in New Jersey. Over the years, the Addams family expands to include their daughter Wednesday [Moretz] and son Pugsley [Wolfhard] and live in peace, with the occasional visit from extended family members such as Gomez’s brother Fester [Kroll]. Meanwhile, a failing reality TV host, Margaux Needler [Janney] has created an entire community dubbed Assimilation (yes, it’s very on-the-nose) and intends for her show’s season finale as an effective advert, selling the properties shown in the fledgling town. With the swamp drained, the mist clears and reveals the one looming residence which doesn’t fit in to Margaux’s grand design, drawing an immediate spotlight on the Addams family and bringing them into regular society.

There was a distinct buzz when this feature was initially announced, predominantly surrounding the casting choices. As with many intellectual properties that have been absent from cinema for a while, the internet circles discussions around who would be an ideal fit for such a release. On paper, this cast is not only fantastic but damn near perfect. Then upon discovering that the movie would be animated, rather than live action, there was a wave of concern before it was confirmed that the character designs would mimic the original iconic cartoon. So before the film came close to completion there was a fairly healthy speculative hype, especially when taking into consideration how quickly Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse was dismissed for simply being an animated release no one asked for, before it proved itself to be the best Spider-Man cinematic venture. Unfortunately, The Addams Family sits at the opposite end of that spectrum.

Admittedly, while the 60s TV series was never that clever in its execution, it had a level of wit and warmth that is painfully absent from this release. The script makes that classic animated family film faux pas of bashing out a flat, uninspired story, littered with tired jokes that talk down to the audience. Even the simplest of lines feel like they haven’t been thought through, displaying a first draft amateurish quality. For example, when attending her first day in an actual school, Wednesday is told “Have a good day at school, do your worst.” On the surface there isn’t much to dissect here – do you worst rather than do your best, simple switch – except the logic that is deployed for the latter half is not present in the earlier half. Sure, this may come off as pedantry but this line is a prime example of the contradictory, lacklustre attempts at humour that are painfully sophomoric and could have so easily been fixed with a touch more care and attention. The real frustration stems from the fact that there are a handful of genuinely funny moments that, though so few and far between, offer a glimpse of what could have been a very entertainingly written family feature.

To say this film is heavily inspired by the work of Tim Burton could feel incredibly short sighted and false, as there is a which came first the chicken or the egg debate that could almost definitively conclude that Burton has clearly been influenced by The Addams Family. But that aside, the filmmakers behind this release have equally been influenced and inspired by Burton’s oeuvre and it shows. Borrowing heavily from both Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, in terms of both narrative and aesthetic, the plot unfurls predictably and uninventively and while some could argue that “it’s a kid’s film, it doesn’t need to be smart,” I genuinely feel that is the weakest retort and one need only look at films by Studio Ghibli and Pixar to realise how insulting that is to their target audience. Speaking of the demographic, there are a handful of odd reference points (as US comedies tend to) that alienate international viewers but this feels especially unusual considering the odd sense of time period. See, while the bulk of the film is quite clearly set in the non-descript present day, the prologue takes place in an entirely separate location that looks like your typical gothic, eastern European village that is solely referred to as “the old country.” Over the years, The Addams Family brand has been used to both entertain and amuse, while satirising things like the nuclear family, the rise of the suburbs and dysfunctional relationships. One could argue that this story tries to tackle familial expectations of tradition and the dangers of turning on outsiders through manipulation of far-reaching and invasive technology, which on paper sounds like extremely positive and promising points to address but in truth the film never really cuts deeper than surface level observations and resolves with the most straightforward of solutions.

Before closing this review I would also like to take a moment to address the visual state of western animated family films. I don’t want to completely trash the hard work that animators do but the general creative direction is so remarkably bland and often simply tries to emulate a physically shot feature, rather than playing to the unique strengths of animation. This is something I will likely repeat for years to come but I watched both The Grinch and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse in the same month and was blown away by the astonishing difference in detail and quality, only to later learn that the latter only made two thirds of the box office of the former. The Addams Family is another prime example of a safe and ultimately forgettable CGI animated film that relies on dull direction and great swathes of slow-motion. I will concede that the character designs being in keeping with the original cartoon was a welcome treat but this doesn’t make up for, what boils down to, an incredibly weak and generic visual style for a film that should be packed with nuance and detail; even the Hotel Transylvania films felt more visually in keeping with what I would want from an Addams Family film but as with The Grinch, this film will likely make well over its budget and earn an equally humdrum sequel.


Release Date:
25 October 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers**
At the end of the movie, once all the speeches have been given and the cheap moral has reared its head, we end up with a rushed conclusion of the extended Addams buying the houses of Assimilation and welcomed with open arms. But the thing that irked me was that, apropos of nothing, Margaux falls for Fester and starts a relationship with him. In the first Addams Family film there is a similar development between Margaret and Cousin It but that slowly and logically builds over the course of the film. This development, however, is simply a ridiculous character 180 degree shift that lazily trades logic for a neat resolve, with absolutely nothing about their personalities fitting this proposal.

Notable Characters:
For some reason, Thing (the disembodied hand and friend/servant of the family) is given an eye in the form of a watch attached to his severed wrist. It’s not used enough to justify (or possibly even truly notice) the change and feels like a rushed afterthought. I imagine this is down to producers saying the character needs to be more expressive, which is how we ended up with moving faces on Ultron and Optimus Prime. And briefly getting back to the point of contention surrounding creativity, there are so many ways to make a character like Thing expressive (some of which are utilised quite well in certain scenes) that the lack of facial expressions should be freeing for a creative. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they got Bette Midler to play Grandma and did nothing with her!

Highlighted Quote:
“This day is becoming most wonderfully disruptive”

In A Few Words:
“A deeply lifeless and bland adaptation that adds very little to the existing legacy but as with movies like Jurassic World, the novelty for a new audience will likely ensure its fiscal success”

Total Score:

1/5

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE

Welcome To The Day After Judgment Day

Director
Tim Miller

Starring
Natalia Reyes
Mackenzie Davis
Gabriel Luna
Linda Hamilton
Arnold Schwarzenegger



Long after the events of Terminator 2, the future has been altered significantly but man is still plunged deep into a war against machines. As with the first Terminator movie, a cybernetic being from the future (the Rev-9 played by Gabriel Luna) is sent back to our time to assassinate a person of significance in the future – this time young Mexican factory worker, Dani Ramos [Reyes]. But on her side is an augmented soldier, Grace [Davis], sent back from the future to protect Dani and Sarah Connor [Hamilton], the future artificial intelligence’s previous target.

Much like 2018’s Halloween, Dark Fate is a combination of both reboot and retread as much as sequel. It scraps the last three attempts at a continuation and brings back the common element from the first two that was missing from Rise Of The Machines, Salvation and Genisys: Sarah Connor, or more specifically Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. It’s frankly indisputable that this decision is hands down the best idea the film has. John Connor is an interesting subject but Sarah’s evolution is where the series’ true heart lies. And like Halloween, bringing an older, bitter, war-weary Sarah gives the audience and the characters a fantastic juxtaposition.

Sticking with Hamilton for a second, this film’s strongest component is its performances. The four key players have great chemistry and screen presence. Hamilton makes a welcome return to her most iconic role and frankly shines in every scene. Reyes has the fairly unforgiving task of being Connor 2.0 but brings enough urgency and self reliance to the role to allow her to break loose from this initial blueprint. Mackenzie Davis is also a fantastic addition, confident but flawed, desperate but determined and capable of going toe-to-toe with the veteran cast. And as for their pursuer, the trailers did Luna’s character a bit of a disservice, leaving him cold and boring but the Rev-9 has enough of a personality that makes him more than a faceless entity. But it’s hard not to compare these new characters with their 1984 surrogates. Even as I was typing the previous sentence I wanted to make a comparison to the T1000 and that’s where the film immediately starts to fall apart.

**spoilers from here on out**
Admittedly, to talk about paradoxes is always difficult with this franchise because everything outside of the first Terminator film is a contradictory nightmare. I have always maintained that while I love Terminator 2, for all its many accomplishments, it is a bad sequel because it sacrifices the neat loop of its predecessor for more action. So with that in mind, one could dismiss many of Dark Fate’s problems but that road leads to lazy writing and vacuous plot holes the likes of which sank Genisys, so we need to address them. The big twist is that the future war fought by an adult John Connor no longer exists. In its place, a new reality has formed where Legion (the carbon copy of Skynet) rises up and suppresses humanity. But the big hit of the opening scene is that yet another Schwarzenegger Terminator arrives and simply shoots a teenage John Connor in the chest. Despite everything that we have seen, all the preparations, John is killed in broad daylight and the Terminator saunters off. But in the time between that event and the bulk of the movie, Sarah Connor has spent years killing Terminators, by the sound of it, every two years or so. What are they hunting? Who is sending them? Which future are they coming from? The film makes no attempts to explain this, it simply has to be in order for Sarah to retain her grizzled view of the world. Then we have Carl. Carl being the name of the aforementioned Terminator that killed John Connor, wandered off, got a bit bored without a mission that learned to be more human by growing a conscience and raising a family. I’m not actually as bothered about this as I could be, I’m more irritated by the fact that this reveal is so rushed and haphazardly written (especially as it seems to contradict the events in Terminator 2, albeit the directors cut).

The film also withholds the knowledge that Dani is effectively the new John Connor for ultimately no reason. It is neither a satisfactory twist, nor a surprising reveal, it is merely manufactured suspense for those who cannot see incredibly blunt signposting. But even if this film were trying to elevate itself above what came before, it exists solely on the shoulders of its predecessors, never really expositing about the time travel technology, never furthering the story, simply rehashing what we have seen time and time again. This is why I always maintain that as derided as T3 was, at least it had an incredibly bold ending. Dark Fate simply resets with the same will they/won’t they return ominousness that is as painfully rote as it is predictable. It also flies in the face of the central tenant of what the film purports to be about: there is no fate but what we make. This phrase couldn’t be more nonsensical in a world where you stop a murderous AI, only for an identical model to take its place which has the same inevitable plan to stop its adversary, including skeletal time travelling terminators and aerial drones dubbed hunter killers!

To give Dark Fate its due, it is significantly stronger than the last two outings but the bar was so low to the point of franchise killing that it’s not saying much. But the real missed opportunity is that there is absolutely nothing revolutionary about this film other than it isn’t a complete disappointment.


Release Date:
25th October 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
For all this film’s strengths, it still commits some cardinal sins of robot fighting. Fights are dragged out in favour of prolonging set-pieces rather than taking the cold calculating mindset of an algorithm programmed machine and if I ever see a Terminator film where a machine is lying on someone with its hands around their throat but not a) crushing them under the intense weight or b) immediately mashing their esophagus with its piston grip, it’ll be quite the achievement.

Notable Characters:
Luna does a great job with what he has but like so many on-screen adversaries, he is both overpowered and weakened as dictated by the plot’s requirements. The rules of the Rev-9 shift between a ruthlessly efficient killing machine acting without hesitation and a sluggish dullard amnesiatically overlooking its own capabilities.

Highlighted Quote:
“Funerals don’t help them and goodbyes don’t help you”

In A Few Words:
“A surprisingly solid feature but offers a lot more of the same, proving itself more imitator than innovator”

Total Score:

3/5

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL

The Truth Will Come Out

Director
Joachim Rønning

Starring
Angelina Jolie
Elle Fanning
Michelle Pfeiffer



Set several years after the events of Maleficent, the events of the spinning wheel and Princess Aurora [Fanning] have quickly turned to gossip and legend with Maleficent [Jolie] positioned as feared villain once again. Because of this, relations between the human world and the kingdom of the fairies known as the Moors are fraught, with raids and deaths on both sides. Meanwhile, the young Prince Phillip proposes to Aurora and the disapproving Maleficent must visit his family’s kingdom of Ulstead, where the townsfolk’s exclamations and quaking guards illustrate she is far from welcome. During the feast in UIstead castle, the conversation becomes heated and the King falls ill, supposedly cursed. Queen Ingrith [Pfeiffer] accuses her guests and Maleficent escapes without Aurora, who seemingly cannot trust her godmother. However, while fleeing, Maleficent is struck with an iron pellet and is washed out to sea, where she is rescued by a man bearing similar horns and wings.

Despite lukewarm critical reception, Maleficent went on to earn an incredibly vast sum of money and immediately won audiences over. Subsequently, there doesn’t appear to have been any notetaking or points to improve on and the majority of the problems, frustrations and flaws of the first film are still present in this sequel. The tone rapidly shifts from incredibly dark to irksome slapstickery, the acting is largely hammy and over the top and the plot is incredibly straightforward and formulaic. Sticking with that final point for a moment, the story is painfully transparent from the start. With the first outing being a reimagining of a familiar fairy tale, it at least attempted to hide its conclusion – albeit fairly predictably – Mistress Of Evil, on the other hand, is completely devoid of mystery and makes little effort to mask character alignment and the plot’s trajectory. One could argue this is perfectly acceptable for a film based on a fairy tale but as this iteration has purposefully set out to subvert expectations of tropes and archetypes, it feels remarkably lazy.

There is also the divide in quality between the practical and digital. On the one hand, the production design is absolutely spectacular, the sets and costumes are layered with such incredible detail. In truth, I would go further than that, I would go so far as to claim that everything physically crafted for use on-screen is the strongest thing about this entire film. But such high calibre production only serves to juxtapose against the plasticy artificial CGI that was used for similar projects such as The Nutcracker And The Four Realms and Oz The Great And Powerful. For every positive real-world element, there is a bland CGI counterpart. It’s not that the digital effects are poorly crafted to the degree that they do not function, it is more the inability for anything to feel remotely photorealistic or believable. Another prime example was Jack The Giant Slayer which had very ugly CGI that looked immediately dated, despite a big budget behind it. It didn’t help, of course, that the general cinematography faltered. There were a handful of scenes with extremely strong piercing crepuscular rays and haze-covered sets to accentuate this but the majority of the movie felt either too dark and difficult to follow or overexposed (not in the literal/technical sense), highlighting the limitations of the visual effects.

Once again, Angelina Jolie continues her very commanding performance. Not only does she clearly enjoy the part she’s playing but the control, presence and quiet mirth she brings to the character are frankly striking, to the degree that she leaves everyone behind and dominates the entire feature. The only individual who comes remotely close is Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays the sneering, moustache-twirling villain credibly and competently but the character as written on the page is incredibly one-dimensional and gives very little room for her to bring much else to the role. I also felt the inclusion of Warwick Davis was a nice touch and he does well with what he is given. Part of the story introduces us to the other living dark fey and while their introductory scene is quite interesting, showing off a range of diverse actors and subtle alterations in make-up, none of them really stood out or brought much to the proceedings; which, considering some of the individuals cast, was a massive waste.

In the same way 2014’s Maleficent utilises subtext and layering ranging from preconceptions and rape, this instalment injects an amount of similar themes surrounding prejudice, motherhood, manipulation and controlling people through state-circulated mass lies. But regrettably, as much as these elements are present, they feel too much like a reset from the close of the first film for the sole purpose of generating conflict in a continuation. It also doesn’t help that this reset gives audience a lot of mixed messages. It would seem the intended focus is primarily for younger audiences but while the film actively states Maleficent is neither scary nor malicious, we often only see her being just that, which is likely quite confusing for said demographic (not to mention the fact that subtitle of this movie is Mistress Of Evil, which is rather misleading). This isn’t to say we can’t portray individuals with nuance just because it’s family film but for the purposes of pushing the narrative forward, Maleficent abandons Aurora with extreme ease before meeting up with her fellow fey. It strikes as a betrayal of established character, going against what we know to be true purely to facilitate a very thin second and third act.

I will give the first film credit for not simply making a straight shot-for-shot live action adaptation of Sleeping Beauty but it most definitely did not warrant a second go around and I would be extremely surprised to see a third instalment – but I imagine that will entirely depend on how Mistress Of Evil performs at the box office.


Release Date:
18 October 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
The seemingly interminable final battle boils down to a series of messy close-ups and superfluous single-word commands (Withdraw! Attack! Divide! Ignite!) that never really inspires. While the general action is mercifully easy to follow, its execution is acutely inefficient and falls into several banal cinematic pitfalls. Having said that, the culmination with the phoenix visuals – while extremely heavily signposted – were admittedly very impressive and had the desired impact.

Notable Characters:
As much as the script tries, Aurora is given no real agency and remains easily manipulated. This version has never exactly been her story but she bounces around for the majority of the film before offering a glimpse of actual ingenuity and capability in the final act. For the most part, Fanning pushes through this but never escapes the trappings of bland damsel in distress that everyone is fighting so passionately over for some mysterious reason.

Highlighted Quote:
“What’s this? Nobody’s allowed in here but me and I’m already here. Go away!”

In A Few Words:
“Another largely trite jaunt into the fairy tale world of Maleficent, mostly saved by the weight behind the central performance”

Total Score:

2/5

JOKER

Put On A Happy Face

Director
Todd Phillips

Starring
Joaquin Phoenix
Frances Conroy
Zazie Beetz
Robert De Niro
Brett Cullen




To read this review may bring about some confusion in the sense that the ratio of criticism will not reflect the final score; this is largely due to the fact that I have awarded this movie a high rating but will spend the entirety of this word count banging on about two specific frustrations in great and meandering detail. But I should highlight that the majority of this release, the cinematography, production design, the incredibly deep score work, is a marvel and genuinely engrossing cinema. Unfortunately, there are just a few significant points that need to be addressed.

The film opens in early 80s Gotham, where we are introduced to Arthur Fleck [Phoenix], a meek, timid clown-for-hire who lives with his mother and clearly suffers from several mental health issues. As the cruel city around him chips away at the few remaining pillars of his stability, Fleck descends into a self-destructive collapse before evolving into a confident nihilistic killer.

There are infinite merits to homage and imitation in cinema. They can be used to draw beautiful contemporary parallels, take established concepts and run further with them or flip them on their head entirely. It is undeniably and brazenly clear that Joker is an effective recreation of key components from both Taxi Driver and King Of Comedy – which the film makes no attempts to hide, going so far to include Robert De Niro among its supporting cast – and without prior knowledge of these releases, Joker earns an initially impressive air of maturity, intelligence and depth. But while the aforementioned Scorsese movies had insightful narratives, Joker is surprisingly base, existing mostly as a surface-level character study with hints of social commentary but never truly picking up these themes that have been so expertly used in the past and running with them.

This then started something of an existential calculation in my mind; specifically focusing on the question of does a film fundamentally need to say anything to be good, can it not simply be a character study? Does Joker merely present nihilism for the sake of nihilism ending up saying nothing? There will, of course, be discussions about how this movie reflects contemporary society to a degree, surrounded by subliminally influential headlines that say “kill the rich”, addressing the state of mental health neglect, presenting a growing air civil unrest and tension and tabulating factors that lead to mass shootings and other acts of disenfranchised domestic terrorism. But as much as this feels like a film that projects the plight of our time onto a past setting, in actuality, all it does is takes a decent but cinematically familiar unhinged, voiceless individual and slaps the joker face-paint on him. Once the MCU first gained real traction and success, it was evident that cinema was going to inadvertently adopt a lot of comic book tropes and trappings. We are now at the state of the standalone, the elseworlds tale that does not exist within the established universe of the franchise; which, ironically, is how cinema has functioned, outside of serialisation, for a century. To my mind, this film exists in the same way that Netflix’s Daredevil does; it can be seen as a darker, subversive tale with a character that will likely reappear in a different form in the near future but that shouldn’t detract from what has been achieved therein. Having said that, Daredevil took its time to cultivate complex characters, storylines and universe building, whereas Joker focuses solely on that first point.

Which brings us to the nature of the Joker himself. I harbour a point of contention when it comes to praise for the Joker predominantly because of a misconception about the role. All too often the mysterious clown prince of crime is heralded as the greatest villain of all time, even the greatest character of all time, with the most memorable and shocking performances. This is, frankly, bullshit. The truth is, anyone can play the Joker. As an incredibly broadly drawn blank slate, littered with ambiguity, the portrayal is easy to do because no matter how over the top or subdued, it still sells the character. That’s why there may be iterations that people favour but each one holds merit in its own way (yes, even Jared Leto, whose neon gangster persona spoke to many people and fit the setting he found himself in, even if I personally didn’t care for it). This is because the Joker is a lens to magnify an actor’s uninhibited heights; a way to say “be as big as you can then go another 10%” which, let’s be honest, is what most actors desperately love to hear. The difference here is that Phoenix is an exceptionally talented individual and brings to life an incredibly strong, layered performance, from the physicality and uncontrollable (almost painful) laughter, to the left/right hand switch in his journaling and his eventual transition to confident superstar villain. It is, quite frankly, impossible to fault Phoenix in this movie, he is undeniably flawless and the film is worth seeing for this masterful unstable shift from weak to empowered.

In the Marvel/Sony collaborative version of Spider-Man, there is no visible Uncle Ben origin. The MCU assumes and ultimately relies on audience preconceptions and prior knowledge of the franchise. This is something that I feel is a bit of a failing point because without seeing the formative moment that defines the character and his quest to become a hero, we latch onto other superfluous or secondary motivations. Similarly, this franchiseless tale can’t escape Batman. It wasn’t enough to simply tell a Joker origin story, we had to tie it in to a character who is completely irrelevant to this feature, for whom there will be no tie-in, crossover or follow-up; like the cameo from Richard the Lionheart at the end of Kingdom Of Heaven, it appears solely as a wink/nod/in-joke to audience members in the know (which is arguably everyone). But while Bruce is a fairly non-existent, silent character in this release, we are treated to an alternate look at his father, Thomas Wayne [Cullen]. Here, Wayne is shown to be both a caring and dispassionate individual, the kind of 80s republican “pull yourself out of poverty” individual who wants his city to thrive but doesn’t want to get his hands dirty in the process. He’s also the closest thing we get to humanising the opposition. But we never see the life of the rich other than Fleck’s perspective – meaning we don’t have a clear understanding of who to sympathise with; the serial killer clown or the sucker-punching thugs? This lack of coherence means the film closes on chaos and riots in the streets but we witness similar riotous upheavals happen in The Dark Knight Rises but we weren’t supposed to sympathise with Bane and without the juxtaposition of a Batman, we don’t have anyone to say “you’re wrong” and the only one who does gets a bullet to the face and chest. But that’s the fundamental problem with nihilism used as an artistic expression, if nothing matters, what conclusion are we supposed to form? Pair that with an unreliable narrator and there is the ambiguous question of whether anything shown in the film actually happened or not.

In addition to my issues with the nature of the Joker and the use of homage/imitation, there are a handful of other minor things that crop up the more one scrutinises this feature. Things like Joker actively saying he isn’t political before giving a political statement and performing a public execution, that he doesn’t acknowledge he’s a symbol before becoming that very thing and relishing it, what’s more the film attempts to operate above the mainstream superhero offerings, looking on them with a level of disdain, while being put out by the mainstream and finding itself in the familiar trench of depicting Thomas and Martha Wayne dying in an alley with those fucking pearls flying in slow motion. And then there’s the end, a dream-like sauntering but before that it feels like the movie can’t decide which final image it wants to settle on, giving us a Lord Of The Rings style conveyer belt of powerful images that could easily close the movie.

As stated at the start of this review, despite my harsh and pessimistic tone, I very much enjoyed this film and think it deserves a great deal of praise for what it has accomplished and committed to screen. Within this feature is a thoroughly unpleasant, disturbed individual grounded in reality rather than a hyper sexualised or idolised champion – as the Joker has been constructed in the past. One could argue this film is in danger of galvanising and inspiring a group of susceptible individuals but I have never subscribed to the notion that art motivates people to do terrible things, so the less said on that, the better.


Release Date:
04 October 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
In what will likely be most audience member’s favourite or most memorable scene, a fully-formed confident Joker walks down the steps he frequently trudges up, dancing, strutting and striking a magnificently powerful self-indulgence, blissfully unaware (or indifferent) to the world around him. It’s a culmination of the film firing on all cylinders and one of the emotional culminations of Fleck’s arc. But – and this is a substantial but – the music used caused an eyebrow to rise. US audiences may be unfamiliar with British 70s singer Gary Glitter but in Britain he is an infamous convicted paedophile. His hit, including Rock And Roll Part 2, are all but expunged from our collective works, regardless or any merit the actual music has. I say this as someone who listened to that theme and thought, “Oh I haven’t heard this in ages.. what is this?” before reality dawned on me. In truth, it’s very difficult to say how deliberate this inclusion was and will no doubt be flagged as a trigger for many people as this would imply the demonised musician will receive royalty funds for its use. I haven’t come to a full conclusion of how I feel about the matter but it’s a point that will likely be brought up frequently over the coming months of analysis, praise and criticism.

Notable Characters:
The role of Murray Franklin doesn’t feel much like a recent De Niro character. Sure, there are a few familiar traits and characteristics but there’s an energy, humour and subdued aggression that we haven’t seen from De Niro for several decades. Whether that’s down to his agent, type-casting or lazy roles is hard to say but I thought his inclusion (while conjuring direct parallels to a younger De Niro’s works) was a smart and welcome one.

Highlighted Quote:
“I just hope my death makes more cents than my life”

In A Few Words:
“Not nearly as clever as it makes itself out to be but a tremendous central performance driven outing nevertheless”

Total Score:

4/5

AD ASTRA

The Answers We Seek Are Just Outside Our Reach

Director
James Gray

Starring
Brad Pitt
Tommy Lee Jones



In the near future, Earth is bombarded with a surge that briefly knocks out all power and creates chaos. Astronaut Roy McBride [Pitt] is charged by SpaceCon to travel to Mars, via a base on the moon, to send a long-range message to the outer edges of the solar system. It is their belief that McBride’s father, legendary astronaut H. Clifford McBride [Jones], who went missing around Neptune decades prior, is in fact alive and could hold the answer to what is causing these surges and to ultimately stop them.

With Ad Astra, Gray continues his glacial, measured 1970s style direction and pacing from The Lost City Of Z; finding a middle ground between the approaches of Terrence Malick and Andrei Tarkovsky. The story itself is an example of the best kind of science fiction, a simple tale that could just as easily have been set several hundred years in the past about an arctic expedition, terrifyingly grounded pioneer horror where the only threats are the elements and the limits of our own sanity.

On a technical level, there is a lot to compliment. The visuals are bold and incredibly striking, the production design has that magnificent credibility and Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is frankly gorgeous. And over all of this observable splendour is this grand and chilling score from Max Richter, full of brass and presence and foreboding.

The entirety of this film rests on Pitt’s shoulders and he carries this burden with remarkable ease. As the emotionally distant and controlled Roy McBride, Pitt gives a subtle, disciplined and understated performance; everything is conveyed in micro-expressions and finely spun from an actor in complete immersion with a character. Furthermore, the periodic psych evaluations are a nice device for allowing the character to offer another level of introspection, other than the narration alone. Admittedly, without subplots or a continual supporting character, the tension is false and manufactured but that reality never truly dawns on the audience because we want to see how Roy’s story will end, we want him to succeed – whatever that success is.

The ponderous, self-analytical complexities of this film will no doubt be construed as pretentious or even dull but while I can understand the logic behind such critiques, I would say they are largely unfounded – or harshly cast at the very least. Over the last decade, we have witnessed some truly distinct directors in the form of people like Denis Villeneuve, Jeff Nichols and James Gray, all of whom are bringing back a much needed tempered, creeping confidence and originality to big screen science fiction features.

Unlike the bleak outlook of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Ad Astra offers an amazing message that for all of its beauty and majesty, space is not our home, Earth is. And we should do everything we can to savour and protect it. In that, I found Ad Astra gave me the high-brow philosophical intensity and emotional resonance that I wanted from Interstellar and while I will happily confess that Interstellar is still a fantastic (but flawed) release with some truly unforgettable imagery, Ad Astra is its more mature younger brother who delivers the impactful payoff that I craved.


Release Date:
20 September 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers within**
When the two McBrides finally reunite, there is a marvellously crushing distant sterility between them, as well as a mirrored stubbornness that has cursed them both with the madness of obsession and exploration. It’s always difficult when portraying a character that others spend the majority of a film’s runtime discussing and pondering on but Jones delivers pleasingly when the spotlight is cast on him.

Notable Characters:
Much like booster rockets that break off from the main vessel, the supporting cast are solely there to push Roy further on his journey. They do not take it with him but they facilitate him along the way. Frustratingly, those that we do see are a little two dimensional because Pitt cares so little for them but if there was one individual I would have liked to seen develop further, it would be the overseer of the Mars facility played by Ruth Negga. The minor revelations that she brings to the lead give us just a hint of something bigger that I would have liked more of.

Highlighted Quote:
“I’ve been trained to compartmentalise, seems to me that’s how I approach my life”

In A Few Words:
“Haunting, evocative and poignant, Gray has created a sublime thought-provoking, curiously optimistic hyper-frontier adventure”

Total Score:

5/5

HUSTLERS

Walk All Over Wall Street

Director
Lorene Scafaria

Starring
Constance Wu
Jennifer Lopez
Julia Stiles



When you mention Goodfellas in a review, it immediately puts a lot of backs up. Goodfellas is such a towering release that no imitator has ever really come close but Hustlers follows the path set out by Scorsese and strides so confidently down it that its missteps are forgivable. So when I say this film is Goodfellas-esque, in terms of story type, directorial style and character arcs, it’s not said lightly.

The narrative bounces back and forth between a journalist, Elizabeth [Stiles], interviewing ex-stripper Destiny [Wu] and the events being described, taking place before and after the 2008 financial crisis. Destiny reveals that in 2007 she took up work at a strip club, befriending the enigmatic and extremely successful dancer, Ramona [Lopez]. Together they make a ridiculous amount of money, feeding off the base desires of Wall Street bankers but once the crash happens, the big-spender clientele evaporates and the club devolves into a seedy unsafe environment. With the money running out and Destiny forced to raise her new-born child alone, Ramona introduces her to a scam wherein she sources previous regulars, drugs them and racks up an enormous credit card bill, assuming that no one would ever publically declare their actions.

One of the big takeaways from this release is that Scafaria is an incredibly capable director and certainly one to watch. The film opens by wonderfully illustrating the unglamorous reality of the industry which is then turned on its head with Jennifer Lopez’s intro scene doing the exact opposite and revelling in the hyper-sexuality of the stage. This successfully executed “have your cake and eat it” juxtaposition of expectation vs reality is impressive enough as it is but with genuinely spectacular direction, acting, editing and pacing, the whole feature is an incredibly impressive achievement and if we were grading this movie solely on its opening half, it would be contender for film of the year.

Another important aspect to cover is how this movie sounds. Obviously Hustlers will garner immense praise and attention for its overall look, with the production design, lavish costumes and atmospheric cinematography all worthy of merit, but the myriad novel sound design techniques are equally laudable. To my mind there are three notable examples of this, the first set during the framing device when Elizabeth presses Destiny for information and becoming cagey, she shuts off the recorder and walks to the door, instructing Elizabeth to leave. From the moment the recorder stops until the door slams shut, the film is silent and we do not hear the exchange. The second takes place when one of the strippers is wearing a wire for a police sting, the visuals carry on as normal while the audio feels like listening back to a single wireless body mic. And finally, and maybe most interestingly, this film is a fantastic example of music being used despite an absence of an original score. It’s commonly known that Tarantino does this all the time but the variety of genres involved (rather than a seemingly random, eclectic mix) is used to highlight the time period, the mood and signal what is next to come (i.e. everything a good score should do) while wisely avoiding songs featuring Jennifer Lopez, Cardi B or Lizzo that could distract from the story.

The other point of note for this film, other than how it looks and sounds, is the powerful central performances. There aren’t a great many examples of films with strippers as the main characters that doesn’t feel excessively exploitative or presenting the illusion of control and power while never delivering it. I believe part of that stems from the fact that these were films shot by men, whereas Hustlers presents two very real individuals at its core who are both incredibly powerful but also remarkably human. The supports, as strong as they are, admittedly fall away whenever Wu and Lopez are on-screen. The chemistry between them, the emotional stress and turmoil, the way they’ve been framed and shot, it’s a masterclass of visually establishing a character style and dynamic. From a male gaze, it’s difficult to not sound either lecherous or like I’m virtue signalling but the complexity and demand of these two performances is possibly career bests from both actors and wholly deserves all the accolades bestowed upon them.

But the film is far from perfect. It may be Goodfellas-esque but it’s no Goodfellas. For one thing, the entire middle section drags and introduces two heavily supporting roles quite late in the film’s runtime to the degree that they do not impact the story as heavily as they should. On top of that, the ending is fairly abrupt and a little unsatisfactory but being inspired by true events, the finale is often a problem for films of this nature. Having said that, the choice to close with the classic white text on a black background detailing “what happened next” doesn’t have the desired effect when you’ve had a framing device running throughout the movie set after said text. There are also examples of signposting and signalling that unfortunately went nowhere (I felt the character of Stephen was going to serve some sort of purpose but he did not) and Ramona goes from whip-smart savvy to making reckless stupid decisions but these are minor gripes and ultimately, the big flaw is that the third act can’t deliver on the promise of the first and second.

Much like Magic Mike, advertising for Hustlers has been flashy and playing heavily on the gaudy elements but the film itself is a nuanced, substantial character study with simple relatable drama and amazing tension that should be widely seen.


Release Date:
13 September 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
When Destiny suggests changing the ratio of the drug they are slipping to their marks, we are treated to a very light-hearted sequence debating turning the power into a liquid or the liquid into a powder. The trials are silly and a little over the top, thanks to the accompanying piano, but perfectly illustrates the central friendship and offers the kind of bonding and absurd levity that sets it apart from the surprisingly similar Widows.

Notable Characters:
In the final act of the film there are a few too many undercooked characters. Dawn is a walking stereotype so is quite easy to understand but at the same time, she is also a bit of a cartoon character when compared to the grounded seriousness of Destiny and her constant back-and-forth struggles. While the performance itself can’t really be knocked and this isn’t a sole accusation, her presence added a little tonal instability and inconsistency that caused the whole final act to wobble.

Highlighted Quote:
“2007 was the fucking best. I made more money that year than a fucking brain surgeon”

In A Few Words:
“An entertaining and cathartic workplace dramedy headed by two incredibly solid central performances”

Total Score:

4/5

IT CHAPTER TWO

It All Ends

Director
Andy Muschietti

Starring
Bill Skarsgard
Jessica Chastain
James McAvoy
Bill Hader
Isaiah Mustafa
James Ransone
Jay Ryan



Set 27 years after the events of the first film, Mike Hanlon [Mustafa] is the only member of the losers club who has remained in Derry, working as the librarian. When he learns of mysterious deaths in Derry, he believes the creature they fought as children has returned and he must reunite his friends, who have all but forgotten the experiences of their youth. Upon arrival the now adult misfits must retrace their steps to restore the missing memories and deal with the threat for good.

It is my opinion that this movie will not be especially divisive. The flaws are quite transparent and incontestable but they don’t impact the film enough to make it arguably any less enjoyable, just a little flat in places. The CGI, much like the Chapter One, has an oddly jarring quality to it and the more you look at it, the more silly and significantly less scary it becomes. I can’t quite decide whether this is a conscious choice to illustrate the nature of adults interacting and combating childish fears or if it is simply a misjudged decision and subpar effects. But for all the faults and flaws of the computer generated elements, they seem to strive for something original. With such a heavy focus on the mix of practical and computer effects, I think enough attention isn’t given to the incredibly inventive direction and editing that is used throughout this film. It would have been so very easy to shoot this in a bland fashion but the creativity on display is genuinely welcome in this genre. I could say the same of Benjamin Wallfisch’s score which at times is eerie, suspenseful and atmospheric but at times veers into surprisingly uninspired. The whole thing makes for a mixed bag that leaves Chapter Two feeling acceptable but short of its predecessor on a technical level.

Casting any dual role is extremely challenging and I think it’s fair to say every member of the cast gave a perfectly fitting symbiotic recreation of their counterpart’s performance; case in point, the reunion scene in the Chinese restaurant illustrates this fantastic chemistry. As with Chapter One, this instalment retains the good use of levity but with adults as the central characters, there is a slight tonal shift to accommodate for the time period and characters aging up. This, as with the CGI, could be construed as a negative but I feel that is more a commentary on the nature of how we perceive change; specifically that the events of our lives shape us as adults, so I wouldn’t expect the central characters to have the exact same mannerisms and charm because they are jaded and guarded – which is the very nature of adulthood. Despite this, two performances in particular genuinely stand out from the others and that is those of Bill Hader as Richie and James Ransone as Eddie. Both as a continuation of the familiar and as performances in their own right, Hader and Ransone are a joy to watch from start to finish and bring a level of soul that the characters may not have possessed in the book.

One particular performance that, while perfectly capable and serviceable in its own right, is that of Teach Grant as the adult Henry Bowers , who has spent time in an asylum for the crime of killing his parents. Midway through the film It summons Bowers, prompting him to escape from prison and hunt the losers down. Initially he appears to be imbued with supernatural qualities but it later becomes apparent that this is not the case and can be killed like any mortal. The problem seems to be that the character is so easily dispatching and doesn’t really move the story along, other than to serve as another brief obstacle that it becomes ultimately pointless, which is extremely unfortunate. The other performance to discuss is that of Bill Skarsgard, returning as Pennywise. When the initial footage went up of the evil creature’s clown form, people were sceptical but what Skarsgard brought to the performance was so memorable and chilling that it struck an immediate chord with audiences. As with the first part, Pennywise is just as unnerving and sinister but as with a lot of the film, because we are dealing with adult versions of characters, the foreboding presence of the clown itself is robbed of its power and menace.

A repeated observation throughout this review is that this movie doesn’t have the punch of It Chapter One but no less impressive. In truth, it’s not even particularly scary. The jump-scares are predictable, the visuals aren’t particularly monstrous and the imagery doesn’t stay with you as long as it should; the most disturbing thing is how realistic the homophobic attack is at the start of the film and the fact such an attack in a 1985 setting has just as much resonance with a 2019 audience. But this brings me to the point I’ve been alluding to from the start, this film inherits all the flaws of the book in that the kid’s story is much more entertaining. And while the adult element is a fantastic place to take the story, it also feels like a retread and shifts the tone of rationality and plausible acceptance. For example, not one character suggests shooting It, there’s simply a childlike regression with lines like “this kills monsters if you believe it does.” I get one of the themes of the book was the nature of the loss of childlike innocence and how it can never be reclaimed but this never really came across. Instead, recalling the group eats a lot of the runtime and slows the pacing to a crawl, only to then be replaced with a memory quest that becomes very formulaic very quickly. Furthermore, the impact on their adult lives isn’t especially well felt or communicated because outside of the initial setup, we never see any follow-up or impact; as if the events in Derry, both past and present, exist within a bubble, leaving the entirety of the story ending on a less than satisfying dreamlike note.

Ultimately, the flaws lie with the structure of the novel itself but as a single story, rather than two separate standalone entities, these adaptations of chapters one and two work perfectly but with a slightly stumbling finale but still better than the egg laying, catatonic Audra being brought back with a bike ride nonsense of the source material. The real question is how would this movie have been received if dramatic changes had been made from the events of the book (more so than currently on display here), my guess is badly.


Release Date:
07 September 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
To establish that Bill went on to have a successful film career, we cut to him on the Warner Bros lot desperately trying to write script pages for an amended adaptation to his best-selling book. I hate this scene. I hate it because everyone involved has been on a film set and this doesn’t really feel like a film set, more a projected nonsense reality. Yes, I know troubled shoots have rewrites on the day and chaos ensues when no one knows what is happening but according to the director (who was Peter fucking Bogdanovich by the way!) they literally have no idea what the ending of this movie is but are apparently filming it in a matter of hours. What’s more, this serves to enforce the point I made earlier about the “real world” having almost no impact or relevance because it is never established what happened to either that film or indeed Bill’s wife. I mean, I know the film is already quite bloated but this kind of disconnect is extremely unhelpful.

Notable Characters:
Other than those listed above, I was very pleased that the young cast came back without noticeable differences. In fact, one of the standout moments for me was the young Stanley at his Bar Mitzvah ceremony challenging everyone present. A solid reminder that these kids were and are phenomenal choices for these individuals.

Highlighted Quote:
“People want to believe they are what they choose to remember”

In A Few Words:
“Technically, an inferior feature to its predecessor but when watched as a whole, hard to argue it’s anything other than a genuinely solid (and likely eventually considered classic) adaptation”

Total Score:

3/5

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

The 9th Film From Quentin Tarantino

Director
Quentin Tarantino

Starring
Leonardo DiCaprio
Brad Pitt
Margot Robbie



Set in late 1960s Hollywood, the film follows Rick Dalton [DiCaprio] as he tries to salvage a once high-studded career with TV guest appearances but never getting the grace he feels he deserves. With him as his dogsbody is stuntman Cliff Booth [Pitt] whose calm demeanour and simple living conditions seem to compliment Dalton’s highly strung need for approval and success. Around the time of this slump, Roman Polanski and his new wife Sharon Tate [Robbie] move in next door and for a period of time we follow Tate as she enjoys LA life. Lurking in the periphery is a group of transient young women who all live out on an old film ranch with an enigmatic man named Charlie.

At its heart, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood feels like an attempt at a more focused, mature story from a director who has had great fun playing with a toy box of artistic talent but now wants to create something of grounded merit. However, without as many signature directorial flourishes and a very lethargic story, the final result is one that closes disappointingly. From the fairly disjointed opening vignettes, quickly darting through flashbacks to points of Dalton’s career, to the lack of closure with most of Booth’s subplots, the entire experience is left slow and languid due to lack of real fluidity. On top of that, the script suffers from some unfortunately overt and frankly lazy writing. Tarantino has always been gifted with dialogue and natural-feeling discourse but too often the dialogue devolves into uncharacteristically blunt signposting. As an example, in one of the film’s most enjoyable and immersive scenes, Dalton is on the set of a TV pilot, reading a pulpy western novel while his precocious young co-star is working on her character. In this scene, the actress asks what the book is about and Dalton explains that it centres on the adventures of a semi-over-the-hill bronco named Easy Breezy. As he describes the character questioning whether his better years are behind him, he starts to break down in a moment of fragility. The actress comforts him before he snidely pushes her away. This should be a subtle insightful moment but it lacks nuance and beats the audience around the head with the parallel between Dalton and the subject of his story. Then you have the Bruce Lee scene, which wasted a great imitator performance and is a classic example of unimaginatively pitting your fictional creation against a recognisable or established individual to cement their supposed abilities. It’s seemingly not enough to illustrate through circumstance that Booth is a wholly capable performer, he has to pummel someone who the audience know would have been extremely difficult to best in fight. And in the most backhanded of compliments, that is genuinely beneath Tarantino.

At this stage in his career Tarantino is in an interesting place, his films are commercial and critical successes (even his missteps have merit) and that’s largely due to the incredibly talented individuals he surrounds himself with. Subsequently, it’s hard not to compliment great swaths of this movie. Case in point, the production design and period recreation are exceptional with the cars, locations, costumes, hair and makeup perfectly evoking the desired time period. This also extends to the cast and their honestly hypnotic performances. For a great deal of the runtime it can often feel like nothing is happening – especially as a brief synopsis of the film could boil down to, actor films a pilot, stuntman picks up a hitchhiker and actress gets a book then watches a film on the way home – but calibre of acting involved means that these small moments are the most memorable and moving; for example, Tate decides, on a whim, to watch her own film in secret, enjoying the audience’s positive reaction and feeling pride that she has done well without jumping up and soaking up any praise or limelight. But with all these fantastic components, the film ultimately stumbles and falters with the denouement primarily because the story-proper is barely tangible and the only people who really care about Hollywood stories are Hollywood.

**the end of the movie is discussed in this paragraph.. so.. spoilers**
In truth, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood strives to capture something but never quite does. The entire film circles, without ever fully focusing on, the Manson Family, before bringing it into the foreground at the end of the film. At this point, Tarantino departs from the genuinely gruesome history and creates his third revenge fantasy. This created a problem for me that had a retroactive reflective effect. Creating an alternate series of events surrounding the Tate murders left a strangely bad taste in the mouth and didn’t strike me as cathartic or an act of celebratory retribution, just an exercise of poor taste. But while this writing tool or gimmick, if you will, was incredibly effective in Inglourious Basterds but had diminishing returns in Django Unchained, it finally outstayed its welcome here; which is where I had a bit of an analytical crisis. I praised the Hitler’s face being peppered with bullet holes while a giant face cackles, “this is the face of Jewish vengeance” and understood the satisfaction that comes from seeing a freed slave walking through a house of cruel plantation owners, mercilessly blowing them away with the effect of a canon but this was different. This felt less like a fantasy correction of a huge endemic case of genocide or mass-slavery, it was a single, personal event. But surely that’s just as appalling as these aforementioned cases. Am I just unhappy with its use here because I’m bored of the gimmick? I would like to think that isn’t the case but either way, I think the key difference is the characters and stories were so centrally focused on this entire issue and the audience could work up to where the events were headed but with this feature, the Manson Family are quite peripheral and incidental. I can understand that might have been the desired effect to show how the events in question came out of nowhere but as stated, it strives for something but never quite attains it.

The real frustration is if this film was in the hands of any other director or acting team, it would be lambasted for being a bloated, pretentious, meandering celebration of a bygone era of male-oriented stardom at everyone else’s expense. But owing to the individuals involved, it will likely be hailed as a glorious love letter to a “better time” that never really was.


Release Date:
23 August 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
As stated, there are some truly gripping and fantastic vignettes throughout. One of which is Cliff Booth surveying the ranch he use to work on and approaching the owner’s house. Booth can handle himself as a war hero so we know any negative outcome is unlikely but the levels of tension as the entire community stop and watch him walk up to the lonely shack is fantastic. What’s more, it made me realise how much I would like to see Tarantino do straight horror – even something akin to Rob Zombie’s work if he wants to retain his schlocky grindhouse feel – affording him the opportunity to make something truly interesting.

Notable Characters:
DiCaprio is without a doubt a standout performer. He is an actor who has been giving commanding roles for over two decades and brings so much depth and dedication to every single character he embodies. Rick Dalton is no different and the levels of complexity and immersion are fantastic, from the outward projection of his “acting” to the character he is in private, to the extremely fragile broken man he allows himself to briefly be around close confidents. It’s an authentically brilliant all-round performance that unfortunately belongs in a superior release.

Highlighted Quote:
“My idea is we kill the people who taught us how to kill”

In A Few Words:
“A wholly self-indulgent commemoration of cinema from yesteryear but one that fails to actually say much of anything”

Total Score:

2/5

HOBBS & SHAW

This Time There Is No Team

Director
David Leitch

Starring
Dwayne Johnson
Jason Statham
Vanessa Kirby
Idris Elba



After an MI6 operation is hit by a terrorist group known as Eteon, the only surviving agent, Hattie Shaw [Kirby], injects herself with an engineered virus to ensure it can’t fall into the wrong hands. The Eteon insurgents are led by Brixton Lore [Elba], a biogenetically enhanced soldier with various cybernetic upgrades. With Hattie on the run, the CIA bring in two fixers to hunt her down: federal agent Luke Hobs [Johnson] and former Special Forces mercenary Deckard Shaw [Statham]. As the two have a history, they are less than happy to see one another but must work together to prevent Hattie from dying and the Snowflake virus going pandemic.

In truth, the story boils down to a fairly by-the-numbers odd couple heist film meaning it eventually devolves into an incredibly long, bloated and surprisingly dull slog. With the first The Fast And The Furious starting out as Point Break with cars, the franchise has kept itself alive by evolving somewhat and moving from street racing action thriller to action heist dramas and finally to superhero (in all but name) features. This has earned the Fast/Furious franchise a bit of a formulaic reputation for constant posturing and testosterone-driven alpha-male nonsense peppered with on the nose dialogue about family and loyalty, etc. Nowhere is that more evident than this release.

On paper, doing a spin off pairing one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood makes complete sense. It frees up the characters to largely step away from the trappings of what came before and acts as a jump-on point for anyone who isn’t up to date with the now eighteen year old series. But what we get is dumb.. truly, laughably dumb. In The Winter Soldier Captain America (a genetically enhanced super soldier) has difficulty holding onto a helicopter but Hobbs can hold one down with a chain because.. muscles. Then we have the constant tension. I was less convinced by the painfully trite romance between Johnson and Kirby as the real on-screen sexual tension is undeniably between Johnson and Statham. Which would actually work as a nice progressive story arc but I don’t think the fanbase or even the actors themselves could handle that kind of development. So in addition to emulating the action set pieces of a superhero film (abandoning all semblance of realism and escalating so far from stealing DVD players in the first film) the film heavily shifts its weight from thriller to comedy. For all its flexing and end of the world talk, a cavalier attitude is on display from start to end and this film thinks it is incredibly funny. It is not. Instead, we have a supposedly high stakes scenario with two indestructible characters wisecracking throughout.

For the most part, the CGI is impressive and the fight sequences are rather well-choreographed but anything positive is butchered with clumsy editing. Fairly early on in the film, Hobbs and both Shaws are trying to evade capture by Eteon agents. The chase itself is a decent combination of thrilling action, noteworthy CGI, great sound design and a decent score complimenting the whole thing. But as it comes to a close, our leads manage to evade capture and it becomes painfully obvious that this film is never going to create a scenario wherein our heroes struggle. And sure enough, every fist fight, every chase, everything circumnavigates back to a victory for Hobbs and Shaw. One could argue this is true of any action piece but it is in fact the opposite. The standard cliché is to introduce our character, have them experience a setback or lose, show them learning from their mistakes and coming back in the third act to achieve a more meaningful victory. Again, it’s cliché but it’s also writing 101. Hobbs and Shaw seemingly refuses to adhere to this because the alpha cannot be seen to fail and the ego of the actors is too strong and unyielding. Meaning the film is robbed of any tension, development or consequence.

Before we cover the central cast, something has to be said about the supports, most notably the self-indulgent extended cameos. Ryan Reynolds portrays a quipping CIA handler named Locke, who may as well be Deadpool. I thought I had missed something in a previous instalment because his introduction is so absurd and extremely jarring that it’s hard to know if he is in any way genuine or just psychologically unhinged. Then we have Kevin Hart appearing as an Air Marshall in what would usually amount to a throwaway line but carries on for a full mini-scene plus call-back. One could say there’s nothing wrong with these harmless oddities but in truth they skew an already uneven and unbalanced film.

In truth, there’s little to say about Johnson and Statham’s respective performances because they are remarkably safe; there is nothing outside of what we would expect and frankly, that’s what the film wants. I will discuss Elba more later in the review but I was both impressed and disappointed for Vanessa Kirby. It’s evident that Kirby is a great actor and that she will rise to prominence quite quickly. She has already proven herself with standout performances on The Crown and Mission: Impossible – Fallout and while she is afforded the opportunity to portray a physically capable character, she is instead relegated to a support with little agency after the first act. Speaking of Hattie Shaw, this film offers us a few flashbacks and imparts the closeness of their relationship (with some absolutely fucking stupid “plan names”) but completely omits or forgets that Deckard has another brother, Owen Shaw from Fast & Furious 6. It’s not really worth dwelling on but it’s such an oddity and smacks of amnesic writing.

Some of the best on-screen action, in terms of how it is shot and executed, can be found in the Mission: Impossible films and for action comedy the first Kingsman movie strikes a wonderful balance. Hobbs & Shaw presents the worst components of both, all flash and flare with little to no substance, heavily reliant on the lead’s charm and incredibly dismissive of any sort of intelligent engagement. While it would be so easy to simply dismiss this as a franchise staple and claim that these movies have always been big and dumb, the truth is that they have been bold and flashy but largely had a modicum of heart or passion. Hobbs & Shaw, regrettably, resembles the weaker Fast/Furious releases but will no doubt entertain its core demographic and make more than a mark at the box office.


Release Date:
02 August 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers**
Throughout the film we are constantly told that these two superhuman leads are not only physically capable but extremely mentally savvy. Quoting Nietzsche, referencing previous accomplishments and boasting about flawless plans, we are instructed that the eponymous characters are masters of stratagem. When it comes down to it, however, their plans are laughable and the big “Mick Jagger” plan simply doesn’t work, almost entirely reliant on a deus ex machina in the form of a Russian scientist. But that’s what you get for basing your highly coordinated strike on a crudely outlined con run by children.

Notable Characters:
The villain for this feature was crucial and while the owner of the mysterious distorted voice remains to be seen, Elba is a fantastic choice. He has the confidence, presence and acting chops to helm an antagonist of this nature and exudes cool. On top of that, there is an nicely thought out physicality to his performance, moving and holding himself in a way that reflects the biometric upgrades inside him. Even if his bulletproof suit with an exposed head is remarkably stupid.

Highlighted Quote:
“The more machine I am, the more humane I become”

In A Few Words:
“I will commend this film for trying something different but the final output is a silly lazy comedic action piece that, despite its blatant flaws, will likely go on to be extremely successful”

Total Score:

2/5