Tag Archives: Film Review

Mother!

 

Film Score: 3.5 out of 5 (Good)

Synopsis: Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and him, a famous poet (Javier Bardem) live in seclusion at their country home until a stranger, simply called man (Ed Harris) arrives. Mother! twists biblical allegories into a horrifying condemnation of religion and humanity.

Mother! is an ordeal to watch. Following a viewing of the film last week, I remained slumped in my seat once the credits began, drained and disgusted by what had unfolded. The closest work to Mother! that I have experienced is F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Reaching the novel’s conclusion, I felt so enraged at the characters that I began to hate the story itself, and that was the point. Fitzgerald wanted the reader to hate the people and the system that Great Gatsby focused upon. Mother! like The Great Gatsby, is a statement spread through shock. Mother! evokes such a visceral emotional reaction that the disgust it gleefully creates reflects towards the film itself. A week after viewing, I am not eager to ever see Mother! again.

Director and writer Darren Aronofsky’s surrealist style takes a harrowingly Hitchcockian turn in Mother!  When the film begins, the world of Mother! is two steps away from reality. An appearance of normalcy exists but a strangeness is always present. The house appears modern but every implement from the refrigerator to mother’s medication are approaching one hundred years old. Before the walls begin to bleed, Aronofsky flags that nothing is right in Mother! The camera nauseatingly spins between rooms and strangers gaze at mother like fixated alligators sizing up their prey. A menace looms over mother but it is never quantified, letting imagination shape the abstract threat and causing Mother! to become deeply terrifying. Nearing the film’s final act I averted my gaze when mother was alone in a room and slices of white noise began to play.

The dutiful and besotted mother rebuilds the house and tends to her husband, him, played by Javier Bardem, an actor known for playing villains since his role as Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men. Although not a traditional villain, ‘him’ is Bardem at his most unsettling. Complacent towards his wife, he deflects mother’s questions about the strangers arriving at their home. Bardem reveals no emotions despite mother’s despair, suggesting that he has orchestrated these events while Aronofsky’s focus on Bardem in these scenes morphs him into a devilish figure.

Jennifer Lawrence is commendable as mother but the role stops being a performance and becomes a feat of endurance in the second act. Similar to Leonardo Dicaprio’s role as Hugh Glass in The Revenant, character development is replaced by a series of ordeals which mother goes through. Personally, the real star of Mother! was Michelle Pfeiffer as the ‘woman’, the wife of man, played by Ed Harris. Appearing unexpectedly, Pfeiffer relishes in woman’s Eve-esque demeanour of temptation and manipulation as she toys with mother through feigned warmth and outright prying. Domhnall Gleeson alongside his brother Brian Gleeson both have a brief but memorable role as the two sons of man. Domhnall dominates the screen during his appearance as the black sheep of the family, incarnating the biblical character his role is based on.

Mother! is an ordeal to watch, and that is both its strength and weakness. Over halfway into the film my tolerance was completely spent. Persistence and my wristwatch is what got me through the remaining fifty minutes while others in the screen quietly departed. Cinema can and should push viewers, but personally Aronofsky overran my limit in terms of length, not content. Enough had happened by over halfway that I was ready for the ending to arrive. Mother! shares the same problem as A Ghost Story albeit more pronounced. Both films, ensconced by the themes they pursue, are addled with moments of dead time where little, if anything, makes sense. Mother! is more afflicted by this problem, at times feeling like a student theatre play plugging holes in the plot with provocation.

Mother! will be picked apart in the ensuing decades by film student and film critic alike, it is a rewarding film but often not an enjoyable one.

If I had to recommend one film in cinemas currently, it would still be Blade Runner 2049.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

 

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Small Crimes: Review

Film Score: 3 out of 5 (Good)

Synopsis: Along the spectrum of small town crime thrillers, Small Crimes lays nestled between Blue Velvet and Blue Ruin. Disgraced ex-cop, Joe (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), returns to his hometown of Bradley County where only Joe himself is deluded by his gimmick of reformation. Joe’s past actions cause his present to become a litany of dire situations from which he tries to escape.

The name Small Crimes alludes to Joe’s delusion about what he really is. From the film’s beginning, Joe’s reformed persona is a facade as he brazenly displays his sobriety chip to the prison pastor. Despite returning to a town where he is reviled, Joe desperately clings to his act, scrambling to prepare excuses for family and victims alike.

Joe’s conflict with his duality, between the man he is and the man he claims to be, personifies Bradley County. Symbolised by the division of the local newspaper’s front page between the upcoming pumpkin festival and Joe’s release, Bradley is torn between its idealised image and its reality of vice and crime, as seen below. Every citizen in Bradley except Joe’s parents pretend to be someone else; from the reservist Scotty (Macon Blair) who spends his downtime in the local bar still dressed in his army uniform to the morally righteous D.A., Phil Coakley (Michael Kinney). The only person at ease with their duality is the ironically named Lieutenant Pleasant, Joe’s former partner who remains in the pay of the local crime family. Pleasant is played by Gary Cole with a refined humour oscillating between the dark and the mildly obscene that adds to his menace.

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The Newspaper of Bradley, caught between pumpkins and corrupt cops

Small Crimes’s exploration of the reality behind the American icon of the rural small town is a well tread trope beginning with Blue Velvet. The film’s uniqueness stems from its protagonist being a reluctant villain instead of a hero tackling the darkness within the town. Macon Blair, George Cole, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau imbibe Small Crimes with enough dark humour that the film never gags on its own tension.

Director Evan Katz has delivered a visually solid film with glitters of brilliance. Brief cuts to townsfolk, from a taxi driver’s glare or the librarian’s following eyes subtly denote Joe’s infamy. Little details are repeatedly focused upon like the blood stains on the pickup truck borrowed from Joe’s father. This consistently adds an observantly dark humour through image alone, similar to Blue Ruin and Green Room. The overlap between these two films is unsurprising given that Macon Blair who plays Scotty, and co-adapted Small Crimes from David Zeltserman’s novel, also starred in Blue Ruin and Green Room. The plot falls into an expected spiral but has enough originality and twists in Joe’s descent to be refreshing.

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Hatred, condensed into one look

The acting in Small Crimes is excellent. Similarities appear between Joe and Jaime Lannister, the role in Game of Thrones that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is famous for. Both characters involve an unhealthy degree of narcissism. However Jaime Lannister is a morally ambiguous anti-hero while Joe is a desperate man in denial about who he is. Despite Joe’s acts both past and present, he remained an understandable soul which is to the credit of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Molly Parker, of House of Cards fame, is Joe’s love interest, Charlotte. Parker depicts someone who is loving but through her dialogue and physical demeanour, Charlotte enigmatically infers that her past is equally as dark as Joe’s. I am excited to see Molly Parker’s performance in Netflix’s latest Stephen King adaptation, 1922

The true star of Small Crimes is Robert Forster as Joe Sr, a man whose rounded shoulders show the guilt he bears for what his son has become. Robert Forster breathes life into this honourable working class man trying to maintain peace between Joe Jr and Joe’s mother Irma (Jacki Weaver) who is fervently distrustful of her son. At a time where Al Pacino and Robert De Niro find themselves in comedic bits, it is good to see older stars receive genuine roles because acting is a skill that never stops maturing.

Small Crimes, currently available on Netflix, is a good independent film with solid performances and plenty of dark humour. I would recommend it to Cohen brothers fans and those looking for a decent Sunday film.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

 

Blade Runner 2049

Film Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Synopsis: This review deliberately omits any real details of the plot, because Blade Runner 2049 is best enjoyed with all its twists unknown, just like the journey Ridley Scott first offered to viewers thirty five years ago.

Watching Blade Runner’s final cut at the B.F.I. two years ago was the closest I have come to having a religious experience. I still remember digging my fingers into the armchair as the camera swooped down onto the rooftop of the L.A.P.D. building while Vangelis’ haunting synthetic score rose to a crescendo. Blade Runner 2049 begins with a literal eye opening once more that surveys the surreal landscape of a future Los Angeles, born from Phillip. K. Dick’s Cold War vision and Ridley Scott’s direction. Once more the same euphoria washed over me as a car fluttered across the screen and pushed back the horizon’s edge. All my scepticism for Blade Runner 2049 was unwarranted.

Neither a sequel nor a spiritual successor, Blade Runner 2049 is a chapter in the exquisite world first witnessed over thirty years ago, created by people who both understand and love the original. Passing the mantle from Blade Runner’s director Ridley Scott to Denis Villeneuve was the correct decision. Scott remains a great director but the taste he has developed for C.G.I over practical effects in recent years has betrayed the grounded future of Alien in both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Scott would have likely had the same effect on Blade Runner 2049. Villeneuve has kept Blade Runner’s engrossing visual realism alive by intermingling leftover concepts from the original with his own ideas. The Los Angeles from Blade Runner’s 2019 remains but is peppered with additions made by a predicted future grounded in the modern day. Blade Runner 2049 visits the world outside L.A. that Ridley Scott always wanted to include in the original. The film starts in a midwestern dust bowl swirling across bone-white synthetic farms in an environmentally exhausted world. A farmer emerges from a hydroponic tunnel of protein vats draped in a hazmat suit, covered in tubes and plastic. The farmer, the farm, and the world beyond, adorned by minute details, transcend the screen and become tangible.

A sense of reincarnation permeates Blade Runner 2049, concluding that the struggle between replicants and humans will perennially repeat itself. Echoes of the people and places from 2019 peel throughout the film like the old bones of Las Vegas which peek through the new structures above. The unbridled anger of replicant Luv (Slyvia Hoeks) is reminiscent of replicant leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and his childlike fury at an indifferent universe. Deckard’s own mention of Treasure Island is a reference to fellow Blade Runner Dave Holden, who reveals that the novel is his favourite book during a deleted scene in Blade Runner

Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Rodger Deakins have created their finest work in Blade Runner 2049. Deakins conveys the dichotomy of the alien and the familiar in Blade Runner 2049’s world. He superimposes the structure of future L.A. over the individual characters while recognisable words and brands from English to Urdu spread across the cityscape. The depth of field in these scenes, especially when focusing on Blade Runner K (Ryan Gosling), reinforces how tiny and equally inconsequential humans and replicants are in this strange new metropolis. Deakin’s masterful manipulation of colour segments the world. The smoggy grey and matte black of Los Angeles contrast with the rusted browns of the San Diego junkyards. Las Vegas stands derelict, swathed in a thick sodium orange soup as the desert swirls in silence. Deakins deserves every award he is nominated for this year.

Blade Runner 2049‘s visual opulence is matched by its bravery to broach the philosophical themes established in Blade Runner. The replicants in Blade Runner denote the arbitrary divides in human societies as I said in my 4th Wall piece here. Blade Runner 2049 returns to this central idea and offers a unique conclusion. The world of Blade Runner 2049 quickly reveals the schisms between humans themselves when K encounters fagin-esque orphanage manager Mister Cotton (Lennie James) in the bowels of the San Diego junkyards.

Beyond effects and cinematography, Blade Runner felt real because of its characters which were living and believable beings. At every rung of society which Blade Runner 2049 visits, the characters are alive and belong in this universe; from megalomaniac industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) to toughly pragmatic L.A.P.D. chief Madam (Robin Wright). The personalities and motivations of the people K crosses propel the world around him. Unlike other modern blockbusters, Blade Runner 2049 is willing to financially invest in its characters by casting major stars like Jared Leto to convincingly depict supporting roles.

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Jared Leto as Niander Wallace

K was written for Ryan Gosling and no other modern actor excels at being a sympathetic vessel of violence. Watching Gosling in Drive, he effortlessly switches between tranquillity and rage while menace always smolders in his eyes. Contrasted to the silent Driver from DriveBlade Runner 2049’s refreshingly gentle pace lets the humanity and complexity of K seep out from his tough exterior. Harrison Ford gives his best performance since Blade Runner in his return to the role of Blade Runner Deckard, a man changed in the thirty years since the original. Wiser and warier, Ford’s performance is more emotionally charged than the hero he depicted in 1982, reflecting the price Deckard has paid to remain free.

The score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch mesmerisingly emulates the classic soundtrack for the original Blade Runner by Vangelis. The noises of the world enmesh into the pulsating songs by Zimmer and Wallfish, perfecting the sound and vision of Blade Runner 2049.

Fans of Blade Runner have received a sequel they never deserved. Blade Runner 2049 is the best film of 2017.

By Saul Shimmin


My god. This film rocked me to my core with its sweeping opening of dust-ridden California as Zimmer and Wallfisch’s harsh, post-industrial score trumpeted over the speakers. If the Academy fails to nominate this film for every category (everything from Makeup & Hairstyling to Film Editing to Best Picture) it will be the greatest tragedy since Shakespeare in Love stole Best Picture from Saving Private Ryan in 1999.

Like Saul, I do not want to ruin any plot points, but I am dying to sing this movie’s praises.

The best part of the Blade Runner 2049 was its plot themes. They attacked issues that are just arising today, but will vastly affect our lives in the near future. I’m talking about Artificial Intelligence or AI and questions like makes something “alive.” Is it soul? Is it the ability to feel pain? Is it having the capability to reason? These are matters that may seem ridiculous to consider especially as Siri or Cortana struggles to understand your command to call your mom. But in due time, these will become problems that our generation will have to solve especially with the pace Apple, Google, Amazon, and other tech giants are pouring money into developing AI. Blade Runner 2049 expanded on themes raised in movies like Her, Ex Machina, and, of course, the original Blade Runner.

Raising such social questions and projecting the technology of the future used to be what science fiction did best. With recent rubbish films like Flatliners, Transcendence, and Ghost in the Shell, it was refreshing to let this movie challenge my mind and open it to the possibility of crazy technology that could soon be in my living room.  

The next best facet of the film was its settings and set designs. The post-apocalyptic world (society hadn’t been extinct, but the world had survived some nuclear blasts and mass plant extinction) was unsettling. The fact that some characters had never seen trees and that one city spanned the horizon like the mega cities in Dredd struck me at how fragile our planet is and how sad our existence would be without nature. However, it was not just the emotions that the sets sparked that made me love them. It was also their detail. Alessandra Querzola, the film’s set decorator, made sure to film them with junk, giving Blade Runner 2049 the used world aesthetic that George Lucas first introduced to the sci-fi world with Star Wars. Because of all the little things like exposed pipes, Coca-Cola ads, and all the curious trinkets in Doc Badger’s (Barkhad Abdi) shop, the movie’s realism was superb and provided it with a certain horror that such a dead world could be ours.

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Post-apocalyptic Los Angeles

Finally, apart from Denis Villeneuve, who has entered my Directors Hall of Fame that includes Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, and Danny Boyle, the movie’s actors were the icing on Blade Runner 2049. The greatest surprise was Villeneuve’s casting of Dave Bautista as the replicant, Sapper Morton. Bautista has slowly been climbing into the A-list ranks from his WWE origins and, I would argue, doing a better job than Dwayne Johnson. Despite his hulking figure (I think he slimmed down for this role) his movements were precise, his words exquisitely spoken, and his emotions, raw. It was a drastic reversal from the loud and humorous role of Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, which reveals Bautista’s acting range is quite diverse. However, Bautista was not alone in acting excellence. Each actor/actress in the film similarly excelled in each of their roles. There was not one scene that was over or under-acted.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to dislike seeing movies twice, especially while they’re still in theaters. I normally get bored on second viewings after knowing the twists and turns of a plot. Blade Runner 2049, however, is a film I am dying to see again. And soon. I recommend you go enjoy this movie as soon as possible.

By Hagood Grantham

For the trailer, see below;

The Mist (Black and White Director’s Cut)

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Synopsis: Based on the Stephen King novella of the same name, the town of Bridgton, Maine becomes shrouded in a deadly mist, teeming with creatures from the dark corners of another dimension.  Local painter, David Drayton (Thomas Jane), alongside his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), and their neighbour, Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), become trapped along with many others in the local grocery store as the mist descends upon the town. Protected from the Lovecraftian horrors outside, the movie’s true monster becomes human nature once the vestiges of society melt away.

Despite being director Frank Darabont’s third adaptation of a Stephen King novel following The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, Dimension Films opposed releasing The Mist in black and white. Fortunately, Darabont was able to include his preferred black and white cut as an extra when The Mist was transferred to DVD. Having been in London last week, I stumbled across a showing of The Mist in black and white at the B.F.I. as part of its ongoing Stephen King season. Admittedly, I am not a horror fan by nature as stated in my review for IT, but Darabont’s past work persuaded me to watch the film.

The absence of colour exudes an unsettling sense of illusion, symbolising how the town is in limbo between established reality and a different dimension altogether. Drenched in black and white, the mist becomes alive, developing into a grainy wall like background noise in a bad photograph. The mist watches the trapped townsfolk through the plate glass storefront, as they too observe the fog keeping them captive. When the camera does stare into the mist, the film sheds away any sound, plunging you into an isolating snowdrift and trapping you with the townspeople.  The choice to remove colour nods to Darabont drawing from horror and sci-fi films he watched in the 1960s. The night scenes in particular mirror the eeriness of George. A. Romero’s Night of The Living Dead from 1968.

Watching The Mist in 2017, the film is an indirect prelude to Darabont’s work on The Walking Dead. Three actors in The Mist have major roles in The Walking Dead and both stories pit ordinary people against a ubiquitous and unknown apocalyptic event. Once disbelief and shock ebbs away the two stories are an account of human nature separated from the old world. Darabont split from AMC after The Walking Dead‘s first season, but in The Mist he perceives humanity’s base nature through a dark lens. Darabont’s views are personified by Ollie Weeks, the bespectacled and softly spoken assistant store manager portrayed by British actor Toby Jones. Jones has been a favourite of mine since playing a coroner in my childhood guilty pleasure, the television show Midsomer Murders. Weeks, appearing initially as a downtrodden and outright boring man changes character as The Mist progresses. He bravely aids David Drayton while cynically narrating about human weaknesses as others around them crumble.

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Toby Jones as unlikely hero Ollie Weeks on the left. To the right is Jeffrey DeMunn, better known as Dale in The Walking Dead, as local citizen Dan Miller.

Both Stephen King and Darabont understand that believable characters are a mix of good casting and great writing. That blend is evident in The Mist. Having never seen the film beforehand, it was surprising to recognise many of the actors from major films or television shows. The actors excel in roles reflecting the types of real people found in small communities, from the excessively proud mechanic Jim (William Sadler) to local eccentric Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden). The Mist often diverts away from David Drayton and observes other characters interacting with each other; humorously at first until their personalities divide reflecting the mounting division and savagery across the makeshift community. The only recent film to delve into the politics of crisis was Alien: Covenant, which did a comparable job of showing power shift between survivors. The Mist‘s account of human nature transforms the film into a supernatural equivalent of Lord of The Flies. The only flat character was the neighbour, Brent Norton, depicted by Andre Braugher, famous for his role as Captain Raymond Holt in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It was disappointing to see Braugher’s clear acting prowess be undervalued yet again by  playing another straight character.

The creatures of The Mist do have a certain creepiness. The monochrome effect of the black and white cut makes the monsters appear like B Movie abominations, ready to lurch from the screen at you. The lack of colour does rejuvenate CGI animations that are now ten years old. Returning to the more recent Stephen King film IT, the personal difference between simple scares and real horror is when something leaves a deep seated unease after watching. The Mist sometimes scares but deeply disturbs by thrusting rational people into an unending and unwinnable disaster. The Mist’s proposition and its conclusion are rare in cinema, because even in apocalyptic films like Mad Max, goodness and hope prevails. The Mist follows The Road in battling against our human need for optimism by asking;

‘What could be done if the end truly means the end?’

The Mist hints at how deliciously darker The Walking Dead could have been under Darabont’s continued direction, but for his acrimonious split with AMC. In likelihood, The Walking Dead would have delved further into grittier overtones rather than becoming a sequence of similar obstacles with predictable outcomes.

Thomas Jane is in another adaptation of a Stephen King novella this year called 1922 which is being released on Netflix next month.

If you have yet to see The Mist, do watch it in black and white. If you have already seen it in colour, give the director’s cut a try. Unfortunately, no trailer exists for the black and white’s directors cut. Below is the standard trailer for The Mist, along with Frank Darabont’s introduction to the black and white version, which will hopefully persuade you to choose his cut over the colour version.

By Saul Shimmin

The Mist trailer:

 

Introduction to the black and white cut by Frank Darabont:

 

IT: Review

Film Score: 3 out of 5 (Good)

Synopsis:  ‘I want to take an American town and have the whole thing be haunted’.

The New England town of Derry, Maine is the product of King’s idea above.  Beset by the malevolent and unknown presence which appears as Pennywise the Clown, the thing also known as ‘IT’ hangs over Derry, taking the townsfolk and in particular the children as its prey. Set in 1988 and 1989, unpopular teen Bill Denbrough ( Jaeden Lieberher) and his gang of outcasts, known as the losers club, hunt down Pennywise after the monster kills Bill’s younger brother George (Jackson Robert Scott). Despite being labelled as a Horror film, IT is a Gothic coming of age adventure, laden with scares and set in the 1980s. The film succeeds and unsettles in conveying that Derry itself is  haunted. Occasionally, IT’s environment shows Pennywise’s presence permeating the fabric of Derry, as though the town was built by him as a lure for his prey. IT is both scary and enjoyable, but never quite haunts as unequal character development and spotty CGI detract from an otherwise good film.

Beginning with his breakout novel Carrie in 1974, Stephen King has remained relevant to pop culture for over 40 years. Celebrating his 70th birthday this year, King’s influence has been celebrated by a season at the B.F.I of films based on his novels.Having been in London this past weekend I was able to see Director Frank Darabont’s black and white version of The Mist which I will review here.  An extra birthday surprise for King has to be IT, finally adapted for the big screen following an earlier made for TV film in the 1990’s starring Tim Curry as the infamous Pennywise.

Horror was not a genre that I enjoyed but became coerced into when I was younger. My flatmates during the first year of University were avid Horror fans and would drag me to watch whatever was new and scary on Netflix. The peer pressure eventually caused me to watch Sinister with my hands over my eyes when it first showed in cinemas. Four years on and somewhat desensitised to Horror films, I found myself growing increasingly anxious last Wednesday night as I waited for IT to begin upon realising that I was alone in a 150 man screen of a very quiet multiplex cinema. Fortunately, two men and a couple appeared just before the advertisements ended. The isolated disquiet I experienced before the film began was a prelude for the fears that IT at times conveys very well; the sense felt during childhood of facing an abstract irrational fear alone.

Children in Horror films can be a medium back to youthful irrational fears, or a lure for the parental impulse to protect the innocent trapped in a dark world, which was captured brilliantly by Night of the Hunter. Certain characters among Bill and his fellow outcasts, such as Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), are given enough time for the audience to share their fears. Unbeknown to each character, Pennywise corners them in a moment of calm. Although Pennywise never appears initially, the camera observes the children from his perspective. Director Andy Muschietti mimics the revolutionary cinematography by Sam Raimi in The Evil Dead of placing the camera at high or low angles to conjure up the ethereal presence of Pennywise while the children seem so vulnerable, adding to the shock when Pennywise finally pounces. Pennywise’s masochism with the children is palpably disturbing, especially with main character Bill. He entices Bill with an apparition of George, manipulated by Pennywise like a sock puppet, while observing Bill silently above the water’s surface.

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(Pennywise, A.K.A ‘IT’ stalking George)

A lack of exposition coupled with bad C.G.I made the fears of other members in the losers club feel flimsy. The disconnect with the other children is because Horror is subjective. When we are children we have irrational fears which ebb away into a visceral fear of the grotesque symbolised by the body horror films like Hostel and Saw.  Now in my twenties, the irrational fears of childhood have transformed into a fear of the irrational itself, a fear of the unpredictable acts of violence which can happen to anyone. It is that sense of unease when I am staying at my parent’s house in the country and knowing that anyone could come calling at this isolated place in the middle of the night. Tales which scare me now are films like Strangers and even The Zodiac that cause me to close my door tightly and lock it. Now that my fears are more material since becoming an adult, some of the children’s abstract terrors were transparent, causing sections of  IT to rely on jumps and loud noises to scare.

Bill Skarsgård sizzles as the titular ‘IT’. Tim Curry’s earlier depiction of Pennywise is a pantomime performance of dark humour expected from an evil clown. Skarsgård’s Pennywise is humourous but beastly, interacting with the children like a ruthless predator, slinking and surging at them or growling lowly as he taunts them. Skarsgärd’s depiction belies the monstrous nature of ‘IT’, underscored by Pennywise’s disproportionate limbs, red cats eyes and tufts of hair atop a bulging head.

Beyond the horror, IT is at its most enjoyable when the film focuses on the children. The losers club may have reached the age of hilariously lewd jokes delivered by thickly bespectacled Richie Tozler (Finn Wolfhard), but there remains an innocence about the kids. The way they behave with each other, from writing love notes to calling a bike ‘Silver’ after The Lone Ranger’s horse harks back to the 1950s where the novel IT is set. Watching the children interact with each other as they grow up over the formative and horrific summer of 1989 was heartwarming and the actors playing the losers are bound to do well in their profession. Finn Wolfhard is great as comedic relief Richie Tozler, who is a starkly different character than Wolfhard’s breakout role as Mike Wheeler in Stranger Things. 

IT is the Stephen King adaptation fans have been waiting for. The film is still out now across cinemas and is well worth watching.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

The Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Film Score: 2.5 out of 5 (Average)

Synopsis: Eggsy (Taron Edgerton), codenamed Galahad, is now in a relationship with the Swedish princess, Tilde (Hanna Alstrom), who he saved through the backdoor in The Kingsman: The Secret Service. However, a former Kingsman recruit, Charlie (Edward Holcroft), quickly upsets the status quo on the behalf of the secretive drug cartel, the Golden Circle. Charlie hacks into the Kingsman database and accesses the locations of all the Kingsman agents for his boss, the mysterious Poppy (Julianne Moore), who executes a series of surgical missile strikes that eliminate all Kingsman agents except Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong). Alone and without a base the two agents travel to their American counterpart, the Statesmen, for help in their mission to avenge their fallen comrades and save millions from the poisonous drugs Poppy has distributed across the globe.

When I read on Rotten Tomatoes that The KingsmanThe Golden Circle received the literally middling score of 50%, I expected to be thoroughly let down by the sequel to a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. While The Golden Circle failed to live up to its predecessor’s action, humor, and subversive elements, I still had a good time watching it. I’ve thought long and hard about why The Golden Circle did not recapture The Secret Service‘s magic. I believe the biggest reason for the disparity between the two films was the first was so unexpected with its John Wick-like bloody and excellently choreographed fight scenes alongside its lewd humor. Once the audience comes to expect such elements, it is difficult for a writer/director, in this case Matthew Vaughn, to one up himself on these accounts.

Vaughn tried to escalate his actions scenes with the heavy use of CGI, but this effort failed to boost them. Instead, these moments felt fake through the obvious presence of CGI. Also, the amount of cuts in camera angles distracted me and detracted from the intensity of the fights. The movie still delivered some great action pieces, but they were fewer in number than in The Secret Service. 

The humor survived into the second film, especially with its Glastonbury contest between Eggsy and the Statesman agent, Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), to plant a tracking device in a mucus membrane of a target. However, like the action scenes, comedic scenes were also fewer than in The Secret Service. I would’ve enjoyed a few more ridiculous moments, like the ending scene of The Secret Service that I hyperlinked above. It was in such moments when The Secret Service subverted its James Bond origins where it excelled. The Golden Circle did not do this enough.

The Golden Circle‘s greatest strength is its characters. I greatly enjoyed their interactions, especially the ones between Eggsy and Merlin. Mark Strong’s handle on Merlin’s character is deft and he adds a lot of emotion to the plot despite receiving little screen time. Vaughn also wisely and believably brought Colin Firth’s Harry Hart back into the picture after being brutally executed in The Secret Service. Having Harry/Agent Galahad back from the dead added a double element of uncertainty to a seemingly straight forward plot both with the device they used to resuscitate him and the side-effects of such a procedure.

I hope Vaughn is just encountering a case of sequel-itis like the Oceanmovies suffered with Oceans Twelve and can fully recapture his mojo in the third film (if Fox chooses to make a third installment). But if you’re in need of a (fairly) lighthearted flick and don’t mind some exploding heads and gross humor in the context of a secret spy world then go see it and enjoy.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Girls Trip

Film Score: 3.5 out of 5 (Highly enjoyable)

Synopsis: A group of four college friends, known as the Flossy Posse, decide to have a reunion weekend at EssenceFest in New Orleans after the festival chooses the group’s de facto leader, Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall), to be its keynote speaker. Since college, the four friends have grown apart. Ryan has achieved celebrity status due to the success of New York Times Best Selling books while her former best friend, Sasha Franklin (Queen Latifah), runs a gossip blog, a point of contention between the two. During their getaway weekend, the other two friends, Lisa Cooper (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish), try to keep the two alpha-females happy as the reunion devolves into a party-fest filled with celebrity cameos, drama, and impressively good dancing.

Let me begin this review by stating that I had no idea what Girls Trip‘s plot was about going into the theater. My friend, Ben, demanded that we forgo It and Mother! (my two suggestions for our man-date), leaving Girls Trip as the only other well-reviewed movie out that neither of us had seen. Despite my reservations that Girls Trip would turn out to be another Bridesmaids (which didn’t connect with me despite winning over many critics), I am overjoyed we saw this film. It turned out to be a female version of The Hangover, but with a more grounded plot and acted with greater energy.

Girls Trip’s highlight was definitely Tiffany Haddish (center, below) and her character Dina. Dina, described as “the Wild One,” provided the spark to much of the movie’s humor. Her unpredictable nature caused me to follow her whenever she was onscreen. Her flawless comedic timing had me doubled over laughing for most of the movie. Thanks to Dina, I will now always chuckle to myself whenever I lay eyes on a grapefruit.

The other women took turns being the “straight” character to Dina’s craziness, which at times made them a little dull, but overall, each one had an interesting background that provided a wealth of material for the writers to pull from when they needed a motive for a scene.

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The writers, Tracy Oliver and Kenya Barris, both deserve props as much as the actresses in the movie. While they formed their story around the simple plot of divisive friendships resolved through a moment of clarity, their script was sharp, especially dropping subtle hints throughout the movie of a possible pregnancy that made Lisa’s failing relationship with her husband (Mike Colter) that much more damaging when his girlfriend informs Lisa she’s pregnant.

I removed one and a half points from Girl Trip‘s film score for two reasons. The half point comes from the ease with which the four friends forgave each other, which made their forgiveness appear false despite Lisa’s long voice-over in the ending montage proclaiming that they Flossy Posse had put aside their differences. This might seem petty on my behalf, but when a writer bases his/her movie around the idea of friendship, a simple “I’m sorry” wouldn’t heal the deep scars that existed between Lisa and Sasha. I also deducted a full point because so much of the humor came from the unexpected madness that poured from Dina’s mouth and putting four middle-age women in scenarios way out of their element. I do not expect to receive the same amount of joy from a second viewing. Call it the diminishing marginal utility of most comedic thrills, if you will.

However, don’t let my deductions stop you from seeing this movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m just trying to manage expectations. If you DO NOT have a problem with lewd and overly sexual humor, please go see Girls Trip.

For the trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

A Ghost Story

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Synopsis:  Haunting and harrowing, A Ghost Story confronts the truism that in a dark and cold universe our lives and legacies are inconsequential mayflies, leaving only the churning shadow of mortality. Couple C (Casey Affleck), a musician, and his wife M (Rooney Mara) are suddenly and tragically torn apart when C dies in a car accident in front of their quiet home. In C’s return as a ghost and haunting of his former home, writer and director David Lowery searches for a spiritual answer to death.

Visually, A Ghost Story is closer to a long piece of video art more comfortable in the quiet white walls of a modern museum. Sparse with dialogue and even motion, the film often becomes a beautiful slideshow of still images, framed through doorways and windows as the ghost perceives life coldly from the outside. There is almost a Vermeeresque knack to how Lowery composes these images. Through Lowery’s eyes, ordinary structures and objects bleed into one flowing image while audio samples of the world outside, or Daniel Heart’s score ebb and flow across it. C’s presence, returning as a simple white sheet with black eye holes, has an unsettling simplicity. Given the aspect ratio of the film and the ghost’s faceless presences, shots felt like uncovered old photos of seances, with C poised to lunge at the unaware people caught in the frame. C’s own disconnect with the world is poignantly conveyed by motion. The world seems deathly still even before C’s death. The inhabitants of C’s home move on and as C persists, the camera begins to spin between rooms while C shifts his gaze while days become months at a dizzying pace.

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(Affleck as C’s ghost along with director David Lowery)

Affleck and Mara perform well in their roles as props for Lowery’s vision and Daniel Heart’s soundtrack when either actor appears on the screen. Heart cannot be praised enough for his work on A Ghost Story. C’s ghost could have been a difficult character to connect with, but through Heart’s soundtrack the ghost becomes a canvas onto which each new song projects a different emotion. Heart’s work really conveys the ghost’s mounting anger and frustration, along with Lowery’s focus on the ghost’s expressionless face as lights flicker in response to his rage. The ghost’s maligned presence in various frames at times emanates menace or isolation.

A Ghost Story’s experimental reliance upon image and sound will cause many people to justifiably leave the cinema in the first twenty minutes. Although beautiful, the film is peppered with moments of dead time where nothing happens. In one particular scene Rooney Mara, grief stricken, makes a meal out of a pie.  The camera, without music or words, unflinchingly records Mara breakdown as she shovels the pie and crust until running away to vomit. These moments, like the one-man pie contest, are a struggle which only ardent art house cinema fans will persist through. Yet A Ghost Story is a rewarding experience with themes that few directors or film studios are willing to explore. The house and C’s return represent our shared fear of oblivion, to see whether the world remembers us. The world will likely not remember us and the only thing to do is leave little notes like M does, and let go.

After immediate viewing, A Ghost Story was going to receive three stars but in the passing week I have found myself revisiting the film, its ideas, and its haunting musical score. In retrospect the film is a struggle to watch, but many will appreciate it more in the days afterwards. Thanks to A24 for backing such a refreshingly unusual film.

For trailer, see below.

By Saul Shimmin

Baby Driver

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Synopsis: Amid a summer of flops, director Edgar Wright delivers a chop shop delight in the form of Baby Driver. Brimming with upbeat tones from a brilliant playlist of songs the film cheekily nods to the car films to which it pays homage, while never falling into the trap of self-seriousness.

Admittedly, Baby Driver did not begin well for me. The opening scene felt like Drive had mutated into a musical and I am not a fan of musicals as revealed in my review of  La La Land. Instead of Ryan Gosling broodingly awaiting robbers in midnight Los Angeles, Baby (Ansel Elgort) mimes songs in downtown Atlanta while his crew robs a bank in broad daylight. Once the film began in earnest however, my fears about the film receded as Baby Driver is about escapism, symbolised by the music and cars and encapsulated by love interest Deborah’s desire to head West in a car and just listen to music.

For me Shaun of the Dead is still Edgar Wright’s best film, but Baby Driver is Wright at his directorial best. Wright’s film-making has always brimmed with subversiveness. Rather than hoodwinking you into disbelief, Wright’s work is all too aware that it is just a story and revels in its own artifice, creating knowingly surreal scenes from ordinary moments such as Hot Fuzz’s sea mine scene. Boasting a bigger budget than Wright’s last film At World’s End, Baby Driver could be a comic book. Whole segments are awash with primary colours and both characters and cars are choreographed step by step while the camera rotates round. The music is the final touch which turns Baby Driver into an exquisite dance. Baby’s playlist perforates every part of the film. His music protects him from the real world. He synchronises events and actions in time with his songs, projecting a sense of control over what happens around him. Once the story unfolds and things sour, the real world bleeds over into Baby’s songs as he loses any semblance of control. This shift is done to great effect, especially in one later gunfight orchestrated to Focus’ Hocus Pocus with shots ringing in time with the guitar riff.

The cast is a mix of predictable and surprising choices. Jon Berthanal and Kevin Spacey play bagman, Griff, and criminal mastermind, Doc, respectively. Both roles fit each actor’s portrayal of bad guys in the past. Gruff is physically menacing, reminiscent of Berthanal’s character Shane from The Walking Dead, while Doc is a diluted and more comedic Frank Underwood from House of Cards. The more surprising choices were Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx. Foxx is truly volatile as bank robber, Bats, his bloodlust and unpredictability to fellow heist members and innocent bystanders becomes clear very quickly. Completely sociopathic and unashamedly greedy, Bat’s recital that the money belongs to him before every heist chillingly shows how cold-blooded he is. Hamm, even as robber Buddy,  is charming. Drawing on his work playing Don Draper in Mad Men, Hamm humanizes this unlikeable character through Buddy’s fondness for Baby.

Ansel Elgort seemed to jar with the film in the initial trailers, but casting him as the titular Baby fits the lighter tone of the story’s first half. Instead of following the trope in car films to have a tough guy like Ryan Gosling as the driver, Elgort, both youthful and gangly, fits the baby-like qualities of his character. Elgort is also capable of smoothly switching to a more serious tone when the film becomes darker. Lily James is good as love interest Deborah and curiously Red Hot Chili Pepper member Flea has a brief cameo as Bat’s crew member Eddie No-Nose.

Ultimately, what shines through in Baby Driver is Wright’s love for car films. The car chases nod towards the various films that Wright was inspired by, from Bullitt to The Blues Brothers. Wright readily admits how the car scenes pay tribute to his favourite drive films in an article for Sight and Sound. Beyond drive films, Baby Driver indirectly owes a debt to Michael Mann’s heist films. Baby’s inner turmoil over his life mimics James Cann’s character in Thief, while a frantic escape scene through downtown Atlanta bore a resemblance to the Heat’s downtown shootout.

Baby Driver is a great film which is still showing at odd times in U.K. cinemas and is well worth seeing before it comes to DVD this autumn.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

Wind River

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Writer/Director: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Graham Greene, James Jordan, & Hugh Dillon

Synopsis: In the opening minutes of Wind River, U. S. Fish and Wildlife agent, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), discovers the body of young girl on the Wyoming Native American reservation, Wind River, while tracking a mountain lion. The reservation police report the girl’s death, and as a possible homicide, the FBI send Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate. Realizing she’s out of her depth showing up to the sub-zero Wyoming spring in a windbreaker, Banner enlists the help of Lambert to help her navigate the frigid territory and the reservations unwelcoming citizens. Lambert and Banner’s investigation not only uncovers a terrible trail of crimes, but more importantly, it reveals to the audience the struggles Native Americans still endure today after whites forcibly removed them from their lands in the 1800s.

One of the standout aspects of the movie that came in haunting waves like the ever-present Wyoming blizzards was Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s score. It never materialized into actual music like the stuff that made Cave famous. Instead, it turned out to be haunting strings mixed with a Native American chant that often set my nerves on edge. Even more important was the restraint Cave and Ellis showed. Many scenes were accompanied by utter silence, which is a factor horror fans know can heighten the drama on screen more than any Rocky soundtrack ever could.

Wind River‘s acting was just as strong as its score. In the lead role, Jeremy Renner flexed his acting chops for the first time since The Town. I had almost forgotten he wasn’t just The Avengers‘ Hawkeye. His character, Cory Lambert, is a father in mourning after a mystery man killed his daughter four years prior and is also suffering through a divorce. While helping out the FBI and Reservation police with the homicide, Renner never lets the weight of his offscreen hardships escape the audience’s eye. The key is he does not ell us his anguish (except once when we learn about his daughter’s death), but we see it in his eyes when he consoles his friend, Martin (Gil Birmingham), after he tells him his daughter was raped and killed.

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Cory Lambert (Renner) and Martin (Gil Birmingham) suffering in silence.

Birmingham is another winner in this stellar thriller. Even though his role is smaller compared to others, it’s a pivotal turn that lets the audience witness some of the repressed anguish that the citizens of Wind River have endured. After Lambert tells Martin of his daughter’s death, the camera moves away from the two men who step outside  to focus on Olsen’s and Greene’s characters. There is no score (well chosen, Cave and Ellis). However, instead of silence, we hear Martin howl and sob in pain. Hearing Martin’s guttural cries, that he hides from the white FBI agent (Olsen), reveals that there is more at play in this film than just a murder. However, this grief is something that Wind River‘s predominately white audience will most likely never know or feel. I’m glad Sheridan chose to open this small window into Native America’s world.

And it’s Sheridan who deserves the film’s real credit. While Wind Rivers‘s plot lacked the narrative complexity of Sicario and Hell or High Water, this man is a great creator. In each of his screenplays, he masterfully develops intimate settings that drip with authenticity. Despite all his screenplays containing western settings, each one grapples with vastly different subject matter: Sicario (Drug wars along the Mexican border), Hell or Water (bank robberies and Texas Rangers), and Wind River (Native American anguish and hunting). Besides his deep knowledge, I admire Sheridan for his ability to reveal humanity’s innate primality that we often tend to ignore and refuse in our day-to-day lives as we read newspapers, go to college,  and sip coffee on our way to our white collar job. Yet humans always come back to it. Whether it’s sex in musical lyrics, war in Afghanistan, or opiods that plague our nation right this minute, humans always hunger after our most base desires. Sheridan excels at finding frighteningly fascinating and believable ways to place his characters in scenarios where those desires are laid bare.

Go see this movie,  you won’t regret it.

Target audience: 21+ adults. People between 20 and younger either shouldn’t see it due to its graphic violence or will be too young to appreciate some of the film’s quieter but more poignant moments.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham