Tag Archives: Film Review

Peterloo

Rating: 1 out of 5 (poor)

Synopsis: Following the burgeoning democratic movement in England after the Napoleonic Wars, Peterloo squanders all its potential to become a dry historical documentary.

Bad films can be, without sounding masochistic, a good thing to experience. They can be a rude pallet cleanser, a jolting contrast which makes the viewer appreciate the excellent films in existence. Peterloo is not a pallet cleanser, or an unintentional hit following from The Room. Once its exhausts the viewer’s patience, Peterloo is an aching slog through each minute until either the film ends or the viewer leaves.

The potential for greatness was there in Peterloo. The events of Peterloo, which sparked the fires of English democracy, are overlooked in British history. In the current age where London and its satellites are the country’s centre and the Northern provinces where I grew up decay into post-industrial collapse; it was warming to see a film focus on the North and attend a cinema screen filled to the highest row. Opening at the Battle of Waterloo, the contrasting fates of a working-class soldier and the absent Duke of Wellington speak of the excesses and sufferings when the powerful dominate the impoverished.  The initial narrative between the haves and the have-nots, displayed in discomforting detail, renders Peterloo’s first twenty minutes a prescient warning to our yawning wealth gap.

Past thirty minutes and director Mike Leigh fastidiously adapts my A-Level course on Victorian Britain’s political reforms. Leigh casts aside all promise of a great film to create something as vapid and dull as the class I endured at sixteen. What ensues is a litany of speeches and conversations, all delivered in the achingly verbose style of Victorian forefathers or lathered with the heavily affected provincial twang of Northerners from that time. The cast, while all commendable, do at first imbue the many conversations and speeches with power and allure. By the twentieth conversation it all melds into a babbling wave of tongues bickering about revolution and rights while the décor has more interest to the viewer than any words uttered. Humour, sparsely sprinkled throughout, rarely hits the mark and often fosters the Northern caricatures Peterloo ought to dispel.

The period’s schism between rich and poor, captured vividly by Charles Dickens is forgotten as actors state line after interminable line. When the end comes, any pay-off is swallowed by the purgatory of stifling scenes and tedious dialogue Mike Leigh subjects the viewer to. Even after the bloodshed at Peterloo, a few more lines are inserted as a parting shot at the audience’s nerves. The highest praise I can give Peterloo is that it should be wheeled in front of future A-level students so that they can have a snooze in class.

When the film ended, I could not decide whether I had been more foolish to sit through Peterloo or to have waited an hour and a half in a crowded art house cinema to see it on a Friday night.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

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Hold the Dark

Rating: 4 out of 5 (excellent)

Synopsis: Beckoned to a remote parcel of Alaska to find the wolf which killed a young boy, naturalist and writer Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) is pulled into something far darker than he could ever imagine.

Blue Ruin, Green Room and now Hold the Dark, director Jeremy Saulnier finds the cracks in the frayed corners across the map of America and dares to look inside.

Burrowing into true crime and pulp fiction, Saulnier’s works reflect the violence and madness of life below society’s safety net and outside the middle-class bubble. Hold the Dark departs from Saulnier’s earlier films to incorporate the supernatural. The graphic violence and gritty forays into the underworld remain, but atop of this milieu sits a thread pulled from Native American mythology. The supernatural element of Hold the Dark is a malingering presence poised to ensnare the unaware. It is a force which, like the world Saulnier distils into his films, is only a breath away from reality and overshadows every character.

Saulnier’s past films abruptly parachute into the lives of their characters, offering unclear direction but ultimately resolving their mysteries. Hold the Dark yields little clarity by its end. The film’s supernatural emphasis creates a shrouded maze of abrupt twists, shifting motives and character revelations. Sporting a narrative crafted to confuse and question, Hold the Dark lacks the immediate immersion of Blue Ruin’s revenge quest or Green Room’s constrained thriller. Yet Hold the Dark has a subtle allure which like the snow swept tundra of its Alaskan setting, hides more below its layers. A second viewing melts away the film’s gruff neo-western exterior. In its place sits a tale of obsession, loneliness, loss and family against Saulnier’s examination of society’s struggle to accept humanity’s base savageness.

From the infinite sea of pines amid the snow to the subdued palette of interior scenes, Hold the Dark is an ode to the wildness of its land, punctured by a shocking shootout at the halfway point. Once the film follows the avenging father Vernon Slone (Alexander Skarsgård), Hold the Dark becomes stranger and more antiquated as the viewer steps into a myth merged with a Cormac McCarthy novel.

Jeffrey Wright and Alexander Skarsgård as protagonist and antagonist create an enticing dichotomy of perspectives. The struggle between the pair is mirrored by James Badge Dale as sheriff Donald Marium and Julian Black Antelope as Cheeon. Both Dale and Antelope unexpectedly give the most outstanding performances from the whole cast.

Not everyone will enjoy this odd mongrel of a film, but it does not deserve to dwell in the digital wilderness of Netflix’s original film collection. If you are a fan of Saulnier’s films, do spread the word, as Netflix is too focused on promoting its edgy remake of Sabrina The Teenage Witch to care about anything else.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

First Man

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (very good)

Synopsis: In First Man director Damien Chazelle teams up with Ryan Gosling to tell the story of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. Ambitious in scale, First Man’s two narratives charting NASA’s moon program and the life of Neil Armstrong do not quite fit together.

Neil Armstrong, like George Washington and Charles Lindbergh, belongs among the reluctant heroes of American History. Men who achieved great feats and then gracefully retreated to leave mystery in their wake. First Man attempts to focus on the many who made NASA’s Apollo mission possible while also telling the story of Neil Armstrong. In Dunkirk Christopher Nolan uses an anonymous individual as a device to place the viewer amid the scale of war and the stakes of the Dunkirk evacuation. Chazelle attempts to immerse the viewer in the scale and the stakes of NASA’s moon program through Neil Armstrong. By picking Armstrong, a man who is fascinating to explore, Chazelle fails to give both narratives equal attention.  The result is a film of historical accuracy which humanises the enigmatic figure of Armstrong yet feels excessively long.

First Man’s strength is Neil Armstrong the man, deftly played by Ryan Gosling whose manly vulnerability connects with this stoic figure. Chazelle’s plot arc segments the history of spaceflight into Armstrong’s own life. Space becomes a coping mechanism to Armstrong. Each new step Armstrong takes into the heavens brings him closer to overcoming a tragedy unknown to the many that have come to know him. This tragedy defines Gosling’s depiction of Armstrong as both engrossing and endearing as the viewer sees Armstrong grapple with his inner pain.

Chazelle’s reputation as one of the foremost American directors today has gifted First Man with a cast which commands the viewer’s attention. Particular praise should be given to Armstrong’s fellow men on the Gemini and Apollo mission, especially Jason Clark as astronaut Edward Higgins White. All the characters of First Man imbue scale to the scope of the NASA mission, conveying the enormity of pressure upon Armstrong. Yet when the cockpit is sealed and the viewer is trapped alongside Armstrong, the pressure melts away against his fear and his wonder as he peeks through crude Perspex windows into space.

Scale is another weakness in First Man. Cast members become part of the setting like prop figures for a model train set as First Man funnels its attention onto Armstrong. Claire Foy, who was excellent in Unsane, is sadly under-used in First Man. Her character, Janet Armstrong, becomes side-lined into a dead-end sub-plot about the mounting cost of the Apollo mission. First Man goes beyond its natural length to include scenes which are historically accurate but are little more than dead time. By two hours and twenty minutes, the film is its own odyssey to match the moon landing.

First Man is a great film with stellar performances. However if the ten year old who assaulted the back of my chair with his feet is any indication, then some viewers will struggle with First Man’s run-time.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

The Godfather (4K Restoration)

Synopsis: Beginning after World War Two, The Godfather documents the trials of the Corleone family and its crime organisation as the drug trade begins to rise.  The film is a seminal work by Francis Ford Coppola which both condemns and lionises the Mafia image.

Spoilers below for The Godfather

The return of The Godfather to the cinema, now in 4K resolution, is the perfect opportunity to be reacquainted with Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic film.  More than the heightened clarity, the best improvement to The Godfather is the vastly enhanced audio quality. For the generations whose introduction to The Godfather was through DVD copies and VHS tapes, the film was a mystery of muffled dialogue and half spoken lines. The Godfather’s 4K restoration unshackles the story from The Peaky Blinders effect of dampening conversations into an incomprehensible drawl.

Visually, The Godfather is marked by its distance. The opening scene of Connie Corleone’s (Talia Shire) wedding is a moment of expected intimacy and warmth, yet the camera remains aloofly away from events unless forced to come closer. The camera’s distance underscores The Godfather’s theme of separation. The camera’s detachment from events is alike to the divide between the image of organised crime and the grim reality. The immediate Corleone family live in a state of denial about what they are. The image the Corleones project of themselves as a happy, strong family disintegrates from The Godfather’s beginning. Sonny Corleone (James Caan) cheats on his wife at his sister’s wedding while the Godfather and head of the Corleone family, Vito (Marlon Brando), organises beatings and extortion. The disparity between the image of the Corleone family and the truth about them applies to the ‘other’ Corleone family, that being their crime syndicate. The mafia mantras of loyalty and family are pulled away as the Corleone organisation is betrayed from within, in turn betraying and killing their own.  The family ‘business’ is a polite cover for the ruthless struggle over crime rackets glued together by murder. Despite the detail, murder in The Godfather is dehumanised. The act is committed by anonymous underlings or framed as to exclude the killer from view as the deed is completed, excusing the murderer from responsibility.

The only Corleone who truly perceives his family as a criminal gang is the only one who is separate from the family business, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino). Michael’s journey through The Godfather is one of acceptance into the family business at the cost of losing his own family Kay (Diane Keaton) and his grasp on everyday morality. Michael’s moral decline is marked by the killings he organises before and after his ascendancy to acting Godfather. Michael murders Sollozzo (Al Lettieri) and Capt. McCluskey (Sterling Hayden) by his own hand. The camera fully records Michael’s murder of both men, holding him in the frame as he shoots both in turn. Thereafter, the killings Michael arranges are committed by others while he maintains an air of civility like his father Vito Corleone during Connie’s wedding. The final murder in The Godfather is Michael’s own brother-in-law, Carlo. The method and framing of Carlo’s death mirrors the first killing of the film, that of Corleone enforcer Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana) . Both are garroted by surprise while the killer stands off-screen. In a way both men are caught by acts of betrayal, and both murders bookend Michael Corleone’s ascent to head of the family and the end of his ordinary life.

Adapted from Mario Puzio’s novel of the same name, The Godfather’s only flaw is Coppola’s focus on keeping fidelity between book and film. Parts of the final act’s subsequent time jump, and Las Vegas scenes, are a good epilogue for The Godfather II but are an unnecessary addition to The Godfather on its own. The film’s subtlety of plot, especially in Michael’s hunt for the traitor can be lost on those who have not read the novel beforehand, myself included. Yet in his strive to narrate the complete arc of the Corleone family, Coppola still creates a compelling tale whose structure precedes the modern docudrama film.

By Saul Shimmin

Who are the Mystery Men?

Besides the nod to The New York Dolls, this article is really about Mystery Men, the best superhero film you have never heard about.

Super-heroic spoof

Flight and invulnerability, spandex outfits and ludicrous sidekicks. The concepts of superheroes are childhood fantasies which crumble in the adult world. In the goofy bedlam of Mystery Men’s Champion City, reality reveals superheroes to be losers, oddballs and dreamers. Instead of scowling vigilantes, powerful gods and aliens, the ‘Mystery Men’ are ordinary people pretending to be something more, except for the odd possessed bowling bowl and potent flatulence. Therein lies the wonderful magic of Mystery Men, it looks at itself and superheroes and laughs at the joke.

Released in 1999, the immediate target of Mystery Men’s lampooning is the vaudevillian gaudiness of the Batman films under Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. Beyond that Mystery Men satirises dystopian films of the 1980s and 1990’s. Champion City’s architecture nods to the mega metropolis of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles, while the film’s aesthetic of old and new technologies living aside each other mimics Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and 12 Monkeys. The gags come from the inherent silliness of superheroes and super villains which Mystery Men exaggerates with a gleefully deadpan take. The real source of laughter lies in the ‘Mystery Men’ of the film; Mr.Furious (Ben Stiller) who has slightly mild anger issues, the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria) a mystic knife thrower haphazardly flinging forks and sometimes spoons and The Shoveler (William.H.Macy) who tackles crime with a shovel.

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The Shoveler is confronted by his wife

The ‘Mystery Men’

Later bolstered by new members, the ‘Mystery Men’ remain endearingly hopeless underdogs stood against villains who break the rules of comic books. In an odd premonition of Christopher Nolan’s Bruce Wayne, Mystery Men’s director Kinka Usher opens up the vulnerability of his superheroes. This vulnerability is not an Achilles heel but the humanity behind the mask or the shovel. Mystery Men, at its deepest level, concerns men and women dreaming of making it big but struggling against their own ordinariness and doubting whether they can save the day. All of us at some point have shared that fear of being ordinary, of questioning how we are different from everyone else in the crowd.

A film before its time

Created before the Marvel-Disney conveyor belt of melodramatic superhero films was even conceived, Mystery Men’s teasing of the genre has made it a refreshing tonic for the staple of today’s box office. Even if you are oblivious to the litany of D.C and Marvel films, Mystery Men’s is objectively funny. Neil Cuthbert alongside Bob Burden, creator of The Flaming Carrot Comics which inspired Mystery Men, crafted a script brimming with hilarious sound bytes. A personal favourite is the Shoveler’s statement to his wife that;

‘God gave me a gift…I shovel well, I shovel very well.’

It is shame that Mystery Men, given its inexhaustible quotability, came out before the YouTube age ushered in highlight reels of comedy films which propelled Anchorman to universal popularity. Alongside the excellent writing are cast whose calibre is something to behold. The initial trio of Ben Stiller, William.H.Macy and Hank Azaria as Mr.Furious, The Shoveler and the Blue Raja are a powerhouse boosted by the later additions of Paul Reubens as The Spleen and Jaeneane Garofalo as Baby Bowler. The list of actors goes on but most importantly Tom Waits plays mad scientist Dr.Heller who cooks up non-lethal weapons in an abandoned circus full of mannequins and chickens. Somehow I think Tom Waits had no difficulty in playing his role. Plus if you want more Tom Waits the DVD copy of Mystery Men has a wonderful deleted scene of Dr.Heller flirting with retirees. Bonus appearances are Eddie Izzard as leader of a disco gang Toni P and Cee Lo Green as a minor gang member.

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Tony P (Eddie Izzard)

Being his only feature film to date, director Kinka Usher brings the attentive detail of creating commercials to Mystery Men.  The result is a trove of gags in the film’s environment; from a retirement home’s bar being stocked with prescription medication to the Shoveler’s trophy cabinet for his weapon of choice. Mystery Men just gets better the more often you watch and the harder you look.

Sadly, Mystery Men followed its titular heroes and shuffled into obscurity after a release met with poor box office sales and poor critical responses. The story does sag in the middle but the reason for Mystery Men’s failure was it took superheroes, a thing Americans hold so earnestly as a reflection of themselves, and thumbed its nose at them.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

 

A Prayer Before Dawn

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (good)

Synopsis: Cast off into Thai prison for dealing heroin, the strange yet true life of British boxer Billy Moore is a ballad of visceral rawness which sometimes falters against its source material.

Due to the nature of the medium, books can host multiple sub-plots, nuances and themes while films have a limited window to tell a complete arc. The problem films face when transitioning a novel to the screen is either conciseness or fidelity. In trying to faithfully render Billy Moore’s memoirs, A Prayer Before Dawn’s ambitiousness entangles the film in a bramble of plot threads. Suffering from a drifting focus, A Prayer Before Dawn veers from the strangeness and savagery of Thai prison, to Billy’s fight to survive and curb his addiction while also being a boxing film. Even a sprinkle of romance is tossed into the the mix. These elements would meld together in the paper print of a good long book, but in a film they result in a plot which leaps and then spends scenes orientating itself. A Prayer Before Drawn plunges the viewer into a shocking and gruesome reality, but its many stops prevent it being an engrossing journey through Thailand’s underbelly.  

Director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire makes some admirably bold decisions in A Prayer Before Dawn. Absent of any subtitles throughout, the viewer shares Billy’s fear and confusion as he is lost in the Thai commands of guard and prisoner alike. The prisoners themselves are all former Thai convicts. Their grounding in the film’s setting explains how the prisoners unflinchingly depict acts of rape, extortion and violence with a disturbing level of calm. The final and best gamble Sauvaire pulls is his choice of Joe Cole as Billy Moore. Cole brings to Billy Moore the same intensity as his character John Shelby in Peaky Blinders. Yet Cole channels this intensity into someone bearing the brunt of the world, buckling from inner turmoil while reeling at external dangers. Cole captivates as Billy Moore, rendering A Prayer Before Dawn into an intimate look at another rebuilding his life, a man both dangerous and vulnerable. This duality draws away from A Prayer Before Dawn’s problems and proves Joe Cole’s promise to become a venerable star of our time.

Visually, Sauvaire’s use of space and framing invokes the claustrophobia and oppressiveness of prison both environmentally and socially. Certain shots of Billy, his pale skin amid a sea of tattooed prisoners marks out his isolation and seeming incompatibility with this lifestyle.  

Throughout A Prayer Before Dawn I saw the passion and potential of this unique story beyond the rosy tourist images of Thailand. However I struggled to be truly enveloped by the film. Hopefully a second viewing will improve my opinion but I would still recommend A Prayer Before Dawn to anyone looking for something different.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Escape From New York

Synopsis: Escape From New York depicts a dystopian 1997 where New York City has become a prison. War hero turned bank robber Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is offered clemency if he enters New York and saves the U.S President (Donald Pleasence) who is stranded in the Big Apple.

Written by director John Carpenter in the wake of Watergate and America’s loss of faith in itself post-Vietnam,  Escape From New York belongs to Cold War science fiction. Carpenter’s vision of the 1990’s reflects fears in the 1970’s of societal collapse, nuclear war and state control. In Escape From New York America is a police state while the Cold War has turned hot. America’s militarised police, clad in black and obscured by riot visors, are an unsettling mix of Vietnam and Nixon’s faceless G-Men as they descend from huey helicopters. New York’s transformation into a prison represents a sentiment which Carpenter touches upon in Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13; the fear of urban violence, drugs and crime spreading beyond the cities.

Late night television introduced me to John Carpenter’s films, in particular Halloween. At age 14 I bought a DVD of  Escape From New York and devoured the film. Re-watching  Escape From New York years later on the big screen has changed my perception of the story. When I was younger Escape From New York was a strange and alluring thriller. Now I see how modern society has returned to the film’s dark trajectory. In an age of global terror, mass surveillance, mass shootings and rising extremism, we are affronted again by state interference and social instability. Entering into the chaos is anti-heroic gunslinger Snake Plissken. Plissken’s adherence to a tattered moral compass in a grim future represents a begrudging sense of hope, much like Mad Max, that humanity can persist no matter the bleakness. Unlike the original Mad Max films, Escape From New York strikes a lighter tone through Nick Castle’s work on the script. In Nick Castle’s hands, the film gains an awareness of its wackiness; from its gnarled criminal gangs of New York clad in the ruins of the city to the roster of oddball characters.

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Snakes forges a plan

Crafted from a small budget of $5 million, Carpenter’s ingenuity with practical effects makes Escape From New York visually striking. Filmed in the burned out centre of St.Louis, Missouri, the city’s state gave Carpenter carte-blanche for his gnarled interpretation of New York. Atop the filming location are the models, costumes, painted backdrops and other effects which permeate the film. Time has marked the look of Escape From New York but these are just wrinkles defining a growing maturity. The film’s ability to still draw in the viewer opposes modern films whose proclivity for CGI often rushes disbelief back in. Carpenter’s score much like Halloween infuses Escape From New York with a soul of nervous energy and brooding fear as disco and funk are sifted through a synthesizer.

The cast of Escape From New York flesh out life inside the prison. Isaac Hayes as the Duke, New York’s kingpin, swaggers around with bravado like a cowboy villain followed by his posse in rag tag automobiles. Harry Dean Stanton as Brain and veteran of Hollywood’s golden age Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie exude the strangeness and toughness required to survive within the walls of New York. Best of all is Kurt Russell as Snake, whose grit is matched by defiance as he sarcastically thumbs his nose at authority figures. In the end it is Snake who provides the sole honest voice in Escape From New York, revealing the U.S president and his men to be just as corrupt as those living within New York. In today’s political climate, I think we could learn something from Snake.

Thanks to Home Manchester for screening such a great film.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Rating: 1 out of 5 (poor)

Synopsis: 3 years after Jurassic World the dinosaurs remaining at the abandoned resort face extinction once more as the island’s volcano is poised to erupt.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s mistake is to choose seriousness over levity in a world where dinosaurs live and exist as tourist attractions. It is a decision which immediately falls hollow as the plot gives way to a lazy rehashing of box office tropes and predictable twists and even throws in much of Jurassic World’s story. Fallen Kingdom’s attempt at maturity is to ask whether dinosaurs, the creatures which have heartily chomped on humans in Jurassic films past, should be preserved for the benefit of future human generations. It is a dilemma quickly answered by Jeff Goldblum’s response of ‘No’. Yet the film ignores the idiocy of its proposed dilemma and struggles on with no purpose for what feels like a very long run-time.

The film is an old fossil, a rather dull affair to behold that has been seen countless times before. The story is a Frankenstein’s monster of 3 arcs hewn together consisting of animal preservation, romance between Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard and Jurassic World’s threat of weaponised dinosaurs. The animal preservation narrative dissolves quickly, and the film’s depiction of this movement as an anti-corporate millennial upsurge is very twee. Pratt and Howard were decent in Jurassic World but without the children of Jurassic World, the pair lack the chemistry to carry the minutes between dinosaurs. Nor do Pratt or Howard seem enthused to return for Fallen Kingdomwith boredom and fatigue lining their faces as they pretend to see another  dinosaur upon the green screen.

The new characters introduced to Fallen Kingdom are evident character types who exist as stepping stones for the story. At least Fallen Kingdom’s return to the threat of military grade dinosaurs spawns a decent turn by Toby Jones as a miniature Trump replete with fake tan, bleached teeth and dubious hair. Jones alone is not enough to save a film which feels remarkably redundant despite being the immediate sequel to a promising soft reboot. Fallen Kingdom’s twists sport the worst of Hollywood’s absent logic, concluding with a ludicrous ending created only to propagate further sequels. All this could be largely forgiven, but in Fallen Kingdom’s fixatation on more ‘human’ and serious themes, it strangles the fun out of the dinosaurs which are the series’ fulcrum.

Following this dismal sequel, Jurassic World should shuffle off into extinction.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Beast

Rating: 4 out of 5 (excellent)

Director: Michael Pearce

Cast: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James, Trystan Gravelle

Synopsis: Summertime in Jersey, a killer stalks the land, and Beast’s protagonist Moll (Jessie Buckley) flees from her sham birthday and a family which is suffocating her. A chance encounter in her flight causes a budding relationship between Moll and fellow outsider Pascal (Johnny Flynn). Moll’s connection with Pascal is more bad than good, exposing her to the cannibalism of a community frenzied by fear.

Twisting between fairytale and thriller, Beast is a nebulous story laced with layers of meaning. Glancing at the surface, Beast’s setting and tale of loving the monster conjures up Claude Chabrol’s Le Boucher. Yet beyond the veneer Beast is about our latent evil and how forgiveness is a far better weapon of control than guilt. Encapsulated in one visceral act of self-harming, it becomes clear that something is deeply wrong with Moll. Moll’s problem is buried in the past, a sin wielded over Moll by her family to reduce her to the role of valet, nanny and carer. Sin, guilt and regret are nothing new in stories, but what marks Beast is how Moll’s sin has been weaponised through forgiveness. Instead of being reminded of what she has done, Moll is controlled by her mother’s guise of love, friendship and progress.

The name Beast alludes to the animalistic nature of man as family members and authority figures turn against Moll. The  theme is more pronounced among certain characters who symbolise different animals. Moll’s manipulative mother (Gerladine James) is akin to a spider while detective Cliff (Trystan Gravelle) is a bloodhound. The picturesque Jersey setting is also deceptive. The quaint connotations around the tourist spot come tax haven crumbles as Moll and Pascal are pilloried. The rich acquaintances of Moll’s family treat Moll with snickering disdain while the rest of the island condemn her and Pascal as murderers. In his choice of landscapes, the land of Jersey takes on a duality through director Michael Pearce’s vision. Verdant meadows and orchards shining at dawn give way to desolate and eerie fields and swamps. From characters to setting, Beast ensures that nothing is ever clear until the end. Cinematographer Benjamin Kracun’s eye for the land captures the distinctiveness of Britain, contrasting the synthesised depiction of how viewers abroad see the country. Despite all the suffering and trauma that Beast depicts, I could not help seeing the film as one beautifully twisted postcard of Jersey.

Replete with twists and dream sequences, Beast ensnares you in a maze of suspicion from which none are safe. The film is only undermined by a plot straining under its own complexity. Last minutes revelations and surprise twists create an impact laced with an aftertaste of dissatisfaction by upending the plot’s overall narrative of exclusion.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

Thoroughbreds

Rating: 2 out of 5 (Poor)

Director: Cory Finley

Cast: Olivia Cooke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Paul Sparks

Synopsis: Thoroughbreds is a tale of teenage angst set in the towering echelons of America’s wealthy, nestled in the upper-class affluence of Connecticut suburbs. Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), reunited with childhood friend Amanda (Olivia Cooke) conspires to kill Lily’s stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks).

Thoroughbreds is a cautionary warning that pedigree only goes so far. The film’s respectable cast and advertising campaign have the trappings of potential but both are deceptive. Projected as a major presence in trailers, Anton Yelchin is a secondary character in Thoroughbreds. Having been drawn to Thoroughbreds by Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance in Split and Anton Yelchin, I was disappointed to find that the film ditched a major part of its proclaimed appearance. The film’s plot, like the exquisite mansion in which Lily resides, is barren beneath its deluxe decor. Billed as a psychological thriller, Thoroughbreds is a litany of conversations between Lily and Amanda whose dialogue can be as boring as overhearing strangers forced to talk to one another. At times Thoroughbreds feels like an emaciated independent film, with all the money being spent on the expensive clothes and settings in which nothing happens.

The fulcrum of Thoroughbreds is the friendship between Lily and Amanda. Their relationship is palpably feigned, hastily propped up by past references while in the present, Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke have no chemistry between each other. Both actresses give performances that are stilted, projecting a sense that both are uncomfortable playing spoilt teenagers. Cooke is so devout as the sociopath Amanda that her unemotional demeanour creates a character which is just lifeless, while Anya Taylor-Joy feels equally cold as Lily.

Neither actress are helped by the writing and camerawork. Director and writer Cory Finley attempts to turn Amanda into the comic relief, but the reoccurring Steve Jobs gag wears thin and other jokes mainly fall flat. The plot’s major flaw is that neither the camera nor the writing convey the stepfather Mark as a man deserving of murder. Mark is certainly arrogant as Finley’s direction shows, but he is by no means evil. Later on in the plot the acts fatherly towards Lily, telling her to get rid of the cigarettes so her mother does not find out. Consequently it is difficult to understand Lily’s and Amanda’s mission and see them as anything more than adolescent upstarts. A few twists emerge at the film’s conclusion, arriving with little forewarning as though they were a rushed attempt to make Thoroughbreds appear clever. Nor does Thoroughbreds make any commentary upon the American elite that populate the film.

Paul Sparks and Anton Yelchin are the best parts of the film, but sadly neither are present enough to improve a film that never quite fits. Finley does show promise in what is his directorial debut, but he does have a long way to go.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below: