Friday, 19 January 2018

Maudie: DVD Review

Maudie: DVD Review

Canadian artist Maud Lewis may be well known to some but not others.
Maudie: Film Review

However, if there's any justice, Sally Hawkins' portrayal of the cowed artist should see the film garner wider praise and Oscar nominations when the time is right.

Hawkins is Lewis, who starts the film cowed and knotted as she clasps desperately at a paint brush with ageing limbs. Rattled by her brother's insistence on selling the familial house, Maudie heads out to get a job after seeing an advert placed by Ethan Hawke's gruff and brutish Everett, a loner who works at the orphanage but has no tolerance for waifs outside of those walls.

Inevitably Maudie starts working there and the relationship develops. But as Maud discovers her own voice, the love story takes another twist.

Maudie: Film Review

Anchored in a stunning turn from Hawkins who imbues the physicality of Lewis with an underplaying and underpinning of her condition rather than overly relying on it a la Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, Maudie is a slow, at times, sedate examination of the lives and love of two people.
Maudie: Film ReviewHawke's Everett may be a little impenetrable at times, but it's in the subtleties of the relationship that Maudie grows to life. Taylor uses some small touches to show the shift in between the pair, and throws in a touch of tender humour as well to reverse the roles.

Less successful is the passing of time, which is marked in the usual ways but feels muddled as their lives go on, leaving the viewer uncertain of the world and time zone they inhabit. Granted, their simple meagre existence settles them outside of such concerns and the spotlight of the story is purely on them, but odd touches from Taylor don't help add to the timelessness of a story, and merely do more to mark it out.

Ultimately, Maudie is a film which is a portrait of a woman and her curmudgeon; it's blessed by a distinctly human and subtle turn from its leading lady, and if there's any justice come awards season will be rightly recognised so. 

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Maze Runner: The Death Cure: Film Review

Maze Runner: The Death Cure: Film Review

Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Kaya Scodelario, Ki Hong Lee, Aiden Gillan
Director: Wes Ball

The Maze Runner series has generally been a good and ambitious YA adaptation from James Dashner that's pandered to little of the excesses of its literary genre and provided a good whack of dystopia for those missing The Hunger Games franchise.

The conclusion, Maze Runner: The Death Cure, arrives on screens after a substantial delay due to Dylan O'Brien being injured on set and filming being put back. After a three year delay, you could be excused for not remembering exactly how it The Scorch Trials ran into this latest. (Certainly, the latest has no desire to recap the series for newbies.)

Maze Runner: The Death Cure: Film Review

With their friend Minho kidnapped by nasty organisation WCKD and apparently betrayed by Teresa (Pirates of The Caribbean and Skins actress Scodelario), what's left of the Gladers, headed up by Dylan O'Brien's Thomas, set in motion a plan to storm the city, snatch their friend and escape from the trials and adults once and for all.

Opening with a pre-credits' heist sequence that blows any potential for brooding out of the water, Wes Ball's The Maze Runner: The Death Cure seems intent on settling for action over anything else, as it pulls together the strands from the first two films.

Unfortunately, what emerges is somewhat hindered by a lack of real emotional edge (potentially due to the exorbitantly long yet unavoidable delay) and prefers to favour solid yet formulaic sections of action over anything else.

The set pieces are delivered dependably by Ball, but there's little flair in the formulaic here, more a solid representation of what you'd expect at this point in the series. As the revolution grows and the parallels of shadowy organisations gunning down their own populace seems to draw on one of Mockingjay's darkest scenes, Ball handles it all with gusto, if storyboarding it unremarkably to generic execution.

Essentially an extended jail break movie, The Maze Runner: The Death Cure's break-in-to-break-out ethos gives the Gladers the chance to be on the front foot throughout, rather than looking like victims and lab-rats.
Maze Runner: The Death Cure: Film Review

O'Brien's solid if lacking a little charisma and it's left to Brodie-Sangster and the ever dependable Poulter to deliver some of the heart and humour that's sorely needed.

Much of Maze Runner: The Death Cure's MO is the unspoken love affair between Brodie-Sangster's Newt and O'Brien's Thomas, and certainly the betrayal by Thomas' ex Teresa never quite reaches the emotional peak and fruition you'd hope for and expect with involvement.

In terms of villains, Gillen's smirking Janson's on hand to provide conflict, but the conflict never quite builds on the promise of previous films, and feels rote at best.

Parts of the film are narratively convenient, and the use of the zombie-like Kranks feels more shoehorned in to allow parts of the story to progress, even if logic and behaviour never follow through and develop consistency within their own world.

However, that's been problematic of the series, one that's content to use characters to propel the action, rather than to engage with - and certainly the ethos of the lab rats / children conundrum is never anything but skin deep.

And with the scale of an apocalypse building, you'd expect Maze Runner: The Death Cure to have higher stakes, but by concentrating on the Gladers' insular world, and falling back only on the outside world when it needs to punctuate moments, Ball's Maze Runner conclusion feels more like it's slightly fumbled the scope of what it wants to achieve - and certainly its conclusion feels lacking in a wider resolution.

In the wash, Maze Runner: The Death Cure is a solid and just about watchable, if overlong, action film that never quite achieves the emotional highs of its mysterious first outing.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The Shape of Water: Film Review

The Shape of Water: Film Review

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer
Director: Guillermo del Toro

How you feel about whimsy will largely dictate your feelings on the beautifully sumptuous but occasionally wanting Golden Globe nominated The Shape of Water.
The Shape of Water: Film Review

In Guillermo del Toro's Cold War fairytale, Hawkins plays mute janitor Elisa, who lives with a struggling artist (Jenkin, in a warm and empathetic performance) above a cinema.

One day at work, Elisa encounters a strange event, when an apparent iron lung is shifted into the research facility where she works, complete with mysterious G-man (played with vitriol by Michael Shannon).

Despite being ordered not to do so, Elisa discovers a common bond with the Merman type creature in the tank (played by creature wizard Doug Jones). However, with the Russians trying to get their hands on it, and the Americans threatening to vivisect, Elisa decides to take matters into her own hands.

The Shape Of Water has some truly astounding visuals and is awash in a Jeunet-esque green glow that bathes everything in marine. Many sly references are made to green being the colour of the future, and the opening sequence, with its startling aqua-world is covered in green, and reflective of both the film's mystery and its 30s monster movie machinations.
The Shape of Water: Film Review

Yet, even for a fantasy, there are moments in the Cold War showdown that don't hold together - lapses of logic and behaviour mar parts of the film and slightly take you out from the fantasy within.

Thankfully, even though the film's drowning in fantasy, it's grounded by some very human presences.

Jenkins is the everyman with heart, whose desire to fit in and return is rendered all the more tragic because of societal attitudes to his open lifestyle; Jones is as impressive as ever as a creature, with plenty of years in Hellboy to know that the simplest move of his Creature from the Black Lagoon can mean so much and Shannon's driven Government agent is as necessary a villain as you'd need in a film like this.

But it's Hawkins whose mute turn speaks the loudest in del Toro's movie about the love of movies. Her empathetic Elisa gives the fantasy its heart, and in her silent turn, Hawkins pays tribute to Del Toro's aim to salute the golden era of Hollywood's finest. But there's depth to Hawkins, even if the connection initially with the creature feels a little forced; this is a film that follows the conventions of Hollywood's monster movie era where a kindred is born.
The Shape of Water: Film Review

Ultimately, The Shape of Water may go on a little too long, but if you're content to rest in its fantasy world and revel in Del Toro's unique vision, it's the perfect luxuriating piece of cinema.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

All The Money In The World: Film Review

All The Money In The World: Film Review

Cast: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris
Director: Ridley Scott

It's hard not to view All The Money In The World without the fog of controversy that's clouded its admittedly quiet release ahead of the awards season in 2018.
All The Money In The World: Film Review

The tale of the kidnapping of Paul Getty inspired by true events and through the lens of Sir Ridley Scott has been blighted since it was unleashed.

Wrapped in a furore after Kevin Spacey's JP Getty had to be digitally removed and was recast as Christopher Plummer following sexual misconduct accusations against Spacey, the film was further hit by a row over pay parity when Wahlberg netted 1500 times more for his co-star Williams in subsequent reshoots.

Interestingly, what plays out on screen in the adaptation of John Pearson's 1995 book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty is actually both sickly compelling and stultefyingly overlong.
All The Money In The World: Film Review

For those unaware of the 1973 kidnapping of the 16-year-old Paul, grandson of oil tycoon JP Getty (Plummer, in a commanding and cruel presence from the moment he shows on screen) the story follows the back and forth between the kidnappers, Paul's mum (Williams, all grace and clipped diction) and the investigator Fletcher Chase (Wahlberg, solid and dependable) hired by Getty to return the kid at the lowest cost.

Playing like an episode of Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, the film's strength comes from its performance of both Williams and Plummer - and a compassionate turn by French actor Romain Duris - rather than for the strength and depth of its story-telling.

A few flashbacks give some heft to the emotional backstory within, but Getty's particular cruelty feels surface-deep, even if Plummer's nuanced veneer bristles with intolerable cruelty and distinct inhumanity.

But the film's strongest is Williams, a non-showy turn that has both poise and vulnerability as the mother caught in the middle of a tycoon determined to stand his ground and a situation threatening to reek of tragedy. A few lip trembles here and there amid a distinctly controlled performance from Williams grants the film the emotional edge that it so sorely needs and shows once again, that she's an actress of fine form and prestige in whatever projects she chooses.
All The Money In The World: Film Review

Ultimately, Scott's chopping back and forth in the story robs it of some its initial tension, though the suspense does build up at the expense of any true character depth - Wahlberg's CIA agent and subsequent change of mind is the worst served by the script and story choices.

In the final wash and when viewed away from what's clouded it, All The Money In The World could have used a slight cull and some tighter editing to ensure it keeps its vice-like grip tighter wound. It's a compelling, fascinating story, but bereft of some of its richer emotional edges, it teeters dangerously - and unfortunately - close to indifference.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Happy Death Day: DVD Review

Happy Death Day: DVD Review

Happy Death Day: Film Review

Mixing Mean Girls, Groundhog Day, Scream and Scooby Doo, Happy Death Day's sorority set horror is more comedy and dumb jock humour than anything else.

La La Land's Jessica Rothe plays Tre, a botch of a sorority sister who wakes up one morning to a walk of shame in the dorm room of Broussard's Carter. Sidling back to her house and elite clique of bitches, Tre's day is spent avoiding her birthday. But at the end of the day, she winds up being killed by a tracksuited killer in a chubby baby face mask.

Only she wakes up the next morning to find she has to endure it all again...

Happy Death Day plays fast and loose with its Goundhog Day premise, and even riffs on the fact most of its target audience would never have seen the film before in its final moments.

Happy Death Day: Film Review

But while the first 40 minutes or so feel fresh and relatively carefree in their execution - thanks in large part to Rothe's affable sorority sister whose arc of redemption is obvious from the start - the film can't quite decide on a tone, moving from drama to comedy and between bloodless horror.

The end result, complete with its unmasking of the killer, feels like an episode of Scooby Doo, where the bad guy would have gotten away with it, if it weren't for the oh-so-obvious arc of the protagonist.

It'll probably hit with its target audience of teens and the bat-em out low, box office them high Blumhouse effect is likely to strike again (though possibly with limited effect), but given how bloodless and derivative the film is of its tropes and genre, it loses its breeziness midway through proceedings.

Happy Death Day: Film Review

Its live, die, repeat ethos and wannabe Buffy lead (even down to a tooling up montage toward the end) make it all feel oddly familiar. Coupled with Happy Death Day's desire to defy its own internal logic and ramp up the increasingly daft situations and reaction, the film loses any execution of its own admittedly original premise and consequently appeal. 

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Perfect Strangers: DVD Review

Perfect Strangers: DVD Review

Released by Madman Home Entertainment

It’s no surprise that a drama’s finally hit on this concept.

And to be fair, the continuing woes over the middle classes in suburbia aren’t exactly original fodder either.

In Perfetti Sconosciuti by Paolo Genovese, there’s an eclipse coming and to celebrate a group of 7 friends are having dinner together. Wisely acknowledging that all phones disrupt any kind of social engagement, one of the hosts suggests everyone places their phone on the table and if they ring or texts / emails come through, it all gets shared with the party.

Goaded under the mantra that nobody has anything to hide, the group agrees – albeit reluctantly in some cases. However, unsurprisingly, secrets abound at this table as this social Russian roulette begins – with domestic dark clouds looming….

Genovese’s drama may be an unoriginal concept, but its execution and delicious premise are nothing short of slick and confident.

The cast of Italian favourites (mostly unknown on these shores) make each of their characters feel eminently likeable in the run up to the dinner party, and each of them has their own foibles waiting to be hoist upon the table. There’s a newly married couple barely to stop touching each other, a permanent bachelor friend who finally has a date, a couple who appears strained – these are all people who have something to lose (why they even agree to this madness is wisely never fully discussed).

As the inevitable twists begin to play out and the truth creeps closer to the surface in many relationships, Genovese’s adroitness with the camera and handling of the revelations is masterful and manipulative in equal measure.

Shocks and deep sudden intakes from the audience are inevitable – and at least one reveal surprises in its casualness, but there’s a lot of discomfort and wriggling around in seats to be elicited from this execution. While it’s to the ensemble’s strength that nobody feels on more morally higher ground than the other, equally none of them feel eminently dislikeable as events progress during the night (though one does feel it’s a little first world problems of the middle class at some points).

Unfortunately in the final run, it risks a reveal too far but it’s a testament to how engaging the cast are and perhaps how close this social experiment may cut to the bone with many that Perfetti  Sconosciuti is such a middle-class crowd-pleasing / what would you do resounding success. 

Friday, 12 January 2018

The Commuter: Film Review

The Commuter: Film Review

Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Re-teaming with his Unknown director after their 2011 outing, Liam Neeson's supposed retirement from action thrillers sees him taking part in an action thriller.

Neeson is Michael McCauley, a straight and down-the-line insurance seller, whose life is a daily routine.
The Commuter: Film Review

From the morning commute to the office to the routine of trying to sort money for his son to go to college, McCauley is a straight arrow.

But it all changes one day, when with retirement closing in, McCauley is made redundant.

As he takes the train home, he's approached by a woman (Vera Farmiga) who sits opposite him and offers him a Faustian deal - someone on his train doesn't belong there. Find out who they are before the commuter train terminates its run and net a cool $100K.

Given only a short time to decide, McCauley finds his hand forced as a race against time begins.

The Commuter has a clever premise, one that's ripped from the pages of a pulpy page-turner.

But on screen, Collet-Serra seems unable to bring it to life with a series of coincidences and incredulities crippling parts of what unfurls.
The Commuter: Film Review

(Let's not even start with the insane concept that perhaps people actually talk to each other on a US train).

Neeson is solid but unspectacular as he rolls out yet another take on a man with a special set of skills.
(Fortunately, his character is an ex-cop this time around). It's easy to see why Neeson would take the gig as it plays on the everyman-forced-to-do-extraordinary schtick that's become his thing.

However, with dialogue that lays everything bare, and a shaky cam ethos, Collet-Serra at times feels like he's beating you across the face with the film, rather than letting the piece breathe naturally and its subsequent rhythms grip and thrill you.
The Commuter: Film Review

As the script grows ever more ludicrous, with red herrings and a bizarre take down of Goldman Sachs that's supposed to be middle America responding, Collet-Serra orchestrates the whole film into a train-set CGI spectacle that's unfortunately more laughable than laudible.

Muddled and frankly average at best in its stolid lumpiness and old school "charm", The Commuter is an action film and script, ripped straight from 1980.

Unfortunately, it's 2018 - and this kind of thing is possibly best shown either on TV or on a flight on a plane where coherence isn't fully embraced.

For Neeson, it's about time this action train was stopped - and he was allowed the dignity of getting off.