“We Think You Might Be The Man To Open Up Things Around Here…”
With a staggeringly eclectic back catalogue which ranges back a whopping thirty five years, director Spike Lee knows a thing or two about film-making, and whilst recent projects from the influential American haven’t exactly been front and centre of the cinematic spotlight, the release of BlacKkKlansman opens to a wide audience bearing high expectations after reported critical acclaim and the prestigious honour of winning the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Based upon former police officer and detective Ron Stallworth’s 2014 novel “Black Klansman”, a written account of Stallworth’s infiltration into the Ku Klux Klan during the late 1970’s, Lee’s movie undoubtedly lives up to expectations, a staggeringly powerful and entertaining multi-layered drama which sees John David Washington, son of Denzel Washington, as the cocky, undenaibly likeable, Afro-wearing Stallworth who persuades his superiors within the Colorado Springs Police Department to be placed undercover alongside Adam Driver’s (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) Detective Flip Zimmerman in order to gain access into the secretive local Klan led by Topher Grace’s (Interstellar) unbelievably racist and anti-Semitic, Grand Wizard, David Duke.
Mixing comedy with police procedural drama alongside an overarching political cornerstone which not only emphasises the race-relations issues of the 1970’s period setting but the state of the United States political spectrum today, BlacKkKlansman combines the harsh, dangerous perils of undercover policing seen in the likes of The Departed and Eastern Promises with a constant stream of rib-tickling satirical gags as it moves deftly through its’ two hour plus runtime with considerable ease and a gloriously well-mannered pace. With Lee relishing the chance to emphasise the racial undertones to alarming degrees, the movie’s obscenely vile character’s are as hateful as the heroes of the piece are joyful to be around, with Washington, Driver and Laura Harrier (Spider-Man: Homecoming) as Patrice all on the top of their game in their attempts to create three dimensional, believable personalities each with their own personal sufferings and crusades, and with Lee’s skilful eye orchestrating a number of superb set pieces, including a heartbreaking juxtaposition between an old man’s tale of murder and the KKK applauding to a screening of D. W. Griffith’s 1915 controversial picture, The Birth of a Nation, BlacKkKlansman is undoubtedly Lee’s best movie for over a decade, a stunning work of blended drama which barely puts a foot wrong.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I’ve Seen This Raw Strength Only Once Before. It Didn’t Scare Me Enough Then, It Does Now…”
Knocking every other big-screen release of 2017 out of the park in terms of mind-melting anticipation, Disney and Lucasfilm return with the eighth direct entry into the Star Wars universe with The Last Jedi, with it being a whole two years since the revival of the franchise with the scintillating revelation which was The Force Awakens. Dispatching with J. J. Abrams for the time being, with Abrams returning to directorial duty on Episode IX after the cancellation of Colin Trevorrow’s contractual duties, Looper director Rian Johnson takes charge of a release which continues on with the many dangling plot threads left over from its’ predecessor with a returning cast featuring the likes of Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and the final on-screen performance of Carrie Fisher as the ever-majestic Princess Leia. Whereas The Force Awakens realigned the critical consensus of a universe which had been somewhat tarnished thanks to the George Lucas directed trilogy released at the turn of the century, The Last Jedi has a somewhat blank slate to go where and which way it chooses, and whilst the latest entry within the Star Wars canon doesn’t exactly hit the lofty heights of its’ predecessor, with particular and crystal clear flaws affecting the final, overall product, Johnson’s movie is a spectacle fuelled adventure thrill ride which has enough twists, turns and eye-watering action to leave even the most casual of Star Wars fans gasping for more.
With a narrative which continues the many dangling plot threads left over from The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi is primarily wrapped around the centre of an escape movie, with the hunted Rebel Alliance at front and centre of the movie’s action straight from the offset in which characters both old and new are are brought into the mould of a two and a half hour journey which moves from the darkness of space to the salt laden plains of an ice covered rebel retreat without ever really coming up to the surface for breath. With subplots which include Daisy Ridley’s Rey and her interaction with Mark Hamill’s aged and hermit-esque Luke Skywalker, the wandering temperament and conflicted heart of Adam Driver’s beefed up Kylo Ren, and John Boyega’s relationship with Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose, The Last Jedi is a film which can’t be faulted for a lack of substance and plot, but with a sagging middle act in which we see one of our heroes venture to a casino-laden planet of riches coming off as the obvious editing misstep, sometimes Johnson’s movie does begin to feel incredibly heavy, and whilst there are comedic elements aplenty throughout the course of the action, the overall tone of the movie is much more darker and melancholic that one might have expected, with the notion of death and loss not exactly hiding away akin more to the sensibility of Rogue One than any other previous release in the series so far.
With particular elements which come across somewhat baffling and jarring, including a Guardians of the Galaxy moment for Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia and a handful of wasted opportunities for particular underdeveloped characters, Johnson’s movie does ultimately make up for these missteps by being a fundamentally stunning and beautifully made movie, with cinematographer and Looper collaborator Steve Yedlin creating a wide range of jaw-dropping images and shots which made me want to stand up and applause in a manner similar to Roger Deakins’ outstanding work on Blade Runner 2049, a film which on some levels does share similarities with The Last Jedi with both movies focused primarily on their feel, look and emotive qualities above anything else, resulting in Johnson’s movie coming across as arguably the least relatable Star Wars movie to date thanks to a somewhat cold and unnerving spiritual tone. With a lightsaber battle which ranks up there with the best the series has produced thus far, a satisfying resolution for particular character arcs and an ambiguous conclusion which leads the Star Wars path onto a vast number of potential directions, The Last Jedi is a flawed but emotionally riveting and spectacular addition into the Star Wars universe, and whilst it may not be the best series offering, Johnson’s movie is undeniably the most beautifully crafted.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Logan’s Must Be As Simple Minded As People Say…”
With the release of Logan Lucky this week, the most welcome return of director Steven Soderbergh after his self-imposed, but wholly brief, filmmaking hiatus, couldn’t be better timed, particularly after a summer period in which, let’s face it, Hollywood decided to throw more turds in the general direction of audiences than golden tickets, and whilst there is always a Nolan out there to save the day, Soderbergh is more often than not a director who always hits the mark when it comes to cinema, with Logan Lucky conforming to the formula audiences have come to expect from a man famous for being behind the camera of movies such as Oceans Eleven and the Hitchcock-infused Side Effects. With an extensive, impressive cast which includes the likes of Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and a peroxide-addicted Daniel Craig, Soderbergh’s latest would be sloppy to mark solely as Oceans with a mighty Southern twang, and whilst the mark of Soderbergh’s previous ventures does ultimately have its’ DNA solely planted within his latest release, Logan Lucky is a mighty fine piece of work for a man who has had four years to mull over his returning project.
After being fired from his job and attempting to combat the risk of custody battles and a supposed family curse, Jimmy Logan (Tatum) approaches brother Clyde (Driver) and sister Mellie (Riley Keough) for help in his attempt to pull off a heist at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Adding to the makeshift merry band of amateur criminals is Joe Bang (Craig), an incarcerated explosives expert who along with his own members of family, begin to craft the perfect hillbilly. With Soderbergh’s traditional coolness in terms of cinematic sensibility trickling throughout the narrative, Logan Lucky is the type of film which is just enviously easy to enjoy, and whilst the overall picture isn’t the most original or groundbreaking, the top-end cast are all on top-form and so obviously enjoying themselves that the pleasure is reciprocated onto an audience which run away into a world of dodgy accents and effective comedic characters for just under two hours. Whilst the film does have issues, such as the unnecessary inclusion of Hilary Swank’s character and Seth MacFarlane running away with the worst British accent since Don Cheadle, Logan Lucky is a welcome return for a director who seemingly always has something different to offer.
Overall Score: 8/10
“The Moment You Set Foot In That Country, You Step Into High Danger…”
Is there really a better way to start off the year than in the presence of the master of cinema himself, Martin Scorsese? Well, it does depend on what mood he is in I suppose. Whilst I can enjoy the silliness of films such as Cape Fear and Shutter Island, particularly the latter with its’ brilliantly honky soundtrack, every true cinephile wishes for the chance to witness for the first time the next Taxi Driver or Goodfellas, particularly when those respective films are the ones which will go down as the true classics of the Scorsese back catalogue. What we have with the latest Scorsese flick therefore is a highly publicised pet project of the legendary director, one which has been squirming within development hell since the 1990’s, and one which acts as the end point for the unofficial trilogy of religion-based dramas which began with The Last Temptation of Christ, succeeded with Kundun and now concludes with Silence, based upon the 1966 novel of the same name by Japanese author Shūsaku Endō and featuring a screenplay by Gangs of New York writer Jay Cocks as well as Scorsese himself, adding writing credits to a film for the first time since Casino. Whilst Silence is undoubtedly an impressive piece of cinema, boasting some fine performances and stunning cinematography, Silence is a Scorsese movie which can only be described as an incredibly laboured experience, one which falters in its’ rather plodded screenplay and a runtime which sits on the edge of utter misjudgement.
With a eye-boggling length of 160 minutes, 15 minutes longer than Goodfellas and pretty much nearly an hour over Taxi Driver, Silence is not only a movie which portrays the element of faith being tested on-screen, it is also a movie which tests its’ audience’s patience, relying on the overkill of numerous torture scenes to get its’ point across, acting as the cornerstone of each chapter, amongst endless acts of faith-ridden sacrifices and the questioning of a faith which has completely been lost in the “swamp” of 17th Century Japan. Whilst the movie plods along in a sub-par Apocalypse Now-esque fashion, Silence is saved by some top-end performances throughout, particularly from the leading trio of Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson, whilst Issey Ogata’s eerie portrayal of High Inquisitor Inoue Masashige adds the villainous element to alarming effect. Whilst the release of a Scorsese movie is undoubtedly a cause for celebration, Silence feels like exactly what it is; a glorified pet project for a man whose best seems to be behind him. Whilst Silence is no means a terrible film, it is one of those rare cases of a movie which is undoubtedly an impressive example of film-making, but instead of blessing us with a masterclass, only succeeds in testing our patience. Lose a good forty minutes, use fewer examples of torture and we might have had a real winner to start the year. Sorry Martin, A Monster Calls is a better film.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Could We Go Back To Texas Now?”
Oh boy, it’s glad to be back. Taking a much needed couple of weeks off from the cinema during the over-long Easter break, my return to the big-screen begins with Midnight Special, the newest film from the mind of Jeff Nichols, best know for films such as Take Shelter and the critically acclaimed Mud a couple of years back. Erasing the horror of my last venture into the cinema before my break, with Batman v Superman still hurting my mind every time I think about it, I ventured into Midnight Special hardly knowing anything about it apart from the incredibly solid A-List cast featuring the likes of the brilliant Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton as well as the newest Sith Lord himself, Adam Driver being on the payroll. Mixing in-between genres quicker than you can say space invaders, Midnight Special is a strange, quirky movie, one that undeniably revels in showing off it’s love of movies like E.T and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in fact, it’s love of Spielberg in general, yet it ultimately fails to live up to the great man, coming up short in many aspects that could have perhaps made it a future cult classic.
Delving right into the mix of things, Midnight Special begins head-first into the action, with little characterisation to begin with being offset with ambiguous plot threads ranging from a mysterious cult, to the involvement of the FBI and DEA, and finally, the kidnapping of a young child, one whom may not be all he seems, ripping a plot device used so effectively in Rian Johnson’s Looper, a film which bears minor similarities to Midnight Special, along with a hint of last years’ Tomorrowland, particularly in the film’s slightly over-long final third. Mix in a element of A.I, and the recipe completes the blueprints to Midnight Special, a film which begins well enough but then slightly descends into generic sci-fi territory, with added corny CGI thrown into the midst. A solid sci-fi, but nothing extraordinary, but hey, at least it’s better than Batman v Superman.