“You Can’t Stop What’s Coming. Death Always Wins…”
Growing up with Stephen King books going as far back as I can remember, the cinematic accessibility of the American’s many novels has resulted in a variety of classic movies over the course of nearly half a decade, and whilst The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are arguably the standout examples, even when Kubrick’s famous horror barely resembles the source material, The Dark Tower series has seemingly been in production hell since the first whispers of a possible adaptation came to the floor at the turn of the 21st century. With previously attached filmmakers J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard both passing on the project, the task has fallen into the hands of Danish director Nikolaj Arcel, who along with King’s own blessings and Howard’s descent into a production role, has finally managed to create a live-action adaptation of King’s monstrous fantasy epic. Being an avid reader of all things King, The Dark Tower series is indeed a collection of novels which I have enjoyably devoured, and whilst King’s own notion of such a series being a cross between The Lord of the Rings and Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, the novels do have weaknesses, particularly within the concluding three releases, and whilst many have bulked at particular high profile changes which have occurred in the transition from paper to screen, Arcel’s adaptation is a release I have been eagerly awaiting since the first trailer was announced and with the fundamental and historical issues some stories have when making the jump to the big screen, the question on everyone’s lips is; was it worth the wait?
In a nutshell? Not quite, and whilst Arcel’s adaptation of King’s novels suffers from a wide range of basic filmmaking issues, The Dark Tower was a movie in which I was never bored, never lost in the rapid overlapping of plots and crucially, never bothered by the gargantuan and radical differences that have occurred between the process from paper to screen, and because of this, the movie was a rare case of a film which seemed to be rather enjoyable even when the weaknesses are so apparent on screen. In my own view, my ability to overlook such downfalls such as awful editing, ear-scraping dialogue and cheesy special effects, is ultimately down to my affinity to the source material and although the convoluted plot will undoubtedly seem incoherent and completely bonkers to an audience coming to the film with no previous knowledge of the characters or the setting, Arcel’s movie is so obviously an adaptation made solely for the readers of the series, and for that alone, I applaud the ballsy approach to create such. With obvious production problems at the heart of the finished article, The Dark Tower is a movie which worked more than it failed, and whilst the rafter of negative reviews and poor box office numbers will unfortunately class the film as a failure, Arcel’s adaptation will no doubt be the beginning of a series which is destined to be explored much, much more either on the big screen or the small.
Overall Score: 6/10
“You’re Our Most Unwelcome Visitor, And We Do Not Propose To Entertain You…”
Although the inevitably of almost always being regarded as the daughter of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola more than anything else, Sofia Coppola has more than done enough to earn her stripes as an effective creator of film in her own right, with the Bill Murray starring Lost in Translation always being the first movie which really kicked off the critical plaudits for art and something which has continued through the likes of Marie Antoinette, The Bling Ring and this week’s release of The Beguiled, a somewhat eclectic collection of previously used Coppola stars including Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst, all set within the confines of a Civil War-ridden Virginian school for girls which features Nicole Kidman’s Miss Martha Farnsworth as headteacher. Featuring the smoky, charcoal cinematography of Philippe Le Sourd and some top-notch performances from its’ wonderfully selected cast, The Beguiled is an interesting and wholly entertaining claustrophobic drama, one which dwells on the presence of the outsider and the battling nature of fundamental human emotions.
After allowing the recovery of the wounded Irish mercenary, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) within the confines of her school, Farnsworth (Kidman) attempts to balance the safety of her fellow residents with the emotions brought up by the inclusion of McBurney’s charming, elegant mannerisms and ways, emotions which are shared also by fellow teacher Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst) and the youth infused innocence of Elle Fanning’s Alicia. With an opening title sequence which completely sets the tone for the classic feel of Coppola’s latest, The Beguiled mixes seething sexual tensions with a thrilling twist of ambiguity, bringing to light recent releases such as My Cousin Rachel and even It Comes at Night as obvious reference points, even when Coppola’s script is wholly based upon the 1966 original novel by Thomas P. Cullinan and the 1971 Don Siegel movie of the same name. With brilliantly measured performances from Farrell, Kidman and the ever-radiant presence of Elle Fanning, The Beguiled culminates in a final act which is as juicy in its’ execution as it is suitably fulfilling, something which could serve as a pithy review for the film as a whole, and whilst the drama is rather televisual at times, The Beguiled is a well-played, short and sweet drama which proves that not all remakes are destined for the bargain bin.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Whatever It Cost My Cousin In Pain And Suffering Before He Died I Will Return With Full Measure…”
Although unaware of her particular line of writing beforehand, the release of My Cousin Rachel has not only expanded my understanding of English author Daphne du Maurier but more interestingly has highlighted the importance of her writing, particularly in regards to its’ impact on cinema, with the likes of full-on classics such as Don’t Look Now, Rebecca and The Birds all being based upon du Maurier’s talented scripture. Following in the footsteps of Nicolas Roeg and Alfred Hitchcock, arguably one of the most daunting double acts to take the mantle from, director Roger Michell brings to life du Maurier’s writings once more with My Cousin Rachel, a direct adaptation of the 1951 novel and a remake of the 1952 original movie which starred Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton in the two leading roles, leading roles that this time are handed to Oscar winner Rachel Weisz and Their Finest star, Sam Claflin. With the infamy and reputation of previous successes of du Maurier’s works in the background, My Cousin Rachel understandably is nowhere near the calibre of anything from Hitchcock or Roeg, but with a stand out performance from Weisz and some gorgeous costume and set design, Michell’s movie is a solid enough attempt to transpose the ambiguous and paranoid writing of du Maurier onto the big screen.
Whilst the film’s narrative effectively reeks of uncanny uncertainty, the movie is undoubtedly bolstered by the magnetic presence of Rachel Weisz in the titular leading role, giving a superbly maligned performance which edges on the side of both troubled innocent and femme fetale depending on where exactly you believe the underlying plot is being directed by the careful hand of Roger Michell. Whilst Weisz is the undeniable guiding light of the movie, the same unfortunately cannot be said for the likes of Sam Claflin as Phillip, the incredibly annoying and wholly idiotic man-child who immaturely decides to deconstruct his entire life slowly but surely over the course of the film’s two hour runtime all-the-while the audience responds not with an inch of sorrow or remorse but instead wondering how on earth such a devious tit managed to achieve such wealth to begin with. Whether it be petulantly screaming and barking orders at his much more humane serving staff or wondering whether he is at the epicentre of a epic murderous scandal, Claflin has successfully gone and created arguably the most annoying leading character of the year so far, and when put up against the strong centrality of Weisz’s character, Claflin’s Phillip ultimately is a complete fail. Whilst the film’s key mystery is arguably too anti-climactic and the plot sometimes downgrading into lulls of utter dreariness, My Cousin Rachel passed the time nicely in a way which will see it on the BBC Two afternoon schedule sometime in your near future.
Overall Score: 6/10
“They’re Afraid They Won’t Be Able To Put Us Back In The Box When This Is Over, And It Makes Them Belligerent…”
Directed by Lone Scherfig, the creative mind behind films such as The Riot Club and the Oscar nominated drama, An Education, Their Finest, based upon the 2009 novel, Their Finest Hour and a Half by British author Lissa Evans, seemingly begins a cycle of early 20th century war biopics which are set to be released this year, with highly anticipated releases such as Churchill and Christopher Nolan’s unbelievably exciting take on Dunkirk coming to a theatre near you over the course of the next few months or so and whilst Scherfig’s latest is arguably not in the same wide-spread level of appeal as the latest Nolan release or a film depicting one of Great Britain’s most influential figures of recent history, with a cast which includes the bravura acting talents of Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan and Bill Nighy, the groundwork for excellence has somewhat already been established. The question remains therefore whether the finished picture matches the ability of its’ leading stars and whilst Their Finest is indeed a charming low-key drama, one which is laced with a full swing of tea-swigging Britishness, the final flurry of its’ second act doesn’t hold the interest of the first and dwindles into a movie which is wholly admirable but ultimately inconsequential.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of Their Finest is it being a film which once again is a solid example of a movie which doesn’t have enough actual meat on its’ bones to run the course of its’ two hour runtime, utilising narrative avenues which don’t exactly work in the long run, such as the inclusion of Jack Huston as Arterton’s underdeveloped partner, in order to enforce a dramatic subplot which although sets up the film’s leading romantic element, could have been cut out entirely and averted the risk of the dreaded clock-watching from its’ audience. On the contrary, the film does boast a overarching feel-good narrative which is bound to leave its’ intended audience “weeping in the aisles” as stated by Bill Nighy’s excellent portrayal of the fame-addicted presence of ageing actor Ambrose Hilliard, whilst Gemma Arterton continues the argument that whatever she is in she is always top of the class no matter if its’ fighting zombies in The Girl With All The Gifts or battling the sexist and wholly misogynistic ways of 20th century Britain in her role as Welsh writer Catrin Cole. Ultimately, Their Finest is a enjoyable fluffy drama which tells a story and tells it admirably well aside from a few notable exceptions but with a cast as reliable as the one on its’ books, it never really was going to fail.
Overall Score: 7/10
“It Would Have Been Better If I Was Never Born. To Have Never Taken A Breath And Live…”
Korean director Park Chan-wook is the type of gifted individual who simply doesn’t make a bad movie no matter how hard he tries or how strangely subversive the subject material at his disposal comes across. With perhaps one of the greatest trio of movies in Chan-wook’s back catalogue in the form of the Vengeance trilogy, consisting of Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, the immensely re-watchable and utterly twisted Oldboy, and of course, Lady Vengeance, the South Korean auteur returns to his language of birth after 2013’s English speaking Stoker in the form of The Handmaiden, a cinematic adaptation of the historical crime novel “Fingersmith”, penned by Welsh author Sarah Waters, albeit with the novel’s Victorian-era Britain setting changed to early 20th century Korea when the country was under Japanese rule. Whilst Chan-wook’s penchant for the surreal and the violent have somewhat calmed down with his latest release, the erotic undercurrent and captivating thrill of mystery regarding the narrative of The Handmaiden is another winning formula for a director who continues to impress with a beautifully designed love story which features the director’s best twists and turns since the release of Oldboy in 2003.
Tasked by Ha Jung-woo’s Count Fujiwara with infiltrating the life of the affluent Lady Izumi Hideko in order to sway her into marriage, young yet intelligent street hustler Sook-hee swiftly begins to feel a sense of conflicted devotion towards not only the Count but towards Lady Hideko’s sense of isolation and departure from the world outside the confines of her majestic household. With the plan set in motion in regards to the outcome of Lady Hideko, a chain of events take place which twist and turn at every available chance, resulting in a tale of lust, love and sexual desire which rank up there with the best that director Park Chan-wook has offered in his already highly distinguishable film career. Not only does The Handmaiden present itself as arguably the most stunningly presented film of the year so far, with everything from the set design to the imperious array of costumes a real sight to behold, each of the leading quartet of actors give it their absolute all in creating characters which not only are characterised within an each of their life, but are utterly compelling from beginning to end. With a narrative as winding as that which is witnessed on-screen, The Handmaiden zooms through its’ nearly 150 minute runtime with considerable ease whilst the dramatic turns which occur throughout are as jaw-dropping as the infamous twist within previous Chan-wook movies, resulting in a stunning piece of work which is as niche in terms of its’ targeted audience as it is fundamentally beautiful to behold in terms of film-making prowess. Seek it out.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Go Undercover Within The Department? That’s Awesome…!”
Burdening themselves with the prospect of attempting to distinguish themselves from simply being yet another terrible excuse of a film which classifies itself as a comedy, CHiPs, written, directed and starring Dax Shephard, is based primarily upon the American television drama series of the same name which aired on NBC between the years of 1977 and 1983, and within a week in which Power Rangers has surprisingly succeeded in whinging a modern-day adaptation too, the penultimate week of March can only be classed as the week in which two of the most pointless and utterly undesired methods of entertainment have somehow had the 21st century treatment and had the nerve to grace the big-screen. All negative preconceptions aside, CHiPs, co-starring the undeniably likeable Michael Peña, whose back catalogue includes End of Watch and Ant-Man, as well as the most recent incarnation of Wilson Fisk from Netflix’s Daredevil, Vincent D’Onofrio, CHiPs is indeed the type of movie in which you begin to wonder about the mindset of those who have played a part in creating it, with the main driving force in the form of Dax Shephard being primarily to blame in successfully creating one of the most vulgar, idiotic, mindless and utterly offensive movies in recent memory.
Featuring a supposed array of so-called jokes which offend everyone and everything from the professionalism of the police community to the LGBT community and the disabled, CHiPs is a textbook example of one man attempting to boost his egoistic capabilities by taking hold of a TV blueprint and throwing as much awfully constructed action and comedic set pieces at it as possible in order to overshadow how poor the movie actually is. Unfortunately for Shephard, the ridiculously unfunny narrative and sloppy direction only enhance the shoddiness of the overall finished picture, a picture which shares similar elements with the vile back catalogue of Adam Sandler in regards to how retrograde it comes across towards sex and the treatment of females in a “I can’t believe they actually made this” kind of fashion. Whilst the response from fans of the original show has reportedly been less than positive, I would go as far to say that everyone who goes to see CHiPs will come out smiting the air in a retrospective feeling of contempt towards a film which is just so, so awful from start to finish. AVOID.
Overall Score: 2/10
“This Is Bigger Than I Imagined…”
During the opening credits to Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, there was an uncanny moment of laughter from the audience when we made aware to the notion that not only was the latest Lee Child big-screen adaptation starring Tom Cruise, it was also specifically, “A Tom Cruise Production”, immediately evoking thoughts of that sketch from Little Britain in which Dennis Waterman has the desire to write the theme tune, sing the theme tune etc, etc. Perhaps regarded as a Tom Cruise-driven money booster therefore, with director Edward Zwick perhaps being top choice to lead the project due to their involvement together with The Last Samurai, the latest Jack Reacher was in danger of becoming a complete turkey and yet, whilst it isn’t exactly groundbreaking, Never Go Back is a passably fun, strictly 12A action thriller which passes the time nicely but does little to break out of its’ minimal existence.
In backing up the notion that Never Go Back is an undeniably and wildly strict 12A movie, kill-shots are edited away so quickly that for all the audience knows, Mr. Reacher may well have missed whilst one scene in particular comically shows one of the films’ bad guys attempt to say a naughty word beginning with the letter F only to be buffered out so all we hear instead is a muffled “fuh”. The editing and obvious cuts adhere to the now-favoured choice to gain the much wider appreciated 12A rating rather than a 15; a decision firmly based on economic reasons and whilst I’m rarely bothered by such trivial matters, Never Go Back suffers from being just another action flick, just with less Werner Herzog and more annoying sub-plots featuring 15 year old girls. To say the movie is both preposterous and predictable is an understatement but on-screen, the dynamic duo of Cruise and Cobie Smulders look like they are having enough fun to warrant its’ short existence, even if it isn’t quite the advocate for future Jack Reacher movies it might want to be.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I Want To Know What I’m Involved With…”
In the IMDB trivia page for Inferno, the wildly unwanted continuation of Ron Howard’s big screen adaptations of Dan Brown’s ridiculously popular string of novels, one of the most interesting facts was that during production the film was hidden under the code-name “Headache” due in part perhaps to the constant concussion that professor of symbology Robert Langdon apparently suffers from throughout most of the film’s bloated 120 minute run-time, yet in my own personal opinion, the “headache” in question can only relate to one thing; the effect the film has on those who bear to see it. Not only is Inferno one of the most painfully boring films I can remember seeing in a long, long while, with recurrent fidgeting and patches of drowsiness inevitably resulting in short yet effective cat naps, my experience of watching Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones run amok across Europe in order to locate their next museum-infested clue was indeed one of utter horror, one which will not escape my memory quickly, unlike the bland and completely ludicrous story which encompasses Inferno.
Where other films this year, particularly the woeful array of summer blockbusters, have suffered from fundamental issues of awful storytelling, Inferno takes such a core element of film-making and throws it into one of the rings of hell, with not one moment of dramatic tension or effective storytelling giving the movie the right to command its’ shockingly long two-hour runtime, a runtime which feels almost twice as long due to the filmmakers decision to create dull, two-dimensional characters who are hell bent on running from museum to museum in order to find the titular “Inferno”, a deadly disease created by Ben Foster’s kooky radicalist, Bertrand Zobrist, who believes the only way to sustain humanity is basically to destroy it, a plot line left over from Utopia anyhow, and a plot line which results in the said disease being carried inside a jiffy bag which floats harmlessly within the Basilica Cistern. No, I’m not kidding.
With a twist as obvious as the “radical” twist-ending in this year’s Morgan, which although I’d fallen asleep already to really understand what it all meant, still managed to annoy me to the extent I thought falling asleep might make it better, and an ending what verges on the edge of cheesy, cliche-ridden claptrap, Ron Howard has succeeded in creating a true stinker of a movie, one in which not only the audience will be bored of ten minutes in, but has even effected the actors on-screen with Tom Hanks seemingly passing the time in order to pick up the cheque and ride out his mistake of signing on for three Dan Brown-based movies, and whilst Felicity Jones at least brings some sense of kooky campness during the second half of the movie, you can’t help but feel she would rather be back on the set of Rogue One as fast as possible. Inferno isn’t the worst film of the year, but it is definitely the most boring cinematic achievement I can remember in recent years. And remember, I’ve seen The Cobbler.
Overall Score: 3/10
“What Happened That Night In The Tunnel?”
Much like the unreliable UK train service in out current state of affairs, this review comes somewhat a little late to proceedings in contrast to our usual disciplined services, due in part to my reluctance at seeing the big screen adaptation of The Girl on the Train, the ridiculously popular novel published last year and written by author Paula Hawkins, a novel in which I came to thinking it was something completely different, a novel which was indeed gripping in places but ultimately felt like a jumped up Midsummer Murders with an added slice of spice in order to fit in with the literary era of a novel such as Fifty Shades of Grey. Although book reviews aren’t a speciality of Black Ribbon just yet, Tate Taylor’s cinematic adaptation was somewhat something of a mystery on the face of it. Coming to the movie being well aware of the plot, it could have been an utter bore, yet with a cast that boasts pedigree left, right and centre, The Girl on the Train isn’t exactly remarkable, it’s just straightforwardly solid, featuring a stand out performance from Emily Blunt and sticking so close to the source material of which had the inherent problems the film contracts onto the big screen.
Where the film succeeds is in the casting of Blunt in the lead role of Rachel, who takes to the challenge of giving her all to the max, swaying in a drunken mess throughout most of the movie, unaware of her actions and the consequences that are the cornerstone of the movies’ mystery, whilst The Magnificent Seven’s Haley Bennett also deserves a mention for the conflicted Megan Hipwell. Aside from the movies’ two leading ladies, The Girl on the Train features a rafter of one-dimensional male characters, with Luke Evans and Justin Theroux being portrayed as sex/power hungry misogynist pigs, a cold portrayal of humanity in a film similarly cold and lifeless without much dramatic effect to keep it entertaining. Aside from characterisation, The Girl on the Train suffers from having the same problem as the novel; it’s just not that groundbreaking. Sure, as a two-part ITV drama it may have succeeded, yet on the big screen, Tate Taylor’s latest isn’t anything apart from good and for a film with such a cast list, I expected more.