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Film Review: Gifted

“He’s A Good Person. He Wanted Me Before I Was Smart…”

Aside from making moves in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Captain America, Chris Evans is very seldom seen in other visual ventures between the criss-crossing of fighting Tony Stark and aiding the woes of Bucky Barnes, and whilst this week’s release of Gifted is a far stretch away from CGI-fuelled mayhem and size-bending superheroes, the charismatic manner of the Hollywood star is indeed a welcome sight in a drama which allows Evans to convey his acting abilities and prove that muscle mass and tight rubber pants are not the only thing he feels comfortable doing. Directed by Marc Webb, a director renowned for the indie sensation which was (500) Days of Summer but probably best known in the geek world for the very good The Amazing Spider-Man and the not so good 2014 sequel, Gifted is a charmingly grounded family drama, one which includes a zippy and snappy narrative rife with effective comedic dialogue and tropes, and too a film which although could be classed as a good example of emotive manipulation, offers good enough reasons to bypass the saccharin sweetness at times and just enjoy the ride whilst it lasts. As the great Roger Ebert stated, “Some people like to be emotionally manipulated. I do, when it’s done well”.

Focusing on the one-two uncle and niece duo of Frank (Chris Evans) and Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace), Gifted begins primarily by setting the scene of the drama which is set to unfold, with seven year old Mary attending school for the first time and becoming increasingly noted for her outstanding mathematical abilities and street-wise nature which extends way past each and all of her similarly aged peers. At the heart of the narrative too is both the kind-hearted and softly spoken first-grade teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) and the Cruella de Vil-esque character of the piece, Evelyn Adler (Lindsay Duncan) who interrupts the peace and tranquillity of Frank’s quest for a normal life in order to fulfil her own petulant and wholly selfish commemorative wishes, using Mary as a pawn in a proceeding tale of family breakups and legal scaremongering, all in a quest for Evelyn’s view of the greater good. Whilst both Mckenna and Evans give both incredibly charming performances, using the great chemistry between them effectively within an array of heartwarming comedic scenes which focus on the innocence of youth and the hardship of fatherhood, Gifted does suffer from a rather overly ripe shiny-happy-people ending and the inclusion of Duncan’s steely-eyed antagonist does come across as slightly too boo-hiss at times to feel a natural fit for the overall feel of the movie. Webb knows how to do the mis-fit, slightly kooky comedy drama well, and whilst Gifted isn’t as flashy as (500) Days of Summer, it sure worked for the most part in which I was emotionally invested with its’ loving, leading characters.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: My Cousin Rachel

“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

Film Review: Unlocked

“You Asked Me How Far I Would Go To Protect My Country. Whatever It Takes…”

It comes across wholly ironic that in a week in which we see the big budget release of Alien: Covenant, the sequel to 2012’s Prometheus and a sequel in which does not include the wholly reliable face of Noomi Rapace who declined to participate, that the Swedish born actress turns up in Unlocked, an action-packed spy thriller directed by Michael Apted, perhaps most famous for the Pierce Brosnan led The World is Not Enough, and the type of movie which belongs entirely within the realms of straight-to-DVD mediocrity. Of course, the coincidental notion of these two films being released side by side might not mean anything whatsoever, but in terms of further advancing the career of Rapace, it doesn’t exactly compute why such an esteemed actress chose Apted’s laughably poor action raspberry of a movie rather than the Ridley Scott led sci-fi epic, a movie which although is nowhere near a masterpiece in its’ own right, when put up against Unlocked comes across as some kind of 21st century work of art. With a cast which indeed includes the likes of Rapace, John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Michael Douglas and Orlando Bloom, yes, Orlando Bloom, Unlocked does boast an incredibly strong payroll but with a narrative which is woeful as it is unintentionally hilarious, Apted’s latest is perhaps the least enjoyable time I’ve had with an action flick since, well, last week’s Sleepless. Not exactly a strong week for films.

After stumbling into a double crossing, trust bending, terrorism plot, Noomi Rapace’s shock-filled London based CIA agent is thrown violently back into the fold, shooting her way through building after building in order to establish the real play-makers behind a massive biological threat. Cue exposition galore, over-dramatic cameo performances and plot strands which edge of the side of cinematic malpractice, Apted’s real ace in the hole comes in the form of Orlando Bloom who appears half way through the action, conveying the tattooed, grungy, untrustworthy ex-jarhead who enters with a gold pass into the hall of worst cockney accents ever alongside Don Cheadle and Dick Van Dyke who are there to keep him company in the ways of mastering the voice of the East-End. Not only does Bloom win the award for worst cameo of the year so far, his character ultimately is entirely inconsequential to the extent that his existence is some form of contractual agreement to allow Bloom to garner a quick pay check after seemingly disappearing into thin air over the past few years. Unlocked is obviously awful, and although the narrative does threaten to entertain around the twenty minute mark, Apted fails to hold such attentive themes and constructs an action flick so poor that you pray for the likes of Gareth Evans to direct every action movie ever from now on.

Overall Score: 3/10

Film Review: Unforgettable

“You Gave It All To Her, Right In Front of Me…”

Tackling the ridiculously difficult genre of the erotic thriller for a debut picture, new kid on the block, Denise Di Novi, seems to have gone full flow with the notion that to get somewhere quickly, the hardest options are sometimes the best to get out of the way. In regards to recent depictions of such a genre, within this year even, the widespread level of excellence ranges from the utter shoddy in the form of the Fifty Shades franchise to the interesting and brilliantly executed, with Elle and Park Chan Wook’s The Handmaiden being top-end depictions of eroticism upon the big-screen, helped primarily from scripts which attempt to shake up the format and offer something original instead of simply falling into the pot of generic silliness. Unfortunately for Di Novi, Unforgettable is the type of movie which you question how it actually managed to make it onto the big screen with it clearly being the type of erotic thriller that is destined for the clearance DVD bin in your local supermarket sometime in the near future, yet with star power in the form of Rosario Dawson and Katherine Heigl holding down the fort, Unforgettable is passable, generic popcorn nonsense which ticks all the boxes in a manner which is both swift and unoffensive.

Whilst the trailer for the movie conforms to the common issue of giving away not just the main bulk of the movie but indeed the entire bleeding plot, Unforgettable comes across as representing itself as the 21st century model of Basic Instinct, yet without the shore footing of Elle director Paul Verhoeven in its’ corner and without the iconic image of Sharon Stone as the film’s leading bunny boiler. Replacing Stone in such a role is Katherine Heigl, the plain faced barbie doll who takes the character of the kooky and wholly obsessive ex-wife and completely runs with it. demonstrating the idea that girls with slicked back hair and a penchant for cleaning silver utensils are without question a grade A psychopath. On the other side of the court is Rosario Dawson’s leading heroine, a character who through a wide range of questionable decisions ends up battered, bruised and completely ostracised from her newly found fiancee throughout the course of the movie in a manner in which is meant to exert a sense of tension from the audience, an audience which are way too clever and knowing to see where the entire plot is heading straight from the outset. The Handmaiden it ain’t, Unforgettable is ironically, quite forgettable and is saved primarily due to its’ two leading stars which prevent the film from disappearing into nonexistence forever.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: The Belko Experiment

“We Do Not Have The Right To Take Innocent Human Lives..!”

Written by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn and directed by Greg McLean, the menacing mind behind the spine-tingling and wholly gruelling Wolf Creek, The Belko Experiment is the type of B-Movie which relies on an incredibly niche audience, one who doesn’t entirely rely on the thrill of advertisement to venture out and see a movie and one which revels in the sight of movies which attempt to be slightly different from the inevitable and often mind-bending levels of high-profile generic garbage which are released simply with an economic opportunity at the forefront of its’ mind and ironically, the same type of releases which more than often end up being a complete pile of crap. I’m looking at you Furious 8. With The Belko Experiment therefore, from the singular, quickfire trailer which I observed in the cinema a few weeks back, I knew from the outset that a cagey, ultra-violent affair was afoot, and with the successful duo of both Gunn and McLean at its’ core, what could possibly go wrong?

Whilst the central narrative at the core of The Belko Experiment is one of which cinematic audiences are more than familiar with, with Gunn taking leads from a wide range of culty sci-fi classics such as Battle Royale and Cube, McLean’s directorial lead results in a picture which although begins in a spine-tingling and intoxicating manner, one which revels in a winning mix of dark comic humour with Gunn’s penchant for quick, snappy dialogue, ultimately does begin to completely lose steam come the hour mark due to the simply ultra-violent levels of bloodshed which instead of coming across as enjoyable B-Movie splatter, tarnishes the latter end of the movie with a sense of bad taste, a notion which is particularly hard to construct from a self-proclaimed lover of all things horror such as myself. Whilst endless shots of combustible heads and cold-blooded murder is of course something which is ripe in many gore-filled movies nowadays, the violence within The Belko Experiment seems so off-key with the middling tone of the movie that this particular element of the movie ended up seeming inherently rank and unnecessary. High-Rise meets The Hunger Games/Battle Royale, The Belko Experiment may be a mis-judged pile of tastelessness, but it too was a movie in which I was never bored and a film which effectively passed the time thanks primarily to the involvement of James Gunn.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Fist Fight

“We’re Gonna Handle Our Differences Like Real Men…”

When reviewing a film such as Fist Fight, the first thing you have to realise is that the Ice Cube which is top-billed on such a movie is indeed the same Ice Cube famous for being the great wordsmith which invigorated the gangsta rap scene in the late 1980’s with N.W.A and indeed the same Ice Cube whose latter-day career choices include seemingly blundering into a continuous array of comedy-based cinematic projects, with only a few actually being of some notable success such as 21 Jump Street and erm, 22 Jump Street. It comes as no real shock therefore that Fist Fight is nothing more than a lazy, thoughtless and cringe-worthy attempt of a comedy, with awful dialogue, a dwindling, lacklustre narrative, and one of the most pain-inducing performances I have ever seen from Charlie Day in a leading role which consists of a character who is slated for being friendly and kind and instead finds redemption and a sense of purpose by resorting to drug dealing, swearing at minors and unreasonable levels of violence. You know, all those things which make you “cool” nowadays.

Although running for a reasonable length of 90 minutes, Fist Fight is one of those movies in which you absolutely feel every single second drag past until you reach a conclusion and final act which not only is generically mediocre, but smiles at you whilst it crackles at the thought of the money the audience has paid to watch such a dire attempt of a comedy. Although the blame doesn’t entirely lie at the feet of Ice Cube, it just baffles me why this is the kind of film in which he has settled for after a strong start to an acting career which started with the likes of Boyz in the Hood and the culty favourite Friday, yet the real loser of the show is indeed Charlie Day who screams his way into a leading role which laughs at the state of modern-day education, resulting in the first case of a fictional character this year who has actively driven me to a straightforward high level of hatred. Saddled with jokes about underage sex, statutory rape, drug use, casual racism and a clanger of a mis-step in the form of a incredibly young child relaying lyrics from Big Sean to an audience of similarly aged children, Fist Fight is just poop from beginning to end. That’s right, poop. I can be a child sometimes too.

Overall Score: 3/10

Film Review: Moonlight

“At Some Point You’ve Got To Decide Who You Wanna Be…”

Striding hand-in-hand with La La Land for the two most hyped cinematic releases of the year, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is the type of movie of which its’ reputation more than precedes it, gathering overwhelming critical response from across the critical stratosphere and a fair number of Oscar nominations to support its’ claim as a modern masterpiece of cinema. Where La La Land managed to actually exceed expectations, so much so that two visits to see it in the cinema just isn’t enough, Moonlight is yet another example of a film-going experience which just doesn’t seem to correlate with its’ preconceived notions of excellence, with it being yes, a movie which is made with a huge degree of gentle care and dedication to its’ source material, but is too also largely nonexistent in attempting to create a succinct relationship between its’ leading characters and the audience, resulting in a movie which follows in similar strides to Martin Scorsese’s Silence earlier on in the year in the sense that although its’ craft is admirable, the final result isn’t the masterpiece I was hell bent on expecting.

Following in three acts the troubled early life of Chiron, a conflicted and withdrawn character born into the drug-ridden and crime inflicted surroundings of an unnamed geographical area of America, Moonlight delves deep into the organic nature of life itself, with its’ central protagonist slipping through year after year without a crystal clear notion of his own true identity in a Boyhood style tale of discovery amidst the backdrop of an atmosphere that bears similarities to the nihilistic portrayal of society within HBO’s The Wire. Although each of the three depictions of Chiron throughout the movie give solid performances, the true standouts of the movie are the double-header of House of Cards/Luke Cage star Mahershala Ali and Moneypenny herself, Naomie Harris, who each give rousing and emphatic performances within the quite shocking minimal time they actually appear on screen, amidst a screenplay which relies on the element of understatement to quietly and sometimes tediously get where its’ attempting to finally go. Moonlight is no doubt a impressive piece of drama from second-time writer/director Barry Jenkins, but it too is a film which doesn’t hold up to the impressive hype surrounding its’ release, at least on first watch.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: The Founder

 “If I Saw A Competitor Drowning, I’d Shove A Hose Down His Throat…”

Whilst not a huge fan of McDonald’s selection of economically priced fast-food personally, with it tending to come out quicker than it seems to have gone in, a film regarding its’ elusive early success isn’t something I would immediately choose to lap up either, with the most strikingly interesting movie depiction of the multi-billion fast-food franchise being Super Size Me, a documentary which put off everyone who saw it from ever buying a McDonald’s again. However, with a leading man in the form of the modern incarnation of Michael Keaton, a man whose career is most definitely at the peak of its’ powers after successful turns in both Birdman and the superb Spotlight, both of which picked up Oscar wins for Best Picture, as well as Saving Mr. Banks director John Lee Hancock in the armchair, The Founder is a surprisingly enjoyable comedic drama which utilises the abilities of Keaton in the leading role to the extreme, adding a much deeper and interesting level to a movie of which’s narrative doesn’t exactly have the same stopping or selling power as the man in which the movie attempts to portray.

Whilst not privy to the history of McDonald’s in any format at all on a personal level, the titular “founder” of the fast-food giants at the heart of the film is a character many cine-literate audiences may have seen many times before, one which has featured in the likes of Wall Street and more recently The Wolf of Wall Street, with Keaton’s magnetic portrayal of Ray Kroc being one of greed-inflicted determination, resembling fictional portrayals of similarly hateful white-collar figures including Jordan Belfort in Scorsese’s three hour orgy of vomit-inducing sleaziness. Whilst Keaton’s Kroc doesn’t hit the the heavy heights of hatred which others before him have mustered, The Founder doesn’t exactly adhere to a strictly balanced POV in terms of the historical elements of the company either, settling for a portrayal of a character which is seeped in shady sliminess. Whilst the movie does feel anti-climactic at times, Keaton manages to worm his way into holding the movie together in a fashion better than my stomach manages to hold a Big Mac on a cold Saturday evening.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: Hidden Figures

“Just ‘Cause It’s The Way, Doesn’t Make It Right, Understand?”

As per expected this time of year, the ramble of releases which preempt the final preparations regarding Oscar season can become somewhat overpowering at times, with cinephiles across the globe attempting to squeeze in all the real hitters before the madness all begins. From the easily accessible Best Picture nods to the not-so easily found Foreign Language picks and across to endless repeat viewings of the work of the selected cinematographers, Oscar season is definitely one of a kind, and with the confirmed nominations for the ceremony now being released to the world, three remain to be seen by us here at Black Ribbon in their vow for supremacy in regards to the best the year has had to offer, beginning ever so swiftly with this week’s release Hidden Figures and concluding with Fences and Moonlight in the coming weeks. Following in the critical success of St. Vincent, director Theodore Melfi brings the true tale of NASA’s 1960’s space program to life, highlighting extensively the importance of the groundbreaking trio of engineer Mary Jackson and mathematicians Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughn, all of whom were integral to the success of the space race in a time in which racial prejudice was inherently rife, an element of which plays an key part of Melfi’s latest, an uplifting drama which effortlessly tells an important tale without ever seeping from its’ addictive sugar-coated sweetness.

If it wasn’t for the absence of the prestigious gates of Disneyland preceding the beginning of the movie, Hidden Figures could be excused for being just another Disney-fuelled historical drama, with the film being a solid example of a movie which seeps so strongly and unashamedly from the cesspool of classic film-making, you wouldn’t necessarily be smirked at for suspecting the world had travelled back to the 1960’s itself. Whilst Hidden Figures gets the job well and truly done without any sense of real adventure or expansion into organic territory, Melfi takes the classical approach to the material by giving us a interesting non-fiction tale and ramping up the elements of racial tension to the extreme in order to successfully add another level of drama to a proceeding of just over two hours. Whilst the Oscar nod in terms of acting has ultimately been handed to Octavia Spencer for her supporting role in the movie, the real winner of the picture is obviously Taraji P. Henson for her portrayal of the mathematical genius Katherine Johnson. yet any recognition at all is undeniably deserved for a movie which although is indeed a dramatic success, ultimately isn’t as dynamic or memorable as those figures of history it attempts to portray.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: The Infiltrator

“Promise Me This Is The Last One…”

Who would have thought that Hal from Malcolm in the Middle would have turned out to be one of the biggest, baddest and reputable actors come 2016? Ever since making major waves in Breaking Bad with his sublime portrayal of Walter White, Bryan Cranston seems to be in the joyous position of being able to pick and choose what he wants to do, when and where, with his latest project, Brad Furman’s The Infiltrator, only extending Cranston’s pedigree as one of the greatest actors of this generation alongside a strong cast including Diane Kruger (Inglorious Bastards), John Leguizamo (John Wick) and Amy Ryan (Birdman) in a highly dramatised portrayal of Robert Mazur, a US Customs agent who goes undercover as a corrupt money-laundering businessman in order to bring down Pablo Escobar’s infamous drug operation. Although The Infiltrator falters from hardly bringing anything original to the tale of undercover operations, the illegal drug trade and gritty crime dramas in general, it does benefit from a simply outstanding performance from Bryan Cranston in the lead role. Boy, does that man love being two-faced.

Although plot contrivances and exposition galore prevent The Infiltrator from being as silky smooth as other films of a similar ilk, Bryan Furman’s drama focuses primarily on the absurdity of an undercover operation, squeezing out tension left, right and centre in order to empathise with the central character and the torment of a double life in which one wrong step could potentially result in not only losing his own life but his entire family too. Adding to the deception is the inclusion of Diane Kruger as Cranston’s makeshift fiancee who is only added to the disguise after a brief slip of the tongue, whose rookie nature only adds to the worries of our titular infiltrating agent. Although the ending is ever-so-slightly rushed and feels rather flashy in a mostly stripped down hard-edged crime drama, The Infiltrator is a solid two hour drama, one which if failed to feature the larger-than-life presence of Cranston in its’ lead role may have failed completely. Thankfully for Brad Furman, Cranston is the film’s selling point and rightly so; he’s electric.

Overall Score: 7/10