“Someone In This Building Has Betrayed Their Government And Their Country…”
Released during a particular time in the political stratosphere when whistleblowers are more over the news than your daily page three girl, Official Secrets is the latest from South African filmmaker, Gavin Hood, whose journey into the realm of mainstream blockbusters in the ilk of X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Enders Game ended a couple of years back with the impressively taut and overwhelmingly relevant independent drama, Eye in the Sky, featuring a career best performance from Helen Mirren. Following on from the discussion-heavy notions at the heart of his previous film, Hood’s latest in the form of Official Secrets is equally politically centered, an engaging, if somewhat televisual big screen re-telling of actual events set into motion by Katharine Gun, a former British intelligence agent who during her time working for GCHQ within the era of the Bush/Blair administration at the turn of the twenty first century, leaked a top secret memo detailing America’s attempts to eavesdrop on United Nations diplomats in order to blackmail them into agreeing a resolution into the much discussed invasion of Iraq.
With Adam McKay already touching familiar political territory at the start of the year in the form of the thoroughly entertaining and cinematically manic, Vice, Hood’s movie is essentially Britain’s answer to the controversies which were happening on the other side of the pond at exactly the same time, with particular oodles of television based exposition directly mirroring similar set pieces seen in McKay’s movie. Where Official Secrets differs however is in its’ fundamentally frank storytelling, a cold-war esque spy thriller which takes more from the writings of John le Carré than say Oliver Stone, director of Snowden, as we follow Keira Knightley’s (Collette) portrayal of Gun from quiet desk merchant to hotly publicised traitor after her leak is published by Matt Smith’s (Doctor Who) wavy haired journalist and the stress of an official inquest forces her to admit to being the one responsible for such a breach of law. With the narrative engaging, the acting predominantly successful, aside from Rhys Ifans’ incredibly shouty mouthpiece of justice, and the topic more than relevant, Official Secrets is a confidently executed piece of drama which suffers massively from one major downside; it shouldn’t really be in cinemas, and with that in mind, expect Hood’s movie to be on BBC Two in the eight thirty evening slot as soon as possible.
Overall Score: 6/10
“They Wanna Privatise Our Minds, Keep Us In Our Seperate Boxes…”
Following on from the likes of the excellent, Mid90s, and the not so excellent, Eighth Grade, 2019 treats audiences once again to yet another coming-of-age tale, one which trades the urban wasteland of the United States for the erm, urban wasteland of 1990’s Scotland as we follow two socially isolated friends attempt to rise above their familial and personal issues through their shared admiration and love for rave culture. Directed by Scottish filmmaker, Brian Welsh, who as far as I’m aware bears no genetic ties to the infamous Irvine Welsh, Beats follows a very familiar aesthetic and tonal similarity to the latter’s most well known literary work, Trainspotting, with the subsequent big screen adaptation from Danny Boyle undeniably playing a huge part in influencing a movie which tries hard but ultimately fails to have the same impact on both cinema and culture Boyle’s undisputed masterpiece did back in the day.
With the little known Christian Ortega and Lorn Macdonald in the leading roles of Johnno and Spanner respectively, Welsh’s movie spends the first forty five minutes developing a loving friendship separated by social class, with Johnno’s recent familial move to a fancy new build away from the harsh wastelands of Scotland’s high rises and “scum” a whole different world away from the desperate upbringing of Spanner, whose strength on the outside conflicts with an inner vulnerability caused by his ruthless and sociopathic older drug dealing brother. Come the fifty minute mark however and Beats soon falls into the trap of running completely out of steam, with a central narrative involving a music and drug led revolution not interesting in the slightest, and even with a clear nod to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Beats begins promising but then falls down as it fails to really focus on a meaningful message.
Overall Score: 5/10
“I Should Have Been Born In America. I’m An American…”
Boosting into the cinematic spotlight after her critically acclaimed performance in Michael Pearce’s impressive if psychologically testing 2018 drama, Beast, Jessie Buckley returns to the big screen once again with Wild Rose, an independently backed musical drama which sees Buckley as Rose-Lynn Harlan, a recently released low-level convict who returns to her childhood home in Scotland in order to rebuild her relationship with both her stern, judgemental mother and two young children. Directed by London-born filmmaker, Tom Harper, famous so far for his televisual adaptation of War and Peace alongside the 2015 horror sequel, The Woman in Black: Angel of Death, Wild Rose throws a spanner in the works by offering much much more than your average British independent drama thanks to an outrageously entertaining central performance from Buckley who continues to impress thanks to a seemingly endless supply of talent, alongside a core narrative which although blends familiar elements taken from the likes of A Star is Born and the little seen gem, Patti Cake$, still manages to present itself as a story definitely worth telling.
Whilst Beast could be regarded as Twin Peaks hits the isle of Jersey, Buckley’s latest leans more on the safer side of independent dramas thanks to a nicely played, if overly familiar, tale of desire and hunger for success within a societal background which doesn’t exactly offer much hope to anyone at anytime. With Buckley’s Rose-Lynn attempting to balance her daily familial strife with her deeply embedded love for country music, not country and western music, the tables soon turn after she is welcomed into the home of Sophie Okonedo’s (Hotel Rwanda) rather easily wooed, Susannah, as a cleaner, with her employer utilising her contacts in the up-market world as a stepping ground for Rose-Lynn to make the most of her clear and enviable talents. With Bradley Cooper’s masterful remake of A Star is Born so fresh in the memory, such excellence does sort of bring Wild Rose back to a level of grounded commonplace rife with a sense of sniffy cliche, but with a couple of half decent tracks present on the soundtrack and the added brilliance of Julie Walters (Harry Potter) in one of the more fleshed out supporting roles, Harper’s latest is undoubtedly no more than a vehicle for Buckley to strut her stuff, but when talent is this exciting and organic, I’m more than happy to be pulled along for the ride.
Overall Score: 7/10
“You’ve Got A Unique Sound And We Believe We Can Help You Get It Released By A Major Label…”
Whilst not at all a film about the origins of the infamous menthol lozenges which just happen to share a similar title, Fisherman’s Friends instead brings to the big screen the miraculous rise to fame of the Port Isaac Fisherman’s Friends, the ale-loving, overly traditionalist band of male singers who broke into the UK music charts back in 2010. Directed by British filmmaker, Chris Foggin, in his second big screen release after 2016’s Kids in Love starring Will Poulter, Fisherman’s Friends takes a rather BBC Two approach to a story which airs on the side of cheesy as we see Daniel Mays (The Limehouse Golem) as Danny, an influential and respected music mogul who after venturing on a stag do down to sunny Cornwall with his friends and seedy boss, Troy, as played by Doctor Who legend, Noel Clarke, is asked to sign to his label the local singing group led by the gruff figure of James Purefoy’s (Altered Carbon) Jim. Falling somewhere between the annoying flatness of The Aftermath and the well executed splendour of Colette, Fisherman’s Friends is the type of film which feels nicely planted in the background of an afternoon tea, and whilst films of similar ilk aren’t necessarily entirely bad, they do beg the question why the feel the need to be up on the big screen in the first place.
Shot with the same kind of televisual aesthetic you’d get from an episode of Countryfile, Fisherman’s Friends ticks all the boxes you sort of expect when heading into a movie based on what pretty much is Cornwall’s answer to Led Zeppelin, and with a cheerful, ludicrously mood-inducing soundtrack which wouldn’t seem amiss on a jukebox for the near-dead, Foggin’s movie absolutely reeks of cliche and gag-inducing corniess from the offset. With Mays offering the sort of semi-likeable, leather jacket toting lead performance as he blunders his way through the smell of salt water and seagulls, the real standout of the piece is undoubtedly Purefoy, who superbly radiates a sense of internal conflict as he balances new found fame with the responsibilities of a life both inland and on the fair seas, and with the interactions between the group in general pretty well handled, it’s sort of a shame that all of the top-end jokes were spoiled in the trailers, resulting in a resounding silence as everyone else laughed in the cinema apart from me when they inevitably arrived. Topping up just under two hours, it’s no surprise that the movie does become an absolute drag as it finally arrives at its destination without harming anyone at all in the process, Fisherman’s Friends isn’t exactly bad, it’s just A Star is Born for the Cornish minus all the good parts and a film more than suitable for your bed-ridden aunt. Bring the tea and biscuits.
Overall Score: 5/10
“That Hole Is A Gateway. And It Leads, Straight Down, To Hell. Now, Who Wants To Buy Some Drugs..?”
Juggling the role of front-man for the psychedelic rock band, Kula Shaker, alongside recently venturing into the world of cinematic endeavours, the multi-talented Crispian Mills reunites with Simon Pegg (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) after the 2012 independent horror comedy, A Fantastic Fear of Everything, with Slaughterhouse Rulez, a similarly genre bending creature feature which combines The Inbetweeners style laddish humour with a St. Trinian’s inspired backdrop which sees Finn Cole’s (Peaky Blinders) northerly Don Wallace reluctantly attend the titular upper class school, the militaristic, private education palace full with inner social class turmoil and overseen by the rather exuberant Headmaster as played by Michael Sheen (Apostle). Whilst Pegg himself can relate to starring in arguably the greatest British horror comedy of all time in the form of Shaun of the Dead, Mills’ second feature unsurprisingly fails to come anywhere close to Edgar Wright’s masterpiece, instead offering a strange concoction of Doctor Who inspired science fiction, political commentary and B-movie splatter, resulting in a ninety minute headrush of a movie which in parts is thoroughly enjoyable and laugh-out loud funny, but at other times, completely loses its’ way and slowly wanders into territory bordering on irksome, but with some of Britain’s best acting chops on show, Slaughterhouse Rulez is still amusing enough to pass the time.
With the bulk of the narrative focusing on the wretched school life entwined within the confines of the titular cathedral of knowledge, Mill’s screenplay begins in interesting fashion, introducing both Cole’s streetwise and savvy newcomer and Asa Butterfield’s (Hugo) kooky, alcohol and cigarette dependant, Willoughby Blake, as the central duo of the piece who quickly fall upon the insidious doings of a renowned fracking company who have been tasked with digging out the corpulent supply of shell gas kept under the school’s ground. Cue the nod to the Doctor Who serial “Inferno” from 1970 in which a mining disaster breeds unknown evil hostiles from beneath the surface of the earth and that’s pretty much the entire second half of Mill’s movie, just without venturing into alternative universes and apocalyptic doom. Whilst I am all for witnessing the sight of a drug-laden, hippie Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz) and violent, flesh hungry cave dwellers ripping endless hordes of cannon fodder to shreds within reason, Mills fails on a fundamental level to hold the shakey lines of genre crossing at a steady beat, resulting in a movie which not only feels way too long come the hour mark as the screenplay begins to run out of ideas good enough to hold the attention of its’ audience, but one which is neither scary or threatening, resulting in Slaughterhouse Rulez essentially being a feature length back-end episode of Torchwood with occasional slices of comedy gold and a Michael Sheen in his most camp and scenery chewing film role thus far.
Overall Score: 5/10
“I Sent You To London So You Wouldn’t Start A War In Kingston…”
With hot rumours surfacing of him taking the role of the next James Bond and the return of BBC’s hit crime drama, Luther, in the near future, it’s fair to say that Idris Elba is indeed a busy, busy man, and with a fundamental warmth and undeniable likeability, Elba’s career seems to be going from strength to strength even when the steely-eyed few still remember Elba’s superb performance as Stringer Bell in the greatest television programme of all time, The Wire. It comes with a particularly heavy heart therefore that Elba’s directorial debut, a hazy adaptation of Victor Headley’s 1992 cult novel, Yardie, is unfortunately a plodding, strangely dull and overly cliched crime drama which fails to ignite the touchpaper of Elba’s switch from in front of the camera to behind it. With dedicated performances from many newcomers within the cast, an eclectic mix of groovy musical accompaniments and an obvious love for the source material from Elba, Yardie isn’t exactly terrible, but its’ major flaws are so crushingly obvious that it’s hard to paint over the cracks in order to make the film better than it really is.
Focusing on Aml Ameen’s (Kidulthood) Dennis “D” Campbell and his rise within the criminal underworld of a poverty stricken Kingston, Jamaica, the early exposition of the movie is recalled through the age-old use of voice-over, and whilst my own personal preference for storytelling undoubtedly favours a “show me, not tell me” format, Elba’s particular narrative technique does quickly become overly cheap and relatively boring as every single movement is described when the audience is already ten steps ahead. With the movie primarily suffering from an utter lack of effective characterisation which results in the film simply being observed than truly being sucked into the drama, the overly familiar gangster set-up fails to carry any fresh ideas, even when its’ key characters on the surface are interesting but are unfortunately let down by poor writing and dialogue which is as hokey as it is sometimes undecipherable. With a groovy soundtrack and some smokey, 70’s era London cinematography, Elba’s vision for the movie is admirable but with the whole much weaker than the sum of its’ parts, Yardie is a yawn-inducing disappointment.
Overall Score: 4/10
“When I Come Back Through That Door I’m Still Gonna Be Champion Of The World…”
With boxing continuing to be the most visceral and cinematic sport to be successfully transferred onto the big screen in favour of others who have valiantly tried and failed, sometimes rather woefully in fact, that’s right Goal!, I’m looking at you, Paddy Considine’s second swing at directing after the critically acclaimed Tyrannosaur in 2011 in the form of Journeyman takes a rather well-worn format within the tradition of boxing movies whilst attempting to add a sense of genuine realism to proceedings which can be somewhat absent from the bigger, flashier Hollywood examples that audiences have been treated to in the past. Mixing together the cruel, life-changing risk of the sport seen in the likes of Bleed For This and Million Dollar Baby with an independent, Ken Loach-esque sensibility, Journeyman works best when the film pulls on the heartstrings in a way which fails to feel either saccharin sweet or cheap, and whilst the pacing and drawn-out nature of the movie does ultimately weaken the film as a whole even with a ninety minute runtime, Considine’s second feature is a solid example of character acting at its’ most dedicated.
With Considine himself taking the lead role of Matty Burton, the recently titled middleweight champion of the world, a victory secured via default after his opponent was forced to back out of the fight, a chance for redemption and a true shot at retaining the title comes in the form of Anthony Welsh’s (Black Mirror) youthful yet arrogant Andre Bryte. With the first twenty or so minutes wonderfully low-key and engaging as we our embraced in the film’s attempt to juggle the relationship between Burton’s relationship with his job and the personal life he has with the brilliant Jodie Whittaker (Doctor Who) as wife Emma and their newborn baby, the horrifying result of Burton’s fight with Bryte sets up the remaining hour in which we see Burton’s transformation from joyous, caring husband and father to the unrecognisable shell which has been put in his place. With outbursts of violence, mental incapacity and a terrifying “hide and seek” game within its’ brightest points, Journeyman does include the raw, realistic sensibility you’d expect from a British independent film, but with not enough push and a lack of real development come the crucial change half way through, Considine’s movie is a likeable but flawed second feature.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Sweetheart, You Just Can’t Change The Rules Because Someone’s Showed An Interest…”
Appearing onto the cinematic fold with his first big-screen offering after a number of independent shorts, Michael Pearce writes and directs Beast, a spine-tingling, nihilistic and paranoid psychological thriller which sees Jessie Buckley’s (Taboo) Moll break free of her critical and controlling family as she comes into contact with Johnny Flynn’s (Clouds of Sils Maria) bohemian and free-spirited Pascal within the confines of an unnamed, rural and isolated community paralysed with fear after a number of young women are found brutally raped and murdered. With the ghost of Twin Peaks springing to mind each and every time there is a narrative crossover regarding the impact of death on a close-knit community, Pearce’s movie does impressively share a tonal similarity with David Lynch’s sprawling and surrealist masterpiece, with the film holding a relentless ominous tone up until its’ final, haunting shot, and whilst Beast decides to stay strictly within the realms of linear storytelling, with its’ feet planted heavily on the ground rather than conforming to the surrealist temperaments found in most Lynch works, its’ the shadow of the uncertain which brilliantly pushes the drama and undoubtedly leaves the audience in a contemplative mood regarding what has unfolded upon them.
Shot primarily on the island of Jersey, Pearce’s movie follows Buckley’s Moll, a reclusive, distant and dissatisfied daughter who resides at her home alongside the intrusive, demanding and judgemental figure of her mother, Hilary, brilliantly played by Geraldine James (Rogue One) who demands familial perfection. After stumbling across Flynn’s Pascal, a relationship between the two begins to blossom, much to the distaste of the rest of Moll’s family, resulting in a heavy sense of alienation as Moll begins to suspect that Pascal has much more to his questionable and overly murky history than it originally seems. Although Pearce’s movie features beautiful, sweeping landscapes and that particularly familiar British independent feel around it, akin to the melancholic temperament of Calvary and the uncertain sensibility of Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, the film is not entirely cinematic throughout its’ 110 minute runtime, with dialogue set pieces heavily reminiscent of an ITV crime drama at times, but with a clear Hitchcock influence, particularly Shadow of a Doubt, acting as a thorough through line from start to finish, Pearce’s feature debut is a dark, twisted and enjoyably startling success.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I’d Like Very Much To Write About You. Your Society…”
Winning the award for most convoluted title of the year so far, Four Weddings and a Funeral director, Mike Newell, returns with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a big screen adaptation of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ 2008 novel of the same name which sees Lily James’ (Cinderella) awfully well-spoken but deliriously likeable Julie Ashton, a well-to-do and moderately successful English writer, venture over to post-war Guernsey in order to embed herself into the titular organisation as research for her next literary project. With a cinematic sensibility which reeks of similarity when it comes to moderately successful contemporary Second World War dramas including Their Finest and Churchill, Newell’s latest is a ridiculously twee and wickedly harmless romantic drama which revels in its’ overt Britishness and an unbelievably predictable and paint-by-numbers screenplay, one which seems to be primarily designed to please audiences admiring the film with a slice of cake and cup of Earl Grey on a light and breezy Sunday afternoon.
With an opening twenty minutes which introduces James’ Ashton, the audience is made privy to her recent literary successes and close separate relationships of professional and personal boundaries with both the attentive, publisher figure of Matthew Goode’s (Stoker) Sidney and the charming American soldier, Mark Reynolds, as played by Everybody Wants Some!! highlight, Glen Powell. After receiving a letter from Michiel Huisman’s (Game of Thrones) farmer type, Dawsey Adams, under the umbrella of the titular gang of Guernsey residents however, Ashton swaps war torn central London to the rural heart of post occupied Guernsey where she attempts to unravel the mystery of Jessica Brown Findlay’s (Black Mirror) missing society founder, Elizabeth McKenna whilst slowly falling for the rough and rugged winner of most attractive cinematic farmer ever in the form of Huisman’s Adams. With a supporting band of merry well versed actors including Penelope Wilton (Doctor Who) and Tom Courtenay (45 Years), Newell’s movie never alleviates from being anything other than perfectly fine, and whilst at times the predictability weakens the film’s final product, the film forever linked with one of the worst titles ever just about ticks over.
Overall Score: 6/10
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