“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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“Everyone Wants Me To Change And Now You Too…”
Aided by a successful long-term collaboration with Woody Allen and a recurring starring role within Coppola’s Godfather trilogy, Diane Keaton remains one of the most iconic actresses to cross the barrier between the 20th and 21st century, and whilst the spotlight hasn’t entirely shone on the Californian star within recent years, Hampstead offers the opportunity for Keaton to show whether or not she still has the acting pedigree she once had when working back in the day alongside a rafter of incredibly talented and inspirational filmmakers. In the opposite chair, the contemporary icon of Ireland which is Brendan Gleeson graces the big screen once again with perhaps the most impressive beard he has grown to date, portraying a character within a narrative which bases itself upon the life of Harry Hallowes, a rough sleeping Londoner who after a rafter of legal battles managed to become the owner of land worth a breezy couple of million. Directed by Joel Hopkins, Hampstead is a remarkably safe, nuts and bolts romantic drama, one which although brought me within an inch of falling into a sleep induced coma, when up against the likes of Transformers this week, is really quite harmless.
Whilst Keaton is a shadow of her former acting self, taking a plain sailing approach to a character who chops and changes her decision making whenever the narrative direction tells her to do so, Gleeson is as charming and watchable as ever, using his gruff, edgy demeanour to some form of effect, even if the character development doesn’t really offer him or the audience up much more than an on-the-face-of-it kind of approach. Aside from the film’s two leading stars, Hampstead suffers rather woefully from an excruciating array of secondary characters, with Jason Watkins and Lesley Manville being the leading lights of utter tedium, with the former’s eerie, pestering nature being a complete hindrance on any sort of likeability whilst the latter suffering from what can only be regarded as being the type of toffee-nosed, greenhouse loving, cat hating, right-wing bastard which I tend to completely disagree with from the outset. Aside from such matters, Hampstead is similar to the likes of the Moody Blues or say the last remaining rich tea in the biscuit tin, with it not really causing much damage at all but not likely to spring to the forefront of many people’s minds at any time soon.
Overall Score: 4/10
“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
“I Had Another Family. A Mother, A Brother. I Can Still See Their Faces…”
Arriving in the season of Oscar madness, Lion, the directorial debut from Gareth Davis, is the cinematic adaptation of Saroo Brierley’s non-fiction book, “A Long Way Home”, an autobiographical account of the extraordinary tale of the Indian-born Aussie, who after being separated from his family in Central India at a young age remarkably sets upon reuniting with his long-lost siblings after a staggering 25 years, resulting in the sort of movie you’d expect to be part of the many conversations regarding the upcoming Academy Awards, particularly regarding its’ undeniably touching screenplay. Whilst Lion boasts a fundamentally humane and uplifting narrative basis, one which inevitably results in being an effective tear-jerking tale of the power of human nature, Davis’ debut falls short of being a really excellent drama and instead settles for nothing more than being a solid adaptation of an interesting tale of one man’s journey to rekindle his lost love.
With Dev Patel in the leading role, the links between Lion and Slumdog Millionaire are entirely obvious and unfortunately expected, particularly in regards to the two films’ similar narratives, albeit one being entirely fictional and the other based upon true events. Furthermore, where Danny Boyle’s movie succeeded is where Gareth Davis’s ultimately falls flat, with the riveting and sharp feel of Slumdog being entirely absent within Lion, a film which takes way too long to actually get going and one which would have benefited from actually being at least twenty minutes shorter, particularly in its’ plodding second act where the elder Saroo attempts to locate his lost family, a particular shame when regarding the strong opening portion of the movie in which we witness the younger Saroo’s efforts of survival throughout the mass maze of Central India. With captivating performances from both Nicole Kidman and young newcomer Sunny Pawar, Lion seems to transcend an extraordinary tale from page to screen with some degree of success, yet its’ moments of prolonged tedium in certain areas of the film leave you slightly underwhelmed come the closing credits.
Overall Score: 6/10
“When You Lose Your Self Respect You’re Done For…”
Although not exactly the self-proclaimed lover of all things Cannes related, my awareness of this years’ winner of the prestigious if rather sanctimonious Palme d’Or was brought to my attention when it was announced Ken Loach had won the award for the second time, only the ninth filmmaker to win the award more than once, with his first win being for The Wind That Shakes The Barley in 2006. With his most recent award winning venture. I, Daniel Blake, Ken Loach has created a down-to-earth, sociopolitical drama which takes the continual perils of life in modern day England into the hands of Dave Johns’ titular Daniel Blake who explores the desperation and downfalls of the British state with the film portraying one person’s view regarding the maligned and wholly disenchanted nature of the welfare system in the UK as a whole. Although the film has no chance to admire both sides of the coin, with Ken Loach focusing primarily on the benefactors, or in this case, lack of benefactors, I, Daniel Blake is indeed a powerful drama, one which has a succession of heartbreaking scenes throughout, but one which is also questionable in its’ own notions and statements regarding society today.
When it comes to the good stuff, even the great stuff, the now infamous scene in the food bank is sure to bring tears to the eyes of anyone with an inch of empathy, whilst any scene in which Haley Squires’ Katie takes to the screen adds the real sense of depth that makes I, Daniel Blake the powerful drama that is eventually becomes. Where the film does falter is scenes in which Dave Johns’ takes out his frustrations on the lowly workers of the welfare system, those who carry out the rules and regulations of the state without being directly involved in creating them, resulting in a film which takes a leaf out from the ideologies of Ken Loach’s and argues the blame of today’s issues in society lies solely on everyone even slightly connected to the key rule-makers. Although this might not be the case, the film certainly seemed to argue such a point and it is this that makes me appreciate the movie to a large extent but also prevents me from loving it like many critics have seemed to do. Powerful at times, questionable in others, I, Daniel Blake is effective to a large extent but also suffers from some controversial ideas that conflict with my own, which in itself is the true test of whether a true drama really works; controversy.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Never Tell A Soldier That He Does Not Know The Cost Of War…”
Having just arrived back from the drone-filled mayhem of Muse’s tenure at the O2 Arena, a gig in which the infamous remote-controlled weapons of destruction wowed me and my fellow rockers by flying around our heads in proper mind-boggling fashion, something of which a band like Muse could only get away with, the chance to witness Eye in the Sky was a chance to embrace the deadly nature of the world’s newest and deadliest form of killing machines, where although drone-filled media scares fill the news almost 24/7, a chance to display their true ambiguity was something I was inherently interested in, particularly after last years’ somewhat disappointing Good Kill, the Ethan Hawke thriller which attempted to cover similar territory. With a solid cast featuring the likes of Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman in one of his last performances before his untimely death this year, Eye in the Sky definitely had the chance to be the first mainstream movie to highlight the power of drone warfare and the polarised views upon it across the world. Did it succeed? Absolutely, with Eye in the Sky being a powerful, if sometimes ludicrous and slightly silly, war drama focusing on the morally complex issue of 21st century warfare.
Although following a plot-line remarkably similar to that of Good Kill, with the scenes in Nevada bearing an almost uncanny resemblance between the two, Eye in the Sky attempts to highlight the ambiguity and indecisive nature of the armchair warfare which engulfs the modern-day war on terror by handing us a situation in which the death of one may indeed help stop the deaths of many more in the future. Helming the responsibility of such is Helen Mirren’s Colonel Powell, a military intelligence officer hell bent on capturing or killing top ranking Al-Shabaab extremists of which they have located in Nairobi, Kenya whilst being surrounded by Alan Rickman’s General Benson in London and Aaron Paul’s drone pilot Steve Watts, situated in the heart of the Nevada desert. Although Mirren shines in the lead role, it is Rickman and Paul who deserve the most critical attention with the hardened veteran being offset by the relative newcomer, broken by the power of his actions and the consequences it ultimately leads to. Some shoddy dialogue aside, with an abundance of cringe-worthy exposition, and rather silly CGI-created on-screen drones, Eye in the Sky is an of-the-moment war drama, one that has the strength of its’ conviction to end the correct way and one that will no doubt heighten the awareness of drone warfare and the problems it fundamentally brings with it.
Overall Score: 7/10
“All Hail Macbeth”
Wow. Style and substance hand in hand usually results in a magnum opus of a movie for a particular director, actor, screenwriter etc, etc., and with the perfect synchronisation and combination of all things great and where everything hits top form in regards to what really makes a movie tick, whether it be the screenplay, the acting, cinematography or whatever, usually such a cinematic experience is one that will live long in the memory of not only those that watch it, but those wholly involved in its’ creation. In the case of Macbeth therefore, director Justin Kurzel has developed something quite extraordinary on the face of it, a Shakespearean tragedy soaked two-fold in the dank, dark and deadly atmosphere of blood and fire, something of which could easily be mistaken for a work of art rather than a film, with it already being the first film of the year to make me watch consecutively in the space of two days or so with its’ sheer bravery and extraordinary execution being something remarkable and rather, out-of-this world.
Following the classical Shakespearean tragedy of Mr. Macbeth and his scorpion-filled mind to a T, Kurzel’s vision takes advantage of the blood-filled crazed tale of lust, power, greed and revenge by not only ramping up the violence to eleven, but also emphasising the eerie nature of the classic tale by use of picturesque cinematography which stylizes the film in an overly oppressive yet wholly magnanimous fashion, similar to that of Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, a film so dour and ominous in its’ nature that to sit through it is a rather pressing experience. Although Macbeth may fundamentally be a overtly depressing and tragic tale of traumatic proportions, Kurzel’s vision of such a tale seems to take such tragedy to levels of enraged extremity, resulting in a film that inevitably will not be for everyone but for me was a beautiful and enlightening experience that was not afraid to take its’ time or resort to slow-motion scenes of death and murder, all of which were signs of Macbeth’s deteriorating conscious and psyche.
At the heart of the movie is two spellbinding performances by Fassbender and Coltillard as Lord and Lady Macbeth respectively, with each bringing their A-Game truly to the acting table, with Fassbender’s pain-stricken King swiftly developing from the acclaimed war hero to the feared tyrannical madman in the space of just under two hours in superb fashion, whilst Coltillard’s Lady Macbeth can only sit back and revel in the crazed creation of her own doing, much to her inevitable downfall. Oscar nominations I hear you say? I would have thought so, especially with the superb acting, flawless directing, art-house esque cinematography, and obviously brilliant script all combining in bringing a 21st century take on the Shakespearean classic to the big screen in glorious fashion. One of the best films of the year? Most definitely. Go check it out.