“What I’ve Learnt From Men Like Your Late Husband And My Father Is That You Reap What You Sow…”
For a director who already holds widespread acclaim and critical pedigree with so few releases, even with only his fourth release, Oscar winning director, Steve McQueen, unfortunately already bears the pressure of making sure every release is made with the similar style and pedigree of the multi Academy award winning, 12 Years a Slave, back in 2013, following on from the equally impressive one-two of the Michael Fassbender led, Hunger and Shame. With Fassbender surprisingly not on the guest list for McQueen’s latest, the Brit teams up with the brilliant Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl and the recently adapted Sharp Objects, for a contemporary adaptation of Lynda La Plante’s Widows, a subverted crime thriller first brought to the small screen on ITV during the mid 1980’s and now transferred to modern day Chicago which sees Viola Davis (Fences) as the mournful Veronica Rawlins, who after the death of her husband and his thieving band of criminals, orchestrates a heist of her own alongside the widowing wives of her husband’s deceased gang in order to pay back the seething crime boss who her husband had previously ripped off. Boasting one of the most impressive ensemble casts of the year, McQueen’s latest is a expertly crafted, if slightly conventional, heist thriller, one which blends a top notch screenplay with top of their game performers and a movie proves that even when hitting particular genre conventions, some filmmakers just have the natural knack to create brilliant pieces of cinema.
As per pretty much all of McQueen’s previous work, the focus of Widows is undoubtedly on the individual players which carry Flynn’s words from paper to screen, and with a healthy abundance of depth and substance given to the film’s primarily female leading force, the storytelling begins at a perfect, precise pace, using the early dramatic set piece in which we see the criminal gang led by Liam Neeson’s (The Commuter) Harry Rawlins both enter and exit the story in dramatic fashion as a opening into the world of the wives left behind. Supported by the likes of the excellent double act of Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) and Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious), the plot is primarily seen through the eyes of the simply magnanimous Viola Davis as the headstrong and independently ferocious widower who is caught in the crossfires of Brian Tyree Henry’s (Hotel Artemis) crime boss turned political aspirer and the ominous presence of Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) as the merciless gang enforcer. Whilst McQueen understands the nature of the genre in which Widows ultimately sits, the Heat-esque crime procedural feel of the film takes cues from the work of Michael Mann by portraying the landscape of a city with obvious purpose, summed up particularly in one superb one-take tracking shot in which we see Colin Farrell’s (The Beguiled) slippery politician be driven from an area riddled with poverty and famine to another plated in excess and wealth in the space of a few, short minutes, a take which reminds everyone of the one-shot conversation between Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham in McQueen’s first feature, Hunger. Whilst the concluding act does feature a rather anticlimactic central heist and an alarming sense of rushness as the credits begin to roll, Widows is stylish cinema made by people who understand how film’s should be made for audiences after something more than your average blockbuster, and when you have this much talent on just one film set, the outcome was always going to be something rather special.
Overall Score: 8/10
Oscars 2018: Best Actor
With the Academy managing to get the winner of the Best Actor category absolutely spot on last year, with Casey Affleck’s performance in Manchester By The Sea one of the best on-screen character depictions I have seen in recent history, the spoils this year all seem to be heading in the direction of Britain’s own Gary Oldman, whose portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour is one of uncanny excellence, a performance with much more credence and power than simply stating it’s Oldman’s “turn” to win an Oscar after being seemingly snubbed for previous nominations in a similar vein to Leonardo DiCaprio’s seemingly odds on win for 2016’s The Revenant. With Daniel Day Lewis shining as always in his so-called final role as Reynolds Woodcock in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread and Daniel Kaluuya creating his own personal waves in Jordan Peele’s Get Out, either performers would be worthy of awards success, whilst Timothée Chalamet and Denzel Washington fill up the remainder of the ballot paper for Call Me By Your Name and Roman J. Israel, Esq. respectively. In regards to missed nominations, Christian Bale’s outstanding performance as Captain Joseph Blocker in Hostiles has been shockingly snubbed in every major awards ceremony worldwide, whilst the more out-of-there mind could argue Vince Vaughn’s career changing role in Brawl In Cell Block 99 could easily have seen recognition too. Anyhow, here are the main points:
Winner – Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Personal Favourite – Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
Nomination Snub – Christian Bale (Hostiles)
“You Are A Good Man, With A Good Heart. And It’s Hard For A Good Man To Be A King…”
Whilst it is now common practice for Disney to hire critically acclaimed and subversive filmmakers in the ilk of Taika Waititi, Shane Black and the Russo Brothers to helm tangent releases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe post The Avengers, the decision to choose Ryan Coogler as the leading light behind Black Panther, the eighteenth release within the ever-expanding superhero franchise, is a real stroke of genius, a talented filmmaker with the likes of Fruitvale Station and Creed in his back pocket and most importantly, a director who knows full well the balance between script and spectacle when given the chance to helm pedigree franchises and big budget releases. Utilising an astounding array of raw talent to convey the first standalone depiction of the superhero widely recognised as the first character of African descent in American mainstream comics, Coogler’s latest stars Chadwick Boseman (Marshall) as T’Challa, the titular king of the fictional East African nation of Wakanda, who reprises his scene-stealing appearance in Captain America: Civil War as he returns to his homeland in order to address the ceremonial tradition of becoming his country’s ruler after the untimely passing of his father, King T’Chaka, but with the emergence of a long lost royalty successor, T’Challa’s reign is immediately threatened and challenged, resulting in the possibility of detrimental effects to the outside world that the Wakandan way of life has always refused to become an integral part of.
With eye-widening spectacle in abundance, a successful blend of drama and humour, and a cultural exploration unlike any world before it, Coogler’s latest is one of the most fist-pumping releases in the MCU, a joyous ride of popcorn entertainment with an array of substance and depth, with Coogler’s movie undeniably the most thematic based superhero release since Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece, The Dark Knight. Working on a script by both Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther explores a wide range of captivating ideas, beginning with T’Challa’s sudden rise to power and moving through notions of power sharing, the isolation from the perils of the outside world and with the introduction of Michael B. Jordan’s (Creed) physically imposing, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, societal comments regarding the empowerment of the powerless in a world overran with tyrannical rulings and unjust treatment of the voiceless. Celebrating the world of Wakanda in gorgeously designed detail after only being passingly mentioned throughout previous Marvel releases, the visual splendour of the country and the exploration of otherworldly technology is thoroughly entertaining and indulgent, with Letitia Wright’s (Black Mirror) Princess Shuri essentially a hipper, suavely comical Q to Boseman’s Bond-esque hero figure, with a superbly measured action set piece in South Korea demonstrating the blockbuster scale of tools the people of Wakanda are used to and reluctant to let go.
With Andy Serkis (War For The Planet Of The Apes) fleshing out his role as the ruthless arms dealer and all round nasty piece of work, Ulysses Klaue, after his minor stint in Age of Ultron, the character’s hatred of Wakandan privilege and greedy need for the power of vibranium, the strongest metal on Earth and the core of Captain America’s indestructible shield, allows for the introduction of Jordan’s Killmonger, the primary antagonist of the piece whose hidden familial ties and lust for revenge sets him on a path of destruction and idealistic plans of world changing possibilities, a narrative point which aside from failing to adhere to the bog standard cliche of world domination is too a scheme which remarkably does seem inherently understandable, offering a conflicting battle between who and what is truly on the side of what can be deemed sufficiently right or wrong. With the CGI at times a tad iffy and an opening twenty minutes which somewhat disjoints the pacing of the action which follows, Black Panther is no means a superhero masterpiece, but with an organic cultural sensibility which opens the door to engaging and overly exciting new characters and a empowered outlook on the Wakandan way of life in which the most brave and bad-ass just happens to be led by The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira as Okoye, an actress so brilliant in last year’s All Eyez on Me, Coogler’s addition to the Marvel franchise is a riveting and overly cool action adventure, and with Infinity War to come, 2018’s superhero calendar has started with a superhero sized bang.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Want Your Eyes, Man, I Want Those Things You See Through…”
Following on from the complete and utter nonsense spouted from the mouth of Samuel L. Jackson this month regarding the use of British black actors in lead roles within predominantly American based cinematic projects, first-time director Jordan Peele attempts to divert attention from such utter drivel this week by treating us to the release of Get Out, a film of which Mr. Jackson’s ill-judged comments were heavily directed towards. If being judged entirely on the merit of its’ trailers, Peele’s directorial debut presented itself as an entirely bonkers and mouthwateringly interesting horror, one which seemed to come across as the most surreal and OTT horror movie of the past few years. Starring Daniel Kaluuya in the leading role, an actor arguably best known for his work on Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror and Denis Villeneuve’s excellent Sicario in 2015, Get Out is as wacky and relentless as it’s many formats of advertisement made it out to be, a brilliantly shocking and wholly entertaining work of genre-twisting mayhem which makes you jump, laugh and squelch at the utter ripeness of its’ undeniable lunacy.
Unnerved by the potential racial tensions of meeting his girlfriend’s family for the first time, Kaluuya’s Chris is swiftly placed at the heart of a Stepford Wives-esque community who seem a tad bit too interested in his own individual well-being and presence amidst a minority of fellow black residents who seem weirder and weirder with every passing glance. What follows for the majority of the movie is a hypnotic, both metaphorical and literal, tale of Twilight Zone magnitude weirdness which evokes a wide range of classic horror tales from John Carpenter’s Halloween to the more recent splatter-fest in the form of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next. Mixing in a variety of effectively timed jump-scares amidst an underlying element of rib-tickling comedy, Peele’s debut is an outstanding addition to a supposedly tired format, with ripe as rainbow performances form most of its’ cast evoking a chilling sensibility which arches towards a Wicker Man-esque narrative, Get Out is the type of movie destined for classic cult status. The best horror movie of the year so far and by a distance one of the most interesting of recent years, Get Out is the type of movie fans of classic horror movies pray and hope for.