“Why Do I Always Get Screwed For Doing My Job…?”
Itching with a sense of Hollywood styled nepotism, director Nash Edgerton brings brother Joel (Red Sparrow), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Oxford’s own, David Oyelowo (Selma) aboard for his directorial debut, Gringo, a kooky, wildly inconsistent crime caper based on a screenplay by both Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone which sees Oyelowo’s white-collared Harold Soyinka caught between his sickeningly narcissistic bosses and the murderous ventures of the Mexican cartel as attempts to reconstruct his life based around cheating partners and financial ills by conning his way into a paycheck suitable enough to begin a new life. With the trailers somewhat misleading the movie’s true intentions by presenting it as a full bodied comedy, Gringo instead is the type of movie which can’t seem to make up its’ mind as it grinds solemnly through a runtime which edges just under two hours, and whilst each of the cast members give it their all in attempting to breathe some sort of life into proceedings, Edgerton’s movie just doesn’t seem to leave any sort of meaningful impression and simply comes in via one ear and departs swiftly out of the other.
Beginning by laying the foundations for the misfortunes which await Oyelowo’s titular “Gringo” as he follows Theron and Edgerton’s success craved business partners across the Mexican border in order to talk business regarding the sale of a marijuana-infused pill, Edgerton’s movie takes time to really set sail, with a first half unsure of its’ ultimate direction resulting in losing audience interest rather swiftly, and even as the action unfolds once we hit the the sunny sights of a gangland infested Mexico, Gringo doesn’t at any time hit a steady stride in regards to what we as the audience are meant to be taking in and dissecting. A few chuckles aside, Gringo doesn’t ultimately work as a comedy either and is a film better served being admired as a Guy Ritchie-esque double crossing caper, just without the freshness of a Lock, Stock… or the zesty absurdity of a Snatch, and with a thrown in penchant for unnecessary violence and crude stereotypes regarding one-dimensional Mexican citizens, Edgerton’s movie is a strangely dull mixed bag of a movie. With the trio of front and centre stars all managing to come across somewhat watchable however, with Oyelowo’s likeable luckless lead the obvious standout, Gringo isn’t exactly poor, it’s just badly managed, and for a cast this talented at the heart of it, Edgerton’s debut could, and should have, been much, much sharper.
Overall Score: 5/10
“I Don’t Know What To Believe Anymore…”
Dropping out of nowhere and onto Netflix in a remarkably abnormal and somewhat anarchic fashion, The Cloverfield Paradox, the second sequel to Matt Reeves’ 2008 shaky-cammed monster marathon Cloverfield after 2016’s claustrophobic, 10 Cloverfield Lane, bears it teeth without any sign of meaningful marketing or propaganda-esque pushing aside from a thirty second trailer proceeding its’ release only hours before its’ availability worldwide on everyone’s favourite streaming service. Whilst such a decision is undoubtedly refreshing and boundlessly groovy, the question remains whether the film itself is worthy addition to a franchise which deserves plaudits for its’ adventurous attempts at building a somewhat Twilight Zone infused shared universe, and with a cast list featuring the likes of Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Miss Sloane), Daniel Brühl (Rush) and David Oyelowo (Selma), and a ideas-based narrative which attempts to solve the ambiguities of its’ predecessors, The Cloverfield Paradox, on paper, has success stamped all over it. Unfortunately however, Netflix’s latest high profile release is a ludicrous mess of a movie, one which begins in absorbing fashion with acres of room to flex its’ muscles but then descends into a shark-jumping bore-fest which not only veers the franchise off course, but could potentially endanger it completely.
Attempting to gel together the mystery at the heart of the franchise in regards to the origin of the destructive beast from the first entry, The Cloverfield Paradox, directed by big-time debutante, Julius Onah, follows Mbatha-Raw’s Ava Hamilton as she crews up with her expeditious space team aboard the Cloverfield Station in order to test the particle accelerator by the name of “Shephard” which has been designed in order to combat the life-threatening global energy crisis on Earth. Mixing in elements of Interstellar, Event Horizon and in regards to its’ dealings with augmented reality splits, the rather excellent, if little seen, Coherence, Onah’s movie suffers from having too much to say without any real follow-through, and with a wildly inconsistent tone which rakes in awfully timed comedy amidst perils of catastrophic possibilities, The Cloverfield Paradox is undoubtedly a missed opportunity and hands down the worst entry of the franchise thus far. With Chris O’Dowd being the glaring error of casting, with his supposedly intellectual character undoubtedly the most cringe-worthy performance of the year so far, and elements of slapstick-laden body horror amidst dialogue which can only be described as the cinematic equivalent of a paint by numbers book, Netflix’s latest big budget cornerstone is really quite poor, and even when the ideas on the surface are interesting enough to warrant some form of applause for trying, the execution is badly managed and ultimately, a sobering disappointment.
Overall Score: 4/10
“No Man Is Free Who Is Not Master of Themselves…”
Carrying on in the footsteps of Allied, A United Kingdom, the third feature film from Amma Asante after A Way of Life and the heavily costumed drama, Belle, is another example of a film endangered by the severity of its’ plot leakage within its’ trailer, a trailer which not only has circulated the cinematic spectrum for months now, but is indeed another case study in how revealing too much just isn’t worthwhile to the overall enjoyment of the film as a whole. Within the two-plus minutes of the trailer for A United Kingdom, the film’s narrative is not only explained two-fold, albeit a formality of any teaser for an upcoming movie nowadays, but shows all of the film’s highlights, highlights which when seen in the extended and fulsome picture just begs the question whether it was worth extending that 120 seconds into just under 120 minutes. Thankfully for A United Kingdom, the film ultimately does manage to pull through this fundamental issue and becomes a sweetly smart romantic drama, led primarily by the enormous acting talent of David Oyelowo who attempts to swerve the film away from near over-sentimentality and sort of succeeds amongst a string of two-dimensional portraits of characters that surround him.
Amongst the positives within Assante’s latest, Oyelowo is undoubtedly the stand out performer, taking one tear-inducing scene in particular in his stride and giving the sort of performance similar to the much lauded and critically praised one in Selma. With Oyelowo in the driving seat, Pike is strangely underused in some way, resorting to the archetypal stranded mother character without having much chance to stand up and take control aside from a short scene in which we are meant to believe a quick detour to help out the locals completely wins over the puzzled masses. Although the film does begin in a rather hokey fashion, as soon as it departs into Botswana, the narrative does pick up and takes a satisfying dramatic turn, mixing in social issues, politics and romance, accumulating in a film which is strongest when it explores the overarching issues rather than the romance entwined within it, resulting in a somewhat messy outcome, but one which was enjoyable for the most part with Oyelowo’s performance one of the main reasons to seek it out.
Overall Score: 7/10
Sympathy for the Devil
J. C. Chandor’s, A Most Violent Year, is the second of two films released in the past week, the first being Ex Machina, that include Star Wars –bound Oscar Isaac, who is slowly becoming one of my favourite actors. I first noticed Isaac when watching Inside Llewyn Davis, yet after looking at his back catalogue, it’s surprising to see the wide range of films he has been a part of, such as Drive and two Ridley Scott efforts; Robin Hood and Body of Lies respectively, all of which are pretty fab, particularly, Drive. Similarly, Jessica Chastain also seems to be in films that particularly appeal to me, such as Zero Dark Thirty, and most recently, Interstellar, yet the third cog in this particular wheel, director J, C. Chandor, hasn’t won me over, yet, with his last effort, All Is Lost, not enthralling me in the slightest. Still, two out of three ain’t bad.
The film is set during the latter stages of 1981 New York, a time in which, statistically, crime rates reached an all time high, particularly those consisting of a rather violent ilk, and tells the story of Abel Morales, who attempts to expand his business by purchasing a new, and valuable, piece of land. In the background however, his oil trucks are repeatedly being stolen and sold on, whilst the DA, played by Selma’s, David Oyelwo, is running an investigation into potential illegal activity within his empire. Within my review for Ex Machina, I stated Isaac’s performance was, “top notch,” and the same can be said for his performance in this film, with his portrayal of a character, who, although the title suggests otherwise, attempts to stay within the boundaries of the law despite all of the ongoing threats to him and his business, being simply brilliant.
Adding to this brilliance, is Jessica Chastain, who plays the role of Anna Morales superbly, and who, in contrast to her husband, is no stranger to violence thanks to her father’s gangster background. The chemistry between the two leads is explosive, and helps develop the way in which each character changes throughout the course of the movie, particularly Abel, who transforms from an almost reluctant hero into a no-nonsense hard-man. These strong performances help keep the film going, particularly when it is at its’ weakest, with the rather shallow plot taking a while to kick in, and just slightly stretching its’ two-hour run-time.
Overall, A Most Violent Year, is J. C. Chandor’s best film to date, helped particularly by two terrific performances from Isaac and Chastain. Although its’ rather simple plot is stretched into the film’s run-time, the film is an entertaining and gripping crime drama that can stand strong next to other films in the same genre.
Overall Score: 8/10