“Out Here, You Either Survive Or You Surrender…”
Although first brought to my attention as the short lived Deputy Hale in FX’s Sons of Anarchy, Taylor Sheridan has effectively reinvented himself as one of the most effective and reliable scriptwriters Hollywood has to offer over the course of just two years, with the Denis Villeneuve directed Sicario and last year’s ballsy heist drama Hell or High Water, two of the most hard edged, grit fuelled thrillers to brace the big screen in quite a while, and too films which although featured extensive action set pieces and white-knuckle levels of tension, understood that in order to make a film of such an ilk be more than just surface, development and characterisation of the leading players is ultimately key and the true basis of any decent film’s narrative. Whether it be the battle between morality and revenge in the likes of Sicario or the double-edged sword of family and justice in Hell or High Water, Sheridan’s writing has so far always brilliantly balanced audience-pleasing drama with enough substance to make them much more than your average run-of-the-mill crime tale. Taking the jump this week onto directorial as well as scriptwriting duties, Sheridan’s latest release comes in the form of Wind River, a Scandi-inflicted crime drama set in the heart of the titular Indian Reservation in Wyoming, U.S, and a film which continues rather enjoyably the success rate of Sheridan, a filmmaker who is starting to earn a reputation as an auteur of modern day crime drama.
After the body of a deceased 18 year old female is found by local Wildlife Sevice Agent, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) in the scarce, bitter landscapes of the snow-covered plains of Wyoming, rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is flown in to assist with the investigation in order to establish both a cause of death and whether a murderer is hiding within the vicious cold of the out-dated, unforgiving mountainous American state. Akin more to the likes of Hell or High Water than Sicario, Wind River is once again the character driven drama audiences have come to expect from the writings of Sheridan, and whilst there is indeed explosive action set pieces and a frighteningly executed concluding chapter, the film spends most of its’ time layering substance upon substance on the key players within the base of the narrative, particularly Renner’s Lambert, a practical, unflinching hunter who through a past trauma has more reason than most to attempt to solve the mystery which unravels trepidatiously throughout the course of the movie. With sweeping cinematography from DP Ben Richardson and a haunting, whispering score from Nick Cave, Wind River is the most low-key of the Sheridan back-catalogue to date, but with sparking leading performances and a nail-biting final movement, Sheridan’s latest is an absorbing, brilliantly written crime thriller. Who would expect anything less?
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Have More Talent And Imagination Than The Rest Of This Town Combined…”
Directed and written by newcomer on the block Geremy Jasper, Patti Cake$ follows in the footsteps of The Big Sick this year by being yet another independant cinematic venture which has journeyed through the avenues of film festival after film festival in order to secure the dream of a wide release in order to lay its’ claim for existence upon a much wider audience. Whereas Amazon Studios managed to secure the rights to Showalter’s endearing rom-com earlier this year, a deal which ultimately ended up resulting in rapturous praise from all across the critical board, the distribution of Patti Cake$ has landed in the laps of Fox Searchlight, and whilst Jasper’s movie was a cinematic pleasure that I managed to catch at a sneak preview this week, the releasing platform as a whole for the movie has been pretty poor, considering the closest cinema to be showing it around me is near enough forty miles away. If you are a lucky soul in close proximity of a showing however, Patti Cake$ is that rare case of a movie which yes, is ultimately predictable and overly cliched in places, but still manages to ride the lightening of it’s weaknesses and come out on top, resulting in one of the most effective feel-good, nihilistic music dramas in recent history.
Attempting to use her natural skills as a talented rapper to some form of effect within the confines of the beaten down, lifeless townland of New Jersey, Danielle Macdonald’s titular leading character is the archetypal dreamer, one who is constantly battling the abusive nature of her fellow peers and unsupportive mother in her attempts to get herself on the track of recording, selling and releasing her music to a wider audience who might just accept her for her musical talent, rather than her personal image. With a standout leading performance from Macdonald, one which mixes beautifully the portrayal of joy and clear happiness regarding her love of music and the conflicted hatred for her abusers and disbelieving acquaintances, Patti Cake$ works by concentrating heavily on the believable whilst attempting to tell a story that is well versed in the cinematic format but with a twisted edge of nihilism and introduction of oddball characters which break the mould and keep you entranced within a world which is all too familiar for many within the similar working class areas of deprivation across the world. With obvious comparisons to 8-Mile, Patti Cake$ follows in the footsteps of Eminem’s finest cinematic hour by being an effectively played, fist-punching musical drama and solidifies the notion that if given the right chance, independant movies are more than capable of keeping ground with their big-budget cousins, if not more so.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Logan’s Must Be As Simple Minded As People Say…”
With the release of Logan Lucky this week, the most welcome return of director Steven Soderbergh after his self-imposed, but wholly brief, filmmaking hiatus, couldn’t be better timed, particularly after a summer period in which, let’s face it, Hollywood decided to throw more turds in the general direction of audiences than golden tickets, and whilst there is always a Nolan out there to save the day, Soderbergh is more often than not a director who always hits the mark when it comes to cinema, with Logan Lucky conforming to the formula audiences have come to expect from a man famous for being behind the camera of movies such as Oceans Eleven and the Hitchcock-infused Side Effects. With an extensive, impressive cast which includes the likes of Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and a peroxide-addicted Daniel Craig, Soderbergh’s latest would be sloppy to mark solely as Oceans with a mighty Southern twang, and whilst the mark of Soderbergh’s previous ventures does ultimately have its’ DNA solely planted within his latest release, Logan Lucky is a mighty fine piece of work for a man who has had four years to mull over his returning project.
After being fired from his job and attempting to combat the risk of custody battles and a supposed family curse, Jimmy Logan (Tatum) approaches brother Clyde (Driver) and sister Mellie (Riley Keough) for help in his attempt to pull off a heist at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Adding to the makeshift merry band of amateur criminals is Joe Bang (Craig), an incarcerated explosives expert who along with his own members of family, begin to craft the perfect hillbilly. With Soderbergh’s traditional coolness in terms of cinematic sensibility trickling throughout the narrative, Logan Lucky is the type of film which is just enviously easy to enjoy, and whilst the overall picture isn’t the most original or groundbreaking, the top-end cast are all on top-form and so obviously enjoying themselves that the pleasure is reciprocated onto an audience which run away into a world of dodgy accents and effective comedic characters for just under two hours. Whilst the film does have issues, such as the unnecessary inclusion of Hilary Swank’s character and Seth MacFarlane running away with the worst British accent since Don Cheadle, Logan Lucky is a welcome return for a director who seemingly always has something different to offer.
Overall Score: 8/10
“It’s A Warzone Out There, They Are Destroying The City…”
After the early days of Near Dark and the ever enjoyable Point Break, the turn of the century has solidified Kathryn Bigelow as one of the most reliable and tantalisingly adventurous filmmakers working at this very moment in Hollywood. Becoming the first and only female in history so far to win Academy Awards for best director and best film for 2008’s The Hurt Locker, Bigelow’s critical success continued with the superbly crafted Zero Dark Thirty, a movie which not only marked Jessica Chastain as one of the leading acting heavyweights in the world, but one which sent a template for the type of movies Bigelow was going to make for the remainder of her entire working career. Returning this week with Detroit, a movie which follows in the footsteps of Bigelow’s previous two releases by being based once again on true and wholly controversial events, the American filmmaker directs a star-studded but wholly youthful cast including the likes of John Boyega, Will Poulter and the reasonably unknown figure of Algee Smith, within a movie which is as flexible with its’ dramatic tendencies as it is nail-shreddingly tense, and whilst Detroit feels almost too much of a movie at times, Bigelow’s latest is a superbly entertaining thrill ride which continues her riveting hit rate when it comes to hard-as-nails cinema.
Beginning with an animated tour guide of events leading up to the racial tensions present within the 1960’s era of Detroit, Michigan, Bigelow’s latest swiftly moves through a rafter of character introductions in order to set the key players up for the centerpiece of the movie which takes place within the confines of the Algiers Motel. In presenting a dramatic representation of the widely reported incident which took place between the night of the 25th and 26th of July 1967, Bigelow and journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal admit to using a rafter of dramatic liberties in order to beef out a final script, and whilst the final product may indeed be a work of unsubstantiated speculation, Detroit never falls into any sort of lull to allow the audience to become that picky, particularly with a middle act which is so nail-bitingly uncomfortable that it wouldn’t look strange being the centrepiece of a Ben Wheatley-directed horror movie. With Poulter on riveting top form as the film’s leading antagonist and Boyega giving a suitably dramatic, if underused, leading performance, the steal of the show belongs solely in the court of Algee Smith, whose portrayal as Larry Reed is the true through-line of the movie and was the one character that managed to effectively bring a fully rounded breadth of characterisation. Where the film ultimately doesn’t work is in its’ belief that the bigger the film, the better it ultimately will be, and with a constantly changing central narrative which concludes with a somewhat courtroom-esque drama, Detroit doesn’t hold the prestigious esteem of Zero Dark Thirty, but for two-thirds of its’ runtime, it sure came close.
Overall Score: 8/10
“There Is Only One War That Matters. The Great War. And It Is Here…”
When attempting to combat the weight of expectation from a series finale, showrunners and writers have to understand completely the balance between payoff and the mouthwatering expectation of the audience in regards to wanting more as quickly as possible. In the case of “The Dragon and the Wolf”, a feature length episode which included everything you have come to expect from a standardised GoT entry, Series Seven managed to craft together effectively enough a crowd-pleasing conclusion to a series which has ultimately been short on explanation and high on spectacle, and whilst ironically “The Dragon and the Wolf” was arguably the most talky episode of the series, it also showcased how smoothly the show manages to push particular plot lines ahead without ever feeling as if the mediocrity of exposition comes across truly as an issue. With death, dragons, sex and the falling of both key characters and prestigious Westerosi landmarks, Series Seven’s concluding chapter was the kind of episode which made the entirety of its’ core audience flock to Twitter in order to discuss the radical changes and future ills which are set to occur within a final season which might not even brace our screens for at least another two years. I know, the feels.
Beginning with the positive, the concluding image of an undead dragon, one controlled by the megalomaniacal bringer of death which is the Night King, cutting through the wall like knife through butter, was impressive to say the least, and whilst the show has sometimes come under fire for particular elements which don’t completely work due to a limited budget, the falling of arguably the show’s most iconic landmark was both terrifying in terms of what such destruction ultimately means as it was remarkable to behold, particularly on a strictly technical sense. Aside from the wall, the death of Littlefinger was also both grimly and poetically handled, and whilst the disposal of one of the show’s key, plot-threading characters was always inevitable, it is sad to see the slimey figure of Aidan Gillen leave the show after a remarkably long tenure as the most infamously loved crafty sod on television. Where the episode ultimately doesn’t completely fit together however is the core reveal at the centre of the narrative regarding the heritage of Jon Snow, a reveal which was so obviously expected that the conjecture of both the realisation of such and the inevitable scene of Ice and Fire combining was somewhat flat in its’ handling. Picky, I know, and whilst Series Seven has swayed away heavily from the slow moving, chess-esque positioning of characters and set pieces which encompassed previous series, the blockbuster action and iconic fantastical battles have made the latest series of Game of Thrones arguably the most crowd-pleasing one yet. Until next time.
Episode Score: 9/10
Season Score: 8.7/10
“Smart People Don’t Come Up Here Looking For The Dead…”
With the penultimate episode of each Game of Thrones season renowned for being either filled with spectacle or rife with tear-inducing character deaths, “Beyond The Wall” was an hour of television which undoubtedly fit such a mould rather extravagantly, and whilst the long-awaited battle of fire and ice was finally presented on-screen after years and years of build-up, the epic fight sequence at the heart of the episode was only the beginning of the true fight which lies ahead for the battling forces within the realm of Westeros. Focusing primarily within both the North and the frozen grounds of death covered plains on the other side of the wall, our merry band of travellers led by the ever growing grisly figure of Jon Snow began the first half of the episode with the expletive laden banter the show’s audience has come to expect from characters such as The Hound and Tormund, yet within the midst of the sniggers and laughs, the touching sentiment between Jon’s conversation with Jorah was rather effectively done, with each living off the past sins of their own respective father’s but still forcing a way through to combat the even bigger threat which faces them together as a whole, with the snappy dialogue which GoT has been renowned for acting as the catalyst for the character development scenes to work efficiently enough to not seem just hammered in for the sake of it, even when the conversations switch from areas beyond the wall to Dragonstone and then back north again to Winterfell in lightning fashion.
With the concluding half of the episode fuelled with spectacle and mystical action, the crowd-pleasing set pieces which the show tends to get so damn right was once again on top form, with the shot of our brave heroes surrounded completely by an army of the dead staggeringly accomplished even when the audience is too savvy to think any of the truly key characters are set to meet their maker, with the murderous streak of previous important individuals inevitably halting for now with the show’s endgame in near sight. With undead beasts and the bone-crunching destruction of white walker after white walker in the spirit of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, the real kicker of the story is of course the death and resurrection of a particular flying creature, and whilst it was hard to imagine the trio of Dragons surviving throughout the entirety of the series unscathed, the sight of the Night King coldly deciding to dispatch one of Dany’s scaly children was a rather extraordinary and iconic moment to witness. With action a go-go throughout, “Beyond the Wall” was a crowd-pleasing blockbuster of an episode, one which featured enough mind-bending set pieces and destruction to please even the most cynical of audiences, but in an almost uncanny vein to many contemporary summer, big budget movies, is too an episode which suffers from particular narrative flaws which prevent it from being the second masterpiece of the series so far.
Overall Score: 9/10
“We Either Serve And Die Or Fight And Die. I’ve Made My Choice…”
Beginning with perhaps the most obvious rescue in Thrones history, “Eastwatch” was a curiously intriguing episode, one which swapped action set pieces for cleverly maneuvered interactions, resulting in a swiftly paced hour of television which saw the return of long lost characters, the reunion of old friends and enemies and a game-changing couple of narrative tweaks which had fans screaming at the television with frustration the one minute and then applauding with joy the next. With Bronn inevitably the saving grace behind the cliffhanger of last week’s episode, allegiances seem to be at some sort of an end between the two after the latter understandably quipped, “dragons is where our partnership ends”, and whilst Bronn may have lost a selection of fans for his attack on Drogon last week, the comedic chemistry between himself and Jamie is still rife and effective as ever, even after witnessing an abundance of soldiers being shot up in flames. Furthermore, the death of both Tarly father and son raised an interesting predicament for Daenerys’ characterisation, with her villainous streak seeping out once again and arguably becoming more jarring by the second, yet with the vessel of Jon Snow by her side, you would expect each to learn from each other and ultimately level each other out, particularly after Dany’s shocked reaction to Drogon’s response to Jon.
Fitting in as many storyline developments as humanly possible within the second half, “Eastwatch” managed to swing in a glossed over historical game-changer, the long-awaited return of Gendry and the forming of Thrones’ own magnificent seven who ventured out beyond the wall in an attempt to begin preparations for the battle with the dead. Whilst this week’s episode was indeed low on blockbuster action, the low-key smuggling attempts and shadowy meetings in the dark made the episode feel almost Season One-esque, particularly with Littlefinger having the screen time to return to his more dastardly means at Winterfell, and whilst the travelling times for particular characters in Westeros has somewhat been subsided, “Eastwatch” was a thoroughly enjoyable episode, one which crammed in as much information as possible with a sole purpose of setting the ground for the remaining two episodes which are guaranteed to be explosive entertainment. We are ready.
Overall Score: 9/10
“Catelyn Stark Would Be Proud. You Kept Your Vow…”
Holy of all moly’s. In an almost prophetic fashion, my outspoken quandry’s with last week’s episode in regards to the fast-paced dissecting of particularly important battle sequences were well and truly rectified this week by a fifty minute episode of Game of Thrones which featured undoubtedly a collection of the most fist-pumping, crowd-pleasing moments in the entire history of the show so far, with the standout concluding act having all the ingredients to emphasise what makes HBO’s television King so darn addictive. Beginning where the episode kicks off however, the ever-graceful fan-appointed ambassador of all things Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss, once again emphasised the ever-increasing debt to the Iron Bank from Queen Cersei, and whilst the raid of Highgarden seemed to put an end to such a predicament, the roundabout narrative of who seems to be winning the war for the Iron Throne ultimately made such a solution non-existent come the end of the episode, and whilst King’s Landing was undoubtedly not the star of the show this week, Season Seven so far has impressively handled the ever-shifting power struggle in such a way that you can never surely say where the overall narrative is heading.
Within the far reaches of the North, the return of all remaining Stark children to Winterfell was a real sight to behold, particularly when admiring how far each has come since their introduction in “Winter Is Coming”, a level of admiration which is effectively shown to be shared by the children themselves towards each other, with Arya particularly showcasing the skills and tricks she has developed during the battle with Brienne which emphasised the notion that size really doesn’t matter. The return of Arya to Winterfell will undoubtedly bring with it it’s own spate of surprises, and after the nervous infliction of Littlefinger’s stare into the eyes of the Stark youngling, you would be safe to assume Lord Baelish might have to start getting used to a timid disposition in the halls of Winterfell, with the Valyrian steel dagger used in Brann’s attempted murder somehow at the heart of such danger. After the concluding battles of last week’s episode, the Dragon Queen turned to Jon Snow for guidance in the art of war after being treated to a step back in time in the undergrounds of Dragonstone, and whilst the inevitable endgame is for both fire and ice to join hands in both battle and in marriage of some sort, it does seem we are quite a while off from the all-sparks chemistry of the show’s leading power couple to be.
Now, on to that concluding battle. As previously mentioned, the quickfire conclusion of both the battle for Casterly Rock and the overthrow of the Tyrell’s at Highgarden last week was disappointing to say the least, yet after watching arguably the most enjoyable, redemptive, action-packed battle sequence of the show to date this week, I can understand completely why the money and the effort was saved for a concluding ten minute sequence which featured everything from a long-awaited Dragon massacre, the Lannister army turning to Ash and a deep sense of conflicted allegiances when seeing both Jamie and Bronn at the heart of the action. With myself mirroring the thoughts of Tyrion when witnessing Jamie ride head-first up to Daenerys and the wounded Drogon, the sight of watching everyone’s favourite one-handed Lannister sink into the depths of the sea was interesting to say the least. On the one hand, (No pun intended) the weight of both his armour and the lack of effective co-ordination when it comes to a swimming ability should in theory result in certain death, but with a character as important as Jamie to be cast off so easily and so anti-climactic would be major false step, particularly when everyone is so eager to see Cersei’s reaction to finding out who the real instigator of Joffrey’s death truly was. “The Spoils of War” is the type of definitive Thrones episode which showcases everything brilliant about the show, and with a effects ridden spectacle to top it off, this season finally has found its’ first masterpiece.
Overall Score: 10/10
“Stark Men Don’t Fare Well When They Travel South…”
It’s almost as if Game of Thrones can’t win at this very moment in time, with my own personal complaint of perhaps the first two episodes taking a while to really get going being completely sucker punched this week with the release of an episode in which arguably too much happens in such a short space of time, and whilst I’m up for the narrative zooming forward when it can, particularly with the remaining episodes decreasing down in number to almost single digits, it was strange to see an episode in which not one, but two dreadfully important battle scenes were skipped over in a heartbeat when in previous seasons, it would have taken each an episode to tell the tale. Of the many positives of the episode however, the long-awaited meeting of Ice and Fire at Dragonstone was impressively handled, with both Daenerys and Jon Snow immediately hitting it off on the charisma scale, with conversations regarding sins of the father and the future of the war for the Seven Kingdoms adding a juicy level of suspense to the interactions between the guiding lights of one possible, optimistic future. As Dany correctly quips;”you better get to work Jon Snow”.
Elsewhere in Westeros, Euron finally manages to convince that he is indeed one of the most comedic villains in the GoT repertoire to date, with his woeful sweet talk managing to effectively offend and delight at the same time depending on whether you are indeed Jamie Lannister or every other human being who can’t help but laugh at the discussion of a particularly private query regarding Cersei’s favourite erm, pastime. Whilst murder and bloodshed has never been minimal in a show like GoT, the death, both rapid and slow, of particular major characters this week almost felt surprisingly second-hand, portraying a concoction of character cast-offs in a manner which felt as if the writers seemingly view murder as the only fitting conclusion for particular plot threads, and whilst the show is miles off from the shockingly awful final seasons of particular time-consuming shows (Dexter, I’m looking at you), the fear of closing every narrative line with the finality of death is really just a cop-out, particularly when considering the time spent absorbing yourself into the lives of particular individuals on-screen. Another effectively entertaining episode which once again suffers from middling issues, Season Seven ain’t half consistent so far.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Can You Imagine A World In Which We End Up Together…?”
Of the many cinematic releases within the Judd Apatow staple, there really isn’t many which I could regard as down and out, truly effective comedies, due in part to my tin-eared response to most examples of American-laden comedies, including the likes of Anchorman and Trainwreck, films which may have garnered an array of positive responses from many on release, but to me, just didn’t work on any level from which I can regard as comedic gold. With the release of The Big Sick however, a loose adaptation of the true-life events of leading star Kumail Nanjiani and co-writer Emily V. Gordon, such a film delightfully breaks the mould of mediocrity, taking a humane and totally believable leading narrative and having the extra boost of a perfectly formed cast to reinforce it and create a consistently funny drama which ranks up there with the best comedy films to be released in recent memory, whilst simultaneously proving that with a decent script and filmmakers who understand the effect of comedic timing, not all American comedies can be utter trash.
Although The Big Sick adheres to the boy-meets-girl formula of practically every romantic comedy since the dawn of time, the added depths given to the relationship between leading couple Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan, with the former’s religious traditions and the latter’s narrative hanging medical issues the stand-out elements of the story, forms a charming bond between the two in which the audience only wants to see flourish and prosper come the end of the drama, and with added support from the likes of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, the movie manages to succeed on all fronts as both a romantic drama and a rib-tingling comedy. At the core of the real reason on why the movie really works, is the dedication to the believability of the players involved and each of their separate trials and tribulations, and whilst recent supposed comedies such as Snatched and The House believe comedy is warranted through vulgarity and petulant, adolescent nonsense, thank the baby Jesus for a movie like The Big Sick, a overtly impressive comedy which undoubtedly belongs up there with the best comedies to travel overseas in flippin’ years.