“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
“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
“Sometimes, The Thing You’ve Been Looking For Your Whole Life, Is Right There Beside You All Along…”
Whilst the first Guardians of the Galaxy was perhaps the first entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in which expectations were not exactly of the highest order, the finished product was ironically one of the best the franchise has had to offer so far, introducing expertly characterised leading heroes amongst a crowd-pleasing narrative which managed to balance the irregularity and oddness of the source material whilst serving up arguably the best jukebox soundtrack this side of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. With power comes increasing levels of responsibility however and a sequel to the biggest surprise of 2014 was downright inevitable, yet with James Gunn returning as director and the added involvement of iconic screen presences such as Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, Vol. 2 is indeed up there with the most excitable releases of the year and a movie which is lynch-pinned within a period of twelve months in which there are so many superb upcoming movies to look forward to and a year in which Vol. 2 begins the triage of MCU movies which are set to be released over the course of 2017. What we have with Vol. 2 however is a sequel which is indeed as inventive and magical as it’s predecessor, playing all the cards in all the right areas to keep its’ intended audience more than happy, but too a movie which suffers from the issue in which many sequels tend to have, with it not entirely being up to the critical level of the original but still being an excellent new addition into the MCU.
With the added input of Kurt Russell as Ego, the long lost father of Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Vol. 2 thrives on the same sense of retro-loving freedom which encompassed the original, nodding its’ head at a wide range of nostalgic avenues alongside yet another successful jukebox soundtrack which ticks off everything from E.L.O to George Harrison across a two-hour plus runtime which does seem a tad too drawn out come the final act. Furthermore, in a similar vein to that of Age of Ultron, Vol. 2 attempts to differ slightly from its’ predecessor by sticking to a driving narrative which comes across as a much darker and melancholic tale, focusing upon a wide range of notions such as the meaning of family alongside a deeper sense of characterisation for each of the leading guardians who individually have enough substantial screen time between them to sway off arguments of favouritism from fans, even when the superbly managed inclusion of Baby Groot manages to steal every scene in which he is involved in. Whilst not setting up anything major in terms of the future of the MCU, Vol. 2 is a substantially entertaining blockbuster which although features arguably a higher dose of comedy than the first, is inevitably not as surprisingly awesome than one indeed hoped for, yet with a core character base in which you could happily spend an entire lifetime with, James Gunn’s second helping of galaxy saving guardians is entertainment galore.
Overall Score: 8/10
“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.