“I Think There’s Something You Need To Know About Greta…”
In a year stuffed with superheroes, sequels and the reprise of extended franchises, once in a while a particular film comes along which sticks its’ neck out and screams something along the lines of, “and how, here’s for something completely different.” In the case of Greta, the latest from Interview with the Vampire and Byzantium director, Neil Jordan, such a film can immediately be considered as a glorious slice of B-movie nastiness, a stalker-based, chiller-thriller which although sticks wholly between the genre field posts without offering anything exactly new to a very well-worn narrative, is powered primarily by two superb central performances who in their attempts to add a sense of seriousness to the silliness, propel the movie into a unashamedly tickly guilty pleasure. With the likes of the excellent and little seen Burning earlier this year proving how the Hitchcock template of minimalistic tension continues to work wonders within contemporary cinema, Jordan’s movie evades such delicacies and heads straight into Cronenberg-esque levels of eerie, off-kilter madness, and whilst Greta isn’t exactly the mainstream option for those not bothered with intergalactic superhero warfare, is still a movie with more than enough to enjoy, or for those more on the squeamish scale of humanity, at least endure.
Based around a story from Case 39 and The Crazies screenwriter, Ray Wright, Greta follows Chloë Grace Moretz (Suspiria) as Frances McCullen, a grieving young waitress who after the sudden death of her mother has come to live with her best friend, Maika Monroe’s (It Follows) fitness obsessed, Erica, in the heart of New York City. Attempting to keep afloat her strained relationship with her absent father as she goes, Frances suddenly begins a blossoming friendship with the titular Greta, a lonely, longing and seemingly upper class French woman who herself is suffering from an absent relationship with her estranged daughter, and whilst the world is rife with actors and actresses who may have done an excellent job with such a role, there is only one person to turn to when a filmmaker needs an ambiguous French femme fetale; Isabelle Huppert. After her barnstorming performance in Paul Verhoeven’s rather memorable, Elle, the train to the Isabelle Huppert love-in has well and truly been boarded, and with a central performance which expertly balances comedy with shocktastic horror, her ability to make the most of what is a rather generic thriller plot, pushes Greta into another gear completely and partially covers over the glaringly obvious narrative weaknesses. Add into the mix set pieces which will make even the sternest genre fans gulp with shock, Jordan’s latest is no means a classic, but for those after something a slightly bit different, Greta is solid, squeamish stuff with an excellent central relationship between two top-notch actors.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Our Hatred Is Precisely What They Hope For. I Know Your Heart Has More Within It Than The Men Who Counsel You…”
In a year which has begun with a rich abundance of non-fiction cinematic adventures ranging from the radical ripeness of The Favourite to the oddball, misjudgement of Welcome to Marwen, Mary Queen of Scots, the debut feature from British filmmaker, Josie Rourke, once again drops us into the realm of period historical drama, this time focusing on the trials and tribulations of Saoirse Ronan’s (Lady Bird) titular monarch during the latter stages of the sixteenth century. Touted as a delicious one-two of acting delight between Ronan and the glowing talent of Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) as Queen Elizabeth, House of Cards showrunner, Beau Willimon, provides the screenplay for a movie which although plays its hand rather safely in regards to treading on familiar ground within a genre which nowadays takes something different to really stand out, is still an interesting, well designed and brilliantly acted work of drama and political intrigue. With a career predominantly based in the world of theatre before venturing into the world of big screen movie-making, it comes at no surprise that Rourke utilises her expansive knowledge of the stage for a film which for all intents and purposes, could have been left on the stage in the first place, but with a much bigger budget and two of the best actresses around to mould to her will, Mary Queen of Scots fails to be spectacular, instead settling for a straightforward, rather traditional, period drama piece with added David Tennant.
As with any film which has its storytelling roots based on historical events, Willimon’s screenplay relies on the audience’s willingness to accept that every portion of the events which unfold on screen are either truthful or shifted ever so slightly in order to benefit the drama as a whole, and whilst I can admit to barely being able to jot down the history of the British monarch on the back of a postage stamp, the story at the heart of the movie does seem to flow ever so nicely into constant backstabbing and Iago-esque devious plots of power shifting, one could argue that such extremities could indeed be fictional in their own right. However, like the saying goes, most stories are indeed stranger than fiction and with one foot previously in House of Cards franchise, Willimon’s political based writing technique and Rourke’s theatre based background does ultimately create a rather effective working partnership, one which is solidified by the mercurial talents of the rather radiant Saoirse Ronan, who in undoubtedly the leading role of the movie manages to encompass the balance between the light and the powerful as she meddles her way into assuming her “rightful” place on the throne. However, with the heavy handed focus on Ronan, it comes as a real shock therefore that Robbie is somewhat sidelined, with her Elizabeth slightly reduced to a monsterous, pale and much less developed version of the similarly mental health ridden Queen Anne in The Favourite. With the pacing of the movie really taking an extensive while to properly get going, the opening act of the movie does ultimately feel slightly weary and, dare I say it, rather dull, however, as soon as we move into the territory of foiled murder plots, rebellious undertakings and a central acting showdown which can be sorely placed in the Heat category, Mary Queen of Scots does show glances of real storytelling excellence, but in reviewing the piece as a whole, Rourke’s cinematic debut is similar to a glass of house Scotch whiskey; does the job rather nicely but fails to truly blow you away.
Overall Score: 6/10
“There Is Something Inside This House That Hates Us…”
Based upon Sarah Waters’ 2009 novel of the same name, The Little Stranger sees the return of critically acclaimed Irish director Lenny Abrahamson, a filmmaker whose previous venture in the form of Room garnered universal praise, including here at Black Ribbon, alongside a fully deserved Oscar win for Captain Marvel herself, Brie Larson. With Abrahamson already being renowned for layered, thematic works of cinema which cut across a wide range of differing genres with ease, the same can be said for his latest venture, a dark, gloomy and overly Gothic portrayal of one man’s venture into the life of a secretive family burdened with privilege and wealth, yet one haunted by the faint echo of death which seems to have canvassed inside their once prestigious home. Reuniting with Domhnall Gleeson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) after their work together on the comedic oddity which was 2014’s Frank, The Little Stranger does ultimately fail to live up to the excellence of Abrahamson’s previous two ventures, with a sluggish pace and lack of real narrative push surprisingly making the Irish director’s latest a real struggle for the most part, but with some rousing central performances and a fleeting number of creepy set pieces, The Little Stranger is still interesting enough to be seen.
Whilst gothic cinema is always seeped in inspiration from timeless genre classics including the likes of The Haunting and The Fall of the House of Usher from the central macabre figure of the 19th century, Edgar Allan Poe, Abrahamson’s movie utilises the genre conventions as a somewhat secondary device, with focus primarily on Gleeson’s Doctor Faraday, a well-spoken and educated middle class local go-to whose envy of the Ayres family and their inherited fame and fortune has troubled and haunted him since childhood. With the movie latching onto Faraday’s point of view, his attempts to embed himself into the life and love of Ruth Wilson’s (Luther) Caroline leads him to unravel secrets and mysteries gently hidden within the confines of the Ayres family home, and whilst the movie only briefly contains elements of pure, spine-tingling horror, including a brilliantly constructed final act, these moments are undoubtedly the strongest of the piece, with the familial dramas and attempts at elongated character studies which make up the bulk of the run time agonisingly dull. With Wilson the standout performer of the piece, following on from her similarly creepy performance in the little seen Netflix chiller, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, Abrahamson clearly knows how to get the best out of his performers but fails, this time at least, in managing to fine tune both the pacing and tonal inconsistencies of a piece which deserved to be more rewarding.
Overall Score: 6/10
“We Think You Might Be The Man To Open Up Things Around Here…”
With a staggeringly eclectic back catalogue which ranges back a whopping thirty five years, director Spike Lee knows a thing or two about film-making, and whilst recent projects from the influential American haven’t exactly been front and centre of the cinematic spotlight, the release of BlacKkKlansman opens to a wide audience bearing high expectations after reported critical acclaim and the prestigious honour of winning the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Based upon former police officer and detective Ron Stallworth’s 2014 novel “Black Klansman”, a written account of Stallworth’s infiltration into the Ku Klux Klan during the late 1970’s, Lee’s movie undoubtedly lives up to expectations, a staggeringly powerful and entertaining multi-layered drama which sees John David Washington, son of Denzel Washington, as the cocky, undenaibly likeable, Afro-wearing Stallworth who persuades his superiors within the Colorado Springs Police Department to be placed undercover alongside Adam Driver’s (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) Detective Flip Zimmerman in order to gain access into the secretive local Klan led by Topher Grace’s (Interstellar) unbelievably racist and anti-Semitic, Grand Wizard, David Duke.
Mixing comedy with police procedural drama alongside an overarching political cornerstone which not only emphasises the race-relations issues of the 1970’s period setting but the state of the United States political spectrum today, BlacKkKlansman combines the harsh, dangerous perils of undercover policing seen in the likes of The Departed and Eastern Promises with a constant stream of rib-tickling satirical gags as it moves deftly through its’ two hour plus runtime with considerable ease and a gloriously well-mannered pace. With Lee relishing the chance to emphasise the racial undertones to alarming degrees, the movie’s obscenely vile character’s are as hateful as the heroes of the piece are joyful to be around, with Washington, Driver and Laura Harrier (Spider-Man: Homecoming) as Patrice all on the top of their game in their attempts to create three dimensional, believable personalities each with their own personal sufferings and crusades, and with Lee’s skilful eye orchestrating a number of superb set pieces, including a heartbreaking juxtaposition between an old man’s tale of murder and the KKK applauding to a screening of D. W. Griffith’s 1915 controversial picture, The Birth of a Nation, BlacKkKlansman is undoubtedly Lee’s best movie for over a decade, a stunning work of blended drama which barely puts a foot wrong.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You Cannot Reason With A Tiger When Your Head Is In Its’ Mouth…”
Proclaimed by many as history’s greatest Briton, the enigmatic presence of Winston Churchill has been the focus of much filmic and televisual escapades ever since the conclusion of the Second World War, and whilst there has been a continued succession of recent releases over the past few years or so detailing similar events, Joe Wright’s (Atonement) latest, Darkest Hour, is a much welcome, audience pleasing history lesson which details the rise of Churchill’s ascent into the role of Prime Minister during the early years of the Second World War. Propelled by a staggeringly dramatic and joyously brilliant career defining performance by Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Wright’s movie covers similar ground obtainable in the likes of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk in it’s detailing of Operation Dynamo, Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest in regards to the period detail of war-torn Britain, and of course, Jonathan Teplitzky’s own depiction of the great man in last year’s Churchill in which Brian Cox’s (Manhunter) own portrayal was similarly well received, and whilst the overall picture doesn’t succeed in attempting to offer something new to the already overcrowded war drama genre, Wright’s direction and management of Oldman’s performance results in undoubtedly the definitive portrayal of Britain’s most iconic and favoured wartime leader.
Filled with wit, solid dramatic timing and an uncanny usage of famous characteristics and mannerisms, Oldman’s performance is one of immense proportions, an awards touting tour de force which of course utilises to full extent a generous helping of makeup and costume design, but crucially one which doesn’t come across as something of a caricature in its’ depiction of the more obvious Churchill behavioural patterns. Managing to fit in everything from the mumbling, slobber fuelled and sometimes completely incomprehensible dialogue to the constant yet important prop of the infamous cigar, to which Oldman’s own admission caused a touch of nicotine poisoning, the performance is the reason many will flock to the cinema to see the movie, and whilst Oldman’s transformation is remarkable, the change isn’t so dramatic that the actor inside is weighed down too much for his original talents to be indistinguishable. Concluding in a similar manner to Dunkirk with the show stopping “We shall fight on the beaches” speech, this time presented within the grandiose halls of the House of Commons, Darkest Hour is the sort of Oscar bait drama which although seems primarily to be a showcase for the brilliance of its’ leading actor, still manages to be a well played and thoroughly enjoyable piece of cinema, and with Bruno Delbonnel’s (Inside Llewyn Davis) smokey cinematography and a well measured orchestral soundtrack to move it along, Wright’s latest is the kind of awards pushover that’s not trying too hard to make you enjoy your stay and for that alone, Darkest Hour is a solid thumbs up.
Overall Score: 7/10
“You’re Our Most Unwelcome Visitor, And We Do Not Propose To Entertain You…”
Although the inevitably of almost always being regarded as the daughter of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola more than anything else, Sofia Coppola has more than done enough to earn her stripes as an effective creator of film in her own right, with the Bill Murray starring Lost in Translation always being the first movie which really kicked off the critical plaudits for art and something which has continued through the likes of Marie Antoinette, The Bling Ring and this week’s release of The Beguiled, a somewhat eclectic collection of previously used Coppola stars including Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst, all set within the confines of a Civil War-ridden Virginian school for girls which features Nicole Kidman’s Miss Martha Farnsworth as headteacher. Featuring the smoky, charcoal cinematography of Philippe Le Sourd and some top-notch performances from its’ wonderfully selected cast, The Beguiled is an interesting and wholly entertaining claustrophobic drama, one which dwells on the presence of the outsider and the battling nature of fundamental human emotions.
After allowing the recovery of the wounded Irish mercenary, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) within the confines of her school, Farnsworth (Kidman) attempts to balance the safety of her fellow residents with the emotions brought up by the inclusion of McBurney’s charming, elegant mannerisms and ways, emotions which are shared also by fellow teacher Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst) and the youth infused innocence of Elle Fanning’s Alicia. With an opening title sequence which completely sets the tone for the classic feel of Coppola’s latest, The Beguiled mixes seething sexual tensions with a thrilling twist of ambiguity, bringing to light recent releases such as My Cousin Rachel and even It Comes at Night as obvious reference points, even when Coppola’s script is wholly based upon the 1966 original novel by Thomas P. Cullinan and the 1971 Don Siegel movie of the same name. With brilliantly measured performances from Farrell, Kidman and the ever-radiant presence of Elle Fanning, The Beguiled culminates in a final act which is as juicy in its’ execution as it is suitably fulfilling, something which could serve as a pithy review for the film as a whole, and whilst the drama is rather televisual at times, The Beguiled is a well-played, short and sweet drama which proves that not all remakes are destined for the bargain bin.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Who Is To Say That It Is Not Everything Else That Is The Dream…?”
Opening against the likes of Scorsese and Assassin’s Creed, A Monster Calls, the latest from impressive director J. A. Bayona, ultimately offers more of family-friendly adventure then perhaps others on show at the start of 2017, a family-friendly adventure boasting a CGI’d Liam Neeson-shaped tree, one which bears a striking resemblance to the Ents from The Lord of the Rings, who forms part of an impressive cast featuring the likes of Rogue One’s Felicity Jones and cult favourite, Sigourney Weaver. With Bayona’s career beginning in a solidly admirable manner with his directorial craft stamped on both the Guillermo Del Toro produced horror The Orphanage and the disaster drama The Impossible, A Monster Calls is a melancholic and poignant tale of one boy’s capacity to cope with the horrors which wait for him in the future, featuring a superb performance from young Lewis MacDougall and a screenplay which admirably attempts to be something much more mature and complex than your average fantasy romp.
If being based solely from the trailers, it would be obvious to assume that A Monster Calls primarily shouts out to the younger viewers out there, and whilst an element of fantasy is ripe throughout the movie, the true nature of A Monster Calls is so much more understated than one might expect, particularly with a gigantic digital tree at the heart of the film, with Bayona taking full effect of Patrick Ness’s adapted screenplay of his own novel in creating a film which will strangely appeal more to an adult audience than one might expect. Furthermore, the ominous and ambiguous nature of The Orphanage is relevant once again, with Bayona choosing to use the sensual appeal of silence to follow our hero to full effect and only using background music when absolutely necessary, creating that eerie atmosphere present within the director’s earlier works. What we have with A Monster Calls therefore is the creepy, cold nature of The Orphanage mixed together with the tough examination of humanity from The Impossible. Does it work? Yes, and although there are moments of slight wanderings, A Monster Calls is a poignant and overtly eye-watering success, only continuing the reputation of director Bayona many-fold.
Overall Score: 7/10
The Bored Identity
The final cinematic release out this week is that of Self/Less, a science fiction thriller featuring everyone’s favourite Ben Affleck doppelganger, Ryan Reynolds, and everyone’s favourite Gandhi, Ben Kingsley, whilst being directed by Tarsem Singh, famous for films such as Immortals and Mirror Mirror of which I am afraid to say I haven’t exactly attempted to seek out anytime soon. In regards to his latest release, when property and business tycoon Damian Hayes (Kingsley) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he decides to undergo a medical procedure named “shedding” at the hand of eerie Professor Albright (Matthew Goode Stoker, The Imitation Game) which transfers his life-force into that of a new and healthy human body in order to further live his life and not succumb to that of an early death from cancer. After a successful procedure in which the newly named Edward Hale (Reynolds) takes advantage of his newly found youth and good looks, the echoes of a distant past begin to trouble his mind leading to Edward/Damian attempting to seek out the ambiguous answers behind the secretive organisation of Prof. Albright and co who have become eager to track him down and put an end to his life once and for all.
Although Self/Less does feature an interesting, if rather preposterous, premise, any element of supposed greatness is lost in the films’ messy presentation, lack of real suspense or excitement, and a knack to abandon all hope of real intelligence by annoyingly resorting to endless, and exceedingly boring, action sequences in a failed attempt to be this years’ Total Recall. Unfortunately for director Singh and the one-two writer partnership of David and Alex Pastor, they are most definitely not in the league of Phillip K. Dick with their screenplay attempting to be something that is both highly engaging and clever at the same time but ultimately results in Self/Less being both highly sleep-inducing and ultimately, incidental. Ben Kingsley’s absorbing ten minute stint on-screen aside, Self/Less was hugely uninspiring and rather quite boring on the face of it, with seemingly having a lot to say, but ultimately choking at the chance to say it with any form of gusto or fervour in sight.