“I’m Working On Something Now, Something So New That The World Will Never Be The Same…”
Filmed and completed almost two whole years ago, with the original release date back in 2017 shelved following the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal and the subsequent MeToo movement, The Current War finally hits the big screen after being acquired and released by Lantern Entertainment, an American film studio who purchased all assets owned by The Weinstein Company as the disgraced company fell into liquidation following their owner’s high profile fall from grace. Directed by Texas-born filmmaker, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, whose previous works include the overly kooky, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, and directorial credits on both episodes of Glee and American Horror Story, The Current War attempts to dramatise the titular battle fought by both Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse during the latter stages of the nineteenth century, as each attempt to outwit each other and become the leading light of electrical power across the globe. With very little background noise or press following closely behind it, it seems fair to say that The Current War is the kind of movie which Lantern Entertainment feel the need to let loose just for the sake of it, with the main goal of course being to recoup a slender amount of financial reward after the cost to make it, yet much in the same way Billionaire Boys Club came and went like a fart in the wind after the similarly troubling Kevin Spacey allegations, Gomez-Rejon’s movie feels rather icky and strangely enough for a film without electrical power, staggeringly lifeless.
Central to the film’s array of issues is its’ central narrative, one based upon a screenplay from American playwright, Michael Mitnick, who seems to have been catching up on the back catalogue of Christopher Nolan by producing what can only be described as a monumental bore of a story, a cheap, Nolanized knock-off which attempts to recreate the fast-paced, engaging storytelling Nolan does so well, yet forgetting to include any sort of pace or engaging, meaty plot whatsoever, resulting in the cardinal sin of watch checking only five minutes in. With the film clocking in and just under two hours, it’s fair to say that The Current War only works as a medicinal prescription for prolonged sleep deprivation, a laborious, yawn-inducing borefest which wastes good acting talent including the likes of Michael Shannon, Tom Holland and Katherine Waterston, whilst reasserting the notion that Benedict Cumberbatch is quickly becoming the most typecast actor in the acting business today, with another leading role which leans heavy on the intelligent, sarcastic know-it-all characteristic and less on the sympathetic nice guy, akin to other historical figures the Brit has played in the likes of The Fifth Estate and The Imitation Game. Add into the mix woozy, sanctimonious camera work from Chung Chung-hoon who seems to think he’s the reincarnation of Kubrick alongside simply awful time-hopping editing and The Current War is the first movie in a good while to be so awfully dull, I began to worry for the future of cinema as we know it.
Overall Score: 3/10
“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
“Reynolds Has Made My Dreams Come True. And I Had Given Him What He Desires Most In Return…”
Of all historic collaborations which have resulted in works of acclaimed artistic brilliance, the combination of director, Paul Thomas Anderson, and acting aficionado, Daniel Day-Lewis, deservedly unearths a mouthwatering level of anticipation, particularly after their rousing success together on 2007’s There Will Be Blood, a movie which not only garnered Academy Award success for the English screen legend but remains my personal favourite Anderson release within a career blossoming with quality examples of modern cinema ranging from the intertwining character study of Magnolia to the drug infused oddity of Inherent Vice. Returning together with Phantom Thread, a beautifully twisted romantic drama with a self-proclaimed final performance from Daniel Day-Lewis as the fictional renowned fashion designer, Reynolds Woodcock, Anderson’s latest is a flawlessly designed work of art which mirrors its’ leading character’s penchant for exactness and measured perfection with a swooning, subversive portrayal of a household bursting with colourful and beautifully constructed characters which are brought to fruition in ways larger than life by a cast which under the wing of Anderson, are truly magnificent.
Focusing on the blossoming relationship between Day-Lewis’s Woodcock and the foreign, quaint muse figure of Vicky Krieps’ (A Most Wanted Man) Alma Elson, Anderson’s script moves in an unpredictable and sometimes quirky fashion, switching from a romantic tale of wonder to a character study of indecision and power, one which utilises minor incidents of subverted gothic tragedy and a heavy dose of laugh out loud comedy to create a combination of elements which only a filmmaker with the pedigree of Anderson could have successfully pulled off. With Lesley Manville’s (Hampstead) eagle eyed and priggish Cyril Woodcock equally as fascinating as her on-screen sibling, Phantom Thread’s triage of leading performers all work in equal symmetry in bringing to life an absorbing, sometimes jaw-droppingly beautiful piece of cinema, and with a well orchestrated accompanying score from Radiohead’s stupidly talented, Jonny Greenwood, whose Academy Award nomination slightly makes up for the ludicrous decision to prevent him from being nominated for There Will Be Blood, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is really something, and if we are indeed witnessing the final performance of the truly magnanimous Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread sure is an outstanding way to bow out.
Overall Score: 9/10
“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
“I Am Choosing Between Trials and Tribulations. Do Stop Adding To Them…”
Sandwiched rather effectively between the likes of Their Finest and Christopher Nolan’s upcoming blockbuster, Dunkirk, Brian Cox takes on the challenge of portraying the iconic image of Winston Churchill this week in yet another 2017 release which focuses on a particular element and point of view regarding the historical and wholly barbaric events of the Second World War. Directed by Australian filmmaker Jonathan Teplitzky, perhaps best known for his work on the Colin Firth starring 2013 war drama, The Railway Man, Churchill attempts to bring to life the infamous story of the United Kingdom’s “greatest Briton”, a title unashamedly handed out upon the film’s pre-release trailer, and with the astute reputation of an actor such as Brian Cox in the leading role, stakes couldn’t be set higher for a cinematic interpretation of one of the most instantly recognisable faces of recent history. Whilst Churchill does feature some stellar acting form many of its leading stars, Teplitzky’s movie is unfortunately let down by a shallow and wholly uninteresting narrative, one which believes shouting and screaming is the best way to evoke a sense of drama, whilst the cinematic scale of such a film is so minimal, it really questions whether such a character exercise belongs on the big screen in the first place.
Taking place in 1944, on the eve of the infamous D-Day operations, Churchill unsurprisingly places Brian Cox’s titular conflicted Prime Minister at the heart of every single scene throughout the course of the movie, and whilst Cox seemingly manages to hit the nail on the head in terms of famous Churchill mannerisms, the dialogue and script too often let him down, with Teplitzky choosing to allow every line to be bellowed and screamed, akin to some awful teenage sitcom which just happens to be focused primarily during wartime. Subsequently, the decision to set most of proceedings within the confines of smokey, alcohol ridden low-key environments results in wondering why on earth Churchill belongs in the cinema in the first place, with it most likely to find success upon the medium of television not only due to its’ low-budge sensibility, but because on the face of it, there are a wide range of TV programmes that offer more reasons to be cinematic than that of Churchill. Although a sliding plot at the heart of it threatens to ruin the film entirely, Brian Cox does manage to pull you in and keep you entertained despite moments of utter silliness in terms of dialogue delivery, and whilst many will find a lack of action incredibly dull, ironically Churchill was a film at least I was never bored whilst watching, it just quite baffled me at times.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Our Revenge Will Be To Survive…”
Whilst I can admit to not always being a fan of outside arguments and discussions regarding the arrival of a new cinematic release, due simply to the fact that after all is said and done, a film is only a film, the controversy revolving around Terry George’s The Promise is one which has been an undeniable eye-catcher ever since its’ first release way back last year when the ever-popular IMDB rating system was apparently being hacked and improperly used by those accused of awarding the film a measly one star out of ten in a subversive tactic which was regarded as a orchestrated campaign to derail the release of the movie by Armenian genocide deniers. Tough stuff I know, and whilst this may or may not be the case, it did seem strange that a film in which had only been watched by a minuscule amount of audiences at pre-release screenings within festivals seemed to have such a negative reception with over 50,000 one-star ratings being awarded to the film before its’ intended wide-spread release date. As for the film itself, The Promise is unfortunately nowhere near as interesting as the events preceding its’ release, tackling a harrowing and shocking subject matter and lacing it with sub-par levels of drama and a leading love triangle which verges on the edge of cringe, resulting in a picture which potentially could have had the same impact of a movie such as Son of Saul but with trying narrative twists and awful set design, ends up being a complete and utter bore.
Of the many problems with the movie, the film’s choice to focus primarily on the leading trio of the dodgy accented Isaac, the walking contradiction of Le Bon and the always awesome, Christian Bale, is a fundamental movie killer with neither of the characters really having enough development or admirable traits to which an average movie audience can relate with in order to find them interesting. Putting all of their chips on the figure of Oscar Isaac’s Mikael, a character who not only decides against marrying his future betrothed in favour of a love affair with the wife of a respected journalist but essentially destroys the life of both said wife and said journalist respectively with his ignorant involvement in getting between them, the audiences involvement never really gets going and the sickening sights of forced drama when the saccharin sweetness of the romance pauses in favour of seemingly out-of-place violence is really quite aggravating to behold. From my point of view, you simply cannot comprehend a 12A rated movie based upon genocide and then fill it with a soppy love story and expect the audience to get on-board with it, and whilst this is exactly the decision those behind the creation of The Promise have got behind, I cannot shy away from the fact that it was not the film I was after regarding such a underdeveloped strand of history and with a narrative as corny as the one holding together Terry George’s latest, I take no pleasure in stating that I am probably right.
Overall Score: 4/10
“They’re Afraid They Won’t Be Able To Put Us Back In The Box When This Is Over, And It Makes Them Belligerent…”
Directed by Lone Scherfig, the creative mind behind films such as The Riot Club and the Oscar nominated drama, An Education, Their Finest, based upon the 2009 novel, Their Finest Hour and a Half by British author Lissa Evans, seemingly begins a cycle of early 20th century war biopics which are set to be released this year, with highly anticipated releases such as Churchill and Christopher Nolan’s unbelievably exciting take on Dunkirk coming to a theatre near you over the course of the next few months or so and whilst Scherfig’s latest is arguably not in the same wide-spread level of appeal as the latest Nolan release or a film depicting one of Great Britain’s most influential figures of recent history, with a cast which includes the bravura acting talents of Gemma Arterton, Eddie Marsan and Bill Nighy, the groundwork for excellence has somewhat already been established. The question remains therefore whether the finished picture matches the ability of its’ leading stars and whilst Their Finest is indeed a charming low-key drama, one which is laced with a full swing of tea-swigging Britishness, the final flurry of its’ second act doesn’t hold the interest of the first and dwindles into a movie which is wholly admirable but ultimately inconsequential.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of Their Finest is it being a film which once again is a solid example of a movie which doesn’t have enough actual meat on its’ bones to run the course of its’ two hour runtime, utilising narrative avenues which don’t exactly work in the long run, such as the inclusion of Jack Huston as Arterton’s underdeveloped partner, in order to enforce a dramatic subplot which although sets up the film’s leading romantic element, could have been cut out entirely and averted the risk of the dreaded clock-watching from its’ audience. On the contrary, the film does boast a overarching feel-good narrative which is bound to leave its’ intended audience “weeping in the aisles” as stated by Bill Nighy’s excellent portrayal of the fame-addicted presence of ageing actor Ambrose Hilliard, whilst Gemma Arterton continues the argument that whatever she is in she is always top of the class no matter if its’ fighting zombies in The Girl With All The Gifts or battling the sexist and wholly misogynistic ways of 20th century Britain in her role as Welsh writer Catrin Cole. Ultimately, Their Finest is a enjoyable fluffy drama which tells a story and tells it admirably well aside from a few notable exceptions but with a cast as reliable as the one on its’ books, it never really was going to fail.
Overall Score: 7/10
“There Are Many Things Which You Have Not Seen…”
Rather annoyingly, yet undeniably avoidable, the amount of rabble surrounding the release of The Great Wall, the latest from Hero and The House of Flying Daggers director Zhang Yimou, seems to be one of a rather negative manner, focusing primarily on the notion of “whitewashing” which has encompassed the film’s production since its’ inception and the original announcement of Matt Damon in the lead role of a movie which consists of a primarily Chinese cast. Once again, cinematic history has been brought up to the floor in terms of the so-called “white saviour narrative”, a cinematic construction which has tarnished a selection of films ranging from To Kill A Mockingbird to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and whilst such an argument seems to be one in which I tend to extensively avoid, the case of Damon being front and centre of a film seeped in Chinese culture does seem particularly strange to say the least. After watching the movie however, the main concern regarding The Great Wall is how unbelievably boring and bone-shatteringly dull it actually is, with Yimou’s big budget project akin more to a Gods of Egypt-type disaster than as monumental and wondrous as the titular wall itself.
During a frivolous attempt into the heart of China to gather supplies of the precious “black powder”, Matt Damon and Game of Thrones star Pedro Pascal stumble across the famous Great Wall of China, helmed by a multitude of soldiers who are preparing for battle against the Taotie, a mythical alien race who rise every sixty years and attempt to destroy and kill anything and everything the other side of the wall of which has imprisoned them. Cue awful CGI and even worse dialogue, The Great Wall is the type of movie you can only scratch your head at in bemusement of the fact that such a film actually managed to pass through the first phase of development without someone having the balls to stand up and say, “this is a bit pants isn’t it?” Whilst Matt Damon’s involvement in the project at all is baffling, such a notion is completely forgotten five minutes into the movie when the whole audience in my particular screening realised what they had go themselves into. For a movie which cost 150 million dollars to make, The Great Wall is the biggest waste of a budget since Waterworld, a flop and a half of a so-called “epic” which highlights the argument that just because it’s bigger, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.
Overall Score: 3/10
“The Moment You Set Foot In That Country, You Step Into High Danger…”
Is there really a better way to start off the year than in the presence of the master of cinema himself, Martin Scorsese? Well, it does depend on what mood he is in I suppose. Whilst I can enjoy the silliness of films such as Cape Fear and Shutter Island, particularly the latter with its’ brilliantly honky soundtrack, every true cinephile wishes for the chance to witness for the first time the next Taxi Driver or Goodfellas, particularly when those respective films are the ones which will go down as the true classics of the Scorsese back catalogue. What we have with the latest Scorsese flick therefore is a highly publicised pet project of the legendary director, one which has been squirming within development hell since the 1990’s, and one which acts as the end point for the unofficial trilogy of religion-based dramas which began with The Last Temptation of Christ, succeeded with Kundun and now concludes with Silence, based upon the 1966 novel of the same name by Japanese author Shūsaku Endō and featuring a screenplay by Gangs of New York writer Jay Cocks as well as Scorsese himself, adding writing credits to a film for the first time since Casino. Whilst Silence is undoubtedly an impressive piece of cinema, boasting some fine performances and stunning cinematography, Silence is a Scorsese movie which can only be described as an incredibly laboured experience, one which falters in its’ rather plodded screenplay and a runtime which sits on the edge of utter misjudgement.
With a eye-boggling length of 160 minutes, 15 minutes longer than Goodfellas and pretty much nearly an hour over Taxi Driver, Silence is not only a movie which portrays the element of faith being tested on-screen, it is also a movie which tests its’ audience’s patience, relying on the overkill of numerous torture scenes to get its’ point across, acting as the cornerstone of each chapter, amongst endless acts of faith-ridden sacrifices and the questioning of a faith which has completely been lost in the “swamp” of 17th Century Japan. Whilst the movie plods along in a sub-par Apocalypse Now-esque fashion, Silence is saved by some top-end performances throughout, particularly from the leading trio of Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson, whilst Issey Ogata’s eerie portrayal of High Inquisitor Inoue Masashige adds the villainous element to alarming effect. Whilst the release of a Scorsese movie is undoubtedly a cause for celebration, Silence feels like exactly what it is; a glorified pet project for a man whose best seems to be behind him. Whilst Silence is no means a terrible film, it is one of those rare cases of a movie which is undoubtedly an impressive example of film-making, but instead of blessing us with a masterclass, only succeeds in testing our patience. Lose a good forty minutes, use fewer examples of torture and we might have had a real winner to start the year. Sorry Martin, A Monster Calls is a better film.
Overall Score: 6/10
“In The Coast Guard They Say You Go Out, They Don’t Say You Gotta Come Back…”
Based upon “The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue” by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, Craig Gillespie’s The Finest Hours is a film that intends to be as gripping and wet-soaked as the shores of Cape Cod but ultimately comes off as more of a damp squib, with a cast including Captain Kirk himself, Chris Pine, Casey Affleck and Eric Bana not enough to save it from the pit of mediocrity it safely floats upon before inevitably sinking into the realms of history. Much like the true-life tale, an anecdote I’m sure incredibly popular and well versed between the secular, sea-wise clans of the U.S. Coast Guard, The Finest Hours is a movie that has somewhat been hidden under the radar and away from the cinematic masses, with not even a trailer being in sight within my many ventures to the world of cine over the course of the past few months or so, and with this in mind, the sheer lack of advertisement and press-hounding may indeed result in the film not exactly finding a key audience. Were it a more intriguing tale of survival in line with other sea-faring adventures such as Ang Lee’s The Life of Pi, The Perfect Storm and even, see it to believe it, Titanic, perhaps The Finest Hours could have been the riveting adventure it perhaps wanted to be seen as.
Adding to the mediocrity is the fundamental saccharin sweet nature of the movie, with the influence of Disney being particularly noticeable within scenes that not only encourage the burning sensation of a face-palm, but also result in either a painful palpitation of a cringe-induced stasis or a desire to swiftly stick fingers down your throat in order to release the sickly build-up of Disney-induced diseases. Aside from the land of over-sentimentality, award for most unintentional psycho, co-dependant girlfriend of the year has to go to Holliday Grainger for her role as Chris Pine love interest, Miriam Webber, a role which could easily be seen as a mid-20th century portrayal of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Seriously, if you aren’t put off by the possibility of a creepy girlfriend by The Finest Hours, then nothing will. In a nutshell therefore, The Finest Hours sure ain’t the film it would love to be, with a sheer lack of threat or suspense killing the film stone dead, a film which requires such in order to be seen as truly worthwhile. See it in a Blockbuster near you. Oh wait, this isn’t 2003. Just catch it when you can, but don’t rush to see it.