“My Name Is Gabrielle Colette And The Hand That Holds The Pen Writes History…”
Touted as a rousing return to form for Keira Knightley after the critical massacre of Collateral Beauty, Colette, directed by British filmmaker, Wash Westmoreland, a Leeds-born artist most famous for the Academy Award winning drama, Still Alice, back in 2014, brings to the big screen the life of French writer and actress, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, who at the beginning of the twentieth century and under the guise of her husband’s pen name, seemingly changed the face of French literature forever, bringing into the public eye a world of fascination and intrigue which even in the twenty first century still feels undoubtedly relevant and contemporary. For a movie which in one of its’ very opening scenes feels brave enough to contain a particularly scabrous monologue regarding the inability to leave the theatre even when what is occurring on stage is of a particularly awful pedigree, such a bookmark would be the easy fallback if Colette itself fell into the same category of mediocrity, yet with equally superb performances from central the pairing of Knightley and Dominic West (The Wire), beautiful set designs and a refreshing indifferent and laid back approach to the varying underlying themes within the narrative, Westmoreland’s latest is a fulfilling and gorgeously fascinating depiction of an historical icon and a movie which feels almost too timely considering the current societal climate.
Featuring a screenplay from the combined writing talents of Westmoreland himself, Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida) and Richard Glatzer, the previous spouse and collaborator of Westmoreland who tragically passed away back in 2015, Colette both embraces the traditions of a period drama piece with the expected levels of authenticity and attention to detail whilst also attempting to cripple the cliches attached to the genre with as much empowering and radical ideas as its’ leading heroine’s effect on the world of literature. With the humble beginnings of Knightley’s titular youthful country girl portraying her as a doe-eyed, slightly innocent dreamer, her character immediately becomes hooked under the spell of Dominic West’s growling, moustache bearing, Henry, a well regarded author and critic who utilises the pen name “Willy” in his Parisian homeland and who slowly begins to publish his wife’s tales of “Claudine” under his own name, resulting in sudden fame, fortune and rapturous acclaim. Whilst it could have been easy for Colette to jump on the #MeToo bandwagon in regards to film’s underlying theme regarding the exploitation of power in regards to gender, Westmoreland’s film refreshingly approaches such notions with expert delicacy, and whilst there are definite moments of dramatic female empowerment, the movie never felt preachy or sanctimonious, instead treating wandering sexual orientations and gender fluidity with a degree of nonchalance which really impressed. Whilst the film as a whole could have done with at least twenty minutes knocked off the final runtime, Colette is a movie which held a point, presented it magnificently and left you wondering where on earth the real Keira Knightley has been for the past however many years.
Overall Score: 7/10
“There’s Been Whispers Of A Thief. He’s Got Our Commoner’s Looking Up, Seeing Hope…”
With the unintentional hilarity which ensued during last year’s dire attempt to recreate one British legend in the form of Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, in which a cameo from David Beckham was one of the better aspects of the movie, Hollywood’s obsession with re-hashing well versed tales of adventure and heroism continues with yet another adaptation of Robin Hood, succeeding Ridley Scott’s mediocre 2010 version as the most contemporary telling and one which utilises the talents of Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Golden Circle) in the titular role. Directed by Otto Bathurst, a British filmmaker famous so far for his acclaimed work on the likes of Black Mirror and Peaky Blinders, and based on a debut script from Ben Chandler and David James Kelly, Robin Hood circa 2018 somehow manages to leapfrog in front of Guy Ritchie’s work of nonsensical silliness with relative ease in terms of cinematic woefulness, channelling an off-kilter tonal mix between Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and Monty Python and the Holy Grail as it attempts to redefine the age-old tale with a strange stylistic decision which seems to cater particularly for audiences who are simply after a slice of mindless fun. Unfortunately for Bathurst and co, Robin Hood isn’t a movie which can be branded with such positivity, bordering instead more on the edge of being totally irredeemable as it slogs its’ way through a two hour incoherent mess featuring awfully slim characters, a laughably bad script and feeling that once again a supposed future cinematic franchise dies spectacularly with its’ first attempt. Whoops.
Opening with a cockney-geezer voice-over which instructs its’ awaiting audience to forget everything they know about the tale of Robin of Loxley and be amazed at a fresh new take of the historic legend, hilariously, such a statement is ultimately completely contradicted almost immediately thanks to one of the most lazily constructed and cliched scripts not only this year but in living memory. Introducing our central hero as a toffee-nosed, obnoxious ruling class beefcake who quickly chooses to swap allegiances after four years of war, Egerton is charming to an extent but ultimately feels wickedly miscast as he is simply directed to portray a hooded version of his character from Kingsman, awful accent and all, and therefore loses all sense of belief in a performance which at times crossed into the realm of on-screen pantomime. Joining him on this list of miscastings, Jamie Foxx’s (Baby Driver) role as a dodgily accented prisoner of war turned teacher is the American’s worst on-screen appearance in recent history, whilst joining in on the pantomime sensibility of the film is surprisingly Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One), an actor who aside from slowly being typecast as the turn-to Hollywood sneering villain, pulls off the most OTT and overly camp lead villain performance since Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending. With woefully directed action set pieces which include a jaw-droppingly misjudged opening scene set in a Iraqi inspired third-world war zone, automatic crossbows and all, and a penchant for utilising the “art” of slow-motion to paint over the pants choreography which seems directly inspired from similar tactics used in King Arthur, the latest version of Robin Hood isn’t just bad, it’s a lazy, pointless and amateurish so-called “blockbuster” which makes Guy Ritchie look like the reincarnation of Stanley Kubrick. Avoid like a CGI arrow to the chest.
Overall Score: 3/10
“She’s An Enigma My Wife. You Can Get Close To Her, But You Never Quite Reach Her…”
Directed by Paul Feig, the American filmmaker behind the all female led reboot of the woefully unsuccessful Ghostbusters and the mildly entertaining action comedy Spy from 2016 and 2015 respectively, A Simple Favor, based on the 2017 debut novel of the same name from American author, Darcey Belle, sees Feig turn to the “dark side”, a self proclaimed statement of intent plastered within the film’s thoroughly intriguing trailer which sees Anna Kendrick’s (Table 19) Stephanie attempt to unravel the mystery of Blake Lively’s (Age of Adaline) Emily’s recent disappearance. Based on a screenplay from Nerve screenwriter, Jessica Sharzer, A Simple Favor is a strange beast, a film which on the one hand attempts to emulate the domesticated mysterious oddity of David Fincher’s wonderfully dark Gone Girl, and on the other, an Ira Levin-esque centralisation in which everything on the surface appears cosy and calm yet underneath, is riddled with secrets and lies, and whilst the key mystery of the film’s narrative begins well with enough room to flourish if handled correctly, the end product is ultimately produced in a manner way too convoluted and preposterous to be regarded as anywhere near the excellence of the many films Feig’s latest evokes.
Whilst it is fair to say that the increasingly agitating figure of Anna Kendrick in recent times has always left me loathing her acting ability more and more with every new release in which she inevitably sucks, with Table 19 being the key text of a film in which death by torture undoubtedly seems more rewarding, what a relief that when under the direction of Feig, a director who does manage to get the best out of his performers no matter the final product, (see Kate McKinnon circa Ghostbusters for example) Kendrick does manage to flourish and arguably gives the best performance of her career so far. Add into the mix the ever radiant Blake Lively, her knowingly ripe and hilarious portrayal of a walking ambiguity manages to work perfectly in tandem with her co-star, resulting in a healthy amount of hearty belly laughs which always seem so spare in American comedies of a similar ilk, and whilst the second half of the movie in which the core mystery unravels to an annoyingly predictable end does ultimately dive-bomb the overall appeal of the feature, A Simple Favor is throwaway, good-natured fluff which puts Kendrick back into my own personal acting guild good-books.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Some Bad People Are After Me And Now They’re After You…”
Mixing together the comedic talents of Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters) and Mila Kunis (Bad Moms), an actress whose sensual, dramatic performance in Black Swan feels strangely historic considering her own personal penchant for the genre of American comedy since, The Spy Who Dumped Me, directed by Susanna Fogel, a returning filmmaker with her first release since 2014’s Life Partners, sees the duo as best friend partnership, Audrey and Morgan, who become embroiled in a murderous terrorist plot after being “dumped” by Justin Theroux’s (Mulholland Drive) suave super spy, Drew Thayer. With McKinnon unfortunately being the type of actress who so far in her career seems to have been handed a selection of raw deals when it comes to getting the best out of her natural flair for comedy, with Ghostbusters and Office Christmas Party being no more than solid examples of the genre, the same annoyingly can be said for The Spy Who Dumped Me, a surprisingly violent and tonally manic action comedy which falls much too heavy on a reliance for gunshots and action over genuine laughs within a screenplay which makes Rampage look like the most intelligent film of the year by an elongated mile.
With ineffective time jumps utilised at various points of the movie as an attempt to establish some form of characterisation, albeit in its’ most restricted format, the movie takes no time in establishing the layout of the narrative, using awfully constructed moments of naff dialogue to exercise the inevitable exposition before resorting back to endless action set pieces which begin in enjoyable fashion but then end up becoming tedious after the cycle of the movie becomes increasingly obvious come the sixty minute mark. With the film’s two hour running time overstretched by at least forty five minutes, the saving grace of the movie is ultimately its’ leading female stars, with McKinnon and Kunis working expertly well as a kooky double act caught in the cross-hairs of government conspiracy and double crossing international secret agents, and with the added involvement of the always magnanimous Gillian Anderson (The X-Files), girl power at least stops the movie from falling into the black hole of awfulness it may have gone without them. With a few chuckles but no full laughs, The Spy Who Dumped Me is full-on flash without any residue of substance or memorability, but with committed performances and likeable leading stars, the end result is messy but not exactly intolerable.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Things Are Not Always As They Seem…”
Adapted from their very own play of the same name which premiered back in 2010, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson swap the stage for the screen with Ghost Stories, a Hammer Horror inspired creeper which mixes a mock-documentary style narrative with elements of the portmanteau cinematic medium which has worked incredibly effectively before in the horror genre with the likes of V/H/S and it’s juicier, more experimental sequel arguably being the more contemporary standout examples. With Nyman himself assuming the lead role of Professor Phillip Goodman, a single minded debunker of the supernatural who is tasked with solving three individual and unexplained cases designed to test his ignorance of the paranormal, Ghost Stories takes the audience through an exhausting check list of every classic horror trope in existence as we move from one case to the next, with each investigation creepier and weirder than the last, and whilst most movies which form a narrative around very well-worn and rusty horror cliches more often than not tend to be complete and utter disasters, take Winchester this year alone for example, Ghost Stories works impressively due to a ripe and over-the-top sensibility which is simply too much fun to disregard.
Supported by a variety of tip-top British talent including Paul Whitehouse (The Death of Stalin), Alex Lawther (Black Ribbon – “Shut Up and Dance”) and the mighty Dr. Watson himself, Martin Freeman (Black Panther), their respective characters each provide the details of their own individual supernatural experiences including a haunted Session 9 inspired mental institution, a meeting with evil and an interaction with the freshly dead. With manically timed and alarmingly impressive jump-scares throughout, the horror elements are wickedly managed and at times, unrelenting in nature, and even when the film does suffer terribly in its’ opening quarter due to a wandering direction and lack of grounded involvement, as soon as we begin to interfere in our leading character’s draining investigations, the haunted house of a thrill ride adequately begins. Concluding with a final act which twists the film on its’ head and forces you to gasp at the sheer absurdity of where and how the action ultimately unfolds, Ghost Stories is a stellar success and a future British Halloween classic, one which both will please mainstream audiences and aficionado horror audiences who although are used to the thrills the movie offers, will lap it up in spades.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Feel Their Presence. In The Air, In The Walls. He Has Found Us…”
With last year’s Jigsaw not being as terrible as one might have thought and Predestination still being a particularly mind-bending and wholly entertaining guilty pleasure, The Spierig Brothers aren’t exactly renowned for airing on the side of caution when it comes to their movies, and returning this week with Winchester, starring Dame Helen Mirren (The Queen) as the famous titular true to life figure of Sarah Winchester, the mould doesn’t exactly stop here. Setting the narrative within the confines of Winchester House in San Jose, California at the turn of the 20th century, Winchester follows Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) as the drug addicted doctor, Eric Prince, who is tasked by representatives of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to medically assess Sarah Winchester’s mental state as she pours her inherited income into constant construction of her isolated mansion in order to fulfil the wishes of the dead through her interaction with a medium after the passing of her late husband. Part The Haunting, part every single generic horror movie release ever made, The Spierig Brothers’ latest is uncharacteristically dreadful, a movie so woeful in its’ construction that you fail in your attempts to nod off thanks to a wide-set reliance on ridiculously loud jump scares which become worse and worse as the movie moves along, and even with a straight-to-video temperament surrounding it, Winchester can’t even be defined as so bad it’s good; it’s just trash.
With each of the performances rivalling Gods of Egypt for the title of worst ensemble cast performance of recent times, the narrative dwindles its’ way through a The Cabin in the Woods and, more specifically, a Thirteen Ghosts-esque setup, utilising the pull of being based on “actual events” to inspire a sense of horror at the sight of witnessing all hell breaking loose on-screen, ranging from high-pitched screaming hell demons to murdered psychopathic waiters who every now and then feel the need to explode onto the screen, screeching musical accompaniment in hand, in order to enforce a cattle-prod sensibility in which the lost art of actual horror and spine-tingling tension is unfortunately replaced with tedious, never-ending jump scares. With the plot ludicrous, the horror elements distastefully stupid, and even Mirren’s portrayal of a better financed Jennet Humfrye, AKA, The Woman in Black, being totally ridiculous, not even a Dame can save such a hot-steamed mess of a movie, and whilst many may enjoy the chance to jolt out of your seat every ten seconds thanks to an immensely setup surround sound system in your local screening of the movie, The Spierig Brothers have landed on their first cinematic calamity, with Winchester a movie which not only pokes fun at its’ claims of fictional inspiration but sticks needles in the eyes of all horror audiences who by now have learnt that not all horror is created equal.
Overall Score: 2/10
“Someone On This Train Does Not Belong. All You Have To Do Is Find Them…”
Whilst many took to the idea that Liam Neeson had adhered to his word of refusing to star in any future action movies, something of which which he stated profoundly across media lines last year, it comes at no surprise that this week audiences are treated to The Commuter, the latest from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose reunion with Neeson follows on from their previous work together on Non-Stop and Run All Night, with the word of the Irish actor much more uncertain and dishonest since he laughed off the possibility of Taken 3 in 2013, a sequel which was then swiftly released only two years later. Whilst the obvious similarities to previous action movies are inevitable for a movie starring an actor recently renowned for jumped-up, high octane nonsense, Neeson’s latest is a movie both ridiculous and enjoyable in equal measure, a laughably absurd ideas thriller which although suffers from a wide range of clearly defined issues, is indeed up there with the better Neeson action movies to be released since his turn as the revenge seeking killer in Pierre Morel’s 2008 cult classic, Taken, a movie which launched a latter-stage chapter of the actor’s career to ridiculous levels of newly found action hero fame.
Approached by the mysterious Vera Farmiga during his daily commute, Neeson’s Michael MacCauley is tasked with attempting to hunt down a particular unknown fellow passenger without truly understanding the reasoning behind such, aside from the offer of excessive monetary reward. Jumping in and out of the shadow of previous film ideas as swift as the film’s chaotic editing, The Commuter is the type of movie which evokes so many previous stories that the film almost becomes a entertaining ferris wheel of bingo in which you tick off every film that comes to mind as the carnage unravels in the loudest and silliest way possible. Switching from Red Eye to Source Code to Under Siege 2 as quickly as possible within a completely manic first act which does manage to contain a rigid element of threat and mystery rather entertainingly, The Commuter then concludes with a amalgamation of Unstoppable and 16 Blocks with added predictability and cheesiness, and whilst Neeson’s latest is obviously not as smart or original as it may think it is, the action is decent enough and the tone is welcoming and undeniably crowd pleasing, and for a man who may have given up on action movies for good, you can’t deny Neeson does look like he’s enjoying himself. As are we.
Overall Score: 6/10
“They’re Trying To Make A Hero Out Of Me…”
Whilst Peter Berg’s rather excellent Patriots Day detailed from beginning to end the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings with an added Mark Wahlberg, David Gordon Green’s latest, Stronger, takes a calculated and extensive look at the life of Jeff Bauman, whose life changing injuries during the bombings were subsequently the subject of a 2013 memoir written by himself and Bret Witter and now the basis of the screenplay for a movie led by the ever reliable presence of Jake Gyllenhaal as the famous and life-affirming Bostonian. Whilst Patriots Day was more focused on the action spectacle and a lightning fast editing pace, Stronger is a more low-key character piece which utilises the background of a terrifying event to understand one man’s journey through pain and suffering, and whilst Green’s latest is a picture seething with top-notch performances and likeable, empathetic characters, a bloated narrative over a needlessly extended two hour runtime does threaten to become tiresome at stages, but with Gyllenhaal on Oscar-worthy form, Stronger does manage to hold its’ own undeniably effectively.
Introducing the troubled, up and down relationship between Gyllenhaal’s Jeff Bauman and Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany’s Erin Hursley from the outset, the movie swiftly moves onto the events of the bombing without ever specifically focusing on its’ reasoning or motive and instead directly leads the narrative from the point of view of Bauman who throughout the course of the movie recounts flashbacks of the event, with each progressively getting more detailed and bloody as the film trickles through his long-standing recovery in both a physical and mental capacity. With Gyllenhaal using the character of Bauman as a vessel for his already well established acting chops, utilising the direction of Green to balance moments of emotion fuelled drama with low-key physical movements and reactions, Stronger does have a variety of Oscar baity speeches which in other hands would possibly have derailed the movie’s ultimate goal, but with impressive supporting performances from the likes of Maslany and Miranda Richardson, who although in her portrayal of the expletive ridden, Bostonian parent figure did bring to mind the brilliance of Melissa Leo in The Fighter, Green’s movie is a straightforward character piece, but with such an interesting character at its’ centre, Stronger is more then fulfilling, if slightly forgettable.
Overall Score: 7/10
“You Can’t Blend In When You Were Born To Stand Out…”
Based upon R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel of the same name, Wonder tells the tale of Jacob Tremblay’s August “Auggie” Pullman and his battle with Treacher Collins syndrome as he attempts to manage his way through school and a coming of age lifestyle after years of homeschooling designed to prevent him from facing the potential fear of inevitable youth misunderstanding when it comes to his condition. Supported by the beach burnt Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as Auggie’s father and mother tag team, and directed by Stephen Chbosky, whose previous credits include The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the lead writer’s gig for this year’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, Wonder is a solid by-the-numbers tale of acceptance and individual strength which although features an important fundamental message regarding acceptance and the impact of schoolground bullying, does become increasingly tiresome and overly manipulative in its’ emotional bulldozing as it passively lingers on to a conclusion which does manage to seal the deal to some extent and leave its’ audience with an undeniable smile.
Where Lenny Abrahamson’s Room introduced the world to the enviable talents of young Jacob Tremblay, Wonder solidifies once again that a huge future awaits for an actor who although throughout the film is covered in prosthetics akin to John Hurt in David Lynch’s heartbreaker, The Elephant Man, manages to encompass Auggie’s spectral of emotions to such an extent that the audience can’t help from getting on board and totally support the film’s leading character as he makes his journey through the trials and tribulations of a diverse and sometimes ignorant collection of fellow schoolmates. Whilst Wonder does attempt to balance the heavy dose of Auggie’s characterisation with his fellow family and friends, with the movie sometimes wandering off on tangents to do such via Tarantino-esque title cards, such diversions do come across as somewhat pointless, particularly when regarding the film’s overplayed two hour runtime, and with overly saccharin scenes of animal deaths and endless crying montages, the sentimental value of the narrative does become pretty irksome at times, but with Tremblay stealing the show and even Wilson and Roberts having a fair share of effective quick comedic quips as the relatable parents, Wonder is sometimes preachy but undeniably good hearted.