“You Can Do It. You Can Do Anything. You’re The World’s Greatest Grandma…”
Tasked with being the first Marvel release to follow on from the universally accepted awesomeness of Avengers: Infinity War, Peyton Reed’s second instalment of Scott Lang/Ant-Man’s own MCU journey hits cinemas this week, reuniting audiences with a large proportion of characters from 2015’s excellent origin story as it delves deeper into the notion of the quantum realm and the hopeful return of Michelle Pfeiffer’s (mother!) Janet van Dyne, the original embodiment of The Wasp who was lost many years ago in order to save the world from nuclear disaster. With a zippy pace and a childish playfulness which parallels completely with the two preceding Marvel releases within 2018, Ant-Man and the Wasp undoubtedly falls into the MCU category of “great fun but not particularly necessary” alongside previous examples such as Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming, and whilst come the closing credits Reed’s movie falls down under the weight of much better entries within the ever-expanding Marvel Universe, the razor-sharp comedy and fundamentally likeable characters at the heart of the drama all succeed in making Ant-Man and the Wasp a thoroughly enjoyable throwaway superhero ride.
With the Bond-esque sensibility of Black Panther and the gargantuan epic space opera of Infinity War proving to be two of the strongest entries within the MCU so far, it’s fair to say that Reed’s latest follows closest to that of a down-and-out comedy, one which stays well away from the R-rated expletives of Deadpool to keep within the remit of 12A rated family friendliness, but also one which feels comfortable poking fun at not only its’ titular character’s fundamental absurdity but the genre itself, with a bundle of well constructed gags eager to please casual and die-hard MCU fans alike. With each of the primary cast all thoroughly enjoying themselves, the dryness of Michael Douglas’ aged Hank Pym mixed in with the brilliance of a Paul Rudd who seems to have been born for the leading role offers the chance for constant giggles, a feat not undone when the movie switches to a more dramatic tone in order to introduce not one, but two leading villains in the form of Hannah John-Karmen’s (Ready Player One) Ghost and Walton Goggins’ (The Hateful Eight) excellent arms-dealing criminal, Sonny Burch. With the action and spectacle offering a much more expansive usage of the shrinking technology utilised by the movies’ heroes, a concluding car chase wraps the film up nicely, leaving the tone of the film within the up-beast positivity in which it began, and even with a post-credits sequence which ties into the mould of the universe set up within Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp is an MCU movie which is undoubtedly great fun, but one which too feels oddly irrelevant considering the dramatic turn the franchise has taken in wait for next year’s concluding arc to the MCU as we know it.
Overall Score: 7/10
“My Name Is Hercule Poirot And I am Probably The Greatest Detective In The World…”
Helmed by the steady of hand of theatre and screen aficionado, Kenneth Branagh, the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express comes eighty three years after the source material was first published and forty three years after the first cinematic venture of such a story, one directed by Sidney Lumet and featured an extensively impressive cast which included the likes of Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman and the post-Bond presence of Sean Connery. Returning to the big screen once again with a similarly majestic group of actors, Branagh’s take on arguably Christie’s most iconic story is one which cranks up the absurdity in a manner which takes on board Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Noah, whilst being a film which too enjoys basking in the nostalgia factor of its’ early twentieth century setting, and whilst there is undeniable charm and enjoyment at the heart of Branagh’s project, the real lack of freshness and a wavering narrative hook results in the latest Murder on the Orient Express being just good enough to warrant another punt at the famous source material.
Whilst it seems everyone and their dog is aware of the story at the heart of Christie’s novel, Branagh’s movie utilises Blade Runner 2049 and Logan screenwriter Michael Green’s script to introduce a few minor character differences and narrative swings, of which some directly link back to the Sidney Lumet version of the story and some which are wholly original, with my personal favourite being a karate loving Count Andrenyi who is introduced with a simply baffling scene of him roundhousing a fellow passenger before boarding the titular medium of travel. With the added use of CGI to enhance the titular locomotive’s unplanned halt on the snow-filled tracks and some effectively crafted flashback scenes which both improve on the Lumet version and make things simple for even the most wavering audience mind, Branagh’s first attempt at a big-screen Christie tale passes the time rather harmfully, with the director’s portrayal of Belgium’s most famous export being a charming and suave interpretation, and with an concluding act which sets out a possible future franchise, Murder on the Orient Express is best served with a bourbon biscuit and a nice cup of Earl Grey. Put the kettle on love.
Overall Score: 6/10
“You Give, And You Give, And You Give. It’s Just Never Enough…”
Encapsulating in human form the very definition of divisive, Darren Aronofsky for me is the idealistic, brave and shit-hot filmmaker needed within the midst of summer blockbusters and endless unwarranted sequels in the current climate of cinema, and whilst many understandably lift their nose at the thought of anything with the Brooklyn born movie-maker’s recognisable touch, there is an unparalleled level of talent within a man who in my eyes rarely puts a foot wrong. Whether it be the depraved, nihilistic portrayal of addiction within Requiem for a Dream, the depiction of regret and sorrow within The Wrestler, or indeed the Argento inspired ripeness of Black Swan, Aronofsky holds no standards for a crowd-pleasing cop-outs and that alone has resulted in widespread appeal for his movies, particularly mother!, Aronofsky’s latest feature which for all its’ lack of publicity and reportedly inflammatory subject matter still manages to secure a wide release across the UK. Challenging, subversive, oppressive and surreal, Aronofsky’s latest transcends the realm of cinema itself and leaves you in a state of prolonged shock as soon as the final credits roll, and whilst many are guaranteed to loathe the sadistic and ripe arty nature of the film’s final product, mother! is an experience of an ilk similar to the likes of Funny Games and Kill List by being a film so terribly haunting and tough, the execution of such simply has to be rapturously applauded.
Set wholly within the confines of the winding home of Jennifer Lawrence’s “mother” and Javier Bardem’s writer’s block ridden “him”, Aronofsky’s narrative twists between home invasion horror, jet-black comedy, Lynch-style surrealism and a Dogville-style societal commentary, and whilst the underlying story is undoubtedly based upon writings drawn from Christianity and the sacred texts within the Bible, the twisted nature of Aronofsky’s storytelling offers much more than just one simple way to manoeuver through the ambiguity and the three-act structure, with each act after the next increasing in tension and shock value as the movie progresses through to its’ ultimate conclusion. With the camera solely fixed on the subjective view of Lawrence, with all but a few minor shots either directly focusing on her face or over her shoulder, the Oscar winning actresses performance is absolutely mesmerising, conveying a rafter of facial expressions and emotions as the narrative forces her to compliment the downward spiral of horror which transcends upon the screen and a performance which evoked the spirit of Nicole Kidman in Lars Von Trier’s Dogville and Mia Farrow’s iconic role in Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, a movie of which directly influences mother! in it’s rollercoaster ride of a final act, one which comes extremely close to dive bombing the movie altogether in its’ sheer jaw-dropping extravagance.
With Bardem on usual form as the somewhat ciphered, unknown quantity, and both Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer reminding everyone of their raw and unquestionable talent, Aronofsky throws the remainder of his cast around and around in order to suit his narrative endgame, with jarring inclusions from the likes of Domhnall Gleeson and Kristen Wiig seeming so surreal it almost cripples the way in which you as a viewer should be embracing the movie, particularly in regard to its’ ever-wandering tone. If you head to in to a screening of mother! wanting a jump-scare ridden horror, you are bound to leave extremely disappointed, and whilst there is undoubtedly elements of genre-literate exploitation aplenty, with the film evoking everything from the likes of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in terms of its’ hateful depiction of the human existence to the social commentary extremity evident within Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, Aronofsky’s latest is not a film to be enjoyed, instead it is the type of movie you digest, mull over and decide to what to make of it after three glasses of whisky and a trip to a puppy farm to combat the oppressive shock your mind is layered in after exiting the auditorium. mother! gave me nightmares, and not many films manage to bury that deep within the confines of my psyche but it goes to show how much of an astonishing, messed-up cinematic achievement Aronofsky has managed to create in a cinematic environment when risks are so rarely eaten up.