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Film Review: The Goldfinch

“When I Lost Her, I Lost Sight Of Any Landmark That Might Have Led Me Someplace Happier…”

Around twenty minutes into The Goldfinch, Jeffrey Wright’s overly mawkish and completely unbelievable side character says something along the lines of “it’s a reconstruction, and not a very good one,” and if ever there was a key segment of dialogue to accurately summarise a movie as whole, that one is pretty much bang on the money in the case of The Goldfinch. Directed by John Crowley, whose previous work in the form of the absolutely superb Brooklyn confirms he is a filmmaker who understands when a film is undoubtedly working or not, The Goldfinch is a bloated, overlong and thoroughly unengaging adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning 2013 novel of the same name by American author, Donna Tartt, a two and a half hour marathon of a movie which sacrifices an interesting narrative for dull, hateful characters and a sanctimonious, chin-wagging sensibility which assumes all audience members are the type of people who could spend all day finding interest in the texture of a painted wall instead of having, you know, a bit of fun.

Told in a narrative structure akin to that of an over-exuberant art spinner, Crowley’s movie predominantly focuses on the life of Theodore “Theo” Decker, whose witnessing of a museum bombing and the subsequent death of his angelic-esque mother results in him stealing the titular famous painting from within the rubble of the attack and then spending the majority of his young life moaning about past life choices and feeling up furniture in order to impress the love of his life. With the younger form of Decker being portrayed by Oakes Fegley of Pete’s Dragon fame, the first eighty minutes or so sees Decker move from family to family and location to location without any real sense of dramatic point, with the plot strangely content with introducing boring character after boring character, each of whom feel the need to talk about some of the most face-palming waffle I have ever had the displeasure of hearing within the confines of a cinema without any purpose whatsoever. With the elder side of Decker being handled by Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver), the movie then concludes with a pondering, self-absorbed level of crass melodrama which makes Hollyoaks look like a masterpiece in understatement, and even with the likes of Radiohead on the soundtrack not once, but twice, The Goldfinch is the type of holier than thou cinematic garbage which made me want to leave five minutes in, but like the good old fashioned cinephile I am, I withstood the wave and took comfort in the safe knowledge that nothing this year can be as skull-crushingly dull as Crowley’s latest.

Overall Score: 2/10

Film Review: Destroyer

“You Chose To Play Cops And Robbers. And You Lost…”

Ending the year as Queen of Atlantis in Aquaman, the ever reliable Nicole Kidman begins 2019 with a completely different and polar opposite performance as the Aussie takes the lead role in Destroyer, the latest feature from American filmmaker, Karyn Kusama, whose previous credits include the recent cult favourite, Jennifer’s Body, and the all-female directed anthology horror movie, XX. Part noir crime thriller, part sanctimonious art-house reject, Kusama’s latest is a particularly odd beast, a grungy, overly depressing character study which sees Kidman as LAPD detective, Erin Bell, a worn out, angst ridden alcoholic who stumbles across the death of an unidentified criminal and soon becomes entangled in a dark underground plot which sees the resurfacing of Toby Kebbell’s (Dead Man’s Shoes) murderous gang leader whom Bell previously infiltrated undercover many years previous. With many critics focusing on the transformation of Kidman in the lead role as the standout highlight of the piece, the fact that five minutes in I began to laugh at the awfulness of the Australian’s facial stiffness probably was a strange sign of things to come, and whilst Kusama’s latest features some bold attempts at greatness, Destroyer is ultimately a downbeat, overly plodding and uninspiring drama which dreams big but can only be classed as a unforgettable failure.

Utilising two different time frames to enhance and develop the background behind Kidman’s character, the contemporary setting sees her manage to strike a odd balance between an extra off The Walking Dead and Johnny Depp’s performance as James Bulger in Black Mass, with a gallon of rough edge makeup, a seemingly awful visit to some Sweeney Todd-esque barber and a leather jacket the standout elements of a performance which I’m sorry to report, just seems so superficial and phoney, the story just becomes irrelevant everytime Kidman appears on screen due to her image just coming off as too damn distracting. Whilst the first half of the narrative ultimately becomes too irritating to truly be engaged with, the second time zone in which we see a younger and less painted Kidman infiltrate Kebbell’s stone free gang of dangerous misfits is undoubtedly the more interesting of the two, particularly with the added charisman of Sebastian Stan (Avengers: Infinity War) as her partner in both undercover and romantic sense, who out of everyone in the entire film, was the most pleasing and interesting to be around and arguably could have been the focus of the movie in the first place. Stan aside, Destroyer also sees one of the most obvious miscasting decisions this year in the form of Kebbell as the mousy haired ring leader, a character as threatening as the unicorn from Despicable Me, whilst attempts at building wavering familial relations with a strange subplot involving Bell’s daughter and her asshole boyfriend fails to spark at all, culminating in a concluding monologue about parental responsibility and mountain climbing which nearly sent me straight to sleep. Ending with a Shyamalan sized twist which still has me wondering whether it was genius or actually quite ridiculous, Destroyer is one of the most depressing two hours you may spend at the cinema this year but hey, if you fancy being in the company of hateful characters for two hours, Kidman’s latest may be the exact medicine for you.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: Aquaman

“My Father Was A Lighthouse Keeper. My Mother Was A Queen. But Life Has A Way Of Bringing People Together. They Made Me What I Am…”

With Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and the morbidly depressing, Justice League, all successfully topping the charts for the worst contemporary examples of the superhero genre over the course of the past couple of years, the release of Aquaman ironically ends a twelve month period in which the Marvel Cinematic Universe has undoubtedly solidified itself as the most impressive and respected comic-based franchise ever, which in the process of doing so, effectively ends any chance for their DC Comics counterpart to pull themselves out from the gaping black hole created from their woefully inadequate skills at creating a similarly interesting universe. Aside from Wonder Woman and the first half of Man of Steel, even the most optimistic of DC fanboys must admit Warner Bros in general has ultimately failed in giving the fans what they want, but with every subsequent release there is always a rare ray of hope, and with the release of Aquaman, directed by James Wan, the interesting mind behind the likes of Saw, The Conjuring and most crucially, Furious 7, the DC universe finally has a movie which knows not to take itself too seriously and embrace the notion that when people go to the cinema, they generally want to be entertained. Whilst not exactly reaching the heights of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman or even Man of Steel, Wan’s movie is a partial step in the right direction for the DC universe, an absurdly bonkers aquatic adventure with a central hero who not only is likeable but actually looks like he is having a blast, and for someone who has sat through the likes of Batman vs. Superman, what a relief it is to see the franchise move out of the morbidly depressing and into some sort of optimistic light.

Completely disregarding the overriding sensibility of the universe in which it sits by choosing to utilise a lighter, more welcoming tone which feels more in the ilk of Marvel than any release previously, Aquaman is a film which undoubtedly knows how fundamentally silly the source material truly is, and with shots of a drum playing octopus and armoured sea horses, Wan chooses to embrace the absurdity rather than fall into the trap of the Snyder-led ventures which have attempted to follow the route of Nolan when making the as of yet not bettered, The Dark Knight trilogy. With Momoa pretty much perfectly cast in a role oozing with charisma and charm, the Hawaiian’s physically imposing persona and likeable rockabilly style makes him alongside Gal Gadot, one of the more memorable leading performers in the franchise thus far, and with some interesting supporting performances from the likes of Nicole Kidman, (Lion) Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man) and long term Wan counterpart, Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring), the only real minor blimp in terms of the acting slate is Amber Heard (The Danish Girl) whose role as the central love interest is rather underdeveloped and overly two dimensional. With a storytelling technique much simpler than previous entries within the universe and some interesting action scenes when Momoa’s physicality is utilised in a practical sense, the overriding downside is undoubtedly the over-reliance on CGI which makes up a huge percentage of the film’s action, but with the film overall miles head of the worst the DCEU has come to offer, Aquaman is enjoyable enough to be sort of heading in the right direction for a franchise that still falls behind its’ Marvel equivalent by quite a fair margin.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: The Beguiled

“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

Film Review: Lion

“I Had Another Family. A Mother, A Brother. I Can Still See Their Faces…”

Arriving in the season of Oscar madness, Lion, the directorial debut from Gareth Davis, is the cinematic adaptation of Saroo Brierley’s non-fiction book, “A Long Way Home”, an autobiographical account of the extraordinary tale of the Indian-born Aussie, who after being separated from his family in Central India at a young age remarkably sets upon reuniting with his long-lost siblings after a staggering 25 years, resulting in the sort of movie you’d expect to be part of the many conversations regarding the upcoming Academy Awards, particularly regarding its’ undeniably touching screenplay. Whilst Lion boasts a fundamentally humane and uplifting narrative basis, one which inevitably results in being an effective tear-jerking tale of the power of human nature, Davis’ debut falls short of being a really excellent drama and instead settles for nothing more than being a solid adaptation of an interesting tale of one man’s journey to rekindle his lost love.

With Dev Patel in the leading role, the links between Lion and Slumdog Millionaire are entirely obvious and unfortunately expected, particularly in regards to the two films’ similar narratives, albeit one being entirely fictional and the other based upon true events. Furthermore, where Danny Boyle’s movie succeeded is where Gareth Davis’s ultimately falls flat, with the riveting and sharp feel of Slumdog being entirely absent within Lion, a film which takes way too long to actually get going and one which would have benefited from actually being at least twenty minutes shorter, particularly in its’ plodding second act where the elder Saroo attempts to locate his lost family, a particular shame when regarding the strong opening portion of the movie in which we witness the younger Saroo’s efforts of survival throughout the mass maze of Central India. With captivating performances from both Nicole Kidman and young newcomer Sunny Pawar, Lion seems to transcend an extraordinary tale from page to screen with some degree of success, yet its’ moments of prolonged tedium in certain areas of the film leave you slightly underwhelmed come the closing credits.

Overall Score: 6/10