“Love Brought You Here. If You Trusted Love This Far, Trust It All The Way…”
With Moonlight undoubtedly one of the most impressive standalone movies, let alone directorial debuts, in recent memory, the Academy Award winning, Barry Jenkins, returns for his second outing in the form of If Beale Street Could Talk, a cinematic adaptation of the novel of the same name by American writer, James Baldwin, which sees the American fuse his stylish directorial and film-making style amidst a screenplay which follows the loving, complicated and wildly rocky relationship between KiKi Layne’s Tish and Stephan James’ (Selma) Fonny. With Moonlight understandably, and somewhat infamously, taking home the biggest award at its’ respective Oscar’s ceremony back in 2017, even when “first-time” winner La La Land was my own personal choice for the nod, the success of one of the most independant and little seen Best Picture winners rightly placed Jenkins at the forefront of critics’ minds who were dying to see whether his ability in the world of cinema just happened to be a one-time fluke. Therefore, whilst there is no denying that at the heart of Beale Street is a clear directorial focus and cinematic design, with it seeming comfortable and relatively safe to say that Jenkins has already managed to place himself into the mind of an auteur, the American’s difficult second album not only fails to live up to the high expectations, but somehow also manages to be a film which shockingly forgets the fundamental rule of cinema 101; telling a good story.
With a central narrative which twists and turns its way throughout a strange decision which sees Jenkins attempt to tell the story in a non-linear fashion, the crux of the drama focuses on Tish and Fonny’s attempts at not only dealing with the unexpected arrival of a child, but the latter’s sudden and wrongful arrest after he is remanded in prison for the supposed rape of a downtown female. Whilst I can admit to not exactly immediately sympathising with character’s from a completely background to my own, the hard truth is that Moonlight also featured characters who shared very little life experiences with myself, yet due to the superb acting and script, I was still able to feel every emotion and ride along with the drama until the very end. In the case of Beale Street, the fact that I had absolutely zero investment in the central relationship is undeniably a key factor in the cold, almost empty emotional resonance the film evokes, with neither Tish nor Fonny managing to be as memorable as either Juan or Chiron from Moonlight, and therefore resulting in a dramatic experience which just feels rather underwhelming and stale. Whilst comparisons to Moonlight should only be made in passing, Beale Street does benefit from Jenkins’ now trademark style, with floating, wide-angle camera shots and hazy, jazz infused cinematography really quite superb, but with too many pointless uses of the format, including a quite baffling one minute plus shot of a clay pot in which nothing happens, Beale Street ultimately fails to build on the excellence of Moonlight and come the end of it, actually became quite irritating to watch as it failed to justify a staggeringly ill-judged two hour runtime. Just for the record, at least Regina King was good.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Almost Every Single Person Has Told Me They Like The Way I Sounded But Not The Way I Look…”
Synchronising spectacularly with the transformation of cinema across both the twentieth and twenty first century, A Star Is Born, the fourth adaptation of the well versed tale first brought to the screen by William A. Wellman in 1937, sees Bradley Cooper both star and take the director’s seat for the very first time for a contemporary adaptation of the source material which follows Cooper’s (Silver Linings Playbook) alcohol and drug dependant rock and roll star, Jackson Maine, and his discovery of Lady Gaga’s (American Horror Story) equally talented Ally, a live-at-home dreamer whose musical career consists of drag bar shows and refusals from music executives who see her solely from the surface without understanding her true potential. Whilst one familial generation may fondly remember the 1976 version of A Star Is Born starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, another generation may go even further and recall the 1954 remake starring the one and only Judy Garland, and whilst it can be easy to dismiss remakes of classic Hollywood pictures before they even arrive onto the big screen, the fact remains that when done right, contemporary adaptations can explore fresh new ideas and offer the chance for younger audiences to experience a tale that they may have never witnessed before.
In the case of Cooper’s vision of A Star Is Born, the American’s directorial debut is a modern musical masterpiece, a deeply emotional and thoroughly engaging piece of cinema which revels in the passion of the film’s central relationship between a desperate, troubled musical star and the doe-eyed freshness of another who swiftly begins her journey into fame and fortune under the watchful eye of her mentor and lover who soon realises she may just outpace his own success with relative ease. With the first quarter of the movie primarily focusing on Cooper’s Jackson, his constant alcohol abuse and apparent mental health issues caused by a fractured family upbringing results in laboured live performances and the constant need and support from his older brother and father figure, Bobby Maine, as played by the ever magnanimous Sam Elliott (The Big Lebowski). As soon as Jackson drunkenly stumbles across the enviable talents of Gaga’s Ally however, the narrative becomes obsessed with portraying the most believable and stunningly acted on-screen romance since Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land, and with Cooper managing to brilliantly balance directing with acting duties, A Star Is Born is the American’s finest on-screen role to date, a performance riddled with inner turmoil and self-loathing which is perfectly balanced by the equally stellar Gaga, who although is not exactly new to the world of acting, with credits most famously on the likes of American Horror Story, gives it her absolute all to a character in which she obviously relates to on a human level, resulting in a performance which is expressed on-screen in, let’s face it, award winning pedigree.
Blending raw, hotly charged emotion with brilliant realism, Cooper’s movie isn’t just happy with portraying the central couple alone, with deep thematic contemplations on the effect of mental health and substance abuse threatening to suffocate both Jackson and Ally as the latter attempts to build her own career out of Jackson’s spotlight, and with a superb level of pacing which lets the characterisation flow and expand freely, Cooper’s understanding of when and where to guide the narrative’s path is truly remarkable for a debutante director. Add into the mix a simply wondrous and immediately catchy soundtrack, with each track seemingly performed fully from the depths of our stars’ heart and soul, the music is enhanced by the insistence from the cast that the tracks be performed live, and with the added brilliance of cinematography from frequent Darren Aronofsky collaborator, Matthew Libatique, the audience becomes transfixed on both the audio and visual splendour as we follow our leading duo travel across the world, from America to the immediately recognisable flag-filled horizon of the Glastonbury crowd, with each performance bearing the same riveting energy which made Straight Outta Compton so gloriously entertaining. With a sombre, heartbreaking conclusion which will result in even the toughest audience member reaching for the nearest pile of tissues, A Star Is Born is everything a remake should be, fresh, invigorating and contemporary, and whilst award buzz is inevitable for everyone involved, Oscar’s are only the start to appreciating how good A Star Is Born really is. Cooper, you’ve done good.
Overall Score: 10/10
“There Is A Hokkien Phrase ‘Kaki Lang’. It Means: Our Own Kind Of People, And You’re Not Our Own Kind…”
Based upon the 2013 novel of the same name by Singaporean–American writer, Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians takes the familiar tale and narrative path of romantic comedies from the past and places it slap bang in the middle of Southeast Asia as we follow Constance Wu’s (Torchwood) Rachel Chu, a successful professor of economics at New York University who travels with her secretive boyfriend, Henry Golding’s (A Simple Favour) Nick Young, to Singapore in order to finally meet his family and friends. Directed by Jon M. Chu, a filmmaker whose previous credits haven’t exactly been rewarded with critical admiration thanks to the likes of Now You See Me 2 and, shiver incoming, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Crazy Rich Asians manages to be the director’s first outstanding success, with his latest release a frothy, uplifting and thoroughly enjoyable rom-com which manages to balance a catalogue of underlying themes and ideas whilst offering stellar development of its’ many leading and supporting characters who each come across identifiable and wholly individual, and whilst at times the narrative may feel overly familiar and cliched, the sheer sense of wonder the movie emits showers over its’ creases with expert levels of delight.
Whilst the big and most important headline regarding the film’s release is the fact that Chu’s latest is shockingly the first film since the 1993 drama, The Joy Luck Club, to simultaneously feature a predominantly Asian cast and be financed, backed and released by a major Hollywood studio, Crazy Rich Asians is much more than just a kick-starter for filmic equality, with committed performances, laugh-out loud levels of comedy and a warm beating heart at its’ core all congealing around a central duo of lovers whose chemistry is so convincing, the fact the film only ever has one outcome doesn’t matter whatsoever and only serves to improve the good-hearted nature of the tale. With comments on the global class system and the potential cost of being an outsider, the film’s screenplay takes the appeal up a level from just being yet another bog-standard romance re-hash, and with pain-staking levels of detail and admiration for the movie’s location setting, the eye-watering levels of excess, ranging from deluxe style houses to ridiculous bachelor parties, never feels annoying or sickening, with the depiction of the culture’s food in particular guaranteed to make the stomach rumble. Leaving all audiences undoubtedly with a spring in their step and a tear in their eye, Crazy Rich Asians is a traditional love story which manages to feel both fresh and fantastical without ever feeling to need to be manipulative in order to win over its’ audience. Superb entertainment.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Sailed Halfway Around The World To Find You…”
With Icelandic filmmaker, Baltasar Kormákur, having a recent cinematic back catalogue which can arguably be regarded as somewhat patchy, the 2 Guns and Everest director returns this week with Adrift, a romantic survival drama based on the true story of reckless adventurers, Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp, as they venture into the Pacific Ocean in order to sail a luxury sail boat from Tahiti to San Diego and end up coming face to face with a destructive and dangerous hurricane. Based on Tami Oldham’s own memoir “Red Sky in Mourning”, co-written with Susea McGearhart and published in 1998, Kormákur’s latest follows a familiar “lost-at-sea” narrative as it attempts to juggle the central relationship between Oldham and Sharp, played on-screen by Shailene Woodley (Snowden) and Sam Claflin (My Cousin Rachel) respectively, with a hard-edged tale of survival, and whilst the performances of the central duo are pleasantly believable and committed, particularly Woodley who gives her best on-screen performance since Snowden, Adrift is annoyingly a middling, overly mediocre affair which features zero sense of peril and an overriding sense that we have been here many, many times before.
With a time-jumping narrative which continually switches between the past and the present, the historical scenes sees the core relationship between Sharp and Oldham begin to blossom in the most cringey, overly saccharin way possible, with even Oldham’s character in one scene apologising for being too “cheesy”, but even with a screenplay which feels very much the typeface template for approaching on-screen Hollywood depictions of love, it’s to the leading duo’s credit that you still successfully believe in the pair as a genuine couple hunger for exploration and excitement on the rough seas. Cue the scenes of the present and it is here where Adrift ultimately and strangely becomes ever-so cliched, with the movie somewhat sitting between the all-out physicality of All is Lost and the ripe sentimentality of Titanic, but all-the-while feeling incredibly boring and wholly un-engaging even when Woodley gives it her all, peanut butter covered fingers and all. With a concluding twist which not only feels convoluted, cheap and utterly ridiculous, such a black hole of jarring inconsistency raises questions about whether the majority of the film was ultimately needed, but with a resounding sense that both Claflin and Woodley somewhat save the day, Adrift sort of gets past the finish line, albeit struggling and hanging on for dear life.
Overall Score: 5/10
“I’d Like Very Much To Write About You. Your Society…”
Winning the award for most convoluted title of the year so far, Four Weddings and a Funeral director, Mike Newell, returns with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a big screen adaptation of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ 2008 novel of the same name which sees Lily James’ (Cinderella) awfully well-spoken but deliriously likeable Julie Ashton, a well-to-do and moderately successful English writer, venture over to post-war Guernsey in order to embed herself into the titular organisation as research for her next literary project. With a cinematic sensibility which reeks of similarity when it comes to moderately successful contemporary Second World War dramas including Their Finest and Churchill, Newell’s latest is a ridiculously twee and wickedly harmless romantic drama which revels in its’ overt Britishness and an unbelievably predictable and paint-by-numbers screenplay, one which seems to be primarily designed to please audiences admiring the film with a slice of cake and cup of Earl Grey on a light and breezy Sunday afternoon.
With an opening twenty minutes which introduces James’ Ashton, the audience is made privy to her recent literary successes and close separate relationships of professional and personal boundaries with both the attentive, publisher figure of Matthew Goode’s (Stoker) Sidney and the charming American soldier, Mark Reynolds, as played by Everybody Wants Some!! highlight, Glen Powell. After receiving a letter from Michiel Huisman’s (Game of Thrones) farmer type, Dawsey Adams, under the umbrella of the titular gang of Guernsey residents however, Ashton swaps war torn central London to the rural heart of post occupied Guernsey where she attempts to unravel the mystery of Jessica Brown Findlay’s (Black Mirror) missing society founder, Elizabeth McKenna whilst slowly falling for the rough and rugged winner of most attractive cinematic farmer ever in the form of Huisman’s Adams. With a supporting band of merry well versed actors including Penelope Wilton (Doctor Who) and Tom Courtenay (45 Years), Newell’s movie never alleviates from being anything other than perfectly fine, and whilst at times the predictability weakens the film’s final product, the film forever linked with one of the worst titles ever just about ticks over.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I’m Done Living In A World Where I Don’t Get To Be Who I Am…”
With Barry Jenkins’ outstanding big-screen debut, Moonlight, breaking fresh cinematic ground last year by being the first Best Picture winner at the Academy Awards to not only feature an all-black cast, but to have a LGBT centred narrative at the heart of it too, it seems almost incredibly quaint to finally be seeing a strong wave of widely different styled movies which focus on expanding the boundaries of romance within contemporary mainstream cinema as we know it, somewhat making up for the infamous misstep of handing Crash the Best Picture gong back in 2006 when pretty much everyone assumed it was heading in Brokeback Mountain’s direction. Adapted from Becky Albertalli’s 2015 novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda”, Love, Simon, directed by DC’s Arrowverse writing and producing stalwart, Greg Berlanti, follows in the footsteps of Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name by being yet another success story with a predominant LGBT storyline, one which sees Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) as Simon Spier, a repressed gay teenager who attempts to come to terms with the world’s reaction to his possible social revelation whilst seeking out the identity of the mysterious “Blue”, an online pen-pal who has used the luxury of the internet to express his sexuality and whom Simon slowly begins to fall for.
With a warm, chocolate sweet high-school sensibility which takes heed of classic coming of age movies such as the entire John Hughes back catalogue and the more modern examples such as Easy A and The Edge of Seventeen, Berlanti’s movie focuses heavy on the core relationship between Spier and his close-knit group of friends, with the screenplay allowing each character to have enough breathing space to be both convincing and engaging, even when it seems the parent figures of both Josh Duhamel (Transformers) and Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club) are seemingly left aside to pick up the crumbs in both metaphoric and literal terms come the end of the movie. With smart, crackling teenage quips and a steady handed tone which doesn’t dwell on the the nature of it’s romance in a sickly sweet saccharin fashion, Love, Simon instead works on the simplicity of its’ storytelling and the dedicated performance of its’ cast, particularly that of the impressive Robinson who manages to convey a rainbow of conflicting emotions with staggering ease, and even when the movie comes full circle and does end with a slight tinge of predictability and Disney-fulled cheesiness, Berlanti’s movie will leave you pleasantly surprised and see you departing the auditorium with a Joker-wide smile.
Overall Score: 7/10
“He’s Happy To See Me. Every Time. Everyday Now, I Can Either Save Him Or Let Him Die…”
With 2015’s Crimson Peak in retrospect coming over as somewhat of a major disappointment, Spanish director, Guillermo del Toro, returns this week with the Academy Award nominated, The Shape of Water, a fantastical romantic drama featuring the likes of Sally Hawkins (Paddington 2), Michael Shannon (12 Strong), and long term del Toro collaborator, Doug Jones (Hellboy) on staggering form and a release which poses as the director’s best work since the masterful Pan’s Labyrinth back in 2006. Built around a somewhat overly simplistic narrative with heavy influences of B-Movie cinema and underlying themes of Cold War paranoia, The Shape of Water, in fairy-tale like fashion, explores the radiant relationship between the charming mute figure of Sally Hawkins’ Elisa Esposito and Doug Jones’ remarkable, amphibian human hybrid who is captured by the US Government and kept in solitude at a high-security research facility under the watchful eye of Michael Shannon’s vulgar Colonel Richard Strickland. With a blend of romance, fantasy and at times, exploitation violence, The Shape of Water is a stereotypical del Toro release through and through and with flashes of remarkable brilliance and a Sally Hawkins on fine, fine form, the Spanish director’s latest is unlike anything you’ll see throughout the remainder of this calendar year.
With a loving sense of cinematic tradition and a wild, twisting tornado sensibility which navigates the movie through a wide range of differing genres, The Shape of Water is a beautifully old-fashioned work of film, one with a larger than life digital print clouded with dark colours of emerald green and cold war inspired muskiness, and a film which utilises the widescreen format to staggering degree, resulting in the film, as a work of pure spectacle, simply gorgeous to breathe in and admire for its’ detailing and slimy creature feature makeup and effects. Although The Shape of Water may not be as rewarding as del Toro’s previous endeavours as an overall body of work, the feature is one which instead arguably boasts his most humanist cinematic venture to date, with the leading relationship between human and inhuman marvellously envisioned thanks to character building set pieces which are as eye-wateringly romantic as they are naturally subversive in nature and with the film’s leading character having to rely on the usage of sign language due to her incapability to convey her emotions through speech, Sally Hawkins is truly spectacular, a performance both powerful and understated in equal measure and one which may indeed tip the boat for upcoming Oscar success. Whilst the movie’s quest for award supremacy in each of its’ respective nominated categories is admirable and actually quite brave considering the fundamental strangeness of the tale at the heart of it, the most obvious case would be for The Shape of Water being the movie which hands del Toro his long-awaited directing Oscar after being wrongly acquitted of it back in 2006, and whilst when up against the likes of Dunkirk and Phantom Thread the film does seem lesser in its’ successes in comparison, del Toro’s latest is still a wonderful and endlessly romantic drama of monstrous creativity which demands to be admired on the biggest screen possible.
Overall Score: 8/10
“No One’s Ever Believed It’s Possible To Live As You Do…”
Whilst Andy Serkis is the type of Hollywood star who can rarely do wrong in my own humble and completely correct opinion, his directorial debut in the form of Breathe puts aside the man we have come to know and love as Gollum, Caesar and that one armed chap from the MCU with a movie which is as far away from mystical beings and superhuman heroes as one could possibly get, with Serkis’ debut focusing on the true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish and their lifelong battle with the former’s fight with permanent paralysis after being stricken with polio. Whilst the film features a likeable leading duo in the form of Andrew Garfield and The Crown star, Claire Foy, Breathe is unfortunately a hard task of a movie, one which takes both too long to begin and an eternity to end in the space of a two hour runtime which utilises a narrative which really doesn’t have enough to say at all in order to keep its’ audience entertained throughout, and whilst there is real heart at the centre of the film’s production, Serkis’s movie is the type of movie which more often begins to grind the mind rather than warming the heart.
With an opening title which not only sets the pacing for the movie but evoked the workings of classic movies in a similar ilk to Sofia Coppola’s beautifully crafted title card in The Beguiled earlier this year, Breathe begins by handing the audience the movie’s leading relationship pretty quickly but without any real meaningful sense of substance, a decision which becomes much stranger as the film heads into a final act which easily could have been condensed into losing at least twenty minutes, twenty minutes which instead could have been spent on an opening act which focused more on the development of the meeting between Robin and Diana rather than just passing it off and expecting the audience to generate empathy from out of completely nowhere. Because of this decision, the opening act ultimately feels rushed whilst the concluding act features more endings than The Return of the King, and whilst I can enjoy saccharin sweetness when done effectively, Breathe is the type of movie which feels it necessary to flog the sympathy doll as much as possible without any of it really working. Sorry Mr. Serkis, we’re off to a rocky start.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Can You Imagine A World In Which We End Up Together…?”
Of the many cinematic releases within the Judd Apatow staple, there really isn’t many which I could regard as down and out, truly effective comedies, due in part to my tin-eared response to most examples of American-laden comedies, including the likes of Anchorman and Trainwreck, films which may have garnered an array of positive responses from many on release, but to me, just didn’t work on any level from which I can regard as comedic gold. With the release of The Big Sick however, a loose adaptation of the true-life events of leading star Kumail Nanjiani and co-writer Emily V. Gordon, such a film delightfully breaks the mould of mediocrity, taking a humane and totally believable leading narrative and having the extra boost of a perfectly formed cast to reinforce it and create a consistently funny drama which ranks up there with the best comedy films to be released in recent memory, whilst simultaneously proving that with a decent script and filmmakers who understand the effect of comedic timing, not all American comedies can be utter trash.
Although The Big Sick adheres to the boy-meets-girl formula of practically every romantic comedy since the dawn of time, the added depths given to the relationship between leading couple Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan, with the former’s religious traditions and the latter’s narrative hanging medical issues the stand-out elements of the story, forms a charming bond between the two in which the audience only wants to see flourish and prosper come the end of the drama, and with added support from the likes of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, the movie manages to succeed on all fronts as both a romantic drama and a rib-tingling comedy. At the core of the real reason on why the movie really works, is the dedication to the believability of the players involved and each of their separate trials and tribulations, and whilst recent supposed comedies such as Snatched and The House believe comedy is warranted through vulgarity and petulant, adolescent nonsense, thank the baby Jesus for a movie like The Big Sick, a overtly impressive comedy which undoubtedly belongs up there with the best comedies to travel overseas in flippin’ years.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Everyone Wants Me To Change And Now You Too…”
Aided by a successful long-term collaboration with Woody Allen and a recurring starring role within Coppola’s Godfather trilogy, Diane Keaton remains one of the most iconic actresses to cross the barrier between the 20th and 21st century, and whilst the spotlight hasn’t entirely shone on the Californian star within recent years, Hampstead offers the opportunity for Keaton to show whether or not she still has the acting pedigree she once had when working back in the day alongside a rafter of incredibly talented and inspirational filmmakers. In the opposite chair, the contemporary icon of Ireland which is Brendan Gleeson graces the big screen once again with perhaps the most impressive beard he has grown to date, portraying a character within a narrative which bases itself upon the life of Harry Hallowes, a rough sleeping Londoner who after a rafter of legal battles managed to become the owner of land worth a breezy couple of million. Directed by Joel Hopkins, Hampstead is a remarkably safe, nuts and bolts romantic drama, one which although brought me within an inch of falling into a sleep induced coma, when up against the likes of Transformers this week, is really quite harmless.
Whilst Keaton is a shadow of her former acting self, taking a plain sailing approach to a character who chops and changes her decision making whenever the narrative direction tells her to do so, Gleeson is as charming and watchable as ever, using his gruff, edgy demeanour to some form of effect, even if the character development doesn’t really offer him or the audience up much more than an on-the-face-of-it kind of approach. Aside from the film’s two leading stars, Hampstead suffers rather woefully from an excruciating array of secondary characters, with Jason Watkins and Lesley Manville being the leading lights of utter tedium, with the former’s eerie, pestering nature being a complete hindrance on any sort of likeability whilst the latter suffering from what can only be regarded as being the type of toffee-nosed, greenhouse loving, cat hating, right-wing bastard which I tend to completely disagree with from the outset. Aside from such matters, Hampstead is similar to the likes of the Moody Blues or say the last remaining rich tea in the biscuit tin, with it not really causing much damage at all but not likely to spring to the forefront of many people’s minds at any time soon.