“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.
Overall Score: 4/10
“No Rules, No Punishments And No More Secrets…”
As proven by the release of Park Chan-Wook’s marvellous mystery thriller The Handmaiden and the return of Paul Verhoeven with Elle, the genre of erotica within contemporary cinema is still well and truly kicking, with each of these respective releases using elements of romance and explicit sexual imagery to a degree which is both interesting and original but more importantly used to a degree which makes sense within the overall narrative of the movie. In the case of the first Fifty Shades movie only two years previous, the fundamental issue was that not only the script unbelievably cliched and cringey, it was also so agonisingly dull, with the infamous tales of sexual naughtiness which was rife within the E. L. James novels not exactly transposing onto the big screen and coming off as something worth the time. Inevitably, with the ridiculous amount of money in which Fifty Shades of Grey managed to take, a sequel was never in doubt, but with a director as noteworthy as Glengarry Glen Ross director James Foley in charge, could Fifty Shades Darker be a sequel which surpasses its’ awfully defunct predecessor?
In a sentence; not really, with Fifty Shades Darker annoyingly continuing the utter dullness and dreariness which encompassed the original, whilst its’ snigger-inducing narrative and awful dialogue proves to its’ respective audiences that nothing at all was learnt from the criticism of first film except for going along with the notion that the cheap, uninteresting sex scenes are obviously only there as the true appeal of a movie which attempts to hammer in some sort of story around it in order for it to be considered something resembling a film. As for the movie’s other issues, the drama within the story is entirely anti-climactic, the romance is wooden and ridiculously unbelievable and with a supporting cast which includes Rita Ora and a cheque-swiping Kim Basinger, Fifty Shades Darker really doesn’t have much going for it except for arguably a much better leading performance from Jamie Dornan whose portrayal of the highly intense and weirdly paranoid billionaire playboy is at least not entirely woeful in the grander scheme of things. With one more Shades film in the pipeline, the time can not come soon enough to end the raspberry jam of erotica once and for all.
Overall Score: 3/10
“You’re An Exception. The Rules Don’t Apply To You…”
Whilst Warren Beatty might be best known in contemporary media circles as being lead conspirator in the Best Picture fiasco at this year’s Academy Award’s ceremony, a recent high-profile cock-up more commonly known as “La La-Gate”, the attention comes in a somewhat suspiciously well timed manner considering the release of Rules Don’t Apply this week, a picture directed, produced, written by and of course, starring the cinematic legend, who takes the leading mantle as infamous businessman Howard Hughes within the setting of 1950’s Hollywood, supported by a simply enormous cast featuring the likes of Hail! Caesar star Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin and the always superb, Ed Harris. With a cast as vast as this, Rules Don’t Apply is the type of movie you would think on the surface is one which everyone in the current cinematic world seemed to aching to be involved in, particularly with the reputation of Beatty at the helm, yet the finished picture is one of entirely mixed fortunes, one which suffers from a non-existent narrative and some misjudged moments of self-indulgence amidst some basic film-making errors which makes you wonder whether the real Warren Beatty should most definitely stand up.
Of the good things within Rules Don’t Apply, the leading trio of Beatty, Ehrenreich and Collins each give respectable performances amidst a screenplay which doesn’t really offer much chance to break new ground, with Beatty really hitting the zany mark in his depiction of Howard Hughes, taking cues from DiCaprio in The Aviator when needed but strictly focusing on the wilder side of the infamous billionaire, whilst Ehrenreich continues to impress every time I see him perform on screen, gearing him up for inevitable higher levels of stardom come next year’s Han Solo spin-off release. Star of the picture however is Lily Collins as the doe-eyed and wondrous Marla Mabrey, the keen and confident Virginian rookie who although is trying sometime in terms of awkward character quips and decision making, is a real find and completely holds her own against the likes of Beatty in a leading role. As for the not-so good elements of the film, Beatty treats the film as a personal blueprint for himself to engage in exceptional levels of excess, an understandable element when considering the character in which he is portraying, yet the sight of an aged Hollywood legend feeling up an intoxicated young star really didn’t sit well on a personal level whilst some fundamental film-making traits are completely disregarded, with endless questionable edits and narrative trails which simply go nowhere. resulting in a movie which ultimately is a complete drag to sit through and when you consider the talent at hand behind it, Rules Don’t Apply can only be regarded as a monumental disappointment.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Think Of The One Thing That You’ve Always Wanted. See It In Your Mind’s Eye And Feel It In Your Heart…”
As per the norm of a well-spent 1990’s childhood, Disney movies were indeed the go-to method of escapism for a younger version of myself in which films like The Lion King and Fantasia were at the forefront of what was all and sacred in the world at that specific moment in time, and whilst the original 1991 animated Disney classic adaptation of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s famous fairy tale wasn’t exactly the top of my list of favourite animations as a young child, Beauty and the Beast has always been arguably one of the most iconic Disney movies to have ever been released, due mainly to the even more iconic soundtrack which even to this day is immediately quotable and enviously recognisable. Following on from the one-two success of both 2015’s Cinderella and Jon Favreau’s adaptation of The Jungle Book, this year’s Disney remake is indeed the famous tale of beauty and beast, this time portrayed by Emma Watson and Legion’s Dan Stevens respectively whilst being helmed by director Bill Condon whose previous directorial credits include the good, (Mr. Holmes) the bad, (Candyman 2) and the ugly (Twilight: Breaking Dawn), and whilst this latest version of the classic tale shines brightly in a wide range of different areas, the lack of originality and complete absence of threat reduce it to a movie which is solid but not exactly spectacular.
Whilst last year’s The Jungle Book was a movie which although was aware of the classic songs which encompassed the original Disney classic animation, it too was a film which instead of just rehashing them into a live-action scenario, developed and alternated them enough to both seem wholly organic yet still held a warm sense of appeal for those who loved the original so dearly. With Beauty and the Beast however, Condon’s decision to simply cordon the classic songs into his own adaptation does ultimately seem a slight cop out alongside a narrative which note-for-note follows the blueprint of the 1991 animation without ever having the nerve to swerve off-course and offer something utterly different. In the leading role of Belle, Emma Watson does ultimately seem the correct choice for the part, with her innocent and natural beaming sense of joy the epitome of a Disney princess’s genetic makeup yet the real fun of the movie is to be had with Luke Evan’s Gaston, the egotistic and arrogant killer who makes it his life’s duty to take Belle’s hand in marriage. Whilst the cast is impressive and the effects are magical in places, this adaptation of the famous tale is indeed beaming with beauty but ultimately lacking in substantial bite.