Blade Runner 2049 (2017): A breathtakingly beautiful sci-fi sequel

Film

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Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto, Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks

Ridley Scott’s 1982 dystopian sci-fi epic Blade Runner saw Harrison Ford playing Deckard, one of the titular blade runners, who had been tasked with hunting down and killing four replicants, (extremely life-like androids), who had escaped from the colonies and were now posing a threat to human life in the city of Los Angeles. The film is filled with stark and beautiful imagery, philosophical musings on the nature of humanity and love, and is scored by a wonderful soundtrack by Vangelis.

When it emerged there was a sequel in the works, with Harrison Ford attached to star again hearts sank. Let’s face it, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was almost bad enough to turn the world off the originals, so bringing Ford back to the role of Deckard 35 years later did not seem like solid thinking. Then it was announced that Ryan Gosling was attached, an actor who has been extremely canny in his choice of roles, seemingly not having made a recent mis-step. Once Arrival and Sicario’s Denis Villeneuve was announced as director, hopes were raised once more. But would this be the thoughtful sequel the world wanted or clumsy “re-energising” and potential franchise starter?

Blade Runner 2049 continues the hunt for artificial humans, 30 years on from the original, echoing the real-life passage of time since Ridley Scott’s classic hit the big screen. Gosling plays K, a blade runner who has been charged with rounding up and dispatching the last of the old model replicants, the last of the robots with free will. To say much more about the plot could ruin the experience, as this is a near perfect piece of cinema which should be enjoyed to the full.

From the opening shot of a single ice-blue eye filling the screen, to the inclusion of a clear plastic raincoat, ‘Blade Runner 2049’ is perfectly respectful of its predecessor while taking some of its beautiful imagery to even more extraordinary places. The film is stunning, mildly disorienting and borderline surreal, quietly worming its way under your skin over the course of its 2 hour 43 minute run-time.

Roger Deakins cinematography is just sublime. Every shot in the film is near perfect. The design of costumes and make-up is among the best I’ve seen, subtle but always adding to character. The soundtrack, by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, is by turns a thundering juggernaut of mechanical crunches and shudders and then delicate piano notes, giving way to the space-age echoes of Vangelis work on the original.

Every single member of the cast is superb, with Villeneuve eliciting some career-best performances. Ford adds multiples layers to his usual curmudgeon-with-a-heart turn, embracing an unusual vulnerability. Gosling is quietly enigmatic, channelling his turn in Drive. The real stand out among the cast is Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, who manages to be both eerily serene and utterly terrifying.

Blade Runner 2049 may also be Villeneuve’s best work to date. Taking time to really linger on key scenes, to build tension, but also to allow the audience to think and take in not just the visuals but the concepts, it’s an extremely confident and uncompromising piece of cinema.

It is an absolute marvel of film-making, a thoughtful, beautiful piece of art. Profound, moving, intellectual and solid evidence that studios can make blockbusters that might also win Academy awards. Go see it big and loud and be left breathless by the spectacle.

10 out of 10

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The Limehouse Golem (2017): Gore and greasepaint in Old London Town

Film

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Director: Juan Carlos Medina 

Writers:  Peter Ackroyd (novel), Jane Goldman (screenplay)

Stars: Olivia CookeEddie Marsan, Douglas Booth , Maria ValverdeDaniel MaysBill Nighy,

Set in the gloomy East End of London, The Limehouse Golem is a gory Victorian whodunnit with a gloriously twisted difference.

Directed by Juan Carlos Medina (director of 2012 film Painless) the film is based on a 1994 novel by Peter Ackroyd, “Dan Leno and The Limehouse Golem”, a metafictional pastiche on the Victorian ‘shocker’ which interwove theatrical drama around a spate of murders, featuring real-life historical figures from Leno himself (a lauded music hall star) to the very-much-original Marxist, Karl Marx. The unusual source material has been adapted for the screen by Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service and Stardust scribe Jane Goldman, who has added additional layers to the tale shifting the action away from the famous men, and back to a female perspective.

The films starts with curtains drawing back on the stage with the words “Let us begin my friends, at the end” uttered by Dan Leno, (Douglas Booth, escaping his usual type-casting as pretty posh-boy for a wonderful outing as a cockney music hall blend of Freddie Mercury and Russell Brand) and so the tale begins to be told, shifting between flashbacks aided by voiceovers to the escalating events relating to the central storyline.

Bill Nighy plays John Kildare, a detective with a stalled career (“he’s not the marrying kind”, said with a knowing head nod) who is brought in by Scotland Yard to carry the can on the stalled investigation of a series of extremely brutal murders in the largely Jewish area of Limehouse. The murder victims have ranged from prostitutes to elderly men and children, with seemingly no pattern to the killings, other than the gruesome tableaus the murderer leaves behind.

Kildare is paired with enthusiastic native Eastender, Constable George Flood (played with some aplomb by the ever fabulous Daniel Mays), who has recently been investigating the death of a playwright, John Cree. Cree’s wife Lizzie (Olivia Cooke), herself an ex-music hall star, stands accused of her husband’s murder and will face the death penalty if found guilty. The two cases begin to interweave as Kildare finds himself fascinated by Lizzie Cree’s rags to riches tale, learning how she was abused as a child, the two outsiders become drawn together, with the detective going to desperate lengths to save her.

The Limehouse Golem is a wonderfully atmospheric, Victorian murder mystery, with a twist in the tale. Elements of Hammer horror meet scenes which wouldn’t have felt out of place in Se7en, with the odd bawdy song and dance routine thrown in for good measure. The production design is beautifully realised, with the grim and grimy back alleys of Limehouse contrasting with the grease-paint of the music hall and the splendour of Lizzie’s married life.

Olivia Cooke as Lizzie is terrific, playing on her wide-eyed innocence with some joy, drawing us in as she recounts her tale to Kildare from her prison cell.

“You don’t need saving,” Kildare tells Lizzie. “Not by me. Not by any man.” While it is the famous men whose names initially draw the detective’s eye, this is a film about women claiming centre-stage.

8 out of 10

My Cousin Rachel (2017) review: Weisz impresses in Du Maurier’s classic ‘Did she or didn’t she?’

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Director:  Roger Michell Writers:  Daphne Du Maurier (novel), Roger Michell (adaptation) Starring: Rachel WeiszSam ClaflinHolliday Grainger

Synopsis: “The story of a young Englishman, Philip (Claflin) who plots revenge against his mysterious, beautiful cousin, Rachel (Weisz), believing that she murdered his guardian. But his feelings become complicated as he finds himself falling under the beguiling spell of her charms.”

The director of Notting Hill brings us this fresh take on Daphne Du Maurier’s dark thriller My Cousin Rachel. The book had previously been brought to life in 1952, just a year after the publication of the source novel, in a lavish affair starring Richard Burton and Olivia De Havilland which, while not quite reaching the heights of fame of other Du Maurier adaptations Rebecca and Don’t Look Now, was considered a cinematic success and was nominated for 4 academy awards. To attempt another adaptation could be seen as a bold move, but Michell and team do bring a breath of fresh air to the story.

The story itself is not so much of a whodunnit, but rather a ‘did she do it?’ as we take Philip’s perspective in attempting to unravel the true story of his guardian’s death.

During the early scenes of the film we only hear about the mysterious Rachel through letters and gossip, she comes into Philip’s life not with the bang and confrontation he had been expecting, but with an understated entrance that means our first view of her is silhouetted against the moon, her back to a window. Rather than the monster we are led to expect, Rachel is quiet, funny and warm, with the household’s army of dogs following her about loyally from the moment she arrives.

As Philip’s infatuation grows, Rachel remains a mystery. She seems genuine in her affections for her departed husband Ambrose (the ‘great family resemblance’ is achieved by Claflin playing both roles) but why does she keep plying Philip with that odd herbal tea…?

Weisz plays Rachel with great skill, with Michell seeming to lead our expectations one way as a single glance leads us another. Rachel seems decidedly modern and at odds with the stifling societal expectations exhibited by all those around her. Indeed the fact that she is a woman ‘of appetites’ is whispered knowingly by several of the supporting cast. However Weisz ensures Rachel flits between being charming and likeable then cold and standoffish, just enough to keep us asking ourselves if she could really be capable of murder.

Claflin plays Philip every inch as the ‘wet-nosed- puppy’ Rachel describes him, which does become grating at times. Seeing the world through Philip’s eyes is a somewhat disarming and claustrophobic experience, with the view sometimes becoming as blank and shallow as he seems.

Philip’s lack of experience with women is referenced several times, and indeed the view of Rachel we are given is one buried beneath his own misunderstanding and confusion, alongside a burning attraction and fascination. The whole film could be seen as a giant metaphor for modern cinema, as we struggle along with an old-fashioned male gaze trying to depict highly complex modern womanhood.

While the longing glances and candlelit encounters increase, the orchestral score swells, keeping true to the genre. Other melodramatic tropes abound, from the waves crashing on the shore to the string of pearls breaking and scattering down the stairs.

The film may seem a little slow for some tastes, but the many threads of the story are drawn together in a deft web for the final act. Audiences have been discussing their view of Rachel for over 50 years, and this won’t change that, but ultimately My Cousin Rachel is a well-made period melodrama with an interesting modern twist.

7 out of 10

 

 

 

Free Fire (2017) review: A distinctly British twist on an American classic

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Director: Ben Wheatley  Writers: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley Starring: Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay and more…

“An arms deal goes spectacularly and explosively wrong. Justine (Brie Larson) has brokered a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two Irishmen and a gang led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer), who are selling them a stash of guns. But when shots are fired during the handover, complete pandemonium ensues, with everyone at the scene suddenly thrust into a heart-stopping game of survival.”

If you were pitching to a studio executive you could describe Free Fire as being an action-packed homage to the 1970’s gritty crime B-movies so beloved of Quentin Tarantino.  Sold in another way you could describe it as a talky, theatrical set piece all housed in one warehouse in Boston. In another way you could well describe Free Fire as 90 minutes of 10 (Ok, shhh…12) great actors crawling around the floor, firing guns indiscriminately at one another. All are true, but all under-sell it as a film, as it’s certainly more than the sum of it’s parts.

Wheatley and Jump’s witty script takes in a range of styles from a pastiche of the aforementioned gritty 70’s crime flick like the two choices presented by Vernon to Ord:

Vernon: We’ve got two choices. One, you distract them and I leave.
Ord: What?
Vernon: Two, you kill all of these motherfuckers and I leave.

To those which could have been plucked from a distinctly pre-PC 70’s sitcom:

Vernon:You’re a bird, they’re not going to shoot a bird!”

The costumes, hair and make-up are all fantastic, capturing the glamour of the late 70’s while perfectly encapsulating each character.

Somehow, in spite of the witty dialogue (which more than passes the Kermodian 6 laugh test), great costumes and a plot familiar to more glossy films, Free Fire feels wonderfully ordinary. I mean that in the best possible way. The film seems to outline exactly what would happen if 10 (*cough* 12) real people with guns, grudges and quick tempers found themselves in a shoot-out. Shots ring out randomly, people get shot in the leg, bullets graze shoulder-pads. This is not neat, Hollywood violence (a nice aside about the ‘real’ Hollywood being in Ireland is made early on). This is bullets accidentally ricocheting off the walls and hitting your mate in the butt. This is you cowering behind a concrete pillar hoping everyone will just walk away.

Even the direction and choreography of the violence lends itself to this feeling of chaos and normality. None of the usual action director tricks are pulled out of the bag, with bullets flying in all directions, the camera crossing the line wildly, dragging the audience in to the character’s point of view.

Free Fire somehow manages to brilliantly balance drama, comedy and tension, with huge laughs almost immediately interrupted by a wince and your hands involuntarily flying in front of your face.

Sharlto Copley’s comic turn as the ostentatiously-coiffed and 70’s Savile Row-suited Vernon is a joy to behold, as is Armie Hammer as the charismatic and handsome stoner who just doesn’t really seem to be bothered about the whole affair. Cillian Murphy and Brie Larson’s more straight laced roles are also worthy of note as both give great performances which hold up against the big comedy guns.

Being Ben Wheatley there is of course somewhat of a twist in this cinematic tale…

Free Fire feels like a modern classic, somehow managing to breathe new life into what was a tired cinematic trope.

9 out of 10

 

 

 

Tale of Tales (2015) review: a brutal carnival of the grotesque and magical

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Director: Matteo Garrone Writers: Giambattista Basile (book), Edoardo Albinati (screenplay) Stars: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones

In ‘Tale of Tales’ Matteo Garrone takes the basis of three Italian folk tales – originally collected in the 15th century by Giambattista Basile (who also made the first known records of the tales of Rapunzel and Cinderella) – and weaves them into a sumptuous and magical portmanteau film.

In the first tale we see Salma Hayek as Queen of Longtrellis, with John C. Reilly as her heroic King, being told they will be able to have their long-yearned-for child if he can only defeat a sea monster, and she can then devour it’s heart having had it cooked by a virgin. Bizarre, I know. The second tale sees Vincent Cassell as the lothario King of Strongcliff, who is banging his way around the kingdom, exhausting himself and the ladies he leaves strewn in his wake. One day he hears the beautiful voice of a woman he has never heard before, and finds himself accidentally wooing two elderly sisters. Toby Jones leads the third tale, as he finds his Kingly affections swayed not by women, but an altogether very different kind of creature, leading him to make a decision which leaves his daughter Violet (Bebe Cave) in mortal peril.

‘Tale of Tales’ is a very grown-up fairy tale of sorts, with sex and violence galore, and some pretty adult themes to boot. Part ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, part ‘The Princess Bride’, it comes as no surprise to learn that the cinematographer is Peter Suschitzky, who has a long history working with David Lynch on films such as ‘Naked Lunch’ and ‘eXistenZ’, and consequently is well-versed in capturing gruesome beasties and body horror to maximum effect.

The performances are all excellent, but they are often eclipsed by the incredible costumes, sets and make-up, which really make the film stand out from its more saccharine counterparts. The practical effects in particular are stunning, with several impressive and terrifying creatures being bought to life not through CGI but through good old silicon and ingenuity. The aged make-up on Hayley Carmichael and Shirley Henderson is truly something to behold.

It’s great to see that the women of these fairy tales are not all damsels in distress needing saving by a handsome Prince. Indeed, their lives are far more complex, their desires more nuanced, and they certainly don’t all live happily ever after. While one of the tales peters out and another meets a brutal, gory end, it is Toby Jones and Bebe Cave’s tale which provides the substantial backbone to the film, and gives us the most satisfying resolution.

‘Tale of Tales’ is a resolutely gorgeous, brutal carnival of the grotesque and magical, although it is a little too patchy for it to be ranked as a classic, it may still make it to cult status.

7 out of 10

The Girl with all the Gifts (2016) review: Imaginative and emotional update on the zombie trope

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Director: Colm McCarthy Writers: Mike Carey (novel), Mike Carey (screenplay) Stars:Gemma Arterton, Dominique Tipper, Glenn Close

Based on a novel of the same name, ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ is a horror/drama set in a dystopian Britain, where an aggressive fungal infection has turned most of the population into mindless, flesh-eating ‘hungries’ (zombies essentially). ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ follows the fortunes of a young girl, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) on her journey of self-discovery. Starting in a bleak underground bunker on an army base, we see Melanie and her classmates being strapped into wheelchairs and transported from their tiny cells to an austere classroom by heavily armed soldiers. Leading the class is affable teacher Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton), who treats the children with a warmth and respect the military personnel lack. As the story unfolds Melanie finds herself on the run with Miss Justineau, Dr Caldwell (Glenn Close), Sgt Parks (Paddy Considine) and Kieran Gallagher (Fisayo Akinade), fleeing to escape a horde of hungries, slowly learning more about who she is, where she came from and her part in the unfolding horror around her.

Created by a British team on a relatively tiny £4.4 million budget, ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ is an ambitious genre piece with a surprisingly glossy production feel. Mike Carey has taken his own novel and penned the script, making some interesting choices with its adaptation from book to big screen. Taking out some of the more horrific elements of the novel, Carey instead brings us a more intimate tale, with some of the characters sharp edges filed away; which at times leads to their motivations feeling muddled and two-dimensional.

Melanie however, played by shining star Sennia Nanua, feels fully formed, ferocious and frightening, veering from wide-eyed innocence to feral abandon with ease. Her idolisation of Miss Justineau is both claustrophobic and beautiful, with Arterton and Nanua managing to convey their peculiar bond with a single glance. Glenn Close was an apt choice for the role of the Cruella De Vil-esque Dr Caldwell, who is desperate to dissect our heroine. She seems to disappear into the background for most of the middle act, only to make an impactful return for the heart-crushing finale. Some light relief comes in the form of Paddy Considine as Sgt Parks, whose ‘call a spade a spade’ attitude and practicality reflects the fact that despite the horror it portrays the film does not take itself too seriously.

One of the most successful aspects of the film is the wonderful score, by Cristobal Tapia de Veer, which takes a repetitive refrain of looped voices to add a real sense of foreboding and dread to the bleak landscapes.

While some of the practical make-up and effects look a little clunky (understandable given the budgetary restraints), and not all of the hungries elicit the same level of fear (indeed one or two raised a quiet snigger), the sheer imagination and emotion of ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ manages to steer it past B-movie territory and could well see it considered one of the best films in the zombie genre.

Now you all need to see it so we can talk about that ending…

7 out of 10

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) review: Burton’s peculiar take on YA

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Director: Tim Burton Writers: Ransom Riggs (based upon the novel written by), Jane Goldman (screenplay) Stars: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L. Jackson

‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ is so Tim Burton, it feels like it could have been specifically written for him! Jake (Asa Butterfield) is an outsider, his parents tolerate him, everyone at school ignores him and he feels in some way different. The only person he is truly close to is his grandfather, Abe, (Terence Stamp), a man who believes in the magical and tall tales. Following Abe’s untimely demise, Jake finds himself taking a trip to Wales, accompanied by his wonderfully passively-neglectful father (Chris O’Dowd), trying to track down the children’s home where Abe grew up, to help him piece together the mystery of the man he misses so dearly. Upon arrival at the children’s home Jake is plunged into a world of peculiar children; one of whom is lighter than air, one stronger than 10 men and one who has a whole hive of bees living inside them, all overseen by Scary Poppins, Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). Oh, and they’re now in 1943, live the same day over and over again, ‘Groundhog Day’ style, and are being chased by monsters. Still with me? If anyone other than Tim Burton directed this, it would have been a nonsense.

The first act of the film sees Burton and cast on top form, with the pastel-coloured Hopper-esque Florida homes reminiscent of those in ‘Edward Scissorhands’, paving way to the dark dreary Welsh island where the children’s home stands. The characters seem profoundly real, and Jake’s need to connect with his grandfather proves to be a powerful drive, providing a good emotional scaffold to the tale. Indeed, during this first act it appeared this was a film that could rival Harry Potter in it’s imagination, scope and sense of whimsy.

However, the film seems to lose it’s way once it disconnects with reality entirely. The early scenes of Jake travelling through the ‘loop’ (the plot device explaining how the children remain shielded from the real world) from the dark and rain of Wales to the seemingly idyllic sunshine bathed children’s home in 1943 work well, as Burton explores the disconnect between fantasy and reality, unpicking Jake’s grieving process.

Rather than becoming the next Harry Potter, the narrative seems to drag the film down into becoming the next generic YA outing. You know, the one where Percy Jackson fights immortal trolls in a maze, and heals the rifts in a divided society, all the time finding out who he is as a person.

A whole raft of faux-mythic words are unleashed upon the audience as ‘ymbrines’ (Miss Peregrine herself is one, capable of creating a time-loop, turning into a bird, and entrusted with the care of the titular peculiar children), and ‘hollowgasts’ (‘peculiars’ who were transformed into terrifying eyeball eating, invisible creatures) take centre-stage, over-shadowing the very charming tale of Jake and his grandfather.

Then Samuel L. Jackson’s Barron (head hollowgast) bursts into the plot, in full comic-book bad guy mode, (providing the Johnny Depp element, perhaps?) and drags the film even further into the realms of the silly.

Those criticisms aside, ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ still feels like a return to form for Burton, as he captures both the gothic and magical elements of the story and the dreary mundane heartbreak of reality with some style. The connect between the Hollowgasts and the horrors Abe’s grandfather endured during his time in Poland during WWII is made subtly, and with care. Visually it is pure Burton, playing with colour-palettes and surreal and uncanny imagery. He even indulges in paying homage to other films, with nods to Ray Harryhausen and Stanley Kubrick (“Heeeerrrre’s Samuel!”) peppered throughout.

The fact the original novel was written around some intriguing photographs speaks volumes. The images here are clear and precise, but the narrative feels somewhat secondary.

Largely enjoyable, if overly long and peppered with over-cooked YA tropes (when an intriguing story about family bonds lay underneath it all), ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ will probably prove to be a popular addition to future Christmas TV schedules, but is ultimately quite forgettable.

6 out of 10

Nocturnal Animals (2016) review: Stylish modern noir

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Director:Tom Ford Writers: Tom Ford (screenplay), Austin Wright (novel) Stars: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon

It’s hard to believe that ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is only the second directorial outing for fashion designer Tom Ford, seemingly already establishing himself as somewhat of an auteur. Producing, directing and writing the screenplay, Ford’s ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a dark, hallucinatory noir thriller which has already had a successful festival run, picking up the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year.

Amy Adams is Susan, a rich LA art gallery owner with a magnificent house overlooking the glittering city, with an army of attentive staff and a handsome, successful husband, Walter (Armie Hammer). All is not well in Susan’s life however as she is finding herself increasingly dissatisfied with her life of material excess, and the absence of her travelling husband plays on her mind. As she wrestles with her own feelings of being trapped in a gilded cage, and battling with constant insomnia, a manuscript arrives at her door, from her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The book is entitled ‘Nocturnal Animals’ and has a letter accompanying it explaining that Edward would like Susan to be the first to read it, and has dedicated it to her. What follows is a masterful intertwining of Susan’s own struggles with her dissatisfaction, and insights into the book itself, interpreted through Susan’s own sleep-starved brain. The story that Edward presents to Susan is both violent and clearly a deeply personal tale of one night which changes a man’s life forever.

Falling somewhere between the nightmare worlds of David Lynch and the tangled thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ manages to feel both timelessly classic and ultra modern all at once. The cinematography is beautiful, the production design is breath-taking and it just looks stunning, and boy, am I a sucker for a good-looking film!

The people  in Susan’s world are all beautiful too, all high-gloss, ultra-coiffed and in clothes that probably cost more than most of us make in a year. You can imagine everyone smells like lilies and cedarwood, as they waft through the glass corridors of their lives. Indeed marble and glass abound, with not one mote of dust present anywhere.

Meanwhile in the fictional world, which I’ll call Edward’s world, life is much harder. Set largely in the desert, Edward’s world is dry and dusty, filled with blood, sweat and tragedy. Cars are battered, people are fallible and life is cruel. From the opening sequence Ford makes a clear statement about the real value of art and materialism, with naked overweight women dancing with joyous gusto in front of a glittery backdrop (which we later discover is part of Susan’s latest exhibition) and this theme is followed up throughout the film with the two contrasting worlds.

The cast are all fantastic. Amy Adams is perfect in the role of the seemingly fragile Susan, Jake Gyllenhaal shows incredible range in his dual role, but for me the star turn was from Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ray. Playing a suitably cartoonish fictional villain, as filtered through Susan’s fatigued mind, Taylor-Johnson’s Ray provides an insight into Edward and Susan’s perceptions of the world, and is both oddly charming and terrifying. Isla Fisher too is terrific in her short screen time in the story within the story.

The soundtrack too deserves a mention as Abel Korzeniowski’s (who also provided the soundtrack for Ford’s first film ‘A Single Man’) score echoes the sense of both classic film making and the ultra-modern, with swathes of orchestral melodrama reminiscent of Bernard Hermann’s scores for Alfred Hitchcock.

While I was mesmerised by the psychological tension, beautiful visuals and grandious score it seems that ‘Nocturnal Animals’ won’t be for everyone, with two people walking out of the Friday night screening I attended, and another couple commenting as the credits rolled that they’d rather watch ‘Sausage Party’ again.

For my money though ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a beautifully made, deeply affecting and tense exploration of the breakdown of a relationship, and is worth going to see in the cinema to enjoy those visuals and that soundtrack to best effect.

8 out of 10

Logan (2017) review: X-Men Endings

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Director: James Mangold Writers: James Mangold (story by), Scott Frank (screenplay)    Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen

Synopsis: “It’s 2029. Mutants are gone-or very nearly so. An isolated, despondent Logan is drinking his days away in a hideout on a remote stretch of the Mexican border, picking up petty cash as a driver for hire. His companions in exile are the outcast Caliban and an ailing Professor X, whose singular mind is plagued by worsening seizures. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy abruptly end when a mysterious woman appears with an urgent request–that Logan shepherd an extraordinary young girl to safety. Soon, the claws come out as Logan must face off against dark forces and a villain from his own past on a live-or-die mission, one that will set the time-worn warrior on a path toward fulfilling his destiny.” Rotten Tomatoes
James Mangold was not fucking around when he soundtracked the early trailer for Logan with Johnny Cash’s cover of ‘Hurt’. This film is is about pain, suffering, grit and guilt. A brilliantly drawn modern western; a road movie; a film about ageing, family and man vs myth… None of which I was expecting when I went in to see the latest in the X-Men movie franchise behemoth.
Mangold’s previous work on Cash biopic ‘Walk the Line’ and western ‘3.10 to Yuma’ are a better reference point to anyone wondering where Logan sits in terms of tone than any of the other X-Men films.
Setting out his stall early on, Mangold shows us  Logan, passed out  on the back seat of his car from drinking, having his rims stolen by a young gang of ‘chollos’ near the Mexican border. A reluctant Logan ends up mutilating and killing the young men after they shoot him, despite trying to de-escalate the situation. It’s a brutal opening sequence that sees a very different Wolverine to that of other X-Men outings. This Wolverine is plagued by arthritis, poor vision and above all, world-weariness. If this were a different type of movie he’d be uttering the staple line “I’m getting too old for this shit”.
However, Logan the film is far from obvious, with some beautifully drawn characters and elegant dialogue that allow actors to be able to portray some complex emotions with just a glance. This sees both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart’s best performances in any of the X-Men films, and perhaps even some of their best performances full stop as they are given some meaty material to work with.
Dafne Keen, as Laura, is a revelation. Her performance as the young mutant whose presence forces Logan’s dysfunctional family out of hiding is stunning. One minute she is feral and terrifying, but then with a glance she reminds you she is just a little girl, one who has been abused and damaged and is trying to make sense of the world.
A scene in which Professor X and Laura sit in a hotel room watching 1953 western Shane gives the audience an insight into Mangold’s intention for Logan the film. This is 100% western or road movie, stripping away the usual bluster and complexity of comic book films to concentrate on character and emotional development. On the TV screen a character says ” Joey, there’s no living with… with a killing. There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand sticks. There’s no going back.” Every death in Logan matters. It is brutal, painful and has repercussions for all involved. Indeed it’s almost Hobbesian in it’s portrayal of life being ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’.
Logan is the graphic novel to the previous X-Men films’ comic books. A brutal and brilliant grown-up look at ageing, dementia, death and decay which happens to feature some characters from comic books, which unexpectedly left me an emotional wreck.
9 out of 10

 

The BFG (2016) review: More of a snozzcumber than frobscottle

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Director: Steven Spielberg Writers: Melissa Mathison (screenplay), Roald Dahl (book) Stars: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton

“A girl named Sophie encounters the Big Friendly Giant who, despite his intimidating appearance, turns out to be a kindhearted soul who is considered an outcast by the other giants because, unlike them, he refuses to eat children.”

When I first heard that Steven Spielberg was set to direct my favourite childhood book I was filled with excitement. E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison would be adapting the book for the big screen and this seemed like a movie match made in heaven. When British acting powerhouse Mark Rylance was announced as playing the titular Big Friendly Giant I was sure this would be one of the films of the year. However, the end result left me feeling somewhat deflated as I was greeted with an overly-long and patchy affair.

Rylance is wonderful as the BFG, by turns eccentric, peculiar and warm, as you would expect from our hero with a heart of gold.

The visual effects are largely excellent, and had me wishing I had gone to see the 3D version (although the giants’ sizes seemed to change on a confusingly regular basis), to enjoy them to their full intent.

However the story itself is drawn out far further than it needs to be, and with a running time of nearly two hours I can imagine many children would be fidgeting in their seats. The scenes in Buckingham Palace in particular are unnecessarily long and ponderous, with some odd acting choices (long pauses between lines, looking off into the middle distance etc). Indeed the biggest obstacle to my enjoyment of the film was Ruby Barnhill’s turn, which was a little too acting-school-production-of-Annie in some scenes, with her cocked head perched in her hands and wide-eyed approach to the supposedly street-smart Sophie. I suspect these were all conscious directorial choices by Steven Spielberg however, which led to the whole film feeling laboured and old-fashioned, rather than the magical delight it could have been.

7 out of 10