Review: Lynn + Lucy (2019)

A compelling drama about two friends that is as rigorous in form as it is in character exploration.

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Review: Vivarium (2019)

Vivarium is not a ‘date movie’. It’s probably not for those expecting a child. Or couples about to step onto the housing ladder. It’s also a great little film.

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Review: The Iron Mask (2019)

If The Iron Mask is anything, it’s a lot of fun. Sure, it’s daft and ludicrous. Yep, you’re surprised by how much Arnie and Jackie Chan are actually in it. But it is fun.

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Review: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Much like its title (already altered to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey), Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) contains all the right ingredients but can’t help get in the way of itself.

Following Harley (played by Margot Robbie’s sheer sense of enjoyment), the film centres on a rather basic MacGuffin hunt and simple nasty antagonist (although Ewan McGregor is typically bland especially stood next to Chris Messina absolutely killing it as Mr Zsasz). It also features a couple of outstanding fight sequences that perfectly blend the film’s violence and neon glitter aesthetic. When this film moves, it really moves but where it doesn’t fare so well is in the constant diversion. I understand why it does it, the film is narrated by Harley and she is an erratic storyteller, but it often feels like we are stumbling around rather than moving forwards and there just aren’t enough straight lines for our hero to feel like a genuine agent of chaos.

But the good bits are rather good and if you do like this version of Harley Quinn as much as Margot Robbie does, then I suppose the time spent just hanging out will be just as enjoyable.

Recommended.

Review: Uncut Gems (2019)

There is no doubt that Uncut Gems, directed by Josh and Benny Safdie who also co-wrote the script with Ronald Bronstein, feels like the missing film at the Oscars. Starring Adam Sandler, the film centres on a New York jeweller and gambling addict Howard Ratner as he tries to stay one step ahead of a series of bad debts and terrible decisions.

Not only is this film one of the most anxious and compulsive cinematic journeys of recent years, but it’s also the one of the most complete. Every moment feels integral, as does the city of New York itself with its electric pulse and sea of humanity. On top of this the cast is phenomenal. Sandler, a constant ball of tension, absolutely inhabits the brilliantly named central character but the supporting players are all perfect. Particular praise goes to Julia Fox and Idina Menzel as the two women in Howard’s life, reflecting the conflict that your brain is going through.

This could be the film of the year and it almost killed me.

Highly Recommended.

Review: Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Directed by Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit tells the story of a fanatical member of the Hitler Youth in the last days of WWII who is forced to question his devotion to the cause when events land closer to home. The gag is that Jojo is a ten year old boy, and Hitler is his imaginary friend. The disappointment is that the film is completely empty.

With an aesthetic that leans heavily on the cinema of Wes Anderson, and Nazi officers that have goosestepped straight out of ‘Allo ‘Allo, the film struggles to find it’s own feel and the few moments of laughter that do pop up have no actual attachment to the context (not hard when there isn’t one). This is also true of the drama. The antagonists in the film are drawn so widely that they have no power and exert no danger whilst one moment of intended heartbreak is so divorced from the perpetrators that is is rendered almost meaningless.

Jojo Rabbit reads like a movie made by a culture so dominated by a comic book sensibility that it is now incapable of discussing actual ideas. A movie where a murderous, nationalist, racial insanity is neatly compartmentalised down to a bunch of cartoon idiots. Of course, cartoon Nazi’s have been done before but spend five minutes in the presence of a film like To Be or Not to Be (1942) and you’ll see the difference. Ernst Lubitsch’s film has a lot of broad strokes, the Nazi’s are preening, idiotic in their devotion, even clownish, the humour is dark, but he never lets us forget the danger. In contrast, Jojo Rabbit just doesn’t seem interested in anything outside of the central conceit and, as a result, there is nothing there.

Their Finest (2017)

Their Finest is now available to buy / rent and I’d solidly recommend it.  It tells the story of a young woman (Gemma Arterton) who is employed to write realistic women’s dialogue (‘slop’ as it’s called in the film) in WWII propaganda reels and starts writing a feature film, based on the experience of two young women, about the evacuation of Dunkirk.

What I liked about the film was that, and this is no claim of documentary realism, it feels like the behind the scenes view of a Powell and Pressburger film… or at least as one would dream it to be.  And that’s the key, the heart and the message are in the right place.  It’s a film that knows the importance of myth and hope.  It’s funny and heartbreaking, there’s love, a bit with a dog and Bill Nighy is on top form doing his best Bill Nighy impression.

Highly Recommended.

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Watching Atomic Blonde I suddenly notice that I’m following the shot rather than the action.  The shot, a prolonged single(ish)-take fight scene, is impressively staged but I’ve lost the drama within it because it isn’t captivating.  The problem is that the central MacGuffin, a list (sigh), is duplicated in function and form with no real sense of priority, deadline or consequence.  No amount of 80’s pop music, neon, face smashing or ‘and Toby Jones’ can hide that.

On a positive note, Charlize Theron outclasses the film she’s in and McAvoy hints at a more interesting Heart of Darkness tale buried under the surface.  Also, the opening ten minutes have a great comic book feel but, alas, the film is intent on not being its own thing and jettisons this in favour of uncomfortably sitting somewhere between John and Jason, unable to mesh the two together.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

I walked out of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets grinning from ear to ear and giggling like a child.  Luc Besson’s adaptation of the Valerian and Laureline comic books is a breath of fresh air after what seems like an eternity of drab fantasy comic book cinema.  This doesn’t feel recycled or ponderous, it feels like a comic book brought to life with tonnes of imagination and wit.

It sometimes feels a bit too much, it’s so packed with ideas that I’m wondering what I missed and I think watching it in 3D was maybe one layer too many.  There’s also a problem with length (a regular gripe this summer) and the charm of witnessing a comic serial unfold is lessened slightly by one long segment that side-tracks proceedings and ‘damsels’ Laureline just once too often.  Which is a real pity because the central pairing of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne brings a weird offbeat energy to proceedings that feels much more equitable than similar films.

Slight misgivings aside, it’s still a wonderful film.  It’s brash and fun in the same way as Besson’s The Fifth Element.  I can fully see why other people might dislike or even actively hate it, it’s ‘peak Besson’ and that’s a dangerous place for film makers (Mann and Malick both need to step back from the edge) but, for me, it hit all the right notes.

Highly Recommended.