Tag Archives: cinema

Mini movie reviews for the weekend!

I live on an island, and I have to get a boat to see most of the cooler stuff on at cinemas. But with movies coming out so fast on digital platforms and DVD, why spend all that money on choppy trips to the multiplex?

Flatliners 

How did the Oscars miss this little gem about five medical students stopping their hearts to experience the afterlife?

It starts out strong thanks to a talented cast including Ellen Page and Diego Luna. Keifer Sutherland cameos but he’s not reprising his role from the original and imparting any wisdom like “Don’t stop your hearts!” so it seems pointless.

With such a great cast, I’d have loved a dark psychological drama about ambitious, cutthroat young medics playing God. Sub-par horror.

Ingrid Goes West 

Aubrey Plaza gains your sympathy and alarm as a woman with an unspecified mental disorder whose only meaningful connection comes via Instagram. With inheritance money she heads to California to trick her way into insta-star Taylor Sloane’s seemingly perfect life.

But where Instagram is just a career tool for blandly commercial Taylor, for needy Ingrid it’s toxic. After a suspenseful and sun bleached hour of social media satire, the final act becomes more of a “psycho” thriller, and possibly sends confused messages about mental health.

The Limehouse Golem

The late Alan Rickman was set to lead this lurid, Ripper-style mystery, until his illness meant Bill Nighy took over as the elegant Inspector Kildare, investigating the grisly Limehouse murders.

Music-hall star Lizzie Cree is on trial for killing her husband – who Kildare suspects may have been the infamous Golem. Hoping to save the angelic-looking accused from the gallows, he dashes around an atmospheric Victorian London (it’s a treat to see Karl Marx pop up as a suspect).

An entertaining spin on the never-subtle dead prostitute genre. Nighy is softly restrained, but Olivia Cooke – who looks like a cross between Carey Mulligan and Jenna Coleman – is the standout.

Victoria & Abdul 

Queen Victoria had her summer home, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight. She holidayed here with her family, and it’s where she retreated during her long mourning for Prince Albert.

The widowed Queen’s relationship with John Brown was dramatized with Judi Dench and Billy Connolly in 1997. Dench returns opposite Ali Fazal as Indian manservant Abdul, who incited jealousy and panic among her household and the imperialist government, including son Bertie (Eddie Izzard).

Dench’s frail old lady might be Empress of India, but she’s outlived her loved ones, and feels trapped and lonely. It’s a devastating depiction of old age. I think it’s meant as a feelgood, comedy-drama like The King’s Speech, but the larky tone and silent comedy jar with the classism and racism of the British Raj.

Viceroy’s House 

Following WWII, the British Empire was dying, and Victoria’s great-grandson Louis Mountbatten was dispatched to the Indian subcontinent to bury the Raj with dignity.

The 1947 partition of India triggered one of the bloodiest upheavals in history. Here it gets the Downton Abbey treatment, with a fictional ‘upstairs, downstairs’ romance between two servants in the Viceroy’s palace. It’s a stately, well-lit costume drama. Not my cup of tea.

mother!

Jennifer Lawrence is in an unpleasant relationship as dutiful wife to selfish creative Javier Bardem. When her quiet home is invaded by uninvited guests Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, Bardem won’t tell them to shove it, much to Lawrence’s dismay.

mother! feels like a bad M. Night Shyamalan, before it becomes an unmistakable Darren Aronofsky fever dream. An ambitious climate change allegory which draws incoherently on the Bible, it’s messy and chaotic, but JL is a force of nature.

All the Money in the World

This is where they recast Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer so that audiences and Oscar voters wouldn’t be distracted by the misconduct allegations against the former. It’s based on the 1973 kidnapping ordeal of tragic John Paul Getty III in Italy, and how the boy’s tight-fisted billionaire grandpa had to have his arm twisted to pay the ransom.

Of all the movies I’ve just reviewed, this is the one with the most general appeal. It’s watchable, but there’s something airless about it.  It’s strongest point is Michelle Williams and her chemistry with negotiator Mark Wahlberg.

 

NETFLIX: Annihilation – future cult classic or subpar sci-fi?

A meteorite streaks past the camera. It carries some kind of alien mineral, and it ain’t Vibranium. It smashes into a lighthouse: the invasion of planet Earth has begun.

Ground Zero is covered by an iridescent dome – like a soap bubble, or a gigantic blister. They call it ‘the Shimmer’. Inside, communications fail, and those who enter don’t return. The government are keeping it top secret, but not for long; the phenomenon is expanding, and will eventually swallow up whole cities and states…

‘Annihilation’ started life as the first volume in Jeff VanderMeer’s ‘weird fiction’ Southern Reach trilogy, where a nameless four-woman crew venture into the unknown Area X. (A fifth turns back.) One, a perpetual student and passionate observer of tide pools known only as “the biologist”, served as narrator.

In Alex Garland’s adaptation, the biologist – now Lena – is played by a characteristically poised, brittle Natalie Portman as an ex-military John Hopkins professor. Flashbacks reveal her cheating on her angelic-looking husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) with Daniel (Interstellar’s David Gyasi).

We see Lena Portmansplaining cellular senescence, AKA aging, to Kane. They playfully argue over whether God can make mistakes, and discuss the unusual ‘silence’ around Kane’s deployment. Kane tenderly says they will be under the same stars, but Lena mocks the idea of pining for her husband.

Kane goes MIA but materializes a year later at their home, clearly unwell. The couple are ambushed and held in a facility where Lena meets creepy wierdo Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who explains that Kane volunteered for and escaped the Shimmer, but is now in multi-organ failure.

With Oscar Isaac on a ventilator, a guilt-wracked Lena joins Ventress on the next Shimmer trip. The rest of the team are all damaged in different ways: an unkempt Tessa Thompson is self-harming physicist Josie, Gina Rodriguez is recovering addict Anya, while geologist Cass is a grieving mother. “We’re all damaged goods here,” she explains.

Inside the Shimmer, radio waves are scrambled and time is distorted. Flowers twist into the human form, deer have tree branches, and alligators have shark teeth.

“The Shimmer is a prism, but it refracts everything,” realizes Josie, meaning DNA gets reshuffled and recombined. When Cass is killed by a mutant bear, its jaws open and her voice screams for help. Josie doesn’t want terror to be her surviving fragment; shoots and buds are already pushing out of her self-harm scars, and she walks peacefully into the flower mannequin forest.

For most, the thought of being broken down and incorporated into this new ecosystem would be grotesque. Ventress rages that it feels like the onset of dementia. Lena realizes that Ventress was already dying and is resigned to her fate, but wants to face the alien entity while still herself.

So is Annihilation about how we accept the inevitable? Some viewers saw it as a movie about cancer, or interpreted the Shimmer as a manifestation of Lena’s guilt. To others it’s a searing depiction of depression, or all about Pokémon. Garland, meanwhile, said he was actually going for something on a theme of self destructiveness.

annihilation swimming pool

F U Humanity!!

OK, but this stupid thing invaded us. And although Lena believes the organism doesn’t ‘want’ anything, it’s hard not to take it personally; there’s something about the fruiting corpse in the swimming pool and the artfully arranged skeletons that feel like they sprung from the imagination of a serial killer on NBC’s late, lamented Hannibal.

Despite the triumph of Ex Machina, Paramount had little faith in Annihilation; international rights went to Netflix. American audiences – who had the benefit of experiencing this admittedly visually and aurally accomplished movie on a cinema screen – only gave it a ‘C’ CinemaScore.

Maybe it’s because of the incoherent narrative. Some claim to enjoy the fact that it “doesn’t give us all the answers”. Others might point to the umpteen articles ‘unpacking’ the movie as a sign that it falls back on making audiences feel stupid for finding it all a bit of a muddle.

New to streaming & DVD: Wind River lingers like a chill…

windy

I wish I hadn’t watched Wind River on a Saturday morning. It’s an evening movie; when it’s over, you can lock your doors and hopefully not have nightmares.

That’s the unsettling effect Taylor Sheridan’s latest had on me. I’m currently working through some of the most buzzed-about movies of 2017, and of course this was something I wanted to see.

Sheridan’s screenwriting career so far has given us the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, and the Denis Villeneuve-directed Sicario, which starred Emily Blunt as an idealistic FBI agent helplessly mixed up with shady alphas Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in the war on drugs.

In Wind River – Sheridan’s first time as writer-director – Elizabeth Olsen’s Jane Banner is another FBI agent out of her depth, this time not in Sheridan’s native Texas but in the wintry wild west of Wyoming.

Jurisdictional matters have dragged Banner in to investigate the death of a teenage Native American girl, who was found frozen and barefoot in the snowy tundra by Jeremy Renner’s quiet wildlife officer, Cory Lambert, for whom the case has disturbing echoes of his own grief.

Technically Olsen is in charge of the investigation, but with his deep connections to the land and to the dead girl’s marginalized community, the story belongs to Renner’s softly-spoken cowboy as he supports the outsider FBI and the tribal police.

Olsen is not completely robbed of agency like Sicario’s Kate Macer, yet she has no backstory, and we never learn what makes her so driven.

She looks like she should be reading the news in a warm studio somewhere, as she is comically underprepared for the conditions and isolation (‘Shouldn’t we just maybe wait for some backup?’ she bats her lashes. ‘This isn’t the land of backup, Jane … this is the land of “you’re on your own.”‘)

Where Macer was caught at the border by political forces beyond her control, Banner plants face-first into a community blighted by poverty, addiction and hopelessness. I wasn’t sure if she was merely incompetent and inexperienced, or if she was truly meant as a symbol for governmental disinterest and mishandling.

The violence, when it comes, is more personal and depressingly universal, but no less brutal and shocking.

Verdict? Despite the shaky camera triggering my vertigo, I thought Wind River was another well-made action thriller. Renner and Olsen are great, but I don’t feel that the movie is as ambitious or exciting as Sicario, perhaps because it lacks the tension and moral conflict between the leads.

Sheridan really stands out for his dialogue, and as auteur he delivers on a similar level to previous directors of his scripts, especially in the realistic-yet-stylish bursts of violence, and that creepy sense of dread that outlasts the film.

The Mummy and Wonder Woman

I haven’t been enjoying the cinema very much lately. I keep getting hit with mild vertigo every time I go. I think I’m overpowered by all the fragrances and aftershave that people seem to douse themselves with before they head to the multiplex.

Yet I have bravely fought on, just like the wondrous Diana of Themyscira charging across No Man’s Land into enemy fire. (OK slight exaggeration.)

I realise everything has already been said about Woman Woman so I’ll keep it very brief: It’s a really good superhero movie. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine are great (all the cast are), and I thought the decision to shift the backdrop to WWI worked really well.

Well done DCEU, I always knew you had it in you.

The Mummy was… a different experience.

The Tom Cruise-starrer kicks off Universal’s Dark Universe, but it seems there just wasn’t an appetite for another Mummy. It needed amazing word of mouth to entice people.

To my surprise it was a 15 certificate, although as the movie progressed I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t a 12A. It starts off a bit dark and intriguing, with Russell Crowe in the present day finding a crypt, then a load of exposition involving Ancient Egypt and a curse, before we’re back to now, where tomb raider Tom Cruise triggers said curse.

I would make a crack about Cruise being too old for this kind of action hero thing, but a load of fiftysixty-somethings (and one seventy-year-old) totally crushed me at running 5k (3.1 miles) last week, so I’ll just keep my mouth shut on that score.

Chris Martin’s girlfriend is also in the movie as an archaeologist who has an affair with Cruise.

I felt sorry for the actress Sofia Boutella because her Mummy is an interesting idea. Ahmanet is an Egyptian princess who got royally screwed over and then makes bad choices by entering into a pact with the evil god Set. She is way scarier than campy old Imhotep. (Weird thing, there was a guy who looked just like that crazy high priest right behind me.)

It’s a heavy, oppressive summer blockbuster, with out-of-control sound levels, but there is a good movie in there – perhaps it was the rumoured troubled production. Keep going Universal, you’ll get your Wonder Woman.

REVIEW: La La Land

“I hate jazz,” says Emma Stone’s aspiring actress Mia to jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) at the start of their relationship in La La Land. She feels it’s only right and proper to get that out the way pronto.

Well I should say upfront that I had a nightmare screening and I struggled to really give the movie a proper once-over.

And when I go and see a movie so hyped, I go in hoping I’m going to like it, that I’m going to ‘get’ it. To make it worse, La La Land refers back to many of the Golden Hollywood movie musicals I’ve never seen.

If I close my eyes, what are the things I was actually able to take away from the movie? The elegance and colour of Stone’s costumes. She’s willowy and poised, and looks like a dancer.

The dance isn’t complicated – the waltz and tap feel very impromptu and simple. I’ve seen La La Land described as big and bombastic, but apart from the opener – ‘Another Day of Sun’ – it doesn’t have the musical knockout numbers I was expecting.

I’ve listened to the soundtrack since (it was hard to hear in the theatre), and ‘City of Stars’ is sweet and mournful, and ‘Planetarium’ from Justin Hurwitz’s score made my heart skip.

Verdict: Did the ending leave me in tears yearning for Seb and Mia to have taken a different path together? Well, if I played a game of “snog, marry, kill” with Mia’s three men, Gosling would get the shove no questions asked, because I’ve never got the Gosling mania. So no. Seb and Mia are two ambitious creatives who help each other get to where they belong. It’s the perfect ending.

Looking forward to my second viewing of this one! Lx

Dakota Fanning talks American Pastoral, The Bell Jar and sibling rivalry with The Edit

Dakota Fanning perhaps isn’t as mega-famous as contemporaries like Jennifer Lawrence, but for years I’ve seen people rave about her talents as a child and teen actress.

Dakota’s got a new movie out, American Pastoral, which is directed by Ewan McGregor and adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Philip Roth novel. I was planning to read the book, although I’m not sure whether to see the film first.

Anyway, Dakota really manages to carry off a stunning gothic look for Net-a-Porter’s online magazine The Edit:

In her interview, Dakota mentions her American Pastoral character Merry, who becomes radicalized during the turmoil surrounding the Vietnam War. Dakota’s taken on darker roles and more adult roles before, but could this be the breakthrough role that showcases her as a major “grown-up” star?

One thing that Dakota’s phenomenal career has done was pave the way for her younger sister Elle to launch a Hollywood career. Although there isn’t any evidence of a rift, people automatically suspect that there is rivalry between the two. In her interview she says:

“People unfortunately love to see conflict. And if it’s between family? Between sisters? Even better. The assumption that we’re really competitive, that people even ask that, is horrible. It’s implied our family [is] torn apart by jealousy.”

Dakota goes on to say that they don’t really look similar, which is true – Dakota’s look is much more mutable, and she’s the more ‘relatable’ of the two. (I would have thought Dakota’s closest competition would be Saorise Ronan?)

She also reminds me of another, slightly older former child actress – Kirsten Dunst. Dakota mentions Kirsten and the project they are working on together – an adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. Apparently, Dakota hired Kirsten (“We vibe so much”) to direct the new adaptation of Sylvia Plath’s only published novel, which Dakota herself is co-producing and starring in.

It’s a confident shoot and interview, and she certainly sounds a lot more together (or better advised) than Kirsten did at that age.

Apparently Dakota gets asked a lot in interviews why she never went off the rails like so many child stars before her. (Perhaps she was fortunate to have never had the negative experiences that some vulnerable showbiz kids suffer? Better support networks? A personality that responds better to the pressures of fame? Who knows.)

Got to admit, Dakota’s pretty impressive, and I’m looking forward to seeing American Pastoral. It’s getting some really bad reviews from the critics, although I’ve heard audiences find it a slightly more worthwhile experience.

Check out Dakota’s interview over at Net-a-Porter!