The Green Knight (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: David Lowery
Starring: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Barry Keoghan, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 130 mins

The Green Knight is the latest from director David Lowery, who has had an interesting and varied career to date. His debut Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was an excellent crime drama and Lowery was then granted a bigger budget for his follow-up withDisney’s Pete’s Dragon. Lowery then wrote and directed a more intimate feature, A Ghost Story, which had an excellent premise but I found it hard work to engage in with some baffling creative choices. This was then followed by The Old Man And The Gun, a far more accessible feature that was the vehicle for Robert Redford’s swansong and there was a lot to admire in its earnest and twinkly tone. The Green Knight is an adaptation of the 14th Century poem, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, and is a passion project for the director. 

It is Christmas at King Arthur’s roundtable and Gawain is invited by his side, even though he is not a knight and spends his time drinking and having fun in brothels. The Green Knight turns up at the castle and he sets a challenge to the audience to strike a blow against him. In a year’s time, he who strikes him must journey to the Green Chapel to face a similar blow. Gawain accepts the challenge, to try and prove his worth, impressively decapitates the knight, who then picks up his head and leaves, laughing at Gawain who will face a similar blow next Christmas. Gawain spends his year in drunkenness and then leaves on his quest. 

I was worried about this film, prior to watching it. Whilst the critical reception has been very positive, it has proven divisive with audiences and I was worried Lowery was going to deliver another incomprehensible mess in the vein of A Ghost Story

The Green Knight is a visually arresting and often captivating take on the material. It is also baffling at times and it would be easy to label Lowery’s direction as pretentious but it’s not. The film has stayed with me and its enigmatic and poetic tone is admirable. It is a film that lends itself to repeat viewing and some of Lowery’s directorial choices are clearer when you are aware of the structure of the storytelling. Dev Patel’s performance is extraordinary and he is able to capture the headstrong nature of his character with his child-like immaturity. Lowery’s choice of having certain actors playing multiple characters is an interesting choice and made for a perplexing choice on first viewing but this is symbolic of Gawain’s life approach. The only weak link of the cast is surprisingly Alicia Vikander, whose character I couldn’t connect with and she was unconvincing with her wobbly accent. 

Every frame in this film is drop-dead gorgeous and this is a film to be studied for its photography from its fog drenched landscape to the dark and mossy forests. This is complimented by Daniel Hart’s predominantly string-based score that allows a sense of foreboding. 

Not everything works with The Green Knight. As well as the oddly strange Alicia Vikander performance, there are some moments that Lowery dwells on for too long which make the film a little languorous and there is also a questionable sex scene that pushes the film to its adult rating. Lowery really nails the ending of the film, which is poignantand elegiac and allows the audience a proper sense of closure. Mark Kermode’s likening of the ending in his review to The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 seemed like an odd comparison but it is actually an extremely astute association. 

The Green Knight is a really admirable effort by David Lowery and although not everything works, it is always best when a director takes a bold risk rather than plays it safe. There have been numerous King Arthur / Merlin adaptations in film history but The Green Knight stands on its own feet and I’m very glad it exists. There are lots of layers to Lowery’s storytelling here and this is a film be that opens up on rewatches if you are able to be absorbed by it. 

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Malignant (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: James Wan
Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Jacqueline McKenzie, Michole Briana White
Certificate: 18
Run Time: 111 mins

Malignant is a welcome and wholly original return to the horror genre for director James Wan. Wan has had an impressive career to date, establishing himself as a top-tier horror director, launching three very different but highly successful franchises – Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring. He has since turned to bigger budget mainstream fare such as Furious 7 and Aquaman. It is always a promising sign when a director chooses to revisit their roots and tackle a lower budget original concept. Wan’s horror films have been key proponents for the genre in the last twenty years, Saw sparking a wave of splatter horror, Insidious tackling the themes of the supernatural and astral projection and The Conjuring also deals with the supernatural but in a true crime setting. Subsequent filmmakers have tried to ape Wan to mixed results, particularly the jump scare which audiences have increasingly grown tired of. Lesser filmmakers rely on this effect without building up tension or setting an unsettling atmosphere and it has become a very mechanical device. Malignant has been marketed very much in the same vein as a supernatural horror film, more in line with Insidious and The Conjuring, but the result is very much not. 

Malignant is Wan’s interpretation of a Giallo horror and this is a fascinating film that embraces a camp tone. The film opens in a psychiatric hospital where we see obscured glimpses of a psychiatric patient named Gabriel who has become uncontrollable and murders and maims many of the hospital staff. The doctors manage to restrain him and vow to ‘cut out the cancer’ before the opening credits roll. 

We then meet our protagonist of the film, Madison (Annabelle Wallis) who is well into her pregnancy who lives with her abusive husband, Derek (Jake Abel). After an argument, Derek slams Madison’s head is slammed into a wall and the husband is murdered by what we are led to believe is a supernatural serial killer entity. There is a connection between Madison and Gabriel, where she can see the murders unfold in her mind but she cannot do stop them and the police do not take her seriously. 

Malignant is an ambitious risk for James Wan and the story takes unexpected turns. The first act seems fairly generic on the surface, in the vein of Insidious, although Wan does establish an unsettling atmosphere. The film then morphs into a David Fincher-esque serial killer mystery, where it is at its best. A chase scene between the police and the assailant mid-way through is kinetic and heart-pounding. Its last half an hour or so is outrageous with a bonkers plot twist and is a cacophony of gleeful gore, body horror and John Wick-like ultraviolence, with a hint of Sam Raimi camp. 

Wan wildly succeeds in establishing a viable threat with his characterisation of Gabriel, who moves strangely and only wants to inflict pain on his victims. Wan never tries to go for the same type of scare twice, which is refreshing, and the film is devoid of jump scares, which is a bold move considering he pioneered the trope. 

The performances are fitting for the camp tone. Annabelle Wallis has played in some real brainrot such as Annabelle and The Mummy but her performance compliments the camp tone and it’s not a performance to take overly seriously. George Young and Michole Briana White as a pair of detectives are excellent and get some strong and humorous lines, and storywriter Ingrid Bisu makes an impression in a small role as one of the forensics. Contortionist Marina Mazepa, who provides the physical performance of Gabriel (whilst Ray Chase provides the voice), is astonishing in that the backward, inhuman movements of the villain are genuine. She is destined for great things, perhaps she will be utilised in the same vein as Javier Botet, whose Marfan syndrome has allowed him to bring many horror villains to life with his body’s hyperlaxity. 

The film is beautifully shot by Michael Burgess, who knows to hold onto a shot longer than is needed to create an unsettling atmosphere. A birds eye shot of Madison scurrying around her house is electrifying, portraying her like a helpless puppet in a doll house. The score by Joseph Bishara is one of the composer’s best and he crafts some memorable themes, erratically veering between Bernard Herrmann reminiscent melodies, unsettling soundscapes and techno synth. 

Malignant is a swing in the right direction for James Wan and I’m very glad the film exists as it is a wild ride from start to finish, even if he tries to throw a lot at the screen and it doesn’t all stick. Its twist lenses the first half of the film in a new light but I’m not sure quite how well this film will hold up on a repeat viewing. It is refreshing to see Wan back in the genre he works best in, an in-demand director with a large amount of creative clout and he has chosen to make something so wild. Malignant is an excellent addition in the genre and I predict it is destined for a cult classic status.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Candyman (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Nia DaCosta
Starring: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Kyle Kaminsky, Vanessa Williams
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 91 mins

Candyman is an accomplished and thought-provoking update in the series and cements director Nia DaCosta as a new talent to watch. This spiritual sequel is a continuation of the story established in Bernard Rose’s original Candyman, an equally stimulating entry that has aged well even today. DaCosta’s film ignores the two sequels, both of which failed to garner critical acclaim, the second of which was one of director Bill Condon’s early works. 

Yahya Abdul-Matteen II plays Anthony McCoy, an artist who is suffering from writer’s block who lives with his girlfriend, Brianna (Teyonah Paris) who is an art gallery director. His writer’s block subsides once he learns of the Candyman legend and this suddenly gets his creative juices following until the horror legend starts to come to life and consume his mind. 

Directing from a script which Get Out and Us director Jordan Peele contributed to, Nia DaCosta makes an electric impression behind the screen. Whilst the influences of Peele can be felt in the film’s interrogation of gender, race and sexuality, DaCosta impresses with her cineliteracy, particularly with the exploration of the theme of the double through the use of mirrors and mirrored reflections. Art is explored as a mirrored reality and Anthony is unsettled at his reflection. There are some arresting sequences in the first act of the film where images are inverted and disorienting, setting a foreboding atmosphere. This is complimented by Robert Aubrey Aiki Lowe’s brilliant score and soundscape and it’s refreshing to see him craft his own memorable themes as well as revisit Philip Glass’ original themes, which really elevated the original film. 

As a Candyman film, DaCosta’s entry flourishes. It has connections to the first film for fans of the series but it also works well as a standalone piece. The horror elements of the film aren’t handled quite as confidently as its heady themes. It is true that there are some disturbing moments and ideas and it’s refreshing that DaCosta doesn’t settle for jump scares but what is portrayed on-screen never quite chills under the skin. DaCosta likes to leave a lot for the imagination and often cuts away from moments of gore but this makes the horror a little toothless. Save for its climax, the narrative is also well crafted and there are some interesting character developments. The climax tries to tie in a little too closely to the original film and some of the character choices and motivations felt off.

Overall, Candyman is an excellent addition to the series and save for its climax, is a very solid horror film that interrogates some interesting themes. It is probably as good as the original and as a piece that showcases Nia DaCosta’s talent, is excellent and it will be interesting what projects she will pick next.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Pig (Review)

⭐ (Terrible)

Director: Michael Sarnoski
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 92 mins

Nicolas Cage has had a fascinating career to date and he is most famous for his unhinged performances in quite often negatively received films. Cage has had a late career resurgence recently with both Mandy and Color Out Of Space being powerful, psychedelic vehicles for the actor, whose overacting has been in keeping with the subject material. Pig looks to be the next step in his resurgence, with Cage playing a reclusive truffle hunter called Rob who owns a prize foraging pig, having formerly been an esteemed Portland chef. When Rob’s pig is stolen, he teams with his young and unexperienced supplier, Amir (Alex Wolff) to track it down and he comes into contact with his past as his journey takes him back to Portland. 

As with Cage’s other works, this is a ludicrous concept and he really has the potential to pull it off. Unlike his other works, Pig is not an action thriller and is instead a drama. It is directed by Michael Sarnoski, in what his directorial debut and the film has received near unanimous praise from critics and audiences, many lauding this as one of Cage’s best performances. 

Unfortunately, I found Pig to be a thunderously boring experience that is blandly directed and I couldn’t connect with the characters whatsoever. The only engaging sequence of the film was the first ten minutes which consists of Cage and his pig truffle foraging and the kidnapping. Although Cage’s performance is sincere, it is also one-note and baffling. Rob spends the entirety of the film with blood on his face that he doesn’t bother to simply wipe off. Whilst it may have been an interesting creative choice on the page, it doesn’t work on the screen when he is trying to get similarly boring characters to take him seriously. The film is just boring conversation after boring conversation in perplexing locations and the juxtaposition of what is supposed to be a gritty backstory aggressively clashes with the neat sheen of the high-end restaurant trade. This is further heightened by the actors all mumbling their lines with no conviction in their character arc. 

Alex Wolff has had a very promising start to his young career with excellent performances in films such as Patriots Day, Hereditary and Old. Unfortunately, his performance as Amir is similarly one-note and he has made the first mis-step of his career. Cage and Wolff completely lack chemistry and a late third act scene with Amir’s wealthy father, Darius (Adam Arkin) that is meant to be a revelatory moment for the duo is just so plodding and uninvolving. 

Sarnoski’s direction is uninspiring and he fails to conjure any energy in the material or the performances. I can only imagine he was equally bored during production. Visually, the film has a boring colour palette that is inconsistent and it has a manipulative, vanilla score.

I’m all for Nicolas Cage taking a risk in his career with a complete tonal gear shift in the projects he picks but this was a mind-numbingly monotonous experience with no redeeming qualities other than the first ten minutes. Clearly I am in the minority as Pig has received near unanimous praise but I cannot comprehend what the praise is for. Pig was the most arduous 92 minutes I have had to experience in quite some time and is a complete misfire.

⭐ (Terrible)

Beckett (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Ferdinando Cito Filomarino
Starring: John David Washington, Boyd Holbrook, Vicky Krieps, Alicia Vikander
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 108 mins

Beckett is a Luca Guadagnino-produced Euro-chase thriller that is generic and more than a little implausible in its narrative but it is worth a watch for its flair behind the camera. Directed by Ferdinando Cito Filmomarino, Guadagnino’s ex-boyfriend, the film tells the story of the titular character, Beckett (John David Washington) who is vacationing in Greece with his girlfriend, April (Alicia Vikander). When they are driving, he happens to fall asleep at the wheel and roll the car down a hill into a a house, the accident taking the life of his girlfriend and said house just happening to be associated with an international political scandal that the titular character then finds himself embroiled in. To come out of this film having a meaningful experience requires one to to suspend belief and then some. 

Beckett gets off to a poor start and the relationship between Washington and Vikander is inauthentic. Their lines are stilted and they don’t have much of a chemistry. The film picks up when the inciting incident occurs and what follows is an entertaining albeit by-the-numbers Euro action thriller. Beckett is heavily indebted to 70’s conspiracy films and you’ll likely see the twists coming. The action sequences are sparse but enjoyable and rather silly. Washington makes for a charismatic, fish-out-of-water lead and is worth the price of admission alone. Vicky Krieps makes a commendable effort as a fellow traveller who is campaigning against the political situation who Beckett’s path crosses with, although she is under-utilised. 

There is a moody score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, whose sparse use of music creates a sense of palpable intrigue for the film. Guadagnino-regular Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography paints a gritty picture of Greece, from its lavish but desolate hill tops to its crowded city centres juxtaposed with images of poverty. 

It feels like the distributor wasn’t quite sure what to do with Beckett, portrayed by the fact it has been released straight onto Netflix. Even the title of the film is rather lacklustre and does nothing to sell it. If you can switch your brain off and look past Beckett‘s flaws, what you have here is an entertaining meat and potatoes thriller with an amiable central performance bolstered by some excellent cinematography and a moody score. 

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

The Suicide Squad (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: James Gunn
Starring: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Michael Rooker, Pete Davidson, Nathan Fillion, Sean Gunn, Alice Braga
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 132 mins

The Suicide Squad is for the most part a giddy, gory and thoroughly adult superhero film. The film is written and directed by James Gunn, whose sensibility for gory horror and dark humour, blend perfectly with the source material, feeling much more akin to his earlier works such as Slither and Super. Gunn originally hit critical acclaim with Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel, the first film in particular proving a refreshing break from the tired Marvel formula that really allowed his personality to shine through. Despite breaking free of the Marvel formula, Gunn was still constrained to a 12A / PG-13 rating, therefore The Suicide Squad represents him at his most unrestrained. 

The Suicide Squad fits into the wider DCEU rather awkwardly in that it is a part-sequel to 2016’s Suicide Squad in that it shares a handful of the same characters but it also functions as a part-reboot in that everything about it is completely different to that film. Suicide Squad unfortunately received a critical mauling on its release and whilst it has its bright spots, unfortunately David Ayer’s film was subject to studio interference which is clearly evident in the final picture. 

After her solo outing in Birds of Prey, Margot Robbie returns as the mentally unstable Harley Quinn. Viola Davis’ no-nonsense Amanda Waller also returns, who is tasked with running the Task Force X and she assembles two teams to go to the fictional South American island of Corto Maltese for reasons unknown to the teams. The titular squad are all DC villains who are jailed and Waller picks a roster to undertake a mission, in return for the villains having a length of time knocked off their sentence. They each have a chip implanted in their head which Waller has the ability to explode if they go off course on their mission, and being a James Gunn film, this feature is certainly used. 

Gunn has proven a knack for picking unfamiliar comic-book characters and spinning a gripping yarn from their background. The Guardians of the Galaxy were very much a lesser known Marvel property and Gunn was able to utilise this to his advantage, especially with characters like Groot and Rocket Racoon, one a tree that can only say one sentence and the other an anthropomorphic, wisecracking raccoon. Gunn introduces characters like Ratcatcher, Polka Dot Man and King Shark, all C-grade comic villains but he manages to successfully develop and establish a backstory to them so audiences can invest in them. 

Will Smith’s Deadshot is not a part of the film this time around, rather it is Idris Elba, who is the team leader. He portrays Bloodsport, a skilled marksman who was imprisoned for shooting Superman with a kryptonite bullet. Elba has struggled to cement his career with leading roles and the performance he gives here is refreshingly cynical but humane and makes for a charismatic lead. John Cena is Peacemaker, a vulgar individual who desires to achieve peace through the act of violence. The main core of the team is comprised of returning actor Joel Kinnaman as Rick Flag, who has a more convincing character arc this time around, Natalie Belchior as Ratcatcher 2, David Dastalmachian as Polka Dot Man and Sylvester Stallone as King Shark. Other memorable characters include regular Gunn collaborator Michael Rooker as Savant and Sean Gunn as the violently strange Weasel. 

Gunn paces The Suicide Squad extremely well and the script is stuffed with quips and wisecracking interplay between the characters. There is violence and gore aplenty – heads are decapitated, blood splatters after characters get shot in the face and King Shark likes to devour people… a lot! This is a film that earns its 15 / R rating and it is all the better for it. Like its predecessor, there isn’t much of a story again this time round, but the characters combined objective acts as a coherent plot and there are some excellent character twists along the way. Gunn does an excellent job in not allowing his audience to get to attached to characters, as life is pretty expendable in this film. 

John Murphy’s guitar-heavy score is memorable and fits really well to the film. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn employs a jukebox roster of 80s hits and for the most part, they fit in well. The 2016 film tried to ape Guardians of the Galaxy in its soundtrack but its track picks were all too on-the-nose and uninspired. Henry Braham’s cinematography is excellent – this is a really colourful and visually punctuated world. A fight scene that is portrayed via a reflection is a genius idea and is beautifully captured by Braham. 

In a wider context, what impressed me most about The Suicide Squad was its progressive characters for the genre, which acts as a revisionist take on the superhero genre. The superhero genre is overpopulated with generic films that are uncomfortable in breaking the mould and Gunn’s film actively tries to defy conventions, even if it’s not always successful, but the ambition is to be admired. 

The Suicide Squad’s main drawback is in its ending, which unfortunately sticks to convention. There is an annoying tendency in superhero films to end the film on a big CGI battle and Gunn was guilty of this in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. This is the case again, but the CGI battle is far more coherent and involving but it’s disappointing that unlike the rest of the film, he doesn’t make much of an effort to deviate from the formula. It’s a little anti-climatic when the rest of the film is so entertaining and refreshing. 

Ultimately, The Suicide Squad is a blast from start to finish and is up there with Gunn’s best works. Gunn’s personality shines through and through in its tone and his knack for establishing convincing and relatable characters and the film is mesmerising and joyfully startling and chaotic at times. It strikes just the right balance in its humour, rather than being boisterous about its adult rating. I can’t wait to see where this storyline is taken next and this film ranks as one of the best efforts in the DCEU and the wider superhero genre. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Old (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Alex Wolff, Thomasin McKenzie, Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Eliza Scanlen, Aaron Pierre, Embeth Davidtz, Emun Elliott
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 108 mins

Old is a new original psychological horror by high concept director M. Night Shyamalan, a director most famous for his signature twists and a figure who has had quite the varied career. After a slump of each film being worse than his last starting with Lady In The Water and The Happening, then resulting in the one-two career suicide of The Last Airbender and After Earth, Shyamalan’s career is steadily back on the rise. When he was in director’s jail, Shyamalan teamed with Blumhouse to film a micro-budget horror called The Visit, which opened to good reviews. He has since directed Split and Glass, completing a trilogy that started with Unbreakable. Split received strong reviews whereas the reception to Glass was decidedly mixed, although I regard it to be his best work. 

Inspired by a Swiss graphic novel called Sandcastle, Shyamalan adapts and expands the story to suit his own creative mind. The ever reliable Gael García Bernal plays Guy, who along with his wife, Prisca (Vicky Krieps) and two young children, Trent and Maddox (Alexa Swinton and Nolan River) vacation to a sun-drenched, tropical resort. The children do not know that this is to be their last family holiday as the parents plan on divorcing, as Prisca has been engaged in an affair and is also facing some worrying health problems. The seemingly idyllic haven seems too good to be true from the moment they arrive. The family are welcomed by the hotel manager and his staff with personalised cocktails made to their taste preferences that they specified on their booking form. The resort manager takes a liking to the family and offers them a day on a private, hidden beach to have to themselves. When they embark on the minivan to be transported to the beach, the exclusive nature of the trip is tarnished, as they are joined by another family consisting of an intense British Doctor (Rufus Sewell), his model but hypocalcemic wife (Abbey Lee) his ageing mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalafant) and young daughter, Kara (Kyle Bailey).

The minivan driver (Shyamalan in a cameo role) drops them off near the beach and hands them an exceedingly large hamper of food before departing, informing them to call him when they are ready to leave. Once they step foot on the beach, after negotiating their way through a jungle and canyon to reach their private slice of paradise. However, all is quickly not as it seems once a dead body washes up on the shore and everyone on the beach starts to age at breakneck speed, one of the characters deducing that they are ageing a year every half an hour. 

Old is another bonkers concept by the auteur Shyamalan, and tonally is somewhere between Get Out and The Beach, infused with The Twilight Zone. It is a frequently profound and is an intense, nightmarish exploration into the themes of life and maturation. A scene between two old characters facing worsening eyesight and deafness is beautiful, as their memories are worsening and losing the concept of space and time. Shyamalan deftly balances these profound moments with freakish body horror and violence, one sequence in particular involving a knife is particularly harrowing and well shot. That said, the film could have benefitted from portraying more of these bloody images rather than most of the violence being portrayed off-screen, although the on-screen horror that Shyamalan decides to portray is enough to earn the film a 15 age rating. 

Shyamalan has received a fair amount of flack for his stilted scripts, and although there are awkward moments in the script here and characters conversing unnaturally, it is fitting for the horrific scenario that they are placed in, their brains and actions not able to cope with their rapid ageing. The performances, in turn, are stilted to begin with but once the horrors of the beach unfold, there is considerably more energy. Gael García Bernal and Rufus Sewell make the strongest impression, Bernal’s father initially seeming overly tight-lipped but he instills more emotion as the film progresses and Sewell’s anxious but controlling Doctor has more substance than meets the eye. Ken Leung offers perhaps a career best performance as a calm and logical nurse, who is married to his intelligent but epileptic wife (Nikki Amuka-Bird), who the two families encounter later on the beach. 

Old is beautifully shot by Mike Gioulakis, who has collaborated with Shyamalan on his last three films. His photography portrays the luscious beach as an imposing figure and a character point-of-view in the film’s second half of worsening eyesight is a genius move. Trevor Gureckis’ score is foreboding and haunting, seemingly offering only despair to the characters situation. Of course, there is a signature, late twist to Old as it wouldn’t be a Shyamalan film without one. The twist is satisfying and as is the case with his best work, forces one to view the film in a different light. 

Old is a strong and unapologetic effort from Shyamalan and is further evidence of his career resurrection, if you get on board with the narrative. Reviews for this film have proven polarised but one must always commend a director for being ambitious and not trying to pander to the crowd. Old is one of Shyamalan’s best works and I cannot wait to rewatch it again and pick up on the smaller details that offer breadcrumbs to the film’s twist. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Black Widow (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Cate Shortland
Starring: Scarlett Johannsson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz 
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 134 mins

Black Widow is the overly anticipated solo outing for Scarlett Johannsson’s Russian Avenger, a film that Marvel devotees have been clamouring for for years. Given the characters definite fate in Avengers: Endgame, is this film too little too late? In the director’s chair is Cate Shortland and as with a variety of other Marvel directors, this represents Shortland’s first big-budget feature. After an initial sequence set in Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff’s childhood, the film opens with the Avenger exiled in Norway, following the events of Captain America: Civil War but prior to Avengers: Infinity War and how she reunites with her adopted family and their backstory. This is a strange choice as there is the need for continuity and a prequel set in the characters more formative years would have surely given more substance. Romanoff crosses paths with her feisty sister, Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), both characters were victims of the ‘Red Room’ in their early years, a facility led by General Dreykov (Ray Winstone) who trains and brainwashes Russian assassins. Romanoff had presumed Dreykov deceased but clearly this is not the case and the duo team up with their adopted parents, Red Guardian (David Harbour) and scientist mother Melina (Rachel Weisz) to investigate and prevent world destruction from the villain.

Black Widow starts out in a promising fashion and almost suggests a new direction for the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its grittier tone and its well choreographed and stylised action sequences. It embraces its globe-trotting James Bond-esque origins even if it lacks the sophistication, sex and wit. Unfortunately after about half an hour, the film loses its edge and descends into convention with a half-baked story, cheesy family reunions and an over reliance on CGI, particularly at the film’s climax, which has been many a comic book film’s downfall in recent years. There are glimpses of Shortland’s direction in the first half an hour but the rest of the film feels like it was directed by a committee. 

The performances are sound, if a little rough around the edges. This is more Florence Pugh’s film than Scarlett Johannsson and Pugh makes a promising impression as Yelena. Johannsson can play this role in her sleep but it’s a shame that this film doesn’t add all that much substance to the character that we have already come to know from prior instalments. The roles that Rachel Weisz and David Harbour play are serviceable but overly familiar and they are saddled with poor dialogue. Harbour fares better as it is clear that he takes the role more seriously in the film’s first half but then embraces the camp and ridiculousness of it all later in the film. 

The film’s major stumbling block is its villains. Ray Winstone is not convincing whatsoever as Dreykov and his performance is hammy although understated. The character of Taskmaster, who is Dreykov’s secret weapon, an assassin that can mimic the movements of its competitors, is an interesting choice to include in the film but is unfortunately under-utilised. There are two early action sequences that are brilliant with the character causing carnage to Romanoff and Yelena and are reminiscent of the kinetic action found in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but not a great deal after that. The filmmakers stray from the characters origins in the comic books in what is quite an unsatisfactory twist. 

The fact that Black Widow is a prequel also brings up a question of timelines. I have watched all of the Marvel films but I am not a die-hard fan and don’t know all the backstories inside out but even I could find holes in the story. Furthermore, being a prequel unfortunately brings with it the curse of the stakes are never high enough as you know what the outcome will be. 

For its first half an hour, I thought Black Widow was going to be a Marvel film that was going to head in a different direction but Shortland either doesn’t have the guts to stick to her convictions or the higher-ups at Marvel wanted the formula adhered to and this film is unfortunately one of the lesser efforts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Another Round (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 117 mins

Another Round is a high concept tragicomedy from director Thomas Vinterberg who re-teams with the ever-versatile Mads Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen plays Martin, a jaded and uninspired History teacher who is struggling to enthuse his students and has a stale relationship with his wife and kids at home. These qualities are shared by three of his close friends who also teach in the same school – sports teacher Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), music teacher Peter (Lars Ranthe) and psychology teacher Nikolaj (Magnus Millang). When they meet up to celebrate Nikolaj’s 40th birthday in an up-market restaurant, they get very drunk. One of them brings up the subject of a theory by Norwegian psychologist Finn Skårderud who opined that humanity performs best when they have a blood alcohol content of 0.05%.  Martin decides to put this theory to the test one day whilst teaching and he finds that he has a much closer relationship with his pupils. The rest of the group decide to join in and they all have similarly positive results. They start to record their results in an academic journal that they curate and as the film progresses, they slowly up the alcohol level to explore the effects. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they discover that the benefits start to stagnate the more they drink and they eventually reach the road of self-destruction, with both comedic and devastating consequences. 

Another Round is often infectiously humorous and the relationship between the four teachers is developed very authentically and they have fantastic chemistry. The film is equally depressing at times when we witness the dire consequences alcohol can have on these teachers. The first two thirds of the film is particularly beautifully crafted but it loses its footing in the final third somewhat. The final act negates the message of the first two acts and Vinterberg seems to be unsure in his argument of whether alcohol has a positive or negative influence. 

Mikkelsen is typically excellent in the role, who portrays Martin with a potent world-weariness and a tinge of sadness. He is an easy character to care for as he learns to live again many times in the film. Vinterberg has proven he knows how to showcase Mikkelsen away from the typecast of a villainous actor he has gained in his Hollywood efforts, and Mikkelsen gave a career-best performance in an earlier teaming of the duo in The Hunt. The rest of the group of teachers are great, in particular Tommy Bo Larsen deftly balances the humour of his drinking with his affectionate group of young footballers with his depression. 

Another Round is another really strong piece of work from Vinterberg, especially in its first two thirds and it’s a shame that the final act can’t quite match them in its grandeur. Vinterberg is a provocative filmmaker, founding the Dogme 95 movement with the more radical Lars Von Trier and Another Round finds the director in quite a restrained manner. The Hunt remains Vinterberg’s best film and packs much more of an emotional wallop than Another Round, but there is lots to admire here and the first two thirds of the film really are very powerful. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Luca (Review)

luca-1200

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Enrico Casarosa
Starring: (voices of) Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan 
Certificate: PG
Run Time: 95 mins

Luca is the latest from Disney Pixar and like Soul before it, faced delays to its theatrical release before releasing on Disney+, which sparked controversy within the team. Set on the Italian Rivera, Luca is a young sea monster who lives with his over-protective parents, who warn him of the perils of the human world. Luca spends his days supervising a flock of fish (who behave and bleat like sheep) and clearly is longing for more purpose and excitement in his life. The set-up is essentially The Good Dinosaur under the sea. Luca meets a fellow sea monster named Alberto, who is seemingly care-free and adventurous and leads Luca out of the sea, where both assume human form once dry, literally ‘fish out of water’. They work up the courage to discover the port town of Portorosso, where they make friends with a young Italian female misfit named Giulia and attempt to compete in a the town’s traditional triathlon (swimming, cycling and eating pasta of course!), whilst Luca evades his parents who are searching for him.

Luca is a sweet and amiable film that is much smaller in scope and scale compared to some of Pixar’s other offerings. Although decidedly more suitable for children, Luca’s aesthetic cries of Call Me By Your Name combined with The Little Mermaid, director Enrico Casarosa (in his debut feature after assisting as a storyboard artist on previous Pixar films) drawing inspiration from his childhood in his vivid imagining of the sunblushed Italian coast. The central trio of Luca, Alberto and Giulia are very well developed and there are some humorous supporting characters. Luca’s Grandmother does not share the same world view as his parents, knowing from experience that breaking some rules in life is a part of growing up and Sacha Baron Cohen shows up in a very brief role as Luca’s unhygienic Uncle Ugo, who resides in the deep sea, where Luca’s parents threaten to send him to live if he fails to stop rebelling.

Luca is a significantly more gentle film compared to other Pixar entries and tackles less heady and existential themes. There isn’t a standout emotional sequence that reduces the audience to tears, which is customary for many of Pixar’s films. Whilst Luca is engaging and entertaining in the moment, this is not a film that has the lasting and endearing quality that Pixar’s top tier offerings have.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)