Nobody (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Ilya Naishuller
Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Christopher Lloyd, Aleksey Serebryakov
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 92 mins

Nobody is directed by Ilya Naishuller and provides a vehicle for Bob Odenkirk as Taken and John Wick did for Liam Neeson and Keanu Reeves. There have been many action films recently that historically dramatic actors have taken on in an effort to rejuvenate their career and not all have worked out, for example Sean Penn with The Gunman. The story of Nobody is pretty familiar for the genre. Odenkirk plays Hutch Mansell, a father who lives a seemingly average life with two kids he cares deeply for, a loving wife (Connie Nielsen), a routine and mundane job and his father (Christopher Lloyd) lives in a care home. However, Mansell has a past and when his particular set of skills are required, we learn he is actually an ex-CIA government assassin, who people certainly don’t want to mess with.

Nobody is far from an original concept but it is very entertaining and its main asset is Bob Odenkirk’s electric and deadpan performance. There are some kinetic action sequences, particularly a sequence in a bus and the climax. Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography is far more first-person POV than the longer shots in John Wick, very much in the vein of Naishuller’s Hardcore Henry and unlike his more showy work on Hereditary and Midsommar. Also unlike John Wick, Hutch Mansell is a far more vulnerable character and he doesn’t come away from his fights unscathed. There are many occasions where he is battered in the process. Christopher Lloyd also has some strong moments, particularly in the third act as Mansell’s father, as does RZA as Hutch’s brother. When the film is at its best, it really is a hoot and Naishuller has a clear understanding of the mechanics of B-movie, trashy exploitation pieces in his direction.

Nobody isn’t quite as strong a film as its competitors as it can’t sustain its energy in its quieter moments. There is a lot of build up before the first action sequence, which is perfectly acceptable for a film of this type but it lacks tension or depth. The supporting characters, in particular, his family could have been better developed and the events in which Mansell finds himself suddenly needing to use his action skills aren’t quite as simplistic and clear-cut for a film of this type and a lot of the plot feels coincidental.

Nobody is ultimately far better than it has any right to be considering its heavy influences and could very easily have been an uninteresting cash grab. Its main draws are its beautifully choreographed action sequences to enjoy, a refreshingly light tone and an excellent performance from Bob Odenkirk. Given Nobody’s critical success, it is likely there will be a sequel which would be exciting, but it needs a few more ingredients to further differentiate it from its competitors and tighter pacing. 

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Michael Chaves
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ruari O’Connor, Sarah Catherine Hook, Julian Hilliard, John Noble, Eugenie Bondurant
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 112 mins

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is the third entry in the mainline series but the eighth entry in its respective cinematic universe. The films have all varied in quality, with highlights such as the two Conjuring films and Annabelle: Creation to complete misfires such as Annabelle and The Nun. The mainline films though are yet to faulter and are generally considered the benchmark in quality for the franchise and follow paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren’s cases. This entry is set in 1981 in Connecticut, following the murder trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson who murdered his landlord and defended his innocence on the grounds of demonic possession.

This sequel is the first Conjuring film to not have James Wan in the director’s chair. Wan has cemented himself as one of the leading voices of the genre with his success in establishing this series with his two entries and he is also responsible for other franchises in the horror genre such as Saw and Insidious, as well as recently directing Aquaman. The Conjuring is Wan’s best feature, near perfect in its construction and is one of the best horror films of the century. Naturally, there is trepidation when he is not in the director’s chair (although he does remain in a producer and story capacity) and he has cherry-picked Michael Chaves to direct this entry. Chaves is not new to this franchise, having previously directed The Curse of La Llorona, which is a middle-of-the-road entry. Can Chaves deliver another stellar instalment in the franchise?

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It represents a welcome change of direction compared to the first two films in that it delves from the haunted house formula and is more of a police procedural crime thriller. The story the film is based on is riveting, even if some creative liberties have been taken with it for it to fit the horror genre. The performances are all excellent, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the Warren’s again are the centrepiece of the franchise and the film expands and revolves around their strong relationship. The rest of the cast are also strong, although they are underused and this is very much Farmiga and Wilson’s film. Ruairi O’Connor is excellent as the murder convict and it was surprising to see John Noble, of Lord of the Rings fame, appear here in a small but pivotal role, who performs sparingly.

Chaves’ direction attempts to ape Wan’s from the use of title cards and a prologue sequence at the beginning to the general tone of the film. However, when it comes to the horror aspect of the film, Chaves just does not craft the scares in as sophisticated a fashion as Wan. Wan’s scares are very creative and he is terrific at the build up. One of the best scares in The Conjuring is when a child can see a figure standing behind a door whilst her sister cannot see the figure but the door is shrouded in darkness so as an audience, we cannot quite make out what is accurate. Every scare Wan crafts is earned and he doesn’t resort to cheap tricks with false moments, which is unfortunately Chaves’ style. Although this is a horror franchise, in some ways, it would have been better if the film were completely bereft of scares as the film doesn’t need it, as its statement of intent is to be a crime thriller. The scares feel tacked on and unearned and there is nothing remotely terrifying about what we witness on screen. Of all the films in the franchise, this is probably the least scary instalment. What the film does do well is wear its graceful homages to other horror films on its sleeve and there is more than a cheeky nod to The Exorcist in the opening prologue and there is a waterbed sequence reminiscent of A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.

The film also feels rather short, for its sprawling narrative. The film could easily have been another half an hour longer to really develop its characters so that we could better connect with them and it would have been really interesting to see Chaves tap more into the legal aspect of the case, which he hints at early on in the film but then chooses to abandon it. The story is that riveting to warrant the extra time.

Ultimately, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is another strong entry in the franchise, but its success lies on its performances and shake-up of the haunted house formula into a crime thriller. I was riveted from start to finish but there is always the question of what if this film had been directed by James Wan and I think if had, the result here would have been extraordinary. If the film doubled down on its scares or chose to eliminate them completely and spent longer developing its characters and establishing the stakes, this could have been a masterpiece. As it stands, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is very strong in some areas but flawed in others.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Army Of The Dead (Review)

ARMY OF THE DEAD

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Theo Rossi, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nora Anezeder, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tig Notaro, Raúl Castillo, Huma Qureshi, Garret Dillahunt 
Certificate: 18
Run Time: 148 mins

Army of the Dead, visionary director Zack Snyder’s first film post-DC, is a total blast from start to finish. Snyder is no stranger to the zombie thriller genre as his first film was Dawn of the Dead, a very solid remake of George A. Romero’s original. This is not connected to Dawn but does take some inspiration from other Romero works. Army of the Dead follows a group of ragtag soldiers, led by Dave Bautista’s Scott Ward, into the quarantine zone of Las Vegas to retrieve $200 million dollars from a casino vault. The catch is that Las Vegas is swarming with zombies and the government are planning on blowing the city up to eradicate the zombie population. There are two different types of zombies – ‘Alphas’ and ‘Shamblers’. ‘Alphas’ are a more intelligent breed of zombie whereas ‘Shamblers’ are your run-of-the-mill classic zombies.

Snyder crafts a fascinating world here and there is some interesting political sub-text. Ethical questions are posed that draw parallels to the current American political climate and treatment of migrants. We are introduced to a diverse set of characters that are going to carry out the heist operation. Whilst the character tropes are fairly conventional and some characters aren’t really fleshed out, this is a zombie film after all and it’s inevitable that some of the cast are only introduced to die.

Dave Bautista makes for an excellent lead as an ex-mercenary who is now a chef, who is pulled back into action when Hiroyuki Sanada’s rather shady billionaire show up at his work to entice him into the job. Of the sizeable team, Ana de la Regruera, Nora Arnezeder and Matthias Schweighöfer make the best impression. Regruera plays a friend of Scott who is a mechanic, who helps to put a team together and Arnezeder plays Lily, a Frenchwoman who acts as the group’s guide into Las Vegas and who has learnt to understand the mentality of the zombies. Schweighöfer plays Ludwig Dieter, a German safecracker, who gets some of the film’s best lines but also has a lot of heart. A prequel, Army of Thieves, is in production that is to be a follow-up to the film which will follow his character and will be directed by the actor.

The film is a visual treat and Snyder, who acts his own cinematographer for the first time, does a commendable job in building a convincing post-apolocalyptic world that doesn’t feel too far removed from how it is currently. The film is bursting with colour and Snyder leans into the creative kills and gore that earn the film its 18-rating with joyful glee, the opening credits to the film being particularly memorable. He balances this with some suitably dour darker lit sequences that highlight the origins of the Alphas and their leader Zeus, who is particularly well developed as a villain, and fits in perfectly with Snyder’s horror roots.

Army of the Dead is further proof that Snyder works best when he is not restrained by a film studio. We saw proof of that earlier in the year with his director’s cut of Justice League and this unrestrained and giddy experience further cements that he is a talented director. Snyder has received rightly deserved some flack in the past where his stories and characters aren’t always suitably developed and it would be fair to say that as a filmmaker, he struggles to stick to convention. But Army of the Dead isn’t overlong or self-indulgent – this is the perfect length for the story that Snyder has crafted and the film takes its time to create a strong verisimilitude. I cannot wait to see where this material is taken next in a prequel and the film certainly leaves an enticing door open for a sequel. Army of the Dead is one of the best films of the year.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Spiral: From The Book Of Saw (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, Samuel L. Jackson 
Certificate: 18
Run Time: 93 mins

Spiral: From The Book Of Saw is the latest in the ongoing splatter horror franchise and the second of its recent attempts at a reinvigoration. The Saw series has been a mixed bag. James Wan’s original film is excellent and propelled him and budding screenwriter Leigh Whannell into the talents they are today. When Saw scored big at the box office and had been created on a shoestring budget, a franchise spawned. Sadly, none of the sequels were able to live up to the original. Saw II was dissatisfying in that it removed a lot of the mystery elements of the first film and its characters weren’t likeable. Saw III fared better but disgusted me in parts, although perhaps that means the film did its job? Saw IV, V and VI fared better although having a more episodic quality. Saw VI was perhaps the highpoint of the sequels in how it took aim at the health insurance industry and had a satirical edge to it, even if its execution was rather heavy-handed. The mainline series seemingly ended in 2010 with ‘The Final Chapter’, a laughable and unrealistic film that represented a series low point. However, no film in Hollywood can ever really be a final instalment, if there is the potential to extract more money.

In 2017, directors Michael and Peter Spierig relaunched the franchise with Jigsaw, which made an admirable attempt to shake the formula with a more refined production quality, feeling less episodic and omitting the hyper-speed editing of the torture sequences. The Spierig Brothers were an interesting choice, having directed Daybreakers and Predestination, both thoughtful and layered pieces of work. Whilst nowhere near the quality of the original, Jigsaw was an interesting instalment that somewhat reinvigorated the franchise. 

Spiral: From The Book Of Saw is another attempt at a reinvigoration and is easily the most interesting premise in that it is based on an idea from comedian Chris Rock, an unlikely talent you would associate with this franchise. Rock had been a devotee of the franchise and wanted to renovate his own career. This is not the first time a primarily comedic actor has tried their hand at rejuvenating a horror franchise. Halloween (2018) was pitched by David Gordon Green and comedian Danny McBride and the result made for an exciting and excellent addition to the then-tired franchise. 

Rock’s concept is an interesting one in that the film is more of a police procedural mystery thriller in the vein of David Fincher’s Se7en with torture traps thrown in for good measure. Rock plays Detective Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Banks, an honest policeman who is at a career low point having grassed on a fellow corrupt cop and he is not well liked in the force. He is ridiculed by being partnered with a newbie, Detective William Schenk (Max Minghella), but the two form a strong budding relationship before long despite some initial animosity from Zeke. The police force start to get murdered in various Saw traps, many likening to a Jigsaw copycat. This copycat starts taunting Zeke by sending him tapes, messages and body parts neatly gift wrapped and the film follows his investigation in identifying and stopping the serial killer. 

Series veteran Darren Lynn Bousman is in the director’s chair. Bousman is a worrying choice, as his entries (II, III and VI) are not the series’ strongpoint and he failed to understand the components of what James Wan’s original concept so refreshing. The prospect of Samuel L. Jackson,however, makes for a very exciting addition to the cast. Jackson plays Chris Rock’s father, Marcus Banks, who used to be the Chief of Police. 

Spiral: From The Book Of Saw has some fascinating ideas and the return of the franchise to its mystery thriller roots is a strong decision. The fact that it is a spin-off that disassociates itself from the mainline Saw series is also a plus, as the narrative is easier to follow and doesn’t rely on interweaving itself to other instalments. Although the shift in genre is a plus, it is a shame that Spiral gives into almost every cliche in the book. You have the hegemonic ingredients of a policeman who is divorced from his wife and children, the forced buddy cop dynamic, corrupt policeforce and a killer who is always a step ahead of his victims. Despite being cliche-ridden, that’s not to say the film isn’t entertaining and the film is never boring. 

Sticking with the positives, Chris Rock brings a great energy to the material and makes for a strong, world-weary lead, even if the script he is laden with is rather wooden. He is a far more commanding presence than other leads in the series and his wisecracks add another dimension to the film without cheapening the horror and gore. Max Minghella also makes for a likeable presence as Zeke’s partner and the two have a solid chemistry. Samuel L. Jackson essentially plays himself, which is no bad thing and injects more energy into the film, but it is a real shame that he is a limited presence in the film and that the film barely makes an effort to explore the strained relationship between father and son. 

The film is visually impressive and there is a much greater emphasis on art and set design compared to other instalments. Jordan Oram’s cinematography is skilful and the film has an interesting colour palette, particularly the opening sequence of a police chase with its neon hues.  

Unfortunately, in almost every other regard, Spiral disappointing falls short. The film uneasily blends its crime thriller tone with its torture traps. The traps are for the most part unsatisfying in that they go against the series’ ethos. Jigsaw’s traps in the original films can be won by its contenders if they make a sacrifice but this is not really the case here. The traps seem inescapable. It is also disappointing to see the film revert back to the series staple of having hyper-speed edits within the traps, which provide them a music video like quality. That said, at least the traps have some sort of tie to the characters that are being tortured and their actions that they are being judged on. 

The film would have benefitted from having a longer run time. Spiral runs for a little over 90 minutes. It would have greatly benefitted with more character building moments in the story that allow the film a chance to breathe and also more sequences of the investigation and pursuit of the killer. The film’s tone is ramped up throughout and it is crying out for some quieter moments.

The execution of the final twist of the film is poorly handled and makes for a sour taste. It is easy to guess who the killer is, due to same gaping plot holes in the narrative and what is and isn’t portrayed to viewers on-screen, which undoes the sense of intrigue the film is trying to conjure.

Spiral’s problems lie with director Darren Lynn Bousman. He is unable to set the correct tone and fails to understand the structure of this type of film. Why he was hired in the first place is baffling and the film really would have benefitted from a director that was hungry to put their stamp on the material, rather than someone who has already worked on the series. 

Spiral is a frustrating entry in the franchise but when you look past its cataclysmic flaws, I appreciated the effort Chris Rock has made and it is easy to see what this film could have been if it had been better directed. The combination of the change in tone and Chris Rock’s input to the franchise make this one of the best entries in the franchise (although the bar isn’t very high) and I would be very interested in seeing more of Rock’s character in a sequel as long as a more competent director is hired. If the film had succeeded in its objectives, Spiral could have been an ambitious and intelligent knock-out that would have injected new life into the series. A real shame that the result is middling.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Those Who Wish Me Dead (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Taylor Sheridan
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen, Jake Weber, Medina Senghore, Jon Bernthal 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 100 mins

Those Who Wish Me Dead is the latest from writer-director Taylor Sheridan and in keeping with his back catalogue, is another film that explores the modern American frontier. Sheridan has had an impressive career to date. He wrote Sicario, its underrated sequel and Hell Or High Water, all of which were excellent and were amongst my favourite films of their respective years. He also wrote and directed Wind River, which was another exemplary effort. More recently, he has turned to television with Yellowstone, which is now heading into its fourth season and he co-wrote Without Remorse earlier this year, which whilst enjoyable, wasn’t up to par with his other work. Here, he adapts a 2014 novel by Michael Koryta of the same name, Koryta also credited as a screenwriter for the film, along with Charles Leavitt.

Those Who Wish Me Dead centres on Angelina Jolie’s Hannah Faber, a smokejumper, who is mentally struggling after feeling as if she failed to prevent the deaths of three individuals in a forest fire and is now stationed in a lookout tower. Her path crosses with a young 12 year old boy, Connor (Finn Little) whose father, Owen (Jake Weber) has been murdered for his knowledge by two relentless assassins (Aidan Gillen and Nicholas Hoult), who are now after Connor to silence him.  

Those Who Wish Me Dead is another original and commanding effort from Taylor Sheridan. It is frequently thrilling and as is customary for the writer-director, there are some interesting twists narratively and in its portrayal of gender. The way in which Sheridan introduces the characters allow the audience to be two steps ahead of them, which is thrilling as we can predict how they will likely act when all the pieces fall together later in the film. Sheridan is again able to extract some excellent performances from the cast. Angelina Jolie makes for a commanding screen presence, haunted by what she feels is her mistake, and this is a solid project for her to pick in her acting comeback. Gillen and Hoult make for an unstoppable reckoning as the assassins. 

Visually, the film is interesting in its portrayal of the beauty of the Montana landscape and it captures the ferocity of the forest fires the area can suffer with grandeur. There is even a memorable Brian Tyler score, whose work I have not been impressed with in the past. 

That said, on a first viewing, the film feels more slight than Sheridan’s other work and it lacks an elegiac quality. The film is quite breakneck in its pacing and some further quieter moments to develop its characters further would have been beneficial. This is what propelled Hell Or High Water from a lean and mean modern Western with moments such as an altercation at a petrol station or two characters enjoying lunch in a typically Texan bar. 

On reflection, the more slight nature of the film is perhaps intentional as we don’t know what the Macguffin is. Gillen and Hoult’s assassins are underdeveloped and we don’t know what knowledge Owen had that he has passed onto his son before his assassination. It’s powerful that Jolie is distrusting of Connor originally and then suddenly puts all of her trust in achieving the mission of evading his captors once she reads his note of his father’s findings, elevating the stakes. 

Overall, Those Who Wish Me Dead is another original concept from Sheridan and the film is a thoughtful thrill ride from start to finish with some satisfying twists, even if on a first viewing, it doesn’t appear to have as much staying power as his other work. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Woman In The Window (Review)

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⭐ (Terrible)

Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Fred Hechinger, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 100 mins

It’s staggering just how horrifically bad The Woman In The Window is. Adapted by Tracy Letts (who also features in the film) from A.J. Finn’s hit novel, this murder mystery follows agaraphobic child psychologist Anna Fox (Amy Adams) who is separated from her husband (Anthony Mackie) and daughter. Her housebound state leads her to observe her neighbours from her window, one of which is the Russell family who have recently moved in. When Anna witnesses the mother of the family, Jane (Julianne Moore) stabbed to her death, she tries to investigate the murder with the help of the police. However, Anna is also on a cocktail of medication and drinks alcohol daily, so is what he saw accurate and she’s telling the truth or does she not have a firm grip on reality?

Tracy Letts is a gifted playwright and screenwriter, behind works such as Killer Joe and August: Osage County. Joe Wright is in the director’s chair for this, who had an initially very promising career, for example with Atonement and Hanna. More recently though, he has been on rocky ground with Pan, which is one of the worst films of recent years that once seen can’t be unseen. He also directed and received acclaim for Darkest Hour, with Gary Oldman earning an Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in the film. I had some strong reservations with the film and felt that it didn’t have much to offer other than Oldman’s performance and some beautiful cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel, who is also behind the camera here. Wright assembles a terrific cast and crew here, which should have been full of promise.

The film has faced delays in making it to the big screen, with the pandemic and has finally been brought by Netflix. If anything, this was promising because the notion of an agaraphobic main character confined to her home for a long period of time should resonate with viewers who have experienced recent lockdowns, essentially a Rear Window for the coronavirus age. But alas, Rear Window, this isn’t. How on earth did it go so wrong?

I lost my patience with the film pretty early in and was hoping that it would pick up once the inciting incident of the murder happened but the film only got worse. I haven’t read the book and it looks like the film makes some minor changes but the story is more or less the same. Joe Wright’s direction is incoherently frenetic, allowing audiences to watch events unfold from the perspective of Anna. As a character, Anna is insufferable and Amy Adams tones up the camp in her peformance. How can audiences sympathise with a character that is genuinely unlikeable and consistently disrespectful of her neighbours?

The rest of the performances in the film are also terrible, with actors talking dramatically and then deciding it’s a good idea to shout, Gary Oldman a prime example. Oldman plays the patriarch of the Russell family, whose wonky American accent constantly slips into English. Wyatt Russell plays Anna’s household tenant, who lives in the basement, who Anna thinks it’s a good idea to go and snoop around his possessions and does so repeatedly after he instructs her not to. Russell’s performance is equally schizophrenic and cannot convey the darker side of his character whatsoever. Brian Tyree Henry, who is normally excellent, is also terrible as a totally unprofessional police detective. A scene at the film’s close is particularly laughable in what actions his character instructs Anna to carry out. Perhaps Jennifer Jason Leigh and Anthony Mackie come out of this experience the best as they are underutilised in the film and fail to make an impression. In fact, it’s generally surprising how little screen time most of the actors have other than Amy Adams and when the mystery is in full swing, there are just no stakes and no care to have for these characters.

After getting through 80 minutes or so, the film reaches its climax where there is a twist ending. The twist is shockingly bad and there are some unintentional laugh-out loud moments in the depiction of a fight sequence at the end of the film. Although I haven’t read the novel, whilst it’s still a poor twist, it probably works better there as the characters are better established.

Tracy Lett’s screenplay is surprisingly terrible and is chiefly to blame for this disaster. Letts may have had a strong career to date but the dialogue here is ear-scrapingly bad in places and lacks character development. His screenplay isn’t particularly cinematic which isn’t in itself a problem, as there are many effective films set in one location. Joe Wright makes a pigs ear of directing the film as he offsets the stage-play quality of the script with flashbacks and cuts from other characters perspectives, as well as riding an uneasy line between a camp and serious tone.

Even visually, the film is lacking. Bruno Delbonnel has crafted some mesmerising images in his career, behind a lot of Coen Brothers films and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Delbonnel fails to establish Anna’s house setting. As it plays such a crucial part to the film’s story, audiences should know the intracacies of it and the layout as the mystery unfolds. It is also lit in an ugly manner. The film has a camp visual aesthetic and its brief moments of gore and violence are laughable and toothless rather than alarming.

The Woman In The Window is an unmitigated failure for all involved and will surely act as a stain in the cast and crew’s career. If you choose to stick with this irritating and annoyingly disorienting film rather than end your suffering early, your curiosity will not be rewarded in the film’s climax. The only saving grace is perhaps it is a good thing this film won’t be shown in cinemas for a paying audience and will stay hidden away in the vaults of Netflix for eternity. The Woman In The Window staggered me in its unrelenting ability to punish its audience throughout and is one of the worst experiences I have had in quite some time.

⭐ (Terrible)

Oxygen (Review)

oxygen

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Alexandre Aja 
Starring: Mélanie Laurent, Mathieu Amalric, Malik Zidi 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 101 mins

Oxygen is a survival horror film where a woman wakes up in a cryogenic chamber with no recollection of how she got there, who she is and she cannot escape whilst she is running out of air. This is a strong concept that has been done before to near-perfection with Ryan Reynolds’ Buried. Buried was excellent in how it developed Reynolds’ character, the ordeal he had to go through and it didn’t outstay its welcome. The ever-versatile Mélanie Laurent is in the lead role here, most famous for her role in Inglourious Basterds. The film is directed by Alexandre Aja, who is a seasoned hand with horror, with works such as The Hills Have Eyes, the underrated Horns and the alligator invasion disaster film Crawl.

Oxygen makes the most out of its single location and there is a committed performance from Mélanie Laurent. It is handsomely shot by Maxime Alexandre, who conveys the panic-inducing claustrophobia of the suffocating space and the film is well-directed with Aja making the most of the film’s budget. Some of the film’s technical, more showy moments are impressive for a film of this stature.

Unfortunately, Oxygen runs into trouble in the second half. It is a good 20-30 mins overlong for its story and the antics Laurent has to go through begin to wear thin and are repetitive. Its final act is also very disappointing and the narrative choices felt like a cop-out. Buried wildly succeeded in its simplicity but Aja overcomplicates matters here and delves down a rabbit hole. It is understandable that Aja wanted to lean more heavily into sci-fi but it costs the film its promising build up.

Oxygen is ultimately one of the better efforts of a survival horror in one location but the good work of its first act fails to pay off with its poor narrative choices later in the film and it outstays its welcome. It’s a valiant effort and a back-to-basics approach for Aja but the second half disappoints in its failure to pay off the promising first half.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Nomadland (Review)

nomadland

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Chloé Zhao
Starring: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 109 mins

Nomadland is an original and unassuming exploration into the nomadic lifestyle that a proportion of Americans take where they cannot afford to live by conventional means in a bricks and mortar dwelling. In what is director Chloe Zhao’s third feature, Nomadland paints a desperate situation where hard-working Americans cannot afford to live in a normal society. We follow Frances McDormand’s widowed and unemployed Fern. She describes herself as ‘houseless’ and chooses to travel the US, partaking in various job opportunities, living from her van. These jobs range from a stint in Amazon to working in hot and sweaty kitchens to running a spa. We meet some real-life nomads that her character crosses paths with along the way, as well as a blossoming relationship with another nomad played by David Strathairn.

The performances are first-rate in the film, with Frances McDormand winning her third Best Actress Oscar for this role. McDormand is brilliant here but she could play this type of role in her sleep – it doesn’t rate with the quality of her other two wins in Fargo and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Of the other characters, it is Charlene Swankie (as Swankie!) who makes the biggest impression in the film’s best sequence where she recounts her life choices and philosophies. Technically, Nomadland is excellent as well with Joshua James Richard’s Terence Malick-esque cinematography beautifully capturing the vast open landscapes and offering a magical quality. Ludovico Einaudi’s piano-based score is sparsely used but packs a punch when it is featured.

With the Awards success Nomadland has received, not least a Best Picture Oscar win, it’s easy to go into the film with lofty expectations. Nomadland is not perfect, by any means. Save for Swankie’s affecting monologue, the film never really packs enough of an emotional wallop and there are sequences in the film that are languorously paced. Nomadland is a strong and original film that blends fact and fiction seamlessly with some amiable performances, even if it is somewhat overrated.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Without Remorse (Review)

 

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Stefano Sollima
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Luke Mitchell, Jack Kesy, Brett Gelman, Lauren London, Colman Domingo, Guy Pearce 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 109 mins

Without Remorse is the long-awaited adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel and refreshingly follows the character of John Clark, a US Navy SEAL rather than Jack Ryan in previous films, but Clark is also very much a shadow recruit. This adaptation has been through a raft of various cast and crew throughout the years such as Keanu Reeves and Tom Hardy. Ultimately, what has arrived on screens settles on the ever-versatile Michael B. Jordan as John Clark. In the director’s chair is Stefano Sollima who created a near-masterpiece with Sicario 2: Soldado in its grim and unrelenting atmosphere. Sollima reunites with screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who co-writes the film with Will Staples. Sheridan has gone from strength to strength, responsible for both Sicario films, the heavily Oscar-nominated Hell Or High Water and Wind River and is yet to stumble. Can this promising talent deliver?

Without Remorse excels in its action sequences and dour first half but it suffers with its obvious story and narrative choices in the second half. Sollima and Sheridan do a commendable job of establishing Clark and his blossoming relationship with his pregnant wife but circumstances unfortunately do not allow Clark to spend time with his family. The film does a really good job in getting into the psyche of Clark’s character and Jordan convinces with his dispassionate and vengeful attitude. By the mid-point of the film, there isn’t much hope to hold for the future of Clark. Sollima also succeeded with the tone of the narrative in Sicario 2: Soldado which felt like going into a dark abyss. The action sequences are intelligently crafted and are majestic in spectacle for the budget this film has.

Michael B. Jordan is excellent in the lead role, his character fuelled by rage and grief. There are strong performances across the board, Jamie Bell successful as a shady CIA operative and Jodie Turner-Smith has good chemistry with Jordan. Lauren London also makes a strong impression in her brief role. It’s always good to see Guy Pearce in a film and he chews the scenery here.

The film runs into problems in its second half where it takes some questionable yet obvious narrative choices, which are typical for the genre. The intelligent development of the first half isn’t sustained. What we get is still entertaining but one has to suspend disbelief in the events being portrayed on-screen. Sheridan and Staples’ script isn’t quite as fresh as previous work, as it lacks some of the nuanced character development, opting instead for a faster action pace.

Without Remorse is ultimately above average for this type of action thriller and Sollima succeeds in creating a dark atmosphere for the first half and achieves some assured performances from the cast. I’d be more than on board for any future instalments (the film hints at a Rainbow Six adaptation) as some good groundwork is built here. It doesn’t live up to the lofty standards both Sollima and Sheridan have established in their careers thus far but this is still a solid piece of work and certainly worth a watch.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Sound Of Metal (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Darius Marder
Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Mathieu Amalric 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 120 mins

Sound of Metal is a poignant and original drama about a drummer, Ruben (Riz Ahmed) who loses his hearing and the impact that has on him and his relationship with his partner, Lou (Olivia Cooke). Directed by Darius Marder in his debut after writing The Place Beyond The Pines, this is a touching and at times, fascinating delve into the world of the deaf and how they integrate into society, or in this film’s case, how some form their own isolated community. Riz Ahmed is terrific in the lead role, a desperate and thoroughly down-on-his-luck individual who isn’t taken seriously by society after a stint with drugs.

The film is particularly impressive on a technical level with how it uses sound, from sequences of pure silence to the sounds of what Ruben can hear, a muffled, tinny aura of society. This film more than deserved its Oscar win for its sound and editing.

Unfortunately, Sound of Metal falters in its pacing. The film is languorous in its 130 minute run time and doesn’t delve deep enough into the inner psyche of Ruben’s personality. He is forced into his desperate situation but the film would have really benefitted if we had learnt more about Ruben’s context and character first and it would have had more pathos.

Sound of Metal is an assured first film from director Darius Marder that succeeds more on a technical level and with its central performance rather than substance. The fact that the film received the extent of Awards attention that it did heightened my expectations perhaps too much, as the film underdelivered for me.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)