Justice League (Review)

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⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds

Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 120 mins

It feels rather surreal that Justice League has finally arrived on the big screen, particularly after a really tumultous production. After the negative critical reception to both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) and Suicide Squad, Warner Bros decided to rein returning director Zack Snyder back by making the film less dark, murky and devoid of humour which were the problems that plagued BvS. As for myself, I have always liked and will always defend Snyder’s vision on that particular film, so from the start this film always felt as if it was aiming in the wrong direction. The Justice League are what DC is to Marvel’s Avengers, the culmination and grouping of these superheroes together in a feature film. Not just for myself, but for years, even the notion of a Justice League film happening was one I had never dreamed would come. Snyder unfortunately left the project this year after a family tragedy and Avengers director Joss Whedon stepped in to finish the project. Whilst we’ll never know exactly who shot what, Whedon then was commissioned to lead extensive reshoots on the film, also replacing Junkie XL as composer with Danny Elfman and having to cut the film down to a 120 minute run time which is strongly suspected to have been mandated by the studio.

Unfortunately, this all shows on-screen. Justice League is an absolute mess and is the result of again, too many cooks in the kitchen. Snyder and Whedon as filmmakers pull in completely different directions, with Whedon injecting more humour into the film whereas Snyder has always been the more visionary filmmaker. Whilst I was watching the film, I never felt the stakes faced against these characters and the film has no sense of flow. 120 minutes is a very short run time for the story this film tries to tell and is the shortest DCEU installment thus far. The film neglects to develop its new characters of Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash that it introduces and has a very forgettable, one-dimensional CGI villain with typical end-of-the-world antics.

The biggest problem with the film is it feels unfinished. This is from everything down to the film itself, its acting and its visual effects. You can trash BvS all you want but you can’t deny that there were multiple instances in which Snyder stunned his audience with some mesmerising visuals. Justice League has none of that and its big set pieces aren’t convincing or believable due to the poor visual effects. By extension, the whole film feels as if it has been cobbled together at the last minute, a far cry from what it once was before. Everyone in the cast looks tired and the performances are mostly wooden and lacking energy. Of the new characters, Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is going to have to do a lot of work to impress me in his standalone film next year as I thought his character was stupid and he spends virtually the entire film out of the water as opposed to in it which are his strengths. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is average and some of Ezra Miller’s humour as The Flash sticks but some of it aggressively doesn’t. Ciaran Hinds is a fine actor and god knows what they were thinking when they made his villain all-CGI so as not for Hinds to showcase his talents and his villain is so bland, so one-dimensional and again, this trend of poor visual effects continues as his villain looks like he came straight out of an early generation computer game.

The script is just woeful. It is penned by Chris Terrio, who also wrote BvS but Whedon also recieves a credit for his rewrite and like the film, the script feels as if it’s the two of them pulling in different directions. Many attempts at humour feel forced and the film often resorts to cliched exposition. The film’s final set piece, which should be the crowning jewel of this kind of a film, is boring and lazy. Characters make many references to saving the poor citizens who are being terrorised by the villain but we only see this suffering through the eyes of one family. Justice League has a huge $300 million budget – surely the filmmakers could have established a sense of scope in order to invoke that this situation is actually dangerous.

Danny Elfman’s score has recieved some flack for him not opting to reuse the themes Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL had used in the previous films, instead opting to use his classic Batman theme and John Williams’ Superman one. Although perhaps in principle, an interesting idea, what of Elfman’s score that has made it into the film sadly doesn’t really stick. I would like to point out however that on the soundtrack, there are a couple of interesting tracks that for some reason haven’t made it into the film. Fabian Wagner’s cinematography is also sound but lacks the ambition and beauty of Snyder-regular, Larry Fong.

Justice League is not a bad film overall – it’s just a crushingly disappointing one with a real lack of ambition. With the talent involved and what could have been, it’s a real shame that the film that we get is one that doesn’t have much personality, is frustratingly pedestrian and inoffensively bland. There are a moments in it which showcase some of the better qualities of Snyder and Whedon but the cut that has been put together doesn’t fit together and it makes for a very jarring experience. I kept having to remind myself that I was actually watching a Justice League film because the low stakes that were being portrayed on-screen and the sub-par film weren’t really what I had anticipated.

DC need to have a big think going forward. With the exception of Wonder Woman earlier in the year, nothing has seemed to stick with audiences looking at past examples. Justice League is certainly not the worst film of the year and it is a film where I will always imagine what could have been. It will be interesting to see what happens with the standalone Aquaman film next year. Although his character recieved a poor introduction in this film, James Wan is in the director’s chair and hasn’t really put a foot wrong so I have confidence the first step in permanently course-correcting this franchise starts with him. We will have to wait and see.

⭐⭐ (Poor)

 

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Only The Brave (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, James Badge Dale, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly 

Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 133 mins

Only The Brave translates the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a team of firefighters who died fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire in June 2013, to the screen. It is directed by Joseph Kosinski, who previously directed Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, both films that garnered mixed reviews. Kosinski has assembled an impressive cast consisting of Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly to name a few of its talents and tells this inspiring story from the perspective of the firefighters and we see how this team of firefighters impact on their community and their family lives.

Only The Brave is easily the best film of Kosinki’s career and a gripping account of the subject material. It is clear that the cast have the utmost respect for these heroes, resplendent in the modest, genuine performances. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Kosinski is more of a visionary director than a narrative one and his previous filmography is visually pleasing to look at. Why Only The Brave works so well is because it combines Kosinki’s visual talents with a very solid script, allowing a strong equilibrium between the visual and the story. Kosinski captures the forest fires extremely faithfully – they felt genuinely threatening on the screen, the images of smoke and burning woodlands. The characters are also really well developed and I felt empathy particularly for Josh Brolin and Miles Tellers’ characters, the latter being our insight into the forest firefighter industry, a character trying everything he can to turn his life around from his dark past.

The film is not quite without its flaws though: it’s a little pedestrian in places and relies on generic beats of the genre at times. Furthermore, the film also gets off to a wobbly start, with its rather initially overt and on-the-nose presentation of gender at a few moments.

That said, Only The Brave is a largely successful effort and definitely represents a peak for director Joseph Kosinski. Perhaps, like Peter Berg who has also found success with adapting true stories into films such as Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day after initially making turgid duds, this genre could be where Kosinski finally finds home as a filmmaker? Only time will tell…

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 121 mins

A Palme D’Or contender earlier in the year, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the latest by Greek director, Yorgos Lanthimos, who solidified himself as a talent to watch with his English language debut film, The Lobster, in 2015 and before that, the deeply unnerving DogtoothThe Killing of a Sacred Deer sees the director reteaming with the ever-reliable Colin Farrell in the lead role as a cardiothoracic surgeon, Steve Murphy, who we first see completing open heart surgery in the film’s striking opening moments to Schubert’s ‘Stabat Mater’ in F minor. Murphy lives in a upper market, suburban area with his wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman) and two children, Kim and Bob (Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic). Unknown to his family at the beginning of the film and for reasons not disclosed even to the film’s audience, Steve is a mentor to a teenager called Martin, played by the rising talent Barry Keoghan who was excellent back in the Summer in Christopher Nolan‘s Dunkirk. Martin is presented from the outset as a deeply disturbed and challenged individual with a past and his relationship with Steve feels extremely unnatural and sickly.

As with his previous filmography, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a genuinely unnerving and memorable experience, rich with strong themes and disturbing imagery. It is a film that requires multiple rewatches, particularly as Lanthimos has rooted this narrative in a Euripidian Ancient Greek myth. I felt genuinely unclean after watching it and was left thinking about it for quite a while.

Lanthimos maintains his signature arch, one-note dialogue and the characters are again, irrational yet weirdly enticing to watch. Farrell continues to prove why he is one of the most reliable actors in the business and whilst I’m not the biggest fan of Nicole Kidman, she does a great job here. It is however, the younger actors, who perhaps fare the best with Keoghan, Cassidy and Suljic all turning in brilliant performances and being able to mesh their adolescent innocence and maturity, fused with Lanthimos’ characterisation and dialogue.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer often feels not too dissimilar from a body horror film with Lanthimos’ bold music choices, amplifying the sustained tension and grisliness throughout the film and the situation the characters find themselves entrapped within. This is heightened by Thimios Bakatakis’ cinematography, which allows the film to feel very claustrophobic and sickening at times but also, the shots in the city and the hospital have clear power over the characters, vast spaces in a labyrinthine maze that Lanthimos’ characters are trapped in. There is one particular shot of a character blindfolded and spinning which I found very difficult to watch but the execution and staging of this scene is perhaps one of the most memorable images of the year.

I’m not sure whether The Killing of a Sacred Deer is an enjoyable experience or not but it’s certainly a memorable one and it’s a film that I cannot wait to watch again. It’s films like this that challenge and question their audiences that keep me fascinated with the film industry. It’ll be a hard film to seek out as it’s in a limited release, but I would definitely recommend making the effort to see this. The Killing of a Sacred Deer cements Lanthimos as one of the most powerful voices of cinema of our time.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Florida Project (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Sean Baker
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 115 mins

After universally impressing with Tangerine, a film shot on an iPhone 5S, director Sean Baker is back with another insight into society, this time in the deprived areas surrounding Disney World in Florida, hence the film’s title derision from the working name for Walt Disney’s project. But where the film also takes place is in effect, not unlike American “project” communities. Although Baker’s film is now shot on more conventional film, The Florida Project is an equally unconventional, searing look at society.

We follow six year old Moonee and her twenty two year old mother, Halley, both brilliantly played by Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite, who are equally stars in the making. They are both ‘residents’ at The Magic Castle motel. Although the motel’s name might connote expectations of happiness and fantasy, these connotations can be discarded as the majority of the people who reside there are in effect tenants, only to legally work, they have to move themselves and their belongings out for a day intermittently. Moonee is a highly inquisitive girl, whose playful character often gets the better of her as she pranks others with her friends from these residences. Her heart is in the right place, however, and she only ever wants the best for everyone. Her mother, Halley, is struggling both emotionally and with money and the film follows how she is becoming increasingly unhinged and how this is putting strain on her daughter until a crescendo of tension in the film’s finale. But she still clearly has a motherly love for her daughter and wants the best for her, despite knowing how best to raise her child. Willem Dafoe puts in a career-best performance as Bobby Hicks, the manager of this particular hotel, who effectively acts as a father figure to the children. He comes across to them as stern, even bordering on unfriendly at times but he so clearly wants what is best for his tenants welfare.

At times, The Florida Project is a fascinating character study and explores the juxtaposition of adulthoood and childhood and its climax is particularly moving. But the film panders along more than enough to get there, it is definitely a good twenty minutes too long. That said, it is a film that warrants repeat viewings as it leaves a lot of questions for its audience, something that more casual viewers may perhaps feel rather underwhelmed. Although deeply flawed, Baker’s film is certainly a story worth watching unfold.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Murder On The Orient Express (Review)

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⭐⭐ (Poor)

This piece was further developed and submitted as part of my portfolio for a university project. 

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, 
Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 114 mins

Murder on the Orient Express is yet another adaptation of Agatha Christie’s crime novel, only this one is directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh as famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. After solving a theft by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, Poirot feels he has earned a well-earned holiday and one would be inclined to agree with the sheer amount of cases Christie has challenged him with in her many novels. However, this is short-lived when his presence is required in London so instead of an exotic holiday, he gets to travel in luxury aboard the lavish Orient Express. However, somebody is murdered on the journey and the train derails after an avalanche, effectively forcing Poirot to put his plans of a holiday on hold again. Branagh faces some strong competition from other adaptations and performances of the character – my personal favourite would be David Suchet in the television series, who is pretty much note-perfect.

Luckily, Branagh more than ably steps up to the task and his iteration of Poirot is outlandish and theatrical but with grace and respect for the character as well. In addition, he has also crafted the most fabulous yet outrageous moustache for Poirot!  However, Branagh puts his character so front and centre that he neglects to develop the rest of the cast. Branagh has perhaps one of the most star-studded casts of the year with actors such as Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer and Penelope Cruz, but pretty much all of them just chew the scenery because they are given virtually nothing to work with. All of the suspects feature in introductory moments in the film as Poirot learns who he is travelling with and in an interrogation scene once the murder occurs. It’s a real shame and it makes the film quite oddly uninvolving and cold at times as there is nothing to latch on to. Branagh certainly has the ability, with his 2007 thriller remake, Sleuth, being a very gripping experience but this is weirdly not the case here.

Musically, Patrick Doyle’s score is a disaster. Doyle has composed pretty much all of Branagh’s directorial efforts and they’re generally a great match but what Doyle has come up with here aggressively does not fit with the film.

The other big issue I have with the film is its ending which I really didn’t like and felt cheated by it. It also then begins to reveal, in my opinion, plot holes in the entire concept of the narrative, practically undoing the film. I won’t be discussing spoilers but this is probably the biggest factor as to why my ultimate reaction is more negative than positive.

On the plus side, as well as Branagh’s performance, the film looks great. The cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos is excellent and a lot of shots almost feel as if they are an unnamed passenger, watching on the events unfolding. There are also some breathtaking, sweeping shots of the train and surrounding landscapes. The film certainly stylistically and visually looks the part.

I’m afraid I’m rather reticient to be overall positive on Murder on the Orient Express as is style over substance and its narrative and development of characters is very unsatisfying. Although perhaps a crude comparison, say what you will about The Snowman but at least that had the guts to be nasty at times and as silly as it was, I was more interested in it. The film is not a complete failure though – to give credit where it’s due, Branagh at least has the right building blocks should a sequel be made, which the film sets up in its final scene. I’d happily watch his iteration of the character solve a more satisfying mystery, coupled with the fact that the film is visually pleasing. Murder on the Orient Express is ultimately not the slamdunk on paper it should have been and its wasted journey should never have really left the station.

⭐⭐ (Poor)

Breathe (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Andy Serkis
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville, Dean Charles Chapman, Miranda Raison, Ed Speelers, Jonathan Hyde, Diana Rigg 

Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 117 mins

Breathe marks the directorial debut of motion capture maestro Andy Serkis and recounts the important, true story of Robin Cavendish, an individual whose content life is brought to a halt after he is stricken down with polio. Cavendish is played by the ever-talented Andrew Garfield, who put in two brilliant performances already this year in Silence and Hacksaw Ridge. Breathe is arguably the most physical of the three performances for Garfield, who very much has to act with his facial expressions. Serkis is no stranger to the theme of disability, putting in a brilliant performance in Ian Dury biopic, Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll. 

Breathe is a decidedly safe film, mind, and is a neat, concise account of Cavendish’s life. Andrew Garfield, again demonstrates why he is one of the best actors working currently, towering over the rest of the cast. I’m reluctant to call it ‘Oscar-bait’ as that would be a disservice to its powerful story but Serkis would have really benefitted from crafting a more dark and daring film that explored more of Cavendish’s pains and feelings rather than every single character being portrayed as so upbeat, a quintessentially British mood. The swooning score by Nitin Sawhney fits the film neatly too and there are some nice moment in Robert Richardson’s cinematography.

Serkis runs into big problems late into the film as he simply doesn’t know where to end it. In my opinion, Serkis has two great opportunities (one after a powerful speech and another, after a shot of the ventilator working) but he squanders it and the film becomes overlong and increasingly emotionally manipulative. The final scenes are obviously intended for audiences to shed a tear but it left me cold, threatening to undo the good work he had done in the first 90 minutes.

For all its flaws, I was never bored by Breathe and for its first 90 minutes or so, it is particularly strong and tells a timely story of Cavendish’s life. It’s just a shame that Serkis chose not to be more risk-averse. If he did, the film could have been particularly special and that would justify its existence more for the relevant Awards.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Thor: Ragnarok (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins 

Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 130 mins

Thor: Ragnarok is the latest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe canon and the third solo outing for the God of Thunder. The previous films (Thor and Thor: The Dark World) have generally been regarded as lesser entries in the collection but I moderately enjoyed both of them. Kiwi director Taika Waititi is in the director’s chair, having previously directed What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople, two films that I love. Waititi is a genuine and growing talent and Thor: Ragnarok is his first big-budget film. It is quite surprising in itself that Marvel were even able to sign such a talented director up for a film after famously losing key figures such as Edgar Wright from Ant-Man and Patty Jenkins from Thor: The Dark World to avoid compromising their vision. Waititi has a daunting task on his hands – firstly, to elevate himself up to a behemoth of a project as this and secondly, to make a universally appealing Thor film to overturn the notion of them being lesser films around. There is always the danger of these smaller directors having their visions corrupted by the studio (or worse destroyed like Josh Trank on Fantastic Four for example) so it will be interesting to see how much of Waititi’s style seeps its way into the film.

Waititi decides to make multiple changes to the format of the narrative the first two films took. Firstly, by ditching Earth. The first two films were heavily set on our planet, mostly to perform the function of serving Thor’s love interest, Jane, capably played by Natalie Portman. This is truly a film set in the cosmic realms, where Chris Hemsworth’s Nordic God must prevent the titular Ragnarok (end of the worlds in essence) after his evil half sister, Hela, the Goddess of Death played by Aussie Cate Blanchett wreaks havoc. Thor finds himself on Planet Sakaar, a garbage-filled yet colourful location where it is being run in a dictatorship by Jeff Goldblum’s zanily tyrannical Grandmaster. Thor finds himself quickly becoming a “contender” where he’ll have to battle to claim his victory against an unknown entity but unless he makes a mutinous escape, he’s pretty much locked in the Grandmaster’s clutches. You can probably see how this all comes together. Tom Hiddleston’s fan favourite Loki also returns and Waititi introduces new characters alongside Blanchett and Goldblum’s villains with Karl Urban as Skurge and Tessa Thompson as a Valkyrie, a warrior who had previously battled Blanchett’s unstoppable villain but is now a deflated, moody drunkard working for the Grandmaster.

Thor: Ragnarok is a Taika Waititi film through and through – it retains his signature humour and really inverts expectations on what a Thor film should be. This feels refreshingly different from the first two films, more vibrantly coloured and more comical. The film is extremely entertaining and puts the characters that we have grown to like over the course of the films in rather vulnerable positions throughout the film and there is a real sense of danger prevalent. Unlike recent comic book films which have a great, big (and boring) action climax at the end of the film to save the world, Thor: Ragnarok actually earns its finale. The marketing for this film has also been extremely impressive upon viewing the final product – there’s a lot that Marvel have managed to withold from its audiences which is very satisfying.

The cast are expectedly great, with Chris Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum and director Taika Waititi himself making the biggest impressions. When not given the right material, Hemsworth’s performances dangerously verge on wooden but Waititi’s switch to a more comical film is a task that Hemsworth leaps up to and he proves a very deft hand at comedy (in addition to a well-needed haircut). Goldblum essentially plays himself as the Grandmaster and has many great lines and scenes with the characters. Waititi appears himself as Korg, a rock monster of sorts who trains the Grandmaster’s contenders before they fight and Waititi’s performance, based on Polynesian club bouncers, is extraordinary, managing to balance both rib-tickling humour and required heart. The rest of the cast all generally fare well but Blanchett’s villain isn’t given all that much to do sadly but when she is on-screen, she’s good enough. There is one exception though. Bizzarely, Mark Ruffalo’s performance as Bruce Banner / Hulk. Whilst Ruffalo is great as Hulk who Waititi really develops as a character, Ruffalo is terrible in this film as Bruce Banner. Following the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Banner has been permanently living in his Hulk guise. When he becomes Banner, Ruffalo’s performance feels oddly dejected from the film – it’s very strange and is the first time Ruffalo has ever underperformed in my book.

Waititi’s tone is frequently brilliant throughout the film and Thor: Ragnarok takes itself much less seriously than Thor’s previous outings. If there’s an issue with the film, it’s with the opening (although not the very first scene which is brilliant) before Thor finds himself on Sakaar. Waitit’s influence isn’t felt quite as much here and the film feels a bit choppily edited in a brief escapade back to Earth. Once Thor reaches Sakaar, the film never really lets go of its grip and it doesn’t let its foot off the gas until the credits roll.

Thor: Ragnarok is a big success for Marvel and a seamless leap to big budget fare from Taika Waititi. I was constantly entertained by it and its ending reminded me of the magic Marvel can pull off which makes Avengers: Infinity War look a very promising prospect next year, particularly with how the film surprisingly ends. Along with Spider-Man: Homecoming this year, Marvel have had 2/3 successes in my book – it’s just a shame Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was a disappointment. Otherwise, I can’t wait for where the characters are taken from here and what Taika Waititi goes on to direct next.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Death Of Stalin (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Jeffrey Tambor 

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 106 mins

After a rather long hiatus from last directing In The Loop, Armando Iannucci is back with a film about Soviet Russia about the titular death of Stalin and the power battle between his confidante’s that ensues. Iannucci has great flair for coming up with sweary, sophisticated insults with his larger-than-life characters and certainly, the connection between him and Soviet Russia is one that is ripe for invention, strengthened by an A-list cast.

The Death of Stalin begins in barnstorming fashion with a brilliant extended sequence set in a radio station where Paddy Considine’s character is asked by Stalin to hand him a recording of the Mozart concert currently being performed – which bemusingly, he hasn’t been recording it and has to find alternative methods to escape not only humiliation, but more importantly his life. Although nothing can match this superb sequence, there are still some other fairly memorably amusing sequences between its buffoonish characters. The film is really quite dark at times and offers a particularly bleak view of Soviet history. This squanders the overall tone and Iannucci’s film suffers from never being quite mean-spirited or funny enough.

Fortunately, the cast more than make up for Iannucci’s shortcomings. Jeffrey Tambor perhaps gives the best performance as Georgy Malenkov, Stalin’s deputy who clearly seems to be having fun in the role and has some great lines. Simon Russell Beale’s repulsively nasty but humorous head who is in charge of eliminating Stalin’s threats is an equal pleasure of the film, as is Jason Isaac’s sweary Yorkshire-accented Army Chief.

The Death of Stalin is certainly an enjoyable experience which is sophisticatedly funny in parts but suffers from an unbalanced tone and not pushing the boundaries more than what the film could and should have been, based off Iannucci’s past works.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

 

The Snowman (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Toby Jones, Val Kilmer, J.K. Simmons

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 119 mins

Based on Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø’s hit novel and bolstered by a strong director and all-star cast, I found a lot to like in The Snowman despite universally poor reviews. It requires one to totally suspend all manner of disbelief –  plot holes and plot threads that end up being frustratingly redundant are aplenty and the killer’s (unfortunately easy to guess) motives are laughable. It also requires one to overlook a couple of terrible performances from Charlotte Gainsbourg (in particular a laughable sex scene where she merely gyrates on a character momentarily), Val Kilmer and Chloë Sevigny in a dual role. What is entertaining is watching how Michael Fassbender’s alcoholic and unorthodox Detective Harry Hole and his colleagues, including Rebecca Ferguson’s new recruit with a troubled past, attempt to solve a ludicrous case with the film’s overripe premise of a murderer who constructs snowmen as his calling card. The film is also laden with enticing Nordic imagery and some sweeping, atmospheric landscape shots by cinematographer Dion Beebe and an occasionally thoughtful score by Marco Beltrami.

There’s no questioning Tomas Alfredson’s credibility as a director, responsible for Let The Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Once the first wave of negative reviews began to surface, Alfredson claimed that approximately 10-15% wasn’t shot – this would account for some of the plot holes and it’s clear he’s tried to the best job he can with the resources he’s had. The film sets itself up for a sequel rather explicitly in its final scene which I’m sure will nark people off who have suffered through the film but I’d happily watch another film with Fassbender’s Detective again. There’s a hell of a lot wrong with The Snowman but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the sheer absurdity of it all.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Loving Vincent (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman
Starring: Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Chris O’Dowd, John Sessions, Eleanor Tomlinson, Aidan Turner 

Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 97 mins

Loving Vincent is the first of its kind – a fully painted animated feature film, about the life of famous painter, Vincent Van Gogh. Every frame (approximately 65,000 of them in the film) has been handpainted on oil canvas by a team of 115 artists, using the same technique as Van Gogh’s art. It’s certainly a bold experiment and a wholly original concept, furthering the parameters of the creative process.

The film follows protagonist, Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), the son of a Postman (Chris O’Dowd) who delivered and distributed Van Gogh’s famous letters. Ironically, Armand is tasked to deliver Vincent’s final letter to his brother, Theo who famously corresponded via this format. Armand’s journey takes him to Auvers-sur-Oise, a rural town just outside of Paris where Van Gogh had spent his final days.

I must confess I didn’t really know all that much about Van Gogh other than the obvious going in to the film and was unsure if this film was going to be a big gimmick or if it could balance both the technical aspects whilst also working as a film in its own right.

Loving Vincent is quite extraordinary – it is a haunting, elegiac and mournful account of this late artist’s life and the struggles he faced. The film is profoundly humane in the way it portrays him and at times, inhumane in his treatment by other characters in the film. Once Armand arrives in Auvers, the film transforms into a detective-thriller as Armand learns from the citizens what kind of character the artist was and the particulars leading to his suicide. The film also works as a morality tale and has knowing odes to Citizen Kane with the notion of people’s experiences and perceptions of others. There are many scenes that are just perfectly judged and on a technical level, the paintings are spellbinding. The ever-dependable Clint Mansell’s score is also worthy of commendation – it is the glue that holds this film together and features many memorable cues and themes.

The film was originally meant to be live-action before the switch to animation and I think it is to the film’s benefit it originally tried to pursue itself in live-action. The costume design and performances by the film’s cast are superb and in the credits, we get to see what the actors were meant to originally look like and the way this has been realised through the paintings is just magnificent. Douglas Booth, who also appeared earlier last month in The Limehouse Golem, I think gives a career-best performance. He is totally committed to the character and none of Booth’s mannerisms are lost in the paintings. Eleanor Tomlinson and Aidan Turner also standout as two figures of the town as does Jerome Flynn in a pivotal role.

If there’s a problem with the film, the script occasionally feels rather mechanical  and doesn’t particularly feel realistic in terms of what characters say. It’s a minor problem that is not a detriment to the overall film and perhaps another edit would have ironed out this problem.

Loving Vincent is pretty much flawless in all other respects and it is generally a wonderful experience to have. It’s a film that feels so lovingly put together and well-judged and the ghost of Vincent Van Gogh looms over the entire film. We’ll never know exactly what happened but the film offers many plausible opinions but it always has the utmost respect for this artist. Loving Vincent is one of the very best films of the year and has made up for a generally middling Summer.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)