Captain Marvel (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck 
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law 
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 124 mins

Captain Marvel is the final film before the deliriously anticipated Avengers: Endgame. Although it may seem as if it is filler material, it sets in motion the famous superhero’s story before she enters the fray with the other established Avengers. Captain Marvel also represents Marvel’s first female-led feature which is a big deal and the bar set by rival DC with Wonder Woman is fairly high. Captain Marvel is introduced in this film as an amnesiac who is training to fight a war against the Skrulls led by Kree leader Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). She has glimpses of her previous life on Earth but cannot piece together how she has come to be. This film is directed by duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who previously directed the flawed but fun Mississippi Grind. They don’t seem a great fit with the material and the marketing for the film didn’t particularly instil confidence. How does Captain Marvel fare?

Other than a wonky first act, Captain Marvel is entertaining throughout and is refreshingly light for a superhero film. It’s also a film that doesn’t spend copious amounts of time explaining everything and the decision to start the film on an alien planet with a whole race of beings audiences are not familiar with is quite bold. Once Captain Marvel finds herself on Earth, there is some great interplay between Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, who gets developed exponentially as a character here. The film is at its best when it fully embraces its 90s setting and fun is poked at Larson’s fish-out-of-water character. When the superhero antics finally arrive, the film doesn’t outstay its welcome and it’s never boring. The film has some good twists up its sleeve too and subverts expectations.

The performances are generally good, with Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn being the standouts. Nick Furyhas always seemed a little one-note for a Samuel L. Jackson character compared to his exhaustive filmography but here we get to see a different side to him which works well. Ben Mendelsohn, who previous collaborated with the duo on Mississippi Grind, plays a Skrull called Talos and he is equally great and is clearly having a fun time, chewing the scenery. Brie Larson is good as Captain Marvel and is better towards the film’s end but she plays the character a little stiff and wooden. But if you look back to stalwarts Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans first outings for examples, they weren’t great so good things are to be expected once Larson and the crew have settled into their roles.

Overall, Captain Marvel is surprisingly better than expected and ranks strongly in the Marvel canon. It is ultimately a good leading film into Avengers: Endgame and it will be very interesting to see where the character is taken next. It’s particularly impressive that Boden and Fleck are able to avoid many of the genre pitfalls and suggests good things to come now that they have established the characters. This is a much better film than expected and offers strong competition against DC’s Wonder Woman.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

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Green Book (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Peter Farrelly 
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 130 mins

After a spotty career with more misses than hits, it seems slightly surreal that Peter Farrelly, one half of the Farrelly Brothers famous for gross-out comedy, is tackling a true story drama. Green Book tells the story of a New York bouncer, Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) who loses his job at the beginning of a film and needs work. He is portrayed to be an apalling racist, loves to eat pretty much anything and has a close knit relationship with his father. Things take a turn when he takes up a job of escorting an African-American pianist, Doctor Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a musical tour through the Mid-West and Deep South. The two initially clash but are brought together after some instances of racism against Don Shirley and the two form an unlikely friendship.

Despite a somewhat problematic white saviour narrative, on the surface Green Book is a thoroughly enjoyable film with some outstanding performances from both Mortensen and Ali. The script is sharp and provides some fascinating insights into this prejudiced culture. The interplay and relationships between characters is also excellent, who I really got on board with from the start. It is well-directed by Peter Farrelly and fantastically paced.

Green Book provided a controversial win at this year’s Oscars as it ultimately took the coveted Best Picture gong. Whilst I really like it as a film, the controversies surrounding how it represents race and ethnicity are valid. It is unashamedly a white saviour narrative and the film does perpetuate stereotypes. These are questions that come up after watching the film and although it does somewhat tarnish the quality of the film, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Green Book.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Mule (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Clint Eastwood 
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, Andy García 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 116 mins

The Mule is the latest by Clint Eastwood and his first performance in front of the camera since Trouble with the Curve back in 2012. Inspired by a true story, this film 90 year old horticulturist and Korean War veteran, Earl Stone, who becomes a drug mule for the Mexican Cartel. At the start of the film, we see that he is in financial hardship and estranged from his family. When he takes the job due to his love of driving and seeing the country, he doesn’t realise what he is doing until he takes a look at what he is transporting in the back of his van. Due to his age and unthreatening nature, the Cartel begin to entrust him with bigger amounts of cocaine and more trips. At the same time, the DEA are investigating the Cartel and start to close in on Stone. Eastwood has a knack for working with fascinating material, demonstrated by his vast filmography both in front of and behind the camera. Both American Sniper and Sully were excellent additions to his most recent filmography but The 15:17 to Paris marked a major disappointment, despite the interesting premise.

The Mule is a gripping film that ramps up the tension throughout its run time and has a commanding, grizzled performance from Eastwood. Eastwood has played this type of gruff character many times throughout his impressive career but it still works, particlarly when paired with the fascinating story.  The film also teaches some well-intentioned messages and morals and there’s an admirable relationship within Stone’s family that felt authentic and also the relationship between Eastwood and Bradley Cooper’s DEA agent. I also really liked how Eastwood humanized the drug cartel members which results in some memorable characters for Eastwood to interact with. In fact, the script by Nick Schenk, who also wrote Gran Torino which is another excellent Eastwood film, is razor-sharp and efficiently paced. Much like The Old Man and the Gun, another recent release which tackles many of the same themes as this film, The Mule interrogates the existential themes of what makes Eastwood’s character work and why he continues to work for the cartel when he knows what he is doing.

The film is not without fault and there is one scene that is a mis-step in this film. There is a sequence in which Eastwood’s character is invited to meet a cartel member and what follows is a sequence of debauchery which is quite uncomfortable in how straight it is played and unnecessary.

Ultimately, The Mule is a return to form for Eastwood after a disappointing blip and is a gripping account of this interesting narrative. Out of the films Eastwood has directed in the 2010s, it would be a close call between The Mule and Sully between which is the best. It’s a shame this film hasn’t made a bigger impression critically within the film industry and much like Robert Redford in The Old Man and the Gun, if this does end up being Clint Eastwood’s swansong in front of the camera, it would be a fine note to go out on.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Destroyer (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Karyn Kusama 
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Bradley Whitford, Jade Pettyjohn, Scott McNairy
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 123 mins

Although much has been touted of Nicole Kidman transformative performance, Destroyer functions well first and foremost as a film. This is a dark, twisty crime thriller that follows Kidman’s unorthodox LAPD detective who tries to take down members of a shady gang, after her cover was blown years prior, which the film portrays these events in tandem. Kidman’s detective looks not far from death with a weary, almost decaying face and she doesn’t keep herself in good health.  However, Kidman isn’t the only bright spot of the cast as they are all transformations, with Toby Kebbell in particular standing out as the slimy main antagonist. Although a small role, Bradley Whitford also makes an impression as a nasty lead in Kidman’s case.

Director Karyn Kusama has had a somewhat spotty career, previously behind the now positively reassessed feminist dark comedy Jennifer’s Body and The Invitation, the latter of which had a great premise but a lacklustre third act. Destroyer definitely marks her best work and her direction is fantastic, from the way in which the story is told to the technical aspects. There is a particularly gripping and gritty action sequence set in a bank in the latter half of the film which is just jaw-dropping in its unpredictability and rawness. Julie Kirkwood’s cinematography further heightens the tension and the film has an interesting colour pallette.

Ultimately, Destroyer is a dark and suitably dour descent into the unravelling of Kidman’s go-for-broke detective that is a dark horse this Awards season. It deserves far more credit than it has recieved as it is a much better film than people are making out to be, with the highlight not just being Nicole Kidman’s performance that many see as the film’s main asset.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Vice (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons, LisaGay Hamilton, Eddie Marsan, Bill Camp 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 132 mins

Vice is Adam McKay’s second foray into more serious filmmaking after directing The Big Short which did well in its respective Awards season. Before then, McKay was responsible for his many collaborations with Will Ferrell, with films such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights. The Big Short was an interesting film – an unconventional investigation into the American financial housing crisis in 2007-8 that regularly broke the fourth wall with its explanations of financial concepts and had some good performances. However, the ambition behind the camera was more admirable than the film itself as I found it very obnoxious tonally and its pacing was very disjointed. McKay’s sophomore more serious effort is a biopic, very much in the same vein of The Big Short, focussing on Dick Cheney and his path to becoming the controversial, powerful Vice-President. Christian Bale looks unrecognisable as Cheney, gaining 18kg and wearing lots of prosthetics, much like Gary Oldman’s take on Churchill last year in Darkest Hour only with a bit more effort on Bale’s part put in by gaining the weight.

There’s a lot more to like in Vice compared to The Big Short as it features a tremendous performance by Christian Bale and it tells an interesting story of his rise to power. However, it’s unfortunate that the film runs into pretty much all the same problems that plagued The Big Short as it also is rather disjointed in its pacing and similiarly boisterous in tone. There is no subtlety to McKay’s direction whatsoever and he drives his political message home with a sledgehammer throughout which often crosses the line of being preachy. Whilst there are a number of comedic moments that work, there are also moments where the film is aggressively unfunny.

At least these negative aspects to the film are significantly muted compared to The Big Short. The story itself that McKay tells is fascinating and the way the story is structured is interesting. The performances are uniformly strong with Bale the obvious standout and there’s also a brilliant, muted performance by Tyler Perry. Technically, the film is excellent. All of the characters look impressively authentic and the film is well-shot and edited.

Overall, Vice is definitely watching alone for the Christian Bale performance and although McKay’s directing won’t be to everyone’s tastes, he’s working with some strong material. It’s one of the lesser films this Awards season and the lavish praise this film has recieved is rather baffling. But taken on its own merits, this is an interesting and unconventional telling of America’s most powerful Vice-President in its history.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Glass (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson, Samuel L. Jackson
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 129 mins

Glass, director M. Night Shyamalan’s latest, isn’t a sequel in the traditional sense. It serves as a sequel to Unbreakable and to Split, a film which in a genius end-credit twist revealed itself to be a psuedo-supervillain origin story / spin-off to Unbreakable. This film sees the return of Bruce Willis’ David Dunn as his path crosses with James McAvoy’s multiple personalities. When both get arrested after Dunn tries to bring him to justice, they are both put in a psychiatric hospital where it is revealed that Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr Glass has also been secretly locked away in the years between the end of Unbreakable and this film. The unit is run by Sarah Paulson’s Dr Ellie Staple who tries to convince the trio that they have convinced themselves wrongly of their superpowers, questioning their past experiences and making them doubt themselves.

M. Night Shyamalan has had an interesting directorial career, his films varying wildly in quality. After a long slump with dud after dud, Shyamalan bounced back with the one-two punch that was The Visit and then Split so this is an important film for audiences to like and many fans have been waiting for a sequel to Unbreakable for years. Unbreakable was an excellent film and proved a tonic to the emerging superhero genre of its time, in effect acting as a superhero deconstruction piece. I also found a lot to like in Split but it does suffer with some creaky expository dialogue that weighs the film down. Unfortunately, initial reviews for this film are mixed-to-negative, so I was trepidatious before seeing the film to say the least due to the good work Shyamalan had done so far.

Glass is an excellent end to this trilogy and mostly represents Shyamalan at his best. It is pretty much a knock-out. Shyamalan develops these characters extremely well, furthering their character arcs and subverts expectations, for better or worse for some viewers. It is very cine-literate and further deconstructs the generic constructs of the superhero genre and offers some fascinating commentaries on these.  As is to be expected, there is a Shyamalan twist and it does undo the good work a little as it isn’t one of his best twists but if you can buy into the film’s central conceit beforehand, it really is excellent. As with a lot of Shyamalan’s filmography, it would be very easy for one to laugh and sneer at this film, as the film walks a fine line.

The performances are uniformly excellent, with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson the standouts. Both characters have interesting arcs which are unexpected, Willis a more mature and sombre David Dunn if a little underused who evokes a Batman-like, vigilante figure, putting in one of the best performances in his career. Samuel L. Jackson is also great as Elijah and the film fully utilises his skill-set again. James McAvoy again is reliably great as he was in Split. Of the rest of the cast, Sarah Paulson makes a good impression as the psychiatric doctor with her own agenda but Anya Taylor-Joy‘s character is a little forced and I didn’t quite buy into her relationship with McAvoy’s character.

Technically, Glass succeeds in spades too. The score is outstanding, West Dylan Thordson returning from Split and successfully melding both past themes whilst creating some memorable new ones. DP Mike Gioulakis is also great and there are numerous shots which are just a work of art to look at.

Ultimately, Glass is a welcome surprise and for the vast majority of its running time, is a gripping and intelligent sequel. Its ending does threaten to undo some of the good work somewhat as it feels as though Shyamalan hasn’t quite figured out what to do. I loved Glass and can’t wait to watch it again and it might possibly be the best film in the trilogy if it holds up on future viewings.  I sincerely hope that in a few years time, this film will be reassessed as it’s been really unfairly recieved.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Stan and Ollie (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Jon S. Baird
Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Nina Arianda, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Rufus Jones
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 97 mins

Stan and Ollie is a well-intentioned dramatisation, but rather shallow retelling of the final years of the iconic comedy duo. The film tells the story of the final years of the duo as they embark on a tour of Britain in the hope of getting a feature film made so that they can return to their former glory. Although there are some narrative bright spots and some good character moments, the success of this film hinges more on the performances than the actual film.  Even then, the film never truly gets under the skin of these characters. The narrative is obvious and the script rather on-the-nose, which hampers the film somewhat. Jon S. Baird’s direction is unflashy but lacks any sense of personality.

The main asset that carries this film are the performances, which elevate the flawed script and safe direction.  John C. Reilly as Ollie is the standout, who embodies the persona of the character to a tee, forming a strong emotional connection. Steve Coogan fares well too as the loveable character who just wants to regain his former glory with his partner but Coogan’s American accent does slip up sometimes.

Ultimately, Stan and Ollie passes the time fairly well, but it’s a shame that the film never really aspires to be more than just a simplistic biopic. When the emotional climax of the film arrives, it doesn’t quite pack as big of a punch as it could ahve done as it hasn’t quite earned the right to. That said, for John C. Reilly’s transformative performance alone, it is worth the watch.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

The Favourite (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 120 mins

The Favourite is the new film by Yorgos Lanthimos, a director who has proved himself a big talent in the film industry. Starting out making films in his Greek homeland, Lanthimos first came to prominence when he made Dogtooth, an interesting coming-of-age drama with a disturbing edge. After making Alps, he transitioned to English-language pieces with films such as The Lobster, another absurd and somewhat dystopian drama. Most recently, he directed the deeply unnerving The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which I consider to be his best work so far. Both of these films, as well as his earlier Greek works, are all works rich in meaning and contain fascinating, psychologically challenging characters who speak with Lanthimos’ signature arch dialogue. The Favourite is a period drama set in the court of Stuart-monarch Queen Anne who struggles to rule the country and is presented as quite child-like in that she wants people to think the best of her. She enjoys eccentric activities such as racing ducks and tending to her collection of rabbits, who represent her lost children. Rachel Weisz’s Sarah Churchill essentially controls the Queen like her puppet but when her impoverished cousin, Abigail comes looking for employment, the two start vying for the Queen’s approval and courtship, with sinister methods.

The Favourite is another odd film from Lanthimos and isn’t the natural project one would expect a director of his background to take. It retains his directorial identity, with some archly constructed characters and a generally sharp and bitter script. There are some memorable exchanges and some funny moments, as well as some creepy and disturbing diversions as expected from him.

But The Favourite strangely feels like it has lost a lot of Lanthimos’ identity as a director in that tonally, the film doesn’t nail the distinction between the drama and the humour like his other films did. It feels oddly more corporate and more toned-down than it should be, which made for a bit of a frustrating watch. I think the reason The Favourite doesn’t quite deliver is due to the fact that Lanthimos isn’t working from a script that he wrote with his regular collaborator, Efthymis Filippou. This script is written by duo Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara and whilst it’s a good script, the characters feel a lot more vanilla than how Lanthimos would have interpreted them as. Furthermore, whilst Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is interesting and disorientating with wide angles, it lacks the claustrophobia and nightmarish atmosphere of Lanthimos’ regular collaborator Thimios Bakatakis.

The performances in this film have been widely acclaimed and all three of the actresses are very good in their roles. Olivia Colman is expectedly great as Queen Anne but I don’t think it’s her best performance – far more deserving of Awards attention would be for her performance in Tyrannosaur where she is just jawdropping. Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are good as well and have good chemistry together but again, both have done better work.

Overall, The Favourite is a good film and represents an interesting transformation for the period drama genre, making it feel rather contemporary. However, it is Lanthimos’ weakest film in that it lacks a lot of his signature style and it is tonally flawed. It also lacks the weight that his other films have and that is what makes them so memorable and unnerving. Whilst it’s obviously great to see Lanthimos get Awards attention as he has deserved it for a while, it’s annoying that it’s for his weakest film and this is rather reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s success last year for Dunkirk. I will certainly rewatch The Favourite again as there are things I think I will pick up from it on a second viewing but my first impressions are that is a suitably odd and strange work that lacks the heft of Lanthimos’ previous works.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)