The Harder They Fall (Review)

⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: Jeymes Samuel
Starring: Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, Deon Cole  
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 139 mins

The Harder They Fall is a revisionist Western directed by music producer Jeymes Samuel in his feature length debut. Samuel makes it clear in the film’s opening that although the story is fictional, it is based on real individuals and it is one of very few Westerns where all the principle cast members are of African-American origin. 

The film follows Nat Love (Jonathan Majors), an outlaw whose parents were uncompromisingly slain by enemy Rufus Beck (Idris Elba) when he was a child, who also carved a cross on the young child’s forehead, which the film opens on. When Nat hears news that Beck is released from prison, he rounds up a gang consisting of Stagecoach Mary (Zazie Beetz), Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi), Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler) and the transgender Cuffee (Danielle Deadwyler), modelled on Cathay Williams to track the villain down and enact his revenge. Beck also has a loyal gang backing him up, most notably Trudy Smith (Regina King) and Cherokee Bill (Lakeith Stanfield). Samuel has assembled quite the talented cast and this makes for a really interesting opportunity to further develop the Western so can this translate onto the screen? 

The Harder They Fall has an astoundingly refreshing first twenty minutes or so. It is innovative in its craft and reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s authorship with its poetic script and dazzling cinematic style – a scene portraying the brutal murder of Nat Love’s parents and his disfiguring is masterfully crafted in its tension, as is Nat enacting his revenge on one of Beck’s accomplices twenty years later and an early action sequence on a train. Idris Elba’s villain makes for a formidable foe in these early scenes and centres him as a brooding presence until he further appears later in the film. 

Unfortunately, that’s about it in terms of the good. The rest of the film is a slog to the finish with a simplistic story that is elongated to a 140 minute run time that lacks depth and is all surface. The script is quite egotistical and the various representations of race, gender and disability are heavy-handed and flat-out unrealistic. 

There are a mixed bag of performances here. Jonathan Majors makes for a compelling lead in his ever-developing career and Idris Elba’s early scenes are excellent, although this energy isn’t sustained in the second half of the film. Lakeith Stanfield is excellent as Cherokee Bill, possibly even more daunting a villain compared to Elba and Delroy Lindo can always be relied upon to elevate a film. 

Zazie Beetz’s performance is rather grating and her character largely unnecessary. If Beetz’s performance misses the mark, then Regina King’s henchwoman might make you want to gouge out your eyeballs more. King’s character is just horrible and totally unrelatable and she is saddled with boring monologue after monologue. Although perhaps as her performance and character is so abrasive, perhaps that makes for a powerful antagonist? 

Another large obstacle the film possesses is its obtrusive soundtrack, which has been compiled by Samuel and Jay-Z. The soundtrack is a mixture of contemporary soul, reggae, hip hop and rap artists, as well as songs that are sung diegetically by various cast members. Many of the musical choices aggressively do not fit in with the events being portrayed on-screen. The film feels, in many ways, like a musical, which isn’t necessarily a bad decision but this is the wrong type of story to try and balance this with in that the story is designed to have emotional weight. 

One final plus for the film is its cinematography with Paul Thomas Anderson regular Mihai Mălaimare Jr. behind the camera. The early train sequence in particular is masterfully shot, a standoff between two characters is portrayed as a split screen and when one character walks through the door to the other, the two views satisfyingly collide.

It’s very disappointing that The Harder They Fall cannot sustain its inventive opening and that it is all surface and no depth. With a cast this talented, Samuel largely wastes them and the film is a good hour or so overlong and carries a lot of baggage. Although omitting the boisterous soundtrack would have helped the film wonders, it’s still difficult to imagine the film being successful with its simplistic story and its clumsy representations of marginalised communities. The Harder They Fall has an interesting angle for a Western but Samuel fails to capitalise on it and the result is mostly unsuccessful. 

⭐⭐ (Poor)

Last Night In Soho (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Edgar Wright 
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Michael Ajao, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg
Certificate: 18
Run Time: 116 mins

Last Night In Soho is a psychological horror from director Edgar Wright that represents a departure for him in that it mostly foregoes his comedic roots. Wright is most notable for directing the Cornetto trilogy, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and the excellent Baby Driver, as well as a documentary, The Sparks Brothers, earlier this year. Wright has consistently proved an impressive cineliteracy in his filmography and his latest continues the trend where he is clearly influenced by 1960s British cinema.

Rising star Thomasin McKenzie plays Eloise, a budding fashion designer who lives with her grandmother in Redruth, Cornwall, who achieves the grades to study fashion design at her preferred university in London. She is excited about making the move to the Big Smoke, although her grandmother is weary over her mental wellbeing. In the past, Eloise has seen her mother’s ghost in mirrors, who had committed suicide in her childhood. Eloise gets off to an uncomfortable start in London. She doesn’t get on well with her flatmates and finds herself cruelly isolated amongst the students, unable to socially fit in. She decides to move into a top-floor bedsit belonging to the elderly Ms Collins. The landlord has a strict big upfront deposit and ‘no boys at night’ policy. Once Eloise moves in, she starts to have vivid dreams of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young woman in the 1960s who enters a West End nightclub hoping to make a career as a singer but she has to fend off numerous advances from piggish men. Sandie attracts the attention of Jack (Matt Smith), who helps her ignite her career but his intentions are not as honest as they originally seem. The line between fantasy and reality start to blur and Eloise starts to experience horrors in her everyday life.

Last Night In Soho is another sharp and entertaining piece from Edgar Wright. It is meticulously crafted and is bursting with nostalgic nods to various 1960s iconography. Wright is clearly in love with the era, from the period correct posters of Thunderball to the decor in the sleazy but dazzling clubs of Soho that Sandie finds herself in. In many ways, this feels like Wright’s most personal film. There are some good twists in the plot that keep the story fresh and the last act takes the story in an interesting and satisfying direction. The film is interestingly a Giallo horror with its macabre murder mystery, hallucinatory quality and visual aesthetic. The Giallo sub-genre is beginning to make a comeback after a long period of dormancy with Wright’s film and also last month’s Malignant.

After dazzling in Leave No Trace, Jojo Rabbit and Old, Thomasin McKenzie puts in another excellent performances in her young career as the vulnerable Eloise. The film constantly keeps the audience on its toes as we question if the horrors she is witnessing is down to mental degradation or external forces. Diana Rigg puts in a barnstorming performance as Mrs Collins in what is sadly her final film role. There is also a notable extended cameo from Terence Stamp, who is clearly having fun. Despite being prominently billed, Anya Taylor Joy is solid as Sandie but she isn’t given that much to do in terms of acting range and acts as more of a vessel for McKenzie to react off. There is also a sincere performance by Michael Ajao, a fellow student of Eloise who takes a romantic interest in her.

The original score by Steven Price and musical choices are inspired and mostly mesh well with the events being portrayed on-screen. Wright’s films have always had a musical quality choreographed to the action and this continues the trend. The film is handsomely shot by Chung Chung-hoon, although it’s not as showy stylistically as some of his other works, particularly his collaborations with fellow Korean director Park Chan-Wook.

Not everything works in the film. The contrast between the 1960s and the present day can be quite jarring in its tonal shifts and the mirroring between Eloise and Sandie isn’t always coherent in how Eloise experiences Sandie in her dream-like state. When the film leans into its horror elements more in the second half, it doesn’t always work as the ghosts that Eloise experiences aren’t particularly well realised visually and Wright doesn’t attempt to build tension or even try to scare audiences – the lucid hauntings and gore are meant to be what is frightening rather than what isn’t portrayed on-screen.

Although uneven, there is a lot to admire in Last Night In Soho and it wildly succeeds in its story and the warmth that it brings to the 1960s of Wright’s vision. This is a really solid film to add to Wright’s back catalogue, even if it represents a departure from his comedic works. It makes a convincing argument for Giallo horror which the film revitalises, although between this and Malignant, Malignant is the better film in that it takes more risks and has a mind-blowing twist to its story. There is still lots to admire in Last Night In Soho and I can’t wait to see what genre Wright tries to tackle next.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Army Of Thieves (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Matthias Schweighöfer
Starring: Matthias Schweighöfer, Nathalie Emmanuel, Ruby O. Fee, Stuart Martin, Guz Khan, Jonathan Cohen
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 127 mins

Army Of Thieves is a prequel to Army of the Dead that released on Netflix earlier this year, the platform having full confidence in the property and produced this film despite not knowing how audiences would receive the original. This prequel centres on the safecracker known as Ludwig Dieter, a minor character in the first film and we learn how his character comes to be involved in the latter through the events of this film. Snyder’s zombie film was a refreshing change for the genre, a giddy and gory thrill ride. This prequel is directed by Matthias Schweighöfer and centres on Sebastian Schlencht-Wohnert (who renames himself to Ludwig Dieter later in the film) and his rise from his simple, mundane life as a bank teller to being part of a heist team. He idolises Hans Wagner, an individual who designed a series of intricate safe systems, each more difficult than the last. Sebastian post videos on YouTube and one day receives an anonymous message inviting him to an underground safecracking challenge where safecrackers race against each other to unlock a series of safes. One has to suspend disbelief that such a competition exists. Sebastian impresses in the competition and is recruited by Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel), a skilled jewel thief to join a team that also consists of Portuguese expert hacker Karina (Ruby O. Fee), getaway driver Ralph (Guz Khan) and gunman Brad Cage (Stuart Martin). The film focuses on three heists that the team intend to pull off with a significant cash reward if they are successful, which happen to be three out of four of Wagner’s designs, that lead up to the events of Army of the Dead. An Interpol team, lead by the obsessed Delacroix (Jonathan Cohen) are hot on the tails of the gang, cueing various double-crosses and chase sequences. 

Army Of Thieves starts out quite promisingly. Sebastian receives meaningful character development and Schweighöfer does a convincing job of portraying the mundanity of his life through repetition of his daily routine and humour. Schweighöfer captures Sebastian admiration of Wagner’s safe designs well and it is clearly evident that he enjoys the challenge and privilege of cracking these safes more than the cash result. The heist team are also reasonably well developed, even if some have generic tropes. Karina and Gwendoline fare best off and have a believable arc. Brad Cage is an action hero wannabe who is fun but rather one note and what we see of Ralph is humorous but he isn’t developed enough. The film gets increasingly more generic as it progresses and lacks the sharp commentary that propelled the first film above standard genre fare. There are not enough surprises or shake-ups to the heist formula and the tone of the film can be quite boisterous at times. 

Schweighofer does a sound job directing but he is not a visionary director like Zack Snyder is and lacks his bold vision. The film makes an effort to tie itself in to Army of the Dead by being set at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, where we see some news clips of the initial outbreak. The juxtaposition of zombies to heists feels rather awkward and there could have been a more satisfying way to tie the two movies together. There is a reasonable score by Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro that matches the goofy nature of the character. 

Army of Thieves is ultimately unremarkable but it passes the time easily enough. It succeeds its purpose as a prequel in that it fleshes out a fun yet minor character into a character with greater depth. The fact that it is a prequel always means you’re going to be less invested as you know that Sebastian will somehow make it through the high stakes as he needs to feature in the next film. At least it’s not a severe comedown in quality like many sequels suffer and certainly if Schweighöfer were to return in another film, now that we understand his personality a little more, this film benefits audiences in existing.  

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

No Time To Die (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Billy Magnussen, Ana de Armas, David Dencik, Rory Kinnear
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 163 mins

No Time To Die represents Daniel Craig’s swan-song as James Bond, whose films have proved to be the most consistent out of all the actors to play Ian Fleming’s spy. After Pierce Brosnan’s self-destruction of the franchise with Die Another Day, a low point for the series that featured an invisible car, Craig’s debut, Casino Royale rejuvenated the franchise with gritty gusto and a more grounded storyline. I found Quantum Of Solace, controversially, to be the high point of Craig’s films as it is a lean and mean sequel that has some excellent action sequences, although many regard the film as Craig’s low point. Director Sam Mendes’ Skyfall further rejuvenated the franchise by tapping into Bond’s past and reintroducing characters such as Q and Moneypenny, who had been absent from Craig’s initial outings. I would agree that it is a very solid film with some excellent cinematography by Roger Deakins and a great villain from Javier Bardem, if a little overrated. Mendes returned to direct Spectre, which received mixed reviews, but there is a lot to admire in it as it harkens back to the Bonds of the Sean Connery and Roger Moore era with its more playful action sequences and villain with Christoph Waltz’ Blofeld. 

What has been really interesting with the Craig films is that they have all been a continuation of a storyline, with each film tying into the last. All of the other films in the series have been decidedly more standalone. It would be cheap to suggest that this is the Marvel effect on filmmaking where many films now are interconnected in their storylines but James Bond has wildly succeeded with this technique. 

No Time To Die continues Craig’s storyline and finds Bond settled with Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, after Spectre ended with them driving off into the distance. They find themselves in Matera, Italy, where Bond visits the tomb of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) only to be intercepted by members of Spectre. Bond abandons Swann on the belief that she has betrayed him. Five years later, we find Bond in retirement mode in Jamaica, who is reluctantly convinced by Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) to rescue a kidnapped scientist, Waldo (David Dencik), which ultimately leads to Bond crossing paths with Blofeld and a mysterious adversary in the form of Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).

The film has taken a while to reach cinemas, after a change of director during production and then the coronavirus pandemic. Danny Boyle was originally in the director’s chair and had a script and proceeded with production but left due to creative differences. Boyle’s vision would likely have been revolutionary for the character but I find his films to vary in quality. Boyle’s style doesn’t really suit Bond, so I wasn’t disappointed with his departure. Boyle was replaced by Cary Joji Fukunaga, who is an inspiring choice, who has had success with the television series, True Detective, and has directed films such as Beasts Of No Nation and he wrote and was originally directing It before leaving due to creative differences but Fukunaga’s influence on the film is very much felt throughout tonally. 

No Time To Die is an operatic and thrilling finale to the Daniel Craig era that takes some ambitious risks in its narrative. Fukunaga’s fingerprints can be felt all over the film from the Japanese memorabilia to the more intimate character moments. The first half an hour gave me goosebumps with an opening tinged in horror and then an emotive initial action sequence. Fukunaga explores a more personal side to Bond and excitedly departs from established franchise formula. The film is beautifully shot by Linus Sandgren, who makes the various travel destination locations look intoxicating.  

Fukunaga ambitiously draws parallels with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, George Lazenby’s soul outing which is underrated for its fantastic story. This is a brave film to try and ape but the comparisons that are drawn and contrasted are well constructed, if not always successful.  Hans Zimmer’s score revisits some of the cues, although a little clumsily as he jarringly references OHMSS’s score in places that don’t fit. On the subject of Zimmer’s score, it is good but it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, which is a shame, as he could have been more ambitious with this material.  

Of the cast, Daniel Craig is his usual excellent self and impresses with a more sensitive and sombre edge than he had in previous films. Lea Seydoux is also impressive as Madeleine Swann and gets significantly more development, redeeming her more damsel-like performance in Spectre. Ana de Armas makes a particularly strong impression as Paloma, who really shines in an action sequence set in Cuba where she partners with Bond. It’s a shame her character isn’t in the film for longer. The ensemble of M, Q and Moneypenny are not as prominent in the storyline this time around but Fukunaga doesn’t totally neglect them and they all get brief moments to shine. Lashana Lynch’s Nomi doesn’t fare quite as well, as her character lacks personality, but the idea of a female 007 is progressive for the franchise. 

Rami Malek makes for a mostly compelling villain. Fukunaga’s introduction of Safin is tonally reminiscent of a slasher film and there is a clear motive for his actions in the first two thirds of the film. There is an extended monologue in the third act which is the downfall of the character somewhat as Safin’s plans are somewhat conventional and there are a few plot holes. However, the execution of his plan is not conventional, which is what allows him to shine and he makes for a nasty adversary for Bond. Christoph Waltz returns in a limited capacity as Blofeld but he makes the most of his short screen time. 

No Time To Die is a thoroughly thrilling send-off for Craig and it will be interesting to see how James Bond is regenerated in future instalments, given how this film ends. It doesn’t bottle out and Craig’s films cement themselves as the most consistent. It is hard to tell where this film fits into Craig’s films, I think on a first viewing it ranks in the middle of the pack. It is one of the best films in the franchise and Craig’s tenure as 007 will be hard to top. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Green Knight (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Malignant (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Worth (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Sara Colangelo
Starring: Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, Amy Ryan, Tate Donovan, Shunori Ramanathan, Laura Benanti
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 118 mins

Worth is a legal drama directed by Sara Colangelo that boasts a fascinating premise. It documents lawyer Kenneth Feinberg’s unenviable task of creating a scheme in allocating relief funds to the correct people impacted by those who lost their lives in 9/11. Fundamentally, Feinberg is asked and by extension the audience, what is the value of a life? Should every recipient of this fund receive an equal amount or should lives be valued differently depending on if you’re the CEO of a company or have a low-skilled job? 

Most notable for his work in the MonsterVerse with films such as Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla vs Kong, Max Borenstein’s script foregoes kaijus and deftly tackles these tender questions by offering many viewpoints from its range of characters. There are victims of 9/11 that the film explores who don’t fit into the formula that Feinberg meets and he has to ponder how his formula can best serve their plights. The film impressively portrays barely any footage of the 9/11 attacks but the spectre of them loom heavily in the film’s atmosphere that Colangelo crafts.

Michael Keaton gives an expectedly excellent performance as Feinberg. He really nails the balance between his numerical and logistical ability and his struggle with nuance when he is conversing with his victims. Stanley Tucci also shines in a supporting role as an individual whose wife died in the attacks and he leads a movement opposing Feinberg’s planned fund. The scenes that Keaton and Tucci share are particularly of note as they come from opposite ends of the spectrum, although there aren’t enough of them. There is also a silently brilliant performance from Amy Ryan, as one of Feinberg’s measured colleagues. 

Worth is an uneasy watch by design but it brings with it a lot of weight and spins a gripping yarn. The performances are the highlight of the film and Colangelo’s delicate direction works wonders for the film as she avoids the emotional manipulation these types of films can have and brings a more understated edge. The film slides into convention in its closing moments and with Feinberg’s redemptive character arc but for the most part, this is a powerful and arresting drama.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Candyman (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

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

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

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

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

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

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

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Pig (Review)

⭐ (Terrible)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

⭐ (Terrible)

Beckett (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

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

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

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

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

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

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)