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)

No Man Of God (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Amber Sealey
Starring: Elijah Wood, Luke Kirby, Aleksa Palladino, Robert Patrick, W. Earl Brown
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 100 mins

No Man Of God is a crime mystery that delves into the final years before Ted Bundy’s execution and the complicated relationship formed between the notorious serial killer and FBI Special Agent Bill Hagmaier. The film begins in 1985 and we first witness many Special Agents passing on the job but the newcomer Hagmaier accepts the challenge. There have been several pieces that have explored Bundy recently, most famously Joe Berlinger’s Netflix series, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and his excellent companion film, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. Zac Efron played the reviled killer in the film and his performance was top-notch, proving his versatility and shaking off his High School Musical image. This more focussed piece is directed by Amber Sealey and is written by C. Robert Cargill under a pseudonym of Kit Lesser. Cargill is an accomplished writer, most famous for his collaborations with director Scott Derrickson with films such as Sinister and Doctor Strange

No Man Of God is an interesting exploration into the final years of Bundy’s time on death row and his relationship with Hagmaier. Cargill’s script is sharp and delves into the human psyche. The majority of the film is just the two character conversing and the trap that films of this type can fall into is that they are not entertaining but this is not the case here. 

The performances are both very solid – it is refreshing to see Elijah Wood in a leading role as Hagmaier, capturing his intelligence and philosophical outlook and he is particularly convincing when he is chilled by the words that come out of Bundy’s mouth. Luke Kirby as Bundy is quite literally a commanding screen presence as cinematographer Karina Silva frames him as towering over Hagmaier to invoke him as a threat.  There is no doubt that his character is capable of horrific acts. Zac Efron remains the definitive screen portrayal as he offered more charisma and a greater element of mystery. There is also a pleasant performance from Robert Patrick, another actor who is selective with what he performs in, as Hagmaier’s senior. 

The film is nothing more than just ‘good’ though. Unfortunately, it’s just not very cinematic and lacks any flair behind the camera. The former is not necessarily a minus but director Amber Sealey is clearly aware of this and unsuccessfully splices cheap-looking, dingy montages in between scenes with a techno-score.  No Man Of God is an interesting watch and it justifies its existence with its exciting performances but the material requires a more experienced hand behind the camera to make it more exciting. 

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

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)

Stillwater (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Matt Damon, Camille Cottin, Abigail Breslin, Lilou Siauvaud
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 140 mins

Stillwater is the long awaited follow-up from writer-director Tom McCarthy, after his last film Spotlight won the Best Picture Oscar back in 2016. Spotlight was an enthralling exploration into the journalism of a worldwide church scandal, boasting some fine performances and a powerful narrative. 

Stillwater draws parallels to the Amanda Knox case, attracting criticism. Matt Damon plays unemployed oil-rig worker Bill Baker who frequently journeys to Marseille from the small town of Stillwater, Oklahoma to visit his daughter, Allison Baker (Abigail Breslin). Allison is five years into her nine year prison sentence after being convicted of killing her university roommate, Lina. Bill is a man of few words and works in order to afford the trips to France. When Bill is in France on a visit, there is an opportunity for the case to be reopened and he fights for his daughter to be exonerated. He has difficulty with the language barrier and the French bureaucracy system. Many locals in the city are aware of the case and know what his daughter did. After a fortuitous chain of events, befriends Virginie (Camille Cottin) and her young daughter, Maya and they all take a reciprocal liking to each other. 

Stillwater is an excellent crime drama that is played on a more human scale and centres on one of Matt Damon’s best performances. It is a satisfying yet painful narrative and the character relationships are admirably developed, particularly between Bill, Virginie and Maya. Bill is essentially given a second chance at fatherhood, after he proclaims that he screwed up in the past. 

Abigail Breslin’s convicted murderer isn’t as prominent a figure as the premise would suggest. Her performance is mournful yet cold and it is not inconceivable that her character is capable of committing such a crime. Still, Bill sticks up for his daughter and continues his plight for her exonerance. Stillwater tests its characters time and time again. This interrogation of innocence is the greatest success of the film as it asks questions that have no black and white answers

Technically, Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography is superb and he beautifully captures the vistas of Southern France with the rougher areas of the divided city of Marseille. Mychael Danna’s score is thoughtful and he crafts some fitting themes.

Stillwater is ultimately a deft melding of the action and revenge thriller genres and is a very interesting project for Tom McCarty to take on following his Awards success. It’s not flawless – there is an attempted suicide where the consequences of it are not explored or even discussed which is a missed opportunity. Still, the film kept me enthralled throughout and won me over with its deep and authentic exploration of its characters. If you can accept the fact that Stillwater is merely inspired from Amanda Knox and doesn’t follow the case to the letter, then you have what is one of the best films of the year. 

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Suicide Squad (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)