Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Black Panther (2018)

Image is property of Marvel Studios

Black Panther – Film Review

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyongo’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

Director: Ryan Coogler

Synopsis: In the wake of his father’s death, T’Challa returns to his homeland of Wakanda, to be crowned King. Yet as he seeks to continue the Black Panther legacy, challenges to his rule begin to emerge…

Review: For all the might and marvel that the MCU has built and delivered to audiences all around the world, there was always something missing from this vast and enthralling universe. No, not a female led superhero film (though that is on its way), but a film that taps into a vast culture that up until now hadn’t really been explored. A culture that encompasses the beautiful continent of Africa, and all the beauty it has to offer. Indeed, little Easter Eggs were placed in earlier films but now at long last, it takes centre stage.

Following on from the events of Civil War, T’Challa returns to his home of Wakanda, a technologically advanced nation in Africa that has chosen to shield itself and its absolutely awesome technology away from the world. However, trouble is brewing for T’Challa as events from the past are threatening to reap terrible consequences on Wakanda and its people. All the while, T’Challa must balance his duties as the King of his country, whilst also being the iconic Black Panther, being a King is sometimes not the great thing it is so often cracked up to be.

After reinvigorating the Rocky franchise so succesfully with Creed, Ryan Coogler takes on what his comfortably his largest project to date. Yet much like Taika Waititi before him, he brings his own sense of style to the story and indeed to the wider Marvel Universe. The work that is done to establish this world of Wakanda is so breath-taking and done in such a vivid manner, it feels like it almost could be a place on this planet, which regrettably it is not. Of course it being an MCU film certain things are almost guaranteed to be present, such as the humour. While a few jokes can be hit or miss, for the most part, the humour adds to the scenes but never compromises the experience of what is ultimately a very personal story about a man, his duty to his country, and to his family, and what that means to his country.

Ready to pounce…

Speaking of which, Boseman continues his excellent work as both the man and the hero, but special mention must go Letitia Wright as the King’s technological whizkid of a sister, Shura. She has all the technological toys that she and her brother get to utilise, and their chemistry is excellent. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o is also on excellent form as the tough warrior Nakia, as is Danai Gurira as the head of the Dora Milaje, a fearsome squad of badass female warriors serving Wakanda. This cast packs plenty of stars and nearly all of them really get their moment in the spotlight. Coogler’s muse though seems to be Michael B Jordan, and as Erik Killmonger, he comes across as a strong villain who’s well fleshed out, and you fully understand his motivations.

Re-teaming with his cinematographer from Creed, and recent first time Oscar nominee for cinematography  Rachel Morrison, the film is beautifully shot with stunning shots of the Wakanda landscape. There are more than a few insanely good action sequences to relish but the film is not reliant on these to tell the story and let the audience have fun. The deeply personal story that Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole craft is what makes this story so invigorating. It has central themes that will hit home with any and all who watch it. It’s extremely relevant and important film-making in this respect, and for Marvel to continue to break new barriers, after an incredible 18 films into their Universe, is an important and remarkable achievement.

 A gripping personal story, packed with vibrant colours and costumes, terrific characters and a fascinating look into a breath-taking civilisation, it’s another landmark achievement for the MCU. Wakanda forever!

 

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Post (2018)

Image is property of DreamWorks Pictures, Universal and 20th Century Fox

The Post – Film Review

Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons

Director: Steven Spielberg

Synopsis: When classified government documents concerning the Vietnam War end up in the hands of journalists for The Washington Post, they must decide whether to risk their careers and the paper’s legacy and publish these documents, whilst risking the wrath of the United States Government.

Review: There is something to be admired about those people who go above and beyond to try and report the facts in this crazy world we live in, especially at a time when journalists in this day and age find themselves under intense scrutiny. As so many people, especially certain world leaders, just dismiss stories about them that paint them in a negative light. Yet, the work these people do plays such a vital role in our society, and that cannot be ignored, especially when the work of journalists .

Indeed, the work of journalists has helped to break some pretty major stories like the enormous scandal that engulfed the Catholic Church, making films such as this and 2015’s Spotlight feel extremely relevant in today’s society. When some government secrets that reveal some shocking truths concerning the US Government and the Vietnam War fall into the hands of The New York Times, the US Government forbids them from running any further stories. When the same documents fall into the hands of The Washington Post, the editor Ben Bradlee debates with the paper’s first female owner Katharine Graham as to whether these documents should be published.

In much the same way that Spotlight was a very dialogue driven film, The Post follows in that manner. Therefore the screenplay has to be of a very high calibre, and that quality is ably provided by Spotlight’s scribe Josh Singer as well as Liz Hannah, marking her first foray into screenplay writing. Though the first half of the film delves into newspapers and business, it does mean that unless you’re extremely well versed in the worlds of newspapers, business, stocks and shares, then this could feel a little bit over-whelming. However, once we get to the small matter of whether the story should become front page news, is where it becomes very intriguing to watch.

Under the guidance of such a masterful director like Spielberg, the performances of everyone really shine. Yet in news that should not be surprising to anyone, the limelight belongs to Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks (more the former than the latter though). It is fascinating two of the biggest actors in the business, who had never worked together prior to this film, engage in some deep discussions about whether or not the decision is made to go to print. With this role banking her a 21st Oscar nomination, it’s little wonder that Streep is regarded as one of the finest women to ever grace the big screen, as no matter what the role is, she never fails to impress. Much like Streep, Hanks almost always impresses and as Ben Bradlee, the man who helped break the infamous Watergate scandal, he’s a man who is absolutely committed to telling the public what he feels they have the right to know.

Though the script doesn’t fully portray the important role that The New York Times played in the leaking of the documents, it does remind everyone that at such times when the press is under such fierce criticism, that this industry and indeed these people serve a role that needs to be respected. Otherwise politicians would try to  to sweep certain things under the rug. Though the film doesn’t carry the emotional sucker punch like Spotlight did, the key message about journalism integrity and the commitment to the truth retains its indispensable value to our society and our democracy.

Assured direction from Spielberg, and strong performances from Streep and Hanks ensure this trio of extraordinary talents provide a timely reminder of the power of the press and the fundamental aspects of a democracy.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

I, Tonya (2018)

Image is property of AI Film and Neon

I, Tonya – Film Review

Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale

Directors: Craig Gillespie

Synopsis: Telling the story of controversial ice skater Tonya Harding who, whilst competing for her country in the Winter Olympics, becomes embroiled in a scandal following on attack on a fellow competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

Review: The lives of sports stars and professional athletes, are so often very glamorous, particularly when they enjoy success in their field and acquire incredible wealth and fame on a global scale. However, every once in a while, an athlete finds themselves in the public eye for all the wrong reasons. Take for instance, ice skater Tonya Harding. In the build up to the 1994 Winter Olympics, after an attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan was carried out, a massive public scandal ensued, and the fallout was quite extensive.

This infamous incident is not the focus of the whole movie though. Indeed director Craig Gillespie chooses to focus on Tonya’s entire life, from her early upbringing and being forced into ice-skating by her pushy/over-bearing mother LaVona Golden (Janney) to her marriage to Jeff Gillooly (Stan) to of course the infamous attack on Nancy Kerrigan. He chooses to tell this story in a very unique way, by having the characters as if they were being interviewed by us the audience, and then flashing back to the key moments in Tonya’s life. Constantly jumping back and forth in this manner can be problematic but the film is edited together tremendously well, ensuring it flows coherently.

In a performance that has landed her her first Oscar nomination, Robbie really shines as Tonya Harding. Despite some of her less than pleasant mannerisms and behaviour, she is in many ways a very tragic character. Clearly very talented, she never quite fully realised that potential, this is perhaps more down to factors beyond her control. Of course she isn’t perfect but, her extremely difficult mother and her topsy-turvy home life certainly didn’t help matters. Janney as Tonya’s mother is also getting some well deserved recognition. Almost every word out of her mouth is profanity or a derogatory utterance directed if not at her daughter, at someone else. Though she strives to do what’s best for her daughter, it certainly doesn’t yield the right results, and she certainly wouldn’t win any Best Mother of the Year Awards.

For a person who had more than a few dark and bleak moments in her lifetime, the screenplay does manage to inject some humour into this picture, which is in no small part down to LaVona’s outbursts, and the bumbling incompetence of some of the characters who played a key role role in the attack on Kerrigan. The aforementioned use of editing in the interviews to tell the story, intertwined with some frequent fourth wall breaking keeps the plot moving for the most part along as briskly as an ice skater who’s right in the middle of their routine would.

The film does suffer from a few pacing issues though, as it seems unsure as to which element it really wants to focus on at least in the first act.  There’s also the not-so-small matter of the ice skating scenes themselves. While the camerawork to make them happen is impressive, there are a few scenes in which it is very apparent that we are looking at a stunt double, and not Robbie herself, which can be just a little bit jarring. Yet once we reach the third act and the now infamous attack on Kerrigan becomes the main focus, it becomes wildly entertaining, and serves a reminder of how even the smallest action can have devastating consequences on people’s lives and careers.

Unconventional in how it chooses to tell its ultimately tragic story, but with excellent performances from Robbie and Janney in particular fused with some very dark comedy ensures this biopic has some legs (or should that be skates?)

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Coco (2018)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Coco – Film Review

Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Edward James Olmos

Directors: Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina

Synopsis: 12 year old Miguel strives to be a musician, but due to a tragic family past, his family won’t allow it. Undeterred, when he’s accidentally transported to the Land of the Dead, he seeks out his ancestor, who was himself a famous musician.

Review: It is perhaps a question that we as humans have been asking ourselves for as long as we have been around, what happen to us when we die? The belief in an afterlife is certainly extremely prevalent among certain cultures, perhaps most notably The Día de Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead, a holiday celebrated in Mexico. It is on this premise that animation juggernaut Pixar uses as a backdrop for its latest feature film.

After a few sequels, the decision to focus on an entirely original concept is a welcome one, especially since the studio has arguably been at their best when focusing on original concepts (see Inside Out). At the centre of this new tale is Miguel, a young boy who has a passion for playing music. He is desperate to pursue this dream, but a terrible incident in his family’s past means that music is not welcome in his family, instead their focus is solely on their thriving business. Yet this doesn’t stop Miguel from his dreams. But in trying to accomplish these goals, Miguel finds himself in the Land of the Dead, and is in a race against time to get back to the Land of the Living before it is too late.

The true power of music…

For a film that focuses on the afterlife, in which a considerable proportion of the cast are well dead people, seems unlikely to be family friendly material and is perhaps just a bit too macabre for the kids. However as they so often do, Pixar makes it all work an absolute treat. The story they construct is so beautifully told that once again, there are moments here that will tug on your heartstrings to such an extent that any audience member will find it hard to resist the urge to not have a quiet sob.

With Pixar you usually find some of the most beautiful animation to ever grace the big screen, and here they do so once again. The colours on display here are so vivid and just stunning to look at, and the animation feels so life like, that it brings all of the characters to life, whether they are living or if they have moved on. Miguel as our lead is immediately likeable, and despite the aggression he receives from his family for wanting to pursue music, he doesn’t take no for an answer, even when it looks like it will land him in a significant amount of bother.

Once again, Pixar has crafted a story works on two levels to tremendous for both the kids and adults. It explores themes such as love, family and what it means to have a dream, especially if you’re not encouraged to pursue these dreams. With another superb score from Michael Giacchino and what could well be another Oscar winning song in Remember Me from  Frozen duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. At this point, with their filmography brimming with so many beautifully told pieces of storytelling and animation, it is hard for any new release to take its place among the cream of the crop. However, Coco might just ensure it takes its place in that collection, as it is another string in Pixar’s guitar, that almost always hits the right notes.

Delivering animation of the highest quality once again, with another beautifully crafted story that tugs at the guitar strings and the heartstrings in equal measure. Another Pixar masterpiece.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Best Films of 2017

2017 might be best remembered as the year when certain people in Hollywood and their unpleasant behaviour was finally made public. With luck, it will hopefully shine a strong spotlight on this sort of behaviour to ensure it is stamped out for good. But anyway, aside from all that unpleasantness, this year also brought us a plethora of exciting films. A female led superhero film, a return to the world of replicants, a couple of incredible true stories about war, the end of one man’s remarkable portrayal of a character that he has played for nearly two decades, and of course the continuation of the new trilogy of adventures taking place in a galaxy far far away. Lots of great films, and so it is now time for me to cast my eye back on the last 12 months of so of film and select what for me ranks as the best of the best of the ones that I have seen.

A few things to note. There are certain releases on this list that you might be thinking were released in 2016. well certain films didn’t reach UK shores until 2017 and so that makes them eligible for this year’s list. But as is the case every year there are a select few films that get their main release in early January and if I get a chance to catch these in the first few weeks of the month, they will qualify for this year’s list. Also I unfortunately didn’t see every film that was released this year so apologies if your favourite film didn’t make my list as I may not have seen it. Lastly, anything that is released from this point onwards (e.g. Phantom Thread, Lady Bird) will be considered for the best films of 2018. These studios and their bizarre release dates…

Second, grades here have little impact on the ranking of these films. One film may get a higher grade or the perfect grade, it will not necessarily mean that film will be the best film of the year, this is my list of my favourite movies that I had the most fun with or enjoyed the most.  Before I get into the body of my list I do have some honourable mentions, films that were awesome and that didn’t quite make the list with there being 10 spaces, but were still a lot of fun. First up…

mother! (review) if ever there was one film that divided audiences right down the middle, this would be one particular example. Darren Aronofsky’s tale about a woman whose home is invaded was riddled with metaphors aplenty that explored a collection of really interesting and thought-provoking themes. Yet there were some scenes that were just downright messed up (if you have seen the film, you’ll likely know what I’m referring to.) Despite that, it was refreshing to see such a completely original concept be brought to the big screen, and this is a film that will be analysed for years to come.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (review) Yes I know I can hear the shockwaves around the galaxy already as to why this hasn’t made the actual list. It was a great addition to the saga as it took the characters that were introduced to us in The Force Awakens and took them in interesting new directions. For many fans, the big problem with Force Awakens was the fact that it felt too similar to A New Hope. As such director Rian Johnson was clearly trying to take the franchise in new directions, and while not everything was perfect, it was an enjoyable ride and sets up nicely for Episode IX.

Wind River (review) Taylor Sheridan made his directorial debut good and proper telling the story of the investigation surrounding the death of a young woman in the brutal Wyoming winter. Jeremy Renner perhaps gives his best performance as a hunter who discovers the young woman’s body and Elizabeth Olsen as the FBI agent leading the investigation. It’s a tense film that keeps you on the edge, particularly when we reach that third act and the action is turned up to the maximum.

Molly’s Game (review) Telling the true story of Molly Bloom, the woman who ran elite high stakes poker games, until she ran into a bit of bother with the law. In a superb leading performance, Jessica Chastain carries the film on her shoulders as we watch her go the crushing lows that wrecked early career aspirations to the ensuing trouble that surrounds her poker career. Under the stewardship of master screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who also makes his directorial debut, in triumphant style.

The Big Sick (review). When there’s a lot  of films in one particular genre that are very similar, it runs the risk of all just becoming a bit stale. Thankfully every once in a while, one comes along that is a breath of fresh air. Based on the true story of Kumail Nanjiani who despite his parents attempts to arrange a marriage for him, falls for a woman, except when she falls ill, it really tests their relationship. With sincere heartfelt performances at its core, alongside tremendous comedic turns from Holly Hunter and Ray Romano. A very refreshing new take on the rom-com genre.

Honourable mentions done, time to crack on with the main list and we begin with…

10. Wonder Woman

Full Wonder Woman review

Just what the doctor ordered for the DCEU. Fans might have had little hope of seeing a great DCEU film after experincing a rough start. This is until Diana of Themyscira came along. Telling the origins story of Wonder Woman and how she came to be the all powerful hero we know and love. It was so thrilling to see a female led superhero film, the first one that we have really had since the genre has been thriving since the mid to late 2000s, be such an exciting blast.

Gal Gadot picked up where she left off from BVS and delivered a truly exceptional performance. Chris Pine was also in excellent form as Steve Trevor, Diana’s love interest. The action, particularly that superb No Man’s Land sequence was enthralling. While the last act did drag the film down a bit, it was still a wonderful breath of fresh air for the superhero genre, and one would hope that more female driven superhero films will follow.

9. Darkest Hour

Full Darkest Hour review

The film that is surely going to end Gary Oldman’s long wait for that first elusive Oscar. With the country, indeed the entire continent of Europe at war, the United Kingdom needed a leader, and that man was Winston Churchill. The rest, as they say, is history. Oldman gives such a convincing and authentic performance and he carries the film tremendously well as he battles with those who are desperate to undermine him and his position.

Oldman is strongly  supported by the likes of Kristen Scott Thomas and Lily James. With excellent production design and cinematography that captures 1940s London superbly, with a stirring screenplay from Anthony McCarten. This is another fascinating insight into one of the most intense periods of British history.

8. Baby Driver

Full Baby Driver review

One of the main contenders for the coolest characters of 2017 is Ansel Elgort as the lead character in Edgar Wright’s latest film, which was perhaps the most stylish film that has been released all year, as well as being a rare piece of completely original story-telling. Elgort was electric in the lead role as the getaway driver who works for a mob boss in order to pay off a debt. The action scenes were so well cut together and with an absolutely stellar soundtrack to boot, it made for some superb edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

With an equally stellar supporting cast including great turns from Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and he-who-shall-not-be-named. It was a heist film with a lot of heart and one of Wright’s finest films.

 

7. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Full, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review

When someone you love passes away, the grief and sadness can be extremely difficult to recover from. So what do you do when that someone is murdered but there have been no arrests? Well one woman’s answer is to rent the use of three billboards outside her town to force the authorities into action. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, this is an extremely dark comedy focusing on one woman’s relentless mission to get justice. With a stunning performance from Frances McDormand and tremendous turns from Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, it is a film that will keep you on your toes from beginning to end.

6. Thor: Ragnarok

Full Thor: Ragnarok review

Third time was certainly the charm for the God of Thunder. His first two films while enjoyable were not exactly the cream of the MCU crop. However in comes New Zealand director Taika Waititi to give us by far and away the best Thor film, and also the funniest and maybe even the funniest MCU film we have had yet. As the villainous Hela comes back to claim the throne of Asgard, Thor finds himself in a mission with everyone’s favourite green rage monster in a mission to reclaim the throne.

Waititi fuses his delightful brand of humour, in a film that is buddy cop comedy meets superhero. Hemsworth is once again brilliant as Thor, likewise for Tom Hiddleston as Loki. In addition, we got introduced to Jeff Goldblum basically playing himself in a fancy costune, and Tessa Thompson as the badass Valkyrie. It’s vibrant, colourful and oh yeah, it has one of the best MCU side characters ever in Korg who steals every minute of screen time he has. Korg solo film anyone?

5. Dunkirk

Full Dunkirk review

Christopher Nolan is without a doubt one of the finest directors working today. His films are always so immaculately well made and he has almost never disappointed. Here with his latest, he continues that trend and gives us a truly superb war film that tells the story of the Dunkirk evacuation. Telling this story in three separate strands and weaving them together so expertly is a ballsy move, but Nolan made it work. The use of practical effects in as many scenes as possible added so much authenticity to the film.

A gripe that many seemed to have was the lack of character development on any of the characters, and it would be fair to say that while this was in short supply, the acting was superb from just about everyone and it made it such a hard-hitting, emotional watch to the extent that the impact of the film is vast and along with another war film that is yet to appear on this list, it will go down as one of the most breath-taking war films ever made. With yet another nearly flawless film added to his filmography, it makes you wonder is there any genre that Nolan cannot conquer?

4. War for the Planet of the Apes

Full War for the Planet of the Apes review

APES. TOGETHER. STRONG. After two stunning films in this rebooted franchise, the stage was set for the perfect film to close out this superb trilogy and boy did director Matt Reeves do just that, and in incredible style too. Andy Serkis’s work in bringing Caesar to life is just simply extraordinary and it’s about damn time his work was recognised with an Oscar nod. Despite the film’s title, there isn’t much of a war to be found in terms of all out guns blazing warfare. Given how we have watched Caesar grow from a young chimp to be this battle hardened leader of the Apes, to see him at the end of his tether here made for some insanely riveting viewing.

Nevertheless the film still managed to be a gripping story this is still a superb film about family, conflict and your place in a very chaotic world. Caesar once again stole the show, but Woody Harrelson deserves praise for his work as the vicious Colonel. Though more films are bound to follow, this closed the book on what is an absolutely fantastic trilogy.

3. Logan

Full Logan review

Every once in a while, a superhero film comes along that becomes so much more than just your regular superhero flick. A film that becomes something more, a deeply personal story that transcends the comic book genre, and that is precisely what Logan is. Right from the off, you just know that is going to be a very different type of Wolverine film than what we had previously seen. The violence is turned up to the maximum, which made absolutely perfect sense given the nature of the character.

Hugh Jackman has made this role his own, and given that it was his last time playing the role after 9 films and 17 years, he couldn’t have gone out on a better note, it might just be his best ever turn in the role. Likewise for Sir Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier. It was a tough watch to see these two guys at pretty much their lowest ebb as they work to protect a young mutant named Laura played superbly by Dafne Keen. The prospect of a solo film with her is certainly a very intriguing one.

2. Blade Runner 2049

Full Blade Runner 2049 review

After directing the exceptional Sicario and Arrival, up next for Denis Villeneuve was the sequel to one of the most influential films of the sci-fi genre maybe ever. It was an enormous challenge and fans might have wondered if it was ever going to live up to the original. Thankfully, this is one of the finest sequels ever made and a perfect companion piece to Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece. It honoured what came before it, but also created a truly riveting and compelling story to tell, with some of the most beautiful cinematography that has graced the big screen this whole year. Each frame of this film was just dripping with breath-taking visuals that were dazzling to the eyes. Seriously give Roger Deakins a damn Oscar already!

Ryan Gosling was superb as K, and Harrison Ford once again excelled in the role of Deckard. It was everything fans of the original could have hoped for and delivered an exceptional film that might just be even better than the original, and that is a remarkable accomplishment. Villeneuve emphatically proved that as a director he is at the very top of his craft and it will be fascinating to see what project he takes on next.

And so my #1 film of 2017 is

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1. Hacksaw Ridge

Full Hacksaw Ridge review

I won’t beat around the bush here. No film that I saw in 2017 had a bigger impact on me than Hacksaw Ridge, and no film left me just completely speechless walking out of it as this film did. As a history student, the Second World War was always one of my favourite periods to study, and the fact that I hadn’t come across this story just astounded me as it is one of the most inspirational stories of the war. Telling the story of Desmond Doss, a man who wanted to serve his country but due to his religious beliefs, refused to carry a gun. It seems ludicrous to even do such a thing but the film does an exceptional job of making you understand why Doss believes the way he does.

It’s once we get to Hacksaw Ridge itself is where the film completely changes its focus and becomes an absolutely brutal war film, with some of the most pulsating action sequences in perhaps any war film since Saving Private Ryan. The violence here isn’t glorified, it just feels so frighteningly realistic and it makes you realise that war is brutal. Andrew Garfield as Doss gave a career best performance that for my money should have won him an Oscar. I won’t reveal the true extent of this man’s heroics in case you don’t know, but the fact he did what he did, all while refusing to carry a gun is just absolutely incredible. It is one of the best war films ever made and is my number 1 film of 2017. After I saw it, I wondered if anything would top it all year long, but nothing managed to displace it.

That is a wrap on my list of the best films of 2017. What are your top 10 best films of 2017?  Be sure to follow my Twitter and don’t forget to like Through the Silver Screen on Facebook to ensure you never miss another review of mine! Let us hope that we are treated to more cinematic gold on the big screen in 2018.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Darkest Hour (2017)

Image is property of Universal, Working Title and Focus Features

Darkest Hour – Film Review

Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Ben Mendolsohn, Stephen Dillane

Director: Joe Wright

Synopsis: In the early days of World War II, with the rest of Europe falling under the iron grip of the Nazis, Winston Churchill ascends to the role of Prime Minister, with the country seemingly on the brink of almost certain defeat…

Review: In periods of war, strong leadership from those who hold positions of power can be the difference between victory and defeat. Never is this more applicable than for the United Kingdom in the early years of the Second World War, which like the film’s title success was truly some of the darkest days for the country. The Nazis closed in having swiftly conquered the majority of Western Europe, and there seemed to be no one capable of stopping Hitler from his mission of total domination across the continent. This is of course, until one man came to the fore, and that man is of course Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.

Being one of, if not the most prominent Prime Ministers in UK history, there has been a great many actor to play Churchill, and Gary Oldman becomes the latest man to assume the role, and it is one that he fully commits to, giving an absolutely incredible performance that has rightfully installed him as a hot favourite to finally scoop a Best Actor Oscar this year. His performance captures Churchill and his mannerisms so well that at times you forget that it is indeed Oldman under all that makeup.

Having seen his predecessor Neville Chamberlain being forced into resignation, Churchill assumes office and immediately realise the enormity of the task facing him as the British forces find themselves stranded on the French coast with the Germans closing in fast. While Churchill favours a more guns blazing approach, there are those who would prefer to negotiate a peace treaty with Hitler and as one character calls him, his “lackey” Mussolini. As the days go by and the situation worsens, pressure and indeed opposition towards him grows stronger, but Churchill will not yield.

Given the gravity of the situation, it would be easy for the script to be completely dreary. However, the screenplay by Anthony McCarten allows for plenty of humour, of which Churchill is of course front and centre. Aside from Oldman’s towering performance, the rest of the supporting cast all deliver assured performances. Chief among these are Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill’s wife Clementine and Lily James as his secretary Elizabeth Layton, while neither are given extensive amounts of screentime, they both make their mark on Churchill and are figures of support as he battles his opponents who are calling for him to negotiate for peace, led by the stern Viscount Halifax, who is expertly portrayed by Stephen Dillane.

With meticulous production design by Sarah Greenwood, director Joe Wright and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel capture 1940s London in intriguing visual style. The scenes in Parliament especially stand out in the way Wright shoots them, using lighting that gives the scenes an almost melancholic feel to them, which to be fair wouldn’t entirely be out of place in war time. Yet it is here where Oldman shines brightest, giving the rousing “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech that has taken its deserved place as one of the best speeches in history.

In what is almost a companion piece to the gripping retelling of the Dunkirk evacuation from Christopher Nolan, while that film focuses on the evacuation itself, Darkest Hour focuses on the man who at a time when his country needed him most, rose to the challenge and helped to make it all possible. In the darkest hour that perhaps the UK has ever faced, one man showed us the light.

A gripping story of a country on the brink at its centre, with a magnificent performance from Oldman at its core, this is Wright’s and Oldman’s finest hour.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight and Film4

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Film Review

Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage

Director: Martin McDonagh

Synopsis: After a young woman’s murder goes unsolved, her mother rents out the use of three billboards just outside her town to try and force the authorities into action…

Review: As human beings, it would certainly be fair to say that we can be at our lowest ebbs whenever someone we love has passed away. Whether it be from natural causes, or if they’re cruelly and sometimes callously taken away from us. But what could anyone do in the case of the latter? Well there’s not a lot you could do except hope that killer was caught and swiftly faces justice for their actions. However, what if that doesn’t come to pass?  Do you have any other options?

Yes is the answer for one bereaved mother, as she chooses to take matters into her own hands. After her daughter Angela was brutally raped and murdered seven months prior, Mildred Hayes makes use of three large billboards just outside of her town, with  messages that are directed at the police whose investigation hasn’t yielded any clues. Though by doing this, it causes a stir among the population of the town (and not in a good way) that creates some problems on top of the problems that Mildred is already having in her life.

You would think that such a bleak scenario does not allow for comedy, but that’s exactly what writer/director Martin McDonagh provides. His superb screenplay manages fuses both the comedy and the tragedy of this family drama so effortlessly that one never negates the other. One scene can shift from a wonderfully humorous moment to a gut-wrenchingly sad moment in an instant. Furthermore, in a country that is facing some deeply testing times, the screenplay also goes beyond the personal grief of one family and examines some important issues facing American society today. It’s extremely powerful and hard-hitting.

Being the centrepiece of this story Mildred Hayes is a character who it is clear has had a lot of shit going on in her life besides the tragic fate that befell her daughter. Even though she isn’t exactly going things in the most acceptable or indeed correct manner, you understand her rage that she has for certain people and as such you do sympathise with her. Frances McDormand gives a terrific performance that has already won her a Golden Globe, with more nominations and potentially awards to follow, all of which would be well deserved. Equally terrific are Police Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) who’s encountering his own difficult personal problems and a bigoted policeman (Rockwell) who is absolutely not a friendly chap whatsoever. Yet there is a hint of a man who is a little bit vulnerable, though the same could be said for perhaps almost everyone in the town, with these events having clearly taken their toll on the town as a whole.

With each of the story-lines that these characters have and the ensuing journey that these three in particular go on makes for some hilarious, and in some cases, harrowing viewing. Yet  it handles its subject matter in such a delicate manner that the comedy and the tragedy do not cancel each other out. With McDonagh’s razor sharp screenplay and direction, combined with the electric performances from the ensemble cast ensures that the film is extremely thought-provoking. It packs so much more emotional weight that ensures it will leave a lasting impression, on both the viewer and indeed on this current awards season race.

 Funny, shocking and depressing, sometimes all in the same scene, but McDonagh’s razor sharp screenplay ensures it is all meshed together supremely well. This is bold, but quite brilliant film-making in equal measure.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

All the Money in the World (2017)

Image is property of Tristar Pictures and Scott Free Productions

All the Money in the World – Film Review

Cast: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: After his grandson is kidnapped and held for ransom, billionaire businessman John Paul Getty refuses to negotiate, while his mother works tirelessly to secure his release.

Review: It became one of the biggest stories in the world of film in 2017. When allegations of sexual misconduct were made against Kevin Spacey, it had far-reaching consequences. With Spacey having completed filming for the role of John Paul Getty, amid fears that having him in the final film would be financially catastrophic, it prompted Ridley Scott to hurriedly axe Spacey from the role of John Paul Getty and instead replace him with Christopher Plummer, at a reported cost of £7.5 million. It was an enormous gamble, but one that definitely paid off.

Based on the incredible true story, as he’s walking around Rome, John Paul Getty III is whisked away by some kidnappers who demand a lofty ransom from his super rich grandfather. This sets in motion a tense battle between Getty and the mother of his grandson Gail (Michelle Williams) to ensure his safe release. While Gail is doing all she can to secure her son’s release, Getty remains defiant, refusing to submit to the demands of his grandson’s kidnappers, whilst being extremely cold and distant towards Gail. This sets off a chain of events that trigger a race against time to ensure that her son makes it back home alive, whose life it would be fair to say, is hanging in the balance.

For what it is worth, those pricey reshoots certainly made everything worthwhile as Plummer is tremendous and steals the show. It is hard to imagine anyone else playing this role. In spite of his vast riches,  and despite caring for all of his grandchildren, he simply refuses to negotiate or cave to the kidnappers demands, and though it seems heartless, you understand why he refuses to give in to the demands of his grandson’s kidnappers. The screenplay by David Scarpa, adapted from Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty (quite the long title!) tells this remarkable story in a manner that is extremely gripping. Though the film does suffer from some pacing issues where not a great deal is happening, the back-and-forth between Getty and Gail makes for some tense magnificently acted family drama.

Speaking of, Michelle Williams as Gail is also superb. In spite of the extreme difficulties she faces in getting Getty to cough up, she pursues every avenue that she can, possessing a relentless motherly drive to be reunited with her child, who is brought to the screen tremendously well by Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher). Wahlberg certainly doesn’t steal the show like Plummer or Williams, but he gets the job done as the man who Getty hires to assist Gail in her desperate quest to find her son.

Ridley Scott is a director who has had quite the career, but with Alien: Covenant receiving a decidedly mixed reaction among many cinema goers, it is pleasing to see him bounce back here. The film is directed tremendously well and Scott brings out some excellent performances from his cast, which is impressive given how little time he had to complete the reshoots to make the film’s release date. The third act especially is where Scott really turns the tension up a few levels and delivers a pulsating conclusion to a film that might have gone down in the history books for all the wrong reasons if Scott had chosen to not do anything. Thankfully, and indeed all the money in the world (well not quite) to help pay for those reshoots ensured it is another remarkable entry into Ridley Scott’s remarkable filmography, and given the circumstances, that is some achievement.

An incredible true story told with sincerity by Scott and boosted by the superb award worthy performances of Williams and Plummer, all the more remarkable given the circumstances that necessitated the latter’s last minute involvement in the project.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Molly’s Game (2017)

Image is property of STXfilms

Molly’s Game – Film Review

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera, Kevin Costner

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Synopsis: After her professional sports career lies in tatters, a young woman named Molly Bloom sets up and runs high stakes poker games, but it isn’t long before she finds herself at risk of running into trouble with the law…

Review: When it comes to a screenplay that is written by the one and only Aaron Sorkin, you’re going to get extremely well written and extremely engaging dialogue. In addition, the characters on screen will be talking in a fast pace that keeps you completely focused on the words that they are saying, whilst moving the plot forward in a timely manner. With Sorkin he can take almost any aspect such as the inner workings of baseball, or the lives behind the founders of Apple and Facebook and turn them into extremely entertaining, very character driven pieces that yield exceptional performances. Except this time, having for so long been the master of the screenplay, he makes his first venture in the world of directing.

His debut feature tells the story of Molly Bloom, a budding young athlete in her early life with dreams of going professional. This was until a horrendous incident ruined those dreams for good. Seeking a new venture, she finds herself working as for want of a better word, a secretary for a man who runs poker games. After acquiring the experience and developing the skills, she becomes extremely good at this, to the point where she decides to set up her own business running extremely high stakes poker games for some A list celebrities. However it isn’t long before she finds herself dealing with some much more scary sort of clientele that soon lands her in some hot water.

Sorkin chooses to tell Molly’s story by focusing on her fraught meetings with her lawyer (Idris Elba) and then flashes back to her past and how she went from an athlete with shattered dreams to running high stakes poker games for some truly A list clients. Among these clients include some very high calibre Hollywood actors, though the real identities of these people have been deliberately obscured. The script is filled with Sorkin’s familiar sort of very fast paced dialogue, with extremely watchable characters who definitely have a story to tell, and in the case of Molly Bloom, hers is certainly one that will have your interest in from the word go.

As she so often is Chastain is fantastic in this role that has already bagged her a few award nominations. She displays dogged determination to succeed in spite of some people giving her some rough treatment, whilst crucially giving the character strong emotional weight when she’s tussling and arguing with her lawyer, and even more so when the effects of her glamourous lifestyle really begin to take their toll on her. Elba, as said lawyer is also excellent as he tries his best to determine the best course of action for Molly to take in this precarious situation.

Sorkin is undeniably a master when it comes to screenwriting, as a director he shows himself to be equally adept combining his signature dialogue and making the film cohesive and structurally on point. The weaving together of two timelines can lead to a messy outcome, but thankfully the film doesn’t collapse and fall apart like a poker player might if they had a terrible hand.  Even if you have no clue whatsoever when it comes to poker, the story is told in such a way that keeps you engaged and interested in this woman and her truly fascinating story from the depth of despair to a remarkable rise to riches, and back again.

Anchored by an electric performance from Chastain, with superb work from Elba, Molly’s Game ensures that Sorkin’s directorial debut has plenty of aces up its sleeve.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Image is property of LucasFilm and Walt Disney

Star Wars: The Last Jedi  – Film Review

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Domnhall Gleeson,

Director: Rian Johnson

Synopsis: Following on from the events of The Force AwakensThe First Order is hot on the trails of the Resistance, while Rey seeks out the guidance of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker.

This review will be 100% spoiler free.

Review: Very few films manage to become such events that build anticipation and excitement among audiences quite like Star Wars does. Though for a long time (a decade to be exact) no new films were made in the Star Wars universe, it never lost that magic and majesty that it carries for so many people. Though that was unlikely to ever diminish, as 2015’s The Force Awakens came along, it was the film the franchise needed to revitalise itself and get this

Picking up almost immediately after the events of Force Awakens, without divulging too much information, the First Order is now aggressively hunting The Resistance, which is to be expected after you blow up a significant asset, namely Starkiller Base. Meanwhile over on Ahch-To, Luke Skywalker has chosen to hide himself away, due to a horrible event that took place in the past, which doesn’t bode well for Rey, who is seeking Luke out to return a significant possession of his, and for help in honing her Jedi powers.

For many a big criticism of Abrams’s efforts was that it was just a rehash of A New Hope, and while it is not a shot for shot remake, it does undeniably heavily borrow elements of that film. The reception of the prequels and how different they were to the original trilogy meant that the decision to make the first chapter of the new trilogy feel like the film that started all this was a sound decision. However, taking over from Abrams, Rian Johnson continues on what Abrams built so successfully and gives another strong addition to the franchise that continues at the themes that almost every film before it has touched upon.

For many the greatest film in this celebrated franchise is The Empire Strikes Back, and justifiably so too. It took the characters and developed them in extremely unique ways, and it’s clear Johnson is going for a similar vibe, but this is not just a rehash of Empire, it crafts a story that needs to be told, taking the characters and taking them in certainly very intriguing directions. Conflicts are occurring both between the First Order and the Resistance and intense personal conflicts are raging inside some of the characters. Of the familiar faces, Daisy Ridley is once again superb as Rey, adding real intensity into her performance as she goes on a journey to discover the answers to the questions that we had about her last time out. John Boyega likewise as Finn, is certainly a very likeable presence, as is the roguish charm of Poe Dameron. Of the newcomers, Laura Dern has an authoritative presence alongside the late Carrie Fisher’s Leia.

On the flip side, there’s a lot going on with Kylo Ren too, which given the heinous crime he committed against his father is understandable. But even then, his character has a lot on his plate, just like many of the characters here. Though once again, the Skywalker siblings are key pieces in this puzzle. Having had a mere cameo last time around, Luke has a lot more to do this time around and given that so much has happened to him since he decided to adopt the hermit lifestyle, there’s much to be explored and Hamill is once again terrific in the role. Though there is an obvious element of sadness surrounding Leia and the passing of Carrie Fisher, in what will be her final turn in the role, she bows out tremendously. That being said there are some new characters who could have really done with more fleshing out, and some characters who were so frustratingly underutilised previously are still not given the time to shine.

Though the story does move along at a steady pace, there are moments in particular around the second act that really slow the film down, and in some cases seem almost completely out of place and for some it might take them completely out of the film. That being said, that does not take away from the brilliant direction that Johnson puts into this. Sometimes a film can have the feel that it was almost directed by a committee, absolutely not the case here. The film looks immaculate and the action scenes are superbly well handled. There are some scenes that could have been omitted but there’s plenty of scenes that will get the adrenaline flowing.

A key task of any chapter two in a trilogy is to leave the audience desperately wanting more by the time the credits start to role, that criteria has been met. What Johnson crafts here is so well done it’s easy to see why Disney has given him the green light to make a new Star Wars trilogy unrelated to the current events of the saga, or so we are led to believe at this moment in time. The task of completing this story for these characters now reverts back to the man who introduced the world to them, and given that excitement and interest in this franchise is now likely to continue to the end of time, can we somehow make the jump into lightspeed to December 2019 already?

Continuing on the foundations laid by Force Awakens, The Last Jedi packs plenty of emotional punch, taking the characters in exciting directions and setting the stage for what should be an enthralling conclusion to this new trilogy.