Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

Knives Out (2019)

Image is property of Lionsgate and Media Rights Capital

Knives Out – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer

Director: Rian Johnson

Synopsis: After a family patriarch dies in mysterious circumstances, a highly renowned private investigator is hired to lead the police inquiry…

Review: After making one of the most polarising blockbusters of all time in The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson would have been forgiven for taking a break from film-making, given the fierce, at times toxic, reaction that his Star Wars film generated. Yet, Johnson was having none of that and has wasted no time getting back into the game. After conceiving the idea of a murder mystery following the release of Looper, he takes obvious inspiration from the likes of Agatha Christie to give his own unique take on the “Whodunnit” genre, with extremely enthralling results.

As with all entertainment that centres on a murder mystery, it pays to know as little as possible about any plot details before diving head first into the madness. Therefore, vagueness is the name of the game from this point onwards. As he celebrates his 85th birthday party with his family, a family patriarch dies. Sensing something suspicious about the circumstances of the death, an official investigation is opened. As the tagline reads: “Hell, any of them could have done it.” As such, with everyone who attended the party a suspect, the detectives must interview the family members, and use those “little grey cells” in a bid to piece together the clues and to try and crack the case.

The most attractive group of suspects you’ll maybe ever see…

With such a stacked, A-list, ensemble cast, to give everyone their moment to shine would be extremely difficult. However, with a sharp and brilliantly witty script, Johnson does exactly that, and it enables him to get excellent performances out of everyone. Every member of this family is given fascinating, fleshed out back stories, which enables the audience to try and establish their potential motivations. Though, like all great murder mysteries, the audience is kept on their toes. Though, to go into too much detail about who gives the best performances is running the risk of getting into spoiler territory. With that in mind, let’s just say that, apart from Daniel Craig’s brilliant turn as the lead detective channelling his inner Poirot (if Poirot ever became a gruff Southern sleuth), the characters who wind up being at the centre of this investigation, are the best of a truly outstanding bunch.

There’s some ingenious subtext to the story that could have been a massive turn-off. However, it’s written so cleverly into the plot that makes it relevant and extremely entertaining. With every line of dialogue, Johnson’s passion for the genre comes across effortlessly, and he proves that he is a master of his craft. There’s also the distinct possibility that with some of the lines that these characters spit venomously at each other, that it’s Johnson’s subtle way of firing back, following the vitriol that was aimed in his direction following his Star Wars venture. For a film that centres on a murder investigation, it seems absurd that there’d be so many hilarious moments throughout. They are plentiful and they never feel out of place as the jokes keep the plot moving along at such a thrilling, kinetic pace. It ensures that not a single moment of the film’s run-time is wasted.

Bolstered by some immaculate, very colourful production design, this was the perfect film for Johnson to “bounce back” from the endless mire of the The Last Jedi backlash. It proves, if it were somehow ever in doubt that, Johnson’s mastery of the craft remains intact, and that he’s at the very top of his game as a writer and a director. Furthermore, it’s evident from every frame, that the cast are having a blast with this script, and there’s a good chance that this feeling will be reciprocal for the audience. It will make them want to grab their deerstalker hat and magnifying glass, and strive to  solve the riddle at the centre of this enthralling mystery.

A razor sharp, ingenious screenplay, backed by an impeccable ensemble cast ensures that Johnson’s modern update on the Whodunnit genre is an audacious, riveting spectacle. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Shape of Water (2018)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight Pictures and TSG Entertainment

The Shape of Water – Film Review

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Synopsis: In the middle of the Cold War, a mute woman working at a top secret research facility develops a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that has been brought in for testing.

Review: Hollywood is certainly no stranger to stories about love, but when you have a director like Guillermo del Toro, here’s a filmmaker who’s certainly no stranger to making a couple of films about some intriguing creatures. Hence, to merge these together for a film with themes of love and acceptance at its core, and fuse these with some fantasy elements, it’s a unique mishmash of genres, the latter of which is right up del Toro’s alley. It’s most definitely bold film-making, but it also happens to be exquisite and beautiful film-making at the same time.

Set in Cold War 1960s USA, Elisa (Hawkins) is a mute woman working at a top secret research facility as a cleaner. She goes about her shift as normal with close friend and co-worker Zelda (Spencer). Their job is very unremarkable, about as mundane as it gets. This is until the arrival of an extremely rare amphibian creature that has been brought in to give the USA an advantage in the Cold War arms race changes everything for Elisa as she forms a very close relationship with the creature.

Love at first sight

To have a leading role in a film and be a mute requires an actor to have extraordinary ability, and thankfully Sally Hawkins has that in abundance as she delivers a truly  remarkable performance. Without saying a word she manages to convey the trauma that her past has clearly inflicted on her. Yet through it all she shows such raw and powerful emotion, about her life and her feelings for those around her, which is an extraordinary accomplishment.  The way that del Toro builds the relationship with his leading lady and the creature (portrayed by GDT regular Doug Jones) is beautiful to watch and to do so without either character uttering a word is all the more remarkable. It serves as a timely reminder that love is such a powerful emotion that it transcends anything, be it disability, gender, race, religion.

Alongside Hawkins, Octavia Spencer provides excellent support as Elisa’s best friend and who also serves as her sign language translator. Likewise for Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s roommate who’s desperately trying to get back on the scene as an artist, who also has his own set of problems that he’s trying to fight. The two of them give Elisa the support she needs as she tries to build her romance with the creature. On the opposite side of that coin comes Michael Shannon’s Strickland, who definitely does not share the emotional connection that Elisa has for the creature. It’s a similar role for Shannon, this no nonsense mean-spirited bad guy, but he does it so well it’s undeniably intriguing to watch.

The work done by the make up team to create the creature is once again absolutely extraordinary, and with some absolutely mesmerising production design and cinematography. The film looks immaculately beautiful, which works to reflect the incredibly heartfelt and touching story that del Toro brings to the screen, which is boosted by an immaculate score provided by Alexandre Desplat. Not everything that you see on screen is pretty mind you, what with it being set in the Cold War, there’s a fair few agendas flying around.

The central themes that this film champions remain as relevant today as they did over half a century ago.  Pitching this film was probably not the easiest film to have been given the green light, but when you have a director like del Toro on board you’ve got enormous potential for greatness, and this is his drenched masterpiece.

A beautiful blend of genres results in a touching and powerful story, soaked with gorgeous visuals and an absolutely stunning turn from Hawkins, this is cinema at its most majestic and magical.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Midnight Special (2016)

midnight-special
Image rights belong to Faliro House Productions, Tri-State Pictures and Warner Bros Studios

Midnight Special – Film Review

Cast: Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton, Jaeden Lieberher

Director: Jeff Nichols

Synopsis: A father, whose son holds special, not-from-earth powers, goes on the run in a bid to protect his son from various people who want to use his powers for their own ends.

Review: Imagine if you found out one day that your child possessed special and mysterious powers and that a range of different people, ranging from the government to a religious sect, wanted to take them away for their own means, be this saving the world from what is perceived as a potential extraterrestrial threat. Well chances are you’d be pretty scared and would find yourself on the run in a bid to protect your child from harm. This is precisely the situation that Roy (Michael Shannon) finds himself in as he bids to protect his son, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher)  and with the help of Lucas, (Joel Edgerton) they must outrun all those that are coming after them.

Right from the get go, it is clear that director Jeff Nichols has been inspired by the likes of Steven Spielberg, with some very possible nods to some of Spielberg’s masterpieces such as ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Not just Spielberg, but 80s sci-fi in general. Yet despite these influences, it does not feel in the slightest like a copy or a rip off, the film definitely has its own style. The intrigue is established from the opening shot, it’s not immediately apparent why these two men are moving this child across the country during the night, the news clearly has an agenda of its own though, perceiving this boy as a very dangerous alien threat with powers that could have dire consequences for the world. Nichols’s screenplay is not afraid to go to some uncomfortable places, such as religion, whilst at the same time going very deep with this and asking some very probing questions about faith. Science and religion are two things that don’t usually go together, but Nichols manages to fuse them both into the story very effectively.

The cinematography by Adam Stone is tremendous as visually the film is remarkable. With many scenes taking place at night, the camera-work involved is superb as it actually looks like the characters are in the dead of night. What’s more these night scenes have an eerie feel about them. This eerie feel and tone is something that does run throughout the whole movie as there’s an eternal mystery of his powers. Jaeden Liberher’s performance is haunting and very powerful in equal measure. The chemistry he shares with his father is very believable and Shannon shows what a tremendous actor he is with another fine performance that shine the brightest in this movie.

For all of its mystery and intrigue, the film does suffer from pacing issues, there are some moments where the plot slows down to a frustratingly slow pace, which means a little bit of the initial intrigue is lost. Furthermore, the screenplay fails to touch upon certain plot points that would have made the story a lot more enjoyable. Specifically the lack of a back story surrounding Alton and where and or why he got his powers. However, the intrigue and excitement levels increase massively with a very exciting conclusion, that exemplifies the  significant power of parenthood and how a bond between parent and child can be very deep indeed. A very ambitious and original premise, but not as rewarding as you’d like it to be.

An intriguing concept and premise, with some top powerful acting and wonderful cinematography, but the expansion of certain plot points wouldn’t have gone astray.

b

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Man of Steel (2013)

man-of-steel-poster-3
Image is property of Warner Bros, DC Entertainment, Syncopy and Legendary Pictures

Man of Steel – Film Review

Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne

Director: Zack Snyder

Synopsis: When a young man on Earth realises his alien heritage and seeks the answers to his past. As members of his race come looking for him and seek to destroy the planet he has adopted as home, he must rise up to become a superhero and combat the threat that is being posed to mankind.

Review: Man of Steel brings an exciting new take on this popular character. With Zack Snyder at the helm, collaborating with Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer,  we have an action packed and exciting film that has laid the foundations for a DC Universe of films and that could lead one day to an eventual Justice League film, and at the very least the Superman VS Batman film that is all set for a 2015 release.

In the beginning, we see Kal-El’s (AKA Superman)home world Krypton and how it was destroyed which forced his parents to send him to Earth. There are glimpses of Kal-El’s parents played by Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer. We also see the determined and ruthless General Zod (Michael Shannon) attempt a coup to seize control of Krypton in order to save his people. However, this is a coup that ultimately sees him banished to the Phantom Zone. This happens to be a neat convenience for Zod and his supporters when they get freed soon after Krypton is destroyed.

Through a series of flashbacks we see Kal-El’s upbringing by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). Through these flashbacks it is clear to see that certain events in his human upbringing have had their impact on him. The dialogue between Papa Kent and a young Clarke illustrate to great effect the impact that Kal-El will have on humanity. Henry Cavill is terrific in the role of Kal El. He really looked the part and for a  British actor, his accent is absolutely spot on.  The rest of the supporting cast also do a great  job with a special mention going to Michael Shannon as General Zod who was menacing and ruthless. Likewise his sub commander Faora (Antje Traue) was equally menacing and was also superb in her role. Amy Adams was also a solid casting choice in the role of Lois Lane. However, there were times when the chemistry between her and Kal-El was a little lacking.

From his past films, we know Zack Snyder is a very visual director. (Watchmen, 300) From this, you would hope to see exciting and very visual action sequences with Superman and his iconic red cape flying through the air battling his adversaries. Man of Steel certainly brings this in abundance.  The action scenes are pulsating to watch  as buildings come down as Superman and Zod do battle. Yet in this case, one intense action scene is followed up with another intense action scene and it gets to a point where it is almost overkill with the action scenes and that they should have slowed it down when it came to the action.  That being said, some of these scenes were fantastic and completely enjoyable, with a lot of destruction in the process.

With a great origins story, some solid acting all round, particularly from Cavill and Shannon and some sweet action scenes, Man of Steel was a fun film to watch and for me it is the best superhero film of 2013. With the subsequent news of the Superman Vs Batman film that’s planned for a 2015 release, fans of DC have something that they hope can compete with Marvel’s vast and ever expanding cinematic universe.  A lot was riding on Man of Steel, and it definitely delivered.

An exciting new take on a very popular character, with Cavill shining as Superman and some terrific action sequences, the DC Universe has blasted off at long last.

a