The Old Man and the Gun (2018)

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Last year saw David Lowery give us one of my favourite films of 2017 in ‘A Ghost Story’ and now he returns with a very different kind of film but one that possesses that same soothing atmosphere he handles so well.

Serial bank robber Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) has broken out of countless prisons and can’t seem to stop himself from stealing cash yet in the most kindly way. As detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) and potential romantic interest for Tucker, Jewel (Sissy Spacek) enter his life, will he change his ways?

This is amazingly based on a true person and it’s an incredible watch just to see yourself rooting for this thief and witness the levels of crime he got away with. The film harbours a gentile air through the narrative and there’s a tranquil charm about it all. It’s a film almost like a caring grandparent; cosy and warming in its quaint storytelling of a man with an insatiable appetite to steal.

‘The Old Man and the Gun’ harks back to the late 70’s/early 80’s style of cinema with it’s flickering reel visual over the entire movie. The robberies themselves are never over egged or sensationalised which would have totally distanced you from the polite nature of Tucker but instead it gives you a calmness and gentle chuckles about what this 70 year old dapper man does. It could be argued that the film is sort of slow but that never overrides the movie.

It’s a mild-mannered film reflecting the lead character which keeps you perked up with traces of humour and in fact this entire feature shares the Robert Redford eye twinkle making it an enjoyable treat, a feeling that similar heist drama ‘King of Thieves’ should have also had but failed on. Redford’s performance is great, a charming and lovely role sold with suitable dazzle from the actor and his gentlemanly demeanour is sharp. If this is to be his final acting gig then what a wonderful way to exit stage left. Spacek is just as lovely in this, the bridge between us and the action as she gets involved in the life of Forrest. Also a red brake light flashes on her face at one point in what I’m taking as a reference to her prom days in ‘Carrie’.

There’s not much else to comment on apart from reiterating that this is simply put – a nice film with spades of charm and feels like one of those dreamy perfect Sunday afternoon watches.

7/10

 

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Sorry to Bother You (2018)

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Not so much galloping but finally cantering into UK cinemas, after an almost 5 month wait due to distribution delays between us and America, comes this Grand National winner of surrealism.

Cassius Green aka ‘Cash’ (Lakeith Stanfield) isn’t exactly rolling in prospects so in the desperate hope to make money he takes up telemarketing and after learning some tricks of the trade from Langston (Danny Glover), he skyrockets to the big leagues of Power Caller status. Once there, Cash must decide between his new luxury life at the cruelty of others or stick with his pals and girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson).

Boots Riley takes a stand for his directorial and film writing debut in what can only be described as a dizzying absurd piece of cinema. There’s no denying that Riley has the skills of style in his arsenal but sometimes the black humour is not so much laced with crazy antics but totally riddled with them. The absurdist quality may not be for all and without spoiling the events of the film it’s very clear to say this ‘Sorry to Bother You’ becomes highly ludicrous but it isn’t terrible.

There are some neat strokes of visual inventiveness like Cash’s promotional rise seeing his apartment and items shift around him, a memorable photo alters to reflect its thoughts on Cassius’ journey and the introduction to Green’s and ours take on the telemarketing world is a stylish flair of creativity. The mad signs and TV programs that fill the world Riley has created feel odd but wouldn’t be amiss in shows like ‘Family Guy’ or ‘Bojack Horseman’.

Even though there is an impressive amount of surrealism to swallow and doses of comedy that lands okay, it is a movie that becomes preposterous enough that you do lose interest in what the director is hoping to convey. It’ll definitely be a film to divide people, whether it grows to become a cult film remains to be seen but for all its outlandish horsing around this does strangely work more often than not even if some ideas get tiresome.

It’s not the worst or weirdest film you’ll ever see though it may come extremely close to both for some people. It has vivid ideas and an ambitious scope to show off a fresh new voice in Boots Riley.

6/10

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

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Slinging into cinemas is an animated take on the New York web flying hero we know and love and whilst the MCU may have dusted off Parker for now, this superhero outing is well and truly alive with comedy, colour and creative heart.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a teenager in the Big Apple wanting to follow his artistic side and on a graffiti adventure he’s bitten by a radioactive spider making him a second Spider-Man in the city. As a super collider threatens his world, Morales is faced with a host of other Spidey heroes and learns to be one himself thanks to the teachings of multi-verse Peter B. Parker (Nick Johnson).

It’s this multi (or Spider) verse setup which makes for fun blends of different animation. The artists and illustrators have amazingly captured the details of quirks from the likes of ‘Looney Tunes’ inspired slapstick, brooding noir shades of black and grey and cutesy anime amongst the normal world of circled crosshatching to reflect the patterned texture of real-life comic books. The animation across the board is stunning and some of the best example of computer-animated graphic I’ve ever watched.

The story makes time for great team ups between the meeting heroes and they’re never messy or confused, each version of Spider-Man gets their time to shine and the story is totally engaging and cleverly thought through. Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman add great layers of darkness, humour and heroic morals into the screenplay whilst never losing the central beating heart of Miles and his world.

Vibrancy feels like too weak a word to describe this colourful comic-book flick, which just explodes off the page with flashes of bright visuals and gorgeous style. It’s a darn art masterpiece which takes the breath away and should win every award that goes its way. In all honesty it’s an incredible wonder of workmanship and the whole thing from start to finish is insanely enjoyable. The impending glitch of the villains’ plan gives the film great drive and Morales’ learning curve lends the film that “with great power comes great responsibility” ideal but marvellously riffs on that and a couple of other Spider-Man moments.

Into the Spider-Verse’ is a lively and immensely entertaining animated superhero movie. It’s backed by a cracking soundtrack, spot-on voice performances, sensational style and a unique mirage of shifting shapes makes for one of the best final acts you’ll see. This is no doubt the best ‘Spider-Man’ film and it’s quite possibly one of the best comic book movies.

9/10

Tulip Fever (2018)

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In this film there is plenty of talk about rare flowers in Amsterdam, fetching a pretty price in auctions. Well, ‘Tulip Fever’ could be a similar rarity in terms of how late it’s been to blossom. Castings and production started back in 2014 and after being pushed back on more than one occasion, the film has finally sprung but is it a marvellous bloom or a wilting weed?

In 17th century Amsterdam, an orphan is purchased by rich and elderly Cornelius Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz). Sophia (Alicia Vikander) hopes to bear her husband an heir but there is no such luck. As Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan); a struggling painter comes in by the request of Cornelius to capture the married couple, a mutual attraction burns between Sophia and Loos.

It’s not just a romantic yarn as the plot would suggest. Throughout the film there is a focus on the tulip market and the wealth certain marked flowers can bring to successful bidders. It is indeed a film boiling over with a duo of fevers that would have your local doctor reaching for aspirins and telling you to get some rest. It isn’t just the hot fever that boils over between the former orphan and the artist but the sweaty atmosphere with people from all walks of life crammed in a dingy auction hall is brilliantly captured and works in creating a fever of a financial kind, a swirling frantic environment which you may not have known about if not for this film.

In regards to the more romantic elements of the film, they are brought to life and detail by director Justin Chadwick, who has a background in corset drama, and the two young leads add further credibility to a pair heavy with arousal. Even though it is all convincing it doesn’t entirely prevent these characters’ desire to come across as melodramatic and there are character choices on route which feel annoyingly pushed, like contrivances just to solely push drama into the building climax when it could have been done more organically, it’s more of the roll your eyes stuff than it should be.

Considering the fires that burn in the loins of the cheating couple, the film doesn’t feel as passionate as it could, the story feels very safe and it doesn’t help that quite a fair portion of the dialogue isn’t exactly inspired or bursting with flair. Though saying that, the tricky games that Jan and Sophia play come with a good sense of doom, putting aside a cliched use of mistaken identity, a pregnancy becomes wrapped up in high stakes and this film neatly balances tension and humour within this scheme.

Dane DeHaan has the charm and smirk of a typically wistful artist always falling for his subjects. Alicia Vikander is as beautifully talented as ever, the emotive range she possesses in her magnetic eyes alone express the entrapping situation her character has put herself in. As she hopes to escape a stale world into a steamy affair, you truly buy into Vikander’s desire which make her final choices more captivating. But it is not really Sophia’s story to be spun, Holliday Granger as Maria is in fact the one whose tale is told. The actor finely sells her plight which runs through the house like a smartly drawn portrait as you feel her life getting caught up in the mix.

So while it may not have been altogether worth the wait, it’s not a dud bud to put on the manure pile either. If some lacklustre dialogue, twirl of many subplots and sappy endings were pruned away then this could have been a much more winning flower.

6/10

Disobedience (2018)

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Love is an all consuming thing and this film goes some way in demonstrating the strength of that powerful four letter word. Anchored by two astonishing female leads, ‘Disobedience’ isn’t as resolute in the pursuit of its story and feels slightly lacking of consequence.

After a family tragedy, photographer Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) flies from New York to London to pay her respects. The world she returns to is of the strict Orthodox Jewish community of which she’d left behind. As she stays longer, her past is unbottled and Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams) is a reason for why she was estranged and distanced from her father and his religion.

What this film has going for it, is a good sense of tenderness. Sebastian Lelio ensures that the central pairing of his stars are the focus, their developing connection one that feels soft and lovely around the edges. There are some great moments in the opening scenes of the film with the setting up of characters and Ronit’s arrival back in London comes with traces of strained family humour and a tickling sense of intrigue to these furtive looks that occur between Ronit and Esti.

On the other hand, it is this tender quality that can make the film feel somewhat wishy-washy. The burning nature of love and passion should be unmistakable and though you can tell the two ladies want each other, it’s the aftermath of their connection that never really hits like you’d expect or want. Perhaps the setting of it within the Jewish faith is why the glances and silence are all you get but a darker kick-back to what they do and what happened in the past would make this film more engrossing to watch.

In fact, the film doesn’t totally sell us on the build up to their elicit rendezvous, there’s just a smidge enough to know there’s something going on but it doesn’t feel like the movie has enough gusto to sell us on the fact and suddenly what happens, happens. It’s the softly softly approach which makes for good detailed performances but doesn’t help the screenplay feel sparkling, in fact the film quickly loses dynamics and come the end, it feels vaguely like a quiet soap opera.

Weisz is superb and you can see it in her face and the way she fiddles with her hair or scarf that she’s juggling feelings of grief, annoyance and love. McAdams is just as sensational as her counterpart, if not more so. The complicated state of her marriage, the possible lack of love in her life and the reappearance of Ronit are all carefully balanced by the American actor, she is captivating to watch and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her up for an Oscar in 2019.

‘Disobedience’ has some nice qualities and the background of the Jewish community feels well handled, Weisz and McAdams are the perfect lovers. If only the film didn’t disobey it’s own powerful rules on love, when it should have instead, committed to a more vivid and less unsatisfying flow of tension in the relationship.

6/10

Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 (2018)

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Whilst Disney are retelling over their own classic material, it’s fair to say they aren’t adding many sequels to their films. Cue Ralph who smashes his way onto the big screen for a second time, the first Disney sequel in 7 years. Could this lumbering 8-bit character with good intentions capture the glorious magic again?

It’s been 6 years and Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is still best buds with Sugar Rush driver Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). They spend all their downtime together but she’s feeling slightly bored in her duty, matters aren’t helped when her game breaks. So when WiFi arrives, Ralph and Vanellope venture into a limitless new land to try and save Sugar Rush but both discover their own meanings in the expanse of the world wide web.

When Ralph and co. rocked up back in 2012, it was a video game delight with neat little nods to old school arcade games and the emotional core between the strained pairing of the hulk-like titular character and his sweeter companion worked nicely. This film follows up by adding more to what we know of the place where Fix-It Felix, Pac-Man and the rest hang out, in fact it adds a humongous amount more. In a way this serves the film well in giving a large scope to riff on but at times it feels like the creators are so preoccupied with this massive environment that the heart is lost.

Directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston hurl in a mass of references, whether game or internet based. Yes, the world wide web is a great platform to launch a new path for Ralph to travel down but it often has a vibe of shoving all its Easter eggs in one basket. The film is undoubtedly scattered with a stupendous run of playful background sightings and though it can detract from a better orchestrated narrative, there is joy to be had in the madness.

A mini Disney section is gleeful, mostly in the fun attempt to try and spot as many House of Mouse characters as possible. A princess slumber party scene is ace and it gives each doe eyed lass their own joke about the problems they have and face as Disney heroines. There are visual gags aplenty from their pyjama tops to outside Stormtroopers, Iron Man and a later princess sequence aided by powers and shifting musical cues is very enjoyable.

Amongst the sprawling carnage of an 80’s arcade figure exploring the likes of eBay, Pinterest and the Dark Web, there is this unshakeable feeling of it all being weird and that’s even before Alfred Molina slides in as some slug-like virus keeper. A surreal song and dance section, Miranda Sings and zany moments make you feel like you’re surfing the web with constant popups. The story was crafted by 5 people and sometimes it feels like the film is being tugged in all manner of directions. It would have benefited by having a proper villain and earlier introduced too.

The third act itself with a ‘King Kong’ inspired climax is underwhelming considering how big it all is and it’s a strange visual finale for a film about friendship and the pressures of insecurity, it makes sense but it goes overboard. Luckily the actual ending of the film with the main duo provides a touching moment as the journey reaches a conclusion you cannot help but get swept up by the candy sweet emotion, which is further enhanced by the fantastic vocals from Silverman and Reilly.

‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ is jam packed with references of all kinds and it’s a film warranting a second watch in terms of catching all the detail that’s littered about. In terms of plot however, this isn’t special or really that different to what the first film had. Less is more and this film goes way entertainingly over the top in a visual feast for the eyes but less of a delectable treat in terms of storytelling.

7/10

Assassination Nation (2018)

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When a film begins by rattling through a list of trigger warnings, you know you’re in for a wild ride and some aspects will likely sit uncomfortably with people making them #triggered, as the youths now say but if you can stomach everything from nasty slurs to torture then you won’t be disappointed.

In the town of Salem, four young friends share almost every secret. Lily (Odessa Young) has her own sordid private life which could become extremely public as a run of hacks hit the people of the town, from political figures to cheerleaders. It isn’t long until Salem is swept up by a hysteria and these four girls are its target.

Now, this visceral flick comments that it is a “1000% true story”, which it isn’t but the satirical elements which elevate to crazy heights could easily be perceived as based on true events what with the screen-obsessed world we currently live in. Sam Levinson, on only his second feature film is someone to watch because this is a bold, exploitative movie with a lot to say. There is a whole mound of style layered over the simple story of personal truths spilling over to be accessed information by all.

For a while this is a movie which looks like a red, white and blue tinged frat dream; almost a bubblegum start which greatly and swiftly pops like dynamite. It’s a revenge film ripe for our times, pumping with violence, social dramatics and a soundtrack which pulsates through you. It’s easy to say this is a film revelling in blood and shock but in fact it’s an engrossing cautionary tale of how affected by social media we are, how hear say is damaging and the struggles of what people expect of us can boil over. These themes are massively relevant and perfectly handled in a neat black comedy/thriller.

If you saw ‘Revenge’ earlier in the year, then this is a film that reminds you of the vengeful attack demonstrated by Coralie Fargeat. There’s a similar aggression soaking the narrative and amped up camera tricks and shots construct a blistering treat for the eyes. A smooth one-shot sequence which follows the red coated gals from outside a house is exceptional in terms of craft and building tension, more than this it works fantastically by making us voyeurs, the very people this film is right to judge.

It isn’t only voyeurism which is barbed, the fragile male ego from the outset is listed as an oncoming point for the film and this dangerous weapon is definitely shown off. On top of this there is the very real problem of mob mentality which is utilised within the later stages of the film and would do enough to scare off ‘The Purge’ inhabitants. These alarming issues are brilliantly opposed by the actors playing the teenage women. Odessa Young is front and centre and is a force to be reckoned with as she stands strong, even when torn apart by those around her.

Surely it’s no happy coincidence that Levinson sets this blood-fuelled story in Salem. The electrically charged events, mirror the witch trials from 326 years ago. The friends are damaged and headhunted by technology and townsfolk with no morals or thought process. Their own trial is as utterly useless to survive against unless they rise up. The female empowerment may be through thinly drawn characters but it’s evident and makes for a powerful final image before the credits appear.

‘Assassination Nation’ has some obvious story moments but there’s plenty of black humour and unsettling madness in a superb pulpy exhilarating show, one that wakes you up to the climate against women and rings social media alarm bells.

8/10