Molly’s Game (2017)

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What a whirlwind of a life this movie shows us. This drama based on the memoirs from the real Molly Bloom is one that really sends the dialogue flying with laser focused intensity, wit and even humour at times.

After a freak Olympic skiing accident when she was 20, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) keeps putting off law schooling and finds herself working two very well paid jobs. It’s within these placements that she learns on her feet about the world of poker and its players. Soon she sets up her own games but the FBI want her for crimes and only Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) seems to be the one who can help Bloom in her case.

Aaron Sorkin, of huge writing acclaim and fame, is here as a writer but also as a captain in his debut with directorial capacity. His ‘The West Wing’ and ‘The Social Network’ credentials surely show off his knack for writing flair and excellence in dialogue build up and in this film that’s the case again. The directing side of things may not be as confidently managed with the expected back and forth in time and there’s a few times where the film just feels quite long.

The dialogue is pretty much consistently on point, even if it a lot of that comes from narration….a lot of narration. It’s not annoying but it’s certainly overused and I get we’re hearing the story from Molly’s viewpoint but it does ramble with bursts of narrated information. Aside from these negatives, the delivery and content of the writing is razor sharp, Ferrari fast and absorbing. There’s a lot to take in but if you do listen up and keep attuned, then the story of Molly Bloom is definitely one to engage and surprise.

Jessica Chastain plays the whip smart Bloom with incredible confidence and a convincing electric aura. She’s a fascinating talent who keeps on picking sharply written roles for women and she’s deserving of nominations for this part. Not only does she show the softer and more worried state of what she’s done with emotion but she carries an undeniable sense of strength, smarts and power throughout the 2 hour 20 minute run time. Both Chastain and Idris Elba handle the Sorkin dialogue with dynamic flair. Elba is another convincing talent and brings unflinching determination to his role as the defence lawyer. Kevin Costner flits in and out of the story-line and has a couple of smoothly delivered jokes but also sells us with the serious overbearing pushy father qualities.

There is an almost tiresome incessant thread of speedy voice-over but apart from that, I’d say that it’s well buying in and pulling a chair up to this film. Get ready, go all in and jump into a fast and dangerously glamorous world led by a superb Chastain.

7.5/10

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Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

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All aboard the murder mystery express! Tickets please. Or maybe not…is this a film worthy of getting a cinema ticket? If you like crimes and the puzzles of solving them, then the answer to that would be a yes but it’s not an out and out success stalling like the snow-struck train from time to time.

Hoping for a break between detecting cases, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) lands a spot on the Orient Express where he meets a whole host of fellow travellers. He wishes to keep himself to himself but a shady passenger on-board by the name of Ratchett (Johnny Depp) only gets himself murdered, meaning Poirot must step up and deduce who the killer is before the train is back on the tracks and at its next station.

I’ll begin with the positives, the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem to set the scene and more importantly the smarts of Poirot was a good introduction even if I worked out who the culprit was before the film revealed so. There’s a beautiful uncut tracking shot that follows the Belgian detective and Bouc through the departure platform, it continues wonderfully alongside the train as Poirot walks through the carriages. Also the characters initially coming together to board the train is a grand introduction and that’s simply because it’s such an incredible cast the film has garnered.

Patrick Doyle’s score bubbles away nicely, providing a suitable unease and tense quality to the entrapping confines of a derailed train. The music is something that builds that sort of perfect comfy Sunday afternoon TV crime drama atmosphere. That’s the general feel throughout, it’s obviously very cinematic at times but the story itself adapted from Agatha Christie’s novel is a safe one, arriving with that old timey classic storytelling that is presented in a way that wouldn’t be amiss on the stage.

Kenneth Branagh directs his one location set cast well, the story keeps chugging along nicely but I never felt a true sense of threat or eagerness to uncover the killer. Also putting himself front and centre is a decision I could have done without, yes he’s a darn fine actor as the mustachioed detective but it would have been interesting to see someone else play the role but I guess he enjoys the power/thrill of being an actor/director darling!

There are a good many mini interviews throughout the journey but because it is such a big cast of players that having all these characters doesn’t help the mystery plot so much. There is a lot to tackle, a lot of personalities and a lot of do they/don’t they motivations. I felt there never was enough time in the movie to really let the audience know enough of anyone to truly make educated assumptions. I just sat back and watched because there wasn’t enough detail scattered amongst the narrative to try and make guesses. Also very near the beginning there’s a brief character conversation that alludes to the true nature of everything anyway.

Amongst the talented cast is Michelle Pfeiffer who has the strongest and largest role out of the ensemble. She is captivating and in a smaller but no less significant way so is Daisy Ridley who gets a bigger chunk of acting scenes than some of the others. Judi Dench and Olivia Colman are almost criminally underused. Josh Gad makes me hate Olaf a little less as his irritating snowman voice is less present and his role of MacQueen is an interesting one to follow. Johnny Depp is that typical smarmy charmy crook, in the same vein as his turn in ‘Into the Woods’ he simmers with a bad taste in the mouth which works for his character. Also underused are Lucy Boynton and Sergei Polunin who have a brilliant scene with Branagh but never do anything else. This can be said with Penelope Cruz and Willem Dafoe who are great actors but don’t get a chance to shine. It’s like the Avengers on a Train which feels apt considering the final moments of the film clearly setting up what I’m coining The ChristieVerse. It seems cinema isn’t safe from everything turning into a sprawling universe of sequels.

A very old fashioned kind of movie, even with the zippy CGI and confident Branagh overseeing proceedings. It’s a shame that the movie with a magnificent cast and potential of intriguing 12 suspects never grabs you and pulls you along like it should.

6/10

2016 Top Ten

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‘We are Number One.’…and two, three and four, five and so on. It’s belated but I’ve finally found time to notch up my favourite 10 movies from last year. Surprisingly this was easier because there weren’t too many great films released in 2016! You could say most were Rotten! Ahaha…moving quickly on then to number 10….

…but quickly before that, here’s a few films that almost made the grade…The Neon Demon, Deadpool, The Witch, Moana, The Invitation, Captain America: Civil War, Eddie the Eagle, Midnight Special, The Girl with all the Gifts, The Danish Girl, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping then The Little Prince and Hush would have been on the list but didn’t gain theatrical releases so sadly, I didn’t include them.

So, in at ten –

10) GREEN ROOM…AND NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

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Enter the Green Room, a nightmarish small space in a neo-Nazi skinhead filled club. This movie brilliantly delivers on unsettling tension and dark turns as a band are menaced and killed. Full Review. Similarly, Tom Ford’s stylish Nocturnal Animals gives tension to the nth degree, the gritty story-within-a-story standing out as the best thing.

9) THE JUNGLE BOOK

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I don’t dislike the original Walt cartoon from yesteryear, but The Jungle Book isn’t my go to animation from them…so I was pleasantly surprised by this movie which looks incredible, the CGI landscape and animals are epic, Sethi as Mowgli blends into the darkly presented story very well and it zips along nicely as a well modernised tale. You wanna read my review-oo-oo? I know you do-oo-oo. Jungle Book

8) ARRIVAL

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Clever, gorgeous, intellectual, timey-wimey, language and love co-exist but with aliens. The story is always engaging, Adams’ performance is natural and affecting in her story that just happens to feature hovering space crafts and circular lingo. Arrive at my review.

7) ZOOTROPOLIS

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Fun but also incredibly on point about the very real politics of stero-typing and racial prejudice, this fluffy family flick is more in depth and smartly told than you’d think. Don’t be a sloth, quickly click on my review for Zootropolis.

6) 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

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Dropped on us from nowhere, the Cloverfield world is expanded with this shift of genre as we get a claustrophobic thriller centered on relationships, mystery and danger instead of the found footage device. It was such a surprise and a fantastic film to boot. Tension kicks into overdrive, music is used so well and Goodman is a scary monster. Cloverfield

5) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

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Laika have done it again by golly! This is such a rich and awesome stop-motion fantasy that goes over some very interesting and cultural textures whilst still featuring the humour and charm you’d expect. I want to see it again to just admire the work put into making this beautiful film. Kubo.

4) VICTORIA

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I am so so…so glad that I got to see this film. It isn’t just the sheer marvelling feature of shooting the entire movie in one-take but the performances are fascinating and believable, the story is engaging and you connect to the world as Victoria becomes involved more and more.

Well….we’ve reached the golden trio, the three musketeers, the tricycle of brilliance from last year. What’s in at number 3 then??

 

3) SING STREET

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Ah, what a charming and musically gorgeous film. The coming of age story is fun in itself but added with 80’s nostalgia, humour and songs, Sing Street becomes a movie to feel happy watching. I re-watched it recently and still found myself adoring every moment.

2) HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

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Ricky Baker. Ricky Baker. A hero for the ages. This is a gem of a film with bittersweet moments, heartfelt tenderness, sharp comedy, coming of age and bonding adventures, randomness, lush locations and the ever reliable brilliance of Taika Waititi behind it all. Hunt the Wilderpeople down now…it’s so worth it if you haven’t seen it.

It’s here, Bully’s special prize. Iiiiiiin 1 –

 

 

1) THE HATEFUL EIGHT

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It had to be, as a Tarantino fan there was almost no question that this movie would hit the heights but it’d still have to be a good film and gladly it is. Three acts that all soar with incredible cinematic talent both behind and in front of the camera. Morricone on board for the score ensures the sound is perfect. Seeing it in 70mm also helped elevate the special sweeping look of this western blood soaked Quentin extravaganza. Dialogue, violence, humour and details are as crisp as ever and I loved every second. 8

Til next year…maybe…let’s see what 2017 has to give us hey?!

Gone Baby Gone (2007)

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Batman’s….sorry, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut from nearly 10 years ago now, is a fantastically textured noir mystery. The crime and subsequent drama that follows a media centred case is impressive and raises a big social or perhaps an ethical question.

4 year old Amanda has gone missing and though the Boston police are following leads, the girl’s aunt goes to private investigator Patrick (Casey Affleck) and his work/romantic partner Angie (Michelle Monaghan) to help the search. Police captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) ensure the pair are helped/followed by two other detectives from his force as the mystery of Amanda grows more worrying.

Comparisons aren’t always the best or fairest way in reviewing circles but I must say that I found this film much better shot and handled than ‘The Town’. Affleck gives this Boston set drama a great gritty local feel, highlighting the tough working class side of the city. The entire feature is put across in a slow burning way, but not in a yawn inducing manner, it fits the build up of suspicion and what Patrick will do.

Affleck also shares writing duties with Aaron Stockard, together they create a powerful visual to a story by Dennis Lehane. It’s a hard watch at times, never rough or unflinching, just a film that doesn’t shy away from the immoralities of people and what we do in the name of right and wrong. The final dilemma is scripted so well that you do internally debate what choice you might make, I’d say that Patrick does make the right one though.

Casey Affleck must thank his big brother because his role is interesting and gives the fantastic actor plenty to do as he tries reaching the end goal of promising Amanda’s mother the safe return of her daughter. Morgan Freeman as the captain is a good choice, his voice giving authority to the figurehead and gladly he comes back for one crucial scene that works very well. Monaghan isn’t just in the background, she’s bold and knows what should be done, the working relationship between her character and Affleck’s is a trapping one and feels believable. Ed Harris is loud, tenacious and convincing as Remy, an elder cop who has a big hand in this case. Amy Ryan is a standout, her turn as Helene, the drug abusing, unknowing and possibly uncaring mother is engrossing and disgusting. It’s a perfect two sided coin as we see her messy world but realise she has the parental right for Amanda.

There’s no massive crime in this crime drama, it’s executed fantastically with Casey Affleck and Amy Ryan providing excellent performances. Aside from a minor niggle here or there this is a film that looks and sounds on the money.

7.5/10

 

The Warriors (1979)

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Oozing with inner city thrills and urban tension, this is a film to delight with a very easy plot to follow and fantastic pumping music to heighten the journeying drama as we progress with the central gang.

After a late night meeting gone wrong, Coney Island gang; The Warriors led by Swan (Michael Beck) are blamed for a crime they didn’t commit. They must try and get back to their turf on Coney Island but being all the way in the Bronx, followed by many gangs and the police force will make this a hard night to get through.

Firstly I have to say that this is such a fun idea, I know it’s about danger and gang warfare but there’s a cool charm to the movie that makes it exciting. It’s such a simple plot and you can keep with it easily. Walter Hill and David Shaber ensure the screenplay includes as many dramatic gang entrances as possible, even if that means they seem to forget to make the dialogue more gripping.

It’s true to say that the words spoken are mostly bad and/or cringey, on top of this most of the cast deliver them in a hammy manner but that’s just another factor I liked about this rumble in the Bronx setting. Back then I can imagine this New York based crime thriller was more edgy and it faced problems in screenings with violence breaking out thanks to the gangs going to see the show feeling the movie spoke to them but now, it may retain a trace of danger but it’s more of a joyous 70’s road-trip without the car.

The gangs are great, each with their own striking identities. From bat wielding face painted hordes to plain t-shirted Orphans, the groups that collect in unity against The Warriors stand out and are memorable for the part they try and play in stopping our red vested heroes. Saying that though, they’re not exactly heroes, they cause problems, get rapey and say bad things which is a slight issue but the period of the movie speaks for that kind of behaviour.

I loved the music, the cool breaking in of an unseen female DJ speaking out across the gang radio frequencies and picking songs that talk about The Warriors. There is such an undeniably cool vibe to the songs that play and over most of the scenes the music adds to the neon yet grimy feel of this feature.

The film may not be clever or really have much of a point or any danger but it’s pulpy entertainment, it’s got silly action slow-mo and it screams cult film which is not a bad thing at all. The ensemble of gang figures are silent yet brooding and The Warriors themselves do enough to make you like them if not truly care for them. Hill directs with enough Big Apple style to keep the whole thing energetic and it’s clear to see why remakes and TV series are in talks because it’s just a good concept.

Come out to play and have the time of your life by seeing this ruling gangster action film.

7.5/10

The Nice Guys (2016)

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What a lark this film. Seriously, the buddy cop dynamic is on fire with these two at the wheel of the ship. It may be a film, that at times feels a bit long in getting to the point of the story and it goes annoyingly for broke with making funny but the pairing of Crowe and Gosling injects plenty of enjoyment into it.

After a porn star dies in a car crash, private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) gets a case to find the dead star as her aunt believes she’s still alive, however it all points to Amelia (Margaret Qualley). Brutish hard-man Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is hired to scare March off Amelia’s scent but soon they’re both in it together as they uncover a dangerous set of connections.

Shane Black gives this vivid 70’s set cop comedy his usual stamp of buddy laughs, action fight scenes and of course there’s a Christmas moment in there too. He directs with enough flair that the sense of this era more than comes alive, every scene is colourful and loud as the pair try working out the mystery of Misty Mountains. The film certainly has energy if nothing else, the seriousness and interest of the case might get lost more than once as the screenplay gives more time in the silliness of March/Healy’s antics but visually the movie screams classic buddy crime genre.

It’s not like the screenplay by Black and Anthony Bagarozzi is lacking of the drama as there is scope for back-story with both leads and you engage with most characters, especially the cool smarts of March’s daughter Holly. I only feel that at times the screenplay isn’t present as Crowe and Gosling improv their way out of a paper bag to create comedy, which leads us on a winding road away from the central point of the story, therefore it seems to take forever to get to core moments of the crime actually getting tracked.

Comedy wise, this is a film that made me laugh…out loud, more than once, but when the entire movie is throwing it’s whole weight at jokes then it’s not much of a surprise. It’s as if they flung joke after joke at a target board hoping that some would stick and yes a lot do but some obviously fall short and make you realise how hard they’re trying to be funny. That’s not a big problem, it just detracts from the crime drama that takes a back-seat to the crazy chemistry between the two lead actors.

Russell Crowe brings his usual assured gruff nature to the role of Jackson Healy, but he displays a credible amount of comic timing and bounces off Gosling very well. Ryan Gosling himself is brilliant with his physical comedy, from rolling down hills, keeping a toilet door open and shaking in an elevator he triumphs as the star of comedy in this film. Angourie Rice, as mentioned is very cool as Holly. Margaret Qualley is a fireball of anti-fascist rage, her agenda hurtled in excellent fast paced delivery. Matt Bomer brings an electric cold feel to the latter part of the film as a stone faced killer.

This is a very over the top film with a lot of laughs and heck, for a film featuring death, crime and conspiracy it’s full of joy. It has a simmering of try hard but Black and a fantastic turn from Gosling make this an enjoyable absurd romp.

6.5/10

Triple 9 (2016)

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Awash with coolly maintained tension, this crime heist film fares well in bringing forward a great amount of unease and lurking drama but not so well in clear cut shots and plot progression. It seems as if they not only try to fit a lot of cast members in but a lot of narrative too.

Successfully completing a bank job, a group led by Michael Belmont (Chiwetel Ejiofor) soon learns from no nonsense Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet) that another heist must be pulled if they want their earned money. All of them realise that they must use code 999 – police murder, to distract the force and achieve the work but smart Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) may be a thorn in their side.

(spoilers of story will follow)

First of all, this film has a tonally similar presence to that of ‘The Town’ and ‘Sicario’, in that it executes a wonderful amount of brooding tautness. The reins of this unravelling story feel tight as if being pulled back, letting the four man gang struggle against each other for the cash. It only increases in tension and interest because of the fact half of this team are working policemen, the action of them clipping on badges near the start being a fantastic character/plot development to elevate the drama.

All good crime thrillers must have at least a sequence that makes you feel on edge, the tensions twisting and manifesting as we watch not knowing where it’ll turn. Gladly this film passes with at least three meaty moments that bring in that feeling. The first is a nerve-wracking raid into and through a house as policeman Chris Allen squares behind a cop shield trying to find the perp. Then another tense and more character filled episode plays out as Chris treads through a dreary building in some projects, with this comes dramatic irony as we know what may play out with criminally associated Marcus Atwood setting up the trap.

We never know who may survive, who may pull the trigger and what the outcome will be and that makes this an engaging film, even if the beginning of the movie doesn’t give that good impression. After a hushed and dark conversation in the car with all of the heist crew, we’re rushed to the bank and then a Kosher factory where other characters step in, then we’re introduced to Chris and later the eccentric Sergeant Detective Jeffrey. In short, unlike this film’s script, the film begins in a way with too much going on and throughout it does cling onto that effect.

John Hillcoat is fantastic in directing the long tense moments but when it picks up in action or exposition, it appears like little pieces get dropped, even small scenes feel like they confuse to the story. The whole Sweetpea meeting being one of those examples. Then, concerning the whole power play with Irina which never lifts off the ground, the aspect of a former flame and a child caught up in the business never excites in the same way the back and forth between Allen and Atwood does. Perhaps Hillcoat believes this film is more striking than it is, but he’s right in getting a neat trend of red through the feature and providing us with tidy tension.

Casey Affleck is the most interesting talent in this film, the performance he gives as the motivated Chris is subtle but impacting and we root for him through the case. Anthony Mackie is also really interesting here as the torn Marcus, he has street smarts and tough attitude but he showcases another side too. Woody Harrelson goes for broke in whipping the rug from under everyone’s feet as the funny and loose firework figure of Jeffrey Allen. Chiwetel Ejiofor is languished with a less than substantial role and ends up with a lot of scenes with Kate Winslet who though bearable and convincing with her accent, is a character that could have been left out more or entirely. It is a movie with a sensational cast from Affleck to Teresa Palmer to Aaron Paul, who all do well in this sometimes overstuffed story.

Intense, red and triply suspenseful, this is a movie that deserves a watch for interesting developments and ‘Heat’ inspired crime drama but it’s not always overly exciting and it loses focus from time to time.

6.5/10