Yardie (2018)

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Idris Elba has proved to be a great presence on screen, but does his recognisable voice translate to be as effective behind the camera? ‘Yardie’ is his debut film as director and though, at times it feels like a frustrating muddle of scenes, there’s a powerful collection of actors and music tracks to keep the movie from failing.

Jamaica 1983 and 10 years after his brother was shot, Dennis Campbell aka ‘D’ (Aml Ameen) is told by King Fox (Sheldon Shepherd), to head to London with a cocaine package and deliver it to British gangster/club owner Rico (Stephen Graham). The drug deal becomes a bust and ‘D’ could end up starting a war between cultures in London which will have an impact on people back in Jamaica.

A large percentage of this film, majoritively in the earlier stages has a feel reminiscent of Brazil’s 2002 ‘City of God’. The style choices made in this recent release with freeze-frames on certain characters, the tropical setting lit by rays of sun and the story of a young kid growing up on a path of gangs and violence add to the Meirelles/Lund parallels. This is no bad comparison as the first parts of this film are strong, it’s just a shame that as the central character hits Hackney, the story doesn’t quite keep to its convictions and feels a bit tame.

It is clear that Elba directs with an eye or perhaps ear on creating heart in his first feature. He probably had a major influence over the music choices, what with his extra curricular DJ activities, he ensures the story pulsates with Caribbean reggae sounds. The soundtrack gives this film a great aural power, which isn’t mirrored by the plain plot. The main revenge arc is simple and could be effective but is lost amongst other plot points which flit in and out. The characters don’t help this narrative too much either, ‘D’ isn’t always that enthralling, King Fox is an interesting character but there’s never enough of him to keep the tension bubbling.

Ameen is good as Dennis, he does bestow this chap plenty of cheek and charisma in places, if not enough innocence to make his journey more charged with an engagement factor. Stephen Graham is the stand out, he is a captivating presence in this film. The shifting of accents, bearing of golden teeth and the nasty unpredictability are all expertly mastered by the actor and he stops the London-set scenes from being empty on erratic tension.

A fine debut from Idris Elba in the controlling chair, just not a riveting one that secures him as a director with a leading voice, yet. ‘Yardie’ becomes a film which feels long but there are sights and sounds of soul in this drama which help give it some needed liveliness.

6/10

 

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Hotel Artemis (2018)

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It pays to get care in this directorial debut from ‘Iron Man 3’ writer Drew Pearce, but did I really care that much about the film? Well, it certainly boasts a talented line up and story potential but it doesn’t break free from being a generic and an almost online streaming kind of movie.

After a botched robbery, the criminals led by Sherman (Sterling K. Brown) head to a members only location in Los Angeles. Hotel Artemis is a hotel and hospital establishment run by Jean (Jodie Foster), that is specifically designed to cater only the crooks of society, to keep them away from police attention. However, LA kingpin The Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum) is on route and one of the members have something that belongs to him.

For a start, that aspect of the story also featured in the trailer never seems to come to anything, the King of Wolves never really gets to grips with that missing item because he has his own problems to deal with. The plot itself also from Drew Pearce finds itself located at a cool starting point, what with a dystopian LA of 2028 providing futuristic visuals and an underground means of operation that’s quite interesting. Sadly, the film doesn’t become as engrossing as it could have been and feels like a fun watch, but a forgettable one.

There’s dialogue within this movie that sounds like it’s come straight out of the Roger Moore era of Bond, with sign off lines that are cheesier than a cheddar block. Thanks to the designated rules listed by the Artemis, any promise of action is left til the dying moments, which does make the film somewhat less exciting to get through. Thanks to the cast though and some blasts of poppy music and a thankfully engaging score from Cliff Martinez, this film doesn’t fail too badly.

Jodie Foster is on top form as the nurse of the joint, she totters around and as the main centrepiece she’s a brilliant presence. She brings her character a sweet anxiety and a nice homely if not shady level of care. Sterling K. Brown is a fine actor and a charismatic chap but he doesn’t get much to do in this and he’s just an uninteresting character to follow. Dave Bautista destroys any rule breakers with great ease but shows he’s more than muscle, acting nicely opposite Foster and providing his orderly character touches of compassion. Charlie Day does more of his usual shouty stuff and Goldblum is underused. Sofia Boutella plays Nice, a for hire killer and she’s seriously bad ass, showcasing awesome skills of chopping bad guys down and cloaked in her thigh high sliced dress she looks like an Electra or Red Sonja and she’s a talented, fierce actor that deserves a leading role like that.

If anything, ‘Hotel Artemis’ tries throwing a bit too much of everything into the mix and becomes overcooked. There’s flashes of something special but it never checks in to those heights.

6/10

Revenge (2018)

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Women are not to be messed with and ‘Revenge’ surely shows this, in an exploitation thriller bursting with female power.

Richard (Kevin Janssens) is a married man but has a young and attractive mistress called Jen (Matilda Lutz), who are both enjoying some time in Richard’s secret desert home. That is until two of his hunting buddies show up and drool over Jen, one thing to leads to another and then she’s out for revenge.

This is director Coralie Fargeat’s debut full length feature and if this anything to go by, then she’s someone I look forward to directing again. It easily could have been a schlock fest and gory sexplotation for the sake of it but the film rises above that simple route and provides an action thriller, led by a woman that messes with the genre and takes you on a sprint, almost making me need to catch my breath once the film was over.

There’s a brilliantly directed sequence where Jen suffers hallucinogenic nightmares which rivals ‘Dumbo’ for weirdness and it’s so perfectly edited that it becomes a frightening moment that worms into your very own head and plays tricks on you. It isn’t just that scene that’s scary, the blokes are obviously nasty too. The majority of the movie chooses to have close-ups which do a great job in adding engaging tension but also showing what disgusting creatures men can be; proved further by shots of a lizard cut after a shot of one of the men. Plus an extreme close up of a man eating a chocolate snack is a case in point of the ugly side of masculinity, that enhances the movie’s feminist spirit.

Colours pop with sharpness throughout this movie, but the saturation is truly turned up to the max in the house bound opening, with pinks, blues, reds and yellows searing the screen with vivid intensity. That bold play with colour comes back with attack come the latter stages of the film, with rivers of crimson red enhancing the revenge experience.

I was thinking, perhaps twice during the run-time, that it could have been a little punchier. It doesn’t ever feel long but it doesn’t zip along in the same vein as the zany ‘Mom and Dad’ did. I feel it could have been more energetic if ten or so minutes had been shaved off. There’s also a great example of needing to suspend disbelief at a crucial part in the story, that’s very far-fetched and I couldn’t shake it, but it doesn’t ruin what is a tense and explosive visceral flick that makes you squirm with imaginable pain at many points.

Lutz certainly goes through the ringer and has a tougher time of it than Alison Lohman in ‘Drag Me to Hell’, which is randomly what came to mind when I watched this Italian actress fight for her survival. She’s an incredible presence and does a mighty job in being believable, bad ass, vulnerable, motivated and someone to root for.

‘Revenge’ is a rip-roaring outing that’s soaked with so much blood, that the opening elevator doors in ‘The Shining’ look like a mere leaky tap.

8.5/10

 

Wildling (2018)

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It’s upsetting but no, this is not some adventurous flick starring Ygritte from Game of Thrones. Instead it’s a horror fantasy from Fritz Bohm, which serves little scares but provides just enough bite.

After finding herself freed from locked confinement, Anna (Bel Powley), learns about the outside world and her own self. Whilst under the supervision and care of Sheriff Cooper (Liv Tyler), Anna begins a drastic change of character which puts her in harms way.

There’s something magically rare about seeing a film that kind of appear without warning and this happened with ‘Wildling’, of which I’d only heard who was in it and avoided any posters, trailers or such story-like information. In that sense, this is a film that’s truly engrossing because I wasn’t waiting for something I’d seen in a trailer but it doesn’t mean it’s a winner.

It never felt like the film was too long in my eyes, in fact, the later stages of Anna’s opening eyes to womanhood and outside world civilisation came across as rushed and never built a scale or weight to her learning. It’s most definitely a wild and weird movie, the coming of age aspect like a cauldron of ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, Old Universal monster movies and ‘Raw’.

The film has this relentless feral look and Toby Oliver’s cinematography captures the twisted Brothers Grimm like world well. It’s like every darkly blue scene is splattered with dirt and keeps on track with the developing characteristics of Anna. Though the look of the film may be good, the story as said doesn’t feel fully realised and it’s not really that interesting to follow because from the outset it’s obvious who she is and I knew exactly where the lost shot of the film would be. The romantic entanglement is perhaps a bit dull and the story descends into generic Hollywood storytelling.

Powley is fascinating to watch; her commanding presence with the impressive runs, super hearing and ever reactionary eyes are nice quirks and she held my attention nicely playing this confused but sharply adaptable young lady. Tyler is not at all convincing as a sheriff and has little to do but she’s believable in wanting to make Anna feel settled and safe.

‘Wildling’ is a film I’ll forget about come the end of 2018, perhaps by the end of summer, but for the time being it’s a film I’m content I’ve seen and I found it to be an ambitious creature feature.

5.5/10

A Quiet Place (2018)

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Cashing up at the box office and treating critics and audiences alike with great fanfare, is this almost deathly silent feature. I was hooked from the get go and felt fully interpolated throughout, finally mustering courage to breathe out once the credits roll.

Set in 2020; a world ravaged by blind monsters which strike by sound have driven the few survivors to adapt and learn to be quiet in order to survive. The Abbot family reside out on a farm but their usual silent routine will be tested by a new arrival.

John Krasinksi directs this horror with a great eye…and ear for building a landscape filled with fear. He’s careful to let the setting briefly feel understandable for the audience and then most bets are off, as the film screeches from one clever jolt to the next. Assisted by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, Krasinksi also writes a screenplay that focuses on the human side of proceedings, ensuring the character drives the plot forwards and not typical cliched horror tropes. The family ramp up the scary aura because we worry for their predicament and it’s not too often you care for more than one character in a horror, but here you most certainly do.

‘A Quiet Place’ is a movie with scares but smarts. It truly grips you from the start with an alarmingly peaceful world, initially unseen creatures and a small, simple family story which you can feel for. I felt drawn in effortlessly and then it continued worming around inside me, like a pang of pent up nausea whilst we see the unseeing beasts stalk their prey.

It’s not just a brilliantly smart horror, it’s a gorgeous one too. There’s beautiful cinematography from Charlotte Bruus Christensen as she brings this dusty, leaf ridden, barren environment to life. Marco Beltrami’s score is damn effective also, with the same rising sound used to confident effect in eliciting a sense of dread. Honestly, I felt like I was having multiple anxiety attacks watching this film but in the best way possible because it’s just wonderfully done. When talented individuals, including horror icon Stephen King begin singing your praises, then you know this is something special.

Fear is heightened in such a captivating way thanks to the minimal spoken dialogue. The majority of the film is divulged via sign language or subtitles, which is refreshing to see and is done in an engaging way, but an important way too, in sticking true to what it must feel like to be in that situation. It’s when music or diegetic sounds suddenly vanish and a wall of silence hits you, that the film enraptured me and made me swallow my breath. Adding the alien clicks and wails from the Demigorgon-like monsters is another chilling touch and their drip-fed reveal elevates the menacing presence they hold over this dystopian land.

Emily Blunt is a sensational force to watch, without a lot of speaking she conveys her part as Evelyn wonderfully. At one moment of dramatic irony, knowing she’ll hurt herself, she acts the visceral pain in such a way that makes you wince horrendously, her continued pain silence as she’s trying to stay out of danger is very powerful indeed. The children are great also and a scene within a silo is just another moment that added to my seat squirming anxiety.

It’s great to see a film like this, as a cinematic experience it’s something else because it frightens noisy eaters into silent submission and makes the film much more immersive. The scares pack a punch, the world and the angels of death are greatly realised in what I’d say is a quiet gem and a near masterpiece.

8.5/10

Thoroughbreds (2018)

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Posh and psychotic in a way that keeps you guessing and enthralled; this film is never one you can predict and thank goodness to see something original like this. Bolstered further by great performances, this is a nicely wound thriller left best without knowing too much going in.

After committing some extreme off screen act, unfeeling Amanda (Olivia Cooke) gets tutored by distant but once childhood friend Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy). The two girls talk, study and ultimately spend their time coldly discussing an idea to kill someone.

I’ll leave the plot at that, because I feel this film is definitely more rewarding with less prior expectations. This is how I entered, literally knowing who was in it and that’s it, luckily I avoided trailers and this made my viewing experience much better. Debut director and writer Cory Finley has certainly whipped up Patrick Bateman vibes in his story, featuring two females as similarly pinpoint sharp and calculated personas. When we watch the pair chat, reminisce and plot it’s a fascinating blend of dark humour and uneasy creepiness.

The music throughout this movie is perfectly designed, the choice of cellist Erik Friedlander gifts a good number of scenes a very unsettling string arrangement that almost makes you sit bolt upright with the goosebumps over your skin raised. It’s also mixed in with some sounds that I can only describe as unique, oddly pleasant and unsettling at the same time. Also, a workout machine throws another detail of tension as its sounds reverberate around the house.

The upper class is a platform for us to revel and revolt in, with the two prim, well educated and well off women shown to us as bored lasses, procrastinating from work and driven to conspire of murder like it’s nothing. The look of the film added to this interesting window-gaze into their lives, is clean and crisp; like the clinical white spa Lily and her mother visit. This precise cleanliness of every frame creates another layer of unease but doesn’t overtake the good moments of frost-bitten comedy that strikes in the same way as ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’.

Cooke excels in a role masterfully tailored to her performance power. She plays a character lacking joy or guilt in such a mesmerising way and she manifests tears, with an in-film technique that just shows what a talented actor she is. Taylor-Joy is an enigmatic presence, her large eyes drawing you in and really making us see how unflinching and cold they are. She perfectly travels a path into less empathy and cold hearted indifference which can be amusing and troubling to watch. The late Anton Yelchin isn’t involved much as Tim; a character that’s not wholly necessary or interesting, but the great Yelchin displays a maddening ferocity behind his eyes and future plans, which is a nice opposing quality to the skittish, on edge moments he goes through.

‘Thoroughbreds’ is probably something that’ll slip under the radar; like a horse left in the stables but it deserves to be seen because it’s different, killer and a jolt of talent from in front and behind the cameras.

7.5/10

Gringo (2018)

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Nash Edgerton, brother of Joel, offers up this misfiring Mexican set crime comedy as his debut film and with an opening that’s bombed hard, he may need to think about going back to the drawing board.

Head honcho of a company, that is heading into a merger is Richard Rusk (Joel Edgerton) who is a greedy piece of work, as is Elaine Markinson (Charlize Theron). The two are laser focused on getting what they want and screwing everyone over, including apparent friend of Rusk; Harold (David Oyelowo) who is left behind in Mexico. Soon he calls through saying he’s been kidnapped and a barrage of heightened moments follow.

I think one of the biggest issues this film has is how messy the plot feels. There’s just a bit too much going on and as more madness ensues down in the heat of Mexico, it gets tiresome and badly handled. This is a great shame because this in fact could have been a nifty movie with surprising turns and cartel-ridden sequences but it falls short of that promising ideal by a big stretch. Another issue lies with the promotion of the film, from the trailer it seems like an oddball comedy and you end up with a crime narrative, which I would have liked had I not expected to be amused along the way.

It’s like I can imagine that Matthew Stone and Anthony Tambakis have written this thinking what they’ve come up with is funny but it either lands horrendously flat or comes across as rude; i.e – Elaine pretending to be deaf. There’s not one moment where I or the few other audience members laughed or even chuckled, I think I smiled once because of the sheer force that is Oyelowo as Harold trying to keep his head afloat on this sinking, stinking ship.

I will admit that some of the kidnap plot is quite engaging. It starts off interestingly and is vaguely entertaining to watch unravel but the folding in of other characters, places and story-lines just began to detract from this quite enjoyable mishap of errors that Harold finds himself in the middle of. On the whole though, this is something I won’t remember come the end of the year, the scenes are mostly forgettable and the majority of characters are insanely unlikable, in a way that I just didn’t care to try and get engrossed into the plot.

As said, a lot of the figures within this film have no redeeming qualities and leading the pack is Joel Edgerton who, to be fair, does encapsulate the arse-hat boss with arrogance and disloyalty worn on his clothes like badges. Charlize Theron is somehow even slimier and nastier than Richard Rusk, and again she plays these characteristics well but it was a role of spite that I didn’t enjoy. David Oyelowo and Amanda Seyfried are the only actors that exit this film with any real dignity intact. Both of their characters feel human, likable and warm, their interactions are some of the more grounded and better parts of this film.

There are some alright scenes that kept me sort of interested to the film and Oyelowo is great, but I was close to feeling bored in an up and down, messily made film that outstays its welcome.

5/10