The Ritual

the_ritual_movie_poster-628x931Four friends go on a hiking holiday in Sweden following the tragic death of a friend and when one of them twists their ankle a decision is made to take a short cut through a forest. Will they live to regret the decision?

The Ritual is a solid dependable horror film that does enough right to make it very much worth your time. As far as set up and execution goes it’s by the book. When Robert (Paul Reid) dies as a result of an assault, his remaining friends decide to go on the hiking trip he dreamed of. Luke (Rafe Spall) feels responsible for his friend’s death, Dom (Sam Troughton) secretly blames him too, whilst Phil (Arsher Ali) and Hutch (Robert James-Collier) try to keep the group together. Once they enter the forest strange things start to happen, the sort of things you would see in the Blair Witch; spooky huts, arcane symbols and an uncanny knack of not being able to find an exit.

What raises it above standard horror is the relationships between the group and Rafe Spall’s brooding damaged Luke. The group of guys behave like a close-knit group of friends in a very believable manner, whilst Luke’s ongoing pain as a result of his culpability in Robert’s death give some possibilities that what is going on is beyond the literal.

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The Snowman

the_snowmanDetective Harry Hole of the Oslo police is investigating the disappearance of women that coincide with the first snowfall. Aided by his new partner Katrine he tries to join the dots between the disappearances.

Based on a book in the Jo Nesbo crime thriller series, directed by Tomas Alfredson who made the sublime Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Let the Right One In and starring a hugely talented cast including Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Toby Jones, J.K. Simmons and Val Kilmer this should be a cracking crime thriller. But unfortunately it’s a damp squib. In fact, had I not read the book I am unconvinced the connective tissue between the crime scenes and characters would have made much sense to me.

The film mostly stays true to the book with only a handful of changes, but where it seems to fall apart is in not really explaining the links between characters. Especially across the flashbacks with Val Kilmer, which feel entirely incongruous, even more so because Kilmer seems to have overdubbed all of his lines and they barely sync in some scenes.

The film it reminds me of, purely due to the failed book adaptation is The Girl on the Train which came out around this time last year. Both are entirely adequate, but at the same time fail to leverage the entertainment factor of the book and the abilities of the cast on show. A disappointment.

The Death of Stalin

death-of-stalin-posterA film that can succeed in being both hilariously funny and soberingly scary is a special one indeed. Armando Iannucci’s Death of Stalin manages both.

It is 1953 and Joseph Stalin has suffered a heart attack causing all those around him to scramble for power. The fact that Stalin’s reign was predicated on fear and surveillance means that everyone is looking over their shoulder and worried about what they say whilst trying to plot at the same time. This provides perfect comedy fodder for the man responsible for political comedies The Thick of It and Veep.

Everyone involved gets incredibly funny moments, made all the more brilliant by the fact that no one attempts a Russian accent. When Jeffrey Tambor is declaring how Russian he is in an American accent or Jason Isaacs is being a bullish General with a Yorkshire brogue it seems even funnier through its absurdity. And perhaps employing Steve Buscemi as a scheming Nikita Khrushchev is the best casting of all.

Even when it becomes darker in its final moments it manages to cut the tension with a moment of levity whilst still conveying the message.

An hilarious must watch film.

The Mountain Between Us

454887_m1497545962Alex (Kate Winslet) and Ben (Idris Elba) are struggling to get to where they need to be thanks to a storm and a cancelled flight. But this doesn’t stop the complete strangers from chartering a flight together on Walter’s (Beau Bridges) light aircraft. When disaster strikes they are stranded on a mountain with the quandary of whether they should stay and wait for help or make their own way down.

The Mountain Between Us is a fairly rote combination of melodrama, romance and survival story. The key plot points are set up early when our protagonists explain why they are so desperate to get their flights. Ben needs to perform a surgery because he is a benevolent surgeon, whilst Alex is supposed to be getting married the next day because this will cause added drama when the two are thrown together to survive. From this point forward Ben will keep them alive, whilst a romance with zero chemistry blossoms.

The photography on display is the only real saving grace here. The Mountain and it’s scenery are stunning, whilst the story unfolding on it is uninspiring.

Blade Runner 2049

blade-runner-2049-posterPolice Officer KD6-3.7 (Ryan Gosling) is a Blade Runner tasked with ‘retiring’ rogue replicants – artificial humans tasked with menial or dangerous jobs. His latest case leads him on a path to a secret that might change the face of the Earth.

Set 30 years after the events of the original film, this manages to be many things and frankly I could not have left the cinema happier. The film succeeds in being a stand alone film and a sequel that deepens the world. It also succeeds in being outstanding science fiction, discussing the same themes of the original and adding more. What does it mean to be human? How will our relationships with AI develop? If an AI can think for itself does it have a soul?

The most impressive aspect of Blade Runner 2049 for me is that it feels as though it has been made for those people in love with the original, which I absolutely am one of. It is slow and methodical. The camera lingers and there are silent pauses to drink in the atmosphere. This is not the action movie the trailers sell to you. At 2 hours 43 minutes long the action is spaced out and short and sharp. The films focus is Gosling’s K, and he does a terrific job of playing low key, his performance very reminiscent of that in Drive.

In fact it is hard to find fault, it looks spectacular, the music alludes to Vangelis whilst adding its own take, acting and casting are all round superb with Harrison Ford proving again that revisiting an old character can draw out one of his best performances and Ana de Armas providing a career launching turn as Joi.

Original director Ridley Scott is now on Executive Producer duties only, handing the reigns to Denis Villeneuve, a man is currently on a hot streak with his English language features including Arrival, Sicario and Prisoners. Writing roles do have one constant with Hampton Fancher returning to co write with Logan scribe Michael Green. The combination of a returning writer with an affinity for the subject and a director just who just finished one of the best science fiction films in recent times appears to have hit gold. And with famed cinematographer Roger Deakins on board, it is perhaps the most beautiful gold you will see on the big screen this year, or at all.

For me, best film of the year candidate and one I will be watching again very soon.

 

Goodbye Christopher Robin

domhnall-gleeson-will-tilston-goodbye-christopher-robin-posterSuffering from post traumatic stress after World War 1, A.A. Milne retreats to the country with his wife, son and nanny in tow. Whilst there he creates one of the most loved children’s stories of all time, Winnie the Pooh.

A beautifully crafted film that I wholeheartedly recommend with two warnings. Firstly, despite being about the creation of Winnie the Pooh and a PG rated film, this is not going to engage younger children. Secondly, if you loved the stories as a child it might leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth to find out how they came to be.

Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) is haunted by the war and the loud noises of London bring back too many vivid and haunting memories for him. Whilst struggling to write an anti-war book, he is abandoned by both his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) and their nanny Olive (Kelly MacDonald) for reasons polar opposite of each other. Daphne is painted as an incredibly selfish figure, frustrated by rural life and her husband not writing, she simply abandons her child (whom she had “to cheer him up and it nearly killed her”) and heads back to her social life in London. Olive on the other hand, is Christopher Robin’s (Will Tilston) real mother in all but name and only leaves because her own mother is gravely ill. This abandonment forces father and son together and a bond forms playing in the woods with the boys stuffed toys.

The story that unfolds is as touching and joyful as it is sad and painful. There are moments of happiness in those woods, just as there are moments of pain and sadness in the events that bring Milne to them and that unfold after the book’s success.

The acting is all round exceptional. Gleeson, who has been in a string of good films over the last few years is perfectly restrained in showing his characters emotional distress and quiet love for his son. Margot Robbie plays the emotionally repressed mother well, whilst MacDonald displays warmth as Christopher Robin’s nanny. But perhaps the real find is Will Tilston, a 9-year-old, first time actor who manages to be so natural as Milne’s muse. A child actor who you never see acting.

A beautifully told story that will bring a tear to the eye.

Flatliners

flatliners-posterA group of young medical students decide that to know what happens in the afterlife they need to really see for themselves. Stopping your heart and glimpsing the other side before being resuscitated has side effects though, initially a wave of feeling invincible subsides to the possibility that something from the other side wants to drag you back.

Reboot, re-imagining or sequel? Given comments made in the press by Kiefer Sutherland this is a sequel, although that seems odd given no references to the original are made and the fact that it has the same name. Either way, it is a reasonable version of the 1990 original, but is also mostly forgettable at the same time.

The cast and the opening half of the film are solid, but it is let down by not being particularly scary and all resolving rather quickly and tidily. Forgettable not painful to watch.

Borg vs McEnroe

borg-mcenroe-film-poster-2The 1980 Wimbledon Championships and Bjorn Borg is seeking a record breaking 5th consecutive title, whilst up and coming John McEnroe is vying for his first. The Iceman versus Super Brat. Using flashbacks to give us context as to what drives them the film contends that these two superstars of the sport are not so different after all.

Whilst there are two sportsmen in the title this is really a film about one. Borg is the focus here and any context supplied for McEnroe’s drive is done so as comparison to Borg. This is not a drawback though, it gives the film a singular focus and still allows it to draw McEnroe’s character well. The revelation here is just how good Sverrir Gudnason is at portraying Borg. He has a magnetic quality on screen and is able to display the building pressure in Borg’s life with few words. Shia LaBeouf also delivers a very good performance as McEnroe, proving that he is not just a performance artist, but still a good actor.

Personally I was rapt by the build up to the final more than the climactic sporting scenes. This in part because the film lets slip at the beginning how many sets the final extends to and in part that I already knew the result. Despite this minor drawback it is a film I would very much recommend.

A great character study and a good sports film.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

kingsmanposter_0The Kingsman return to save the world, but following a catastrophic attack on their organisation they seek out American equivalent Statesman for help. Statesman, based in “good ol” Kentucky use the front of selling whisky to cover their top secret spy organisation. The antagonist this time is the leader of The Golden Circle, the largest drug cartel in the world.

As full disclosure, I watched this film as part of a cinema double bill with the original and I would recommend that you do not, as it pales in comparison. As a stand alone film it might pass as entertaining, if overlong. But held in the light of the original and after some thought, it just seems rather bad.

The biggest issue are the new additions to the cast. The Statesman appear to be a fantastic idea in the trailer but it boils down to one of the biggest wastes of talent on film. Jeff Bridges is in a handful of scenes never leaving a boardroom, Channing Tatum gets a couple of scenes before being sidelined for the rest of the film and Halle Berry gets to hold a clipboard. Pedro Pascal is the only Statesman to get anywhere near a worthwhile role as a lasso wielding agent.

This waste of talent extends to the new villain. Julianne Moore does quite well as a kitsch sociopath but never leaves a single location and appears sparingly. It feels infinitely worse to see the potential and for it not to be realised. Were these actors just doing 1 or 2 days on set squeezed into their schedule?

The main plot points feel like less impressive versions of the original too. A wealthy sociopath with an evil plan and a minion with a bionic body part come to mind. Neither quite as good. And without giving spoilers there are some character decisions made by writing team Goldman and Vaughn that are infuriating! “Why did they do that?” moments.

On a good note the action scenes are competent, although nothing comes near the church scene in the original. And the absolute best part of the entire film is an extended cameo from Elton John. Not only does he take the lions share of the laughs, I think he gets as much screen time as Jeff Bridges.

Also, fun fact, John Denver songs have now appeared prominently in Free Fire, Okja, Alien: Covenant and this all in 2017!

mother!

motherDarren Aronofsky’s latest film arrived with a lot of secrecy, odd syntax in the title (all lower case with an exclamation point!) and in the four days since release the hyperbole of being called the worst film ever thanks to audiences baffled reaction. But in my opinion, it is captivating, thought-provoking and shocking. An art project worth the time to watch and later investigate the allegory afterwards. Although those familiar with other Aronofsky films may find themselves understanding a lot quicker.

Jennifer Lawrence plays mother, married to Javier Bardem’s character. She has lovingly refurbished and built their home whilst he tries to create poetry. One day they are visited by a man played by Ed Harris and later his wife played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Bardem’s character invites them to stay with them despite them being strangers, much to mother’s bafflement. Events start to occur that become stranger and stranger, putting huge strain on mother and to say more would be to spoil the fun of trying to piece together what is happening.

Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic in the film. The camera often in close up to her face and rarely leaving her for the duration. There are moments when her rage is so visible that you will want to act on her behalf. The supporting cast is great too, and a particular highlight of the film for me was when Brian and Domhnall Gleeson appeared for a small cameo.

Whilst clearly the film has been divisive, I would argue that it is important that there are film makers challenging viewers with stories that are not simple “a to b” and it is not a bad thing if people need to discuss or research the themes of the story they just saw. In fact the only people I would recommend not to watch this film, are people with a low threshold for being shocked as scenes toward the end of the film escalate quickly.