Review: THE OLD MAN & THE GUN (2018)

It was an immense privilege to see what could be Robert Redford’s final film on the big screen at LIFF 2018. Though I’ve always been more of a Paul Newman kinda gal, films like Barefoot In the Park (1967), Out of Africa (1985) and All the President’s Men (1976) played a huge part in my movie education while growing up. He’s always been someone that’s there, an actor you could always rely on. Redford has maintained an irresistible charm that has seen him through even the most throwaway fare (looking at you The Horse Whisperer (1998)…still love you though xoxo)  

His final project then The Old Man and The Gun (2018) by surprisingly, A Ghost Story (2017)’s  David Lowery, is accessible fare and loosely based on a 2003 long article in The New Yorker on the real life ‘old man’. The film is a off-kilter tale of Forrest Tucker’s insatiable desire to rob banks. But this is no Point Break (1991) mind, the well-dressed Forrest (Redford) simply walks into a small town bank in the 1960s and 70s, befuddles the cashier or bank manager with a tip of his hat, and walks out with a case full of money – like a Redford-style dangerously charming bandit of old.

In its best moments it reminded me of another Redford film, the oft-forgotten The Electric Horseman (1979). Though this time, the political commentary is nearly non-existent in TOMATG (as no one is calling it), it is an easy slice of American apple pie served with a folksy tale of life on the edges of American society, and set in a time when Bonnie and Clyde were still fancifully regarded as home-grown daredevils that couldn’t resist the pull of the open road or each other.

It was a joy to witness Sissy Spacek as Jewel, a largely sidelined but prepossessing as a woman whom Tucker meets as he tries to commandeer her car for a getaway. The frame glowed in Spacek’s presence, and as I had recently re-watched Carrie (1976), it was a hoot to see two actors who occupied to completely different schools of 1970s filmmaking come together on screen. Jewel is left to wonder about the man who flits in and out of her life with little care or honesty, and as romance blossoms, you can’t help but wonder if Forrest is just doing this same routine with every widowed rancher he finds in every town. 

The film doesn’t linger long on Forrest’s criminality, nor his appetite for emotional destruction though, and a cameo from Elisabeth Moss as his long-abandoned daughter is largely wasted. The law enforcement hot on his tale (headed by Lowery regular and drawl connoisseur, Casey Afleck) seem almost mildly in awe of Forrest and his expert crew (Donald Glover and an on-form Tom Waits), dubbed ‘The Over-The-Hill Gang’s’ antics. 

Footage from Redford’s long filmography is adoringly spliced in for a nostalgic montage sequence of daring prison escapes that is fun to see unfold, and remind ourselves just how alarmingly good looking Redford was (and talented, cough, of course). Redford elevates Forrest Tucker to folk tale hero and has the jawline for it too. 

TOMATG works best as an easy viewing, chortle-heavy heist movie and serves as a fitting swansong to a Hollywood legend. Though I didn’t see his acting chops being particularly tested, for anyone new to his career, it is a satisfying ‘best of’ reel. 

Advertisements

Review: THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER (2018) [Leeds International Film Festival]

Maggie Gyllenhaal is one of a handful of actors that can compel me to go see a film simply by virtue of their name alone. Such is her mercurial talent and on-screen charisma, whether its playing the timid but sexually-awakened titular character in Secretary (2002) or a commanding but conflicted peer in The Honourable Woman (2014), Gyllenhaal has carved out a niche for playing interesting and withholding characters both on TV and in cinema. Her draw then, extended to yet another title role, this time The Kindergarten Teacher, written and directed by Sara Colangelo. 

Due to the increasingly intense nature of the story, I’ll keep the synopsis brief: Gyllenhaal plays Lisa, an unfulfilled teacher begins to claim the spontaneous poems spouted by a young pupil in her class as her own for her poetry class. It’s a simple but intriguing set-up, and being based on a 2014 Israeli film of the same name, it has a lot to do to make the remake worthwhile.

Five year-old Jimmy, played by Parker Sevak is also an impressive but unnerving presence. Much like his character, Parker seems unaware of his talent, displaying a placid exterior but perhaps slightly weary of his teacher’s unwarranted attentions. As Lisa becomes more and more compromised, we’re left feeling concerned, perhaps even terrified, for the genius child’s welfare. I can’t remember feeling more scared during a swimming scene since Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Almost immediately, however, you are lulled into the narrative, and the indie touch to the domestic and school scenes are matter of fact, unshowy and believable, even if the teenage children are merely ciphers to demonstrate the generational stalemate that adds to Lisa’s unsatisfied life. Almost all of Gyllenhaal’s lead performances could be classed as a career high, but as the alarmingly determined Lisa, we are never on safe footing, but party to a performance that shakes with ruinous mid-life frustration. A fellow film writer, Rhys Handley termed this as “Maggie Gyllenhaal’s own Taxi Driver” and I couldn’t have summed it up better. Damn. 

Yet again another masterclass from Gyllenhaal, reaffirming her position as one of the boldest actors out there. If you can handle having your stomach in knots for pretty much most of the third act, then give The Kindergarten Teacher a go. 

Review: SUSPIRIA (2018) [Leeds International Film Festival]

Viewed at Hyde Park Picture House as part of #LIFF2018.

It would be remiss of me to not mention that Suspiria is gory. While the original poured deep red colours into its set design and cinematography, the gushing blood red in this incantation of Suspiria are reserved only for the acts of body horror that occur. The violent body transformations are shocking and nauseating, and dreamlike fast cuts of disturbing imagery have a trance-like, subliminal power. Certain scenes will last for a long time in the memory, that’s for sure.

Welcome to Luca Guadagnino’s reimagining of Suspiria, a 30-year ambition finally realised and hot off the heels of his evocative  2017 sun-drenched tale, Call Me By Your Name. A switch to horror and a ‘remake’ of a Dario Argento classic befuddled many, but with a stellar cast, an updated but equally unforgiving plot and flashes of gore, Suspiria tantalises and mystifies in equal measure once again.

Set in Berlin in 1977 at the prestigious Markos Company dance school, Tilda Swinton is Madame Blanc, the austere but brilliant principal who is immediately drawn to new American student, Dakota Johnson’s Susie Bannion. As Guadagnino has been keen to point, Swinton also plays Lutz Ebersdorf as Dr. Josef Klemperer, a kindly psychiatrist that is more or less the emotional centre of the film.

Chloë Grace Moretz’s cameo as Patricia looms large over the opening acts, a young student targeted by the teachers within their secret coven, but determined to escape their grasp. Johnson, previously seen in Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash (2015) alongside Swinton, is mesmeric as Susie, unknowable and seeming naive to the real trade of the Markos Company. Johnson and Swinton’s scenes together, even those as they stare at one another within a mirrored rehearsal room or appear to be talking without speaking across a crowded restaurant, are electrifying.

As points of view shift, the well-worn narrative of ‘an American in a strange country’ is left behind as Susie soon becomes a dancing conduit for the coven’s sadistic spells. Contorting, tribal dancing are never too far away from seeming like demonic possession and the camera, and Madame Blanc’s gaze, lingers on Susie’s unexpectedly libidinous movements. We are left to wonder if this is just her dancing style or has her time at the Markos Company transformed her already?

A history of the coven’s acts are hidden deep in the bowels (wrong choice of words there) of the school, horrific antiquities and weapons of choice such as the swift metal hooks that swipe as Thom Yorke’s haunting soundtrack swells. Berlin in 1977, the backdrop of the film seen on TVs or echoed through a radio, is a turbulent time that saw the hijacking of a plane and kidnappings by the Red Army Faction. The real world events act as a counterpoint to supernatural violence and its struggles for supremacy. Female autonomy, expressed through cruelty and occultism subterfuge, is attainable, if only as a result of atrocity and suppression. Taking place in a decade that rode the wave of radical feminism and when Germany continued to grapple with its position as a post-war nation, the coven’s secrets mirror the setting’s overwhelming struggle for normalcy. The coven’s power is an affirmation of the period’s feminist movement operating on the fringes of mainstream society.

The abuse of power is an overwhelming force throughout Suspiria, from the long-lasting generational guilt and Vergangenheitsbewältigung, to the coven’s secret manipulation and disposal of unsuspecting students. The school’s faculty are like a rubber band, stretching and contorting between the need for secrecy and culpability. As Susie, Patricia, Sam and Dr Klemperer become further entangled in the dance school/coven’s acts, the more they become manipulated, enlightened and repulsed by the coven’s violent tyranny.

A warped, unsettling and nihilistic film that slips from grasp just a handle on it seems within reach, Suspiria is likely to frustrate as many as it is devilishly delights. Immaculately directed and designed, Guadagnino shows once again why he is a contemporary master at period detail and sensuality on screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: THE HATE U GIVE (2018)

“I’m very aware of the fact that the young people I write for today, will be politicians with Twitter accounts tomorrow. I can’t do anything about the current politicians with Twitter accounts, but if I can affect them and I can reach them right now, then maybe, just maybe, 10, 20, 30 years from now, we won’t have to say ‘Black Lives Matter’, it’ll be understood.” 

So said Angie Thomas, the writer of the source material at the heart of George Tillman Jr.’s adaptation of The Hate U Give, at its premiere at the BFI London Film Festival 2018. The Hate U Give (2018) is hopefully having a wider impact than Angie currently imagines right now. Released before the US goes to the polls for the midterm elections, probably the most important and decisive election in recent years, The Hate U Give feels like a rallying call for young and old alike, transcending its YA bracket and being both an important text and film for our times.

Witnessing the murder of her childhood friend by a police officer, Starr Carter (the incredible Amandla Stenberg) is catapulted into the centre of events that unveil the disharmony and inequality of her surroundings, from her predominately black local area to the privileged white majority private school she attends in the next town over. Starr takes us through her daily routine of code switching at the opening of the film, all the while juggling a new relationship with her well-meaning if slightly misguided white boyfriend and formative friendships.

Daunting themes are tackled deftly throughout and handled with such maturity that you are often left breathless at the close of vital scenes or conversations. Breaking the boundaries of the typical ‘teen movie’ genre, a label that does not portray the varied subjects and issues that a film with teenage protagonists can and ought to depict (note The Miseducation of Cameron Post this summer), The Hate U Give is a powerful and an oftentimes difficult watch, succeeding in not shying away from the experience of being a person of colour in America, at any age. The film starts as Starr and her siblings are being instructed how to behave when stopped by police by their authoritarian but loving father, played by Russell Hornsby. A shocking but unsurprising exchange that informs the rest of the film at key, harrowing points.

The narrative remains firmly with the family, switching from Starr’s witty and insightful voiceover to the parents’ conflicted discussions, sometimes heard by Starr or watched from afar as she sees those around her remain beholden to a menacing local druglord, played by Anthony Mackie. The Hate U Give lingers on the struggles of living with and moving on from the mistakes of generations past, and as Starr grapples with high school life, her conflicting identities, and a new political and moral awakening in the harshest of circumstances, the Carter family are a compelling unit that offer laughs, warmth and solidarity throughout.

The “politicians with Twitter accounts” of tomorrow are the activists of today and as  events unfold, Starr is given an uncompromising view of a broken, divided America. Over the course of the film, she is tasked with picking up the pieces, eventually turning to activism when the system fails her community, leading into the final few scenes that will stay with the viewer and inspire many. A radical teen movie for our troubled times, I recommend you take the time to see this gem.

 

 

 

Review: HALLOWEEN (2018)

If you have been listening to the hit podcast My Favorite Murder, you might be a tad more clued up on the horrors of serial killers lately than most, and you will know that serial killers were pretty prolific in the 1970s – operating slap-bang in the Vietnam War, before the Cold War preoccupied 1980s and the ‘satanic panic’ of the decade. The period informed the horror monsters of cinema from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) to Friday the 13th (1980).

So it’s easy to see why John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) itched at the fears of so many upon its release. Now 40 years later, are these fears still terror-inducing? As one character in the latest reboot-sequel, Halloween (2018) says, there are so many more scary things to be afraid of these days, why focus on a long-imprisoned middle-aged serial killer wearing a (warped William Shatner) mask?

But as the new instalment, directed by David Gordon Green, posits, the societal fear might have changed, but the bogeyman of trauma will still haunt. This rings true in a world that is seemingly constantly having to cope with the reveal of past and hidden crime, from the abuses of the casting couch, a would-be senator’s college frat parties and most public spheres across the spectrum. Crimes can be buried, perpetrators might even be caught, but the slate is rarely wiped of the vivid trauma that will affect whole lives and communities. This is part of the reason why Halloween unexpectedly gets to be a relevant tale for our times. The slow-moving man in a mask might induce the odd titter from modern viewers of the original, but Michael Myers works as a reincarnated spectre of our world-weary anxiety.

Jamie Lee Curtis, one of the original ‘final girls’, is finally given an opportunity to put demons to rest, namely Myers, who first murdered her friends four decades earlier in 1978. The quiet, bookish 17 year-old Laurie has transformed into a hard, jacked-up action woman in the intervening years, isolating her family in the process. The film demonstrates how Laurie has coped, for better or worse, choosing life as a self-created recluse in her fortress-like compound.

Laurie’s strained relationship with her family, namely her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak), is excellently depicted, hinting at a childhood scarred by a mother’s maniacal determination to better equip her family to eliminate invading evil. One scene where Laurie implores Karen to take hold of a gun for her own familial home’s protection is a particularly telling moment, saying plenty about the cognitive dissonance that occurs in the people of Haddonfield, Illinois when seeking revenge on a murderer…with murder.

Halloween manages to be a satisfying generational story as well as a truly blood-splattering gorefest, upping the scares of Carpenter’s original for a modern audience without slipping into lazy gratuitousness. The score, also updated by Carpenter himself, is more lavish, much like the rest of the film (the Halloween of 1978 was made on a shoestring and the gloriously understated Carpenter always stated he was the cheapest composer he could afford). The same haunting piano stabs once again, but this time with added modern synths, playing ominously over the nostalgic opening credits.

After the countless sequels and reboots that Halloween inspired (when even WAS Halloween III: Season of the Witch, though!?), David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley managed to make a continuation worth telling, a rare feat in Sequel City, Hollywood. It does descend into the well-worn horror tropes, much of them first conceived in the first Halloween, but manage to play out as affectionate nods rather than tired rehashes.

Just a final note to say what a thrill it is to have Jamie Lee Curtis headlining a movie again. She really gave her all to this role and it shows. Long live the mature female lead and the final girl. Now thanks to Halloween (2018), that’s the same thing.

 

 

 

Review: THE WIFE (2018)

A lesser known quote from Maryon Pearson goes: “Behind every successful man, there stands a surprised woman.” In The Wife (2018), Glenn Close is anything but surprised as the titular spouse of an American writer Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), who wakes up to the news that his has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

As the Nobel circus descends on the Castleman clan’s seemingly deferential Connecticut set of admirers and family and whisks them off to Stockholm, Close’s Joan is a myriad of emotions, all serenely displayed on her icon-making expressive face. At times she is demur and contemplative, and at others, cracking with bridled trauma and resentment. Jonathan Pryce plays the typical Great American Writer type and charming elder statesmen of literature, a sort of Philip Roth meets Alan Alda, still trying to seduce the impressed ingenue but now also worrying about the amount of butter in his diet.
He is erring on the side of simpering in his instance that is his wife the support that allowed his career to flourish, and its just off-kilter enough to want to peel back the layers to discover more about this marriage.

And peel it back it does, based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer, a writer ripe for adaptation and directed by Björn Runge, the action goes back to 1950s to see the genesis of their relationship, initially as college professor and pupil. Close’s daughter Annie Maud Stark impresses as the younger Joan, determined in her pursuit of a writing career despite abrupt advice to give up her dream in a male-dominated era: “Don’t ever think you’ll make them listen” Elizabeth McGovern’s resigned author tells her – a disturbingly relevant situation that could still play out today.

At times Joe’s ego infuses the stifling family unit, irritating their overshadowed and under-worked son, David (Max Irons), and causing Joan to constantly be in the role of subjugation. The direction is unshowy, the camera at all times drawn to Close, even as the rest of the cast steps up to her mark, especially in the two-handed scenes. Christian Slater appears to put his trademark Jack Nicholson smarm to work as a ruthless writer desperate to write Joseph Castleman’s biography, and letting neither fact nor fiction get in the way.

As can be expected, there is more going on under the surface than I can give away, but as events unfold and Joe gets closer and closer to receiving the Nobel Medal, now the film’s very own MacGuffin, the film remains focused on woman’s silent role in male achievements. Close says at crucial juncture “I am a kingmaker”, the real meaning of this statement still reverberating. In a climate where women seem unable make their voices heard, it’s a telling moment that will resonate.

 

Review: THE LITTLE STRANGER (2018)

Stifled characters imprisoned in a crumbing country estate battle demons both seemingly imaginary and mental in director Lenny Abrahamson’s adaptation of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger.

The penultimate novel in Waters’ oeuvre and a move away from the hidden queer stories in period Britain, The Little Stranger is a more radical take on The Turn of the Screw-esque haunted house (see also: haunted family, or nothing at all?) stories popularised in throughout early to mid-20th century. A class-driven family drama set in a restrictive post-war Midlands during political and social upheaval, literary fans were riveted by the evocative ambiguity of the storytelling, if not delighted with the move away from what has now become Waters’ trademark of ‘lesbian historic romances’.

Dysfunctional aristocratic family, the Ayres: Ruth Wilson, Charlotte Rampling and Will Poulter encounter Dr. Faraday, played by Domhnall Gleeson, an aspiring provincial doctor haunted by his repulsion of his own class position and childhood memories of Hundreds Hall, the Warwickshire estate, in its heyday. His ‘in’ with the Ayres family is his faltering and nervous exchanges with Caroline Ayres, played by an expertly cast Ruth Wilson, who is helpless in her Sisyphean task to repair the exposing cracks of the family’s reduced circumstances. Same goes for Will Poulter,  as Caroline’s veteran brother Roderick, physically and emotionally ravaged by service in the Second World War while the serene Charlotte Rampling is the coldy officious Mrs Ayres, a woman preoccupied in longstanding grief. The house decaying around them serves as a living tool of torment for each of the major players, from the admiring outsider to the intelligent but “unfortunate” Caroline.

Sure to frustrate the non-book readers who will not have been party to Waters’ trademark vivid scene-setting and characterisation, Abrahamson attempts to make up for this with sumptuous production design and cinematography choices. Certain moments are so crisp in beaming sunlight while others are murky and gloomy as the characters creak around the dilapidated family property that is as much oppressive as it is impressive.

I personally loved The Little Stranger’s more politicised backdrop, one oft-forgotten in favour of more patriotic mid-century stories that are ripe for historic writers. The advent of the NHS and a housing estate on the edge of the Hundreds estate is just as horrifying to the characters as the supposed presence of a poltergeist, expressing a societal anxiety of monetary upheaval and the destruction of the upper classes as they knew it.

Much like the original text, Abrahamson’s cinematic retelling of The Little Stranger (2018) is a claustrophobic and at times, grueling chamber piece, a classic psychological interplay that the director  showed considerable talent in handling while adapting Emma Donoghue’s Room for the screen. Marketing the film as an horror-inflected ghost story is bound to confuse those expecting some “quiet-quiet-bang” moments that have suffused the genre lately, but The Little Stranger does attempt to truly unsettle in its latter half, even if it takes a while to get there.

“It’s a curious, wanting thing”: Sarah Waters on screen (so far)

Tipping the Velvet

If you’ve ever seen Tipping the Velvet (2002) or read the novel, there’s a good chance it’s seared in your memory (it certainly was on mine, discovered as a secretive sixth form read). Outrageous, camp, brave and filled with vaudeville charm, the scope and scale of the story had the hallmarks of a Victorian romp. It emerged so fully formed into book lovers’ and queer lives that it was almost impossible to imagine that it was someone’s debut novel. It demanded attention, and attention it got.

Starring Keeley Hawes, the doyenne of Spooks at the time (and some really cool music videos for 90s faves Suede and James) and Rachael Stirling, shocked Daily Mail readers and delighted many. I’m still in a bit of disbelief that the BBC took a chance on this story, and for not compromising on some of the more eyebrow-raising aspects. Screenwriter Andrew Davies, no stranger to adapting period stories to the screen, can most certainly relied upon to emphasize the more sensational aspects of a story. The section that includes the dastardly Diana Letherby (Anna Chancellor) will never not be thrilling.

Watch out for a small role for future Sarah Waters’ lead, Sally Hawkins too!

Fingersmith

With Waters’ third novel, Fingersmith, praise was rightly showered on the author for this ambitious tale of betrayal, love and greed, once again set in Victorian England.

The bravery to upend the narrative of a significant chunk of the novel will remain a literary ‘water-cooler’ moment for many, and the TV adaptation in 2005 had the unenviable task of recreating that shock factor on screen. Even Hitchcock might have struggled with such a twist! Leads Sally Hawkins and Elaine Cassidy have incredible chemistry and are individually able to convincingly convey facades of naivety and cunning at various points of the story, vital for making the highly charged plot seem remotely plausible.

That challenge neither daunted lauded Korean director Park Chan-wook, taking the source material as a major inspiration for his latest film The Handmaiden (2016), which keeps all of the clever tonal and plot shifts intact, despite relocating the setting to Japanese-occupied 1930s Korea.

Affinity

Waters’ second literary outing is perhaps less-remembered for its televisual counterpart, but is worth a watch for completists all the same.  Affinity is a hearty nod to Wilkie Collins that won Waters the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1999, and the TV adaptation aired on ITV at Christmas nine years later. Once again with an adapted screenplay by Andrew Davies, Affinity (2008) a thriller set during a time when Victorian spiritualism was both feared as a dangerous view into other worlds as well as merely a fun palour game jaunt.

Though atmospheric and moody and lavished with a £2 million budget (quite a lot in the telly days before the likes of Game of Thrones),  Affinity doesn’t give viewers the time to really get to know the two characters – Anna Madeley (Margaret) and Zoe Tapper (Selina) – so much so that when the famous Waters’ twists take their turns, they don’t really feel like the discombobulating rug pull they did in the novel.

The Night Watch

The Night Watch (2006), which on the whole I believe was poorly served by the constraints of a feature length format and running time, was impeccably cast once again, starring some of the most high profile British actors working today,  including Jodie Whittaker and Claire Foy. Anna Maxwell Martin, who can never be accused of choosing ‘safe’ roles, is a swaggering ghostly figure haunting the streets of postwar London.

Sarah Waters’ once again experiments with the form, telling a story at the end and working its way back, and in the visual form it’s a striking and unnerving device to see unfold. The period is impeccably recreated, a struggle as the adaptation had the difficulty of depicting London before and after the Blitz, but on the whole succeeds in demonstrating how the ravages of war obliterated a city and relationships within it.

 

Review: THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST (2018)

Some films make you angry, some films make you cry, and some films make you squirm, and some of the best make you feel them all. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is one of those films.

It’s a hard sell to a mainstream audience I suppose – the story of a young LGBT+ person’s experience of gay conversion therapy – but it’s a vital watch for anyone in doubt that these issues are no longer prevalent and affect lives daily. Like Spike Lee’s BlacKKKlansman, also out in cinema, both are period stories that starkly reflect the fractured and disturbing prejudices and methods of discrimination that still pervade throughout in the US today. It’s easy to factor in that this film was made during the 2016 presidential election, a putrid time that uncovered a swath of uncertainty and fear about how minorities, including the LGBT+ community, would be treated in Trump’s American nightmare.

The director of TMOCP, Desiree Akhavan first came to my attention with her writing/directing debut, Appropriate Behaviour (which may still be on Netflix if you have a quick search), a funny and seemingly personal tale of an Iranian-American bisexual person navigating the single life and familial relations in New York. The non-tropey bisexual on film is such a rare find, so Appropriate Behaviour was something of a revelation to me. I couldn’t think of anyone more suited to take on this new story of another LGBT+ experience.

The 1993-set TMOCP is adapted from the novel of the same name by Emily Danforth, and the film takes the core plot of Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz), who after being caught having sex with her best friend on prom night, is shipped off to a Christian camp called God’s Promise to be cured of her “same-sex attraction.”

The camp is an eerie place of fake smiles and hushed tones, where even Cameron’s cassette tape of The Breeders is even too risqué for consumption. We watch in disbelief as Cameron’s and the other camp members’ “sins” are explained away as symptoms of prior traumas. Being over indulged with sports by a parent is weaponised as tool for shame. Thankfully, the film creates moments that allow for humour, piercing what could be unbearable into a more manageable, if still shocking, world to witness. There’s a rendition of 4 Non-Blondes ‘What’s Up’, as much an anthem for confused discontentment now as it was in 1993, that raises genuine smiles. And in case you wondered, ‘Blessercise’ is a real thing.

Moretz is excellent, her eyes are incredibly expressive as they scan the rest of her therapy group as she tries, or perhaps hopes to not, see herself in them. At times we’re unsure if the ‘therapy’ is finally working on Cameron, just as we are party to the devastating affects of what is essentially, sanctioned torture. My joy at seeing Jennifer Ehle (please cast her in everything please) was short-lived due only to her stand-out depiction of Dr. Marsh, a softly spoken Nurse Ratched, rigid in her belief of being on the right side of morality.  Co-stars Sasha Lane, winningly called Jane Fonda,  and Forrest Goodluck are Cameron’s cool-for-school kindred spirits as they come to terms with just how they got to God’s Promise in the first place and if indeed, they will ever get out as the same people. I particularly enjoyed Cameron’s assigned roommate, Erin, who easily could have been used simply as a mode of diffusing the tension, but like everyone in this film, gets a chance to show many facets of themselves.

Though the ‘doctors’ of God’s Promise attempt to reduce everyone down to their own  unique behavioral ‘iceberg’ diagrams, the characters constantly, with varying degrees of success, break free from their icy surroundings and assigned gender/sexual  straitjackets. I was reminded also of Todd Hayne’s Safe, another film that dealt with clinical psychologies and enforced communal life in the 1990s.

The final wordless scenes in the film are as optimistic as we can hope to expect in a tale that so rooted in realism, and though we cannot know what the future holds for these characters, the morning sun has never felt more liberating.

Review: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT (2018)

I broke the code to tell my cinema companion that the colon was in the wrong place on the BBFC titlecard, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this action ‘six-quel’ (which no one is calling it), Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

My relationship with the M:I series has been a rocky one. The first film was first viewed on VHS, thanks to a friend’s enviable video collection, while the second film lasted only in my memory thanks to it’s nu-metal soundtrack and for first making me aware of Thandie Newton. The Gillette advert opener with Tom Cruise scaling a cliff was not enough to save the rest of it. Fast-forward to the third installment, I eventually caught it on TV after an alarming number of people had claimed “it’s actually good, I’m promise!”

My personal favourite was actually Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, probably thanks to going into the film with zero expectations, other than vaguely hoping to see Tom Cruise once again scaling a building, a plane or some other death-defying stunt. The story was spy-lit lite but easy to follow, the villain (Sean Harris) was genuinely creepy at times, and most surprisingly of all, we had an interesting female character to encounter – Ilsa Faust played by Rebecca Ferguson. I could watch the scene in the Vienna opera house over and over again.

I was pleased then that this latest film, Fallout, continued the winning formula of the fifth, with Christopher McQuarrie remaining as writer and director (for the first time in the series) and hurrah, Ilsa Faust returning!

I’d recommend seeing Rogue Nation before tackling Fallout, but Fallout most definitely covers new ground, creating a whole new narrative despite picking up on tensions and emotional ties from previous outings.

The IMF spring into action again when nuclear weapons are stolen by a shady syndicate (of course) called the Apostles, hell-bent on chaos throughout the world in order to create a new world order. Ethan (Tom Cruise), Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) are tasked with reclaiming the bombs, taking them across Europe in quick lightning speed, and encountering a CIA operative (Henry Cavill) and a black market arms dealer (Vanessa Kirby) along the way.

Everyone in the cast gets their share of scenery to chomp and the action sequences were relentless but ingenious. Wringing my sweating hands as I watched Cruise race to the Tate Modern or motorbike through famous Parisian traffic, I gave myself over to the mindless thrill of seeing accomplished action scenes click effortlessly into place as if operated by clockwork. So many action/thriller films rely on fast cuts and shaky camera work to obscure the action and disorientate viewers, but the fight scenes, particularly the one in the silent club bathroom, was like a ballet of sinew and white-tiled fury.

Six films in and the series is now attempting to reflect on the destruction the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), namely Ethan Hunt, has created in the name of keeping the world and the people closest to them, save. When so many of the installments in the series have been individual ventures – thanks to idiosyncratic directors like Brian De Palma and John Woo picking up the gauntlet – the era of ‘cinematic universes’ has forced the producers to attempt to weave these wildly varying films together to create a narrative arc for Ethan Hunt. I appreciate the effort… just maybe for the next one they could resurrect Kristin Scott Thomas and complete the circle?!

M:I works best when it acts as an heist movie in the spy genre. Seeing a dastardly plan be thwarted or Ethan Hunt attempt another daring escape has always been where M:I excelled, even if the characterisation and plot was lacking. Ethan Hunt, in my mind, is just a cipher for a more palatable Tom Cruise. Less jumping on sofas more running across the roofs of London please.

 

Review: MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN (2018)

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! a tissue, because Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is making me cry just thinking about it.

10 years ago, an awkward teenager not yet the age of a Dancing Queen, saw Mamma Mia! three times at the cinema, made a Dynamos t-shirt and ticked off another film on her epic list to watch every movie Meryl Streep ever made. A decade on and understandably nervous about the prospect of a sequel, I’ve been setting my fears to one side (“WHERE IS MARY LOUISE STREEP?” “HOW IS ‘FERNANDO’ GOING TO FIT INTO THE NARRATIVE?” “WILL HARRY HAVE A HUSBAND?”), ready to wear the platforms once again and enjoy a thin story held together by some of the greatest songs ever written.

We return to the island of Kalokairi to see Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) renovating her mother’s (MERYL!) hotel in time for a grand reopening. Old friends of her mother’s Tanya (The Great Christine Baranski) and Rosie (DAME Julie Walters) come ashore, once again in fine form to help her realise her mother’s Grecian dream  under the sun. In between scenes of Sophie’s estrangement from her partner Skye (Dominic Cooper) and touchingly heartfelt moments with her step-dad, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), the film flashes back to 1979, to see where Donna (Lily James) first got the idea to relocate to Greece and how she found herself enthralled by the three men who formed the dilemma of the first film – Harry (Colin Firth), Bill (Stellan Skarsgård)  and of course, Sam.

Ol Parker’s (Imagine Me and You) direction is spirited and fun manages to recreate the joy of the first film with added skill and panache. An early scene with Pierce had me welling up almost immediately, and it was then that a tidal wave of sentimentality rolled through to sweep me away. ABBA’s ‘S.O.S.’ is briefly reworked in such a way that the lyrics take on a whole new meaning, proving the genius of a songbook that still enraptures the world over.

Speaking of the songs, we get a whole new collection of ABBA reworkings to enjoy, including what could have been an underwhelming interpretation of ‘Waterloo’, turns out to be one of the funniest set pieces in the film, while my disappointment at ‘The Name of the Game’ making an appearance on the first film’s soundtrack album but not in the final cut, was fixed with a dazzling rendition by Lily James. Fan favourite ‘My Love, My Life’ packs an emotional punch (well, more like a wallop across the head with the crying stick) and Cher doing a Cher version of ‘Fernando’ is surreal and absolutely fabulous.

But Lily James really is the stand out in this film. Having to convincingly bewitch all three potential fathers and embody the balls that would see a newly pregnant young woman stay in an abandoned farmhouse and transform it into a business…and after all the strange coincidences, unlikely situations and shoehorned ABBA songs, we just go with it. A special mention goes to Jessica Keenan Wynn who manages to exude the ‘big dick energy’ of Baranski’s Tanya, stealing nearly all over her scenes and has to be the best piece of casting in this sequel-prequel.

At the heart of this story has always been a loving, dysfunctional and unusual mother-daughter relationship and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again goes a long way to underline again that universal longing to understand where we come from and, most importantly, where we are going.  Seriously, MM!HWGA, just HOW can I resist you?