2015 seems to be the year of the ‘50s New York department store on film. Two of the biggest players in the lead up to this year’s Oscars, Brooklyn and Carol, centre around a young woman in the mid-20th Century finding love whilst working behind a counter in a fancy shop for wealthy East Coasters. Whilst, of these films, Carol is the true masterpiece, singing the praises of Brooklyn is all too easy as well. John Crowley and Nick Hornby have adapted the lovely novel by Colm Toibin and crafted one of the best crowdpleasers of the awards season, featuring a spate of brilliant performances as well as two believable and touching romances. (more…)
Three films into his career, Scott Cooper appears to have found a rhythm that suits him. Both Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace were un-flourishy showcases of the remarkable talents of his actors, and his latest effort Black Mass follows the same pattern, whilst being a lot more entertaining than either of its predecessors. Crazy Heart won Jeff Bridges a long-overdue Oscar, Furnace was further proof of Casey Affleck’s considerable abilities, and now Black Mass is a high-profile comeback for Johnny Depp. After over a decade of playing Jack Sparrow and other characters with the exact same quirks, Depp’s performance as notorious Boston gangster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger proves that he can still be award-winningly good. (more…)
In the Q+A after the London Film Festival screening of A Bigger Splash, director Luca Guadagnino said that to make a film about holidays that didn’t feature much nudity would be dishonest. To his credit, A Bigger Splash is a very naked film, but, more importantly, is also incredibly honest. A four-hander of simmering tensions, the entire lead quartet of actors imbue their characters with rich and real inner lives. It doesn’t hurt that two of these actors are the magisterial Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton, giving top-drawer performances. Matthias Schoenarts and Dakota Johnson, two of the hottest properties in Hollywood at the moment, round out the four, and whilst they can’t match their more experienced co-stars, they’re still scorchingly good, and the entire four generates incredible chemistry. (more…)
In 2013 we had Gravity, the ‘realistic’ sci-fi thriller; next we had Interstellar, the ‘realistic’ sci-fi fantasy; and now we arrive in 2015 with the Martian: the feel-good space romp. Based on the bestseller by And Weir, most people have glimpsed the premise either through a Waterstones window or over a fellow commuter on the war to work: astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is Crusoefied on the red dot in space, and must survive on this desolate planet until supplies, or rescue, can save his skin. But even with such high stakes (and the director who turned space into a hive of chest-bursters on board as well) this film keeps a smile on its face.
Before mentioning anything else about The Assassin, the first full film in seven years from Chinese director Hsiao-Hsien Hou, I have to admit that I was completely baffled throughout most of the film. Having very, very little familiarity with the wuxia genre, the opaque plot flew, for the most part, over my head. Yet, somewhat bizarrely, this barely impacted on my enjoyment of the piece, which is so stunningly beautiful that it can never be boring, instead delivering its audience into a state of serenity, occasionally violently broken by a wonderfully staged fight sequence. As a purely visual experience, there is very little out there that can match it, and this praise is only vaguely tempered by the difficulties I had with the story. (more…)
Ben Foster, in films like The Messenger and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, has proven himself to be a highly capable supporting actor, underutilised in the variety of sub-par genre pieces that he’s been a part of. In Stephen Frears’ new film, an examination of the lie at the heart of the life of Lance Armstrong, Foster finally shows the world exactly what he can do if given the right character. He’s mesmerizingly good as the disgraced cyclist, indistinguishable in mannerisms from his real-life counterpart, elevating what is otherwise a relatively mediocre, sometimes even boring, biopic. Frears found great success two years ago with his lovely true-life tale Philomena, but The Program struggles to achieve any real narrative lift, mired in frequent press conference scenes and not actually contributing much to the ongoing debate. (more…)
Rather than try to tackle the decades of history leading up to the British government’s granting of limited voting rights for women in 1918, Suffragette collages a particularly tumultuous eighteen-month period of violence and retaliation in a real and present way. Avoiding broad strokes, director Sarah Gavron and writer Abi Morgan paint each character with detailed grit and infectious idealism, and the prestigious cast, gravitating around an excellent lead performance by the quietly brilliant Carey Mulligan, lends each historical event an uncanny familiarity. The film sells a world-gone-by while also tapping into the never-more-relevant zeitgeist of radical feminism, reminding audiences that the work towards equality is far from done.
Following the recent and harrowing real-life cases of the Fritzel family and the Ariel Castro kidnappings, long-term false imprisonments have burned themselves into the public consciousness. One of the best things to be said about Room, an adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s 2010 bestseller (scripted by Donoghue herself), is that instead of concerning itself with the gruesome details of suffering in such an environment, it focuses on the bravery and self-imposed routines used by the victims to survive. Room is full of such understated examples of tastefulness; nothing we can work out for ourselves is explained to us, and the focus on characters over explicit traumas was absolutely the right call. Unfortunately, it’s also a film prone to self-sabotage, which lets down one of the year’s most powerful premises. (more…)
There is very little in mainstream western literature with such a streak of nihilism as Macbeth. The lead character is an irredeemable monster, created by his overly ambitious schemer of a wife, and the legacy he leaves is of a barren, wasted Scotland. The kingship Malcolm (Jack Reynor), son of the murdered Duncan (David Thewlis), inherits is hardly desirable, and that is never felt more keenly than in the final act of this new adaptation. As Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and Macduff (Sean Harris) fight to decide the future of their homeland, it becomes clear that whoever wins will govern not a nation, but an extension of Hell itself. (more…)
The Walk opens on Joseph-Gordon Levitt, standing atop the Statue of Liberty, breaking the fourth wall, and speaking in a committed but honestly rather silly French accent. That this tone carries through the entire film and, for the most part, works is both surprising and impressive, and a pleasing return to purely enjoyable, family-friendly fare for the legendary Robert Zemeckis after Flight. Only his second live action film since 2000’s Cast Away, the director of Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forrest Gump proves that he’s lost none of his flair for breathtaking visual trickery combined with zippy, engaging stories, even if The Walk doesn’t come close to touching those classics. (more…)