The Disaster Artist

Year: 2017
Directed by: James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron. 

Written by Sarah Buddery

The concept for ‘The Disaster Artist’ isn’t exactly the easiest to explain, especially to those with no prior knowledge of the source material which inspired it, the best bad movie of all time, ‘The Room’. I count myself as one of the millions of diehard fans of ‘The Room’, being as vocal as I can be about how much I love it at every given opportunity. The short story is ‘The Disaster Artist’ is a film based on the book of the same name written by Greg Sestero, who starred in the “the ‘Citizen Kane of bad movies”, ‘The Room’, and who knows the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau better than anyone; Wiseau of course being the producer, director and star of ‘The Room’, brought to life in this film by James Franco.

Complicated spiel aside, it is worth mentioning that it is impossible to tackle this review without talking at least a little bit about what ‘The Room’ means to me; I am after all, the person who with all sincerity had this film higher than ‘The Last Jedi’ in terms of most anticipated!

The very fact that this film exists is a miracle. Considering ‘The Room’ made approximately $1800 on its opening weekend, and had it not been for the rabid group of fans who turned it into a genuine cult hit, it would’ve faded into nothingness. In many ways this feels like the culmination of everything Wiseau had wanted when he made his film. That money Tommy spent on keeping it in theatres long enough to qualify for the Academy Awards, might finally be about to pay off, in the weirdest, most wonderfully meta way possible; rather fitting for the incomparable Wiseau.

Pinpointing the moment in which ‘The Room’ went from woeful obscurity to genuine cult phenomenon isn’t easy, and it’s overwhelming popularity will undoubtedly baffle many. In fact, the reviews on Letterboxd are almost entirely an equal split between 1 stars and 5 stars, and I don’t doubt ‘The Disaster Artist’ will be divisive, although perhaps not so extreme.

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As the most biased person in the world, ‘The Disaster Artist’ is an absolute masterpiece; captivating and hilarious in the most unexpected of ways, and with a warmth and honesty that was not anticipated. Arguably as divisive a person as the man he is portraying, James Franco is the perfect person for this film, both in playing Tommy and in mirroring the “triple threat” of actor/producer/director. In real life, Franco’s recent films and projects have been experimental, and generally not too critically well-received. He is a man who plays by his own rules, and this is everything that Wiseau embodies as well.

The fact that Franco’s performance as Tommy is a thing of total and complete perfection, is really just the icing on the cake. The way Franco entirely disappears into the character is astonishing to watch; nailing Wiseau’s untraceable accent, and especially his monotone laugh, the transformation is eerily accurate. Whilst aided by some prosthetics, the physical transformation is just incredible; everything down to Tommy’s slightly squinted left eye is completely perfect. As someone who has met Tommy (an experience in itself!), the only person who could’ve been more Tommy, is Tommy himself and this is a real testament to Franco’s performance. What he manages in this film is nothing short of remarkable and it would be an incredibly unjust world if he didn’t see some awards attention.

Whilst he might not be in the conversation to receive the same accolades, Dave Franco also deserves praise for his performance as Greg Sestero; Tommy’s co-star in ‘The Room’, best friend, and of course the author of the ‘Disaster Artist’ book. He might not be the most physically accurate Greg Sestero, but he has the “babyface” charm and the undeniable chemistry with Wiseau that is essential for making the central relationship work. Undoubtedly helped by being brothers in real life, the pair light up the screen together and are a total joy to watch. Having read (and obsessed over) Greg’s book, some adjustments have been made, but the strongest theme from the book is more than evident in the film. At its core, this is a story about friendship, about aiming big, and striving to achieve your goals no matter how many people tell you “no”, and ‘The Disaster Artist’ manages to put this across in a way that is as charming as it is hilarious.  

It would be easy to make Tommy a figure for mockery and ridicule, but the film manages to capture that naivety that makes him so genuinely endearing, which ensures we’re almost constantly laughing with him and not at him. It is admirable also that the film doesn’t shy away from the complicated facets of Tommy’s personality. In a film where there is obvious and genuine admiration for the source material, it would have been natural to place him on some kind of pedestal, but whilst Tommy does come off well in the end, it equally doesn’t hide from the crazy and downright outrageous behaviour, and the notoriety Wiseau gained from his cast and crew in the disastrous filming of ‘The Room’.

Of course, it would be a catastrophic failure if this film wasn’t also totally hilarious, but the laughs come thick, fast and consistently, particularly as the film shifts into the actual making of ‘The Room’. The painstakingly accurate recreations of its well-loved scenes and moments are especially entertaining, and it is also in these moments that the supporting cast really shine. Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer are particularly excellent as the suffering crew members dealing with Tommy, and Zac Efron arguably steals the entire show as bit-part Chris R.

The phenomenon of ‘The Room’ might still be a mystery to many, and whilst ‘The Disaster Artist’ probably won’t change that viewpoint, it is still the most perfect and unexpected surprise in this unbelievable Hollywood fairytale. This is in so many ways everything that Tommy had wanted. He was the man with the big dreams, who made a terrible movie, which then captured the hearts of millions and was deemed a story incredible enough to become its own book and subsequent movie. Now genuinely poised for awards success, and with Wiseau and Sestero slowly becoming household names, the dream is coming true. The power of ‘The Room’ lives on, against all odds, and the story of a film considered a masterpiece of bad-filmmaking, is a masterpiece all on its own.

Oh hai Oscars.

SARAH’S RATING: 10/10

(and be sure to check out Sarah’s review of Tommy and Greg’s latest film ‘Best F(r)iends‘)

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Suburbicon

Year: 2017
Directed by: George Clooney
Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Oscar Isaac

Written by Tom Sheffield

George Clooney returns to the director’s chair once again for a trip back to the 1950’s in ‘Suburbicon’, which was written by the Coen Brothers. With Matt Damon and Julianne Moore as the leads, things were looking promising, even though the trailer left me a little confused as to what genre the film was trying to plant itself in.

But were Clooney, Damon, Moore, and the Coens a winning formula? Unfortunately not… The pieces for success were all there, but unfortunately they just didn’t come together for this film.

Suburbicon is a family-centred utopia in which Gardner Lodge (Damon) and his family live. One night, robbers break into Gardner Lodge’s (Damon) home and tie up his wife, Rose (Moore), her twin sister Margaret (also Moore), and his son Nicky (Jupe). The robbers chloroform the family, and when they wake up they learn the devastating news that Rose has died. The story then delves into why the robbers went to the Lodge’s household that night and we learn that appearances can be deceiving.

I’ll keep this relatively spoiler-free for those of you who want to watch the film, but it must be said that I think the trailer actually showed us all the only decent parts of the film, and it also doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out the obvious incoming plot twist. It has to be said, Damon, Moore, and Noah Jupe (who plays Damon’s son) are all fantastic in their respective roles, which only increases my disappointment with this film. Jupe in particular gave a very career promising performance, and perhaps my favourite of the film.

The film was marketed as a comedy, and whilst it does have a couple funny moments, it doesn’t contain enough to call itself one, and here-in lies my biggest gripe with the film. I went in expecting a comedy with a darker sense humour with a dash of mystery, and what I watched was, well… none of the above. The film fails to actually nail a genre and I left the cinema genuinely questioning what it was I just watched. The screenplay dips it’s toe into multiple territories, but it never fully submerges itself into one, meaning you’re often left wondering if something was meant to make you laugh, or if a rather obvious reveal was supposed to actually be a surprise.

Another gripe I have with the film revolves around the fact the plot puts focus on the first African-American family that move into Suburbicon, much to the other resident’s dismay. We are frequently shown scenes of the horrors this family suffer at the hands of their racist neighbours, who constantly rally outside of their house to try and force them out of the neighbourhood. This sub-plot doesn’t really seem to fit in with the rest of the film though, and its addition in the film is also a contributing factor as to why I left the cinema confused. I sat there thinking that witnessing the horrible daily struggles this family are put through would lead to some sort of pay off at the end, but there is none and it’s incredibly disappointing. I feel like I might have missed something here? But from the general consensus amongst other reviewers, it appears my thoughts reflect the majority of theirs when it comes to these scenes.

Don’t get me wrong, the film does have its watchable scenes, especially Oscar Isaacs’s brilliant but brief appearance in a couple of them, and I’ll happily admit that my eyes were well and truly glued to the screen for the final couple of scenes. But the poor script and direction really resulted in an underwhelming film that truly did have potential to deliver a dark comedy.

To wrap this review up, I think I’d recommend catching ‘Suburbicon’ in the comfort of your own home when it’s released on DVD or streamable somewhere. It’s an okay watch at best, but with it failing to figure out what kind of film it’s trying to be, it may leave you confused and annoyed.

Tom’s Rating: 3.0/10

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Daddy’s Home 2

Year: 2017
Directed by: Sean Anders
Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Mel Gibson, John Lithgow, John Cena

Written by Tom Sheffield

Another year, another sequel that we probably wouldn’t have missed if it was never made. Sean Anders returns to direct this festive sequel to the 2015 comedy, ‘Daddy’s Home’. Thanks to a special screening at my local cinema, this happened to be my first festive film of the 2017 (after avoiding ‘Bad Moms Christmas’), and all I can say is the only way is up for my festive viewings this year.

In this festive sequel, Brad (Ferrell) and Dusty (Wahlberg) have a co-dad routine in place that they think is going swimmingly. It soon comes to their attention that their children don’t like having to spend Christmases at different houses every year, so the co-dads decide to have one big family Christmas. Coincidentally, Dusty’s estranged father, Kurt (Gibson), calls to say he’s dropping by for Christmas too, and Brad’s dad, Don (Lithgow), is also on a plane to spend Christmas with them. Kurt is intent on causing a rift between Brad and Dusty from the second he meets them at the airport, and it doesn’t take long before the cracks begin to show.

As with the first film, Wahlberg and Ferrell are a great comedic pair on-screen. Their friendship in this film is put through its paces, which leads to lots of arguing, hugging, fighting, and the exchanging of kind words through gritted teeth. Newcomers Gibson and Lithgow are fantastic additions to the cast, and play their respective roles superbly. Lithgow is an over-loving, coddling, old-fashioned dad, and Gibson’s character is anything but those things. The child actors also get a thumbs up from me, especially young Scarlett Estevez. The less you know why they’re brilliant in this film, the more hilarious they’ll be in the film if you see it, so I’ll say no more!

Where this film really falters is trying to make us care for each and every one of these characters. The plot delves into multiple character backstories and sub plots that, in all honesty, we don’t really care about. I think the forced addition of making it a festive film also hinders the overall story. Don’t get me wrong, introducing us to Dusty and Brad’s Dads was a great idea, but trying to delve into their backstories, whilst also having all the characters in the story interact with one another, then throwing Christmas shenanigans into the mix, all just lead to one gigantic mess of a plot, which admittedly occasionally got a laugh out of me, but overall is easily forgettable and feels wholly unnecessary.

The addition of Gibson, Lithgow, and Cena is the films only saving grace. The new characters meant some of the comedy didn’t feel as repetitive and I found their characters far more interesting and much funnier than the co-dads. The child actors also have their chances to shine during this film, and again, I found some of their scenes much funnier than Wahlberg and Ferrell’s.

As one of only a few festive films hitting cinemas this year, it’s probably worth a gamble going to see it as you may find yourself liking it more than I did. It does offer up a few good laughs, and a twist or two you don’t see coming! I will also add that there is a particular musical scene at the end of the film that would melt the ice-cold heart of the Grinch, and in those few minutes I forgot what I was watching and actually felt a little Christmas-y! That didn’t last long though, and I soon crashed back to reality and pondered on the other things I could have done in those 100 minutes I’d just wasted.

Tom’s Rating: 4.5/10

 

 

Jumpcut’s Favourites: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Year: 2014
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Léa Seydoux, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson.

WRITTEN BY COREY HUGHES

There are two rules in life that I have come to understand within my 21-years on Earth. Number one; don’t talk about Fight Club, and number two; never ask a cinephile what their favourite film is. By breaching the second rule, not only will you be met with a disapproving grunt, but also a 30-minute rant on which film is their favourite; taking into consideration how different moods influence their choice.

Yet I’ve never had this problem. I relish the opportunity to gush about my favourite film, expressing my adoration for it whilst simultaneously trying to make others love it as much as I do. The film I’m talking about here, of course, is Wes Anderson’s wonderful ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’.

Now, I believe there are two ways that you can approach this area of discussion. You can either talk about what you think is the best film, or explain the reasons why a particular film is your favourite, as, after all, your favourite doesn’t necessarily have to be good film. Yet, for me, my experience with ‘The Grand Budapest’ is a mixture of both.

There are a variety of reasons why I’d argue that ‘The Grand Budapest’ is a bona-fide masterpiece. The most obvious is Robert D. Yeoman’s delightful and completely mesmerising cinematography. Wes Anderson’s symmetrical framing and composition is in full effect here, but adding to that, Anderson and Yeoman’s choice to use three different aspect ratios for each of the three time periods in the film is nothing short of extraordinary, adding to the storytelling aesthetic that Anderson hoped to achieve.

Yeoman’s exquisite camerawork, especially the fluidity of the 90-degree and 180-degree whip-pan movements, is surpassed only by Wes Anderson’s trademark use of vibrant colour palettes; adding to the exoticness of the locations and buildings that Anderson has placed in the shop window.

Written with such extravagance by Anderson himself, ‘The Grand Budapest’ also boasts a tremendous cast, bringing back the usual suspects of Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson; accompanied by the terrific talents of Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton and Willem Dafoe.

Yet it is Ralph Fiennes as the legendary hotel concierge Gustave H. who steals the show. Played with such charisma, intelligence and total narcissism, Gustave is perhaps the most iconic and memorable character that Wes Anderson has to offer, a real compliment with Anderson’s catalogue of superbly written figures such as Max Fischer in ‘Rushmore’ and Royal Tenenbaum in ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’. Fiennes brings so much flair and humour to the role, bringing the audience and his lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) on his remarkable journey filled with murder and conspiracy. We really shouldn’t sympathise with him, but somehow we do. He’s just a loveable asshole, really.

But above all its glitz and glamour, ‘The Grand Budapest’ earns its title as my favourite film for its huge influence on my life. It’s the main reason why I started to look at films in a different way, the reason why I was eager to study the medium in greater depth. It is essentially the reason why I started to review movies, which is something that I love doing.

And when it comes down to it, ‘The Grand Budapest’ is the film that springs to mind when the harsh realities of life become prevalent. As soon as I pop my copy of the Blu-ray in the player, everything exterior to my screen becomes irrelevant. The only thing that matters within that 99-minutes of runtime is my experience with Wes Anderson’s delightful masterpiece.

Isn’t that what films are for?

 

Lady Bird

Year: 2017 (UK: 2018)
Directed by: Greta Gerwig
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Odeya Rush, Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges

Written by Fiona Underhill

Greta Gerwig is primarily known for her ‘auteur-muse’ relationship with director Noah Baumbach, which has produced such gems as ‘Frances Ha’, ‘Mistress America’ and ‘Greenberg’. I have also enjoyed watching her in the role of Natalie Portman’s best friend in the diverse ‘No Strings Attached’ and ‘Jackie’. Although she has directed before, this is Gerwig’s ‘mainstream’ directorial debut and she has very much stepped out from under Baumbach’s shadow.

There are a few surprising things about ‘Lady Bird’. Firstly, it is not set in New York, as one might expect from Gerwig, but in Sacramento. While it is the state capital of California, Sacramento is nowhere near as well known as Los Angeles or San Francisco and is described as the ‘mid-west of California’ in the film. It definitely has a small-town feel here and one that needs to be escaped, especially as Lady Bird literally lives on the wrong side of the tracks. I was also surprised to discover that it is set in 2002-2003, making the character of Lady Bird five years younger than me. Despite this age gap, many of the music and fashion references did feel painfully real to me and it doused the whole thing in the heavy pall of nostalgia; not all of it positive.

Soairse Ronan plays Christine McPherson, who insists on being called ‘Lady Bird’. She is a Catholic high school senior, dealing with typical problems such as friendships, boyfriends and what she’s going to do with the rest of her life. Her parents are going through financial problems, leading to her mother (in an amazing performance from Laurie Metcalf) working double shifts in a psychiatric hospital. Lady Bird and her best friend Julie (the very appealing Beanie Feldstein) decide to audition for the school musical, where Lady Bird immediately takes a shine to Danny (Lucas Hedges). Further down the line, Lady Bird gets involved with new friend ‘rich bitch’ Jenna and new boy, the rebellious Kyle (Timothee Chalamet) which works out about as well as could be expected.

The real success here is in the writing – it makes the whole thing feel so real. It is very funny – early scenes of Lady Bird ‘running for office’ in her school and coming into conflict with her teachers are hilarious. The naturalistic performances are also a key part of what makes this film so good. The 23 year old Ronan plays a 17/18 year old incredibly convincingly in a vanity-free performance, including showing her ‘adolescent’ skin and I would love to see her get a Best Actress Oscar nomination. I have heard everyone who has seen ‘Call Me By Your Name’ (still not out in the US) going crazy about Timothee Chalamet, but hadn’t really seen the appeal, based on photographs alone. Having now seen ‘Miss Stevens’ (recommended) and ‘Lady Bird’, I am beginning to see it more. He does have a magnetic screen presence and is very charismatic, even when playing an enormous douche, as he is here.

Smaller roles are taken by Lois Smith as one of the nuns at Lady Bird’s school and Stephen Henderson as the priest who runs the musical. Both put in funny and emotional turns. Another highlight is Lady Bird’s brother Miguel (a Berkeley graduate who now has a job bagging groceries) and his girlfriend Shelly who has moved in with the family. Lucas Hedges (both funny and devastating in last year’s ‘Manchester By The Sea’) gives another nuanced performance – demonstrating that he is definitely one to watch.

The other acting highlight is without doubt, Laurie Metcalf as Marion McPherson. This film is really about the mother-daughter relationship and is painfully real. There are the typical teenage conflicts, exacerbated by financial strains and Marion trying to keep her daughter’s college expectations in the real world. Of course, the real source of the conflict is Lady Bird’s rejection of Sacramento and her family, but this comes full circle into revealing the clear affection she has for both by the end. I almost had to watch the scene of Lady Bird trying on prom dresses through my fingers – its a scene that could have been pulled straight from my life. The audience’s empathy is pulled in both directions, between the two characters. Marion gets understandably frustrated by Lady Bird’s lack of appreciation for everything her family are doing for her. However, her mother’s hypercritical negativity does engender sympathy for Lady Bird, who at times, reaches out to her mother and is rejected. Safe to say, I was an emotional mess by the end, despite having laughed out loud throughout the whole film.

On fairly limited release in the US at the moment and not hitting the UK until February (which will be good timing for Oscar buzz), Lady Bird is definitely worth seeking out. There is something for all ages to identify with and you will find yourself torn between the generations, but ultimately feeling great affection for all of the characters. Lady Bird is a success because of the exceptional writing and directing from Greta Gerwig and I cannot wait to see what she does next.

Fiona’s Rating: 9.0 out of 10

Paddington 2

Year: 2017
Director: Paul King
Cast: Ben Whishaw Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Gambon, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Imelda Staunton. 

WRITTEN BY ABBIE EALES

The 2014 ‘Paddington’ film took everyone by surprise. Having had to recast the voice of Paddington himself when Colin Firth stepped away from the project, many of the already sceptical folk were worried that the end product might be a bit of a mess. However, it ended up being in many critics’ top ten lists of the year and Ben Whishaw’s voicing of Paddington left us all convinced he was the only man for the job. It was an absolute delight and has become a staple family favourite.

Given the joy with which the first film was met, this second outing had a lot to live up to. Luckily it more than exceeds expectations, with Paul King and Simon Farnaby’s script being both riotously funny, supremely touching and even politically savvy.

‘Paddington 2’ centres around the titular bear’s wish to find the perfect birthday present for his Aunt Lucy, who is still living out in Peru. Paddington is still living with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens and is a firmly established member of the community. Visiting Mr Gruber’s antique shop he finds a one-of-a-kind pop-up book (or popping book, as Jim Broadbent’s Gruber would have it) featuring London landmarks. However, upon discovering how much it would cost, Paddington decides to earn the money by getting a job to buy it for his favourite Aunt. Cue some hilarity involving first electric clippers and then a plastic bucket. Meanwhile a wonderful steam fair is opened nearby by Hugh Grant’s fading star, and neighbour to the Browns, Phoenix Buchanan. Plans for Paddington’s perfect present are then scuppered when the ‘popping book’ is stolen, leading to Paddington and the Browns working to unmask the thief.

Whishaw yet again turns in a wonderful vocal performance as Paddington, the kind-hearted bear who believes that being kind can make the world a better place. You completely fall in love with his vulnerability and optimism, ending up really rooting for the little bear.

The whole Brown family are warm and a little nuts, with more wonderful performances by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins. Hugh Grant is magnificently unhinged as fading star Buchanan, bringing a little Machiavellian menace to his music hall shenanigans.

The production design is wonderful, from an incredible sequence featuring the ‘popping book’ itself to the Brown’s fabulous house and design of Windsor Gardens, with a less-twee Wes Anderson feel to it all.

The supporting cast are all universally incredible, with some of British comedy’s biggest names appearing in tiny, but brilliant, roles. Paul King’s previous life as director of ‘The Mighty Boosh’ really shows again, as he has an absolutely brilliant grasp of comedy timing and lends the whole affair a wonderfully off-kilter feel.

‘Paddington 2’ is as whimsical and joyous as the first film, with some genuinely hilarious moments of comedy and beautifully drawn characters. It balances this with some really great action sequences and some moments of real peril for Paddington and the Browns, which will have you both on the edge of your seat and possible shedding a tear.

It’s a film that will delight children and adults alike and will undoubtedly be a firm festive favourite for many years to come.

ABBIE’S RATING: 9.5 OUT OF 10

 

The Death of Stalin

Year: 2017
Director: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin, Paul Whitehouse, Andrea Riseborough, Rupert Friend, Paul Whitehouse, Jason Isaacs

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

Armando Iannucci is arguably the world’s most famous Italian Scot. After finding success with British political send-up ‘The Thick of It’ and American political send-up ‘Veep’, Iannucci found himself a niche as a singular voice in political satire, combining the typically awful people found in politics with jet black, profanity laden humour. His latest effort, his second directorial venture into film after 2009’s ‘In The Loop,’ chronicles the remarkable true story of, you guessed it, the death of Stalin. What follows is much of what you’d expect from an Iannucci creation, but it doesn’t have that sharpness for which he was so renowned.

‘The Death of Stalin’ follows Stalin’s various aides (First Secretary, Secretary of Defence, Chief of the Secret Police etc.) as they scramble around attempting to contain the rather large issue of Stalin suddenly dying, as well as figuring out who succeeds Stalin, what happens next for Russia on a global scale, and organising Stalin’s state funeral.

It’s important to know heading into this film that I don’t think it’s wholly necessary that you should be well-versed in Russian politics to understand it. Most key details are explained thoroughly enough, but it does expect you to follow along. Any Iannucci project is full of people who talk very quickly, so it’s our responsibility to keep up. Iannucci does, however, have a knack for throwing 20 lines of complicated political talk and injecting it with a blunt insult or a swear word to draw our attention back in in case anyone was wavering. It’s fascinating to see it at work in this setting, particularly because every single Russian character in the film has a British accent.

That realisation is jarring. It takes you a few minutes to adjust. You have people like Paddy Considine and Paul Whitehouse talking to people named Vyacheslav and Malenkov and Khruschev in a London accent. It’s peculiar initially, but it makes sense for what we’re watching. The complexities of what is happening can be hard to follow, particularly if everyone was speaking in a strong Russian accent. Allowing the actors to use their own accents makes them stand out to us, the general audience, and helps us separate each character from each other. As you can see from the cast list above, the ensemble here is huge. Every character has agency in the film too, every character has a part to play in the grand story of the film and of Russia as a whole. That works hugely in the film’s favour, and benefits many of the comedic moments of the film.

Of which, there are, indeed, many. The opening scene is classic Iannucci, where a famous orchestra has finished their performance. Paddy Considine working the sound gets a phone call from Stalin himself asking for a recording of the performance. Considine, of course, realises they didn’t record it. He then must scramble around getting the orchestra back together, filling the quickly empty audience with random people form the street, and then having to find a replacement conductor after the initial conductor knocks himself out on a fire bucket. Meanwhile, the Soviet Secret Police are out executing and arresting various targets for crimes against the country. It’s a wonderful, ridiculous, shocking opening sequence that is played mostly for laughs, while establishing the darkness and cruelty at hand.

This opening sequence is ‘The Death of Stalin’ in a nutshell. Funny scenes, great one-liners, physical comedy truncated by realisations of how insane the Soviet Union was in 1953. It had a dictatorial air about it similar to that of Hitler in Nazi Germany, any mistake that could be considered as anti-Russia saw you killed. Iannucci balances this masterfully and he is the perfect writer to tackle such a heavy subject matter. There is a fascinating period drama here that lasts three hours and doesn’t flinch on any of the more tragic or nasty details. As such, Iannucci makes it consumable to us with his unique style. The act of Stalin’s aides literally carrying his body from his office to his bedroom is not funny, but the way it is staged is. That’s what makes so much of ‘The Death of Stalin’ work.

On top of the clever script and the humour, the performances here are genuinely fantastic. The whole ensemble is fully on board with the idea and are dedicated to getting it right. Jason Isaacs is a stand-out as the no nonsense, sarcastic Minister of Defence in a strong Birmingham accent. Jeffrey Tambor channels George Bluth as Malenkov, Stalin’s second in command, a bumbling buffoon who has many of the film’s best lines.

However, Steve Buscemi’s Khruschev and Simon Russell Beale’s Beria are the two stars of the film. The two characters are butting heads through the whole film. While Khrushchev generally has an air of exasperation about him as he becomes dumbfounded at some of the choices the others make, Beria has far more sinister intentions. Beale’s performance, in particular, is terrific. He can make a joke about someone’s stutter in one sentence, before casually sentencing another death two lines later without batting an eye. Beale completely dominates the film and takes the brunt of the heavy lifting on a plot front, and he nails it. Beale’s performance may well end up as one of my favourite male performances of the year.

Sadly though, the film has its drawbacks. It suffers from an issue that so much of modern comedy does. Iannucci doesn’t do anything particularly interesting on the directorial front. He merely points the camera at his characters and has them deliver their lines. ‘The Thick of It’ had a more chaotic feel to them, hand held camera for much of it almost like a documentary, and the chaos from the camera added to the insanity of the story. I truly believe ‘The Death of Stalin’ would have benefited from such an approach, just to add something extra to the film. To put it bluntly, it’s not very interesting to look at.

My second issue lies with the actual humour. When the film is funny, it’s very funny. I do want to watch it again so I can note some of the best lines down. But, there are sections of the film where there aren’t many jokes to speak of, and it gets bogged down in the complicated plot. Of course, it’s a complicated story, so this can be expected, but Iannucci always managed to inject some life into this conversations in ‘Veep’ and ‘The Thick of It’, more off-handed insults, more ridiculous analogies to explain it to someone, more off-the-cuff. It may seem like I am comparing this to his old work a lot, but I feel it’s necessary; it worked so well there, why not make it work here?

My general feelings towards ‘The Death of Stalin’ are far more positive than negative. Writing this, I have felt myself become more positive about it than I initially thought I was. I just think it was lacking that extra special something Iannucci usually has. It was almost there, just not quite. Still, I never thought I’d find myself laughing so hard at a funeral scene in any film, and yet, here we are.

Rhys’ Rating: 7.1/10

Thor: Ragnarok

Year: 2017
Director: Taika Waititi
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Cate Blanchett, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo

Written by Sarah Buddery

The staggering achievement of Marvel Studios in creating a cohesive, overlapping, and constantly evolving cinematic universe is something which – pardon the expression – should really be marvelled at. Undoubtedly helped by the wealth of interesting and beloved characters it has in its impressive back catalogue, the signs of growth are more evident than ever in the latest offering, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’.

Helmed by under-the-radar (but soon to be household name) New Zealand director, Taika Waiti, ‘Ragnarok’ is like none of the other 16 movies that preceded it. Fans of the off-kilter and quirky sense of humour in previous directorial films ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ will know what to expect, and everyone else? Well you’re able to get a full-on Waititi slap in the face and you are going to love it.

The first ‘Thor’ film had a great natural humour to it with its fish-out-of-water narrative, but the disappointing ‘Thor: The Dark World’ took itself far too seriously, suffering from weak villains and a clumsy style. ‘Ragnarok’ is Thor on acid, embracing the weirdness of the character in the best possible way. The Thor of the comics is absolutely nuts, and finally we have a Thor film which feels 100% suited to the character.

The comedy is the strongest it has ever been, and dare it be said that it even challenges ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ in that department. There’s zingers left right and centre, genius cameos and characters, physical comedy and oh so much more. Chris Hemsworth has never been better as the God of Thunder; his comic timing is absolutely impeccable and it is great to see him having so much fun where the character has previously been a little stuffy.

On the whole, the cast is absolutely fab with returning members being better than ever, and the new additions feeling like they have always been there. There is a reason why Loki is everyone’s favourite Marvel villain, and whilst not the main villain of this piece, he has plenty of screentime and Tom Hiddleston is, as always, a delight to watch. As Goddess of Death, Hela, Cate Blanchett is absolutely wonderful, but perhaps doesn’t get as much exposure as she deserves in this film; just one of its minor drawbacks.

Always the highlight of every single film he is in (that is a fact!), Jeff Goldblum chews every single bit of technicolour scenery as The Grand Master, and was clearly having huge amounts of fun. Having impressed in ‘Creed’, Tessa Thompson is wonderful as Valkyrie, and she kicks so much ass. Mercifully there is no romantic subplot (it would’ve felt massively shoehorned in), and it is so great to have another badass female hero, and a female main villain as well, for the first time in the MCU.  

The 80s vibe runs through the gloriously unique soundtrack, with synth seamlessly mixing with a more traditional superhero score. Also used in the trailer, it is so good to hear Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ used, and to amazing effect as well; let’s face it, this song was made to be used in a ‘Thor’ movie! Visually, ‘Ragnarok’ is one of the most arresting Marvel movies so far, with some particularly striking slow-motion wide shots, mostly in the flashback scenes and fight sequences. This technique is used sparingly enough so as not to become annoying, and it shows just how diverse a director Waititi is.

‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is madder than a box of frogs and all the better for it. It does suffer from feeling a little disconnected from previous MCU films, but when a film is this much fun, it almost doesn’t matter. With Waititi’s stamp all over it (and the character he voices, Korg, unquestionably stealing the show!), ‘Ragnarok’ feels refreshingly different and is a much needed injection of fun, particularly for those who are feeling the so-called “superhero fatigue” from oversaturation of comic book movies. A strong contender for one of the best MCU films, and arguably the most fun, ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is absolutely unmissable!

Sarah’s Rating: 9.0/10

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Year: 2017
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Pedro Pascal

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ was released in what’s commonly known as “a movie dead zone”. February is typically home to sub-par horror films, animations, and generally any film that is lacking in faith from its production company. It’s the post-Oscar lull of the calendar year. And yet, in 2014, ‘Kingsman’ defied all expectations and became a surprise hit, thanks to a fun concept, good performances from a good cast, and great action sequences. Three years later, ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ comes along, on a bigger budget, and in the much more consumer friendly slot of September. What does a bigger budget mean for ‘Kingsman’? A damn fun ride, with more than a few flaws.

‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ sees the return of Eggsy (Egerton), Merlin (Strong), and the Kingsman, a secret spy operation working out of a London tailor shop. Since the events of the first film, Eggsy has become a true super spy and is protecting the country from threats, big or small. When a new drug trend appears around the world from the mind of Poppy Adams (Moore), referred to as “Blue Rash” which appears after taking any sort of illegal substance, it’s up to Eggsy and Merlin to find the source of the drugs before it wipes out hundreds of millions around the world. A spanner in their works, however, is Poppy appears to be two steps ahead of the Kingsman and promptly destroys all known Kingsman locations around the UK, prompting Eggsy and Merlin to head stateside and work with their American spy cousins, Statesman.

If any of Poppy’s plan sounds familiar, it’s because it’s mostly the same idea Richmond Valentine had with his new SIM cards in ‘The Secret Service’ except on a massive scale. Herein lies the first real problem ‘The Golden Circle’ must overcome; how can it beat its predecessor? ‘The Secret Service’ had the unknown factor upon release, nobody really knew what they were getting themselves into, and it took us all by surprise. Now, ‘The Golden Circle’ successfully gives us what we all wanted, but doesn’t manage to give us anything new. What it does is very impressive, which I’ll get into later, but it doesn’t have that “X factor” that the original had. The story beats are familiar, and even destroying their headquarters and having them work alone is solved rather easily with the help of the Statesman.

Beyond that, as everyone is aware thanks to the trailers, Colin Firth returns as Harry, Eggsy’s original Kingsman mentor. Harry was very definitively shot in the face two-thirds of the way through ‘The Secret Service,’ but they brought him back through what can only really be understood as magic. On the surface, this is fine because Firth was terrific in the original and Firth’s presence typically elevates any film he’s in, but here with his return, it ruins any weight or danger for the characters. With Harry’s death in the first film, it was a genuine shock, telling us that the world of Kingsman is brutal and unfriendly. Now, knowing this magic is in play, a character’s death isn’t so dramatic, or any situation our protagonists find themselves in isn’t ever truly a dangerous one.

Having said all that, I still found myself enjoying the hell out of ‘The Golden Circle.’ Firstly, the veritable A-list cast is great, particularly Taron Egerton and Mark Strong. Egerton has made himself a genuine star with his roles in these films and in ‘Eddie The Eagle.’ His charisma and his style are abundantly clear throughout as he embodies the James Bond-lite character we’ve come to love. Strong’s Merlin is more the strong, silent type, but he’s the reliable partner that every spy needs, and as we’ll find out, he has a terrific singing voice. On the Statesman side of things, one can argue that the likes of Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges are somewhat wasted in their roles, but new additions Halle Berry and Pedro Pascal make more than a great impression as Kingsman’s comrades in the field. Pascal’s Agent Whiskey is involved in two of the film’s best fight sequences, a snowy, one-man-against-eight, stylish shoot-out, with an electric lasso thrown in for good measure.

Something that has become abundantly clear with Matthew Vaughn at the helm is this; the man can shoot action. Too often I have seen films where fight scenes are a mishmash of fast cuts and silly angles that it’s impossible to see what’s going on. Vaughn has a style of shooting action scenes that works beautifully; the camera flows seamlessly from movement to movement, letting you see every bullet impact, every punch, every dodge. Nothing is left to the imagination as the brutal impact of the fight scenes isn’t lost. There’s fabulous stunt work on show from everyone, with clever take-downs and uses of the environment. So many characters get their moment in the spotlight, and every action sequence is worth it.

‘The Golden Circle’ does, for better or worse, double down on its ridiculous premise. Where the first film gradually built to its ridiculous mind-blowing conclusion (pardon the pun), ‘The Golden Circle’ starts off ridiculous and becomes more ridiculous as it goes. One of ‘The Golden Circle’s’ key criticisms in its less than ideal critical response is how much the film bends the laws of gravity in its fight sequences and they become unbelievable. In the first 10 minutes, Eggsy has a fight inside a black cab against a man with a robot arm, turns said black cap into a sports car, then into a submarine, then Poppy commands her two robot dogs to kill a traitor. If that doesn’t set you up for its ridiculous nature, nothing will. For me, the ridiculousness was jarring initially, but once you accept that this is the way it is, a ‘Moonraker’-ramped-up-to-11 style romp, you’re going to have a good time; I certainly did.

What should be addressed, however, is ‘The Golden Circle’ doesn’t have its true standout scene; its own Church Fight. The one thing everyone could agree on with ‘The Secret Service’ was how incredible the Church Fight is. It’s a seamless, near one-take scene in which Harry takes on 100 crazed, religious nuts affected by Valentine’s SIM cards. It was the peak of the original, and while ‘The Golden Circle’ has its fair share of cool scenes, it doesn’t have that one scene. You could argue the final fight comes close as its shot in a similar style, but it isn’t as bonkers as the Church Fight.

To summarise, while ‘The Golden Circle’ falls short of matching its predecessor, it’s still a lot of fun for fans of the original. There are ridiculous moments (one scene at a popular music festival is going to divide opinion very heavily), very funny lines, great, silly action sequences, and it’s clear most of the cast are having a lot of fun, particularly Julianne Moore chewing the scenery as the big bad. If you love Kingsman like I do, you’re going to really enjoy this one. If you didn’t, it’s probably best you stay away.

Rhys’ rating: 7.2 out of 10