Fiona’s March Round-Up

Written by Fiona Underhill

While the UK enjoys the quality of Oscar-nominated films such as ‘The Shape of Water’ and ‘Lady Bird’ in the first few months of the year, the first quarter can be something of a barren wasteland in US cinemas. We did get ‘Paddington 2’ in January and of course, there has been ‘Black Panther’, but other than that, there have been slim pickings to choose from. But, like buses, they can all suddenly come along at once and I’ve seen 5 films in the last week that have greatly improved my year in film. Below is a round-up of my movie-watching month, which has ranged in quality, but certainly hasn’t been boring!

21-(1)

Gringo

(starring David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton & Thandie Newton)

‘Gringo’ stars Oyelowo as a businessman working for his friend (Edgerton) and his colleague (Theron) at a pharmaceutical company. The three of them go to Mexico on a business trip, which unbeknownst to Oyelowo is connected to the drug trade. There Oyelowo gets embroiled with drug dealers, traffickers, kingpins and mercenaries (including another great turn from Sharlto Copley) while trying to stay alive and ahead of the law. Although amusing at times, ‘Gringo’ has big tonal problems and inconsistencies. Theron is playing an unlikeable, edgy character, demonstrated by her saying things like “fat people are so funny” and Newton’s character is handled offensively at the end. Great cast, but disappointing execution.

Verdict: 4/10

 21-(1)

A Wrinkle in Time

(starring Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon & Mindy Kaling)

Despite its critical reception, I really enjoyed ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ and crucially, so did my 8 year old (the target audience of this film). An adaptation of a beloved children’s book, we follow Meg Murry (Reid) on an adventure across space and time. With stunning visual effects and incredible costume, hair and make-up design; this film was a feast for the eyes. It also featured an emotional story, with two children on a quest to find their missing father and I struggled to hold it together towards the end. Featuring some astounding performances from the child/teen actors, I really loved this film and recommend it to families during the spring/Easter holidays.

Verdict: 8/10

 21-(1)

The Hurricane Heist

(starring Toby Kebell, Maggie Grace & Ryan Kwanten)

Last year’s ‘Geostorm’ spoiled us in terms of trashy disaster movies (a genre which I adore), but ‘Hurricane Heist’ is possibly even better, if you can believe it. Everything you need to know is right there in the title: it’s about a heist that takes place during a hurricane. I don’t know what else to tell you.

Verdict: 10/10

 21-(1)

Flower

(starring Zoey Deutch, Kathryn Hahn and Adam Scott)

‘Flower’ follows Erica (Zoey Deutch) a troubled 17 year old girl who spends her time giving blowjobs to men and then blackmailing them for money so she can try to bail her father out of prison. Her world is disrupted when her step-brother Luke (who she has never met) leaves rehab and moves in with her. Luke accuses a local man Will (Adam Scott) of having abused him while he was his teacher, so Erica and her friends set out to avenge him with some vigilante justice. Despite a strong cast, led by another winning performance from Zoey Deutch, this film was a little problematic, with unlikeable characters and will end up proving rather forgettable. I’m frankly getting a little tired of teen girl characters being written and directed by men.

Verdict: 6/10

21-(1)

Final Portrait

(starring Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer & Tony Shalhoub)

The release date for this film has been all over the shop, but it’s now on UK Netflix and I managed to find one cinema showing it in LA. Directed by Stanley Tucci, it follows the sculptor and artist Giacometti (Rush) as he struggles to paint a portrait of his friend/muse James Lord (Hammer). And that is it – the whole plot. Frankly, the only thing that got me through this film was the long, lingering close-ups of Hammer’s face. One for die-hard fans only, I would suggest.

Verdict:  4/10

 21-(1)

Oh Lucy!

(starring Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett, Kaho Minami & Shiloi Kutsuna)

This film follows Setsuko (a sublime performance by Terajima), an unusual woman who does not view her job or relationships in the same way as her contemporaries. Her niece Mika (Kutsuna) persuades her to take English lessons from John (Hartnett), but then he abruptly leaves for LA, taking Mika with him. Setsuko and her sister Ayako (Minami) set out to track them down and end up on an adventurous road trip of sorts. I absolutely adored this film from director Atsuko Hirayanagi and appreciated the creation of a fully-realised, complex and unique woman as the protagonist. Seek this out – you won’t regret it.

Verdict: 9/10

 21-(1)

Thoroughbreds

(starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Olivia Cooke & Anton Yelchin)

‘Thoroughbreds’ focuses on childhood friends Lily (Taylor-Joy) and Amanda (Cooke), who have grown apart but are forced together when Amanda’s mother pays Lily to tutor her daughter. Set in the ultra-privileged world of private school Connecticut kids, this is an insight into a rarefied world. Lily and Amanda plot to kill Lily’s step-father with the help of local drug dealer Tim (one of Yelchin’s last roles). I appreciated the score and some of the camerawork in this film and the central performances are fantastic. Again, it’s a little difficult to fully engage with a film where everyone is terrible, but it’s stylishly done.

Verdict: 7.5/10

 21-(1)

Gemini

(starring Lola Kirke, Zoe Kravitz & John Cho)

‘Gemini’ is another film that seems to have had its release date majorly delayed because I first saw trailers for this over a year ago. An LA-set neo-noir (a genre that is very much up my street) focusing on the relationship between a celebrity, Heather (Kravitz) and her assistant, Jill (Lola Kirke), this is a mystery-thriller that is sure to intrigue. When Heather is murdered, Jill is immediately under suspicion and is pursued by Detective Edward Ahn (Cho), so she sets out to clear her name. The central performance by Kirke is incredible, but unfortunately there was not enough Cho for me. There is a delicious slice of black humour that runs through this film and it is a slightly ridiculous, but fun watch.

Verdict: 7.5/10

 Don’t forget to check out Fiona’s full reviews for Love, Simon and Journey’s End

Advertisements

Red Sparrow

Year: 2018
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Jeremy Irons, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker

WRITTEN BY: CHRIS GELDERD

This 2018 American spy thriller, directed by Francis Lawrence and based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Jason Matthews, stars Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciaran Hinds and Jeremy Irons.

Following a career-ending injury, former Russian ballerina Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) is offered a new life and a new place in society to help both her country and continue to care for her sick mother. Her uncle Ivan (Schoenaerts) sends her to train with Russian intelligence to become a ‘Sparrow’ – a covert spy.

Ivan is working alongside General Korchnoi (Irons) and Colonel Zacharov (Hinds) to observe known CIA operative Nate Nash (Edgerton) who is working with a mole in the Russian government. It is Nash who Dominika, fully trained, is assigned to in order to gain his trust and find the mole.

But Nash feels Dominika wasn’t born to serve the state – he offers her a chance to act as a double agent and help the CIA bring down a traitor in their own agency and end corruption within the Russian government. The fate of nations rests on just who Dominika will pledge her allegiance to…

With a title akin to that of a John Le Carré novel and evoking such celluloid thrillers such as ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ or, most recently, ‘Atomic Blonde’, this espionage thriller doesn’t attempt to re-write the genre, but it does attempt to set it out of the usual template we are used to and on the whole it works because of it.

Jennifer Lawrence only appears on my radar thanks to the ‘X-Men’ universe and her role as shape-shifter Mystique. I’ve never seen ‘Hunger Games’ and a few of her other roles have cropped up, but don’t linger in my conscious for long after the credits roll. For the first time, I think she has nailed a role for mature audiences and gives a pretty good stab at things. From the ballet which she deftly carries out, to the basic Hollywood-Russian accent (could be worse) and the way she handles herself with quiet confidence and fragile emotion, Lawrence thankfully let me forget her otherwise annoyingly brattish, egotistical and otherwise simply self-centred attitude off camera to invest in her mature Dominika, a world away from American Lawrence, for these 2 hours.

Sharing the spotlight is the poor man’s (or some now say rich man’s) Jeremy Renner in the guise of Joel Edgerton. The man can act just fine, and he constantly gives himself to the material on offer to pull out a good performance. Here his CIA agent Nate Nash goes up against both Russian and American governments to be the spy we can at least have faith in fighting the good fight. He’s likeable and keeps things moving with his urgency and determination to break down an unbreakable Sparrow, which leaves his character in a good position as you always question if he’s going to make it to the end credits without being double-crossed or killed.

The supporting cast also nail their performances and carry over the accents that Hollywood teaches them for Russian officials and agents. Jeremy Irons is at his brooding, menacing best here but still somehow feels under-used, which is a shame because his role could be that of Simon Gruber 20 years later. Matthias Schoenaerts has an aura about him you feel comfortable yet uneasy about during his screen time which is exactly what is needed, and Charlotte Rampling, Ciaran Hinds, and Joely Richardson offer their veteran talent to flesh out a cast who you can really get behind and see their pieces in the puzzle.

Story-wise, the film (from the novel remember) doesn’t try to give us anything too complex or ground-breaking which is what I want in these things. I want something that has worked for years and years, just presented in a fresh way. It’s these factors that lifted ‘Red Sparrow’ into something much more enjoyable than if it had been a carbon-copy of what we’ve seen before where even the cast couldn’t have elevated things with their tools.

The opening minutes are some of the most well shot and scored moments I’ve seen recently. Simple, but effective. The haunting and powerful music by James Newton Howard and cinematography by Jo Willems introduces us without the need for dialogue to paint a post-Cold War Russia and America, present-day countries that are rife with corruption and covert counter intelligence, more relevant than ever in our President Trump era.

The look and sound of ‘Red Sparrow’ is both beautiful and grim at the same time. The elegance and pride bleed off the screen when we see the glory of Mother Russia, but in a heartbeat turns to a dark and working-class world were nothing can guarantee your safety in the eyes of spies. Moscow, London, and Budapest are stunning cities and the perfect backdrop to the staged spy game, and nothing is really held back by director Francis Lawrence. It’s a mature film for mature audiences; it doesn’t shy away from the violence and brutality, yet is never gratuitous. There is nothing we don’t see, hear or feel that isn’t important to our characters and story, and plenty of moments had me wincing and grimacing in my seat. And it was brilliant. Just the reaction I wanted from a film shying away from watering down content for young audiences.

And as for the idea of exploitation of women, I for one found the sexual slant of this story tasteful and powerful and respectful to both Jennifer Lawrence in her portrayal and that of women in general. With a tidal wave sweeping through Hollywood about equality, the idea of using one’s body as a weapon initially seems to U-turn the movement, but actually, it is a raw and natural thing for these hard-edged and brutal spies to do. The mind and body is a weapon, and we are reminded that through brilliant training sequences from the delicious 007 Rosa Klebb-esque Charlotte Rampling.

The male targets come across as single-minded and stupid and blind to everything around them when presented with a suggestive glimpse of flesh or wandering hand. Lawrence plays it perfectly and never looks or feels exploited, at least in my opinion. It’s a harsh, brutal world of covert intelligence set in a totally different world than the West understands, and so in that respect, it makes perfect sense and easily throws us out of our comfort zone.

It’s these elements that drag it above standard American-based thrillers. While the story sags a little in the middle, easily allowing us to shave a good 10 minutes off the talky-talky moments, the flow is bookended with tight sequences that offer thrills, tension and bloody action without ever having to feel they need to resort to loud, physics-defying shoot-outs, car chases or dumb action sequences.

It’s a grounded and down to earth film with a climax you may or may not see coming as the pieces fall into place, but it’s done in a neat way that you’ll be happy with if you’ve enjoyed the journey through the beauty and danger of Capitalist West v Communist East.

CHRIS’ RATING: 9/10

Looks Can Be Deceiving In A Brand New ‘Red Sparrow’ Trailer

“Dominika Egorova is many things. A devoted daughter determined to protect her mother at all costs. A prima ballerina whose ferocity has pushed her body and mind to the absolute limit. A master of seductive and manipulative combat.”

Directed By: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeremy Irons, Ciarán Hinds, Matthias Schoenaerts

Release Date: 2nd March 2018

 

Hilarious Red-Band Trailer For ‘Gringo’ Released

“An exhilarating mix of dark comedy, white-knuckle action and dramatic intrigue, Gringo joyrides into Mexico, where mild-mannered businessman Harold Soyinka finds himself at the mercy of his back-stabbing business colleagues back home, local drug lords and a morally conflicted black-ops mercenary. Crossing the line from law-abiding citizen to wanted criminal, Harold battles to survive his increasingly dangerous situation in ways that raise the question: Is he out of his depth — or two steps ahead?”

Directed By: Nash Edgerton

Cast: David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried

Release Date: March 9th, 2018

New Trailer For David Ayer’s Urban Crime Thriller ‘Bright’ Is Here!

“In an alternate present day, humans, orcs, elves and fairies have been coexisting since the beginning of time. Two police officers, one a human, the other an orc, embark on a routine night patrol that will alter the future of their world as they know it. Battling both their own personal differences as well as an onslaught of enemies, they must work together to protect a young female elf and a thought-to-be-forgotten relic, which, in the wrong hands, could destroy everything.!

Directed by: David Ayer
Cast: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace, Jay Hernandez, Lucy Fry
Release Date: 22nd December 2017 (Netlfix)

First Trailer For ‘Red Sparrow’ Lands Online!

“Dominika Egorova is many things. A devoted daughter determined to protect her mother at all costs. A prima ballerina whose ferocity has pushed her body and mind to the absolute limit. A master of seductive and manipulative combat.

When she suffers a career-ending injury, Dominika and her mother are facing a bleak and uncertain future. That is why she finds herself manipulated into becoming the newest recruit for Sparrow School, a secret intelligence service that trains exceptional young people like her to use their bodies and minds as weapons.

After enduring the perverse and sadistic training process, she emerges as the most dangerous Sparrow the program has ever produced. Dominika must now reconcile the person she was with the power she now commands, with her own life and everyone she cares about at risk, including an American CIA agent who tries to convince her he is the only person she can trust.”

Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker and Jeremy Irons
Release Date: 2nd March 2018

It Comes At Night

Year: 2017
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr. 

Written by Noah Jackson

‘It Comes at Night’ stars Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo (of ‘Selma), Christopher Abbott, and Riley Keough (of Netflix’s ‘The Discovery) in a psychological horror-thriller written and directed by Trey Edward Shults, the filmmaker behind 2015’s indie darling ‘Krisha. It centers around a family unit in a dystopian world that suddenly enters a power struggle when they allow another struggling family into their backwoods home.

I say this movie is a horror, and IMDb will say that it is a horror, and the trailers will definitely try and sell this movie as a horror, but this is a different, more agonizing kind of horror, because it’s the type of horror that requires patience and thought. Another recent comparison for this type of genre is Robert Eggers’ ‘The Witch, or a more famous example could be something like Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining. ‘It Comes at Night did indeed have its moments of scariness, but so much of what makes the film scary in the conventional sense is an underlying tension that only escalates throughout the entire movie.

The way this tension is created is through the direction of someone that I think will have a long and decorated career making movies if he stays on the curve. What Shults manages to do in this movie, rather brilliantly, is keep the audience on pace with the characters, in terms of the information given. For the world this film takes place in, there is definitely something going on, but it’s very unclear what that specific thing is, and the audience is informed just as much as the characters are. What helps create the paranoid feeling is when different characters enter the story, and their versions of events aren’t necessarily correct. In the average film, if a character states something as fact, the audience is expected to take this statement as 100% factual truth. What keeps this film above average is that is very clearly makes its intention known that not everything told will be factual, and to me, this tiny notion of not knowing who I was supposed to believe kept me on the edge of my seat.

Switching directions to talk about the cast, there are six main cast members. There’s Joel Edgerton’s family, consisting of him, his wife Sarah (Ejogo), and their son Travis, played by Kelvin Harrison Jr. About 15 minutes into the movie, the secondary family is introduced, played by Christopher Abbott, his wife Kim (Keough), and their infant son Andrew. Every cast member here is fantastic in their respective roles. Joel Edgerton for me is one of the most consistently underrated main actors in the business, and the subtlety he demonstrates here further credits my belief. For Christopher Abbott, this is the first film I have seen that features him prominently, and I found his character to be the most unpredictable, which I credit to not only his excellent performance, but the tone and setting developed by this director. My favorite performance of the movie is that of the main protagonist, Travis. This young actor deserves lots of praise for carrying this story on his shoulders. Despite not being the top billed star, he is clearly the central focus of this story, with lots of the main events being played out through his perception. A main share of the actual jump scares, because there are some in this movie, are done in dream sequences, through Travis’ dreams.

While the actor playing Travis certainly gives a great performance and has many moments wherein the progression of the plot intertwines with his development as a character, my biggest issue with this story revolves around how from a horror perspective, everything that is supernaturally scary occurs in dream sequences, and the dream sequences are pretty easy to spot because the aspect ratio changes, making it simple to spot when it’s a dream.

After leaving the theater, my buddy (we’ll call him Chip) and I were both desperately trying to dissect what was going on in that movie. On the car ride home it was lots of yelling and theorizing about what went down and what made this dystopian world different, and in our opinion, more interesting than most. The ensuing text conversation that went on for the next few hours was even more trippy, as we spelt out our own complete theory as to how this film works. We both walked away absolutely adoring this film, and the fact we could talk about it in such depth further spoke to that, because it revealed that we both were wrapped up attentively in the story.

While some obvious dream sequences and a few illogical decisions impeded my full enjoyment of the movie, there hasn’t been another film this year that had me asking so many questions (as in questions about further understanding the film’s universe, not the questions I asked about ‘The Book of Henry, like how the hell did it get made). It’s inconclusive, because as I said earlier, the audience only knows as much as the characters do, so certain pivotal plot points don’t actually have definite answers. Which also makes this the only movie of the year, other than ‘Wonder Woman because duh, that I think requires more than one viewing.

Noah’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10

 

Watch This Space: August 3 – 9

Welcome to your weekly go-to-guide – WatchThisSpace – where we give you recommendations of films to watch in the cinema, on the television and those brilliant films hiding at the back of your DVD collection.

IN THE CINEMA

A decade has passed since the debacle of the original ‘Fantastic Four’, and a lot has changed in that time for the superhero genre. With an exciting new director and a cast of young stars, this version of ‘Fantastic Four’ promises to be much, much better.

Not to be confused with this year’s highly popular action flick ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, ‘Max’ tells the story of a four-legged hero of the same name; a canine who helped the US Marines in Afghanistan. Dog lovers sit up and enjoy.

For something a bit more intense, there’s psychological thriller, ‘The Gift’. In Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut, a young married couple have their lives turned upside down when a surprise encounter from the past brings much more than just old memories.

ON TELEVISION

Tuesday 21:00 GMT: I watched ‘The Five Year Engagement’ a few months ago on a whim, and was pleasantly surprised. See Jason Segel and Emily Blunt on top form on Film4 – make sure you stay with Film4 after, because you can also catch ‘The Breakfast Club’.

Wednesday 17:10 GMT: Gaining cult status after its release in 2008, ‘Angus, Thongs & Perfect Snogging’ is a fantastic, romantic-comedy starring ‘Godzilla’ man Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Catch this teen favourite on Film4 – again, stick with Film4 because ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ is on straight after.

Thursday 21:00 GMT: A couple of weeks ago Marvel named their new Spider-Man as youngster Tom Holland. Unknown to many, and if you still aren’t too sure who he is, check out what is probably his biggest role to date in the emotional disaster drama, ‘The Impossible’ also starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts on Film4.

Saturday 21:00 GMT: Viewed by many as the best film of all time – and ranked number 1 on the IMDb top 250 – ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is a must see prison drama on ITV2.

Sunday 13:30 GMT: As unpredictable as the British summer, ‘Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs’ puts the spotlight on a town where food rains from the sky! Grab the kids and make the most of some family time on Channel 5 before school starts up again.

DIG IT OUT

This is our favourite part of the WatchThisSpace section. We delve into our own DVD collection and pick out some amazing films, that may not instantly spring to mind when you’re stuck for inspiration to make your movie night a success. Maybe you’ve never seen a film that we pick – or even heard of them for that matter – but you’re gonna have to trust us on this one, and Dig It Out.

Warrior: If you saw ‘Southpaw’ last week and it’s wet your appetite for more emotional, sports-drama, look no further than ‘Warrior’. This MMA drama is the leader of the pack in this genre and also stars Joel Edgerton, director of ‘The Gift’, released in cinemas this week.

In Bruges: The recently released ‘Spectre’ trailer sent the internet and Bond fans alike crazy. We got a glimpse of Ralph Fiennes in a few clips, hopefully having a more fleshed out role than last time. To tide you over until ‘Spectre’, check him out in a less serious but wildly entertaining role in dark comedy ‘In Bruges’. It never disappoints.

Space Jam: Basketball star LeBron James made a couple of surprise appearances on JumpCut UK last week, for his performance in new comedy ‘Trainwreck’, and most notably for the rumours that The King would star in a proposed ‘Space Jam’ reboot. The 1996 Looney Tunes classic is a film which everyone should see in their life, starring Bugs Bunny and the gang, and basketball legend Michael Jordan. Whether you’re an 8 year old child or a slightly childish adult, get watching!

The Cider House Rules: Charlize Theron turns 39 on Friday, and amongst the fantastic repertoire of work she has built over the years, it was hard to pick just one to advocate this week. In the end, we plumped for this riveting drama about life and love – based on the John Irving novel – where Theron stars alongside Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine and Paul Rudd. An Oscar-winning film with a great cast, no brainer right?

This week’s WatchThisSpace was compiled by Jakob Lewis Barnes and special guest Hamish Calvert. Get more from Hamish by visiting his website.