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

Love, Simon

Year: 2018
Directed by: Greg Berlanti
Starring: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Keiynan Lonsdale

Written by Fiona Underhill

2017 was a banner year for LGBQT cinema, with prestige pictures such as ‘Call Me By Your Name’, ‘God’s Own Country’, ‘Beach Rats’, ‘A Fantastic Woman’, ‘BPM’, ‘Princess Cyd’ and ‘Professor Marston & the Wonder Women’ all doing extremely well critically and at various awards shows (and I personally highly recommend that you seek them all out). However, these were pretty much all arthouse indie fare that didn’t make that much of an impact on the mainstream audience. Hopefully, ‘Love, Simon’ is here to change that in 2018 – with a big studio (20th Century Fox) and a wide release, designed to appeal to young adults. ‘Love, Simon’ appears to be a typical coming-of-age, high school romantic comedy – which had a golden age in the late 1990s/early 2000s with ‘10 Things I Hate About You’, ‘She’s All That’ and ‘Get Over It’ among others. The twist here is that boy doesn’t love girl, boy loves boy.

One of the refreshing things about ‘Love, Simon’ is that it tackles modern day teens in a realistic way, acknowledging how much their lives are fueled by social media and iced coffee. Simon (Nick Robinson) lives with his parents Emily (Jennifer Garner) and Jack (an unfairly well-aged Josh Duhamel) and younger sister Nora (Talitha Bateman) in ridiculously affluent and well-adjusted circumstances. Nora is obsessed with cooking and tries out all her recipes on her family and they have a weekly ‘family TV night.’ Simon is also pretty happy at school, with his friends; Nick (Jorge Lendeborg), Abby (Alexandra Shipp) and Leah (Katherine Langford). Simon has a small role in the high school musical; ‘Cabaret’ led by Ms Albright (the absolutely hilarious Natasha Rothwell). The only person Simon has to avoid in the corridors is the overly familiar vice-principal Mr Worth (Tony Hale). One day, the school is rocked by a post on a tumblr for high school gossip; ‘creeksecrets’ – an anonymous user saying that they are secretly gay. Simon makes the decision to contact this person, known as ‘Blue’ using an alias of his own; Jacques. The rest of the film centres around Simon’s growing attachment to Blue and his quest to find out who he is.

Nick Robinson is a likeable screen presence and after ‘Jurassic World’ and ‘Everything Everything’, he is on a successful run at the moment. Katherine Langford is quite a big draw for this film’s target audience after appearing in Netflix’s ‘13 Reasons Why,’ however I feel she was slightly miscast here. Logan Miller plays Martin, who discovers Simon’s secret and starts blackmailing him. Clark Moore plays Ethan – the only openly gay kid at school and it is refreshing that several very different LGBQT people are represented.

The film hits many of the typical senior year of High School milestones – getting drunk at a Halloween party, sleepovers, the big homecoming football game and the musical. There is one delightful fantasy musical sequence (set to the best possible song; ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’), where Simon imagines going to a liberal university and being able to be ‘loud and proud’ in his homosexuality. This was a highlight of the film for me and I wish that this had been more of a feature. Another successful element is that the film turns into a mystery – with Simon on a quest to uncover Blue’s true identity. As he speculates as to who it could be, the voiceover reading Blue’s emails changes to fit who he is imagining and he pictures scenarios involving each potential candidate.

The film builds to an exciting climax, after Simon gradually comes out to those closest to him and then is eventually outed publicly. The big reveal of Blue’s identity is effectively tense and has the appropriate level of cheese for a rom-com, which will melt a stony heart and leave you smiling warmly long afterwards.  Yes – on the one hand this is a blandly suburban middle-class mainstream film, but on the other, it has made an effort to have a diverse cast and of course, crucially, it is a major studio release tackling a young gay love story. It’s really enjoyable and absolutely worth you leaving the house and lending your support to. You won’t regret checking out ‘Love, Simon’ this weekend!

Fiona’s Rating: 8.5/10