Firestarter

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Based on the Stephen King novel, Firestarter is something of a mixed bag when it comes to it. A thriller with some science fiction leanings, it generates some suspense and has a good cast, headed by a young Drew Barrymore. It just has a few inconsistencies that stop Firestarter from rising to a level of major greatness

Andy McGee( David Keith) is on the run with his young daughter Charlie( Drew Barrymore) from a nefarious government agency known as The Shop. We learn that when Andy was younger and a student, he met Charlie’s mother Vicky(Heather Locklear) in an experiment conducted  by the mysterious agency. After being injected with a dose of a hallucinogenic compound, they developed strange powers. Andy can manipulate people through mind control to do what he wants, while Vicky is telepathic . When Charlie was born, she too had powers. In her case, she can cause fires with her mind, often brought on by stress and anger. Andy’s power also weakens him because it uses up so much of his brain function and needs to be controlled as often as possible . With the government onto them and observing them, Vicky was murdered and Charlie was briefly kidnapped . Following his retrieval of his daughter via mind control, Andy is now wanted and on the run. Andy wants to tell the papers about what they’ve been through and expose the nefarious organisation that won’t let them rest. This in turn puts him and Charlie in dangerous territory as they can never really trust anyone. The Shop wishes to use Charlie’s powers for their own ends and are headed by the slippery Hollister(Martin Sheen).  He sends crazed and extremely dangerous assassin John Rainbird ( George C. Scott) on their trail. The assassin has his own disturbing agenda for wanting them captured, in particular little Charlie . Once captured, Andy and Charlie are experiments on by Hollister and sinister Dr. Pynchot(Moses Gunn) . But it’s only a matter of time for as Charlie’s powers continue to grow,  no one is going to be safe from what she will unleash.

Mark L. Lester does a pretty decent job of adapting the Stephen King material and sprinkling memorable moments in there. Yet his control over timing and other areas is less assured. The decision to start the movie in medias res causes Firestarter to loose steam as it continues into the story. Though it is redeemed by a rather eventful and truly explosive finale , Firestarter shoots itself in the foot with its decisions and contrivances that make you scratch your head. The opening half is watchable and has tense moments , but the middle part sags because it wants to have its cake and eat it . Which brings me onto the pacing of the film. I find that Firestarter looses some steam in the middle section  because the story gets repetitive and could have been tighter. As the film goes on we are gifted to moments that do generate some considerable suspense . I’ve seen people group into the genre of horror but I’d put it more as a thriller of paranoia and in the realm of science fiction in some areas Where the movie does score high point is on the effects, which still hold up for their age and just how explosive they do get. For reference, check the climactic scene if you wish to see a lot of fire and destruction .  It’s pretty fantastic and truly memorable stuff and it’s a blast seeing practical effects too. The score by electronic band Tangerine Dream is pretty wonderful; evocatively though a pulsing soundscape evincing danger, hope and action with a lot of style. It adds to the atmosphere of the piece and raises Firestarter up a few notches on the watchability scale.

What sparks Firestarter into life is the main cast. A pint sized Drew Barrymore brings strikingly mature conviction to a role that is quite challenging for someone of such young years. Barrymore gets across the feeling of trying to control something she never wanted, while also showing just how powerful she can be when pushed to the limit. In the emotional stakes she doesn’t miss a beat and is immediately sympathetic to the audience. A lot of Firestarter hinges on Barrymore and though the film is a mixed bag, Barrymore is incredibly impressive and does the heavy lifting of conveying innocence and danger with ease. David Keith is a little  histrionic as her father,  but once he settles into the part he is great and finds a certain groove to play. Kieth has a weariness and intensity about him that shows the fatigue and his “gift has caused him but how deeply he also cares for his daughter . Barrymore and Keith work well together and you do believe in the father daughter bond they share, which I find goes a long way. George C. Scott who I find always delivers, is on sensational form as the extremely creepy assassin who tries to win Charlie over. Scott is as slippery as a reptile and cunning as a fox; you can tell he’s relishing playing a nasty piece of work and he plays it for all it’s worth. Also on slimy duty is Martin Sheen who is reliably villainous and like Scott, having fun being nasty here. Rounding out the villains is Moses Gunn, who has a level of charm and niceness that really disguises cruel and unusual intentions. Evil when it’s presented with a smily face is rather unnerving and Gunn definitely understands the assignment. Art Carney makes the most of his role of man who takes Andy and Charlie in and risks his life in the process. It’s Louise Fletcher and Heather Locklear who are shortchanged with roles that don’t often much in the way of memorability. Both women are good actresses so it would have been nice if they’d be gifted with something to work with. And the same could be said about Freddie Jones, who is only really there to show that some in The Shop have become disillusioned with the practice and to suffer a rather grisly death.   

So overall, Firestarter is a film of good and bad.  But it can be commended for its evocative score, some standout sequences and wonderful cast, especially Drew Barrymore as the eponymous girl with Pyrokinesis

Flatliners

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The prospect of what happens after death and how five medical students dangerously attempt to discover this form the basis of the stylish and often intense Flatliners. While it sometimes doesn’t reach the existential themes it’s going for, Flatliners still emerges as a spooky supernatural thriller with a fine cast and direction. 

In an eerie looking building which resembles an old cathedral, part of which is being renovated, a group of medical students are studying to become doctors . But soon it’ll be more intense and dark than they ever imagined when one of them gets a rather alarming idea for a dangerous . That person in question is the arrogant dreamer Nelson Wright(Kiefer Sutherland). Joining him, we have talented yet sometimes erratic David Labraccio(Kevin Bacon), sleazy Lothario Joe Hurley(William Baldwin),  diligent, composed Rachel Manus(Julia Roberts) and wise ass Randy Steckle( Oliver Platt) . In the evening, they sneak medical supplies into a disused wing of the building for their planned experiment. Nelson plans to be put into a state of death for a few minutes then be shocked back to life before actually dying for real. He hopes that he can experience the afterlife and live to tell the tale about what he unearths. Nelson’s experiments seems to go well as he admits that he believes. What he doesn’t tell the others is that he is also plagued by an incident from childhood that won’t let him rest. As the rest of group begin undergoing the experiment , they are haunted by their past traumas, misdeeds and sins. Power struggles and paranoia ensue as they try to outdo each other, Nelson becomes increasingly unhinged and David begins developing deep feeling for Rachel. As events darken, they fall victim to the repercussions of their actions and Playing God. What began as a foolish experiment of curiosity into the other side soon turns into a waking nightmare for all involved as they wrestle with the horror of the situation.

Joel Schumacher is at the helm of Flatliners and his gift for stylish content is very much in evidence. Though it should also be noted he also manages to tap into some quite disturbing places and emotional ones too, rising above some of the scripts repetition to craft a spooky supernatural thriller. Despite longueurs in the script , Peter Filardi’s  work on the screenplay here still does a commendable job with it at least getting us to consider mortality and the consequences of our actions in the past. One thing truly worth of praise in Flatliners is the rather striking production design which suggests a haunted house tinged with religious iconography and MTV style gloss. It’s a fertile space where the main characters begin their reckless, clandestine experiments and the set design is rendered with supreme style that backs up the eeriness the film is going for.  And Flatliners does have plenty of style running through its veins right from the get go; courtesy of Schumacher’s always impressive visual directing and the moody cinematography (largely cold blues and deep reds) .  Swirling camerawork in the visions of afterlife contribute to the heady atmosphere of the piece as does a very good mastery of editing and sound. Standout scenes include the slimy being confronted in hallucinatory by his treatment and surreptitious recording of ladies in intimate situations and the students scrambling to save Rachel after the power goes out, leaving the experiment in danger of resulting in permanent death. James Newton Howard is on score duties and he mixes synth heavy atmospherics with choral flourishes that make it a ghoulish and haunting listen.

The cast of then young stars either on the rise or just established is on good form playing these curious and flawed characters . provides intense and later dangerous instability as the ringleader of the warped experiment in life and death. Sutherland always has an edge to him that I find riveting to watch and he doesn’t disappoint as the arrogant instigator of the haunting events. Julia Roberts is also very effective as the lone woman in the group who has her own personal agenda for taking part. Showing a graceful, demure vulnerability and a sense of haunted grit crossed with sadness, Roberts contributes highly to the proceedings with an earnest and convincing performance. Kevin Bacon, who I find to be incredibly reliable in most things, doesn’t disappoint here. He’s the often rebellious atheist who feels he has nothing to lose but ends up becoming the most concerned and caring of the group as he sees things are getting out of control. Bacon balances a youthful recklessness and an eventual maturity admirably and is very good in the part . William Baldwin is appropriately sleazy and randy as the love rat whose treatment of women really comes back to bite him; making him really go over and regret just how awful his behaviour has been to the opposite sex. Oliver Platt is mainly used as the comic relief of the group; constantly telling everyone this is a very bad idea and delivering witty retorts to his comrades. He’s probably given the least to do here but has his moments.

So while it’s not a masterwork in supernatural thriller or of existential leaning, Flatliners is still an entertainingly creepy, well acted  and stylish excursion into unusual what if possibilities regarding death and what may dangerously follow

Dark Tide

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What attempts to be a tense action thriller ends up not the sum of its parts in Dark Tide. While it does feature some great underwater photography, good cast and a few thrills, it unfortunately isn’t all that  memorable and falls very flat.

Kate Mathieson(Halle Berry) is a marine biologist and shark whisperer. She’s one of only a handful of people to have swam with sharks outside of a cage and been relatively safe while doing so . Kate is married  to documentary film maker Jeff(Olivier Martinez) and they are beginning to film something about sharks in South Africa. Aided by wise cracking engineer Tommy(Mark Elderkin)and marine lover Themba(Thoko Ntshinga), all seems to be going well . But things take a truly grisly turn when on one such dive, her friend Themba is brutally killed by a shark . Devastated and completely shell shocked by this traumatic event, Late shuts off and it breaks apart her relationship with Jeff . A year later, the bank is going to take Kate’s boat away as she isn’t making enough money and is struggling to make ends meet. Jeff comes back into her life again with an offer that could help her out. Arrogant millionaire Brady(Ralph Brown)wants to take him and his son Luke(Luke Tyler) to swim with sharks, specifically outside of the tank. Kate is reluctant to do this as she knows the potential dangers of doing such a thing . She agrees to this on the condition that she decides what is safe to do and if anyone will get out of the safety cages to interact with the sharks . After agreements are made and the fee of one million is paid, Kate and the visitors head to the boat for this journey. Things start reasonably well, but cocky, Hooray Henry Brady soon puts events in jeopardy as he flaunts his wealth and bullies all. Mounting tensions and many hungry sharks have mayhem in mind for Kate and company and chaos soon ensues when a storm hits the boat. 

John Stockwell has an affinity for water in his movies it seems and ehile his other aqua based movies aren’t exactly stellar, they look like works of art next to Dark Tide. He just can’t make the film flow or have any cohesion The big problems with Dark Tide are the length and it’s inability to fully decide what it wants to be. It wants to have its cake and eat it by being an action thriller/ drama, yet it never settles onto any real form of trajectory . I’m usually a big lover of films that are somewhat of a slow burn, but Dark Tide is a slog and a half; not understanding that you have to put some oomph into a film to make it enjoyable. The scenery and the underwater photography provide a little respite and has a lot of beauty to it it has to be said, which is a big shame as the rest of the movie around it flounders like an ill at ease fish. It’s probably one of the good things to come out of this shipwreck of a movie and helps generate at least a few jolts of action. The music score is not exactly stellar and I believe could have been better and more effective. The last half an hour is when the pace picks up during the storm, but it is just too little to late to justify what has come before it and the boredom that has been inflicted upon the viewer.  But like so many things in Dark Tide, it falls very short in terms of greatness. 

A competent cast does good enough work with the thin material they have been given. Halle Berry in the lead is just fine as the wounded shark expert having to face her fears and trauma once more with a blend of attitude and vulnerability. Berry is thankfully one of the good parts of this dud of a movie and truly makes it at least passable whenever she’s on screen. She also has great chemistry with Olivier Martinez, who would later become her partner in real life. Martinez is given a lot to work with but is nonetheless smooth and charming. Ralph Brown plays the rich man with a big mouth and deep pockets very well, almost too well for a movie like this that seems rather beneath his talent. Mark Elderkin has some fun as the engineer who seems to always have a witty line, but Luke Tyler is left stranded as the sulky son of Brady. Thoko Ntshinga plays the catalyst of the story but he is poorly served here and though effective in his short screen time, is not really memorable which is a bit like Dark Tide itself.

A truly messy film that should be exciting but is sorely lacking, Dark Tide is a film best left forgotten as it doesn’t really often anything of interest, despite some good acting. None of that can save this true train wreck. 

Spencer

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A piercing movie about the iconic Princess Diana as her marriage truly unravels and the scrutiny begins to take a toll, the unexpected and enthralling Spencer is aided by up close direction and a sensational portrayal destined for awards notice by Kristen Stewart.

The film takes place over the Christmas Holidays at Sandringham Estate where the Royal Family gathers. Princess Diana(Kristen Stewart) is late to the proceedings , which is noted by everyone else as something scandalous and controversial. Diana is obviously estranged from her husband Prince Charles(Jack Farthing) and is feeling the emotional strain of feeling on the outside of everything as her marriage continues to crumble . The main things that are keeping her reasonably steady are her two young sons , Prince William and Prince Harry, and her loyal personal dresser Maggie(Sally Hawkins) . We also have Equerry Major Alistair Gregory( Timothy Spall) and Royal Head Chef Darren McGrady(Sean Harris) are trying to in their own way to get through to her, but coming up against some resistance as they are members of the very machine Diana is up against. But it’s not going to easy for the rebel in Diana as mounting tension within  and her mental state beginning to collapse take hold of her. Diana attempts to navigate dangerous terrain as she flouts tradition and must eventually decide on the course of action for her precarious future. The days at prove crucial in her quest for freedom and identity.

Pablo Larraín seems to have a real fascination with and his gifts for cutting through the mystique are very much on show here in Spencer. We never quite know whether any of this actually transpired in the way shown, but it’s intriguing and startling nonetheless. One can see similarities with  Larraín’s other film of Jackie; where they diverge is in how unusual and how disturbingly heightened Spencer is overall, whereas Jackie was largely rooted in a sense of reality. But both movies are equally effective at deconstructing what we think we know about two famous women and are great companion pieces. Spencer is quite different from what you usually think of when something takes influence from a true story. While it does cover some familiar beats, it also deviates in its execution. For example, there are moments in this film that are truly horrifying and veer into psychological torment . In one instance, Diana hallucinates ripping a necklace of pearls that are around her neck and eating them rapidly with her soup. With the camerawork constantly keeping her in tight almost suffocating close up, we are witness to the horrors of a woman trapped in a cage and striving to escape as hallucinations and possibilities arise for Diana. Symbolism is ever present with mentions and allusions to entrapment and a desire to escape to a better time. Also watch for a tense scene between Charles and Diana around a pool table, it’s most certainly memorable as things begin to boil over. A striking and often very haunting score from Jonny Greenwood matches the heightened psychological and visual take on this story . It’s truly a fine weapon in this movie’s artillery and not easily forgettable with its prominent glides up and down in tempo and sense of gloom.

At the heart of Spencer is the sublime work from Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana. Stewart nails the famous mannerisms( tilting of the head, breathy voice and demure grace) while diving deeply into the river of sorrow of a woman clearly on the edge and starting to rebel. An inner fire, of sarcasm and also candour comes through as her mental state begins to worsen in paranoid fashion and Stewart unearths strength and a painfully human vulnerability that alternate almost simultaneously. I really think that Kristen Stewart should be expecting many an award nomination come the season for it and she thoroughly deserves it for her finest performance to date. The main other people who stand out are Timothy Spall, Sean Harris and Sally Hawkins . The ever impressive has a certain mystery about him as the who it at first appears is not in favour of Diana, but who it transpires has some sage advice for the rebel royal. Spall as always is a class act and is wonderfully cast. Sean Harris, who is always a welcome presence on screen, effectively plays the role of the cook who has sympathy for Diana and genuinely tries to advise her on things , even though he can’t really do much in terms of power or authority. Then we have Sally Hawkins who has an immensely reassuring aura as the royal dresser adept at playing the game and is sometimes quite unexpected in her actions as the film goes on. Jack Farthing his moments but is not really the crucial focus here as effective as he is in only a handful of scenes. The main cast is really good and pretty well assembled, but Spencer is truly a film where Kristen Stewart is the true MVP and what you won’t forget once the credits role. It’s truly her show and she delivers exceptionally. 

Brutally intimate, uncompromisingly heightened and daring, Spencer is another triumph from Pablo Larraín and has a simply stellar performance from Kristen Stewart at the heart of it

Jackie

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A rather revealing and surprising drama centred on Jackie Kennedy in the days following her husband’s startling assassination, Jackie boasts a strange intimacy courtesy of splendidly immersive direction from and an impeccable performance from Natalie Portman.

A week after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, his wife and First Lady Jackie(Natalie Portman) reflects on the days from before and after her husband’s murder to an Unnamed Journalist(Billy Crudup) . She goes through a varying range of emotions following such a trauma; like the fact that her whole life is now changed, how to cope and how she is to be perceived by the shocked general public . The main thing that weighs on her mind is that her husband won’t be remembered and will be forgotten in history. She makes it her mission to ensure his legacy and uphold a sense of tradition, while dealing with the huge emotional fallout of losing her husband. Jackie finds some comfort in the presence of a Priest(John Hurt) and secretary Nancy Tuckerman(Greta Gerwig), plus some conflict with her almost broken up brother in law Robert(Peter Sarsgaard). Plus there is also the government who have their own views on how best to do Kennedy’s funeral, which don’t run in line with Jackie’s. Along the way, she reveals herself to be a lot more than just the glamorous wife of the President and a woman who could be a truly powerful force. The Reporter who interviews gets a lot more than he bargained for as Jackie is a lot more complex than he ever thought she could be.

Pablo Larraín jumps straight into the sorrow of grief and the impact of it; clearly not afraid to go to the dark places of such an event. He pulls no punches with how deep he plunges us into one woman’s mind and his direction is striking in its close proximity. A swirling camera that penetrates with slow, uncompromising close ups of The First Lady and places us firmly in the kaleidoscope of grief and chaos that hits with full force. I also appreciate the cinematography that goes from dark to highly lit and has moments of old news grain to make it authentic. Things like this always impress a review such as myself and I think it adds to the experience of Jackie as a whole. I think what Jackie really accomplishes the most is shedding light on a particularly famous figure and making us see them in A mournful and deeply moving score from Mica Levi fits the film exquisitely; capturing the upheaval of grief and the vacillating personality of its titular subject with a sense of grandeur and palpable intimacy.

Front and centre of Jackie is a truly astonishing and totally believable performance from the always committed Natalie Portman . She plays Jackie as a lady who knows that every eye is on her and has grown to know when to put on a smile and when to behave. Portman delves into all facets of this icon; from the grace and decorum to the anger and steel that are rarely glimpsed by the general public. A lot of it is in the eyes that showcase such deep feeling in this time of confusion and the on point voice that is truly a marvel to hear with its hushed refinement and low sense of authority that slowly comes through . It’s a truly complete performance that sheds new light on an iconic figure. All of the impact is all down to the fine work of Natalie Portman, who delivers one of her finest roles. Peter Sarsgaard is effective as the devastated Robert Kennedy whose mood changes in mercurial fashion and look out for Greta Gerwig as a secretary who provides support to the grieving titular lady. John Hurt, in one of his last performances before his passing, brings out a stately yet approachable quality as a priest . With his authoritative voice, he is a confidante to Jackie and though he can’t provide any absolute answers on the quickness of life and harshness of death , he provides an authentic and warmly sage rumination to the grieving widow at the centre of the film. Hurt was always an impeccable performer and his turn here may be small, but it packs an impact. Billy Crudup provides the eyes and ears of the piece as the journalist getting a lot more than he expected from his interview. The supporting cast is well assembled with talent but Jackie is truly Natalie Portman’s show and she more than rises to the occasion.

A striking and impactful drama that studies grief, tradition and one of the most famous women to grace the planet, Jackie is extremely fascinating filmmaking from Pablo Larraín with a stunning central turn from Natalie Portman.

Killing Eve Season 1

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Wickedly engaging and thrilling executed, Killing Eve twists what you think of a spy thriller and it emerges as a morbidly funny, intense and addictive show that constantly surprises.

Eve Polastri( Sandra Oh) is a security officer in MI5 who has a good marriage to the lovable Niko(Owen McDonnell) , but she’s grown restless at mainly having a desk job. Although she has a great confidante in the experienced co worker Bill(David Haig)  and free speaking colleague Elena(Kirby Howell-Baptiste) , Eve wants something more. Her mind is constantly working and she has a knack for knowing a lot about female killers. This comes in handy when she is called into a briefing about a high profile Russian politician who was murdered and the sole witness is his current lady friend . Head of the MI6 Russia Desk Carolyn Martens( Fiona Shaw) is interested in this as the witness fled to British soil. Eve speaks the idea that the killer was a woman but no one pays much attention to this. Stifled by her job that provides no satisfaction and belittled by slimy superior Frank Haleton(Darren Boyd) , Eve can’t help but get involved in the case even though she’s been warned to leave it alone. After her investigation ends in brutal tragedy for many, she along with loyal best friend Bill are fired from MI5. Not long after this, she is secretly recruited to an MI6 operation headed by the icy Carolyn  . Eve jumps at the chance of this as she has always wanted to be a spy, and though this hunt is a clandestine and off books one, she’s thrilled to liven up her life and brings along Bill and Elena . They are also aided by computer whizz kid Kenny(Sean Delaney ) and operate from a disused building that’s basic but essential to their search. Her suspicions about the killer being a woman turn out to be very true indeed. The killer in question is Villanelle(Jodie Comer) , a skilled Russian assassin with a high level of psychopathy and a taste for the expensive things in life. She’s a prolific killer working for a mysterious organisation known only as ‘The Twelve’ and handled by the crusty but almost fatherly Konstantin(Kim Bodnia)  . Seemingly remorseless and savage , she’s been operating for years but lately has started to get more outrageous with her methods of killing. This draws attention to her but when Villanelle gets wind that Eve is investigating her , she becomes entranced and somewhat besotted with the idea of being tracked . For the two women have briefly met without realising the identity of the other , igniting a strange spark that sizzles. Everything starts to mysteriously link as the body count rises and it would appear that a certain conspiracy is going on . What neither woman has counted on is the growing obsession that builds between them in a game of cat and mouse that is lethal, dark and very unexpected.

Killing Eve is a thriller with a difference; shot through with an absurdist and jet black humour that’s engagingly off kilter and flying in the faces of grim and serious spy yarns. That isn’t too say that Killing Eve doesn’t have high and deadly stakes at its centre, it definitely has those in moments that truly shock( like the guy punch of Bill’s murder that caught me off guard )and pull you back to the dangers of being in the spy world. But it has these moments of quirky humour to it that makes it stand out amidst all the outrageous brutality often on show, courtesy of the prolific, big statement kills enacted by Villanelle . Watch out for inventive use of a hair pin and a shocking emasculation for shocks. I will say that Killing Eve is one of those television shows that will be either love or hate with viewers. My advice is to go with the bizarre yet scintillating narrative at play and see what you make of it. The balance of strange but darkly impressive humour with genuine shock and thrills is handled beautifully and in its own unique way here.

The big centre is the cat and mouse game of it all, though in many cases the roles switch to being both cats and both mice as Eve and Villanelle become inextricably linked . The scripts from a talented group of writers , mainly headed by the series show runner Phoebe Waller-Bridge, are crackerjack and have you wanting to see the next episode every time it hits the credits .  Special mention has to go to the episode ‘I Have a Thing About Bathrooms’ . It features a simply stellar scene as the two women size each other up after Villanelle breaks into Eve’s apartment and they go through varying emotions. From a curiosity, underlying tension and even it would seem a semblance of understanding, it’s a fine face to face for and once more lights the fuse of an already intensely unusual relationship that is escalating with unpredictable results right up to the finale. The visual style and editing of Killing Eve is cleverly used to emphasise the escalating tension and attraction between the principal women; framing them in shots that mirror each other and also giving us some beautiful locations where murder and mayhem ensue . A pretty eclectic soundtrack of country hopping songs  add a moody ambience to the proceedings with a certain 80’s feeling to it that still suits the contemporary setting.

Sandra Oh is simply marvellous as the eponymous Eve, who undergoes an unusual awakening as the episodes continue and her obsession builds. Eve is impulsive, emotional and bored yet this is what makes her relatable and down to Earth. Blessed with an animated and expressive face, the talented Oh is marvellous at getting us invested in Eve’s growing desire and evolving from minute to minute with nuance that’s astonishing.  And complimenting Oh and truly burning across the screen with a multi-layered performance is the wonderful Jodie Comer. Essaying a variety of personas, accents and walking the tightrope between vicious, outrageous killer and strangely lovable young woman, Comer is nothing short of a revelation as the assassin who does things her way regardless of consequences. Funny, often frighteningly intense and slowly revealing what’s concealed within a truly twisted mind, Jodie Comer is simply a marvel and deserving of every award going. It’s the crackling chemistry between the two ladies at the heart of Killing Eve that make it so fascinating . One can understand why each woman is obsessed with the other and that is down to the work from Oh and Comer which crafts an ambiguous and curious relationship between the most unlikely of characters. And it’s interesting considering they don’t actually spend a lot of time so far on screen together( apart from a brief but powerful encounter early on that starts the powder keg ) until later on in the episode run where they finally face off a few times. But the palpable feelings and vacillating motives between Eve and Villanelle have been built up so strongly that you know when they do finally confront the other, it’s going to be something special. 

The ever reliable Fiona Shaw knows how to throw in the odd curveball to surprise us while retaining a chilly outer persona that screams ruthless from every pour. She’s cold yet complex and you don’t know what you’ll get with her. That’s why I find her character of Carolyn so fascinating to watch and its all down to the subtle nuances that it works. Although he is essentially playing someone villainous, like Villanelle, there is a level to which you can’t help but love Kim Bodnia and his portrayal of handler Konstantin. Plus he’s dryly humorous when the occasion calls for it and Bodnia plays to that so well that you never know whether to laugh or be slightly fearful when he’s around . Sean Delaney has necessary smarts and a slightly awkward manner for the part of computer whizz kid Kenny, and there’s Owen McDonnell as Eve’s hangdog looking husband who grows deeply worried about her escalating obsession. Kirby Howell-Baptiste is witty enough though I don’t find her character the most compelling. And despite only being in a few episodes David Haig and Darren Boyd are both effectively memorable as very different men. Haig is avuncular and at times unexpectedly witty and Boyd is oily and smarmy arrogance personified.

Defiantly unexpected, darkly funny and above all compelling, Killing Eve is a stylish first season of thriller with two standout performances from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. I must say I’m very intrigued to see what follows in the next season.

The Village

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Somewhat of a conundrum among movie fans and critics upon release, The Village is no doubt about it a flawed movie from M. Night Shyamalan. But there is something about it that always sparks my mind and it does have my opinion of it being a misunderstood movie.

In the late 1890’s, a sheltered village borders a foreboding woods. The Elders of the village speak of creatures referred to as ‘Those We Don’t Speak Of’, who inhabit the woods but who not many have actually seen . No one is supposed to cross the boundaries between the village and the woods as their is a truce stating this and that never the twain shall meet. The villagers all go about their days seemingly in harmony but whenever they see a red colour they must discard of it and appointed members take a nightly watch over the village and the woods. The quiet yet thoughtful Lucius( Joaquin Phoenix )has an idea to trek through the woods in order to get medical supplies for those in need of it as recently a little boy died who could have lived if medicine was around. The request by Lucius is denied by the village Elders, which include his guarded mother Alice(Sigourney Weaver). We learn that the mentally disabled Noah Percy(Adrien Brody)has once been in the woods but supposedly wasn’t seen by Those We Don’t Speak Of. Noah also has feelings for Ivy(Bryce Dallas Howard) , who is the blind daughter of Elder Edward(William Hurt) . Ivy though loves the stoic Lucius and is determined to bring him out of his quiet shell. Things change within the village when Lucius briefly steps over the boundary before being spooked and returning home. After this breach of truce, animal carcasses are found about the village, red warnings are left on doors and Those We Don’t Speak Of appear to menace the villagers. It soon becomes clear following a near tragedy that someone must pass through the woods in search of help. But just what will be discovered when the brave Ivy does?

M. Night Shyamalan is a very skilled director and he definitely knows how to stylishly delivery creepy imagery and emotion, plus a twist ending that is always going to be debated. Sequences like entering the village and menacing the locals are appropriately creepy as is Ivy’s eventual journey through the forbidden woods. These show M. Night Shyamalan exercising immense cinematic ability in displaying the build up in pace as we get to know the dwellers and their lives/routines.  I’m going to just put it out there that The Village is an imperfect film that while intriguing, leaves a lot of things vague and sometimes it doesn’t quite make sense. In some ways it provides a watchable mystery with a human heart, but then there are areas that really don’t add up when you actually give them some thought. Saying this, I do find that The Village  was pretty miss marketed at the time of release as a straight up horror movie when it’s more of a psychological drama/thriller in period costume. I think this made the public’s idea of what it would be to be very different from the finished article. And as a study in secrecy, belief and how fear/grief make an impact on those attempting to steer away from it, The Village is different but effective in its execution of those themes.

In terms of visuals, The Village looks glorious especially throughout, owing the mood enhancing cinematography of Roger Deakins that coats a lot of the unfolding film in a golden, near sepia tone which resembles flickering candlelight . This along with Shyamalan ‘s use of long close ups that start slow and then zero in on the faces of the cast add to the creepy and uneasy atmosphere. One of the best things in The Village is the sublime score from James Newton Howard and featuring the talents on solo violin of Hilary Hahn. It is by turns menacingly creepy and poignant in equal measure as the mystery unravels and the sense of sadness comes through to the sounds of ambience from James Newton Howard and the mournful yet expressive violin of Hilary Hahn . The duo deserve every inch of praise for their haunting contribution to a confounding movie.

Where The Village doesn’t falter is in its cast , which is pretty stacked with talent from top to bottom. Joaquin Phoenix, who I find is one of the most reliable and dedicated actors out there , is commendable as ever here. Contributing a thoughtful take on a man who often finds it difficult to express himself but who has enough gumption to begin to emerge from his shell, Phoenix is thoroughly superb. In an early role that helped her get notice and show off her talent we have Bryce Dallas Howard. Radiating a delicacy and alternating iron will , she’s beautifully convincing as Ivy. Though the character is blind, Howard makes her a character who refuses to be defined by this and instead is a rather forward thinking woman, who is braver than most of the eponymous village and not afraid to show it. Adrien Brody is effectively tragic as the misunderstood Noah, who finds himself in trouble but is not really aiming for it as he is not treated with the appropriate help, except from a sympathetic and beautifully understanding Ivy. William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver exhibit stoic secrecy and a guarded authority as the village elders who are a lot more than meets the eye . Brendan Gleeson emits a melancholy and dejected persona as a man who lost his son and is wrestling with the unimaginable grief. The impressive Cherry Jones is also effectively used as a high up member of the village with her own private sadness to hide .It’s only really Judy Greer that gets shortchanged with the role of Ivy’s sister. It’s not that Greer isn’t good, in fact she’s a very talented actress. Unfortunately it’s just that the part of Kitty doesn’t leave a lot of scope to do much with.

The Village has quite a bit to recommend and is quite an eerie and melancholy film from M. Night Shyamalan with many a great performance( particularly the one from Bryce Dallas Howard) and a superlative score. It’s still got many head scratching moments that can render some of it ambivalent for the viewers. Yet I believe some reassessment is in need for The Village, as it does have some forms of merit within it’s often mind bending story.

Poltergeist

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A horror movie with a heart, Poltergeist provides the chills and thrills as a family is beset by a mysterious presence. With a strong story and a mixture of creepiness and wonder, Poltergeist lingers in the mind.

The California town of Cuesta Verde is an ideal looking suburban town of nice lawns and high standard of living. It’s a planned community where everything looks strikingly similar. We are introduced to the Freeling family; real estate developer father Steven( Craig T. Nelson) , loving and devoted mother Diane(JoBeth Williams), eldest daughter Dana(Dominique Dunne), only son Robbie(Oliver Robins) and adorable five year old daughter Carol Anne(Heather O’Rourke) . One night when the television broadcast finishes and the static appears, little Carol Anne awakes from her sleep, approaches the set and starts communicating with something. Then various phenomena start in the house like chairs rearranging themselves and cutlery bending. At first the family sees it as something funny yet unexplainable, but events soon take a very dark and sinister turn. On a stormy evening, all manner of supernatural and startling terror unfurls and Carol Anne is snatched through her bedroom closet. The family search for her, but can’t physically find her. Then they start to hear the voice of the kidnapped little girl. It transpires she can communicate at times through the static on the television as she is in another dimension. Terrified and uncertain of what to do, Diane and Steven contact parapsychologists headed by Dr. Martha Lesh( Beatrice Straight) about this . Lesh and her co- workers are intrigued and want to help but find even their open minds challenged by this haunting and kidnapping they come upon. That’s when they call in the small but powerful physic Tangina( Zelda Rubinstein) who goes about attempting to figure out what snatched into another dimension. Darkness descends as the family, Tangina and the paranormal investigators do battle with the restless spirits that have an axe to grind in order to bring Carol Anne back to them.

Tobe Hooper is in the directing chair and though it’s often debated whether he was the sole director or if Steven Spielberg was more a part of it, he deserves credit for what he fashions here. His direction is pacy and allows for the opening to appear a little spooky but innocuously wholesome and then allowing the onslaught of scary encounters that are wonderfully executed. It’s a rollercoaster that’s akin to a fun ride with added jolts of scary material. The film may be almost two hours but the content and story carry everything along to a satisfying degree that pulls you in. Long shots are used that capture the little details of the house and how the haunting envelops it with an insidious glee. It’s all in aid of the intense set pieces that show the special effects which are mainly ones that hold up now( some have dated a fair bit naturally) and are used to maximum effect. From the static hands reaching out from the television, the attack of the monstrous tree on Robbie, one of the poor investigators having one squirm inducing hallucination, a clown doll that’ll give you a many jolts terror and the filling of the swimming pool during a storm with corpses after Diane falls in, it’s dazzling and horrifying in equal measure . With a screenplay by Steven Spielberg( who you can see the influence of in the film with the blending of spectacle, awe and tension), the film while frightening and thrilling has some real depth and drama to it. Plus there’s also a deliciously ironic take on television culture and also how suburbia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be considering some of the foundations it’s literally and metaphorically built on. Also of note is how the characters act in situations; with most of them being grown ups there’s a level of maturity that’s sometimes missing in films that focus on teenagers. The family reacts in a very believable manner to the shock and mind blowing events befalling them and it adds to how much we care for their plight. Jerry Goldsmith contributes a sensational score that has a spry innocence at first before layering on the spooky vibes as the haunting continues.

As mentioned earlier, the cast is very convincing. JoBeth Williams heads proceedings with a commanding performance of maternal determination and strength in the face of adversity. She’s human and relatable, acting wonderfully alongside the stalwart Craig T. Nelson as her husband.  Nelson contributes a strong performance as a hardworking man thrown into a hellish ordeal and attempting with his wife to stay above it instead of sinking. The two stars create a believable bond as husband and wife and crucially as parents. Beatrice Straight exhibits the right amount of compassion and shock as the parapsychologist called in, while the dynamic Zelda Rubinstein  steals her scenes as the medium with a lot of power and eccentric manner about her. Both ladies contribute a lot to the film as memorable supporting characters, particularly the highly entertaining Rubinstein. By far one of the most memorable things in Poltergeist is the presence of the cherubic Heather O’Rourke. With her wide eyes and genuine sense of wonder combined with terror, she provides most of the memorable moments in the film. And considering she’s not in the film as much as you’d think, O’Rourke definitely makes a huge impact in her scenes and is iconic, especially for her delivery of the line “They’re Here” . Dominique Dunne as the eldest daughter also makes her presence felt. On a sad note, Dunne was murdered after the film was released, leading to the belief in their being a curse on the film and the inevitable sequels. Oliver Robins is also extremely impressive as the traumatised son going through one hell of an ordeal.

Spooky, thrilling and certainly memorable, Poltergeist is a great staple film as we reach Halloween. With its invective imagination and soulful story of family against the odds, Poltergeist is a must.

No Time to Die

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James Bond finally returns to our screens after many setbacks and pushbacks on release date owing to the pandemic. In No Time to Die, we say goodbye to Daniel Craig as 007 and he signs off with a fantastic, bold and unexpectedly emotional movie.

James Bond(Daniel Craig) has left MI6 and is travelling with his lover Madeleine Swann ( Léa Seydoux )in Matera . Yet his past as a spy comes back again as he is ambushed and attacked by Spectre goons. It becomes apparent that Madeleine is hiding something that could be deadly and Bond feels betrayed by her secrecy, making him part ways with her as he suspects her of leading Spectre to him . Five years later, Bond is in Jamaica attempting retirement when old friend and C.I.A Felix Leiter(Jeffrey Wright) turns up wanting help. It appears Valdo Obruchev( David Dencik) , a scientist working on something very important and deadly has been kidnapped from a covert MI6 base. Bond is reluctant to get involved but does so anyway out of a sense of loyalty to Felix who has helped him out many a time. Along the way Bond encounters the confident agent Nomi( Lashana Lynch)who has taken up his mantle of 007 in his absence. It appears both the C.I.A and MI6 want something from the mysterious Orbruchev and both are working seemingly against each other to get it. The thing in question turns out to be a biological weapon that was secretly being developed off books with clandestine input from MI6. Eventually, following leads in Jamaica and Cuba, Bond returns to MI6 as the case leads back to Blofeld( Christoph Waltz)who he captured in Spectre . The project Obruchev was working on was powerful if harnessed by could prove deadly on a global scale. Aided by a regretful M(Ralph Fiennes), who was the one who started the questionable biological weapon project , computer/tech wizard Q(Ben Whishaw) and the ever loyal Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) Bond attempts to figure out what is happening . But it appears the real enemy actually has a bone to pick with Blofeld . This enemy by the name of Safin (Rami Malek) has his own agenda for kidnapping the scientist, who himself is rather shady in the long run .Things turn extremely personal when Bond once more encounters Madeleine, who has some link to the evil Safin and definite secrets that are waiting to be revealed with far reaching consequences . The stakes are truly raised higher as Bond hunts down this sharp enemy intent on a warped idea of world domination and destruction

Cary Joji Fukunaga provides us with a Bond movie with a difference, while retaining in his artistic vision, the things we all love about this iconic franchise . No Time to Die is extremely stylish and props must go to the gorgeous cinematography that’s by turns beautifully bright or moodily dark in accordance with the shifting settings and unravelling of story . Fukunaga’s direction is also on point in this regard and how it backs up the story of twists and turns with a human heart at its core. He’s a fantastic choice of director and his self-assured stamp is all over No Time to Die. As a huge Bond fan, I appreciate various nods to previous adventures and also how daring and how it’s one of the more emotional of the films, akin to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Casino Royale in that regard. This is a film that might polarise fans as it does some things in a manner not expected in a Bond film and boy is there a lot to unpack throughout. But in a way I think that adds more to the film and makes it stand out quite boldly. Time will tell what the fandom truly makes of No Time to Die, but my thoughts are that it’s a strong movie indeed . And as I’m a kind reviewer, I will not delve into major spoilers here and I’ll let movie goers go in with nothing to ruin the film. No Time to Die is also a rather haunting film with many a creepy moment . But then it also has dashes of humour and thrills you always need in a Bond flick  . It has all the ingredients you’d want from a Bond film and tinged then with moments of unexpected horror and tension, such as a spooky opening of Madeleine’s past, grisly death via biological warfare and a nail biting scene in the misty woods of Norway . And the action is still at a high level of enjoyment with the intense ambush scene involving leaping motorbikes and a well armoured car in Matera and Bond and Felix attempting to escape a sinking boat being standouts. Sometimes the exposition gets a bit full on in some stretches and lags a bit, but for a film that runs nearly three hours, it goes by relatively quickly and smoothly . A strongly stirring, thrilling and emotive score by the reliable Hans Zimmer further adds to the excellence of this film as it charts the action of the piece while keeping something personal too. We are also treated to a moody and unusually title sequence that takes us on a journey through the history of the series and features prescient imagery of time, DNA and destruction. It’s all done in artistic fashion and set to the brooding title song by the talented Billie Eilish .

In his last outing as James Bond , Daniel Craig gives a truly complete performance that has many layers. He’s still got the magnetic aggression and killer instinct that we know, but he is also extremely good at the one liners and the beating heart of emotions at the centre of Bond. He’s really owned this part and his last performance doesn’t disappoint as it’s full of feeling and delivered with commitment. Léa Seydoux provides enigmatic presence and tangible sadness as Bond’s love interest, who has her hands tied in a way that throws everything into a tailspin. Her reserved manner and chemistry with Craig are fine assets to No Time to Die and form the main backbone of it. Rami Malek, though I don’t know if I’d rank him as the best Bond villain ever, still has his moments and he does nail the creepy and insidious nature of Safin. He at least has a slithering presence about him which is saying something whenever he appears. Swagger and confidence in action and ability come in the form of Lashana Lynch as the new 00 agent on the block. Whip smart, sassy and always wanting to succeed, Lynch is a fine addition to the film and her witty banter plus prowess in combat are very much on show. The regulars of MI6 in Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw are all stalwart and contribute well to the proceedings. Ralph Fiennes in particular stands out as M who is coming to rue his actions.

Making the most of small screen time but lighting it up with cheeky humour and coltish physicality is the stunning Ana de Armas . Portraying a fledgling agent who is eager to please and both funny and lethal in equal measure, she’s a delightful addition to the film and has a ball with her standout sequence in Cuba . It’s also good to see Jeffrey Wright again as who boasts a contribution of humour and realisation that bounces well of Daniel Craig. We’ve not seen them on screen together since  Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace , but the relationship established there is present once more here. David Dencik and Billy Magnussen make for a slimy duo of turncoat agent with a cheesy smile and slippery scientist  who provide a collective thorn in Bond’s side. Christoph Waltz is also used well in a brief reprisal of Blofeld; his alert eyes and calm yet eerie demeanour wonderfully used to chilling effect. And on henchman duty we have the intense Dali Benssalah, complete with a newly fitted scanning eye who isn’t afraid of a vicious dust up with Bond.

A Bond film where there is a lot to unpack and with a feeling of something different, bold and creative , No Time to Dis makes sure that Daniel Craig signs off in style as 007. I shall miss him as everyone’s favourite super spy but I’m happy that No Time to Die provides him with a fantastically eventful and daring final outing.

Free Guy

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A funny, lively science fiction comedy with some nice depth on the nature of compliance and making a difference , Free Guy is thoroughly entertaining and leaves you with a beaming smile.

Guy( Ryan Reynolds)wakes up every day, puts on a blue shirt and heads to work at the bank with a smile on his face. He along with his best friend Buddy(Lil Rel Howery) are all happy and compliant with what they don’t see as an endless cycle. They are so used to this that the constant crime around them is just another day and event that isn’t important . That is until he meets the kick ass and confidently sexy Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer) , and something changes inside of him as he sees her as the girl of his dreams. Around this time  he realises that he is actually part of a game that he has believed is real for as long as he remembers .This sparks an unexpected change in Guy who instead of committing crime to improve his stance , uses good acts to up his levels as set out in the game . Guy is what is known as and NPC( non-player character ) who is supposed to be in the background but seems to have gained self awareness that wasn’t expected . In the real world , we see that Milly( whose avatar is Molotov Girl) and friend Keys(Joe Keery) are the creators of the game which are being used by the corrupt Antwan(Taika Waititi ). He stole a code from then that is hidden in the game, especially wants justice for this and is using her avatar to do this . is working along with best friend Mouser(Utkarsh Ambudkar), but both are slowly seeing what he’s up too. Once the group discover that Guy has some semblance of humanity and self-awareness, it’s a breakthrough but also dangerous . For the villainous Antwan has other plans for the game as he wants to shut it down and launch another one , angered by the popularity of Guy in the real world and what it will cost his business. So it’s up to Guy, plus the creators/avatars of the game  to stop this shut down before it’s too late and everything is deleted.

Shawn Levy directs with a feeling of fun that’s also infused with a winning sweetness around the outrageous and striking premise . He never loses track of the heart of what’s happening and the journey that Guy goes on.  The self-aware/meta humour is a hoot, with various sequences proving rib tickling humour that’s hard to resist. While a science fiction comedy in the main sense, Free Guy also has a lot to say about how society lives it’s life through technology and also how it’s cool to break away from the routine and mundane to sparks greatness . Free Guy reminded me a little of The Truman Show, but where that film was a brilliantly scathing attack on reality not being what it seemed, Free Guy has more heart and breezy nature in its exploration of a similar subject while retaining an unexpected level of emotional clarity.  The special effects of the video game world are pretty stellar and contribute the overall craziness of what’s going on. I’ll admit to being a little caught off guard at first as to what the film was going for, which I’m sure was what it was going for. I didn’t quite think I was following it right, but once it hit its stride, Free Guy was a very nice film that impressed me and had me involved. Music plays a key part in this film, with Mariah Carey’s jubilant “Fantasy” a particular inspired choice as is “Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Mama Cass Elliot. 

A lot of what makes Free Guy a pleasant comedy is the main assembled cast . Utilising his typical sarcasm with a feeling of growing wonder, Ryan Reynolds is a comedic delight . I find that Ryan Reynolds has quite a reassuring presence on screen; you know that he’s going to have fun and transfer that to the audience in a great performance. He just has that humour and heart that’s needed for this film and is a hero we can all relate too. Jodie Comer, who in the last few years has emerged as a big star of exceptional talent, provides alternating humour and warm depth as two characters interlinked. Comer rises to this challenge with ease and captures two contrasting characters ( a kick ass avatar with tough, sex appeal and a nerdy game creator trying to regain what’s hers) wonderfully with humour and plenty of cool attitude. Plus, I dig the burgeoning chemistry between the two and how it develops with sweetness and care. Lil Rel Howery provides a lot of the humour as Guy’s best friend who also comes around to the idea of reality not being what he envisaged. Taika  Waititi is on villain duty as the trying to be hip because he has power . And it’s quickly obvious that Waititi is having fun with the part as his manic energy and sense of crazy antics comes through loud and clear. Joe Keery and Utkarsh Ambudkar are used well as two friends experiencing the ups and downs of the corruption of industry and both trying to make headway with it as well as take down Antwan. It’s safe to say that everyone has a purpose here in the story of Free Guy .

So all in all, Free Guy is wonderful entertainment with a great message about being yourself and discovering worth. Add in the comedy and outrageous science-fiction and the cool cast, and it’s a winner in my bookFree Guy