Review: Midnight Special


Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Jaeden Lieberher

Midnight Special is a film for people that like questions. Not questions with  answers, but just…questions. Streams of unanswered, possibly unanswerable, questions. The basic layout is: Roy (Shannon) goes on the run with his son, Alton (Lieberher), who has superpowers (What superpowers? Never mind). They need to get to a certain place at a certain time (Why? Doesn’t matter). Lucas (Edgerton) and Sarah (Dunst) are along for the ride. Then some weird guys from the creepy “Ranch” they used to live on (What? We’ll explain later. Not.) and also the FBI are after them. Cue high-speed chase, dramatic shootout, near-disaster/recovery, and emotional climax followed by paradoxically sad yet uplifting ending.

Midnight Special feels like a film that had a lot of potential, once, a long time ago, when a stoned guy came up with it in a basement. Now it’s gone through the Hollywood machine and come out a discoherent, punctured, grasping mess. I mean, I thought Joel Edgerton was pretty good. They gave Bill Camp’s electrician/henchman character a couple of decent lines. The relationship between Alton and Roy has its moments. Apart from these few redeeming features, Midnight Special is just a black hole of time and money.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Review: Hail, Caesar!

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Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson

George Clooney a drugged up Roman soldier? Scarlett Johansson a lairy mermaid? Channing Tatum tap dancing in a tight, white, sailor boy outfit? The latest Coen Brothers’ takes audiences on a joyous, star-filled romp through the Golden Age of Hollywood. Part brilliant celebration, part gleeful mockery and highly self-referential, Hail, Caesar! keeps things light and is at its’ core a love poem to the bizarre absurdities of the film industry. Josh Brolins’ Eddie Mannix is the eye of the storm as head fixer for Capitol Pictures, fictional studio previously seen in the Coens’ Barton Fink (the real Eddie Mannix was a fixer for MGM). We move through a day in his life battling a stream of crises; pregnant starlets, risqué photoshoots, kidnapped actors and a load of secret Communist screenwriters abound.

But none of these are really the focus of the film as it meanders casually through the dream factory, sometimes pausing for a mere glance and other times settling in to watch the show. The most memorable scenes are those that seem side fare; a religious focus group, McDormands’ comically dark turn as editor C.C. Calhoun, and a wickedly painful elocution exercise between Ehrenreichs’ excellent Hobie Doyle and Fiennes’ Laurence Laurents (in another illustration of Fiennes as surprise comic powerhouse, following on from last month’s A Bigger Splash). It can become frustrating that these discursions are left incomplete, but nevertheless Hail Caesar! is eminently, giddily watchable. Perhaps my mate summarised it best when as the credits rolled and the lights came up she turned to me and said, “well, that was nice and weird”.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Review: A Bigger Splash

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Director: Luca Guadagnino
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson

Dream with me for a second. You and your superstar girlfriend are chilling on a remote Italian island, hiding out while she convalesces from throat surgery. Eating great food, having great sex, lying by the pool naked. You’re nailing life. Then her ex (who’s also your old boss) turns up replete with a barely veiled ulterior motive: to win her back, of course. Oh and he’s bought his smoking hot/antagonistically provocative daughter with him, who promptly starts hitting on you. The dream has become a nightmare. This is hell.

Luca Guadagnino’s loose remake of Jacques Deray’s 1969 Italian-French drama ‘La Piscine’ is a beautiful film, a film of opposites; dreamlike yet dark, amusing yet disquieting, delicate yet jarring. The high-calibre cast deliver to expectation but it is Ralph Fiennes as Harry, bearded, half-dressed and pulsating to Rolling Stones ‘Emotional Rescue’ on a rooftop with wild abandon that proves the indelible takeaway scene. With a glorious soundtrack and astutely nuanced script, Guadagnino’s only misstep is some awkwardly inserted background noise concerning Tunisian refugees, which can at least be taken as an vague attempt to draw attention to a difficult political situation. The film takes its name from a famous Hockney painting, about which Guadagnino commented a “beautiful lightness carried so much depth”. If his aim was to emulate this concord, he undoubtedly succeeded.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: The Hateful Eight


Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth

Quentin Tarantino has never been one to make things easy for himself. If anyone thought the backlash and boycotts caused by 110 uses of ‘the n-word’ in Django Unchained was enough to change that, The Hateful Eight proves them wrong. Though littered throughout with the same offender, this time it’s the frequent and graphic violence inflicted upon the sole female lead, (Daisy Domergue played to termagant perfection by Jennifer Jason Leigh) that have forced the director and key actors to speak out against accusations of misogyny. Tarantino explains, somewhat paradoxically, that it would have been anti-feminist not to beat the shit out of Daisy given the behaviour of the male cast towards each other.

Grizzled bounty hunter John Ruth (Russell) is heading for Red Rock to trade in captive Domergue when an abrupt blizzard forces him to ‘Minnie’s Haberdashery’ for an overnight stay, unexpected travel companions and extant cabin occupiers included. But – wait – all is not as it seems, and over three hours a convoluted tale unfolds as the occupants threaten, exhort and mercilessly butcher each other. Shot on 70mm, and featuring an original, Oscar nominated score by Ennio Morricone, it is worth going to see for these features alone. Lower your expectations and steel your stomachs; it may not be his best work, but it is a bloody good story.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: Brooklyn


Director: John Crowley
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters

We open in Enniscorthy, Ireland, where Eilis Lacey (Ronan) is ‘away to America’, a journey orchestrated by sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) enabling Eilis to do what she cannot and escape the limiting prospects of their hometown. Lonely and bewildered, Eilis struggles at first but with the comically dubious assistance of landlady Miss Kehoe (Walters on top matriarchal form) and her fellow boarders, she adapts. Then – as always -she meets a boy; Tony Fiorello is sweetly earnest and entirely besotted, and a tender courtship unfurls between them. When a tragic turn of events brings her back to Enniscorthy and a better version of everything she left, she is forced to choose between the life she always hoped she would have and the life she has created.

Adapted from Colm Tóibíns 2009 novel of the same name, Brooklyn was one of the biggest deals ever to emerge from Sundance, premiering a relative unheard of and emerging with a $9 million distribution deal. Ronans’ performance is captivating, bringing a complexity and depth to Eilis that the film could have sunk without, and the romance between her and Tony is solidly authentic yet impossibly fragile. Striking chords as both a coming-of-age story and an émigré journey, exploration of the relationship between sense of self and sense of place is where Brooklyn really hits home.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: Suffragette


Director: Sarah Gavron
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Whishaw, Meryl Streep

Rather than focus on figurehead of the suffragette movement Emmeline Pankhurst (seen only in a disappointingly brief cameo from Streep), director Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) and writer Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady) chose instead to follow Maud Watts (Mulligan), a fictional lower-class laundry worker. Although initially reluctant, Maud is drawn into the epicentre of the suffragette movement, her fervour bolstered by steady germination of the notion that “there’s another way of living this life.”.

Suffragette has turned up the volume on conversations about the enduring imbalances of gender equality, wage gaps and workplace discrimination, but that’s not all. Uproar was caused by a Time Out shoot featuring the (white, privileged) lead actresses wearing t-shirts bearing famous Pankhurst quote “ I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” and criticised for racial insensitivity, connotations to the American confederacy, and presenting slavery as a ‘choice’, leading to widespread condemnation of the film for ignoring the contribution ethnic women made to the movement. Then, the London premiere was delayed when members of Sisters Uncut staged a ‘die-in’ to draw attention to government cuts affecting domestic abuse services, their message: two women a week die from domestic abuse, and “dead women can’t vote”. Suffragette is a good, if flawed, film but moreover deserves applause for reminding us all how far we have come, and how much further we have to go.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: Irrational Man

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Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley

Abe Lucas (Phoenix) is a maudlin, alcoholic, borderline-nihilist philosophy professor newly appointed to a Rhode Island college. Preceded by tales of notoriety and philandering, his arrival on campus incites the attention of two rather disparate love interests; married Science professor Rita (Posey) and ingenuous student Jill (Stone). Distracted by his depressive cynicism, Lucas does little more than concede to their attentions until overhearing a chance diner-booth conversation. In a swift diametric to earlier narrative musings, he decides that he has one clear purpose, the achievement of which will give his life a rich depth of meaning previously lacking, and begins to plot a murder.

Although Phoenix and Stone undoubtedly deliver, Posey is the standout performance as Rita, throwing herself at Abe with an impressive mix of confidence, candour and desperation (“you’re not going to send me back out into the rain without sleeping with me, are you?”). Darius Khondiji’s luminous cinematography and the repeated cadence of jazz track ‘The In Crowd’ (Ramsey Lewis Trio) offer a sunny contrast to the darker events unfolding onscreen. For fans of Allen’s extensive back catalogue it is an entertaining watch, although certain elements may seem so familiar as to become predictable. Eventually, Allen (now 79 and you expect, considering his own mortality more than ever before, an issue that he claims has troubled him since age 5) leaves us with the bleak thought that despite our intentions – bad or good – there is nothing any of us can do to escape the seemingly random hand of fate.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: Magic Mike XXL

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Director: Gregory Jacobs
Cast: Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash, Joe Manganiello

In the follow-up to 2012 runaway hit ‘Magic Mike’, we join the remaining Kings of Tampa on a ramshackle roadtrip, with the eventual destination of a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach. They convince retired Mike (Tatum) to join them as they engage in a series of bizarre and desultory adventures enroute. The success of Magic Mike was due to a few simple factors: it was fun, it was silly, it was fast-paced, and most importantly, it unashamedly and unreservedly objectified men in the way that women are so often objectified. All the sequel needed to do was stick to this formula, but they wanted to go bigger and better, and ended up with a hot mess.

No one is seeing this film for the storyline, no one is expecting emotional depth, and absolutely no one, ever, wants to watch a male stripper have an existential crisis over their life choices. All the audience wants is abs, abs, and more abs, with a few close-ups of Tatum staring into their eyes like he is going to do bad things to them and they’re going to love it. While the films ambition of ‘equal opportunity objectification’ and focus on the female gaze – a counter to the male gaze theory posited by British feminist Laura Mulvey – is to be encouraged, you may as well save your money, stay home, and watch the trailer on repeat as that’s got most of the good shit in anyway.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: Mr Holmes


Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker

In ‘Mr Holmes’, based on Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, we are confronted with a very different Sherlock (McKellen). Now 93 and long retired, he resides with his housekeeper (Linney) and her precocious son Roger (Parker) in a Sussex cottage, where his primary avocation is the tending of an apiary. Through multiple flashback sequences we see both a trip to Japan in pursuit of the prickly ash plant, and his last, unsuccessful case; a defeat that haunts him. Holmes wants to rectify Watson’s erroneous account of the latter, but his great mind has begun to unravel and we are drawn into a murkiness surrounding the proceedings; are his recollections fact, false memory or wishful thinking?

The film unfurls itself slowly, and the ponderous pace certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but McKellen, Linney and Parker give staggering performances, and it is no shame that an unusual amount of screen time is devoted to these three alone. It plays cleverly with the idea of Holmes’s identity; portraying him as a real person embroidered with Watson’s fabrications, in a wink to his extant fictional status. Ultimately, the sub-plots reach unsatisfactory conclusions – causing me to speculate on alternate possibilities beyond those proffered by the film – as after all, there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.

Originally published in Crack Magazine

Film Review: Tommorrowland: A World Beyond


Director: Brad Bird
Cast: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw

Tomorrowland: A World Beyond is Disney’s pitch at a big summer blockbuster. Directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) and written by Bird in conjunction with Damon Lindelof (Star Trek: Into Darkness, Prometheus) the credentials are solid. It’s a sci-fi adventure including jetpacks, spaceships, George Clooney and the occasional ejecting bathtub but unfortunately, no discernible storyline. This is the part of the review where I would normally summarise the plot, but I can’t, because there isn’t one. It moves between the past, the present and the future, in both our world and ‘Tomorrowland’, from the perspectives of Frank (Clooney) and Casey (Robertson). Chunks of exposition are hurled at random, pivotal information briefly mentioned once and never expounded upon. The script is terrible. The acting, with the notable exception of Raffey Cassidy, is terrible. The ham-fisted ecological proponent is terrible. It’s all terrible.

Once, maybe twice, childish gleefulness breaks through the deluge of excrement and you feel genuine thrill at seeing a youthful fantasy come to life – see aforementioned jetpack – before being pulled back under the shitty, shitty current. I struggled heroically through 90 minutes before conceding defeat and leaving, the relief of escape doing little to lessen my misery and regret at having wasted any of my life in Tomorrowland.

Originally published in Crack Magazine