PREVIEW: October 2017

September 2017 ends in approximately twenty-three hours, and it is a month that has seen a fair few cinema trips, as well as a variety of reviews go up on the blog. Very soon we enter October 2017, and Monday will mark the six month anniversary of this blog.

October 2017 will be another month to see a fair few reviews. I have a number of cinema trips lined up for next month, including Victoria & Abdul, Loving VincentBlade Runner 2049The Mountain Between UsThe Glass CastleGeostormThe SnowmanThe Lego Ninjago MovieThe RitualThe Death of StalinMarshallBreathe, Jigsaw and Thor: Ragnarok. It would be fair to say that I am looking forward to these films (some more so than others).

While free time is not something that I am blessed with in abundance, due to my university course, I will try to get up reviews of all of the aforementioned films. I will also try to get up reviews of some of the films that I will be discussing in seminars, and also some horror films, given what October 31st is also commonly known as.

Thank you as always for visiting this blog, and to you all I wish you well, and Happy Reading for the month ahead!

FILM: Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017, Simon Curtis)

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Goodbye Christopher Robin is a biopic film, which is distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film tells the true story of how A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) came to write Winnie the Pooh. After moving to the Sussex countryside, Milne finds himself struggling for inspiration for his new book. When spending time with his son Christopher Robin Milne (Will Tilston), and playing games together with Christopher’s toys, Christopher asks his father to write him a book, which leads to the creation of Winnie the Pooh. When published, the book is a global success, and the family dynamic is changed for the worse as a result.

PROS

  • Fittingly, for a tale about the creation of an iconic children’s novel, this is a very family friendly film, which puts the importance of family at the centre, while also exploring the joy of stories.
  • While not explored as much as the more child friendly themes, there are some serious themes for adults to sink their teeth into, such as PTSD, and the strains which family dynamics can experience.
  • Excellent production design brings the 1920s to stunning life, from the fashions to the cars to the furniture. Milne’s country house is also given a charmingly rustic quality.
  • Domhnall Gleeson gives a charming, nuanced turn as Milne, and has great chemistry with Will Tilston, who proves to be a natural talent. The two are well supported by Margot Robbie and Kelly Macdonald, who play Milne’s wife and Christopher’s nanny respectively.

CONS

  • The final fifteen minutes or so are set in 1941, and the make-up department do a very poor job of trying to age up Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie and Kelly Macdonald. Meanwhile, Alex Lawther does not feel so natural as the older Christopher.
  • There are a few moments around an hour into the film that are not particularly well paced at all, and that part of the narrative could benefit from being about five minutes longer.

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: Borg vs McEnroe (2017, Janus Metz)

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Borg vs McEnroe is a sports biopic, which premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, before receiving international cinematic distribution by SF Studios. The film tells the true story of the rivalry in 1980 between the two greatest tennis players in the world – the calm Swede Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and the short-tempered American McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf). The film explores the weeks leading up to the Wimbledon final, in which they played against each other for the first time, and the pressures that it put on them.

PROS

  • The screenplay by Ronnie Sandahl does highlight key points in the youths of the two great players, in order to inform the viewer of factors that had led them to their places of greatness. Sandahl also conveys well the sense of pressure that the two players felt by the time they got to this match, as well as the need for sportsmanlike conduct.
  • Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf prove to be spot-on casting choices, helped by the fact that they respectively look like Borg and McEnroe. Gudnason gives a calm, nuanced turn, which is perfectly contrasted by a well realised sense of aggression by LaBeouf. And as Borg’s coach, Stellan Skarsgård gives his most natural turn in years, thanks in great part to being able to use his mother-tongue of Swedish.
  • By relying primarily on diegetic sound, and by cutting to shots of the spectators, the sense of tension that was created by the matches, in particular the Borg-McEnroe match, is very well realised indeed.

CONS

  • While the regular flashbacks to the youths of the respective players do help us understand more of their characters, some of them are not wholly necessary, and their frequency makes the narrative feel altogether disjointed.
  • The tennis scenes, while having moments where you feel the tension, are not that well filmed, with too much reliance on close-ups of the players’ faces, and quite distracting use of shaky cam.
  • The impact on their relationships that the pressure had on the two players is only really explored at a surface level depth.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Hitchcock (2012, Sacha Gervasi)

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Hitchcock is a biopic, which premiered at the 2012 AFI Film Festival, before being theatrically distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. The film tells the true story of how Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) took the biggest gamble of his career by making Psycho, and of the strain that this put on his marriage to his wife Alma (Helen Mirren).

PROS

  • Good production design recreates 1959-1960 well, with lots of attention to detail in the costumes, sets and props, as well as the hairstyles of the women of Hollywood.
  • Anthony Hopkins recreates the legendary director very well in a well realised performance, and creates a great rapport with Helen Mirren. The two are well supported by Scarlett Johansson in particular, who plays Janet Leigh.
  • The presence of Hitchcock breaking the fourth wall as a narrator at the beginning and end are quite enjoyable moments indeed.

CONS

  • The narrative does feel a bit rushed and restricted by the ninety minute running time, and a little too much of it looks at Hitch’s strained working relationship with Vera Miles (Jessica Biel), while his being haunted by Ed Gein (Michael Wincott) is unnecessary.
  • There are some noticeable weak links in the supporting cast, such as Jessica Biel and Michael Wincott, while James D’Arcy is underused as Anthony Perkins.
  • Thanks to Sacha Gervasi’s direction, there are several key moments in the narrative that end up being quite underwhelming.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: Shoeshine (1946, Vittorio De Sica)

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Shoeshine is an Italian neorealist film, which was originally distributed in Italy by Lopert Pictures Corporation. Set in post-World War II Rome, the film follows two poverty-stricken friends – Giuseppe (Rinaldo Smordoni) and Pasquale (Franco Interlenghi). The two shoeshine boys are saving up to buy a horse together, and are able to do so after getting involved in the sale of stolen goods. This comes back to bite them in the backside, and they end up in a juvenile detention centre. Being in such an awful place will put their friendship to the test, as the two are influenced by their respective cellmates.

PROS

  • Like with many of his films, director Vittorio De Sica here created a harrowing tale of an oppressive, broken system, the most devastating impacts of which were felt by young, poverty-stricken individuals, whose lives will never be the same again.
  • It is impossible to not feel sorry for the majority of the juvenile inmates, as it is established that the majority of them have been imprisoned for theft, highlighting just how desperate a time this was for people to provide for their families.
  • The prison’s sets cannot be forgotten in a hurry. Dimly lit, cramped conditions, these sets truly convey to the viewer harrowing imagery of that which will change the lives of these boys for the worse.
  • All of the children in this film are naturally talented actors, who build wholly convincing rapports with one another over the course of the narrative. The most memorable are leads Franco Interlenghi and Rinaldo Smordoni, who emote perfectly, and whose on-screen bond is truly moving to watch.

CONS

  • In the final fifteen minutes, Vittorio De Sica’s vision becomes a little too grand for a film with such budget limitations, the notable example being a deadly prison riot, which is not that well executed at all, the budget limitations clearly visible.

VERDICT: 9/10

FILM: Bicycle Thieves (1948, Vittorio De Sica)

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Bicycle Thieves is an Italian neorealist film, which was originally distributed in Italy by Ente Nazionale Industrie Cinematografiche. Set in post-World War II Rome, the film follows a working-class man named Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani). When his bicycle is stolen, he is left without one of the key tools for his work. Knowing that he will need it back in order to provide for his family, he goes all over Rome searching for it, accompanied by his young son Bruno (Enzo Staiola), but the more dead ends they come to, the more despairing the situation becomes for Antonio.

PROS

  • A quintessential piece of Italian neorealism, director Vittorio De Sica and his team of screenwriters crafted here a truly harrowing tale of how unjust and oppressive living and working conditions were for the poor in Rome, post-World War II. This is consistently so from the opening ten minutes, where Antonio is forced to pawn his family’s bedsheets in order to afford the bicycle that he needs for work.
  • The heart of this film ultimately is in the relationship between Antonio and Bruno, which gradually develops over the course of the narrative, doing so through a number of subtle nuances, which work beautifully.
  • Despite having never acted before, Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola are both natural talents, giving nuanced turns and emoting perfectly throughout the film. The two actors also have a great chemistry with each other, creating a moving parent-child relationship.
  • The film is beautifully framed by cinematographer Carlo Montuori, who crafts a number of truly memorable shots, which convey the senses of bleakness and despair that Antonio feels in this awful situation.
  • Because of the realistic feel to the depiction of such serious subject matter, this film will not be forgotten in a hurry. It is rare that I cannot get a film out of my head three days after seeing it, but that is what happened after I first watched Bicycle Thieves.

NITPICKS

  • The film could have benefited from maybe a couple more minutes of focus on Antonio’s relationship with his wife (Lianella Carell) and their youngest (infant) child.

VERDICT: 10/10

FILM: American Assassin (2017, Michael Cuesta)

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American Assassin is an action-thriller, based on Vince Flynn’s novel of the same title, and is distributed by Lionsgate Films. Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) wants to kill terrorists, after a group killed his fiancee (Charlotte Vega). He is recruited by the CIA after their Assistant Director (Sanaa Lathan) sees his potential, and is trained by Hurley (Michael Keaton). Mitch’s first mission is to stop “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch), who is building a nuclear bomb, but if he is to succeed he must overcome his hotheaded, aggressive temperament.

PROS

  • The film’s opening is a gritty, well choreographed action sequence, boasting very good make-up (which remains so for the rest of the film). The scene successfully establishes Mitch, and the motivations that will guide him through the narrative.
  • Dylan O’Brien throws himself into the role of Mitch with determination and charisma, showing real potential as an action film star; he is ably supported by an engaging, authoritative turn by Michael Keaton.

CONS

  • The narrative really does go downhill after the first twenty-five minutes or so, the generic screenplay boasting over-the-top action scenes, riddled with action film cliches, frankly unnecessary gratuitous violence, and quite possibly the most illogical car-jacking sequence…ever.
  • CGI is not used a vast amount, but what is used is done so quite poorly, not adding anything worthwhile to the film or its action. Several of the sequences of hand-to-hand combat also use shaky cam a little too much.
  • The supporting cast, as a whole, are weak. Taylor Kitsch takes quite a heavy-handed approach to being menacing, while Sanaa Lathan is pretty bland. And while David Suchet gives a good turn as the CIA Director, he is clearly underused.

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017, Matthew Vaughn)

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the sequel to spy action-comedy film Kingsman: The Secret Service, and is distributed by 20th Century Fox. The titular Golden Circle is a drug cartel run by Poppy (Julianne Moore), who have mixed a lethal toxin into the drugs that they have had distributed worldwide. Millions of lives are now at risk, and only Poppy has the antidote. It is up to Kingsman agent Eggsy (Taron Egerton), his old mentor Harry (Colin Firth) and tech genius Merlin (Mark Strong) to get the antidote, but with the rest of the Kingsman agents dead, they will only succeed by teaming up with American counterpart Statesman.

PROS

  • Most of the film’s action set pieces make for exciting scenes, which for the most part are well choreographed with good visual effects; and several of the major set pieces are well edited to be one continuous take.
  • While the humour is a bit hit-and-miss, the good moments of humour are genuinely hilarious, often thanks to Mark Strong’s natural knack for comedy.
  • Taron Egerton and Colin Firth remain strong leads, conveying a good bond, while Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges and Pedro Pascal are memorable new additions as Statesman agents.

CONS

  • As a whole, the narrative is rather convoluted, with a few ideas too many, the film ultimately feeling a little too long.
  • While the action sequences are well created and exciting, they lack the charm of those of the original, as they are very over-the-top.
  • Halle Berry does not really get any chance to shine as the Statesman tech guru; while Julianne Moore’s Poppy is frankly an infuriating rehash of Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine from the original; and Poppy Delevingne and Edward Holcroft are respectively wooden and bland.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: The Case for Christ (2017, Jon Gunn)

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The Case for Christ is a biopic film, which is distributed by Pure Flix Entertainment. The film tells the true story of successful journalist Lee Strobel (Mike Vogel). A militant Atheist, Lee is left stunned in 1980 when his wife (Erika Christensen) becomes a Christian. Determined to prove that the Bible, and therefore the Christian faith, is a lie, Lee applies his journalistic and legal skills. He interviews leading authorities in a variety of subject areas, but at every point that he thinks he has a credible theory, he finds it disproved, until eventually he finds enough evidence to convince him of the claims of the Christian faith.

PROS

  • The film emphasises the importance of respecting other people’s faith, regardless of whether or not you have faith in the same thing that they do, an emphasis which begins in the first fifteen minutes, with an encounter that sets the narrative wheels in motion.
  • Like Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Christ, which he wrote after coming to faith from this investigation, the screenwriting is very detailed, and does a good job of highlighting the fact that many different perspectives have explored the evidence of the death and resurrection of Christ.
  • The cast may not be fantastic, but Mike Vogel stands out in memory, as he makes Lee’s sense of frustration at not being able to prove himself right feel wholly convincing; while Erika Christensen shows good emotional range in her scenes with Vogel.

CONS

  • The film does feel a bit rushed, and many of Lee’s interviews could do with being a bit longer, the sense of being rushed also applying to the point where he comes to faith.
  • During the interviews in particular, it is impossible to not feel that this narrative would ultimately work better as a documentary; a feeling also inescapable in some of the non-interview scenes, thanks to some awkward dialogue and misguided comic relief.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: mother! (2017, Darren Aronofsky)

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mother! is a psychological horror film, which premiered at the 2017 Venice International Film Festival, before receiving theatrical distribution from Paramount Pictures. A couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) are living a tranquil life in their countryside home, which begins to be disrupted when a series of events is started off by a mysterious older couple (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) turning up on their doorstep.

PROS

  • Director and screenwriter Darren Aronofsky has crafted a brave piece of visionary cinema. This film is a shocking blend of psychological horror, commentary on the danger of cults and Biblical allegory, which is not a wholly clear vision, but will leave the viewer mulling everything over A LOT at the end of it all.
  • Cinematographer Matthew Libatique beautifully frames this film, everything shot being wonderfully framed, and proving truly captivating to look at.
  • The imagery of this film is truly haunting, with beautiful mise-en-scene, and a chillingly dark colour palette making this film feel like a series of unnerving paintings.
  • The cast are very good, but the leads steal the show. Javier Bardem gives a passionate turn, but Jennifer Lawrence impresses the most, conveying a subtle, moving sense of vulnerability that drives the narrative.

CONS

  • Darren Aronofsky has admitted that he experimented a lot when making this film, and his uncertainty in the early days comes across, as this film at times feels quite messy and disjointed.
  • Several of the more prominent supporting characters serve as a mixture of Biblical allegory and plot device, but the balance is shaky and not fully realised.

VERDICT: 8/10