Friday, 29 November 2019

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47 Metres Down: Uncaged ★☆☆☆☆


Poor sharks. They get so much shit from Hollywood. Ever since 1975’s Jaws, they’ve always been the bad guy, just for eating people who swim in their waters. It’s not fair. 47 Metres Down: Uncaged, the latest in a long line of anti-shark propaganda, follows a group of girls who scuba dive to a sunken Mayan city, only to be trapped by a group of sharks that are swimming in it. The sharks were probably just happily minding their own business going to have a look at the Mayan city too – and then people got all up in their shit. #teamshark

Anyway, this sequel to 2017’s 47 Metres Down has absolutely no narrative connection to the surprise hit the first film, and instead just feels like a desperate cash-grabbing slice of shark action. The film stars Sophie Nelisse as Mia, an American girl who has moved to Mexico with her undersea explorer father and his new wife. One thing leads to another – I’m not going to go through the nonsensical plot points because we’ve all got better things to do than waste any more time than we have to on 47 Metres Down: Uncaged – and Mia and her friends embark on a journey down to a submerged Mayan city. Of course, they become trapped in the city’s entry point when the entrance comes crashing down and traps them with a blind shark (having spent so long underwater without sunlight) whose other senses are heightened as a result.


And so begins yet another movie of human vs shark, and my goodness, I am so absolutely bored of these films. As always, the human characters are paper-thin and devoid of any depth or personality so when they are underwater in their scuba gear, they are near impossible to differentiate between. Not that it really matters. We’re not here to learn about the characters, we’re here to watch them get fucked up by a toothy boi.

This is a totally empty film with nonsensical character motives and plot points, and the most underwhelming scares you’ve seen in a long time. Not only that, but the film’s visuals – being set almost entirely underwater – are dark and murky and just uncomfortable to watch, making for a viewing experience that is actually difficult as well as just bloody boring. I have got absolutely nothing of value to say about 47 Metres Down: Uncaged. I’ve got no witty observations, no interesting analysis. There’s just absolutely nothing here to discuss. Although I do feel bad for the sharks here. Like I alluded to in my intro, this shark racism in Hollywood is getting really tedious now – poor toothy bois just minding their own business. A toothy boi’s gotta eat, you know.

Anyway, 47 Metres Down: Uncaged feels like straight-to-DVD SyFy channel garbage and I have absolutely no idea why it has been given a theatrical release, let alone been made in the first place. It’s every bit as boring, predictable and devoid of character development as you can probably imagine for a film of this genre and premise, so there are no real surprises here. If you want a trashy night in with one of 2019’s worst then you might have a good time with 47 Metres Down: Uncaged. If you watch it for literally any other reason, you will be disappointed.

★☆☆☆☆
Sam Love

47 Metres Down at CeX


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Thursday, 28 November 2019

Angel Has Fallen ★☆☆☆☆


The so-called Fallen film series has got to be one of the biggest surprises of recent years – the surprise being that it exists, and continues to do so. Following Olympus Has Fallen (2013) and London Has Fallen (2016), this threequel fails to justify its own existence with an overabundance of cliché, predictable twists and a general cookie-cutter thriller structure. Is this the end for the Fallen series, or is it just getting started? Let’s face it, it’s probably the latter…Anyway, it’s time for a closer look at Angel Has Fallen.

Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is wrongly accused and taken into custody for a failed assassination attempt of U.S. President Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman). After escaping from his captors, Banning must evade the FBI and his own agency to find the real threat to POTUS. Desperate to uncover the truth, he soon turns to unlikely allies including his estranged father (Nick Nolte) to help clear his name and save the country from imminent danger.


If you’ve seen either of the previous Fallen films – or, hell, any thriller ever – you will know exactly where this is going from the first scene. Angel Has Fallen is exactly what it says on the tin and provides zero unexpected thrills or twists in this rather forced and wholly unnecessary trilogy-closer for a forgettable and tedious saga. Whilst a deranged Nick Nolte livens up the proceedings of Angel Has Fallen as Butler’s nutty old coot father (let’s face it, Nick Nolte improves anything he touches), there is very little else to recommend here. It is an uncomfortably predictable by-the-numbers affair that feels as though it has been generated by an AI who has watched every ‘president under attack’ thriller that has come before it.

As always, the character motives and general plot of the film are totally nonsensical – Danny Huston hams it up as the film’s big bad, an ex-army buddy of Gerard Butler’s Mike who has set up his own militia. His master plan is to assassinate the president so that the corrupt vice president can step up to the plate and give the villain’s private army more contracts, and of course, he can pin it all on his ol’ buddy Mike (and implicate Russia too because reasons). So begins a tedious attempt at a thriller with Gerard Butler desperately attempting to clear his name whilst gunning down an endless parade of nameless and faceless goons, in a ‘wrong man’ plot that would make Alfred Hitchcock turn in his grave. But then again, he was a bit of a nutter, so not really one to pass judgement… I digress.

Where was I? Oh yes, Angel Has Fallen is shit. This tired old franchise needs to take a long hard look at itself now and stop trying to justify its own existence – it’s not going to happen any time soon. There is nothing Mike Banning and his pals can do to make these films feel even remotely interesting or important viewing. Please let this be the end of the saga, for the love of all that is holy. Once, Morgan Freeman used to be an indicator of a film’s quality. Nowadays, as much as it pains me to say this, the opposite is true. When I see Morgan Freeman’s name attached to a film, I wince. Angel Has Fallen is the perfect example…yikes.

★☆☆☆☆
Sam Love

At Eternity's Gate at CeX


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Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Deadwood: The Movie ★★★★★


David Milch’s Deadwood ran for 3 seasons between 2004 and 2006 and is widely considered to be one the finest and best-written television programmes in the history of the medium. Rightly so, because it truly is an unforgettable masterpiece with some of the best characters – and best performances – not just in the history of television, but the history of the arts. I know, that sounds like ridiculously high praise, but anyone who has watched Deadwood will be nodding as they read this and in total agreement with what I am saying. There’s just something about Deadwood that is unlike anything else. If you haven’t seen the series, stop reading this and watch it. The movie will mean absolutely nothing to someone who hasn’t seen the show and is all the more powerful when you have seen the incredible 3 seasons first.


13 years since the show was cruelly cancelled, we fans have finally been given the ending we so crave. Even having watched the film multiple times, it hasn’t even begun to sink in. I still feel like this film was a dream and didn’t actually happen, so you will have to forgive the rambling adulation of this review. I absolutely adored every single second of Deadwood: The Movie’s 110 perfect minutes, and if you are a discerning purveyor of quality entertainment, you will too.

It’s 1889 and South Dakota is entering into statehood. Past and present residents of Deadwood are taking part in the celebration, which allows for all of our favourite characters to return to this historic site of their lives. With the exception of the late Powers Boothe, Ricky Jay and Ralph Richeson – who all sadly passed before the production of the film began – absolutely everyone has returned for this cinematic reunion. As with the series, the film absolutely belongs to Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen – now a far weaker man, but still as ruthless, foul-mouthed and defiant as he has ever been. McShane slips straight back into the iconic pinstripe-suited villain with a heart of gold, as if 13 years have never passed. It’s as remarkable a performance as ever from the great actor, but praise should be shared here between everyone – Timothy Olyphant is the best he’s ever been as an ageing and tortured Seth Bullock while other returning stars Molly Parker, Paula Malcolmson, John Hawkes, Dayton Callie, Brad Dourif and many more are all as brilliant as ever.

The 110-minute runtime gives enough opportunity for everyone to have something to say or do, making this feel like an essential epilogue for their characters and giving a real sense of closure. This is not a forced and unnecessary cinematic outing like Downton Abbey’s recent film but rather a much-needed continuation and climax for the sadly cancelled series that has lingered in purgatory for the past 13 years without an ending. Here, all of our favourite heroes and villains are given a fitting send-off with old scores settled and love triangles closed. No characters are left hanging and we can now confidently say Deadwood has finished.


It would be wrong to discuss Deadwood: The Movie without giving praise to our maestro, the phenomenal writer and creator David Sanford Milch who has crafted one of the richest and most Shakespearean Wild West tales to ever grace the screen. Shortly before beginning the Deadwood movie, Milch was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – so it feels unlikely that we will get another story from him. How fitting that his career should end on the phenomenal finale of his masterpiece. Thank you, David. 

All in all, Deadwood: The Movie is absolutely everything you want it to be and more. This is how you finish a series. When the film ended on my first viewing, I was speechless. In many ways, I still am – Deadwood: The Movie is an absolute masterpiece and one that earns the highest recommendation I can possibly muster. Bravo.

★★★★★
Sam Love

Deadwood at CeX


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Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Downton Abbey: The Movie ★★★☆☆


For six seasons between 2010 and 2015, viewers across the world tuned in to a global phenomenon. Earning the most nominations of any international television series in the history of the Emmy Awards, Downton Abbey is one of the biggest TV hits of our times. The series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants – with the great events of history seen through their eyes. For example, the series began with the sinking of the Titanic and went through wars, influenza pandemics, scandals and elections. 

As with any hit, it was only a matter of time until the suits in charge decided this series could be milked one final time before it is truly put to bed. But this next part would not be restricted to the small screen, oh no. This one would be a movie. As someone who never watched the series, I was interested to see how this film could – if at all – cater to newcomers, while also satisfying fans of the saga.


Written by series creator Julian Fellowes, the Downton Abbey movie is exactly what it says on the tin. For anybody familiar with the series, there will be absolutely no surprises in what is basically 120 minutes of nothing. This meandering and plotless affair follows the Crawleys and their servants as they prepare for a historic royal visit to their estate – and thus, the only real stakes of the film are which silverware should they use and will the dinner be cooked in time. To consider this a criticism would be wrong, as this is exactly what the series seemingly was. As a newcomer to the Downton universe, I was relieved that the film subtly managed to reintroduce characters and establish a time and place without feeling jarring. The film certainly works as a standalone feature, and arguably could maybe even be considered a soft reboot.

Aside from the odd death, Downton Abbey has always been a quaint and eventless affair – acting more as a warm hug or a beloved old jumper than challenging viewing. So, the film continues this trend. But while this is fitting for Downton, is it fitting for the cinema? 

The film feels like more like an extended episode of the series that should almost certainly have been released straight-to-TV. There is nothing new here or particularly cinematic that benefits from the big screen or the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, and it feels wrong to fork out cinema prices to see something that has been freely broadcast on ITV for 5 years. Another issue with the film is that it is rather rushed – when you consider there are 16 principal characters, each with their own subplot, there is a lot to fit into 120 minutes. There’s the drama of a young servant’s upcoming wedding, a butler’s hidden sexuality, a thief, an inheritance, an assassination attempt (yes, really) and issues with the estate’s boiler. There is really a lot to digest. The episodic structure of the delivery makes this feel even more like TV, as these largely unlinked subplots dart around between one another and – of course – are all neatly tied up for the film’s happy ending.

All in all, Downton Abbey’s big-screen outing does not warrant such a platform for release. This is the least cinematic experience I have had at the movies for some time, with a plot totally devoid of stakes or drama throughout. HOWEVER. That is not to say I did not enjoy the time I spent with the Crawley family. Whilst totally inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, the Downton Abbey movie gave me what the TV series has been giving fans for years – an escape to a bygone and simpler era. The film is strangely comforting and wholly nostalgic, and maybe this is something we need in these fractured times. Sure, nothing happens in this film – but there’s enough happening in the real world. 

It’s hard for me to say whether fans of the series will be satisfied by this big-screen conclusion to the Downton saga but for me, a newcomer to the Crawleys, I found enough to enjoy to make the 120-minute runtime not feel like a slog. My interest remained throughout the runtime despite a total uneventful plot and the film’s production design made for some very lavish visuals. While I don’t think it has persuaded me to binge the show’s 6 seasons, it certainly has done enough to earn a recommendation for anyone who just wants the comforting embrace of a bygone era and an escape from the madness of the modern world.

★★★☆☆
Sam Love

Downton Abbey at CeX


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Monday, 25 November 2019

Ready or Not ★★★★★


Ever since Jordan Peele burst onto the scene with Get Out, horror filmmakers have had to make more of an effort to create innovative and subversive shockers with something fresh and different to say. Maybe they’ll hold a mirror up to society, maybe they’ll pack in ghastly laughs, or maybe they’ll achieve both. What they musn’t do, is resort entirely to CGI and jumpscares – something that, sadly, IT: Chapter Two was guilty of. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who had previously worked together on the pretty poor Devil’s Due (that was guilty of the above horror crimes), rise to the challenge with their new shocker Ready or Not – and it is a doozy.

Grace (Samara Weaving, niece of Hugo) couldn't be happier after she marries the man of her dreams (Adam Brody) at his family's luxurious estate. There's just one catch - she must now hide from midnight until dawn while her new in-laws hunt her down with guns, crossbows and other weapons as part of a deranged and psychopathic family ritual. As Grace desperately tries to survive the night, she soon finds a way to turn the tables on her not-so-lovable relatives resulting in, well, just a little bit of bloodshed. Ok, a lot of bloodshed. Like, a lot a lot.


Darkly hilarious and bitingly smart, this crowd-pleasing horror is a refreshing wake-up for the genre. If you’ve seen Adam Wingard’s 2011 You’re Next, you’ll have a pretty good idea how this one plays out. Often comically violent and full of black wit, Ready or Not is a blast. While there is a lot to be said for the film’s wry commentary on privilege and tradition, I’ll leave that for you to ponder on when you’ve seen the film. The film is a truly decadent and disturbingly hilarious blast, full of over-the-top violence and some bloody good performances. The film’s lead, Samara Weaving, is an absolute revelation and could easily be one of Hollywood’s next big stars – her blood-soaked performance here is bad-ass and a far cry from her past on Australian soap opera Home & Away. With upcoming roles in Bill & Ted’s long-awaited threequel and an upcoming action comedy alongside Daniel Radcliffe, methinks a star is born with this one.

But the entire cast is great here – largely unknown, an ensemble cast including Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny and one of the film’s few ‘stars’ Andie MacDowell all shine with the film’s hilarious screenplay from Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy, newcomers to the scene who have made a hell of a first impression. The squeamish among you should be warned that Ready or Not absolutely deserves its 18 age certificate – this one is bloody. But while it is visceral and occasionally disturbing, some of it is played for very dark laughs. That sentence sums up the film in general – while disturbing, it is funny. It just requires a very dark and twisted sense of humour, which deep down I think we all possess…

I absolutely loved Ready or Not. In such a crowded genre full of reboots, remakes, sequels and a general lack of originality, it’s great to watch something that is just a good old-fashioned ride. This one is heaps of fun – albeit disturbingly violent – and a perfect antidote to the disappointment of films like IT: Chapter Two. I had an absolute blast with Ready or Not and I am positive that you will too. Here it comes.

★★★★★
Sam Love

At Eternity's Gate at CeX


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Sunday, 24 November 2019

The Goldfinch ☆☆☆☆☆


On the 17th of September, BBC News ran a piece on The Goldfinch that surely had a lot of studio executives shitting themselves. On its opening weekend, the film took just $2.6m at the US box office. Sure, that still sounds like a lot of money to you and me – but the big-screen adaptation of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-winning novel was expected to make at least $12m during that period. Opening on 2,542 screens, the film now holds the record for the 6th worst US opening for a film on between 2,500-3,000 screens since records began in 1982. Ouch.


Initially expected to be a big awards contender, due to the film’s magnificent source novel that has been showered in awards since publication in 2013, The Goldfinch’s cinematic outing has become one of the biggest shocks of the year – nay, the decade. 

For those unfamiliar with the 800-page doorstopper of a novel, we follow the story of Theodore Decker (Ansel Elgort), who was 13 years old when his mother was killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The tragedy changes the course of his life, sending him on a stirring odyssey of grief and guilt, reinvention and redemption, crime, and even love. Through it all, he holds on to one tangible piece of hope from that terrible day - a painting of a tiny bird chained to its perch, The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius.

But despite the immense power and complexity of the novel, the film reduces it all to a vapid and soulless Oscars-bait drama that barely justifies its own existence. Clocking in at 2 and a half hours, the bloated and tedious film that feels like anyone involved with the production didn’t even read the book and instead adapted this disaster from the Wikipedia synopsis. Totally devoid of character and passion, it is a hollow film without life and without love – a forced and uncomfortable watch that does a huge disservice to Tartt’s novel. 

Bizarrely, Jeff Goldstein (president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros) has stated in response to the film’s dreadful debut that “there were many things that didn’t work, but the biggest was probably the marketplace” and that he feels “the audience wasn’t interested in seeing this literary work onscreen”. If even Warner Bros are admitting that nobody wants this film, then it’s a pretty lost cause.
Visually, the film often looks gorgeous – the cinematography by Oscar-winner Roger Deakins is certainly the film’s greatest asset, as is the case with almost any film Deakins shoots. The man has a gift for shot composition and could make even the worst film at least look stunning. And despite some solid work from the cast – Westworld’s Jeffrey Wright, in particular, shines, alongside some great work from Nicole Kidman and the lead Ansel Elgort – the film is still utterly dead in the water. It’s hard to say where the main issue lies. Is it John Crowley’s sloppy direction? More likely Peter Straughan’s soulless screenplay that shits all over Tartt’s phenomenal novel. But like Warner Bros’ Jeff Goldstein himself said, “there were many things that didn’t work”. Absolutely right.


A few months ago, I would’ve put good money on The Goldfinch being an Oscars frontrunner. Hell, I would’ve even not given a second thought to putting money on it winning Best Picture. Now, the only awards it’s likely to pick up are Razzies. If nothing else, The Goldfinch is a cautionary tale of how to not adapt a book for the screen, and even a reminder that not all stories work onscreen. Despite some solid work from the cast and a beautiful visual style from Roger Deakins, The Goldfinch is destined to be one of the worst films of 2019 and maybe even the decade.

☆☆☆☆☆
Sam Love



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Saturday, 23 November 2019

Where'd You Go, Bernadette ☆☆☆☆☆


Richard Linklater is a filmmaker that anyone with an interest in film will be familiar with. With titles like Slacker, Dazed & Confused, the Before trilogy and the 12-year opus Boyhood in his filmography, he’s certainly someone you can rely on. Hell, Time Magazine’s 2015 list of the 100 most influential people in the world included him – what an honour for the guy who gave us Matthew McConaughey’s iconic “alright, alright, alright” moment. Linklater is at his absolute best when he pens original material – when he adapts novels, not so much. I was sceptical when Maria Semple’s 2012 novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette was due to hit the big screen with Linklater directing. And honestly, I was right to be.


Former architect Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) seems to have it all – a beautiful home, a successful and loving husband, a loving daughter – but she hates people, she hates leaving the house, and more than anything, she hates the other parents at her daughter Bee's (Emma Nelson) school. When she disappears without a trace, it is Bee's mission to find out where she has disappeared to and what really happened to her, embarking on an exciting adventure to solve the mystery. Despite this promising premise from a best-selling and hilariously satirical novel, the film is a totally disappointing mess. This one doesn’t feel like Linklater at all.

Cate Blanchett, usually brilliant, is a little bit all over the place – although it’s hard to say if this is her fault or the fault of the script. Over-the-top and cartoonish throughout, this performance is ridiculously hammy and almost pantomime levels of bizarre, a choice which doesn’t give anybody or anything else in the film very much room to breathe. A shame really, as this is the first Linklater to feature a solo female lead – and it’s trash.

While the novel skewered the norms of family, motherhood and suburban life, the film shits all over the novel with a downright bizarre adaptation in which absolutely nothing works. It’s actually quite shocking just how bad this is when you consider the immense talent of the cast and director and the fact you have such a great book as a source. Where’d You Go Bernadette is all over the place and a masterclass in how not to adapt a book, removing all that was good and taking easy roads to settle for weepy family schmaltz.


The film is one huge misfire from beginning to end, poorly edited, bizarrely performed and dreadfully structured. When the film reached its conclusion – or rather, reached several conclusions to the many films that seem to have been squashed into this over-stuffed mess – the pay-off was so lacking that my initial response was just “…ok”. I wasn’t angry or disappointed initially, nor was I happy. I think I was just tired and relieved that it was over. Looking back, I notice the untapped potential of a cinematic adaptation of the novel. The story of a seemingly happy woman losing her self-worth is intriguing but packaged this poorly by Richard Linklater it totally misses the mark. There’s, sadly, nothing to recommend here. It seems like every choice the cast and crew made was the wrong one, resulting in an absolute shit-show of a movie. One to avoid, even for Linklater’s most ardent fans. 


☆☆☆☆☆
Sam Love



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Friday, 22 November 2019

The Kitchen ★★☆☆☆


After years of gangster and crime films being totally ruled over by men, recent times have dictated that women get a fair shot now too with female-led ensemble films like Widows, Hustlers, the similarly titled The Hustle and Ocean’s Eight (to name a but a few). But whilst this was refreshing and, well, great to begin with, like anything, it is now becoming an overly saturated market. Now that all the studios are having a go, the subgenre is becoming incredibly crowded and it takes a lot for a film of this premise to stand out. Unfortunately, Andrea Berloff’s The Kitchen fails.


Based on the Vertigo comic book series from DC Entertainment, The Kitchen stars Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss as three 1978 Hell's Kitchen housewives whose mobster husbands are sent to prison by the FBI. Left with little but a sharp axe to grind, the ladies take the Irish mafia's matters into their own hands - proving unexpectedly adept at everything from running the rackets to taking out the competition...literally. Despite three immensely talented leads at the forefront of this Widows wannabe, The Kitchen is overly jumbled, convoluted and rushed – resulting in one hell of a disappointment and a frustrating waste of some real acting chops from the leads.

Firstly, The Kitchen is entirely too heavy-handed with its themes of girl power. Now I do not disagree at all with that premise – girl power FTW, obviously. But while films like Widows and Hustlers have been subtle about it – ie. they haven’t felt the need to remind the audience in every single scene that they are women – The Kitchen, unfortunately, puts its premise first and makes the whole thing feel forced. Film critic Angelica Jade Bastién noted in her review for New York Magazine that she ‘half-expected every scene to end with a freeze-frame high five or the women yelling girl power’, and that is an issue.

But putting that to one side, everything else about the film is a bloody mess too. The characters are thinly written and totally undeveloped, resulting in the audience not caring about their exploits and certainly not feeling any concern for them in moments of tension. Jumbled storytelling and tonal inconsistency mean the film swings wildly between genres and any sort of narrative logic, while horrifically bad editing does not help at all. It feels almost like Andrea Berloff shot the film once as a comedy, once as a drama, once as a thriller (etc.) and then aggressively cut them all together in the editing suite like a cinematic Frankenstein’s monster. The film is just absolutely all over the place and it makes for very uncomfortable viewing.


Nothing at all about the film feels authentic – we don’t feel the friendship or camaraderie between the women, and we certainly don’t buy their criminal ability. It just all feels so disconnected and poorly written that it is impossible to get behind the characters or be even remotely drawn into the film’s world – and it’s a shame.

The Kitchen is one of 2019’s biggest disappointments. With such a stellar cast and a gritty 1970s setting, this could’ve been a dark and thrilling Scorsese-Esque crime romp. Instead, it feels more like an amateur TV movie that you’d find on some obscure TV channel at 1am. There’s a great film in here somewhere – but unfortunately, it’s buried far too deep for anyone to ever find. Still, McCarthy, Moss and Haddish make any film watchable. 

★★☆☆☆
Sam Love


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Thursday, 21 November 2019

Jojo Rabbit ★★★☆☆


Despite a filmography that includes What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt For The Wilderpeople and the brilliant Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi’s latest film is a hard premise to swallow. Whilst known for irreverent and oft-surreal humour, Jojo Rabbit seemed like a step too far. The film, in which Waititi plays an imaginary Hitler to a young, lonely Nazi boy, rubbed a lot of people the wrong way with the initial marketing. How could you make a quirky comedy around such a dark and distressing time in our history?


Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a lonely German boy who discovers that his single mother (Scarlet Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend -- Adolf Hitler (Waititi) -- Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II continues to rage on.

Marketed as an ‘anti-hate satire’ by whichever unlucky sod was tasked with selling such a bizarre premise to the masses, Jojo Rabbit’s tone and message were totally vague. Was this a piss-take?  Upon viewing the film at October’s London Film Festival, however, I was surprised to learn that the film’s marketing didn’t really capture the film’s tone at all. While the premise is accurately advertised – yes, this is about a boy with an imaginary friend in Adolf Hitler – there is a lot more heart here than expected. But that is both a positive and a negative.

Of course, it is a negative to display Nazism in such a twee way, with the true horror and implications of World War II often far removed. While elements of the war are alluded to, this is by-and-large a colourful, fun and sanitised little comedy that often feels weak and cowardly. If you’re going to make a quirky Nazi comedy, you need to go hard or go home. This just feels like a TV comedy sketch stretched to a feature-length without any real punch, focusing instead on a gentle coming-of-age narrative structure in a film that feels almost derivative of Wes Anderson’s unique style. What was initially marketed as audacious and brave, the film is almost frustratingly safe.

But despite being marketed as an irreverent comedy, the film does occasionally steer toward drama and this is where it achieves its greatest impact. Like most satire – just look at any Chris Morris film – the laughs slow down as the film reaches its conclusion and ends on a more thought-provoking and poignant note than the bizarre jokes that have come before it. But while Chris Morris’ satire is sharp, biting and challenging, this feels rather soulless and cheap in comparison. Satirising Hitler has been around for decades – just look at Mel Brooks’ The Producers – and it feels like Waititi hasn’t really got anything new to say with Jojo Rabbit.


On the whole, Jojo Rabbit is, unfortunately, something of a misfire. Not funny enough to pass as an unmissable comedy and certainly not emotionally complex enough to address the realism of the world it inhabits, it falters somewhere between the two genres in a cinematic purgatory that feels desperate to be edgy and audacious. Jojo Rabbit is a disappointment, and possibly the weakest entry in Waititi’s stellar filmography thus far. But even bad Waititi is better than most of the rubbish on the big screen these days, so it still comes with a recommendation – just adjust your expectations accordingly.

★★★☆☆
Sam Love



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Wednesday, 20 November 2019

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood ★★★★★


If there’s one thing we need right now, it’s a little bit of kindness. We’ve been living in such a hateful and divided world recently that we must look to the arts for escape. For some people, getting lost in a good video game. Others, a book. For me, it’s a film. At this year’s London Film Festival, there was one film that I built my whole trip around. A film I’ve been looking forward to since it was announced last year, and a film I have wanted for even longer. A film about Fred Rogers.

After last year’s phenomenal documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbour which found its way into my end of year best-of list, it was only a matter of time until somebody utilised the renewed interest in children’s television icon Mister Rogers for Hollywood. That somebody was celebrated, director Marielle Heller. And who better to bring one of the world’s most loved and trusted men to life than another one of the world’s most loved and trusted men – Tom Hanks.


For those of you who don’t know – and it’s understandable, Rogers’ audience was primarily in the US – Mister Rogers was an American television personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer and minister. He was primarily known as the creator, composer, producer, writer, showrunner and host of the preschool series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood which ran for 912 episodes from 1968 to 2001. Above all, though, Rogers is known as one of the purest, kindest and most wholesome individuals in the history of the human race – and that’s not hyperbole. Watching any documentary or reading any book on the man will tell you the same thing, and it’s this theory that forms the basis of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.

Inspired by a true story, cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) begrudgingly accepts an assignment to write a profile on Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks) for Esquire magazine. The jaded journo can’t believe that what everyone says about Rogers’ kindness is true, but over the course of many weeks, as his article comes together, his perspective on life love is transformed forever by the time he spends with the great man.

It’s clear from the get-go that this is the role Tom Hanks was born to play. Uncannily matching the soothing cadence of Rogers, Hanks becomes a warm hug personified as he dons the iconic cardigans and sneakers of Rogers in this charming drama. Hanks exudes kindness and understanding in his poignant performance which has won the full approval of Rogers’ living widow Joanne Rogers who cameos in the film. But Hanks is a supporting role here, with the bulk of screentime going to Matthew Rhys’ Lloyd. Rhys portrays the transformation from cynical to wholesome so movingly that it is hard to not be swept up and inspired to become better people ourselves. 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is widely being labelled “the film we need right now”, but I disagree. It’s the film we will always need, for as long as there is hate in this world – which it feels like there always will be. This is a warm, heartfelt and soothing masterpiece that will inspire even the coldest, jaded hearts to change. Biased as I am as a Rogers fan, I absolutely adored every second of A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and I think you will find it very difficult to not be swept along by its charms yourself. A beautiful day indeed.

★★★★★
Sam Love



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Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Good Omens ★★★☆☆


If Good Omens is going to get any awards, it’s surely for the marketing team. Not because the marketing itself was particularly imaginative or hype-building, but because for a time, it felt like you couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without having David Tennant and Michael Sheen’s mugs staring at you. This thing was everywhere – buses, TV, billboards, websites, before almost any YouTube video…It was exhausting. When it came to actually watching the bloody thing, I was already sick of it.


The miniseries, based on the 1990 novel of the same name by Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett, the six-episode adaptation is a co-production between BBC and Amazon Studios – with the BBC giving it some real pedigree. Initially launched on Amazon Prime, the series is also scheduled to be run on BBC Two before the end of the year, which is rare for a streaming platform programme. Sure, it happens – Better Call Saul launching on AMC and Netflix simultaneously – but there’s rarely a gap between. Whether the viewing figures will be particularly strong on BBC months after the online release remains to be seen, but with the DVD and Blu-ray coming out, it’s time to revisit this wildly original and yet downright underwhelming series.

For those who haven’t read the book, Good Omens is basically a buddy comedy. Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) is a fussy angel. Crowley (David Tennant) is a loose-living demon. They’ve both been on Earth for over 6,000 years. During that time they’ve grown quite fond of it, and, against all odds, each other. We follow Aziraphale and Crowley as they join forces in an attempt to find an 11-year-old Antichrist (and his dog) and avert the looming Apocalypse. For fans of the book – I, alas, am not one – the series is seemingly a faithful adaptation of the source. But for those who have never been able to understand the Pratchett appeal, the series is just uncomfortably quirky to a point that makes it near unwatchable.

Performance-wise, the series thrives mainly off the back of Michael Sheen who puts in a delightful performance as the charming Aziraphale, who owns an antiquarian bookshop in London and enjoys a quiet, simple life. David Tennant, on the other hand, plays David Tennant. You’re very aware that you are watching Tennant throughout who never really sinks into the role, which is a disappointment considering the opportunities one could have with playing a rockstar demon. Other cast members include US stars Jon Hamm, Nick Offerman and Frances McDormand who – in a remarkable bit of casting – narrates the series as God. But this is a Sheen and Tennant show through and through, and with one of the pair not rising to the challenge, the series suffers as a result.


Production values are solid and the direction from Douglas Mackinnon – frequent Doctor Who director and the man behind Sherlock’s Abominable Bride special – is fine, but for me, my enjoyment hinged entirely on whether I enjoyed the premise and the style of the series. As a Pratchett and Gaiman non-fan, I just didn’t get it. The jokes didn’t land and the style lost me. But this isn’t a criticism of the show, I am just the wrong audience for it. I’m not going to rip it to shreds when at its core it is a solid adaptation of its source which counts a great many people among its fans.

What I can praise as an outsider to the Good Omens lore is Michael Sheen’s charming performance and a general feeling of quality throughout, both visually and behind the scenes. Adapted by Neil Gaiman who acts as the series showrunner, this is certainly a faithful telling of the tale for fans who have enjoyed the written adventures of Aziraphale and Crowley, so if you’re among that group then I’m sure you’ll have a super-duper time. But if you’ve never been able to understand the appeal of this sort of comedy, then you are certainly not going to be converted here. 

★★★☆☆
Sam Love

Good Omens at CeX


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Monday, 18 November 2019

Black and Blue ★★☆☆☆


Naomie Harris is one of the most talented actresses working today, and someone who’s name brings a new layer of quality to any film. In 2016, her talents were finally truly recognised in the cinema industry after her phenomenal performance in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe, BAFTA and Academy Award. In 2017, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her services to drama. And yet, 2019 has brought her first true lead role in a film that absolutely does not deserve her talents. Yeah, it’s shit.


Black and Blue is a fast-paced action thriller about a rookie cop (Naomie Harris) who inadvertently captures the murder of a young drug dealer on her body cam. After realizing that the murder was committed by corrupt cops, she teams up with the one person from her community who is willing to help her (Tyrese Gibson) as she tries to escape both the criminals out for revenge and the police who are desperate to destroy the incriminating footage. 

Black and Blue wants to be a powerful study on the effects of institutionalised racism and endemic corruption. She even faces some herself when she joins the force in New Orleans. The film’s first scene is uncomfortable in its realism – when out for a morning jog, Harris’ character is pulled over by a pair of white officers who promptly rough her up before realising she is a fellow officer. Without an apology, they dismiss the situation with “You know how it is”. It’s upsetting and powerful, and I thought woah, ok, this is going to be intense. Then it wasn’t.

Despite a premise with such potential for shocking drama and thrills, Black and Blue is totally buried beneath preposterous plot machinations and an absolutely dreadful script from Peter A. Dowling. The film is totally without substance or character development, meaning we simply do not care about whether or not Naomie Harris’ rookie makes it out of her increasingly far-fetched situation alive. It’s a mess and not the sort of mess you can laugh at and find some mindless entertainment within. Because of the complex and serious themes, the film is totally straight-faced and there are no laughs to be had. It’s just uncomfortably bad.


Unfortunately, the suspenseful scenes of discrimination that give the film the limited impact it has are suffocated by nonsense plot progression and exposition that negate the film’s impact as a whole. It’s a shame because there is a good film somewhere in Black and Blue. Perhaps a tighter edit, better screenplay or more assured direction could’ve unearthed a very impactful and timely little thriller. Instead, we have an amateur affair that feels like a straight-to-DVD Steven Seagal film. Director Deon Taylor’s previous film The Intruder was panned for similar reasons and I actually found a lot to like in it – but here, I’ve got nothing good to say. Black and Blue could’ve been so much more, but unfortunately, it collapses in on itself and implodes into a cinematic mess that totally wastes the stellar talents of its lead. A big disappointment. 


★★☆☆☆
Sam Love



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Sunday, 17 November 2019

Hustlers ★★★★★


Isn’t it funny how cinema can surprise you? From all my years as a critic, I have learned one thing – you cannot judge a book by its cover, or rather, a film by its poster. While films like The Goldfinch turn out to be unmitigated disasters when I would’ve comfortably put money on them being Oscar frontrunners, films that look dreadful swoop in and jump straight up my ‘best of the year’ list. It’s made me a better critic – ie. I no longer go into films with preconceived notions that I will hate them if they look rubbish. Because sometimes, they might be Hustlers.


Working as a stripper to make ends meet, Destiny's (Constance Wu) life changes forever when she becomes friends with Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) - the club's top money earner. Ramona soon shows Destiny how to finagle her way around the wealthy Wall Street clientele who frequent the club. But when the 2008 economic collapse cuts into their profits, the gals and two other dancers devise a daring scheme to take their lives back…

Sure, on the surface, Hustlers looks like any of the previously released ‘sisters are doing it for themselves’ films like Widows, The Kitchen and Ocean’s Eight. But what Hustlers brings to the table is a fun, thrilling and downright sexy romp the likes of which have not been seen for a long time. This visually stunning and exciting film may be based around strippers and yet it is presented in a way that is not exploitive – director Lorene Scafaria makes the world of Hustlers empowering and feminist in a way that feels real and powerful, not in a forced way like recent disappointment The Kitchen. 

The cast here are on phenomenal form with Jennifer Lopez delivering the finest performance of her illustrious career. After a few years playing crooked cop Harlee Santos on TV’s criminally underrated Shades of Blue, J-Lo sure knows her way around a complex and layered character. With a great abundance of swagger and magnetism, J-Lo commands the screen in every scene and delivers a performance that could easily be an Oscar frontrunner come 2020. Fresh off the Boat’s Constance Wu also impresses enormously, and a supporting cast including Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart are also excellent.


The film’s visuals also pack a hell of a punch, with the seedy clubs and nightlife a character in themselves. Todd Banhazl’s cinematography transports us into this underbelly and makes us feel truly part of this world, which is a ruthless and dark place – and yet, the film still retains a sense of good old-fashioned fun. While we are spending time in an often frightening world onscreen, we are in good company with some of the strongest and toughest female characters written in some time – something else we can thank director Lorene Scafaria for, who also penned the screenplay.

Hustlers is absolutely one of the 2019’s finest and one that I wouldn’t be surprised to see picking up some real interest come awards season. Boasting a phenomenal ensemble cast, an exciting and thrilling plot and some real empowerment from a passionate filmmaker, Hustlers could just be the definitive female-led crime film for our times. It will take a lot to beat this one.

★★★★★
Sam Love

Hustlers at CeX


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