MOLLY’S GAME

Three and a half Star Rating

“Sorkin’s film is a slick affair that chugs along nicely in sprightly fashion…” – Wayward Wolf.

 

Is she now?

Well I never.

Welcome to another year of film reviews and comment from yours truly. And I’m delighted to report that 2018’s off to a highly entertaining start with Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game.

One of the many great things about the cinematic experience is that it introduces us to stories that are so much larger than life – or at least the lives that most of us ever experience – that you’d struggle to believe that they could ever happen, let alone actually did.

One such story through which we may all vicariously live (for two hours and twenty minutes at least), is that of Molly Bloom, the brains and guile behind an exclusive ultra high-stakes poker game that blossomed under her canny guidance,on both sides of the USA.

The FBi conduct a dawn raid on Molly as she sleeps. Quite why such a heavily armed team of officers is required to apprehend a single unarmed female is not apparent at this stage, but something serious is clearly afoot. We then proceed to back track a little in time. Molly is a determined professional competitive freestyle skier whose life, owing to one bad accident, is about to veer off in directions that she could never even have imagined.

Molly (a terrific turn from Jessica Chastain), is plucked from the relative obscurity of ‘working the tables’ in an exclusive night club, designed to drain the cash from those with sizeable wallets and limitless egos. She therefore finds herself working in an administrative job for a rather obnoxious entrepreneur.

It’s pedestrian work, to say the least, but one of her responsibilities is the running of an exclusive weekly poker game for her new boss and his ‘who’s who of wealthy Los Angeles movers and shakers’ friends.

It’s a steep learning curve for Molly, but a role that she seems to have a natural talent for, absorbing everything with sponge-like efficiency and attention to detail.

Sensing however that her unreasonable employer is readying himself to unfairly swing the axe and dispense with her talents, Molly, confident that she is now sufficiently well versed in all things poker, makes the bold move to go it alone, ‘seizing’ the lucrative weekly card game from her ex-boss in the process.

No longer a smokey back room get-together, Molly’s version of the weekly poker game will dramatically morph into something altogether more glamorous and lucrative for all, hosted in the rather grandiose surrounds of the penthouse apartment of an exclusive Los Angeles hotel. But with all of this new found glitz and glamour will come all manner of problems. Stabbed in the back by one of her customers, Molly’s game quickly moves on to New York, but soon begins to attract players with dubious backgrounds and dangerous connections. And once the unpredictable and unpalatable cocktail of drugs and the mafiosi become involved, things just become way too difficult to sustain and control, leaving Molly’s game to quickly descend into a downward spiral from which it can never recover, leaving Molly to face the music with the authorities.

Sorkin’s film is a slick affair that chugs along nicely in sprightly fashion, a momentum that only really tends to dissipate (probably necessarily), during the film’s protracted scenes of lengthy dialogue between Molly and her lawyer, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba).

It should be said that even with the ‘helpful?’ on-screen graphics illustrating exactly what it is that we are apparently watching, I must confess to having been suitably befuddled by much of the card game action, most of which came across as nothing but a confusing flurry of rapid-fire edits of cards, chips, blurred hands and concentrative – bordering on anxious – faces. Admittedly, sitting right at the front of my own particular screening certainly didn’t help me gain any sort of much needed perspective on things.

It goes without saying that a rudimentary appreciation of the game of Poker would have been extremely beneficial here, though not crucial to the general understanding of what was occurring, especially considering much of the card game action, and indeed the narrative of the film in general, is accompanied by Molly’s own clear and concise narration.

Jessica Chastain is absolutely excellent as Molly, Idris Elba convinces as her self-assured lawyer and legal guide, and Kevin Costner is an interesting and on balance I’d say successful piece of casting, portraying Molly’s father, Larry, a man that Molly has spent her entire life either rebelling against or trying to impress, yet an emotional chasm is very evident between the pair. As far as Molly is concerned, nothing she does is, or ever has been good enough for her father.

As with any larger than life rise and fall / boom and bust story, we can only ask that it entertains and is executed in such a way as to keep us intrigued from start to finish.

And Molly’s Game does precisely that.

 

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The Wayward Wolf Annual Film Awards – 2017:

WWAFA Wolf Image 2017

Well, didn’t 2017 just fly by, folks?

And with the spectre of death looming ever larger over each and every one of us, the Wayward Wolf is here once again to make some sense of it all by picking over the bones of the year (just gone) in film, with the…

2017 Wayward Wolf Film Awards (The WWAFAS)!

76 (that’s SEVENTY-SIX) films were viewed on the big screen this year, one more than in 2016, and it has to be said that the standard was mind bogglingly good at times. So good in fact that there’s virtually nothing in it between the top ten entries. Indeed, picking the best film was harder this year than in any of the preceding four or five years that I’ve been doing all of this reviewing malarkey.

I should also acknowledge that there were a few choice films released in 2017 which seem to be have received all manner of rave reviews yet somehow slipped through my net for one reason or another, such as: God’s Own Country, Happy End, I am Not Your Negro, Good Time to name but four. Do bear this in mind then before bemoaning their lack of inclusion!

Lastly, you’ll notice that there is an absence of a Best Documentary category this year. Despite having seen any number of them on television during the year – including some magnificent serialised OJ Simpson and Vietnam documentaries, not to mention the brilliant Jim & Andy – unusually (for me), I’ve barely managed to see any on the big screen during 2017. Hopefully that’s something that can be rectified in 2018.

Don’t forget, it’s only films viewed in a cinema by yours truly – with a 2017 UK release date – that have been considered in the final reckoning.

And so, without anymore to-do, it’s on with the show…

 

This Year’s WWAFA Categories:

1. Best Soundtrack

2. Best Foreign Language Film

3. Best Actress (Lead or support)

4. Best Actor (Lead or support)

5. Worst Film

6. Best Film

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Best Original Soundtrack:

 

The Top Five: (in descending order):

5. It’s Only the End of the World  – Gabriel Yared

4. Jackie – Mica Levi

3. A Ghost Story – Daniel Hart

2. La La Land Justin Hurwitz

But the winner is…

1. Hans ZimmerDunkirk

As excellent as many other soundtracks have been in 2017, this year there was a clear winner. Hans Zimmer’s superb score is a precision piece of work complimenting magnificently Christopher Nolan’s epic vision of war. I’ve seen this relationship described as perfectly symbiotic, and truly it is. A superbly powerful emotionally charged soundtrack and a thoroughly deserving winner.

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Best Foreign Language Film:

 

The Top Five: (in descending order):

5. It’s Only the End of the World

4. The Handmaiden

3. Raw

2. En Man Som Heter Ove (A Man Called Ove)

But the winner is…

1. Toni Erdmann

Sandra Hüller’s subtle performance is absolutely spot on in Maren Ade’s wonderful film which fuses “a mostly subtle strand of comedy with an underlying melancholia in this absorbing tale of a disfunctional father/daughter relationship.”

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Best Actress:

 

Narrowly missing out on the top five in 2017, it’s only fair that we acknowledge the following brilliant performances:

Florence Pugh and her gloriously conniving performance in Lady MacBeth.

Teresa Palmer’s excellent portrayal of a girl held captive against her will in Berlin Syndrome.

Jennifer Lawrence’s breathtaking adrenalin-charged performance in Mother.

Sandra Hüller’s splendid performance in Toni Erdmann.

And Clare Foy, Julia Roberts and Natalie Portman for their roles in Breathe, Wonder and Jackie respectively.

 

The Top Five: (in descending order):

5. Tatiana Maslany – Stronger

4. Viola Davis Fences

3. Annette Bening Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

2. Ellie Kendrick – The Levelling

But the winner is…

1. Isabelle Huppert – Elle:

A reassuringly superb performance from Huppert as “a woman whose experiences earlier in life have resulted in something of a twisted psyche…”
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Best Actor:

 

Some truly memorable performances in 2017, and it would be remiss of me not to mention the handful that narrowly missed the cut:

Andrew Garfield had quite the year when you consider that his superb performances in both Silence and Breathe weren’t even his best performances of the year!

Terrific performances also from:

Jake Gyllenhaal in Stronger, Michael Keaton in The Founder, Geoffrey Rush in Final Portrait, both Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name and Jamie Bell in Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, whilst Vincent Cassel’s rage-fuelled performance in It’s Only the End of the World was also a big highlight.

The Top Five: (in descending order):

5. Jim Broadbent – The Sense Of An Ending

4.  Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project

3. Casey AffleckManchester By the Sea

2. Andrew GarfieldHacksaw Ridge

But the winner is…

1. Denzel Washington – Fences:

An absolute masterclass from the ever impressive Denzel Washington, one part of a hugely impressive ensemble cast.

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Worst Film:

 

As was the case in 2016, there were reassuringly few poor films this year (at least this was the case with regard to the films that I saw, personally), and so, as with last year, there are just the three worst film entries in this particular category…

The Top Three: (in descending order):

3. Hampstead

2. Alien Covenant

 

But the winner is…

1. Denial

There are almost certainly umpteen more ‘conventionally’ awful films from 2017 than Director Mick Jackson’s Denial – a film which may well boast the likes of Timothy Spall and Rachel Weisz amongst its impressive cast, but sometimes it’s simply a film’s totally one-eyed unbalanced approach to its subject matter that’s enough to infuriate sufficiently and earn it the ‘not so’ coveted, Worst Film WWAFA.

Denial is most definitely one such film.

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Best Film:

 

Ten absolutely tremendous films, but there can be only one winner…

 

The Top Ten (in descending order):

10. The Handmaiden 

9. La La Land 

8. Fences

7. A Ghost Story

6. Raw

5. En Man Som Heter Ove (A Man Called Ove)

4. Toni Erdmann

3. Mother

2. Manchester By The Sea

 

But the winner, and Wayward Wolf Film Of The Year for 2017, is…

 

1. The Florida Project

It was always going to take something special to pip the rest to the post this year, and Sean Baker’s wonderful The Florida Project had all the right ingredients to do just that. Enchanting, moving and uplifting… “as poignant and wonderful an observational slice-of-life tale as you’re ever likely to see.”

 

So that’s it for another year!

It only remains to wish everyone an excellent 2018 and to leave you all with the full and final 76-strong, Wayward Wolf film list for 2017.

 

Ciao for now.

The Full 2017 Wayward Wolf Film List (in order of preference):

1. The Florida Project

2. Manchester By the Sea

3. Mother

4. Toni Erdmann

5. En Man Som Heter Ove (A Man Called Ove)

6. Raw

7. A Ghost Story

8. Fences

9. La La Land

10. The Handmaiden

11. Lion

12. The Sense of an Ending

13. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

14. Certain Women

15. It Comes at Night

16. The Founder

17. Lady MacBeth

18. American Made

19. The Party

20. A Monster Calls

21. Dunkirk

22. Get Out

23. The Red Turtle

24. It’s Only the End of the World

25. Elle

26. Moonlight

27. Call Me By Your Name

28. The Levelling

29. Blade Runner 2049

30. Berlin Syndrome

31. The Lost City of Z

32. The Beguiled

33. Gifted

34. Wind River

35. Stronger

36. T2 Trainspotting

37. Breathe

38. Hacksaw Ridge

39. Baby Driver

40. Wonder

41. Churchill

42. Alone in Berlin

43. Hidden Figures

44. Mountain

45. The Glass Castle

46. Mindhorn

47. Final Portrait

48. The Killing of a Sacred Deer

49. The Death of Stalin

50. Hell on Earth

51. The Ritual

52. Murder on the Orient Express

53. Detroit

54. Logan (Noir)

55. The Belko Experiment

56. Jackie

57. Their Finest

58. Life

59. War for the Planet of the Apes

60. Silence

61. Borg vs McEnroe

62. IT

63. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

64. Kong – Skull Island

65. Tiszta Szívvel (Kills on Wheels)

66. The Secret Scripture

67. Ghost in the Shell

68. Suburbicon

69. Jigsaw

70. Colossal

71. The Snowman

72. Power Rangers

73. Fai Bei Sogni (Sweet Dreams)

74. Hampstead

75. Alien Covenant

76. Denial

STRONGER

“…Tatiana Maslany’s depiction of Erin Hurley is one of genuine sentiment and a warm almost tangible sense of goodness.”

Wayward Wolf.

In many ways, Stronger is one of those ten-a-penny ‘triumph over adversity’ films that have been such a mainstay of cinema over the years.

However, what separates David Gordon Green’s tale from most are the superbly powerful performances of the film’s principal characters.

Owing to Jeff Bauman’s erratic nature and inability to turn up when he’s meant to, his relationship with Erin Hurley is something of an on and off affair. At the time in which Erin is due to run the Boston Marathon, their relationship is firmly in the off position, yet Jeff is clearly still obsessed with ‘his’ girl-next-door, Erin, and in a chance meeting at their local bar, Jeff, in a grand gesture aimed at winning her back, not only encourages the bar’s many patrons to sponsor Erin, but vows himself to cheer her on at the finish line.

Home-made banner in hand, for once Jeff just about sticks to his word, but it’s a decision that will dramatically change his life forever as he falls victim to the cowardly bombings of April 2013.

Surrounded by many well-meaning friends and family, in theory Jeff has the support network in place to help him overcome his disability. But with his alcoholic mother and good-time friends’ better judgement so frequently blighted by the bottle – not to mention having to live in a tiny room in his mother’s pokey apartment that is entirely unsuitable for the needs of a a disabled person – it soon becomes apparent that if Jeff is going to have any chance of coming to terms and indeed being at peace with his now drastically changed existence, it’s going to have to be down to him.

If it weren’t for Erin, that is.

Erin, a girl so sweet and caring, will prove over time to be an absolute rock of dependability, ensuring that Jeff’s road to some form of recovery may not be quite so fraught with problems after all.

Little is made of the actual bombings themselves in Green’s film, with only a hint of politicising events or finger pointing at suspects. Instead, the focus turns to Bauman’s psychological struggles in coming to terms not only with his disability, but with the expectation of a city positively tripping over itself to laud him as being some kind of hero, to be wheeled out in public at every given opportunity.

“Boston Strong” is the mantra of the city’s people as its population closes ranks and comes together in the face of adversity.

But Jeff’s life fast descends into a circus of celebrity revolving around rather anodyne acts of flag waving at Bruins matches or tossing first pitches at Red Sox games, not to mention a proposed visit to Jeff’s home from the TV Queen of all-American sentiment, Oprah Winfrey.

It’s understandably all too much.

The one ray of light throughout though is the wonderful Erin. But Jeff’s innate unreliable nature combined with the psychological scarring of recent events threatens to undermine everything good that this girl undoubtedly brings into his life.

Stronger boasts decent support performances most notably from Miranda Richardson who is a good piece of casting as Jeff’s well-meaning but troubled alcoholic mother, Patty, but it is the film’s leading pair who predictably steal the show.

Jake Gyllenhaal is tremendously visceral in his portrayal of Jeff Bauman whilst Tatiana Maslany’s depiction of Erin Hurley is one of genuine sentiment and a warm almost tangible sense of goodness. Together the couple demonstrate the most solidly believable on-screen chemistry as they attempt to navigate their way through the most harrowing scenes of tension and heartbreak.

Just how much of David Gordon Green’s film has been embellished for cinematic purposes only Jeff and Erin themselves will know, but as a cinematic spectacle, Stronger stands alone well as an engaging, thought-provoking film absolutely brought alive by way of some truly memorable performances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

“…if we’re judging Murder on the Orient Express upon pure entertainment value alone, it’s only fair to say that this Kenneth Branagh adaptation is something of a success.”

Wayward Wolf.

This 2017 version of the Agatha Christie classic, Murder on the Orient Express (MOTOE from hereon in), seems to have received a rather mixed bag of reviews since its release. Certainly having on board (literally in this case), such a who’s who of acting royalty, demonstrates a certain confidence by Twentieth Century Fox that this weighty cast of A-listers would be sufficiently alluring to transform this well known who dunnit from being merely potential TV fodder into something of a big screen epic.

And if we’re judging MOTOE upon pure entertainment value alone, it’s only fair to say that this Kenneth Branagh adaptation is something of a success.

Branagh himself heads the cast, portraying famous Belgian detective Hercules Poirot. Like many of Agatha Christie’s heroic lead characters, Poirot proves yet again to be something of a jinx; his very presence unsurprisingly coinciding with a murder. In this instance it occurs aboard the luxurious Orient Express train en route from Turkey to Paris.

Only a limited number of passengers are booked to travel on this particular journey, however, all of whom instantly become suspects in the murder of one Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), found dead in his sleeping quarters having been stabbed repeatedly.

Ratchett’s shady past is then slowly revealed by those that knew him, a past that more than justifies such a potentially retaliatory action; something that he had in fact made known to Poirot himself, that he was rather fearful of.

With Ratchett’s grave fears proven correct, and with all suspects aboard the train unable to flee the scene of the crime, it is once again down to Belgian’s famous bloodhound to sniff out the truth in this particularly gruesome case of murder.

When one thinks of Poirot, one probably thinks of David Suchet’s long running portrayal on the small screen. Whether that is to be considered the pinnacle of all things Poirot-related is of course open to debate, and there are many far better qualified than I to cast their judgement. Regardless of this, Branagh, it should be said, is excellent in his own portrayal, depicting Poirot as a fastidious stickler for both detail and equilibrium in all things; personal traits that will come to be severely tested in the course of time.

In support, Judi Dench plays the sour-faced Princess Dragomiroff, with Olivia Colman (Hildegarde Schmidt) – a lady of few words – her companion and dog carer.

Johnny Depp is decent enough as Ratchett, though his mumbled American drawl gets a little lost amidst the ambient din of a chugging steam train.

Derek Jacobi, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe and Michelle Pfeiffer more or less complete an all-star line-up of egos, something that Director Branagh will have been tasked with containing during the film’s shoot. Though given his admirable thespian credentials, there would arguably have been no-one better suited to that particular task.

Blessed with Haris Zambarloukos’s stunning cinematography, a quality cast, an overall keen eye for the small details, and a healthy dose of humour thrown in to boot, Branagh’s adaptation of MOTOE, whilst not necessarily adding anything particularly new or revolutionary in its vision, is nevertheless one worthy of both its place on the big screen and more importantly, of the Agatha Christie novel itself.

 

 

WONDER

“…thanks to some genuinely excellent performances and a director’s unashamed mission to absolutely yank upon our collective heart strings, Wonder is an absolute lip-wobbler of a feel good film.”

Wayward Wolf.

Earlier this year, Marc Webb’s sassy, touching drama, Gifted, told the story of a highly intelligent precocious young child who had been home schooled up until a certain age. Her father was then adamant that she should be ‘unleashed’ into the real world in order to improve her social skills and to learn how to integrate with other children.

A child so intellectually advanced yet socially inept was always going to struggle to fit in and it’s therefore no surprise when her integration proves to be fraught with complications.

The similarities between Webb’s film and Stephen Chbosky’s latest offering, Wonder, are obvious and plentiful.

Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), is a young lad with severe facial disfiguration. He too is somewhat gifted – in the field of science – and has been home schooled by his mother, Isabel (Julia Roberts). She has made the brave decision to now enrol Auggie in school in order that he too may have the opportunity to assimilate with others of his own age.

It’s a courageous step for all concerned given Auggie’s special circumstances and knowing how cruel children can be at that young, impressionable age, and one that Auggie’s father, Nate (Owen Wilson), is understandably unsure about.

Nevertheless, the young boy, shielded within the security of his favourite astronaut helmet, is encouraged to take the plunge. Predictably, life’s lessons come thick and fast for the poor wee thing, weighing heavily not only upon Auggie’s vulnerable young shoulders, but upon those that love and look out for him too.

If we’re being brutally honest, there’s very little by way of originality in Stephen Chbosky’s film. This is a familiar story of not fitting in, and all of the assorted trials and tribulations that go along with that. Lessons, however, will be learned and ultimately the director is keen to relay an entirely positive message, and to say that, is really not to give away anything that you wouldn’t already have suspected.

Far from being a predictable cliché-ridden waste of everyone’s time, however, thanks to some genuinely excellent performances and a director’s unashamed mission to absolutely yank upon our collective heart strings, Wonder is an absolute lip-wobbler of a feel good film.

Naturally, Auggie’s story is very much at the forefront of things, but Chbosky also weaves in a number of the support characters’ own stories into proceedings as explanation for why they have come to be how they are, and act like they act. This is a nice idea in theory, adding a little depth to the characterisation, though it should be said that it only partially works here, and one or two of these character biographies are so short and unrevealing that they might as well have not been included at all.

It is the side story of Auggie’s older sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), however, that is most pertinent. A young, well-adjusted girl whose life has understandably been one of constantly having to play second fiddle to her brother. Auggie’s many years of surgery and continual need for attention and reassurance has left Via feeling as though she is a bit of an after thought for her parents. A simmering resentment is therefore never far from the surface whenever she and her mother are together, and even any shared plans that they may have to spend dedicated quality time together are never more than one Auggie-related phone call away from being unceremoniously aborted.

But such is life in the Pullman household.

Original it may well not be, but thanks to some beautifully played key roles, Wonder cannot help but hit the mark. Julia Roberts in particular blends both strength and tender maternal concern quite beautifully and with great sensitivity. Jacob Tremblay – so convincing in 2016’s Room –  demonstrates that the trajectory arc of his career continues to rise in one direction only, and a special mention should be made for Izabela Vidovic, whose portrayal of Auggie’s sister, Via, is one of subtle depth and know how.

With films like Wonder, and Gifted before it, there is aways a danger that they may slip on the treacly mess of their own over-sentimentality. But whilst there is no doubt that Stephen Chbosky is unafraid to slap on his own brand of emotional emulsion, thick, and with numerous coats, the end result is a film so finely glossed and beautiful, it’ll bring a lump to your throat.

Though admittedly that may just be the paint fumes.

 

 

 

 

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

“It’s big, it’s bold, fairly nonsensical in places, but crucially pretty faithful to the requirements of the franchise.”

Wayward Wolf.

From informative wording rising up shakily over a star-speckled screen (you’d have thought they might have sorted all such text-related jitters by now considering today’s super slick digital technology), to the triumphant opening fanfare of John Williams’ seminal theme, it can only mean one thing, folks. That’s right, it’s time for another thinly-veiled religiously over-toned lesson in good and evil by way of everybody’s favourite intergalactic science fiction box-ticking franchise.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (SW:TLJ from hereon in), is upon us, and receiving a considerable amount of thumbs-up activity it would appear.

But is this Rian Johnson-directed two-and-a-half-hour epic fully deserving of all such lavish praise being bestowed upon it?

First and foremost, it’s important to establish one simple truth: directing any Star Wars film is akin to wearing a strait jacket, such are the restrictions under which any director must surely operate. There is a certain level of expectancy amongst your typical Star Wars-viewing public, a formula away from which one can not veer significantly, and a check list containing  any number of core requirements that must be met before any level of personal influence and input can be injected into or stamped upon proceedings.

I’d imagine.

In fairness to Rian Johnson, his Star Wars directorial debut probably ticks enough boxes and sufficiently grooms enough executive egos to keep those that matter sufficiently happy.

There are return outings for the franchise’s two newest stars, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and  Finn (John Boyega), along with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who, in spite of his undoubtedly wonderful abilities as an actor, remains the worst piece of villainous casting in living memory. Just what were the Star Wars powers-that-be thinking?

We are also treated to a reclusive, grizzlier and somewhat wiser Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and an inexplicably large amount of computer generated Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) imagery, including an amusing incident in which, following an attack on her ship – in scenes reminiscent of the opening credit sequence of the 1960’s science fiction classic, Lost In Space – she tumbles arse-over-tit out of a spaceship into the great black beyond before being fished back in once again like some sort of cosmic carp.

Whilst it’s a nice homage to the late Carrie Fisher’s memory, quite what such an excessive amount of this CGi wizardry actually adds to the film as a whole, is debatable to say the least.

There are very limited and fairly forgettable roles for Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro, and a predictable smattering of bizarre mechanical and other worldly entities and critters – both new and old, including an unexpected cameo from Yoda himself – to keep everyone happy.

Certainly no expense has been spared in fully furnishing this latest instalment with a wide variety and excellent quality of characters, yet once again I arrive at the conclusion that there is still yet to be a Star Wars movie that succeeds in creating and developing characters of any sufficient depth or substance, and certainly none that one can fully engage or empathise with – perhaps with the exception of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo character. Talking of which, Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of pilot Poe Dameron evokes welcome memories of Solo, and it’s no surprise therefore that Poe is easily the most convincing character in SW:TLJ.

As for the plot, it’s a fairly simple affair. Aren’t they all? Essentially it’s a tale of rebels on the run. “Tom & Jerry in Space” is one particularly harsh summary that I’ve heard, which, give or take a side story or two, is actually probably a fair assessment.

It’s big, it’s bold, fairly nonsensical in places, but crucially pretty faithful to the requirements of the franchise, and if the blue light sabre-wielding fella sat behind me – hyper-ventilating with joy like an over excited spaniel on glimpsing its favourite squeaky toy – is the measuring stick here, then it’s fair to say that SW:TLJ is nothing short of a triumph. Then again, listening to the opinions of those attending a screening on Star Wars opening night probably doesn’t guarantee the most impartial of reviews.

Balance this against my own predictable apathy towards all things Star Wars and subsequent conservative assessment of them, and the true measure of Rian Johnson’s big budget blockbuster almost certainly lies somewhere in-between.

 

 

 

 

MOUNTAIN

“…the film boasts some impressive height-perspective shots of wide-eyed lunatics free-climbing their way up hundreds of metres of sheer rock face.”

Wayward Wolf.

Director Jennifer Peedom’s documentary, Mountain, is an impressive piece. An unassuming film embellished with only a very sparse smattering of voice-over supplied through the husky tones of one Willem Dafoe.

That said, to label Mountain a documentary is perhaps stretching the truth somewhat. A ‘meditation’ or ‘appreciation’ would perhaps be more appropriate.

It’s a fine combination of sweeping footage of various mountainous vistas taken from all over the globe, set to the stunning music of Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Additionally, a masterfully curated selection of some of history’s most powerful orchestral music is used to great effect here, culminating most fittingly with the Adagio movement from Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto.

Beautifully shot throughout, it’s hard not to be in total awe and reverence of the sheer scale and imposing nature of these sprawling ranges – the results of millions of years of plate tectonic and volcanic activity.

Peedom’s film, whilst never preachy or particularly intrusive, touches upon the affect that these colossal masses of rock have had upon the human psyche over time. Initially believed to be the domain of either Gods or Monsters, life at the foot of these gigantic monoliths was considered hard enough without people ever feeling any need to tempt fate by exploring their giddy, perilous heights.

The confirmation of Mount Everest as being the world’s highest peak, however, lay down the gauntlet to many an intrepid explorer, and once finally ‘conquered’ by Hillary and Norgay in 1953, the floodgates positively ruptured with regard to man pitting his wits against not only nature’s highest challenge, but indeed against every mountain range the world over.

Mountaineering suddenly became something of an obsession, no longer to be considered the past-time of the foolhardy or clinically insane.

Talking of insane, the film boasts some impressive height-perspective shots of wide-eyed lunatics free-climbing their way up hundreds of metres of sheer rock face – footage that left me frozen to my seat in terror, questioning just exactly how much has really changed with regards to the perceived mental state of the climbing fraternity.

Perhaps most sweaty palm-inducing of all though was a section devoted to extreme sports, following a variety of thrill-seeking wack jobs in their assorted attempts to free dive / parachute / bike or off-piste ski themselves into certain oblivion, often simultaneously outrunning avalanches in the process.

Madness! Yet utterly enthralling.

Whilst those of us that have had any sort of fascination with mountains and mountaineering over the years may not necessarily learn anything new from Jennifer Peedom’s film, Mountain is however a stunning, heart felt ode to their breathtaking majestic beauty, and a stark reminder of humanity’s sheer insignificance; dwarfed in their very presence.

 

 

SUBURBICON

“Suburbicon is a rather disjointed hotchpotch of ideas and concepts, like a mis-matched outfit thrown together by an owner racked by indecision whilst going through something of an identity crisis.”

Wayward Wolf.

I’d love to wax lyrical about the merits of a George Clooney-directed film based upon an original Coen Brothers script with all of the sort of gushing praise that those particular ingredients should probably warrant.

But I can’t. It’s just not possible. And considering that I was entirely convinced by the film’s superbly enticing trailer, this therefore represents something of a significant disappointment.

Suburbicon is a tale of dark deeds and whole-scale unrest that occurs on an idyllic housing development in 1960’s America. It follows the exploits of up-standing pillar of society and middle-class family man, Gardner Lodge (a fine performance from Matt Damon it should be said), whose life is suddenly rocked by the death of his disabled wife; an event instigated by a couple of ne’er-do-well hoodlums whilst carrying out a bungled burglary / hostage scenario at Gardner’s family home.

Friends and relatives understandably all rally around during such troubled times, and Gardner decides that in the interest of maintaining some sort of home-life stability, his wife’s identical twin sister, Margaret, should move into the family home for a while.

But things are not quite what they seem in this land of neatly-kempt lawns, white picket fences and twitching curtains, and with the cat threatening to bolt clean out of the bag, Gardner’s life begins to unravel, descending ultimately into outright chaos.

The basic premise of Clooney’s film is a fairly simple one – a tale of dodgy insurance claims and bungling mafiosi, and whilst it’s perhaps not a tale representing any great sense of originality, it certainly contains sufficient substance and intrigue from which to fashion something perfectly watchable.

Certainly Suburbicon‘s cast all put in dependably solid performances. Damon, as mentioned already, is excellent and is ably supported by Julianne Moore in her twin roles as both Gardner’s wife (Rose), and her twin sister (Margaret). Credit too to Oscar Isaac and his portrayal of wily insurance claim investigator, Bud Cooper, which is something of a highlight.

Yet, in spite of such a stellar cast, mysteriously, Clooney’s Suburbicon succeeds only in underwhelming, bringing to mind Ridley Scott’s 2013 hugely disappointing, The Counsellor. It too was a film boasting an impressive who’s-who of top acting talent with a big name director on board, yet ultimately absolutely stank the gaff out.

Suburbicon is a rather disjointed hotchpotch of ideas and concepts, like a mis-matched outfit thrown together by an owner that’s racked by indecision whilst simultaneously experiencing something of an identity crisis. And I’m still trying to work out the true relevance of the the story’s race-related sub-plot which felt both peripheral and largely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

Add in the usually reliable Alexandre Desplat’s dreary omnipresent score splashed lavishly and unnecessarily all over the place, and Clooney’s film – one which threatened to be something of a devilishly dark comic romp, on paper – is one that’s probably worth giving something of a wide berth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EN MAN SOM HETER OVE (A Man Called Ove)

“…just how did he become this petty harbinger of headaches, and what does the future hold for this archetypal grumpy old man?”

Wayward Wolf.

If Peter Bradshaw’s rather dismissive review in the Guardian is anything to go by, A Man Called Ove is, and I quote: “…not very funny, not very sad, not very believable, and not very interesting.”

That’s not very favourable really, now is it, Peter?

More pertinently, it’s a truly baffling point of view that’s had me scratching my head.

Fortunately, I was not party to Mr Bradshaw’s peculiar conclusions prior to viewing this particular piece of Swedish cinema – conclusions that appear to have been arrived at whilst simultaneously tumbling down Alice’s rabbit hole, I should add.

Obviously it’s all subjective and there are no right or wrong answers here, but far from being the poor excuse for a film that Mr Bradshaw insinuates, Academy Award-nominated A Man Called Ove – based upon Fredrik Backman’s novel of the same name – is in fact, I’m delighted to inform you, a soulful, witty, wonderfully engaging piece. And whilst we’re in the business of overdosing on superlatives, let’s throw warm-hearted and life-affirming into the mix, too.

As for believable? Well, yes and no, but that’s hardly a critical factor when one considers that cinema is by its very nature a means of escape, frequently calling upon us to suspend our collective sense of disbelief. But let’s be clear here, A Man Called Ove is not in any way shape or form a film whose content defies belief in such a manner as to ultimately risk spoiling our enjoyment of it.

But enough with the tub-thumping and attempts at balance redressing.

Hannes Holm’s film – originally released in Sweden at the tail end of 2015, but only given its limited UK release this year – tells the story of Ove (a wonderful turn by Rolf Lassgård), a man who has always been socially awkward, bordering on the autistic in some ways. But over the years, owing to tragic circumstances, that awkwardness has since morphed into unconfined anger and misery.

Adhering to a strict daily routine, he patrols the grounds of the gated neighbourhood in which he lives, making note of any fool-hardy transgressors of the community regulations that he had helped to initiate during his time as Chairman of the neighbourhood committee. The fact that he no longer holds such a prestigious title and that the community tends to unwittingly flout his rules, is just one more trigger for multiple bouts of po-faced bitterness on his part. Regardless, Ove remains resolute, and continues to rigorously enforce ‘the law’ for what he perceives to be the good of the community.

But just how did he become this petty harbinger of headaches, and what does the future hold for this archetypal grumpy old man?

Ove’s back story is gradually revealed by way of a meandering narrative, initially through the series of flash-backs that he experiences during each of a number of unsuccessful suicide attempts, but latterly through the unlikely friendship that he develops with his Iranian-Swedish pregnant neighbour, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars). She, together with her boisterous family, are unknowingly the sole reason that Ove has yet to shuffle off this mortal coil, unable as he is to complete the ‘simple’ process of taking his own life without their unwelcome yet timely interruptions.

It is true that Hannes Holm’s touching tale, when broken down into its constituent parts, is probably a fairly routine and familiar one. A man, unable to cope with the accumulated sadness in his life and seeing little or no reason to go on, gradually, through a varied set of circumstances, manages to come to terms with the prospect of actually ‘living’ once again, thanks principally to the kindness of people that are able to recognise a good man with a good heart, even when it’s obscured by a particularly miserable demeanour.

For want of a better term, you would probably classify A Man Called Ove as something of a feel-good movie with stylistic parallels and general inspiration drawn from the sort of sentimental – bordering on slightly schmaltzy – Hollywood formulas that have unearthed such big screen favourites as Forest Gump; films that, if we’re deeply honest with ourselves, we probably love all the more for that very reason.

Rest assured though, Hannes Holm’s film, whilst certainly guilty of being whimsical at times, never comes close to achieving any sort of off-putting saccharine-overload.

Genuinely touching in places, A Man Called Ove is a witty, poignant and effortlessly charming tale.

One of the hidden gems of 2017 in fact.

 

 

 

BLADE RUNNER 2049

“…airborne vehicles swoop in and out of the huge neon-lit monolithic tower blocks from which [these] holograms emanate, visually bringing to mind Rupert Saunders’ 2017 offering, Ghost in the Shell.”

Wayward Wolf.

There is a school of opinion that I’ve been made aware of a number of times since the release of Blade Runner 2049. It’s one that suggests the film is overlong and drawn-out, with a bloated sense of self-importance. Now, that’s a pretty harsh assessment in anyone’s book and not one that I necessarily agree with, yet it’s not entirely a mystery as to why such an exaggerated conclusion might have come about.

At getting on towards three hours in duration, Denis Villeneuve’s epic sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece, Blade Runner, is certainly in no rush, and clearly not concerned with your average curtailed 2017 attention span, and other such modern phenomena.

There is also a propensity for Blade Runner 2049‘s early exchanges to veer towards technological overload at times with the director positively wallowing in gadget and technology porn, leaving us in no doubt whatsoever that this is a point in time in which there have been absolute quantum leaps beyond what would be considered high-tech in 2017.

Less prevalent is the incessant rain of Blade Runner, now largely replaced by an overcast, desolate and arid climate over which hangs a smog so thick you could cut it. Perhaps an indication of a planet whose raised mean temperature has ultimately led to water becoming something of a scarce resource?

The future Los Angeles cityscape that has been conjured up here is one in which holographic advertisements for everything from major corporations to virtual call girls reach out and interact with the public. And airborne vehicles swoop in and out of the huge neon-lit monolithic tower blocks from which these holograms emanate, visually bringing to mind Rupert Saunders’ 2017 offering, Ghost in the Shell.

In amongst this rather soulless, gloom-sodden backdrop we are introduced to the story of  ‘K’ (an appropriately dead-pan performance from Ryan Gosling), a replicant working for the LAPD, who, on successfully executing a mission to ‘retire’ one of the few remaining rogue replicants, stumbles upon the remains of a female replicant buried beneath a nearby dead tree. This in itself isn’t necessarily news-worthy, but the fact that the replicant appears to have died during caesarean childbirth having obviously been pregnant – an impossibility according to mainstream scientific thought – clearly is.

Such a scenario presents the possibility of a hugely volatile situation unfolding, deemed potentially explosive enough to cause great conflict between humans and replicants, and K is therefore instructed by his superior, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), to track down the replicant child that had been born and eliminate it and all evidence that it had ever existed.

Blade Runner 2049 is noticeably built around a strong narrative, the slow and considered execution of which is very much to the benefit of the piece, building an introspective, mood-heavy work that offers its viewer ample time to consider and reflect upon the film’s myriad themes, not to mention opportunities to grapple with the film’s finer, slightly more cerebrally-taxing plot points.

Perhaps most impressive is its ability to elevate itself above 90% of any science fiction that has ever been committed to celluloid, by demonstrating considerable heart. Nowhere is this better exemplified than by way of K’s touching, if slightly unconventional relationship with his holographic other half, Joi (making full use of the seductive charms of Ana de Armas). Essentially, we’re talking about an android dating a moving picture here, yet Villeneueve successfully convinces us that such a scenario can be considered to be much more than just that, painting a picture of trust, intimacy, and dare I say it, something bordering on love? Not just a sequence of high-tech mechanics.

Joi’s frequent appearances are heralded by strains of Peter’s theme, from Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. Such a sonically beautiful interlude, no matter how brief, is a nice touch, and a refreshing reminder from within such a cold impersonal landscape, of the true essence of humanity and of genuine emotion; not to mention a nod no doubt to the enduring longevity of real works of art.

And talking of music: though lacking the soaring sonic themes of its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 – through the efforts of both Benjamin Wallfisch and the ever reliable Hans Zimmer – has at least tipped its hat to those sumptuous sensual swelling synth sounds of the magnificent Vangelis original, producing a soundtrack that, whilst unexceptional, at least offers some degree of continuity between the two films, and hence a reassuring familiarity.

Gosling, Wright and De Armas are joined in a strong cast by Jared Leto who puts in a powerful turn as Niander Wallace – a character that I felt a little more could have been made of – and naturally Harrison Ford is brought back in for a cameo role, reviving his portrayal of Rick Deckard, a move which thankfully proves to be far more than just a fleeting contractual obligation, with his character carefully and convincingly engrained into the film’s nuanced narrative.

It’s been 35 years now since Blade Runner first hit the big screen, and to even have attempted to create a sequel that does justice to the revered original was something of a bold move. The fact that Denis Villeneuve’s dystopian vision, whilst by no means perfect, not only doesn’t sour the lingering memory of one of the all time greats but proves to be a very fine film in its own right, is testament to the work of an excellent and courageous director.

 

 

 

 

 

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER

“Yorgos Lanthimos’ psychological thriller is something of a fable, rich with metaphors and mythological parallels.”

Wayward Wolf.

For those of you that have seen Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous outing, The Lobster, the rather eery stylistic approach of his latest piece, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, will be all too familiar.

With unnaturally stilted delivery and distracted, truncated conversations, the characters go about their roles in the most ‘wooden’ manner that you could possibly imagine.

Of course, that’s actually all part of the set-up here, and considering Lanthimos’ film boasts the likes of Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell among its number, it’s highly unlikely that any such wooden aspersions could possibly relate to the actual acting ability of the excellent cast. But it certainly all makes for another odd, yet intriguing outing from the Lanthimos stable – one which takes care to examine such themes as guilt and responsibility, as well as the biblical concept of an eye for an eye.

Top surgeon, Stephen Murphy (Farrell), carries with him a terrible burden. A botched surgery some years earlier – whilst apparently under the influence of alcohol – had resulted in the unfortunate death of a man. With a wife and two lovely children to support, it’s important that Stephen does not allow the burdens of his past to drag him down and dictate his life. Yet every so often the guilt seems to eat him up. These pangs of remorse always seem to coincide with the frequent occasions that he spends in the company of a teenage boy, Martin (Barry Keoghan). Whilst it initially appears that Stephen may have taken the boy under his wing, adopting some kind of career mentor role, the truth, and rather unnerving reason for Martin’s virtual omnipresence in Stephen’s life gradually becomes apparent, and increasingly, by way of some rather strange and sinister goings on, it leaves the beleaguered surgeon to deal with a classic case of Hobson’s choice.

Whatever you might make of Lanthimos’ film – and the response that I’ve encountered has been varied – there’s no doubting that thanks to its unusual direction, a warped (in a good way) sense of fun, characters bordering on the robotic, and all-round levels of disturbing oddity, The Killing of a Sacred Deer effortlessly burns its way into the old grey matter, and stays there.

Arguably most memorable of all though is the film’s stunning cinematography; superbly strong enduring visual imagery that can probably best be described as minimal meets clinical. Scenes shot within the confines of the hospital walls are particularly visually arresting, making strong use of a restrictive almost monochrome palette, and little or no room is given to the relative comfort and reassuring warmth that bold colours would bring.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ psychological thriller is something of a fable, rich with metaphors and mythological parallels. A truly dystopian vision that devilishly pokes at our most deep-seated fears, and straddles the divide between dark, inappropriately jocular, and absurdly disturbing.

Above everything though, The Killing of a Sacred Deer offers a stark reminder that ‘true happiness’ is only ever a temporary state of events, and that we’re all never more than a brief moment of misfortune or negligence from having it, and everything that it represents, come crashing down around us.

In this case, the ultimate, self-inflicted souring of the American dream.

JIGSAW

“If I’m honest, the bar of expectation that I’d mentally set for Jigsaw was not exactly towering above me – the giddy height of a croquet hoop would be more apt…”

Wayward Wolf.

Back in 1999 I recall sitting po-faced through an utterly unremarkable film that seemed interminable in its apparent nothingness. Not one to write anything off easily, at least until a fat lady has sung or the credits have rolled – and considering some of the cinematic dives that I used to frequent, there was probably an equally high chance of the former occurring – I stuck to the task manfully, and was amply rewarded for having done so.

The film? The Sixth Sense. A movie that was ultimately knitted together brilliantly by way of a twist at its conclusion that every man and his dog – bar me of course – claimed to have seen coming from an absolute mile off.

But what does this have to do with the latest chapter in the Saw franchise, I hear you ask? Well, in case you need it spelling out for you… that’s right, there’s a twist at the end of Jigsaw. There, I’ve said it. Have I spoilt it for you?

Before you bemoan my lack of tact, I guarantee you this: When you’re sitting through the aforementioned formulaic gore-fest, feeling as though you can’t go on, just going through the motions, tallying up the body count of umpteen two dimensional characters that you give not one shiny shite about and whom in some grizzly manner or other, have met their untimely demise, there will come a point when you’ll actually thank me for bestowing that particular nugget of information upon you. For against all odds, there is actually a reason to stick with Jigsaw.

Don’t get me wrong, this is no Sixth Sense and far from a The Usual Suspects – and I unrepentently reference this most excellent of Kevin Spacey-led films. I’m on a roll you see, and let’s not be rewriting film history now – but the final ten minutes of Jigsaw at least prove that its writers, Pete Goldberg and Josh Stolberg, saw fit to attempt something beyond the sort of linear prosaic banality that so frequently accompanies first sequels, let alone the eighth outing of a tired old horror franchise.

Directors Michael and Peter Spierig, on the other hand, engage in what can only be termed as ‘flying by the seat of your pants direction’, as they absolutely rattle through proceedings at break-neck pace, eager to get to the conclusion it would seem, almost as though the bulk of the film’s content is something of a crushing inconvenience for them. In so doing, barely a moment is spent generating any worthwhile sense of suspense or terror, or indeed developing any of the characters and examining their varied back stories – which are, within context, in fact far more than just meaningless personal portraits, and rather integral as to why it is that they’ve come to find themselves entombed, bucket on head, at the business end of one of John Kramer’s (Jigsaw’s) warped games.

Still, in the grand scheme of things, it’s probably not worth worrying about too much, a little like 80% of this film, and in all honesty, to examine the remaining 20% of it would be to give the game away. So I’ll just leave it at that.

If I’m honest, the bar of expectation that I’d mentally set for Jigsaw was not exactly towering above me – the giddy height of a croquet hoop would be more apt – but it’s only fair to say that the Spierig brothers’ film somehow digs deep, summons its inner Sergey Bubka, and hauls itself over this most minimal of hurdles…

…Just.

 

 

 

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

“Thanks to his parents’ considerable influence, Elio’s life is one full of art and culture, not to mention a liberal attitude towards life in general.”

Wayward Wolf.

Watching Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name instantly had me casting my mind back to Abdellatif Kechiche’s 2013 masterpiece, Blue is the Warmest Colour, and whilst the two films stand at polar opposite ends of the human sexuality spectrum, the similarities between them are nevertheless plentiful and obvious. Most notably, both films have rightly been lavished with much deserved praise since their respective releases.

Set in the dreamy tranquility of small village life in 1980’s Italian Lombardy, Call Me By Your Name – based upon an acclaimed André Aciman novel – tells of the sexual awakening of seventeen-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), whose leisurely summer spent engrossed in his favourite pastimes – namely reading, swimming and transcribing music – is disrupted by the arrival of Oliver (Armie Hammer), a confident and charming American intern who has travelled to Italy in order to spend the summer months helping Elio’s father – a Professor in Greco-Roman studies, played by Michael Stuhlbarg.

Thanks to his parents’ considerable influence, Elio’s life is one full of art and culture, not to mention a liberal attitude towards life in general. Though seemingly happy enough idling his holiday away flirting with local girl and good friend, Marzia (a sweet turn by Esther Garrel), the tall American’s arrival on the scene is something of a head turner for young Elio, in a manner that he has never experienced before, and it soon puts into perspective exactly what his dalliances with Marzia had been – nothing but the horny fumblings of an inexperienced teenager.

Before long Elio and Oliver are getting to know each other better through their shared appreciation of summer outdoor pursuits, and in doing so, Elio is soon awakened to the true nature of his own sexuality.

But such carefree unstructured halcyon days they never last, and come summer’s end, Elio may well have experienced the giddy rush of first love, but must also face the crushing inevitability of heartbreak.

In some ways, Call Me By Your Name seems to exist in a sort of dreamy alternative reality. Exquisitely shot, it captures quite beautifully those sun-drenched peaceful, seductive Northern Italian summers when time and schedule bend and flex indeterminately and are of little importance. For Elio these are the unforgettable times in which initial shy lingering glances magically transform into steamy embraces and where new ‘innovative’ uses are found for the ripest of low-hanging orchard fruits!

In Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet, Guadagnino’s film boasts two actors demonstrating the most natural of on-screen chemistry, and whose burgeoning relationship develops into something intense and crucially, thoroughly believable.

Whether one connects fully with the subject matter of Luca Guadagnino’s coming-of-age drama or on just a fleetingly curious level, it is indisputable that Call me by your Name is a film whose soulful illustration of awakening love, passion and desire is one that effortlessly crosses all barriers and divides.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GLASS CASTLE

“Sadly, Rex’s Glass Castle is merely symbolic of a fertile imagination, of wonderfully elaborate gestures, but ultimately represents nothing more than unfulfillment and crushing disappointment.”

Wayward Wolf.

Take a good glug of Captain Fantastic, add a dash of The Waltons, then sprinkle in something rather unsavoury, to taste. Give it a good old shake now, and what do you have?

The Glass Castle, that’s what.

OK, that’s a bit of a naff sweeping summary, and possibly a little unfair in insinuating a certain degree of unoriginality, but the influences are certainly there to be seen in Destin Daniel Cretton’s entertaining tale based upon a true story of alternative lifestyles and the perils of the bottle.

Rex (Woody Harrelson), is certainly a one-off. A righteous man and a dreamer, he fills his young family’s heads with fantastic tales and with a line of knowledge plucked straight from the University of Life’s main syllabus. Racked by poverty brought about through his (and his wife’s) insistence on living a non-conformist alternative lifestyle, the aforementioned University of Life is pretty much the only educational institution that any of their children are ever likely to attend.

Nevertheless, they are quite a happy troop, living free, and in doing so they all make a stand against a system that so appalls Rex and his wife, Rose Mary (Naomi Watts). That said, from time to time Rex swallows his considerable pride and takes employment where he can find it in order to provide for his family. These are undoubtedly the good times, full of fun, happiness and optimism for the future – a respite from the relentless hardship of self-sufficiency and the soul-sapping grind of poverty. But any such times prove to be unsustainable, relatively short-lived, and always finite.

Rex waxes lyrical about his grand plans to find the perfect plot of land and to then build his family a magnificent Glass Castle upon it, in which they can all live a wonderful life. Such lofty aspirations are all well and good and an easy sales pitch to sell to a young impressionable family, but with the passing of time and with his children becoming young adults, the difference between Rex’s dreams and cold reality are gradually laid bare. Even if the land can be found and the materials somehow acquired, Rex’s ongoing battles with alcohol addiction always seem to render any such plans redundant – a mere pipe dream. Sadly, Rex’s Glass Castle is merely symbolic of a fertile imagination, of wonderfully elaborate gestures, but ultimately represents nothing more than unfulfillment and crushing disappointment.

Amongst Rex and Rose Mary’s children is Jeannette (Brie Larsson), very much the  spokesperson amongst the siblings. She has listened for years to her father’s distracting tales of wonder, but has now finally reached breaking point. Sick of the alcoholism, threatening behaviour and constant broken promises, she vows to fly the nest against her father’s wishes. She is not the first to do so, and she will not be the last.

Destin Daniel Cretton’s film, whilst being a very watchable piece, does however have an overriding feeling of being something that we’ve seen before. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and certainly shouldn’t take away from some fine performances. Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of Rex is both captivating and often visceral and raw (in a good way). Naomi Watts is assured in her portrayal of Rex’s loyal wife, Rose Mary, a lady who seems resigned to honour some sort of invisible contract of dutiful servitude to her man and his impossible fantasies, whilst Brie Larsson puts in a strong performance as Jeannette, a girl who is ultimately torn between the innate bonds that she has to her hopelessly idealistic bohemian family, and the life that she ultimately chooses to live beyond these shackles; one that is so completely contrary to her father’s deep-seated beliefs.

If there is fault to be picked in Cretton’s piece, it is the metamorphosis of Harrelson’s character from unorthodox, happy-go-lucky Dad, to alcohol-rinsed threatening monster. This may well have been the case, but this process of character deterioration is unconvincing here, and leaves one presuming that maybe there is in fact some missing segment of this film that ended up on the cutting room floor.

Even with the alcoholism, the occasional violent outbursts and the general downward spiral into despair, it still takes a big old leap for the imagination to consider Rex as being anything other than a bit of a hopeless case, down on his luck, and certainly not the sort of ogre that would ultimately have convinced every one of his poor hard-done-by children that they simply must flee his life-controlling tyranny, at all costs.

All things considered though, The Glass Castle gets far more right than wrong and serves to provide a perfectly watchable and emotionally engaging tale of family bonds and the disabling hold that they can so often have over us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL

“Annette Bening is mesmerising as the enigmatic actress with the twinkle in her eye but whose star is now on the wane…”

Wayward Wolf.

Paul McGuigan’s Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (FSDDIL from here on in), is a proper weepy, chronicling the final years in the life of Oscar-winning actress, Gloria Grahame.

Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), is a young up-and-coming actor from Liverpool who lives in a boarding house in London. It just so happens that the actress, Gloria Grahame, is temporarily residing here too whilst she ‘treads the boards’ in the theatres of the capital and beyond, and when the two meet one day, an unlikely romance quickly blossoms.

Whilst Gloria is all flirtatious winks and alluring Hollywood magnetism, it’s clear that she is decidedly insecure in herself, as time will reveal. Whilst understandably enchanted by her considerably younger lover, she is ill-at-ease with the sizeable age difference that exists between them, and can be quick to anger with regard to this.

Nevertheless, theirs is a relationship built on far more than superficiality or shifting sands, and though it’s probably fair to surmise that Peter offers her both the adulation that she craves and the opportunity to wind back the clock and once again live in a bubble of self-congratulatory fantasy, it is a genuine bond of love that develops between them, and the two actors play out their romance cross two continents – the very stuff of Hollywood dreams.

But of course every great romantic story often gives way to tragedy, and it will be Grahame’s unmentioned recent flirtation with serious illness, that will soon come to determine the ultimate course of the couple’s union.

FSDDIL switches back and forth over a two or three year period in the late 70’s / early 80’s, and in doing so, is able to gradually fill in the detail of the couple’s time together. Most noticeable is that McGuigan’s piece feels very focused at the expense of any unnecessarily distracting peripheral events; focused that is upon its two chief protagonists, and a core supporting cast whose parts may, in some cases, be only fleeting, yet nonetheless always feel wholly integral to the story’s narrative.

Subsequently the film’s rather scrutinous approach to characterisation results in a thorough, satisfyingly rounded, three-dimensional examination of its actors, and in doing so, builds tremendous levels of emotional intensity and involvement for its audience.

Of course, you can relentlessly scrutinise your actors through a camera lens all you like, but without that necessary stardust, you’re on a hiding to nothing, and so it’s fortunate that FSDDIL boasts a cast at the very top of their game.

Annette Bening is mesmerising as the enigmatic actress with the twinkle in her eye but whose star is now on the wane, whilst Jamie Bell is all openly-emotive raw energy and enthusiasm, portraying Grahame’s considerably younger lover.

Julie Walters, needless to say, is reliably marvellous as Turner’s mother, Bella; the archetypal Northern, working class mum and the very glue that holds the Turner household together through trying times.

Bening will rightly receive many plaudits for her portrayal of Grahame’s final years, but it’s important that we recognise Jamie Bell’s part in it too. His is an emotionally engaging performance of some maturity and possibly his finest to date.

With a nicely curated soundtrack of sympathetic score and choice songs from the era, and a brave directorial decision to name check the better blue footballing half of Liverpool over the city’s unmentionable red namesake –  something that had me scrutinising the closing credits for evidence of some form of Bill Kenwright involvement – Paul McGuigan’s FSDDIL is a beautifully realised romantic drama of some weight and distinction.

The WWAFAS 2017: Shortlist (provisional)

ww-2016-awardWith 2017 fast drawing to a close, the WWAFAS (Wayward Wolf Annual Film Awards) committee (the voices in my head) has drawn up a 20 strong provisional shortlist for the best film of 2017…

The nominees are based upon films with a 2017 UK theatrical release date.

And the top 20 nominees – as of November 11th – are as follows:

In no particular order…

  • The Florida Project
  • Mother
  • American Made
  • A Ghost Story
  • En Man Som Heter Owe (Full review coming soon)
  • Dunkirk
  • The Red Turtle
  • It Comes at Night
  • The Handmaiden
  • Raw
  • The Sense of an Ending
  • Lady Macbeth
  • Certain Women
  • The Founder
  • Fences
  • Toni Erdmann
  • La La Land
  • Lion
  • A Monster Calls
  • Manchester By The Sea

So, as we enter a time of year traditionally associated with Oscar-nominated film releases, I’d imagine there’s a fair chance that we could see some changes to that list before December 31st.

But just who will be walking away with this year’s Best Film WWAFA?

 

 

THE FLORIDA PROJECT

“Bewitching, hugely rewarding, and far more Minnie masterpiece than Mickey Mouse…”

Wayward Wolf.

It’s hard to impress upon you just how mesmerising a piece Sean Baker’s The Florida Project truly is.

With a fairly free and easy approach to scripted dialogue, it’s shot in a quasi-documentary style predominantly from the perspective of a six-year-old girl and her mischievous young scallywag friends, observing the various ins, outs and general goings-on at a budget motel during one hot Florida summer.

Just a short hop from Disney’s Magic Kingdom stands the Magic Castle motel. Inexplicably purple in colour and clearly cashing in on its neighbouring Disney namesake – as one unfortunate honeymooning couple will discover, much to the bride’s horror – this motel, partially suited to folk who are just passing through and priced out of staying in the main Disney resort area itself, but more pertinently, offering no-frills temporary housing to some of the very poorest families in the Kissimmee area.

One such ‘family’ is single mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), and her precocious, ‘smart-mouthed’ daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince).

Financially-speaking, neither Halley nor any of the kids’ parents are able to even contemplate caving in to the considerable allure of nearby Disney World. Instead, the children swap Magic Kingdom for Magic Castle and the plethora of garish, vulgar eateries and stores that constitute its immediate surrounds, creating whole worlds of adventure for themselves in the process – the way kids do.

Very much left to their own devices each day by parents that are either unable or too busy to spend time with them, the kids have become cocky and a little feral, roaming about at will, causing havoc with the locals with their own line in bare-faced, yet rather endearing cheek. And if they’re not antagonising the locals, they’re bothering Bobby (Willem Dafoe), whose job it is to perform the daily fire-fighting act that is managing The Magic Castle motel.

A real little madam she may be, but Moonee is really the least of Bobby’s daily problems. From illegal soliciting, theft and violent altercations to predatory paedophiles, The Magic Castle is something of a magnet for society’s wrong ‘uns and their unsavoury behaviour. And though his guests may not always be fully aware of it, Bobby ensures all such potential crimes and misdemeanours are dealt with, but more importantly, that the little tearaway terrors – so often the bain of his life – are kept safe from harm; a fact that guests are quick to forget amidst the yelling and general ‘ball-busting’ that inevitably ensues when Bobby comes a-knockin’ on rent payment day.

The Florida Project illustrates not only the stark contrast between the haves and the have-nots, but also between the hardships experienced by parents living on the breadline, and the carefree innocence of their offspring. Most crushing of all, however, are the moments when these two disparate states of being unavoidably collide; when fantasy must make way for harsh reality. Such predicaments are sadly never far away.

With Willem Dafoe as good as he’s been in years, and young Brooklynn Prince producing a performance of such joyful natural exuberance, Baker’s film positively brims with life-affirming goodness.

Bewitching, hugely rewarding, and far more Minnie masterpiece than Mickey Mouse, The Florida Project is as poignant and wonderful an observational slice-of-life tale as you’re ever likely to see.

Unmissable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE PARTY

“…The Party is an absolute triumph, expertly blending the existential with the at times absurd, in a most thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining film.”

Wayward Wolf.

Sally Potter’s sharp and witty film, The Party – based upon her own screenplay – is a short and snappy affair, yet succeeds in packing all manner of comedic goings-on into its modest 72 minute running time.

Although undoubtedly covering familiar ground, namely, the party from hell – think Mike Leigh’s toe-curlingly marvellous Abigail’s Party for a starting point – The Party, shot in classic monochrome, is in many ways a darker piece than its predecessor .

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Janet. Celebrating a significant promotion within the world of politics, she, and the rock in her life – her apparently dour, distracted husband, Bill (Timothy Spall) – are hosting a get-together for their closest friends.

From Janet’s best friend and steadfast ally, April, (Patricia Clarkson), her husband, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), and Janet’s lesbian friends, Martha (Cherry Jones), and partner, Jinny (Emily Mortimer), to the super-agitated, Tom (Cillian Murphy); a more ill-matched assembly one couldn’t hope to coerce into a single London town house.

But this is the least of Janet’s worries, for very real trouble awaits. Bill, spinning his favourite LP’s with obsessive compulsion, is poised to drop the proverbial turd in the punch bowl with a shattering revelation, derailing Janet’s celebratory soirée, and indeed their relationship, in the process.

Over the ensuing couple of awkward hours, Bill’s untimely divulgement will however prove to be merely the tip of the iceberg. A most inconvenient hidden truth will slowly reveal itself, implicating directly or indirectly just about everybody in the house in some way.

Potter’s piece is initially something of a slow burner, but like a jigsaw, pieces that are initially disconnected and make little sense in isolation, in time begin to form something of a picture. And what a picture it is!

Each of Janet’s friends’ characters are gradually unveiled, and their roles in the unfolding mess soon become clear, but in fairness, even without the fault line that runs precariously beneath these friendships, each individual’s personality alone might well be reason enough to trigger all sorts of fractious behaviour within the group.

The impatient sour-faced April can barely tolerate her incessantly optimistic cod-philosophising husband, Gottfried, and his insistence upon healing and life-coaching those around him, whilst Martha is proving far too calm and mature and not nearly ‘right-on’ enough for her often hysterical and naively idealistic, pregnant partner, Jinny, who is positively repulsed by the very thought that Martha might at some point in time have ever been with a man.

Even before his bombshell, Bill’s withdrawn, morose outlook is not helping matters, whilst Tom – the complete antithesis of this – is a powder keg, about to go off. Concealing a firearm beneath his jacket, and sweating with anxiety, he frantically paces up and down, stopping only for frequent visits to the bathroom to ‘powder his nose’.

And all the while, Janet attempts to be the perfect host. But even she is hiding something.

It’s very painful, it’s highly amusing and hugely farcical at times, with one crisis leading head-long into another, as Janet’s festivities descend into unmitigated chaos and disaster.

Shot entirely within Janet and Bill’s home, Potter’s dialogue-heavy film is the sort of piece that could very easily be adapted for the stage, and I dare say that it was written with that in mind. The cast is tremendous and the performances, right across the board, are unsurprisingly of the very highest calibre. With such a wealth of impressive talent on show, thankfully the temptation for the director to over-indulge any of them in any sort of extended soulful monologues is largely resisted, much to the benefit of the film’s overall feel and flow.

Whether examining our own mortality, the perils of materialism, the complexity of relationships, or our sinking moral values, The Party, is an absolute triumph, expertly blending the existential with the at times absurd, in a most thought-provoking and thoroughly entertaining film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE DEATH OF STALIN

“…it’s no wonder that every man and his dog is bowing, curtsying and generally dribbling in feeble deference, fearful of speaking out of turn or putting a foot wrong.”

Wayward Wolf.

Armando Iannucci’s take on Stalin’s final days, his death and the aftermath, is a predictably comical affair.

Perhaps it’s the welcome presence of Michael Palin amongst the film’s stellar cast that immediately launches one’s brain into full-on levels of Monty Python expectancy, but as  amusing and farcical as the film undoubtedly is, this tale of political turmoil and one-up-man-ship in the wake of Stalin’s passing, is a whole lot darker than one might have assumed it would be.

Then again, we’re talking about a particularly volatile period of history in a Socialist state in which your life was effectively entirely in the hands of a deeply unstable autocratic tyrannical leader, so perhaps that’s not so surprising after all.

In post-War U.S.S.R, it seems that everyone’s sole purpose in life is to ensure that they don’t appear on one of Stalin’s lists. To do so will almost certainly result in a knock on the door and a short while later, a bullet through the head.

Fun times. And so it’s no wonder that every man and his dog is bowing, curtsying and generally dribbling in feeble deference, fearful of speaking out of turn or putting a foot wrong.

The members of The General Committee are no exception, and not exempt from Stalin’s lists and his mafia-esque approach to politics. One moment you’re on the receiving end of copious praise and support, acknowledged as a crucial part of Stalin’s core staff. The next… worm food.

The chief success of Iannucci’s film is his ability to capture the abundant sense of paranoia so successfully. Essentially, there are no good guys in this piece, just an assortment of absolute ‘pieces of work’ intent upon looking after number one at all costs whilst never losing sight of the need to repeatedly praise their ‘great leader’.

No attempt whatsoever is made to even vaguely authenticate the film’s characterisation with faux Russian accents or the like. Instead, the key cast members adopt an assortment of entirely inappropriate vocal inflections. From shrill-voiced uber-sweary American, Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), to brash Yorkshireman, Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), to ruthless Cockney gangster, Josef Stalin himself (Rupert Friend).

Like one massive game of ‘all change,’ the people of the Union must be ready at the drop of a hat to twist and turn their allegiances accordingly, lest they feel the wrath of a fickle state. But there’s treachery in the air and skullduggery is most definitely afoot. This all makes for a rich and fertile ground in which Iannucci can nurture some comedy gold, and this he proceeds to do. Of course it helps that so much of the film’s highly improbable, at time ludicrous content – that you’d swear had originated only in the mind of the director himself – has in fact already been devised for him, being as his film is based upon actual events.

With gun shots ringing out and bodies a-tumblin’ – frequently preceded by the familiar refrain of “Long live Stalin” (so much for rewarding loyalty) – The Death of Stalin is a darkly humorous full-on farcical satire. Whether this is, all things considered, a wise approach to this particular point in history, is open to debate. And the debates that have arisen since the film’s launch have by all accounts on occasion boiled over, perhaps understandably when one considers the fact that Iannucci’s film in many ways ‘softens’ and down-plays the seriousness of the actions of a tyrant and mass murderer in the sort of way that, let’s face it, would be pretty much unimaginable were the director ever to have considered lampooning, for example, a certain Austrian fascist. Yes, you can just imagine those ‘hilarious scrapes’ now.

We’re lying to ourselves if we deny that literally absolutely everything without exception, should be fair game to be shot at. Of course, we know that this absolutely isn’t the case, and in this particular hypothetical case of potential double standards, it probably shouldn’t come as too much of a shock considering the generally accepted political leanings of the worlds of art and media. It is, however, interesting food for thought, nonetheless.

If it is indeed possible to judge Iannucci’s piece purely on its merits as a feature-length dark comedy, then it’s only fair to say that even though the film’s comedic momentum dissipates somewhat as it moves into its latter stages, by and large, this a dark and disturbing comedy that hits the mark, and spectacularly so at times.

 

 

BREATHE

“Garfield and Foy understandably steal the show demonstrating a solid and genuine on-screen chemistry… “

Wayward Wolf.

Considering the subject matter at hand, Andy Serkis’ directorial debut is actually something of an up-beat affair.

Set in the late 1950’s and based upon a true story, Breathe, tells the tale of newlyweds Robin and Diana Cavendish (Andrew Garfield and Clare Foy), whose active and adventurous lifestyle is suddenly turned on its head when Robin contracts Polio, leaving him paralysed from the neck down.

With Diana pregnant the timing could not have been any worse, but, with an impressively large and loyal network of well-to-do friends and family, they can at least call upon their support to help them navigate their way through what will prove to be a most remarkable life together.

Whilst revolving unavoidably around the catastrophic aftermath of such a terrible illness, Breathe is in essence a love story whose multitude of ups and downs are therefore somewhat exaggerated owing to the extreme circumstances in which the couple find themselves as they struggle to adapt.

“I want to truly live,” opines the resolutely optimistic Robin, having overcome an initial bout of depression. Easier said than done considering that his paralysis would effectively have been a life sentence back in the mid-1900’s, not only rendering a patient completely immobile, but confined to the four walls of a hospital ward on life support for the rest of a usually extremely shortened life. If anything, Robin’s hospital environment in England does at least represent some sort of quality of life when compared with the scenes of on-going cutting edge patient care witnessed by the couple on a later visit to a clinic facility in Germany. Rows of patients entombed in clinically stacked iron lungs in a windowless laboratory is a genuinely terrifying site.

Perhaps this immobilised fate would have been too much for Robin to bear had he not been married to Diana, a young lady who proves unequivocally that behind every great man, there really is a truly great woman. Holding their newborn child in her arms, she will not entertain Robin’s initial pleas to be allowed to die, instructing him instead to live.

But it’s clear that being left to whither away in a hospital is no way to exist, and breaking all regulations, not to mention flying in the face of the accepted medical advice and logic of the times, the couple choose to relocate Robin to their new home in the country. Here, he will at least be in a home environment. This incredibly bold move was without parallel in the history of global Polio-related aftercare, but unsurprisingly, fraught with danger.

Serkis’ film adopts a directorial style that swiftly and neatly brushes over the salient points of this tale with little time spent dwelling on what is perhaps perceived to be unnecessary or overly sentimental. One can almost make parallels between this brisk no-nonsense directorial style and the rather stiff-upper-lip attitude and all-round Englishness of the film’s cast.

Almost in contradiction to this, however, Nitin Sawhney’s omnipresent luscious and syrupy score at times positively wallows in the sentimentality of it all, lending the piece a suitably emotional glow.

Decent performances are in evidence across the board. Garfield and Foy understandably steal the show demonstrating a solid and genuine on-screen chemistry, whereas the supporting cast, as good as they may well be, are never more than peripheral to events, and struggle therefore to make any sort of long-lasting impression on the memory.

Breathe is an undeniably poignant film, and though it often treads that precarious line between being emotionally effective and cloyingly mawkish, Serkis’ purposeful direction ensures that it strikes just about the right balance to deliver effectively this sweet and inspiring story of love, patience and devotion between two indefatigable spirits.

MOTHER

“…Mother is a veritable whirlwind that grows relentlessly in intensity, launching a devilishly wicked assault on the senses…”

Wayward Wolf.

Someone said to me recently that they no longer went to the cinema because everything had been done already, and no-one was bringing anything particularly new to the table.

There’s certainly a partial argument in there, and there’s no doubt that we’re all on the receiving end of more than our fair share of formulaic drivel that comes spewing forth from ‘the machine’ with depressing regularity.

But that’s why it’s such a joy when films as original and utterly enthralling as Mother, hit the big screen, and by all accounts this one has been dividing audiences the length and breadth of the country.

Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, it tells the tale of a couple. Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem), live in a huge house in the middle of the countryside. Impressively, Mother has taken it upon herself to completely refurbish this previously fire-damaged property, and her considerable handiwork – of which she is rightly very proud – is now nearing the point of completion.

Him is a renowned poet and author and much older than his beautiful partner. Much to his frustration he is suffering from writer’s block. Mother is nothing if not wonderfully empathetic to his plight and supportive to the last, ensuring that she attends to his every need. Despite the occasionally aloof, slightly distracted nature of her man, the couple nonetheless seem well enough matched and in love.

Events, however, start to get a little interesting following an unexpected visit one night from a doctor, (Ed Harris), and a little later, from his wife, (Michelle Pfeiffer); two apparent strangers, whose erratic behaviour begins to ring alarm bells in Mother’s head.

But they are merely the tip of the iceberg for what is to come.

A catalogue of progressively bizarre happenings is set to break apart – with increasing regularity – the carefully assembled pieces of the home that Mother has built, throwing her well ordered life into almost unimaginable turmoil.

From fairly innocuous beginnings, Aronofsky is unafraid to completely change the film’s trajectory, something that he implements skilfully, ramping up the intensity as he goes. And like the curve on a hockey stick, the impending madness of the couple’s situation increases exponentially until such a point that you’d swear that you were in fact watching something totally different by the film’s end. Yet, everything is very closely and cleverly connected throughout, with the smallest, most subtle of clues dropped strategically here and there throughout the piece, hinting at the hellish events that await.

Mother is enormously entertaining. A film that positively whisks its viewer along, wide-eyed and slack jawed, to its crazy conclusion, challenging one’s perceptions of what constitutes unacceptably bad taste, in the process. One hell of a ‘marmite movie’, if ever there was one.

In much the same way that László Nemes chose to almost exclusively use medium close-up shots of his chief protagonist’s face in the superb, Son of SaulAronofsky here, elects to employ a similar, if slightly less relentless and claustrophobic technique, on his leading lady, Jennifer Lawrence. Her facial expressions convey the anguish of Mother quite brilliantly, as she is dragged mercilessly through the wringer, experiencing the entire gamut of emotions in the process. Her initial expression of sweetness and innocence quickly switches to one of troubled confusion, then disdain, exasperation and ultimately outright unadulterated fear. By all accounts Lawrence was prone to hyperventilating during the making of this film, and it’s certainly easy to see why.

Javier Bardem is mesmerising as Mother’s apparently caring partner whose penchant for generosity, helping others and sharing everything is gradually exposed for what it really is. Harris and Pfeiffer, amongst others, are wonderful in their wholly sinister cameo roles, flagrantly disrespecting both Mother and the home that she has so lovingly created. And all the while, Him insists upon Mother’s patience and trust in the unfolding melee, as things go rapidly from bad to worse.

In much the same way that Damien Chazelle‘s marvellous Whiplash generated such complete and utter emotional engagement from its audience, Darren Aronofsky’s film demands and very much receives a similar response.

Engaging, seductive, confusing, shocking and at times terrifying, Mother is a veritable whirlwind that grows relentlessly in intensity, launching a devilishly wicked assault on the senses in the process.

See it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE RITUAL

“…going with the concept of it’s not what you see, it’s what you don’t see, [The Ritual] sustains a fairly decent level of suspense for the most part.”

Wayward Wolf.

The Ritual tells the tale of four close friends who find themselves hiking through the hills of Sweden.

Curiously, this is not actually even their idea – far from it in fact – but a trip organised in memoriam, Robert (Paul Reid), a recently departed friend, tragically killed when caught up in the middle of a violent robbery.

Amsterdam, Ibiza and Berlin. These were the more realistic ideas mooted by the collective on an evening when Robert’s suggestion of hiking had gone down like a lead balloon.

Still, here they are, traipsing across the Swedish countryside on a trip that is particularly poignant for Luke (Rafe Spall). He too had been caught up in the robbery, but hidden behind a stack of shelves and frozen with fear, he had failed to summon up the courage to intervene. Consequently, Luke had watched his friend be bludgeoned to death by an assailant armed with a baseball bat.

This level of guilt, and an inner paranoia that his close friends all blame him for Robert’s demise, play heavily upon Luke’s mind.

It’s an interesting back story, and offers The Ritual a little more depth than your average horror / thriller. That said, if this initial premise had in any way mislead you into believing that what was to follow would be high on originality, you are sadly mistaken.

When you boil it all down, The Ritual is a fairly formulaic piece, and it’s therefore no surprise when Dom (Sam Troughton) – the slightly portly moaning one – having twisted his knee during the hike, forces the group to re-think their plans and take a shortcut through rather ominous looking dense woodland.

Now that’s just asking for trouble.

And so it proves to be.

Stumbling upon a freshly gutted moose carcass suspended high up in a tree, and hopelessly lost with no chance of reaching their target destination, the pioneering foursome take refuge from a particularly heavy rainy deluge, in an apparently abandoned wooden hut. Discovering a part moose, part human straw effigy erected in the hut’s loft space does nothing to put anyone’s mind at ease. Regardless, in this instance, in is better than out, and the lads hunker down for the night around the security of a lit stove, vowing to push on out first thing in the morning.

That’s the plan at least, but the morning is going offer all manner of unwelcome surprises…

With obvious influence taken from some of the better horror films of the not so distant past – think Blair Witch, Wrong Turn, The Witch, and The Whicker Man – The Ritual does at least approach things from a cinematically successful angle, and going with the concept of it’s not what you see, it’s what you don’t see, sustains a fairly decent level of suspense for the most part.

However, once the gang finally realise exactly what they’re up against, this tale of hunter and hunted fast descends into an all too familiar state of predictability, and sadly succumbs to the temptation for ‘the big reveal’, diffusing most of the tension that’s been carefully nurtured to this point.

Whilst Hutch (Robert James-Collier), and Phil (Arsher Ali), are portrayed well enough, they are in many ways fairly dispensable characters, and it’s Sam Troughton and in particular, Rafe Spall, that really steal the show, dragging this OK-ish piece through to its conclusion thanks to their all-round Englishness, a generous smattering of dry humour, and a petty disrespect for one another.

At times witty and irreverent, and always leaning heavily on the use of metaphors, it’s hard to dislike this David Bruckner horror, and it’s only fair to say that through excellent casting and some occasionally disturbing set pieces, he’s created a film that’s certainly very watchable; it might even get under your skin a bit, but more likely, will leave its audience just a little underwhelmed.

WIND RIVER

“Jeremy Renner’s performance is one of his finest to date, portraying a man of few words, and of great experience and wisdom.”

Wayward Wolf.

In the grip of a cold snap, the Indian reservation of Wind River is the backdrop to this Taylor Sheridan murder mystery.

The body of a girl has been found. She lies bare-footed and bloodied in the snow. All signs point to her having been beaten and raped, though it seems the unforgiving sub-zero temperatures of a winter night are what ultimately claimed her life.

But why has this happened, and who are the perpetrators?

Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), is an experienced tracker, who, knowing the terrain and considerable perils of the unforgiving Wyoming winter, is drafted in to aid young FBI agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), with her murder enquiries.

Taylor Sheridan’s subtle icey thriller not only pieces together the parts of a murder case, but in doing so, offers a snapshot of the harsh socio-economic conditions afflicting a small under privileged community of native American folk, for whom drug addiction is rife, and an ingrained reluctance to cooperate with the white man is commonplace. No wonder, given the uneasy history between the two cultures.

Jeremy Renner’s performance is one of his finest to date, portraying a man of few words, and of great experience and wisdom. He is also a man nursing considerable personal pain from his past, for whom this case can prove to be something of a cathartic process. Crucially, he is a well respected figure amongst the Native American community. Elizabeth Olsen is perhaps initially a little underwhelming, yet steadily grows into the part to produce a performance that in fact perfectly captures a combination of raw enthusiasm, naivety and understandable trepidation, given her Las Vegas background, and the alien nature of both the environment in which she now finds herself, and the culture of the people for whom she must try to solve this case.

Sheridan’s tale is a beautifully paced affair, expertly revealing itself little by little. Such an approach should not come as any surprise for those familiar with the style and excellence of his two most recent acclaimed screenplays, Sicario and Hell or High Water.

The wind-swept, wintry backdrop sets the perfect mood here for a film that effortlessly marries moments of high tension with brooding melancholy and somber reflection in this highly affecting, and almost certainly enduring tale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE SNOWMAN

“The Snowman struggles under the weight of its own considerable budget and expectations, offering little or nothing of the mood and atmosphere that’s so synonymous with Scandinavian film and television.”

Wayward Wolf.

We all love a good Nordic crime thriller, don’t we? There’s just something captivating about those mysterious grey, snow-covered wintry settings, and the rather serious and at times aloof nature of the Nordic people. It just draws us in…

Unfortunately just basing a film upon a Norwegian novel and having it set in its correct location, is nowhere near enough to qualify it as being anything like a good Nordic crime thriller.

The Snowman, a case in point, is the handiwork of director, Tomas Alfredson, the man tasked with directing 2008’s excellent Låt den rätte komma in (Let the right one in). Such fine past credentials should surely have hinted at much better than this rather beige offering.

We could talk about under-cooked characterisation, or a general paucity of suspense created, but perhaps the film’s chief flaw is its mad combination of accents. A mixture of soft Norwegian, identity-neutral, soft American, and even cockney English, all seem hopelessly out of place given the film’s wintry Oslo setting, particularly when you consider that theoretically pretty much every one of the cast is supposed to be a Norwegian, living a Norwegian life.

It’s all just confusing, and detracts heavily from a story that whilst functional enough, is not particularly earth-shatteringly original in its concept, anyway.

Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender), is the flawed detective who takes it upon himself to investigate a series of disappearances, aided by an accomplice, Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), who is young and hungry for success and very much in awe of Hole’s reputation.

Passing cameos from Chloë Sevigny and Toby Jones, together with more significant parts from Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons – and not forgetting a particularly curious turn from Val Kilmer, playing a perma-pissed police detective who’s all ‘Dave Nice’ teeth and bad hair, certainly help to raise the film’s profile on paper, but again, they’re all rather out of place given the fundamentals of the setting and the story.

The Snowman struggles greatly under the weight of its own considerable budget and expectations, offering little or nothing of the mood and atmosphere that’s so synonymous with Scandinavian film and television.

Not entirely without its positives – it is at least visually beautiful – Alfredson’s film, on balance, is nothing more than a formulaic and fairly forgettable yarn. Were the story adapted for a U.S setting, or better still re-cast for native Norwegian speakers, perhaps The Snowman could have been an altogether different beast, but as it stands, it has to be chalked up as a significant missed opportunity.

 

 

FINAL PORTRAIT

“Giacometti – played with superb levels of gruff indifference, by Geoffrey Rush – is portrayed as an incommunicative, self-absorbed, chain-smoking enigma…”

Wayward Wolf.

There is a belief within the world of popular music that you never actually complete a record’s final mix, you simply abandon it.

I have to concur, whole-heartedly.

And if Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait is anything to go by, then there’s a strong argument that such a line of thinking also runs true through the world of fine art.

Not that that would necessarily come as a shock to anyone given that both disciplines are blessed and indeed cursed by the same common denominator – artistic temperament.

That inner-belief that it is in fact impossible to complete any ‘art’ to perfection – or even simply to a level that can sufficiently appease an artiste – very much forms the crux of Final Portrait, a film that observes, patiently, the perpetually chaotic and rudderless daily artistic struggles of the Swiss painter and sculptor, Alberto Giacometti.

Giacometti – played with superb levels of gruff indifference, by Geoffrey Rush – is portrayed as an incommunicative, self-absorbed, chain-smoking enigma, whose life seems anchored by just two ‘constants’: A need to create, and frequent rendezvous with a high-class prostitute for whose services he is happy to pay, handsomely, and from whom he seems to derive the necessary verve and vigour with which to tackle each and every day.

Tucci’s film focuses on one particular episode in Giacometti’s later years when he offers to paint a portrait of his friend, the American writer and art aficionado, James Lord (Armie Hammer). As the film’s title suggests, this will be Alberto’s final portrait.

Though a busy man, Lord is able to shuffle his schedule accordingly to afford Giacometti a few days in which to paint his portrait, something that Lord is both tremendously excited about and honoured to be a part of.

Excitement is one thing, but perhaps Ghandi-esque levels of patience may have been a better quality for Lord to have brought to the table when it quickly becomes apparent to him that Giacometti is caught in a sort of never-ending cyclical rut. Approaching the mythical point of portrait completion, he repeatedly chooses, in some sort of cathartic process, to deliberately sabotage his work and begin the entire process all over again. There would seem to be no end in sight.

As frustrating as this may be, it does enable the pair to build up a close, if rather off-beat friendship, introducing James Lord to the bizarre world of Alberto Giacometti, and to the poor unfortunates that must grin and bear his selfish, self-doubting nature and chaotic personality traits.

That said, no-one could say that time spent in the great man’s company was ever necessarily dull. On one notable occasion, Tucci illustrates Giacometti’s playfully devious darker side when conversation turns to, of all things, preferred methods of suicide. Giacometti understandably shocks Lord with his own particular preference – being burned alive. There really is no response to that.

Final Portrait is all about characters, and Geoffrey Rush – bearing an uncanny resemblance to the late artist himself – is wonderful as Giacometti, portraying the man as a rather bedraggled character shuffling about awkwardly through his daily disorganised existence.

Armie Hammer’s portrayal of Lord is both suave and charming, whilst Sylvie Testud plays the endlessly patient, long-suffering, Annette, whose life – against her better judgement – revolves around an ungrateful man who’d rather spend time with hookers than offer even the slightest sign of commitment to her.

It’s a fairly tragic spectacle, unlike Stanley Tucci’s film, which is a warm and playful character study – as highly intriguing as it is quietly endearing.

 

 

 

 

 

BORG vs MCENROE

 

“…don’t let Metz’s propensity for the obvious and the unashamedly Hollywood deter you. Borg vs McEnroe is most certainly a terrifically entertaining film.”

Wayward Wolf.

One of the many great things about the innocence of youth is that you create your own narrative to play alongside landmark events, even if it flies somewhat in the face of popular opinion or indeed what actually happened; a prime example of which being the Borg vs McEnroe Wimbledon final of 1980.

I was aware that my dad was vehemently siding with the ice-cool Swede and that “McEnroe” was to him and many others, essentially a dirty word.

I suppose that John McEnroe and his propensity for ‘ripe’ language and poor sportsmanship wouldn’t have placed him particularly high in any well-meaning parent’s list of ideal role models for their kids.

In my mind, though, I somehow managed to position Mr McEnroe as the poor, misunderstood, put-upon underdog, up against the machine-like oppressor, Björn Borg. Even then, I was distrustful of ‘the man’ and of popular opinion, and never having been adverse to adopting a contrary stance, watching Janus Metz’ thoroughly entertaining (if rather titularly-uninspired) Borg vs McEnroe, it really brought into sharp focus just how contrary and potentially inaccurate in fact my particular take on events had been.

Borg was a hugely successful and universally loved tennis player whose cool exterior, it would seem, belied his true personality. Borg, unbeknownst to most, was in fact prone to histrionics, explosive outbursts and tantrums, ironically the same character traits that had earned John McEnroe (initially at least) the moniker of world’s most universally reviled sports personality – or words to that effect.

Of course, to the world of professional tennis, Borg was unrecognisable from this former volatile incarnation of himself. His coach and mentor, Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgård), had seen to that, ensuring that Björn would internalise all of this rage and release it only through his tennis. This Borg did of course, to devastating effect, resulting in four straight Wimbledon titles, and the opportunity to notch up an unprecedented fifth against the fast-rising American star, John McEnroe.

Janus Metz’s film not only tracks the build up to this epic encounter, detailing the two players’ massively different approaches to big match preparation, but delves back in time by way of a number of flashback scenes, demonstrating how the players had made their way in the game and came to be two of sport’s most prominent characters of the 1980’s.

Sverrir Gudnason does a good job in demonstrating the cool, calm and collected nature of Borg, a perception that was only true, it seems, on a rather superficial level, masking well a man increasingly uncomfortable and at odds with his fame.

Shia LaBeouf, on the other hand – all punk rock, head bands and resplendent in a Ramones T-shirt – is superb as the hyper-active, twitchy, McEnroe; the Alex Higgins of the tennis world, if you will. His portrayal is that of a man on the defensive. Quick-to-anger, this coiled spring of a character, much like Borg, used his explosive tendencies for the benefit of his (if no-one else’s) tennis performances. Unlike Borg, however, McEnroe was obviously not one for internalising anything!

Metz’s film is not without its faults. One of a few particularly clunky moments occurs during the film’s re-enactment of the classic final. A cigar-smoking Swedish commentator up in the Centre Court’s gantry, enthuses about one of the sets going into a tie-break, and then proceeds to spell out to the watching / listening millions, kindergarten-style, exactly what a tie-break is, and how its point scoring system works. Whilst it’s of course important to acknowledge that not every one of your target audience is all-knowledgable with regards to the rules of the game, it’s this kind of pandering to an audience’s lowest common denominator that does tend to cheapen any claim that Borg Vs McEnroe may have to be anything other than a superficial glossy, token overview of the game of tennis.

Perhaps that was in fact the director’s intentions?

Either way, don’t let Metz’s propensity for the obvious and the unashamedly Hollywood deter you. Borg vs McEnroe is most certainly a terrifically entertaining film.

Living in an age as we do now in which sport is increasingly about the big business angle – and being happy to acknowledge that the 1980’s was far from a time of purity and innocence – Borg vs McEnroe nevertheless whisks its audience along on a refreshingly rose-tinted trip down memory lane, to a time when not just tennis, but sport in general, was inundated with engaging characters, and the notion of sport for sport’s sake was very much alive and well.

THE LEVELLING

“Ellie Kendrick’s performance is terrific – mature beyond her years – and absolutely pivotal to the film’s success.”

Wayward Wolf.

Following the suspected suicide of her younger brother Harry (Joe Blakemore), Clover (Ellie Kendrick), returns home to help with the funeral arrangements.

On her arrival, Clover’s father (played by David Troughton), or Aubrey as she chooses to refer to him, appears somewhat distracted, not to mention a little evasive with his daughter, brushing aside her understandable inquisitiveness as to her brother’s death, offering only a vague and wholly inadequate line in answering.

Aubrey is a dairy farmer, but with both his farmland and farmhouse all but ruined by the effects of the recent heavy rains and subsequent flooding – something which his insurers are refusing to compensate him for – it is clear that both his livelihood and general mental wellbeing now hang in the balance.

The failed insurance claim has caused Aubrey to drink heavily, and necessitates that he must live for now in a temporary porta-cabin until such time as he can afford to repair the flood-damaged farmhouse. Add to this, the family business, for a number of reasons, appears to be at the point of collapse.

There is a rather dysfunctional dynamic between Clover and Aubrey, much as there had apparently been between Aubrey and his now deceased son and heir to the farm. These rather strained relationships, the slow unravelling of the truth, and Clover’s growing awareness that only through personal sacrifice and the airing of grievances, can the wounds heal and the lingering resentment subside, are all meticulously explored in this unashamedly heavy-going drama.

A bleak and uneasy air of melancholy pervades throughout Hope Dixon Leach’s excellently-observed slow-burning character-driven piece.

Ellie Kendrick’s performance is terrific – mature beyond her years – and absolutely pivotal to the film’s success. Her on-going efforts to ensure that at least somebody remains strong and accountable in her family’s time of need, in spite of both her father’s unjust sniping and bitterness, and the general gathering gloom of the situation, are both noble and selfless.

Rich with symbolism and metaphors, The Levelling is a particularly impressive and rewarding piece to the patient viewer, and testimony to the old adage that blood is indeed thicker than water.

DETROIT

“…whilst I’m sure a fair amount of cinematic licence has been taken in parts to fill the occasional ‘blanks’ accordingly, as an historic account of the events that unfolded, it seems relatively faithful.”

Wayward Wolf. 

Back in 1993 I found myself wandering the streets near a courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. The area was absolutely swarming with the media as it was the day of the announcement of a verdict pertaining to the infamous Rodney King trial. I was told by police in attendance that I should make myself scarce as the ‘wrong’ verdict could result in things getting nasty, as had been witnessed just one year earlier in the infamous L.A riots.

The verdict was delivered, deemed acceptable, and mercifully peace reigned.

For some time, the African American community of Los Angeles had felt aggrieved at its unfair treatment at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department, but the sheer injustice of the original Rodney King trial verdict had finally tipped them over the edge, resulting in riots that lasted for six days, and caused many a death and much destruction to the city.

It was proof positive, and just one of  a number of more recent examples of the fact that some things just never change.

Some twenty-six years prior to that, a similar police-influenced grievance had caused already heightened racial tensions to finally explode in Detroit City, resulting in huge amounts of rioting. Within the confusion of such carnage, three African American men were murdered in the Algiers motel, and it is this tale and all of its troubling implications that forms the basis of Kathryn Bigelow’s ambitious, hard-hitting drama, Detroit.

The distrust between Detroit’s African American community and the almost entirely white Detroit PD is proven to be fully justified when, in attempting to shake up and force confessions from a number of black folk, as to the whereabouts of a firearm in a motel, three of its guests are shot dead.

This is an entirely avoidable scenario, and whilst essentially unintentional, its outcome has the police perpetrators frantically back-pedalling, re-writing events, desparately trying to cover their tracks. The truth, however, will not necessarily always out; for this is 1960’s America, and there is a certain dismal inevitability regarding the subsequent court case and verdict.

Bigelow’s Detroit provides substantial detailed background to the case in point, and brings together a number of personal accounts of the events of that night, whilst additionally expertly weaving original archive news footage into the piece, lending it historical significance, weight and credibility in the process.

Detroit is a film that draws decent performances across the board. John Boyega puts in a solid turn as security guard and witness to the crime, Misdukes. Will Poulter is an unusual, yet on balance, successful piece of casting as the baby-faced corrupt police officer Krauss, whilst Algee Smith convinces as fame-hungry soul singer and future star-in-the-making, Larry, whose insatiable appetite for the ladies has unfortunately positioned both he and his good friend in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time.

It’s all very well pieced together and whilst I’m sure a fair amount of cinematic licence has been taken in parts to fill the occasional ‘blanks’ accordingly, as an historic account of the events that unfolded, it seems relatively faithful.

I’m not sure whether its because Detroit covers such familiar ground, or whether our regular exposure to such grimly inevitable content tends to desensitise us to it, but Bigelow’s piece, whilst certainly lacking no sincerity in its account of the events that unfolded, seems to somehow lack a little impact.

Perhaps I was expecting too much, anticipating Detroit to be something more of a landmark piece, but the truth is that it is a very watchable and very well put together reminder of the age-old issues of racial injustice in the United States of America, and that in itself is of course no bad thing. It just seems to lack that certain something to elevate it above and beyond your commonplace crime and courtroom drama.

IT

“…our heroic nerd node, armed with nothing but bicycles and their sharp and consistently witty dialogue, embark upon filling their summer holidays with the most X-rated of Enid Blyton-esque adventures.”

Wayward Wolf.

As an unusually dark coming-of-age story, by and large, there’s a lot to like about IT. As an iconic horror movie for a new generation, on the other hand, I’m not so sure it really delivers.

Ultimately though, IT is, to all intents and purposes, a horror movie, and will surely therefore be judged primarily upon its ‘fright factor’. Whilst it contains a handful of genuinely creepy and slightly unsettling moments, they perhaps don’t have quite the impact required over the duration of a piece that really could have benefitted from being substantially shorter.

Part horror, part teen coming-of-age tale, IT, follows the exploits of a band of 1980’s nerdy misfits bound together largely by their collective ability to be relentlessly bullied by a gang whose leader is so beside himself with rage, I can only put this down to an air of disgruntlement regarding his bad 80’s mullet. Not only this, but each of the kids has also experienced their own rather unsavoury encounter with a demonic entity masquerading as a clown, named Pennywise, whose presence, when only fleeting and unexplored, is particularly well realised here. This most satanic of circus freaks is hell-bent on bumping off (whilst feeding off the fear of) many an unfortunate youngster in the small sleepy town of Derry.

Indeed, Derry has a worrying trend for disappearing children that stretches way back through the generations.

But who’d have thought it?

Belch Huggins (Jake Sim), that’s who’d have thought it.

The portly little loner has spent many a friendless hour in the local library researching this very thing, and his detective work has paid off handsomely, unearthing all manner of historical ghoulish goings on.

With their resolve strengthened, and united through their common goal, Derry’s answer to the Red Hand Gang will attempt once and for all to put paid to Pennywise’s clowning about, and seek to send him packing to the big top in the sky.

Or something.

If the fundamental staples and building blocks of what have constituted successful horror movies through the ages, are metal – (bear with me here) – then the film IT is one mother of a strong, indiscriminate horror magnet.

From old abandoned ‘Psycho-esque’ houses, sudden loud noises and high-pitched scraping glissando strings, to children singing sweet nursery rhymes to discordant accompaniments, Andy Muschietti has begged, borrowed and stolen from just about every conceivable classic horror source possible, as he absolutely hurls even the (presumably blood-splattered) kitchen sink at this movie.

And it sort of works – to a point.

It helps that surrounding, supporting and at times swamping the scary bits is a thoroughly charming little tale of teenage friendship and camaraderie in the face of the double onslaught of be-mulleted bullies and psychotic circus acts.

Indeed, very much the beating heart of this piece is the entertaining interplay between the film’s excellent and thoroughly engaging young cast whose depiction of young 1980’s teenagers is refreshingly spot on and cause for much unashamedly rose-tinted reminiscing.

With obvious tips of the hat to the classic teen flicks of yesteryear – Stand By Me and The Goonies spring to mind, amongst others – not to mention a very Spielberg-ian approach to the direction, our heroic nerd node, armed with nothing but bicycles and their sharp and consistently witty dialogue, embark upon filling their summer holidays with the most X-rated of Enid Blyton-esque adventures.

But herein lies a major problem. Once it becomes apparent that our gang of crusading crime-fighters is not in fact merely comprised of readily-dispensable units, ripe for the  slaughter at the massive feet of Pennywise, and is more a cohesive band of brothers (and sisters) on whose collective survival the film’s narrative rather depends, then all sense of foreboding and fear for their safety that has been carefully harnessed up until this point, takes something of a sharp left out of the nearest window. Sadly, this leaves the film to trundle predictably through the motions towards its underwhelming conclusion.

In terms of horror, it could be argued that IT is probably more Harry Potter than Hellraiser, for example, and there really is only so far that a tsunami of horror clichés, psychotic laughing and an unremitting, massively over-the-top soundtrack can take you when it comes to conjuring up the perfect, genuinely unnerving atmosphere.

As ever, less would have been so much more.

On balance, it should be stressed that IT does get an awful lot right though, and in many ways it makes for a highly entertaining couple of hours. But I suspect that Andy Muschietti’s vision for this film was to be a little less fantasy, and a lot more fear; and on that basis – and it could just be me – this has to be chalked up as a slightly disappointing re-make of this classic Stephen King novel.

 

 

 

TISZTA SZÍVVEL (Kills on Wheels)

“The chief success of Tiszta Svívvel is its ability to switch confidently and effectively between the thoughtful, the action-packed and the at times downright ridiculous…”

Wayward Wolf.

Tiszta Svívvel (re-badged for the UK market as: Kills on Wheels) is the latest offering from Hungarian writer and director, Attila Till.

Whilst, on one rather simplistic level, this is the story of a hit man and his two willing accomplices, it is on another far more nuanced level, the depiction of the daily ordeals experienced by those living with severe disabilities.

Zolika (Zoltán Fenyvesi), a young man with serious spinal issues, lives in a care home along with his best friend and Cerebral Palsy sufferer, Barba Papa (Ádám Fekete).

Barba Papa’s ability to walk, albeit in an ungainly fashion, makes him decidedly able-bodied compared to Zolika, whose back condition leaves him permanently confined to a wheelchair, and often to his bed.

There is a ray of light however for Zolika as his estranged father has agreed to fund corrective life-saving surgery for him, but Zolika harbours great anger towards the man who effectively abandoned him during his childhood, and whilst being in danger of cutting off his nose to spite his face, Zolika point-blank refuses to accept any such help, much to the chagrin of his concerned and doting mother. Zolika will need to raise the money himself, but how?

Meanwhile, we are introduced to Rupaszov, a man that has suffered a partial paralysis of his own. He too is wheelchair-bound. Previously a fireman, a work accident and its subsequent after effects have seen the poor man’s world and well-being fall apart, and he has descended into a dark state of bitterness, chaos and criminality.

Zolika and Barba Papa lack focus and drive in their lives, but a chance fractious encounter with Rupaszov leads to these two eager, wide-eyed innocents being taken under the ex-jailbird’s wing.

Though clearly an act of absent-minded madness to any right-thinking person, by teaming up with Rupaszov the young pair see an ideal opportunity to give some meaning to their lives which up until now have been very much defined by what they can’t do. They volunteer to aid Rupaszov in his work as a hired hit man for Serbian drug baron, Rados (Dusán Vitanovics). This decision alone would appear to be problematic enough, but Rados – with three decidedly tetchy Rottweilers for company – not only gives this collaborative idea the big thumbs-down, he then proceeds to administer Rupaszov with the most ruthless of ultimatums.

The chief success of Tiszta Svívvel is its ability to switch confidently and effectively between the thoughtful, the action-packed and the at times downright ridiculous, blending as it does a curious mixture of brutality with darkly humorous observational comedy. Underpinning all of this, however, there is a genuinely compassionate heart to this film which beats hard and true.

Zoltán Fenyvesi and Ádám Fekete put in commendable performances as Rupaszov’s helpers in what are perhaps, through no fault of their own, slightly limited roles, whilst Szabolcs Thuróczy’s performance as the embittered Rupaszov carries sufficient weight to convince as a man in the throes of a personal crisis; a man who can no longer find peace or any sense of meaning in his life.

Be it the challenge of pressing the correct buttons on a vending machine with a hand so severely affected by spasticity, being likened to the much loved Star Wars duo, R2D2 and C3PO, or Rupaszov simply watching with unaffected indifference as a knife is plunged into one of his paralysed legs, Attila Till’s script and direction never shies away from acknowledging the more comedic side and frequent absurdity of the trio’s daily plight as they lurch from one awkward scenario to another owing to their collective hampered physicality.

That said, for them to even attempt feats that would present a challenge to even the peak condition able-bodied amongst us, is testament to the group’s inner strength of belief and a refusal to give in – something that is very much a core theme of Till’s engaging film.

Tiszta Svívvel offers not just a tongue-in-cheek, light-hearted and refreshingly original take on the gangster flick, but more importantly, provides a spirited and uplifting lens through which we can view disability, and its impact upon those who must live with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM: REVIEWS & COMMENT