THE POST

Four Star Rating

“Spielberg’s film is an absolute masterclass in tension and suspense” – Wayward Wolf.

“The press is for the benefit not of the governors, but of the governed…”

Never a truer word spoken, though a hugely debatable sentiment within today’s rather one-eyed, less than transparent media, I’d suggest.

I’m sure I’m not alone in welcoming the return of the master of popular story telling, Steven Spielberg.

His latest piece, The Post, chronicles the uber-tense set of circumstances leading up to the enormously brave decision by the ‘Free Press’ to publish a huge number of leaked documents revealing successive U.S Governments’ cover up of the truth behind the Vietnam War.

Daniel Ellsberg, an American military journalist stationed in the thick of the combat, returns to his homeland determined that the U.S Government’s on-going thirty year deception of its public should no longer be allowed to continue, and makes the bold decision to make available reams of classified national defence information to The New York Times, who in turn proceed to publish many of the files.

This is indeed a courageous move for both Ellsberg and The New York Times, but one which will soon be closed down by way of a court injunction.

Meanwhile, the new Editor of The Washington Post, Ben Bradlee (a slightly darker role for the usually squeaky clean Tom Hanks), is determined to make a splash for his paper, and despite the injunction hanging over all of the country’s press, when opportunity presents itself, he is undeterred and decides, against much legal advice, that The Washington Post will show no reluctance in publishing more of this classified content.

This is all well and good, but Bradlee’s decisions must be approved by not only a board of directors, but more importantly, by the paper’s slightly reluctant owner, Kay Graham (a top drawer performance from the ever reliable Meryl Streep).

Such a predicament will inevitably lead to much hand-wringing and soul searching.

Set to the backdrop of civil unrest and a rapidly swelling anti-war sentiment amongst the people, Spielberg’s film is an absolute masterclass in tension and suspense. Not only is this a race against the clock, but a test of nerve and one big collective wrestle with morality. Very much a case of the people versus the State.

We only have to look at the more recent actions of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden for their ‘so-called-treachery’ against their respective Governements, to know that anarchy, the distrust of authority and the quest for justice are very much alive and well in modern society, but the revelation of The Pentagon Papers (as the leaked Vietnam files were to become known), was, in 1970, a somewhat unprecedented action, and one that raised the moral dilemma: To whom must one be more dutiful? To the people, or to one’s own Government?

This painfully awkward scenario is quite brilliantly captured by the cast, but in particular through the performances of Hanks, and especially Meryl Streep.

Streep’s portrayal of Kay Graham is one of a woman who initially, despite being the Paper’s owner – albeit by default – seems to lack authority amongst her peers, and the courage of her own convictions in such a male-dominated environment. However, over the course of the film, she gradually grows into the role and the responsibility that it entails, and in the face of huge opposition by much of her paper’s board of directors, she wrestles gamely with her own conscience, all too aware of the potential implications, to ultimately come to what she feels to be the right decision.

It’s a superb, nuanced portrayal of a gradually empowered woman who never sacrifices principles to gain authority.

Spielberg once again teams up with legendary composer John Williams, whose score is bold and influential, yet never overpowering. Just another example of the pair’s perfectly complimentary partnership in film.

The Post is a piece that examines morality and just what it means to uphold the Constitution of the U.S.A in the face of potential severe national threat, and it’s all done with Spielberg’s trademark energy, heart and quite brilliant characterisation.

A must see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD

Four Star Rating

“Just when it seemed that Ridley Scott’s decline had become irreversible, along comes All the Money in the World” – Wayward Wolf.

The last five years or so have not exactly been what you’d call ‘vintage’ years for one of the big screen’s favourite directors. I’d even go so far as to suggest that it’s now in the public’s interest for his films to be preceded by some kind of warning:

CAUTION: RIDLEY SCOTT.

From the man that was bang on track with classics such as: Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator, the last few years have seen the Ridley Scott Express somewhat derailed thanks to a succession of hugely disappointing offerings.

Prometheus, The Counsellor, Alien: Covenant and the admittedly half-decent The Martian (loved the first half, hated the second) – each, in its own way, has been as underwhelming as the next.

But as the old sport-related adage suggests: form is temporary but class is permanent, and you can’t keep a good man down. Just when it seemed that Ridley Scott’s decline had become irreversible, along comes All the Money in the World.

Based upon the extraordinary true story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, it tells of his mother’s bullish attempts to convince the boy’s billionaire Grandfather, John Paul Getty (the superb Christopher Plummer), to loosen his purse strings a little and stump up the $17 million ransom being demanded by John Paul Getty III’s Italian captors.

But John Paul Getty is stubborn and something of a complicated character, and prising the money from this man’s overly-tight grasp will prove to be much easier said than done.

Much as Governments will typically refuse to succumb to the demands of terrorists, John Paul Getty, whilst having no problem in publicly admitting to the deep love that he feels for his Grandson, seems suitably unperturbed by the young lad’s plight. Instead, time rolls on and even the grisly spectacle of a part of his Grandson’s ear materialising one day in the post, is insufficient to force the stubborn billionaire’s hand.

All the while, John Paul Getty III’s mother, Gail Harris (the excellent Michelle Williams), and Getty’s own head of security, Fletcher Chase (a nice turn from Mark Wahlberg), do everything within their power to not only track down the kidnappers, but more importantly, to attempt to convince John Paul Getty to part with what is after all, a very small fraction of his overall fortune. It soon becomes clear, however, that John Paul Getty will only ever consider adhering to Gail’s wishes upon a certain condition; one that would ultimately snatch Gail’s son away from her own parental control.

All the Money in the World is a prime example of Ridley Scott being a superb director for the big occasion. He’s never been one to shy away from the memorable, the dramatic, the tongue-in-cheek or the big show-stopping scenes. And in this latest big budget crime caper, one scene in particular will have you positively squirming in your seat. But such attention-grabbing antics only serve to positively enhance, not distract in any way from the film’s captivating narrative.

Whereas many of Scott’s recent outings have had the tendency to slide into the realm of the poorly-scripted and the cliché-riddled – in essence a tendency to sell out to the needs of the mainstream – All the Money in the World does no such thing.

With well judged attention paid to the psychology of the unfolding scenario, Ridley Scott succeeds in sustaining a high degree of intrigue, knowing exactly when to ramp up the suspense levels, and more importantly resisting – mercifully – the need to resort to any sort of naff Hollywood closing flourish.

This is a fine, captivating film which achieves that tricky balance between popcorn and fine story telling. In other words, this is every bit a Ridley Scott film – done well, and one, consequently, that should appeal right across the board.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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