US

“[Winston] Duke’s darkly comical turn, when permitted to do so, adds some much needed levity and respite to this film’s otherwise dogged determination to take itself way too seriously.” – Wayward Wolf.

US, is a tale of them and us. A U.S tale of racial and minority hardships and divisions all dressed up in the guise of a horror flick.

And what a muddled unsatisfying affair it is, to put it mildly.

Developing an understanding of Peele’s narrative and appreciating the motives and influences that led him down such a path would seem to be the primary challenge here. That, however, is easier said than done. Even having had the benefit of a post-screening narrative ‘walk-through’, I’m still left baffled and unsatisfied by the film’s unconvincing conclusions.

Part fiendishly complicated thriller, part multi-influenced horror and part social commentary, Us is a film that comes at us with a multi-pronged assault on our senses. Such an assault, I’d argue however, succeeds only in confusing and bewildering the audience, distracting considerably in the process from what must surely be the film’s primary intention – to shock and scare.

Whilst the world seems intent on over-analysing the minutiae of Peele’s oh-so-clever convoluted plot intentions, one overarching fact remains true: though the initial appearance of the creepy motionless silhouetted figures on Gabe and Adelaide’s drive hinted that it might well be, Us, is in fact simply not very scary at all. And any amount of blurring this issue with unnecessarily complicated plot devices and deeper meanings isn’t going to disguise this fact.

Lupita Nyong’o, Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph (Adelaide/Red, Jason/Pluto and Zora/Umbrae, respectively), all make a decent enough fist of portraying three of the perpetually fear-faced family, but it’s Winston Duke’s portrayal of Gabe that arguably hints at where Peele’s directorial attentions might have been better placed. Duke’s darkly comical turn, when permitted to do so, adds some much needed levity and respite to this film’s otherwise dogged determination to take itself way too seriously.

Neither particularly scary nor funny, Us ultimately relies on its ‘cleverness’ to blind its viewers as it weaves its way confusingly hither and thither, tying itself up in knots in the process before ultimately vanishing clean up its own over important arse.

Visually impressive at times, and rich in both metaphor and symbolism, there’s no argument that Jordan Peele’s grand vision for Us is an ambitious and intricate one on paper, but the inconvenient truth here is that very little of this translates effectively enough to the big screen.

Considering the wealth of acclaim being bestowed upon Jordan Peele’s new horror, my views are clearly in the minority here. And that’s fair enough. I just pray that US is not set to haunt me and become my new Big Lebowski; a film, no matter how many times I reluctantly put myself through it, never fails to not live up to the hype that surrounds it.

US: A worthy follow up to the excellent Get Out, sadly, this is not.

FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS

“Goodwill certainly abounds in this unlikely tale of how a bunch of old Cornish sea dogs somehow became a chart-topping sensation.” – Wayward Wolf.

There’s just no escaping it, this Chris Foggin film comes directly from the straight forward, highly predictable formulaic school of cinema.

Very much a join-the-dots / paint-by-numbers affair, pretty much every plot manoeuvre in this Cornish coastal yarn can be seen coming a mile off. As clearly – if you will – as a sweeping beam of light cast out wide across the Atlantic ocean from the Trevose Head Lighthouse itself.

Or something.

Mercifully, however, Fisherman’s Friends is not a film reliant upon any such trite – and clearly just Googled – nuggets of Cornish nautical trivia. Nor is it reliant – more pertinently – upon the predictability of its somewhat limited narrative, lacking as it is in subtlety and originality. Instead Foggin’s film excels in other ways, chiefly in its ability to craft some very likeable and wholesome characters in whom we can emotionally invest, with stand-out performances coming from the likes of James Purefoy, Dave Johns, David Hayman and Maggie Steed. It’s fair to say that collectively the cast do a grand job of lending the piece some much needed heart and authenticity.

Goodwill certainly abounds in this unlikely tale of how a bunch of old Cornish sea dogs somehow became a chart-topping sensation.

Based upon a true story – extremely loosely, I’d wager – Foggin’s film suggests that a music industry A&R man, Danny (Daniel Mays), is tricked by his fellow stag-do comrades into attempting to sign a rag-tag bunch of local fisherman to their record label, having witnessed them singing old sea shanties for the tourists down in Port Isaac harbour.

With his practical joking mates having subsequently hot-footed it back to London without him, Danny finds himself somewhat duty-bound to pursue this particular mission impossible through to what one presumes will be a fruitless dead end having made heartfelt assurances of record deals and public adoration not only to the fisherman, but to one of their daughters too, Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton), who has understandably quickly stolen Danny’s heart.

Just how will this all pan out, I hear you ask?

Well, just raise your metaphorical sails, sailors, and set a course to ‘exactly how you’d imagine it will’, and there shall ye find the answer.

But do please resist the temptation to race to the end, because in the case of Fisherman’s Friends, the reward really is in the journey, not the destination. Indeed, against all odds, I somehow found myself well and truly wrapped up in the film’s goings on, a state of affairs that I’d have deemed to be wholly impossible during the film’s underwhelming first act.

Mainstream British films so often go out of their way to paint a quaint picture of rural British life, presumably to appeal to the global market. Fisherman’s Friends is no exception mixing as it does small town charm with quirky characterisation.

Admittedly, this is not the pinnacle of British feel-good film making, but that’s certainly no disgrace. Fisherman’s Friends, for all of its short comings, is an enjoyable whole-hearted film jam-packed full of Cornish charm.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

“…a film, much like Moonlight, through which there runs a strand of inescapable melancholy.” – Wayward Wolf.

The historical treatment, social standing and welfare of the black population of America is almost certainly a far more complicated issue than the black and white (literally) protestations of overtly-aggressive pressure groups – such as Black Lives Matter – would have you believe.

That is not to say that historic oppression of African Americans has not been a real thing, but to talk of white supremacy and systemic racism is to dramatically over simplify the issue.

Barry Jenkins’ film – based upon the James Baldwin novel of the same name – touches upon such themes through this thoughtful tale of the tender yet strained relationship between two young African Americans, Tish (Kiki Layne) and Alonzo ‘Fonny’ Hunt (Stephan James), from Harlem, faced with the very realistic prospect of being kept apart owing to Hunt’s unjust imprisonment for a crime that he didn’t commit.

Unfortunately for him, he was the convenient scapegoat. In the wrong place at the wrong time. And now, to add insult to injury, with Fonny incarcerated, Tish has fallen pregnant with his child.

It’s a fraught scenario made worse by the spiteful disapproving words and actions of Fonny’s own puritanical mother (portrayed by Aunjanue Ellis), whose disdain for the now pregnant Tish, is made more than evident.

Jenkins’ film is a gritty yet fairly unassuming mood piece capturing well the raw emotions of young love and devotion, yet it is also a film, much like Jenkins’ Oscar-winning Moonlight, through which there runs a strand of inescapable melancholy.

Beautifully shot and nicely acted throughout, If Beale Street Could Talk is strong and clear in its message.

That said, through its highlighting of historical police racism and institutional oppression, it’s also a very timely piece that sadly, as much as anything, will probably serve predominantly as a means to add fuel to the considerable fire that powers the present day narrative of ‘race-related hysteria’. A narrative that rather confusingly seems to dominate these times in which we live despite the undeniable massively positive changes that have since occurred in such areas.

Perhaps it’s better then to judge Jenkins’ film simply as a stand-alone snap-shot in time. A study of love in a time of racial tensions in 1970’s America. And in that regard it’s undoubtedly a fine piece of work.

FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY

To someone for whom wrestling has always been more about watching old ladies scream at obese British men in sparkling leotards, WWE seems like an altogether different world…” – Wayward Wolf.

It certainly helped me make up my mind as to whether to engage with Stephen Merchant’s directorial debut, Fighting With My Family, when the aforementioned lovable beanpole popped-up in person during the film’s trailer.

And good job too.

Truth be told, the story of a young girl pursuing her lifelong dream of being a WWE wrestling star holds little or no appeal and under normal circumstances would almost certainly have seen me perform some kind of choice avoidance manoeuvre, giving any such star-spangled nonsense the widest of all possible berths.

But we live and learn, folks.

Merchant’s brief cameo may well be light-hearted, inconsequential – if enjoyable – fluff within the film’s wider context; the film, however, is anything but.

Based upon an unlikely yet true story, Fighting With My Family tells the tale of Saraya Knight, a young girl from Norwich, whose sheer determination and ability are rewarded with an opportunity to gate crash the world of WWE.

Florence Pugh – probably best known for her impressive turn in the excellent Lady MacBeth – adds to her increasingly impressive CV with a likeable if low-key portrayal of our East Anglian wrestling wannabe. Additionally, there’s a fun cameo from Dwayne ‘ The Rock’ Johnson portraying, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson – although it should be noted that he was not Merchant’s first choice for the role….

Nick Frost on the other hand seems likely to have been an absolute shoe-in to portray Saraya’s larger than life father, Ricky, a performance that contributes substantially to the film’s overall success.

A special mention also to the rag-tag ensemble support cast comprised of any number of enthusiastic and well-meaning (if a little limited) ‘bit-parters’ and extras, all of whom add considerably, as a collective, to the film’s considerable and relentless charm offensive.

Merchant’s screenplay is both sharp and witty, successfully blending humour with large doses of warmth and emotion. Most importantly though, it manages to navigate clear of the sort of schmaltzy honey-trap that so often befalls films of the mainstream feel-good genre.

To someone for whom wrestling has always been more about watching
old ladies scream at obese British men in sparkling leotards, WWE seems like an altogether different world, and one in which I hold little or no interest. And no matter the quality of Merchant’s hugely enjoyable film, that’s a fact that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

But hats off to the small screen’s most incompetent talent agent, Fighting With My Family, is not only a triumph in its own right, it’s also the first ever wrestling-themed film that’s had me come close to jumping off the nearest banisters and performing some form of impromptu double-nelson on landing.

And that’s saying something.