Tag Archives: Wayward Wolf Film Review

OUT OF BLUE

“…Mike? Really? Another example of needless gender blurring if ever there was one.” – Wayward Wolf.

As harsh as it may sound, it’s hard to justify the existence of Carol Morley’s Out of Blue.

On the one hand Morley’s vision is to be applauded offering as it does a subtle re-imagining of the whodunnit genre. On the other hand genre conventions would point at the urgent need for a big ole’ shot of adrenaline to make this particularly limp detective drama much less of a drippy, whimsical affair.

As fine an actress as Patricia Clarkson is, her performance here portraying Detective Mike Hoolihan is unconvincing to say the least.

And while we’re on the subject… Mike? Really? Another example of needless gender blurring if ever there was one.

Anyway, ‘Mike’ is called upon to look into the apparent murder of an eminent astrophysicist. But far from bringing a tough uncompromising approach to her investigations, she comes across as scatty, distracted and somewhat intimidated by the task in hand; in fact anything but the long-in-the-tooth, hugely experienced member of the police force that she allegedly is.

Morley’s film seems more concerned with exploring flaky female emotional concerns than creating the sort of tension and convincing narrative that would really drive a cop drama forward, and her film suffers as a consequence.

But this shouldn’t come as much of a shock when we consider the nature of her previous big screen outing, the irritatingly odd, The Falling.

On the positive side of things, there are good turns from both Toby Jones and James Caan, and Clint Mansell’s fine contemporary Noir-esque soundtrack is effective in lifting the film’s flimsy content up a notch or two. But don’t be fooled by any sort of critical acclaim coming from the usual suspects, Out of Blue is a very disappointing piece.

Another thoroughly underwhelming experience from the Carol Morley stable.

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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.

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.

GREEN BOOK


“Mahershala Ali puts in arguably a career best performance…” – Wayward Wolf.

Hollywood’s fixation on historic racial divisions as being some kind of red flag and pointer towards the present day and so-called ‘systemic racism’, is somewhat troubling, to put it mildly.

All too frequently this line of thinking does nothing but exacerbate situations which have already, by and large, been successfully addressed and dealt with.

Fortunately, as text book as Peter Farrelly’s film Green Book is in this regard, it is also such a wonderfully realised piece, that we do not, having watched it, find ourselves then raking through the embers of historical racial prejudices, hoping to find obvious parallels with modern society. Instead, we can lament the past, but ponder on the admirably huge steps that mankind has undoubtedly taken with regard to such issues over the last half century or so.

Farrelly’s Green Book playfully mixes stereotypes with unlikely role reversals in a film based loosely upon the true story of the friendship between Bronx-based no nonsense, white, Italian hustler, Tony ‘lip’ Vallelonga, and his black employer, the eloquent, refined brilliant pianist Dr. Don Shirley.

Hired both as a driver and ‘muscle’, Tony is tasked with facilitating Shirley’s U.S performing tour. More pertinently, he is tasked with negotiating the considerable and inevitable issues that would accompany a notable black American’s visit to the deep south in mid-century America.

Viggo Mortensen is absolutely terrific as one half of our mismatched odd couple, portraying Tony, the portly Italian chancer with the insatiable appetite and questionable creative writing skills, whilst Mahershala Ali puts in arguably a career best performance as the uptight, well-to-do, Shirley.

Very much the yin to Tony’s yang.

As much as Green Book is a serious tale of differences and intolerance, it is equally a tale of togetherness and friendship that is ultimately most indebted to the sort of feel-good film making of the 1980’s; never better exemplified than in John Hughes’ timeless classic, Planes, Trains & Automobiles.

A deserved Oscars shoe-in on many levels.

THE MULE

Perhaps more than anything though, The Mule successfully shines a much needed spotlight on traditional, fast-vanishing values…” – Wayward Wolf.

The hyper-sensitive mainstream arts media appears to have collectively ‘seen its arse’ over Clint Eastwood’s latest film, The Mule.

Such a litany of what one suspects is probably largely ideologically-orientated disapproval from such quarters is usually good enough reason to go out of one’s way to see any film, I find.

Of course if passing shots of the ‘butts’ of scantily-clad beautiful Latina women at Cartel pool parties offends you greatly, and the unwitting ‘casual racism’ from the mouth of the film’s chief protagonist is enough to have you spit your dummies out and run for the hills, then so be it.

But to be swayed by the wholly-undeserving negative sentiment that seems to have been unfairly heaped upon this piece by the oh-so-wise critical sages and upholders of artistic morality would be to miss out on what is an entertaining and refreshingly no-punches-pulled piece of film–making.

That’s not to say that The Mule is in any way perfect. Indeed, its imperfections are there for all to see, but one senses that the particularly harsh appraisal dished out by many a film critic stems less from problematic narratives or the film’s occasional tonal confusion, and more from the fact that this is yet another Eastwood offering that won’t cowtow to Hollywood’s ongoing false utopian vision of reality, and point-blank refuses to feed itself through the filters of modern day feminism and political correctness.

And what a rare and welcome thing that is.

Eastwood’s film is loosely based upon the true tale of an award-winning day-lily horticulturist named Earl, whose livelihood has been stripped away essentially by a refusal or more likely inability to get with the times.

“That damned internet. It ruins everything,” he quips.

Certainly it’s ruined Earl. With the bank having foreclosed on his property and now facing the very real prospect of living his twilight years both broke and homeless, the party’s well and truly over, and it’s only through a chance encounter with a young Mexican lad that a door to monetary salvation is unexpectedly opened.

Earl’s unwitting (at least initially) participation as a drugs mule fora Mexican cartel may well be a profitable venture, but at what long-term cost?

The elements of Earl’s personality and lifestyle that are initially deemed to be something of a risk in this line of work, it soon becomes clear are in fact his, and by association, the cartel’s greatest assets too, and key to his burgeoning success and growing profile within the business.

An old-timer who’s never picked up so much as a parking ticket in his whole life, dancing to his own tune and quietly going about his business, is deemed highly unlikely to attract the attention of the authorities, and so it proves to be. But such a low risk status inevitably begins to encourage greater greed, on all sides, and thus begins a gradual undermining of any previous need for stealth and caution.

Eastwood’s portrayal of this perhaps selectively naïve pensioner is highly entertaining and well realised on the whole. He paints a portrait of a man who has always put work before family. A man who struggles, like many, to adapt to the ever changing times in which we live, frequently falling foul of what is deemed acceptable and what is not.

Be he inadvertently insulting ethnic minorities or mistaking women for men, one senses however that there is little or no malice in Earl’s comments and actions. These are after all just the befuddled musings of an old man whose best years are now long behind him. Years that were lived – and lived well – in another age and time altogether.

But far from telling some sort of one-sided tale of racial prejudices in America’s deep South, Eastwood’s film instead demonstrates a refreshing level of balance. For every Mexican ‘beaner’ reference there is a ‘gringo’. And if there is racial stereotyping in the depiction of ruthless Mexican cartel members, this is equally true in the depiction of a racially intolerant white State Trooper, for example.

And then there is Earl, whose independent streak, unflappable nature and joy of life no matter the colour, happily straddles the spaces in between.

In slight criticism, Eastwood’s film could probably have benefited from greater analysis of Earl’s strained relationship with his family and ex-wife (Dianne Wiest), and perhaps as a whole, it’s a little lacking in punch when it comes to delivering some of its darker content. But these are relatively minor issues and don’t distract from the film’s core message.

Perhaps more than anything though, The Mule successfully shines a much needed spotlight on traditional, fast-vanishing values:

To have the freedom to criticise and offend and in turn to be able to accept criticism and offence ourselves. To appreciate the importance of community. The importance of facing up to our responsibilities in life. To have the good grace to admit when we’re wrong and to accept the consequences of our actions, not to seek scapegoats and to blame others. And most crucially of all, the importance of family above everything else.

A good, solid moral code by which to live any life.

A moral code bafflingly increasingly at odds with the expectations of modern society.

BEAUTIFUL BOY


“…it’s a film whose narrative is nothing that we haven’t experienced before…” – Wayward Wolf.

If there’s one overriding criticism to be made of Felix van Groeningen’s drama, Beautiful Boy, it’s that it fails to offer anything new to an already well stocked genre.

That’s not to say that it’s in any way a bad film. On the contrary, Van Groeningen’s film provides a perfectly decent analysis of a boy succumbing to the vice like grip of addiction.

The film is helped along by a good turn from Steve Carell (David Sheff) – who is rapidly becoming the new Tom Hanks in terms of his convincing metamorphosis from comedian to straight actor – and in particular a terrific lead performance from the ever impressive Timothée Chalamet (Nic Sheff).

But in truth, it’s a film whose narrative is nothing that we haven’t experienced before, and probably unfairly therefore, it makes the film’s hard-hitting subject matter seem just a little too familiar, thereby lacking the sort of impact required to truly engage an audience.

Where Van Groeningen’s film undoubtedly excels, however, is not necessarily in its graphic painting of a picture of dysfunctional misery, but in contrasting this bleakness with the simple purity of a clean and sober Nic interacting innocently and meaningfully with his two younger half-siblings, both of whom he dotes upon when he is in his right mind.

Played out to a soundtrack of Bowie, Massive Attack and Sigur Rós, amongst others, certainly sonically-speaking Beautiful Boy should be a film that will endure, and considering just how rife serious drug abuse apparently is these days within the major cities on America’s West Coast, there’s certainly an argument that this is very much a film of our times (albeit one based primarily upon events of some years back).

Beautiful Boy is a solid piece, without doubt, yet one lacking in the sort of true originality that could really have made it stand out.

VICE


“…I dare say that the film’s rabidly anti-Republican sentiment will effortlessly endear it to a core fan base.” – Wayward Wolf.

Whilst this film shares many similarities – stylistically-speaking at least – with his previous offering, the hard-hitting but hugely entertaining The Big Short, Adam McKay’s latest, Vice, on the other hand, feels like an altogether more spiteful hatchet job.

Granted the subject matter and the chief protagonists therein do indeed lend themselves to some well warranted scrutiny, but the lofty perch of moral self-righteousness from which McKay has chosen to approach this particular project ultimately does the film few favours as an overall spectacle.

That said, the performances are excellent. Christian Bale in particular is superb as the quietly devastating Dick Cheney, whilst Amy McAdam provides a great turn of both sensitivity and authority as Dick’s no-nonsense wife and all-round rock, Lynne, and Steve Carell is good fun in his portrayal of the ever-shady Donald Rumsfeld.

The ingredients are certainly all there, and I dare say that the film’s rabidly anti-Republican sentiment will effortlessly endear it to a core fan base. Fair enough. It’s important to know your audience. But Vice is a disappointingly self-congratulatory black and white affair. Good versus evil. And drastically lacking in any semblance of subtlety or balance, a point ultimately hammered home – in case anyone was left in any doubt whatsoever by this point – when McKay officially nails his colours to the mast with an unsubtle stereotype-heavy dig in a final skit buried deep within the closing credits.

STAN & OLLIE

Baird’s film charms from start to finish.” – Wayward Wolf.

The very fact that Stan continued to write comedy material for Laurel & Hardy for many years following the death of his comedy partner, Oliver, speaks volumes about what Laurel & Hardy truly meant to him.

A labour of love.

The fact that this material was actually never used and that Stan refused to even entertain the notion of allowing Ollie’s shoes to be filled by anyone else also speaks volumes for the regard in which he held his now departed friend and comedy partner, even if this perhaps might not have always been apparent at times during their working life together.

Stan’s prolific work ethic and inability – or was it unwillingness? – to ever switch off and ‘drop the act’, also shows just how much he lived and breathed his particular vocation and indeed who the true driving force was in this much loved comedy duo.

From the evidence of Jon S. Baird’s poignant biopic, Stan & Ollie, it would seem that Ollie was in fact just happy enough to be along for the ride, though his integral part in helping to bring Stan’s wonderful comic visions to life should never be underestimated.

Baird’s film focuses upon late era Laurel & Hardy at a time in which they were seeking to revive their professional fortunes with a view to securing a lucrative film deal. As with so many of yesterday’s acts, the pair are forced to face the reality that life has moved on without them and that the public’s appetite for all things Laurel & Hardy has waned somewhat over the years, as evidenced by poor ticket sales and half empty second rate theatres booked for their come-back tour of the United Kingdom.

Of course, having a disinterested second-rate theatrical promoter more interested in exulting the wonders of his new comedy A-lister, Norman Wisdom, than putting any effort into promoting Laurel & Hardy, does little to help the matter.

Regardless, Stan and Ollie pursue a rigorous self-promotion campaign the length and breadth of the UK which, while not exactly swelling the coffers, does at least serve to remind the British Public just how much they did and still do adore the pair and their comedic brilliance. Once again they find a way into the public’s hearts. But an undercurrent of simmering resentment together with Ollie’s health problems will prove to be just as problematic for Hollywood’s favourite sons.

Stan & Ollie strikes the perfect balance between sentimentality and humour due in no small part to two nicely understated and respectful performances from John C. Reilly (Hardy) and Steve Coogan (Laurel).

Indeed, showcasing both his considerable talent as an impressionist and a natural penchant for executing highly visual humour – plus I’d wager a deep-rooted admiration for Stan Laurel to boot – it’s as though Coogan was born to play this role.

Far from making up the numbers, the supporting cast are equally important to the integrity and flow of Baird’s film. Rufus Jones is wonderfully smarmy and disingenuous as Stan & Ollie’s promoter, Bernard, a man almost politician-like in his ability to deflect away from any line in awkward questioning. Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda are equally excellent in their portrayal of the self-assured Lucille and Ida, respectively.
As is mentioned in the film, they are not only the boys’ wives but owing to their frequent passive-aggressive bickering, they are something of an intriguing double-act in themselves. Anyone that’s familiar with Laurel and Hardy’s back catalogue of work will be all too familiar with the kind of dominating matriarchal nature of their many on-screen wives. And if Baird’s characterisation is to be believed, there’s definitely something of a case for real life imitating art here.

With Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and Commencement to Dancing providing a warm and nostalgic soundtrack, and with delightful dance routines and timeless comedy skits providing ample laughs, Baird’s film charms from start to finish.

“It’s all stuff and nonsense really, isn’t it?” quips an old-timer following one of Laurel and Hardy’s sold-out London performances. Indeed it is, Sir, and in the most marvellous way.

To this day, it remains indisputable. No-one has ever done it better.

Stan & Ollie – a wonderfully heart-felt ode to the greatest comedy double act the world has ever seen.

THE FAVOURITE

“…Lanthimos’ brilliant yet unashamedly vulgar film well and truly puts the period in period drama.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ last two big screen outings, The Lobster and The Killing of a Secret Deer, were both peculiar and sinister in their own way, yet both pieces, as entertaining and engaging as they were, felt a little overly self-indulgent and peculiar for peculiar’s sake at times.

With The Favourite, on the other hand, the Director seems to have successfully harnessed his trademark quirky approach much more effectively here, anchoring it within a recognised historical context and an altogether more conventional film narrative.

Queen Anne is an emotionally fragile and rather unhinged woman. Maddened by much historic personal sorrow and ongoing health issues in her life, she cuts a frequently tragic figure.

Despite being a woman of considerable power and influence, Queen Anne’s personal issues and deep insecurities offer up the perfect scenario for any wannabe confidence trickster to take advantage of a woman whose deep-rooted jealousy and need for reassurance frequently results in irrational shrieking fits directed at whomever may be closest to her at any given time.

Her closest friend and personal ally, Lady Sarah, advises her and guides her through both her personal challenges and any important matters of the state. Though a little dysfunctional at times, it’s a convenient and largely symbiotic relationship and one which most importantly maintains a level of decorum around the palace.

The arrival of a young servant girl of some ambition, however, will gradually come to undermine Lady Sarah’s position in what quickly descends into a wicked game of one up-man-ship between the conniving pair.

Lanthimos’ film is as shocking, darkly humorous and at times unnerving as you might expect. Emma Stone is excellent as the treacherous young upstart, Abigail, whilst Rachel Weisz is as good as I’ve seen her in many years as the Queen’s chief advisor and confidant, Lady Sarah, bringing back fond memories of Rowan Atkinson’s Black Adder III character, and the largely self-serving ‘relationship’ that he would always ensure existed between himself and the congenital buffoon, The Prince Regent.

The main plaudits, however, are being heaped upon Olivia Colman, and rightly so. Her performance as Queen Anne is deliciously deranged yet achingly melancholic. Surrounded by 17 house rabbits – one to compensate for each of the children that she has tragically lost during her doleful life – her emotional and mental decline is superbly captured by Colman, further cementing her growing status as one of the finest and most versatile British actresses of this generation.

Lanthimos predictably lays his trademark oddity on thick. Unflattering low slung camera angles unashamedly look – metaphorically-speaking – up the skirts and noses of the film’s chief protagonists. This, together with frequent unsettling 180 degree rapid camera pans and the use of barrel-edged fish eye lenses all goes together to create a highly unconventional view of life in the court of the country’s head Monarch. Indeed, Lanthimos’ vision brilliantly depicts a sort of crazed and hedonistic existence that one might not normally associate with the higher echelons of the aristocracy.

Never a Director to shy away from the grotesque, the vomit excrement and blood unsurprisingly flows freely. Pride and Prejudice this is not.

Lanthimos’ brilliant yet unashamedly vulgar film well and truly puts the period in period drama.

The WWAFA’s 2018: The Best & Worst Films of The Year.

Welcome once again to the Wayward Wolf Annual Film Awards 2018 – (WWAFA’s).

And during a year in which ‘Hollywood’ has seen fit to ramp up its obsession with identity politics and all things diversity to absolutely off-the-chart levels, it’s been difficult not to lose the will at times with the whole cinema-going experience.

Of course not every film-maker is afflicted with this compulsion to pass off ultra utopian views of society as some sort of factual reality, but a year’s total of just 56 cinema visits made by yours truly during 2018 (down a hefty 20 or so on 2017’s total), is certainly representative of my own particular malaise.

A fair few of 2018’s highlights have therefore almost certainly been missed as a result. That’s a shame, but… c’est la vie.

The year has of course not been without some fine films though, and in a rather curtailed set of virtual ‘ceremonies’, here then are this year’s hits and misses as per my own humble opinion.

2018’s WWAFA FOR WORST FILM:

One or two below average films this year – the mis-firing Entebbe and mind-numbingly formulaic Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom spring to mind, for example – but nothing that compared to the appalling The First Purge. This thinly-veiled political propaganda piece was utterly dismal in too many ways to mention and is the clear winner of this year’s WWAFA for WORST FILM.

2018’s WWAFA FOR BEST FILM:

As ever, whittling down the year’s films into some form of a top ten was a tricky business. But after much deliberation here they are in reverse order of preference. My top ten films of 2018:

10. Hereditary

9. First Man

8. Free Solo

7. Leave No Trace

6. Bohemian Rhapsody

5. Funny Cow

4. Loveless

3. Cold War

2. Phantom Thread

And the WWAFA for 2018’s BEST FILM goes to:

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh’s tremendously affecting dark comedy / drama was of such high quality that it successfully saw off all-comers to snatch the 2018 Best Film WWAFA, and deservedly so.

The full and final list (in order of preference):

  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  2. Phantom Thread
  3. Cold War
  4. Loveless
  5. Funny Cow
  6. Bohemian Rhapsody
  7. Leave No Trace
  8. Free Solo
  9. First Man
  10. Hereditary
  11. Darkest Hour
  12. Lucky
  13. You Were Never Really Here
  14. The Happy Prince
  15. The Post
  16. American Animals
  17. I, Tonya
  18. The Old Man & The Gun
  19. Apostasy
  20. Journeyman
  21. Unsane
  22. Dogman
  23. First Reformed
  24. Ghost Stories
  25. Isle of Dogs
  26. Custody (jusqu’ a la grade)
  27. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society
  28. A Fantastic Woman
  29. The Wife
  30. Molly’s Game
  31. All the Money in the World
  32. Undir Trenu
  33. Halloween 2018
  34. Beast
  35. The Islands and the Whales
  36. Rider
  37. The Square
  38. The Shape of Water
  39. Sicario 2: Day of the Soldado
  40. Ready Player One
  41. My Friend Dahmer
  42. The Leisure Seeker
  43. King of Thieves
  44. The Mercy
  45. Mission Impossible (Fallout)
  46. A Quiet Place
  47. Red Sparrow
  48. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  49. Creed II
  50. Wonder Wheel
  51. Downsizing
  52. Ant Man & The Wasp
  53. A Simple Plan
  54. Entebbe
  55. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
  56. The First Purge

THE WIFE

“…it’s arguable whether Runge’s film has any real intention of actually bringing about the restoration of equality between the sexes.” – Wayward Wolf.

Glenn Close has been rightly lauded for her portrayal of Joan
Castleman – wife of soon-to-be Nobel Literature Prize-winner, Joe – in Björn Runge’s emotionally-charged piece, The Wife.

Runge’s film adds to the increasingly prevalent occurrence of Hollywood mainstream releases focusing upon downtrodden women in society and their ongoing fight for equal rights.

Indeed the gender inequality card has been played that many times in the world of film over the last decade or so that one might argue – with significant justification – that it’s become somewhat tiresome in its application, and that its impact has been considerably lessened as a result.

With that in mind, it’s only fair to note that Runge’s film, whilst staunchly feminist in its stance, succeeds in making such a theme feel fresh and invigorating once again thanks to both a sophisticated narrative and a plot twist which, whilst not entirely unforseen, is clever in its inception and very effectively handled by the director.

Never has the old adage of there being a great woman behind every great man been more appropriate. In fact, in this particular instance such a sentiment probably doesn’t even go far enough given the film’s ultimate revelation.

Terrific performances from Close, and Jonathan Pryce as Joe, should not completely overshadow a strong performance from Max Irons as Joe and Joan’ son and aspiring author, David, and Christian Slater’s terrifically weasely portrayal of journalist, Nathaniel Bone.

Whilst being a powerful and well executed piece, it’s arguable whether Runge’s film has any real intention of actually bringing about the restoration of equality between the sexes. There’s possibly greater truth in the notion that The Wife serves more as a thinly-veiled slightly vindictive revenge piece.

FREE SOLO


As emotionally-draining and powerful a documentary as you’re ever likely to see.” – Wayward Wolf.

A scene midway through Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s extraordinary documentary, Free Solo, might go some way towards explaining the apparent fearlessness of free climbing sensation, Alex Honnold.

An MRI scan reveals a remarkably low response level in Honnold’s brain to the sort of stimuli that would produce typically large response levels in you or I. Pseudoscience or not, the logical summary from such findings can only be that Alex Honnold is a man that does not spook easily.

That said, perhaps informing him that his climbing days are over and that he will be confined to a nine-to-five desk job for the rest of his days might well see his brain response levels fly off the charts!

Who knows?

The contrast between Honnold the rock-climbing van-dwelling free spirit and the Honnold whose life his lovely (and very understanding) girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, tries valiantly to harness with at least some attempt at domesticity, is marked.

And perhaps that’s the point here. The remarkable feats that this thirty-three year old gravity-defying sensation continues to achieve are certainly not borne out of any sort of conventional approach to life. The life of a rock climber or mountaineer is after all inherently selfish in nature and completely at odds with the very notion of convention.

Chin and Vasarhelyi’s fascinating film examines the relationship not only between Alex and Sanni, but just as importantly, between Alex and his camera crew, each of whom are pushed to their very emotional limits in monitoring and recording his every move, always aware that his next may very conceivably be his last.

Watching Honnold’s death-defying attempt to scale El Capitan in Yosemite – without recourse to ropes – is an excruciatingly tense and sweaty-palmed experience; such is the emotion that we can’t help but invest in this wiry, slightly odd, rather aloof yet likeable human Spiderman.

Free Solo is a stunningly shot, triumphant cinematic experience. As emotionally-draining and powerful a documentary as you’re ever likely to see.

And certainly not for the faint of heart.

THE OLD MAN & THE GUN

A sweet, charming film set in simpler, less cynical times. And with a twinkle in his eye, a fitting way to bow out for one of Hollywood’s true greats..” – Wayward Wolf.

When it’s finally time to bring down the curtain on an illustrious career, it’s probably a good idea to bow out as you’d like to be remembered. And that’s exactly what the effortlessly charming Robert Redford has managed here in David Lowery’s regaling of the true story of serial bank robber, Forrest Tucker.

In today’s society it’s nigh on impossible to even entertain the notion of such a tale. With the inescapable attentions of Big Brother’s surveillance society upon us these days wherever we may roam, the very thought of robbing umpteen banks across America armed only with a gun (for show), a smile, a fake moustache and a serious charm offensive is absolutely preposterous. But back in circa 1980, that’s exactly what Tucker and his elderly accomplices did,
bamboozling bank managers and tellers alike with their good natured approach, leaving but the merest ripple of discontent in their wake. 

Quite a feat.

Robert Redford is calmness and charisma personified as Forrest Tucker. Sissy Spacek is the object of Tucker’s attentions – a lady as intrigued as she is smitten by the man’s beguiling nature – whilst Casey Affleck – once again teaming up with Lowery following their fine collaboration in 2017’s A Ghost Story –  shines here with an understated performance portraying police detective John Hunt, the man tasked with pursuing the evasive Tucker.

Lowery’s film is a wonderfully soulful tale of a larger-than-life character; a man whose vocation of choice completely defines him as a person. A sweet, charming film set in simpler, less cynical times. And with a twinkle in his eye, a fitting way to bow out for one of Hollywood’s true greats.

CREED II

Philadelphia’s favourite fictional son lends this film a much needed dose of earthy authenticity…” – Wayward Wolf.

If one considers Creed II to be simply the follow-up to Creed, then it can certainly be considered a reasonable enough sequel, and on balance probably the better of the two movies. If one however considers Steven Caple Jr’s film to be the latest in a long conveyor belt of Rocky-related boxing flicks, then it really is nothing more than just another mid-ranking Rocky movie, borrowing heavily from past glories as it goes.

Don’t get me wrong, Creed II is an enjoyable enough, if highly predictable Hollywood blockbuster, with solid enough performances from Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson in the film’s leading roles. But this film would almost certainly be floundering in nowhere land without the services of Sylvester Stallone.

Philadelphia’s favourite fictional son lends the film a much needed dose of earthy authenticity and reminds us in the process, albeit briefly, exactly why this popular boxing franchise ever earned the legs that it did to ‘go the distance’ that it ultimately has.

So, where next for all things ‘Creed’?

Short of killing Stallone’s character off once and for all – and the whole thing almost certainly imploding in the process – it’s difficult to know what more there is for the franchise to say or prove to anyone at this late stage in the game.

But as ever, I’d imagine all such musings will be left to Hollywood’s money men.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

“Bryan Singer’s emotionally-charged biopic of the late great Freddie Mercury is big bold and bombastic, and whilst being a little clumsy on occasion in its realisation, nevertheless delivers in some style. Rami Malek’s performance is right on the money to such an extent that he even successfully manages to blur the line between film and reality. One of the truly outstanding cinema-going experiences of 2018, and a must see.”

Wayward Wolf.

DOGMAN

Four Star Rating

“…absolutely everyone has a breaking point, and people can only be pushed so far….” – Wayward Wolf.

Set within the desolate derelict concrete remains of what one assumes might once have been a thriving Italian coastal resort, Dogman is essentially a moral fable and a harsh lesson to us all.

Marcello is a slight, well-meaning and popular man who has, over the years, painstakingly built for himself a relatively successful no-frills pooch-pampering business.

His love for all things canine is evident for all to see. Each and every dog that is brought to Marcello for one of his mutt-makeovers is treated with special care and attention, bordering on devotion.

Indeed, the film opens to the incensed, almost rabid slavering protestations of one of Marcello’s ‘clients’ – a massive feral white dog that would happily rip your head off and play with it, for a laugh. Though this beast is securely chained to a large tin bath tub, one still can’t help but worry for Marcello’s safety as he whispers sweet nothings to this monster whilst simultaneously administering a scrub-down with a broom.

Marcello’s good nature and eagerness to please, however, is also very much his achilles heel and will, in time, prove to be his undoing.

Though respected within the local community, Marcello’s dalliances – all be they reluctant – with a local hoodlum, Simone, will not only end up getting him into trouble, but will completely alienate him from his close friends and acquaintances.

In fairness, such is Simone’s uncompromisingly violent nature, it is more than understandable how Marcello, a spindly slight-framed dog-devotee, so frequently finds himself too frightened to ‘just say no.’

Matteo Garrone’s film is an at times explosive tale of bullies and victims, dominance and subjugation, the rather hollow ‘honour’ of not being considered a nark, and above all, the true importance of standing up for oneself, no matter the potential gravity of the consequences.

It’s also a lesson in the fact that absolutely everyone has a breaking point, and people can only be pushed so far.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Dogman is the marked contrast between the nature of the film’s leading characters. A more chalk and cheese ill-matched pair one couldn’t hope to find; thrown together through nothing more than fear and manipulation.

Marcello Fonte is hugely likeable as Marcello. Edoardo Pesce on the other hand is genuinely terrifying as Marcello’s coke-snorting psycopathic nemesis. Indeed, he casts such an aura of unshakeable menace here – bringing to mind Ben Kingsley’s brilliantly deranged character, Don Logan, in Jonathan Glazer’s powerful millenial movie, Sexy Beast – that it’s literally impossible to feel anything but huge sympathy for Marcello’s increasingly unfortunate predicament as the film unfolds.

Dogman is a gritty, impressive and well realised piece with a clever – though not entirely surprising – element of symmetry to its brutal conclusion. That said, the film’s final act, whilst undoubtedly a powerful one, also has an air of the inconclusive about it.

And whether this is to be considered thought-provoking or merely frustrating, will as ever be very much down to personal taste.

FIRST MAN

Four Star Rating

“…Chazelle’s footage of these brave pioneers hurtling into space in what amounted back then to glorified reinforced tin cans, is an extraordinarily tense experience.” – Wayward Wolf.

It seems that director Damien Chazelle has prioritised realism over glossy sentiment in First Man, his ambitious take on the latter stages of the Great Space Race; more particularly, the story of Neil Armstrong, the first man to step foot on the moon.

The film observes Armstrong and his family in the years preceding this monumental event; a time in which Neil’s single-minded dedication to the cause and an ability to remain focused in the face of innumerable setbacks and personal tragedies, saw him ultimately Captain Nasa’s historic space mission, himself.

Whilst First Man will doubtless appeal to the technologically minded engineers and rocket scientists amongst us, it is a film equally concerned with people; with life and relationships, family and friends.

Claire Foy is cast as Armstrong’s wife, Janet. She portrays a ‘typical mid-century American woman’. A home-maker. Bar the support and friendship of her fellow housewives, Janet frequently finds herself alone, yet she expertly keeps the home fires burning, performing the essential ‘life’ and family functions in her husband’s frequent absences.

But even when he is around, there is a level of detachment about Armstrong’s attitude to family life. Chazelle’s film seems to pin his rather aloof nature upon the family’s loss of their young daughter to illness at a very early age. This is something that Neil seems never to have fully recovered from and has rendered him unable (or unwilling?) to display the same levels of affection and devotion to his two remaining sons.

Ryan Gosling’s performance is the kind of brooding portrayal that we have come to expect from the two-time Oscar-nominated Hollywood heart-throb although this is not the sort of performance of repressed potentially explosive anger that we have witnessed in Nicholas Winding Refn movies, for example – think Drive or Only God Forgives – but of a calm, emotionally disengaged man, for whom the ability to express genuine emotion is in fact something akin to rocket science.

Whilst the family friction and tension is an engaging enough side story in itself, it largely plays second fiddle here to Chazelle’s brilliantly realised scenes of space exploration. From the gruelling astronaut preparation right through to the realisation of national and personal dreams, Chazelle’s footage of these brave pioneers hurtling into space in what amounted back then to glorified reinforced tin cans, is an extraordinarily tense experience. No brightly coloured tight nylon-clad space explorers being warp-sped into far off galaxies here, just a noisy, tooth-rattlingly disorientating, and overwhelmingly claustrophobic experience for all concerned.

It’s truly mesmerising and quite frankly terrifying stuff.

Although IMAX 70mm film is used for the moon landing footage itself – to gain maximum cinematic effect – the bulk of the film is shot on a combination of 16mm and 35mm film. Such a tactic sees Chazelle’s film adopt a sort of soft grainy finish which seems in keeping with its 1960’s feel and setting. That said, the direction is evidently very current with frequent use of jerky handheld camera techniques even during relatively calm scenes concerning simple domestic matters. Whilst in isolation this could be deemed a little unnecessary, within the context of the film as a whole, it is not nearly as jarring as it might have been.

The excellent Justin Hurwitz – he that would appear to be fast becoming what John Williams is/was to Steven Spielberg – once again teams up with Damien Chazelle to provide a subtly understated yet very beautiful theremin and harp-led score, lending the film an at times magical, timeless feel.

And talking of Spielberg, it would be interesting to know exactly what the full extent of his responsibilities were in his role as Executive Producer on this project. It’s undeniable that there’s definitely something of a Spielbergian ‘feel’ to this piece, if such a thing exists?

Considering the nature of Chazelle’s projects prior to this – the blistering Whiplash and the ever-so-enchanting La La Land – a certain degree of criticism from some quarters has been levelled at the director for both his choice of topic and his rather more ‘considered’ approach to film making this time around.

Far from being a regressive move though for this still remarkably young and prodigious talent, if anything, First Man should be considered one great step for Chazelle’s career, further cementing his well-earned place amongst Hollywood’s very biggest hitters.

HALLOWEEN (1978) / HALLOWEEN (2018)

Three and a half Star Rating

“In many respects Green’s film is, to an extent, something of a loose re-imagining of Carpenter’s 1978 original.” – Wayward Wolf.

An introductory preamble preceded the 40th anniversary screening of Halloween (1978) in which legendary director, John Carpenter, made a particularly interesting point. Back in 1978 the world was not blessed with anything like the number of multi-screen cineplexes that we have become so used to today, and as a consequence most people would more than likely have viewed what was essentially a low budget, limited release ‘B’ Movie, on video, be that a legitimate or pirate copy.

And as with all things that are somewhat restricted from mass public consumption, an aura of mystery soon unavoidably built up around the film.

It wouldn’t be until the mid-1980’s that I would personally get to experience Carpenter’s seminal slasher classic, and like many before me, I too viewed this through the medium of VHS video cassette. I forget which friend’s house I watched it at, but I certainly remember the impact it had upon me.

Forward wind then if you will to 2018 and a rare opportunity to experience the birth of the whole Michael Myers phenomenon on the big screen.

For all of Carpenter’s gushing over his preferred medium of widescreen, the wonders of Panavision and an insistence that this was a movie that was absolutely made for the big screen, one cannot help but be struck by the frailties of his movie, exposed – at times cruelly – by the vastness of the big screen experience, not to mention the high-end, super-revealing Dolby surround sound system which highlights the unpolished rawness of Carpenter’s brilliant synthesized soundtrack. Audio technology has certainly taken large strides since then – although not always for the good, it is true.

That said, Halloween (1978), for all of its faults, and suspending our disbelief accordingly, retains much of the magic and menace that scared people witless on its release some forty years ago. Though hindered to some extent by a low budget, this also worked to its advantage in many respects. Without recourse to the funds or the CGi trickery that’s so prevalent and relied upon today, a lower budget would have equated directly to a lower head count when it came to casting, and the film’s general sparsity of actors and extras went a long way towards creating those eerie daylight scenes in and around the almost abandoned, windy Autumnal streets of Haddonfield, which, punctuated with the intermittent statuesque sightings of the boiler suit and mask-clad Michael Myers, were in many ways as big a contributory factor in creating just the right sort of sinister mood, as any of the latter night scenes of knife-wielding carnage.

With the notable exception of Halloween III (Season of the Witch) – a film rather unfairly maligned at the time for daring to abandon the whole Michael Myers narrative, but a film which I’ve admittedly always had a soft spot for – you’re on pretty firm footing to suggest that the atmosphere of Carpenter’s original has never been bettered or even matched since in the seven ‘sequels’ that have followed.

Which brings us on nicely to sequel number eight; David Gordon Green’s 2018 offering, the confusingly titled, Halloween.

In many respects, Green’s film is, to an extent, something of a loose re-imagining of Carpenter’s 1978 original. Indeed the film is absolutely teeming with similarities. Scenes from the ’78 movie are frequently and playfully revisited, often inverted or manipulated in some way so as to cleverly fit the 2018 narrative. It’s this tipping of the hat acknowledgement tactic that will no doubt please the die-hard Halloween fan base, and it undoubtedly helps to effectively bring the franchise back full circle to the true roots of its initial success. This, one suspects, has been a wholly deliberate ploy and would help to explain the apparent lack of imagination or should that be brilliance? – I’m undecided – of David Gordon Green’s film title.

Of course, bar a complete change of tack, there really is only so much that can be done to inject new life into an old and weary franchise, but the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis – revisiting her role as Laurie Strode – proves to be something of a masterstroke. Far from being just a token reappearance, the Halloween (2018) narrative is built strongly around her character’s damaged persona. As a direct consequence of her inability to ‘move on’ from the traumatic events of her past, Laurie has suffered two failed marriages and has a daughter resentful of the fact that her mother’s life and her own, have been so totally dominated for so long by the invisible spectre of Michael Myers. What should have been an upbringing of love and carefree happiness has been one of nothing but worry and foreboding.

Their relationship and Laurie’s all consuming infatuation with her past assailant, gives Green’s film some much needed substance and transforms a straight forward slasher movie into something a little more weighty.

Of course, this is a Halloween flick, and accordingly any number of fairly nondescript characters are dispatched as the fodder for Myers’ killing spree, helping to contribute to a very generous body count in the process. But gone are the fairly laboured fumblings that characterised Michael Myers’ murders of yesteryear. Instead, his victims are now dispatched efficiently and in brutal fashion. Time, if nothing else, appears to have honed Myers’ execution skills!

Accompanying the action is John Carpenter and his son, Cody’s update on the original Halloween (1978) soundtrack, embellishing the film’s famous piano / ticking main theme and sonic stabs here and there with a few new motifs and suspenseful synth pads. They’re good and they serve their purpose, but they’re nothing of the quality of John Carpenter’s majestic unnerving original score.

Whilst Halloween (2018) is in some ways guilty of milking the ’78 concept to a degree, it does so respectfully and tastefully, and more than this, it points us back in time in the direction of Carpenter’s original film, creating a fairly convincing bond between the pair in the process; crucially, lending Green’s film a certain gravitas that has been so sorely absent from previous sequels within the long running series.

Halloween (2018) may well be a film guilty to some extent of both sizeable plot holes and unlikely coincidences a-plenty, but we must of course consider one important fact here: The boogeyman. I’d suggest therefore that any such criticisms or incredulity really don’t apply in the circumstances.

The important conclusion is this: Halloween (2018) may well lack originality, but in all of its widescreen cinematic glory, it proves to be a slick, brutal, well realised, and above everything else worthy successor to Carpenter’s timeless late ’70’s classic.

And being the huge Halloween (1978) fan that I am, it’s as much a relief as anything to be able to tell you that.

 

 

 

 

FIRST REFORMED

Four Star Rating

“Schrader’s film takes a morally-conscious contemplative journey from climate and pollution concerns to the corruption and self-serving nature of man…” – Wayward Wolf.

A short but very intense friendship with a troubled environmental activist proves to be the catalyst for much self-reflection, introspection and upheaval in the life of Reverend Toller.

A short time prior to this, Toller had vowed to keep a diary for a year in which he would ponder the existential issues of life, love, death and religion.

And come the year’s end he has vowed to destroy the diary.

As a ‘man of the cloth’ much would understandably be expected of Toller, though the fact that he is somewhat squirrelled away as the Pastor of the under-performing, relatively insignificant First Reformed Church – essentially an historic tourist attraction of Dutch origin, and certainly nothing particularly high profile – is the first hint that the Church’s owners, Abundant Life, have only limited faith in Toller’s ability to carry out the sort of duties required of a Pastor at any sort of meaningful level.

That said, the church is fast approaching its 250th anniversary and Toller has been tasked with putting together a suitable celebration to mark the occasion.

This would be a straight forward enough task for someone of sane and rational mind, but as is gradually revealed in Paul Schrader’s challenging film, Toller is very much a man with a tragic and troubled past; one that very much impacts upon his mental state and approach to an equally troubling present. The undoubted weight of the responsibility required for the Church’s anniversary celebrations therefore hangs heavy on the already heavily distracted Pastor’s shoulders.

Ethan Hawke is in excellent form with a strong, nuanced performance portraying the fundamentally flawed Pastor, Toller, a man who has deliberately created a life for himself shorn entirely of all unnecessary accoutrements. Such an absence of possessions in many ways reflects the increasing emptiness within his own soul; a void that he repeatedly fills with a growing dependency on alcohol.

Schrader’s film takes a morally-conscious contemplative journey from climate and pollution concerns to the corruption and self-serving nature of man, digging deep to get to the real heart of the Reverend Toller’s troubles, and it is therefore an understandably bleak affair.

It’s only really the burgeoning friendship between the Pastor and Mary (Amanda Seyfried), that in any way breaks through an at times seemingly all-pervading hopeless gloom that engulfs Toller as he wrestles manfully with the moral concerns of both his own life and those of others.

Straight forward and refreshingly conservative in its direction, First Reformed is a weighty, thought-provoking and at times unashamedly desperate film, though one not entirely bereft of the promise of salvation.

THE RIDER

Three Star Rating

“The Rider… presents its audience with something of a conundrum: What is more important in a performance? Authenticity or technical acting ability?” – Wayward Wolf.

Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), is firmly of the opinion that his career as a rodeo rider is merely on hold whilst he recuperates from the fall and severe head injury that he recently sustained in action.

And though inundated with the encouragement and well wishes of others, it quickly becomes clear to all that any sort of come back from this would be both short-lived and eminently foolhardy.

With this realisation in mind, Brady must now somehow try to find renewed meaning in an existence that has for his entire life been intrinsically linked to the life of a cowboy. But living in a remote rural location bereft of any real employment opportunities and with little by way of alternative education and skill sets to call upon, the odds are somewhat stacked against him.

Even his efforts to use the highly impressive skills he possesses as a horse trainer – passed down to him by his father – seem doomed to failure as the neurological impact of his injury begins to manifest itself physically, hampering his ability to properly carry out even this somewhat less physically demanding work. Indeed, Brady is informed that if he ever attempts to ride again, it could very well kill him.

It’s only then through the relationship that he has with his developmentally-disabled sister Lilly, and severely disabled friend, Lane Scott – himself an ex-rodeo rider – that Brady can then take stock of his life and begin to see beyond everything that he has ever been and ever thought he would be.

It’s a thoughtful and atmospheric film that’s ever so beautifully shot, making full use of the raw, wind-swept beauty of the South Dakota badlands. And through Zhao’s gritty, visceral and highly textural approach to the direction, one can almost feel the creaking well-worn leather of Brady’s saddle, and the cold steel of the stirrups that hang securely from it.

Given their real-life talents and abilities with horses, through taking the risk of casting Brady Jandreau and his co-actors in the film’s leading roles, Chloe Zhao’s film positively brims with vigour, energy and above all authenticity.

But The Rider then presents its audience with something of a conundrum:

What is more important in a performance? Authenticity or technical acting ability?

For all of the honest, earthy qualities that the cast undoubtedly bring to the table, it is ultimately the limitations of their ability as actors – failing at times to fully convey the necessary emotions and conviction required – that frequently hamper the film’s best intentions.

And what a very great shame that is.

It’s really not out of all proportion to suggest that given the right choice of cast, The Rider would have had all of the necessary ingredients to be considered something bordering on a masterpiece.

As it is, Zhao’s film fails to convince as a whole, and falls frustratingly short of what it might have been.

Harsh? Perhaps. But one cannot tip-toe around the truth here.

The Rider is as authentic, thoughtful, heartfelt and soulful as the day is long, but ultimately it’s what would appear to be the film’s greatest assets that ultimately prove to be its unfortunate undoing.

KING OF THIEVES

Three and a half Star Rating

“Though it arguably lacks a little ‘oomph’, in certain places, King of Thieves is nevertheless tremendous fun…” – Wayward Wolf.

Compare and contrast, if you will, two 2018 cinematic releases that are based upon actual events.

Bart Layton’s American Animals, is a tale of young impressionable college students who, by way of an attempted heist at their own University library, aimed to get rich quick whilst simultaneously making a name for themselves, whereas James Marsh’s King of Thieves, chronicles the still relatively fresh-in-the-memory events of the jewellery heist that transpired down on London’s Hatton Garden, back in 2015.

Whilst both films are similar in their subject matter, it’s the manner in which the respective protagonists go about their nefarious deeds that couldn’t be any more different.

In Layton’s American Animals, a combination of anxiety, lack of experience and a general naivety ultimately prove to be the boys’ undoing, whereas Michael Caine and his grizzly cohorts couldn’t really have been any more lackadaisical in their approach if they’d tried.

At least that’s how they’re depicted.

Just how close to the truth such a depiction actually is, only Brian, Basil, Billy, Terry, Danny and John will know. And that is of course assuming that they’ve somehow managed to watch Marsh’s film from behind the bars of their respective prison cells.

One would suspect that they probably have.

Authentic depiction or not, one thing is certain, King of Thieves is high on entertainment, and in Michael Caine, Michael Gambon, Jim Broadbent, Ray Winstone and Tom Courtenay, Marsh’s film boasts a stella cast portraying masterfully this long-in-the-tooth gang of career criminals. Lock Stock and Six Smoking Pensioners…. And Charlie Cox… if you will.

Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Admittedly it is possibly a little harsh to lump Paul Whitehouse into that pensioner bracket together with the rest of Dad’s Army. Mr Whitehouse, at a mere sixty tender years of age, is after all a good decade or so younger than the majority of his fellow cast members here. Then again, he does now officially qualify for a free bus pass. So, let’s just say he’s in on a technicality.

We digress…

Perhaps it’s down to the casting of so many recognisable ‘national treasures’ in Marsh’s film, but there’s definitely a generous sense of empathy that’s generated towards this ‘loveable’ gang of rogues as they go about their business with their collective carefree, bordering on languid approach to the task.

Been there, seen it, done it.

Oh, but how things change when the cracks begin to appear and the problems mount up, laying bare the rather ugly traits of greed, power and duplicity for all to see.

Indeed, it’s quite the transformation watching the likes of serial nice guy Jim Broadbent morph from a cuddly old bugger into something of a devious back stabber, though this is not exactly new territory for Broadbent if one casts one’s mind back far enough. His tremendous portrayal of uber-snide Detective Chief Inspector Roy Slater in John Sullivan‘s timeless sitcom, Only Fools and Horses, remains to this day one of his most convincing and memorable roles.

Though it arguably lacks a little ‘oomph’, in certain places, King of Thieves is nevertheless tremendous fun, with a strong emphasis on the comedic element of what, presumably, would have actually been a very serious undertaking for all involved.

What King of Thieves may lack in pace and energy it more than makes up for by way of the on-screen chemistry between the cast members who, it’s unimaginable to consider, weren’t having an absolute blast in making this film.

Not a classic by any means, but one that will probably sufficiently please both fans of the heist movie genre and nostalgia buffs, alike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A SIMPLE FAVOUR

Two and a half Star Rating

“…it’s left to Blake Lively – portraying the mysterious Emily – to produce the one performance of any particular weight or substance.” – Wayward Wolf.

Stylistically very much of its time, Paul Feig’s A Simple Favour is an easily palatable glossy thriller which it could be argued would be far better suited to a Netflix serialisation, than any sort of major cinematic release.

And considering the vast popularity of the aforementioned streaming platform, that’s in no way as damning an indictment as once it might have been.

Anna Kendrick in particular is perfect for these sort of televisual films and roles. Wholesome, cutesy and borderline irritating in this instance, she portrays Stephanie Smothers, a young single mother whose path happens to cross that of the glamorous and rather ruthless, Emily. Their sons go to the same school, and through this everyday tenuous connection – and in spite of the girls’ very disparate personalities – they strike up an unlikely friendship based largely around play dates and strong Martinis, and plenty of them.

But when things suddenly take a rather mysterious turn, Stephanie is left holding the baby (almost literally), desperately scrambling around to make sense of an increasingly disturbing scenario. More disturbing than anything this well-meaning lifestyle-blogging mother could possibly have imagined, in fact.

All ‘made-for-TV’ jibes-aside, A Simple Favour is actually, in it’s own way, a perfectly watchable film, though one which one can feel reasonably assured will never spring anything too ghastly or distasteful upon its unsuspecting viewers.

Though based upon nefarious dark deeds and wrong-doings, Feig’s film is far more concerned with its sassy style and slick delivery than developing any sort of deep-seated menace or suspenseful atmosphere. And the entire thing plays out with just the sort of slightly superficial style and vacuous air that you’d probably associate with Sex In The City and the like.

That said, given the film’s deliberate stylistic approach it’s hard to fault any of the performances, but it’s left to Blake Lively – portraying the mysterious Emily – to produce the one performance of any particular weight or substance. This alone, however, is not enough to transform A Simple Favour from admittedly well devised Hollywood schtick into something altogether more memorable and affecting.

Not a bad offering, and as mentioned before, perfectly watchable. But if ever there was a film to keep one eye on in the background without ever needing to get too emotionally invested in its content, then this is probably it.

 

AMERICAN ANIMALS

Four Star Rating

“…what sets Bart Layton’s film apart from the plethora of heist movies that have made it to the big screen over the years, is the brutal honesty with which it is told.” – Wayward Wolf.

Spencer Reinhard was an art student at a Kentucky University, and it was there that he would meet the guy that would profoundly change his life, Warren Lipka; a free-spirit, and all-round loose cannon.

Predictable college-related shenanigans aside, the pair shared a deep-seated need to make a name for themselves in life away from the binds of convention and conformity.

Whilst Lipka was a hot-headed, disruptive influence, prone to making bad decisions, this in many ways appealed greatly to the impressionable Reinhard, who, like many of the great artists that he so admired, felt, himself, compelled to a life of sufferance.

On viewing an assortment of prized rare books in their University’s library, first Warren and then with minimal persuasion, Spencer, decided to hatch a far-fetched plan to steal the aforementioned valuables in what they believed would be the perfect heist.

And having, soon after, persuaded an additional two friends to join them, the conspiring quartet then went about piecing together the constituent parts of what appeared on the surface at least to be a suspiciously straight forward job.

And American Animals is the fascinating and unfortunate tale of how all of these best laid plans unravelled, spectacularly.

Essentially a quasi-documentary of sorts, what sets Bart Layton’s film apart from the plethora of heist movies that have made it to the big screen over the years, is the brutal honesty with which it is told. By frequently (and strategically) interjecting the main body of the film with the real life recollections of the heist’s actual perpetrators, we are constantly reminded that this is, as the film makes very clear from the outset, a true story. Not just one based loosely upon real events.

Unfortunately for them, what becomes abundantly clear is that the scheming foursome possessed next to none of the guile, nous or cojones required to pull off what would ultimately prove to be a very ambitious plan indeed. Far too ambitious for four college freshmen, it goes without saying. And it’s this element of inevitable failure when combined with the surprisingly large amounts of empathy that one feels for these mis-guided characters, that makes Layton’s film an at times excruciatingly tense experience. This was, after all, a plan as idiotic in its inception, as it proved to be shambolic in its execution.

Some fine, nuanced performances from Evan Peters (Warren) and Barry Keoghan (Spencer) in particular, ensure that American Animals is both an engaging and impactful experience, but it’s the cut-aways to the heist’s real-life perpetrators that provide the real soul and emotional depth to this story.

Considering none of them are actors by trade, the ‘performances’ and emotions conveyed to the camera by the real Spencer, Warren, Chas and Eric are refreshingly unstilted, and remarkably genuine and heartfelt in their delivery. Clearly to re-live these life-changing events has forced each of them into a very painful place in their souls in which guilt and shame seem both abundant and unrelenting.

American Animals is a film that on one hand may well wag a finger of disapproval, but on balance, it remains surprisingly non-judgemental in its outlook. Perhaps the fact that four fools who, effectively hung by their own petard, chose then to lay bare their crimes, on camera, to the wider world, is considered to be judgement enough.

And that’s probably fair enough.

Instead, Layton’s film offers out an olive branch and wraps a consoling arm around the wrong-doers, choosing to look forward to the future rather than to dwell on the unfortunate misdemeanours of the past.

 

 

 

 

ANT MAN & THE WASP

Two and a half Star Rating

“It’s all fairly entertaining stuff on a strictly superficial level…” – Wayward Wolf.

 

Apparently Ant-Man and the Wasp follows on from where Captain America: Civil War left off? Well that’s me out of the picture then.

Our hero – or that should probably be one of our heroes – Scott Lang, a.k.a Ant-Man (played here by the eminently likeable Paul Rudd), is under home arrest, ankle-tagged and unable to leave the confines of his San Francisco home. This by all accounts is the result of something that happened in the previous film.?

God knows.

I’m really not the target audience for these comic book capers, as you can probably tell.

Ant-Man and the Wasp comes across as one big flurry of admittedly very impressive special effects, all knitted together by way of a rather far-fetched and convoluted story line. Littered with fight scenes and car chases galore, it’s all delivered with metaphorical tongue planted firmly in cheek. As you’d probably expect.

Michael Douglas portrays Dr. Hank Pym. Evangeline Lilly plays Hope Van Dyne, a.k.a Wasp, whilst Michelle Pfeiffer plays Douglas’s wife and Lilly’s mother, Janet Van Dyne. She seems to have got hopelessly lost in some parallel dimension / quantum thingy whatnot as a result of, once again, something that happened in Captain America: Civil War.

There are minor roles for Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Bill Foster, Walton Goggins as the dastardly Sonny Burch, and there’s a somewhat irritating turn (though perhaps it’s just me?), from Hannah Dominique E. John-Kamen, in her portrayal of Ava, a.k.a Ghost.

And talking of irritating, Michael Peña runs John-Kamen close in the ‘annoying git’ stakes with his trying-way-too-hard to-be-funny flamboyant portrayal of Luis.

That said, it’s all fairly entertaining stuff on a strictly superficial level, jam-packed with plenty of thrills and spills, and no small amount of humour thrown in for good measure. Perhaps the film’s biggest laugh, however, is reserved for a Stan Lee one-liner during his inevitable five second cameo.

On watching his car shrink to the size of a matchbox right in front of his very eyes whilst attempting to insert the key into the door, he remarks: “I had a great time in the 60’s, but I sure am paying for it now…”

Or words to that effect.

Perhaps you had to be there?

Perhaps you should actually have been there, instead of me, in fact?

It’s perfectly watchable if ultimately very disposable fare, but all a bit wasted on a confirmed Marvel philistine such as myself.

 

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APOSTASY


“Played out under a grey Lancashire sky, Apostasy is never less than bleak in its outlook” – Wayward Wolf.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses were very much the Scientologists of my childhood, in so much as they came across as both mysterious and a little ominous. From door to door they would traipse with calm but dogged determination, eager to share their literature, and impart their ‘answers’ to a wider audience.

Of course there was no mystery at all, just a devout set of believers with a rigidly defined set of life rules that anyone with a modicum of interest – or more pertinently ‘patience’ – could very easily have discovered more about should they, just for once, have chosen not to slam the door in their faces.

The odd couple of stalwarts outside shopping centres or train stations-aside, they seem to have slipped somewhat from public consciousness these days, displaced by a tidal wave of far more topical unsavoury pressing religious issues of our day, but that’s another story…

Refreshing it is then to be offered a glimpse into the curious world of Jehovah’s Witnesses by way of Daniel Kokotajlo’s excellent but rather austere tale, Apostasy.

Set in Oldham, Greater Manchester, it focuses upon a mother, Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran), and her two teenage daughters, Alex (Molly Wright), and Luisa (Sacha Parkinson), for whom a zealous belief in the doctrines forms the rigid backbone of their day-to-day existence.

Although Ivanna and Alex are unwavering in their belief (at least outwardly), Luisa has, with age, developed doubts, and on becoming pregnant, her own faith as well as that of her immediate family is to be sorely tested.

But on whom can she rely to guide her on her path into motherhood? And can her predicament ever be endorsed within the strict parameters of her family’s staunch religious beliefs, and indeed those of the religion’s ‘elders’?

Director Kokotajlo was apparently keen that northern English acting talent should be afforded the limelight here, and in Siobhan Finneran, we are treated to a fine portrayal of a mother mentally conflicted between the iron grip of her religious devotion and her natural role as a caring mother. Molly Wright puts in a tender performance of both innocence and vulnerability as youngest daughter, Alex, whilst Sacha Parkinson is cast well as Molly’s wayward sister, Luisa.

Played out under a grey overcast Lancashire sky, Apostasy is never less than bleak in its outlook. Even the film’s fleeting romantic interest seems somewhat tainted given the rather stony ground on which it is being asked to take root and flourish.

Kokotajlo’s film seems as genuinely intrigued as it is disapproving of its subject matter, yet never is it damning or dismissive, instead it walks its viewer methodically through a succession of tough scenes that will doubtless dumbfound and frustrate through their pure indoctrinated illogic.

Blood may indeed be thicker than water, but it seems that it’s no match here for the sheer viscosity of the doctrines of Jehovah, and those who so single-mindedly adhere to them, as ultimately will become patently and tragically clear.

THE FIRST PURGE

Half Star Rating

“…being rattled by this film’s relentless and shameless ideological political jackhammer for 98 minutes, is not an experience I would recommend in any sort of a hurry.” – Wayward Wolf.

It goes without saying that we live in divisive times.

I’d wager that there’s a representative portion of society that would almost certainly argue that the idea of a Purge being imposed upon the population at this particular juncture in time might not be so fanciful an idea after all.

We are all tumbling helplessly into a neo-fascist far-right wing superstate after all, didn’t you hear?

Set on Staten Island, New York City, Gerard McMurray’s film tells of the build up to and events of the very first purge, upon whose experimental ‘successes’ all subsequent purges were to be based.

As ever, the whole notion of a human purge is an incredibly intriguing idea upon which to base a motion picture. and this probably explains why I have retained at least a cursory interest in this frequently misfiring franchise.

Sadly, The First Purge is not just a bad film, it’s by far and away the worst film I’ve had the misfortune to witness in quite some time. Its poisonous cocktail of B-Movie sensibilities and enormously contrived narrative, blend like out-of-date soya milk and cold coffee to produce a lumpen misshapen cliche-riddled pile of old bollocks.

To add insult to injury, the whole sorry episode plays out like an ill-informed simplistic brain-washed sixth form school project done on behalf of their class tutor, who just so happens to be a fully paid-up member of the Democratic Party of the United States of America.

Rabid Democratic political bias dominating the narrative of a Hollywood motion picture? Whatever next?!!

Now, whatever your political persuasion may be, being rattled by this film’s relentless and shameless ideological political jackhammer for 98 minutes, is not an experience I would recommend in any sort of a hurry.

To summarise: White men are all evil negro-lynching KKK-hooded Republicans intent upon suppressing ethnic minorities and installing some kind of totalitarian fascist super state upon us all. And everyone else – serial killers and drug-dealing gang bosses included – are simply victims of an unjust society, and just fine.

In these times of such fractious divisions in society, more than ever the arts have a real part to play in providing honesty. How good would it be if mainstream films like this made an effort to heal and encourage constructive dialogue between politically-divided people?

Unfortunately, sensationalist offerings such as The First Purge are evidently completely disinterested in offering any sort of olive branch of reconciliation, and do nothing but titillate and segregate the ‘them and us’ still further.

No matter what positives Gerard McMurray’s agenda-driven nonsense occasionally throws up – and there are admittedly a few ideas and set pieces strewn about the place which stick in the memory – The First Purge, on balance, is nothing more than poorly made propaganda-laced self-congratulatory virtuous twaddle that succeeds only in dragging an already patchy franchise kicking and screaming through the cinematic gutter.

Insulting drivel.

UNDIR TRÉNU : (Under The Tree)

Three and a half Star Rating

“Encroaching Conifers and comical capers-aside, Sigurðsson’s film is in fact something of a weighty affair” – Wayward Wolf.

By his own admission, film-maker Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, is drawn towards the mundane.

“Our lives are most of the time made up of the mundane,” he suggests. “This is what we know best and I believe this is one of the elements that connects our human existence, ” he goes on to say.

This is very true of Sigurðsson’s new Icelandic drama/comedy, Undir Trenu; a film which illustrates effectively how a petty squabble has the potential to escalate into something far more sinister altogether, if allowed to.

A beautiful old tree stands tall in Baldvin and Inga’s back garden. With trees being something of a rarity in Iceland, Baldvin is loathe to trim it down in size despite it clearly blocking out the sunlight – an equally rare commodity in this part of the world – from the neighbours’ garden.

These neighbours are understandably aggrieved and have requested umpteen times that something be done about it.

And thus has ensued a sort of tit-for-tat game of exponentially escalating juvenile pranks between these two ‘warring’ households, with each becoming increasingly embroiled in this pointless game of one-up-man-ship, in an attempt to force the others’ hand.

Encroaching Conifers and comical capers aside, Sigurðsson’s film is in fact something of a weighty affair, examining as it does the affects of depression, anxiety, despondency and regret.

Indeed, all is far from well in the lives of the film’s key protagonists.

Baldvin (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) and Inga (Edda Björgvinsdóttir) have a son, Atli (Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson), who has, unannounced, come to live with them until such time as his wife, Agnes (Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir), agrees to let him back into their home following her discovery of a sort of historic marital transgression; a situation made doubly awkward given the thorny issue of child custody. 

Inga suffers from depression fuelled by her inability and point-blank refusal to come to terms with the disappearance of her other son, and it has has left her a bitter and deeply unhappy woman. 

In an attempt to cope with all of this, her husband Baldvin frequently seeks sanctuary in the bottom of a bottle.

As for next door, neighbour Konrad, (Þorsteinn Bachmann), has taken up with the much younger (forty-something) Eyborg (Selma Björnsdóttir), with whom he will soon be having a baby. Whilst on the surface everything seems rosy between them, there is a strong suspicion that all such happy family-planning is more down to the last-chance-saloon desperate midlife desire of his lady, and that recent divorcee, Konrad, is in fact something of an unhappy and reluctant passenger on this particular ride, and now paying the price for his rebound fling.

With choice Rachmaninoff, Bach and the haunting mournful strains of an all-male Icelandic choir added to Daníel Bjarnason’s deeply affecting and unnerving synth and sample-heavy score, Undir Trenu is lent a real sense of gravitas, lifting it from the realms of straight forward comedy into something altogether more thoughtful and substantial.

Rich in metaphor and artistically shot, Undir Trenu may not always be entirely convincing on its journey from comic farce to tragedy, but it undoubtedly leaves an indelible imprint on the mind as it gathers pace, beckoning us towards its unexpected and unsettling conclusion.

HEREDITARY

Four Star Rating

“…a truly bizarre conclusion which will act as the perfect barometer with which to measure exactly what a film’s audience will have made of the preceding two hours or so.” – Wayward Wolf.

Hereditary is deemed to be this generation’s The Exorcist, and considering just how universally acclaimed William Friedkin’s seminal 1973 horror classic still is, that’s quite a billing.

But can Ari Aster’s occultic fable live up to this considerable hype?

With the death of her mother, Annie (Toni Collette), observes some rather bizarre goings on within her family. What should have been a time of simple mourning proves to be anything but. Far from being laid to rest, Annie’s mother’s death is the catalyst for much upheaval within the family unit. Something, somehow is messing with the minds of Annie’s nearest and dearest. But what, why, and to what ends?

Annie’s peculiar introverted daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) – she upon whose ‘look’ a million Chucky-esque dolls could be confidently manufactured and sold – had been the apple of her late Grandmother’s eye; taken under her wing in fact. And it is Charlie who seems most affected by her passing. This most unnerving of children is afforded a relatively short amount of screen time, yet her impact upon Aster’s film is both powerful and enduring.

To delve deep into the narrative of Aster’s horror is to give far too much away, for this is a film not pieced together by way of a sequence of complicated plot twists and devices, but rather a film built upon one effective premise. A simple unnerving tale. A mysterious metaphorical encroaching fog of doom and helplessness which will, given time, engulf everyone in its path, to some degree or other.

The casting is excellent. Alex Wolff continues his impressive run of form, once again playing a quirky character with his portrayal of Charlie’s stoner brother, Peter. Gabriel Byrne portrays the family’s traditional patriarch and backbone, Steve, with predictable assurance, whilst Toni Collette’s performance as Annie brings back memories of both Sissy Spacek in Carrie, and more pertinently Shelley Duvall’s increasingly hysterical turn as Wendy, in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic, The Shining.

Littered with genuinely disturbing imagery and highly memorable set pieces, Hereditary conjures up the sort of bleak atmosphere fostered so effectively in Robert Eggers’ solid 2015 offering, The Witch. Indeed, the theme of unseen occultic malevolence forms, to some extent at least, the central core of both of these films.

Resisting the temptation for cheap shocks and the needlessly overly-dramatic, Aster’s film instead benefits greatly from taking an altogether more low-key approach – the consummate slow-burner – in which the sense of fear and enmity increases exponentially in both pace and intensity, leading to a truly bizarre conclusion which will act as the perfect barometer with which to measure exactly what a film’s audience will have made of the preceding two hours or so. The sense of serenity that befalls Aster’s film in its final chapter is somewhat unanticipated, and as truly peculiar as it is haunting.

One thing is overwhelmingly apparent though. This is a film that makes a damn good job of genuinely disturbing its audience throughout. And it’s a safe bet that it will continue to do so for quite some time beyond that.

Hereditary is a film that will make you think, think again, and then rethink as it lingers like a bad dream in your mind. Furthermore, it will burrow itself effortlessly beneath your skin, heightening your senses, and feeding your primal fears in the process.

A sort of slow drip-feed of unease dispensed emphatically, deep into your very core.

A modern horror classic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE HAPPY PRINCE

Four Star Rating

“Everett’s stupendous performance as Wilde is both arresting and heartfelt…” – Wayward Wolf.

Oscar Wilde cuts something of a forlorn tragic figure in Rupert Everett’s excellent biopic, The Happy Prince.

Personal treatment that Wilde deems to have been hugely unjust has built up much resentment in the heart of this once so carefree flamboyant wordsmith.

Consequently exiled to the shores of France and then further afield, he lives out his final years begging for handouts and favours from those he knows and loves. Those, that is, that haven’t turned their back on the now disgraced writer.

Everett’s film focuses upon a man whose incarceration and subsequent humiliation on charges of sodomy and gross indecency – following his lewd bordering on nefarious behaviour (in the eyes of the law) – have left him near destitute; a far cry from the opulent lifestyle that once he had led.

The Happy Prince is built loosely around Wilde reciting his fairy tale of the same name to both his own biological sons – during happier married times – and latterly on his death bed to the rag tag ‘family’ of young urchins that he had befriended.

Wilde – under his newly acquired guise of Melmoth – has a kind of morbidly humorous fascination with both the hopelessness of the predicament in which he now finds himself, and with the plethora of men that continue to fawn over him.

A period piece The Happy Prince may essentially be, but there’s a strongly contemporary feel to the film’s at times bewitching cinematography, switching neatly and expertly by way of multiple rapid cross fades between Wilde’s past and present in an effort to build a picture of – and emphasise the massive disparity between – ‘now’ and then.

Everett’s stupendous performance as Wilde is both arresting and heartfelt, whilst there are meaningful contributions from Colin Firth as Wilde’s good friend Reggie, and from Colin Morgan and Edwin Thomas as Bosie and Robbie, respectively, the two mainstays in Wilde’s love life who continue to compete fiercely for his attentions, and between whom there is absolutely no love lost.

As for Emily Watson’s portrayal of Constance, as solid as it is, one can’t help but think that it remains a little peripheral to the film’s narrative at times. Perhaps Everett could have made a little more of the clearly strained relationship that had existed between the two, and the impact that this had had upon their children?

It seems that Wilde was indeed harshly dealt with, and laws or no laws, would have had rightful justification to feel aggrieved at his treatment at the hands of the rather puritanical overreaching government of the time.

That said, Everett’s film seems intent to paint Wilde not as some sort of saintly martyr, but as a charming but deeply flawed man with a propensity for making poor life decisions. A man who had flown too close to the sun, and who perhaps had been more than a little guilty of using and abusing those that knew and loved him so much for his own personal gain.

The Happy Prince, whilst at times cheeky and playful in its outlook, never strays too far from its melancholic roots in its elegantly crafted, poignant regaling of the final days of the late great Oscar Wilde.