’20th Century Women’

HO00004115The latest from Mike Mills (Beginners, Thumbsucker) is a beautifully balanced late 70s nostalgic ensemble piece of likeable people.

As a single mother, the matriarch, a never better Annette Bening (American Beauty, The Kids Are Alright) quite rightly takes centre stage, persuading Greta Gerwig and Elle Fanning help raise and guide her 15 year-old son Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann). Arguably not the most sensible choices as mentors – Gerwig’s feminist influences leave Jamie in fights with school friends over clitoral orgasms and Fanning heads off on a road trip with Jamie in tow.

It’s a film full of contradictions and it does occasionally slip into anecdotal gratification but relative newcomer Zumann is a delight and, possibly for the first time, I personally liked Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha, Mistress America) on screen.

Rating: 69%

‘Alien: Covenant’

3229948-alien+covenant+ka+promoIt’s not the most coherent of the Alien/Prometheus films and, at times the action seems a little rushed after an overly slow intro, but Alien: Covenant is nothing if not spectacularly crafted.

Thrills and (literally) spills abound as the synthetic David (a sublime Michael Fassbender – Prometheus, 12 Years a Slave) looks to creation and immortality. But the real story of course is the virus that evolves into the deadly creatures – and what’s low in number in Alien: Covenant is still enough to create carnage on an unchartered planet and aboard the colony ship, Covenant.

Ridley Scott (The Martian, Alien) plumbs the same scares from the original to great effect along with several references to earlier films in the franchise as the action keeps on coming and the gore count keeps on rising.

Rating: 62%

‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’

arthur-posterDirector Guy Ritchie transposes his loveable cockney rogues of Lock, Stock and Two Smokin’ Barrels and Rock’n’Rolla to Medieval England and the world of Game of Thrones.

The cocky,  buffed Charlie Hunnam (Crimson Peak, The Lost City of Z), robbed of his birthright, must overcome the evil of his uncle, Jude Law (Cold Mountain, Sherlock Holmes), controller of the country through dark magic. But first Arthur must understand the power of Excalibur, his new found sword.

It looks good (production design by Gemma Jackson – Game of Thrones!), the soundtrack loud but the bombastic treatment wears thin and the film slips into tedium.

Rating: 39%

‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’

zookeepers_wifeOverly sanitised telling of the true story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, owners of the Warsaw Zoo who saved the lives of more than 300 Polish Jews in World War II.

A leaden script and pan-European casting (along with Jessica Chastain – The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) doesn’t help a turgid, uninspiring narrative. Director Niki Caro (North Country, Whale Rider) noticeably misses the storytelling boat – somewhat unforgivable considering the source material.

Rating: 42%

‘Get Out’

dimsSomething of a box-office sensation in the US (made for $4.5 million: $170 million takings), Get Out is the Stepford Wives of race relations!

Things go mighty wrong as photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya – Sicario, Kick-Ass 2) travels with his girlfriend to meet her family for the first time. Their very white, middle-class upstate suburb just doesn’t ring true.

First time director Jordan Peele injects fresh ideas into the horror film genre with an effective mix of creepiness, gore and humour (courtesy of comedian LilRey Howery). Enjoyable.

Rating: 60%

‘Ghost in the Shell’

ghostinshellposterThe Hollywood whitewashing controversy casts a huge shadow on Rupert Sanders’ (Snow White and the Huntsman) adaptation of Shirow Masamune’s classic Japanese Manga. And understandably so. Casting Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers, Lost in Translation) as lead in a story and setting so overtly futuristically Asian (an amalgam of Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai) makes absolutely no sense.

Advanced cyber enhancement in a world of technology has made Johansson the perfect killing machine: she’s there to rid the world of criminals and terrorists. But glitches and flashbacks are causing problems.

Ghost in the Shell looks stunning – effects, music, design. But content is sadly hit-and-miss, overly reliant on the heavy computer-generated imagery telling a heard-it-all-before storyline.

Rating: 35%

 

‘Loving’

C4aLimZXUAAHSse.jpgQuiet, understated, honourable – Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) has crafted a loving portrayal of a young couple caught up in the race relations maelstrom of 1950s Virginia.

Based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, Nichols’ film tells of the dirt poor couple whose mixed-race marriage broke all the rules on the statutes and led to changes in the law via the Supreme Court.

But the nuanced performances by Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Black Mass) and Ruth Negga (World War Z, Warcraft) avoid all grandstanding and courtroom dramas. Instead, over 10 years, Loving is their story of love , raising a family and survival.

Rating: 77%

‘Miss Sloane’

timthumb-1.phpIt may not be innovative or making an overtly political statement, but Miss Sloane is a superior, highly polished conspiracy theory drama.

Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Martian) dominates all around her as the high-flying Washington D.C. lobbyist taking on the gun lobby and her ex-firm. And she intends to win – whatever the cost. A crowd-pleasing, flag-waving ending is a little trite but characters and narrative alike move the storyline along at a cracking pace – exactly what you would expect from director John Madden (Shakespeare In Love, The Debt).

Rating: 61%

‘Logan’

loganposter2Violent and foul-mouthed it may be (no limitations to the final Wolverine film being a kid-friendly flick) but director James Mangold (The Wolverine, Walk the Line) has crafted Hugh Jackman’s final outing with respect and a satisfying sense of finality.

Mutants may have been (mostly) wiped out but new and illegal experiments on kids in Mexico go badly wrong. Cue ageing Wolverine and Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) stepping into the breach. It’s an action drama that’s invested in the script. And young newcomer Dafne Keen is excellent.

Rating: 77%

‘Silence’

silence-posterA labour of love long in gestation by legendary director Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, The Departed) is a contemplative work reflecting on the meaning of faith, love, colonialism and the questioning of authority.

Padres Rodrigues (a quietly solid performance by Andrew Garfield – Hackshaw Ridge, Spiderman) and Garupe (Adam Driver – Paterson, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) arrive in 17th century Japan in search of the reported apostatised Padre Ferreira. The last Jesuit priests, outlawed, arrive to christian persecution.

Scorsese’s latest is a slowly unfolding epic which looks beautiful (cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto – Babel, Brokeback Mountain – the only Oscar nomination for the film) but is slowwww and, at times,tedious and unengaging.

Rating: 57%