‘The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society’

guernsey_literary_and_potato_peel_pie_society_xlgIt may have an epic quality, so typical of British WWII period dramas, but the quirkily entitled The Guernsey & Potato Peel Pie Literary Society sadly fails to live up to expectations.

Overlong at 124 minutes, every passing moment is predictable – from the cloyingly annoying novelist Juliet Ashton (Lily James – Cinderella, Baby Driver) and her love affair with the fun but brash American, Glen Powell (Hidden Figures, The Expendables) through to her foray to Guernsey to find out more about the literary society and life under German occupation. And of course she meets her Heathcliff – the dark and broody Michiel Huisman (The Game of Thrones, The Age of Adaline).

It’s cosily well told (director Mike Newell – Four Weddings & a Funeral, Donnie Brasco) but a bit of passion and grubbiness would have been welcome (even the farm dirt looked as if it had been carefully applied).

Rating: 46%

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‘Isle of Dogs’

IsleOfDogsFirstLookA visual treat from auteur Wes Anderson (Grand Hotel Budapest, Fantastic Mr Fox) in his latest stop-motion animation.

It’s quirky, humorous and wholly imaginative as young Akiri goes on an odyssey in search of his dog. Akiri’s guardian is the corrupt mayor of the Japanese city of Nagasaki – and it is he who has banished all dogs.

Beautifully crafted – and in spite of its seeming whimsy there’s a message lurking just beneath the surface.

Rating: 81%

‘Ready Player One’

readyplayeronePredominantly CGI, what it lacks in character development it more than makes up for in its upbeat, action-packed energy.

Unexpectedly immersive, Spielberg (Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark) lets his avatars play their quest to find the egg hidden in the reality game – and stop Ben Mendelssohn (Rogue One – A Star Wars Story, Darkest Hour) from creating a gaming monopoly in the real world.

It’s a visual spectacle, with enough grunge reality to provide respite as Tye Sheridan (Mud, X-Men Apocalypse) and Olivia Cooke (Me & Earl & the Dying Girl, The Limehouse Golem) find adventure and love. True, Spielberg avoids commentary on the darker elements of a world controlled by technocracy, but as a piece of escapist entertainment, there’s little faulting Ready Player One.

Rating: 66%

‘The Party’

The_Party_(2017_film)With its savage and mordant wit, this is a celebratory dinner party that goes terribly wrong – especially as the guests do not even get to sit down for the food!

Kristin Scott-Thomas (The English Patient, Darkest Hour) is celebrating a promotion – but she is more than upstaged by news from hubby Timothy Spall (Mr Turner, Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban). But there’s more to come – facilitating the splendid Patricia Clarkson (Pieces of April, The Maze Runner) to indulge in deep cynicism and a wonderful turn of phrase.

Claustrophobic and smart, director Sally Potter (Orlando, The Tango Lesson) instills a surprising sense of fun in this stagey chamber piece. And its short at just 70 minutes!

Rating: 68%

‘A Quiet Place’

quiet_place_xlgHusband and wife team John Kranski (13 Hours, TV’s The Office) and Emily Blunt (Sicario, The Devil Wears Prada) play a convincing husband and wife in this post-apocalyptic survival story.

No explanations as to why and where from (and the stronger for it) – all we know is that ‘they’ are blind but respond to the slightest sound, ending in an immediate and gory death. We start at day 95 and end at day 460-something. In the interim, Kranski and Blunt and two of their kids have constructed a life of virtual silence on their farm, surviving in hiding and in a state of constant dread.

It’s that claustrophobic quiet that creates a deep sense of foreboding and fear – but the strength of A Quiet Place is the balance of horror with a genuine family drama.

Rating: 71%

‘Red Sparrow’

red sparrowIt’s overlong (140 minutes), solid rather than thrilling but Red Sparrow is still an entertaining espionage story – particularly when Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, The Hunger Games) is playing both the Russians and the Americans. She leaves you guessing.

As a ‘red sparrow’, operatives trained to use the art of seduction as a weapon, Lawrence is out to find the high-ranking Russian mole: the CIA player is Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Black Mass). It’s their chemistry together that keeps the film engaging if not exactly riveting.

Director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games, I Am Legend) has created an elegant adaptation of the novel, but less ‘Cold-War’ dialogue and a few more hawkish moments would have been welcome.

Rating: 60%

‘The Death of Stalin’

the-death-of-stalin-british-movie-posterThe humour may be sporadic and a little too often writer/director Armando Ianucci’s (In the Loop, TV’s Veep) irreverent political satire falls into slapstick. But The Death of Stalin is, at times, genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.

The individual members of the Secretariat position themselves to take control of the Soviet Union at the death of their leader. Politician Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi – Fargo, Armageddon) and Lavrenti Beria (Simon Russell Beale – The Deep Blue Sea, The Legend of Tarzan), head of the secret service, emerge as favourites. No stone is left unturned as the two jockey to gain the upper hand.

Events become more and more farcical as the two become more and more desperate – and Rupert Friend (The Young Victoria, Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) as Stalin’s alcoholic son, Vasily, is a complete misfire. But the savage comedy, when it works, works very, very well. Pity it wasn’t consistent.

Rating: 58%

‘1945’

1945Absorbing in its telling, 1945 quietly explores the dark underbelly of humanity and the corrosive nature of fascism and anti-Semitism.

The war in Europe has ended as two male orthodox Jews step off a train at a remote Hungarian station. As they walk behind a horse and cart to the local village, the news of their arrival puts the residents into a complete tail spin.

Choosing to shoot in stark black and white, director Ferenc Torok (Moscow Square, Eastern Sugar) looks to memorable imagery as the preparations for the wedding of the Town Clerk’s son are disrupted by the men’s arrival. The smug satisfaction of the town is upended in just a few short hours.

It’s haunting, hypnotic, with its power coming from its subtleties.

Rating: 84%

‘Annihilation’

annihilationAt once unsettling and at times ravishingly beautiful, director Alex Garland’s follow-up to the excellent Ex-Machina is something of a disappointment – a mishmash of visuals, science-fiction, existential ideas and a flat, tacked-on ending.

Biologist (and ex-military) Natalie Portman (Black Swan, Thor) teams up with three other female scientists (including an enjoyable Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful 8, Mrs Parker & the Vicious Circle) to enter The Shimmer – an area sealed off from the rest of the world and where the rules of nature no longer apply.

Survival in the jungle (or more specifically an ever-mutating Florida swamplands) is as key to understanding the source of The Shimmer and whilst Annihilation builds tension with cutaways to immediate past events, that ending just leaves too many questions unanswered.

Rating: 42%

‘Winchester’

Winchester-new-poster-1More haunted house hokum as Dr Eric Price (Jason Clarke – Mudbound, Terminator Genisys) is hired to ascertain the sanity of heiress Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren – The Queen, Red). Seems she is haunted by the spirits of those killed by the Winchester repeating rifle – and making decisions her board of directors are none too keen on.

With its pertinent anti-gun message, Winchester is timely in the telling of a story based on actual events as Sarah adds room after room to her already enormous home to house the spirits. And the Spierig Brothers’ (Predestination, Daybreaker) latest certainly looks good, with added gravitas provided by Helen Mirren. But sadly Clarke is not convincing as the laudanum-addicted psychiatrist and the chills are little more than lukewarm. All a little too familiar.

Rating: 44%