The French Dispatch – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Bill Murray, Benicio Del Toro, Léa Seydoux, Adrien Brody, Timothée Chalamet, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton and Owen Wilson
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Wes Anderson, Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola and Hugo Guinness
Length: 108mins

Arguably the most critically-acclaimed and popular arthouse director working today, Wes Anderson’s name alone conjures up ideas of symmetrical imagery, all-star casts and quirky, nostalgic stories. Finally, after months of waiting, his latest film is now here – ‘The French Dispatch’ – and it’s packed full of everything that makes a Wes Anderson film, plus a little more.

Perhaps most similar in structure to ‘Grand Budapest’, Anderson’s latest release is divided into three distinct stories, all of which are established through their connection to a European newspaper as having been the three best articles they’ve published over the last decade. In the small spaces between these stories, we catch glimpses of the French Dispatch itself, a dedicated but slightly obscure publication which is home to a charming group of individuals who seem at first to work better alone than as any sort of team. Head of the whole operation, BIll Murray’s ‘Arthur Howitzer Jr.’ unites this bunch and auspiciously pushes them to greatness from behind the scenes.

Ten films into his ever-expanding career, any fans of Wes Anderson will know what they’re getting in for when they sit down for another of his stories. However, although there are many stylistic choices in this latest release which could easily be compared to his previous work – the obsessive attention to visual detail, a fondness for fast-talking, witty dialogue, as well as characters who wouldn’t be out of place in the stories found on any childs’ bookcase – ‘The French Dispatch’ shows audiences that the director is still developing his approach to filmmaking in fresh and exciting ways. Some visual moments within this release, particularly during night scenes, deliver a few of the most breathtaking shots that I’ve seen on the big screen in a long time. A consideration for the way snow falls, or the contrast between human conflict and natural imagery makes for some incredible visual storytelling. Furthermore, particular moments within both the prison story and the student rebellion include such inventive approaches to narrative that it’s hard to believe we don’t see such things more often. The changing of the young Moses Rosenthaler to his Senior delivers a simple, but beautiful moment. If there’s one thing in particular that Wes Anderson should be remembered for, it’s his ability to deliver these small moments of beauty in subtle yet powerful ways. Whilst ‘The French Dispatch’ may not be one of his greatest releases, it’s undeniable that there are some really excellent pieces of filmmaking on display at times.

Although I think that bringing to life three of the best stories released by a publication is a fitting and poignant way to honour it’s time as a popular news department, in practice, the short nature of the stories often detracts from an audience’s ability to truly invest in the characters, and when these characters are being brought to life by an A-star cast list longer than this review, it can become even harder to ensure that everyone receives as much screen time as an audience may expect. This lack of connection between the viewer and the characters is what really detracts from the emotional impact of ‘The French Dispatch’, and whilst there are some great stories surrounding characters such as the dynamic relationship explored between Benicio Del Toro’s ‘Moses Rosenthaler’, Léa Seydoux’s ‘Simone’, and Adrien Brody’s ‘Julian Cadazio’ in the first story, as well as that of Timothée Chalamet’s and Frances McDormand’s poetic relationship which works as the driving force behind the second short story, overall there are so many characters introduced that you can’t help but feel slightly apathetic towards many of them.  

‘The French Dispatch’ is such a well-made and, at times, brilliant film, that whilst it may not be the strongest or most well-paced story by Wes Andesron, there’s still so much to gain from it. Even if it’s the first film of his that you’ve seen, I’d definitely recommend giving it a watch. If you end up loving it, you’ll suddenly have a brilliant back-catalogue of films to enjoy.

The Last Duel – Review

Rating: 18 Cast: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck and Alex Lawther. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Nicole Holofcener, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Length: 152mins.

Inspired by Eric Jager’s 2004 account of France’s last officially recognised duel, Ridley Scott takes on the task of telling this medieval tale broken down into three chapters and told from three perspectives. The story is one of rape-revenge focussing primarily on three characters – Jean de Carrouges (Damon), his wife Marguerite (Comer) and Jacques Le Gris, exploring the downward spiral of de Carrouges, the arrogant rise of Le Gris and the impossible choices facing Marguerite as her husbands absence is taken advantage of. 

The Last Duel gets somewhat bogged down in the mud and blood of its period; a whole mix of arrows-in-the-face type violence and war, none of which I have a problem with, but it seemed to drag the film out and distract from the main story. While it did assist somewhat in setting the scene, I didn’t feel that it was fully necessary to include so much.  Having said this, the actual storytelling was really clever and very well written. Each perspective was similar enough for the audience to know what’s happening, but with brilliantly subtle changes, contrasting tone and dialogue – right up until the rape scene which was, in line with telling the story from perspectives, a significantly different event to each character. 

This film was expertly cast. Adam Driver played his role perfectly, he is fully believable in his arrogance and aggression but allows an appealing vulnerability into his role that just keeps his Le Gris interesting, until, of course, you realise the sort of man he is. This is one of Matt Damon’s finer performances in recent years. He plays in contractions – he’s clearly a well respected, strong warrior, but he is overwhelmed and constantly trying to keep his head above water. We see a good amount of Damon’s range in this film, he really is a brilliant watch. Jodie Comer is phenomenal. Those of us who have watched her rise in the acting industry are very well aware of how brilliant she is but this film is a mighty task and she’s flawless. She fully holds her own while working with Hollywood A-Listers, she demonstrates depth, innocence and the complexities of her character and without her the film would not have such an impact.

Interestingly, many reviews are not speaking of The Last Duel too favourably. It seems that many issues from a reviewers point of view surround the fact that, though Comer is brilliant, the drama is centred on the men; the three part structure means Marguerite can only get one third of our attention. I can see what is being said here – it’s an important topic and it could seemingly pull focus. However, there were three parties involved at the centre of the story, the time period would not allow or listen to a woman making accusations without the backing of her husband and so I cannot see another way to tell this story. Also, the films title is The Last Duel – an act that could only be undertaken by the men, the duel is featured (perhaps taking a little too much screen time in my view…) and therefore the history of the two men, their perspectives and the journey that got them to the duel are important. The story is told, the impact on Marguerite is brilliantly portrayed and audiences are walking away with her story at the front of their mind. For me, that tells me that the film has done what it intended to do.

Limbo – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Ola Orebiyi, Kwabena Ansah
Directed by Ben Sharrock
Written by Ben Sharrock
Length: 104mins

Stuck on a remote Scottish island whilst waiting for asylum in the UK, Omar, a young, but talented musician finds the will of himself and those around him tested as they wait in desperation for a better life, whilst living in a place that seems to have no life of its own.

‘Limbo’ balances humor and tragedy with a skill that few films possess, which is made even more impressive when you consider that this is only director Ben Sharrock’s second film. At times you’ll find yourself unable to hold back your laughter, as the film delivers some hilarious moments which play on the attitudes of the islanders, as well as the hopeless “real-world” training that’s assigned to those on the island. At the same time, ‘Limbo’ delivers some eye-opening moments of sincerity which build up a dramatic tone throughout the film, turning the film into something more than just a comedy.

Ben Sharrocks’ film may be one of the most beautiful films put to screen this year, drawing from the symmetrical nature of Wes Anderson’s style and applying a darker and more hopeless tone to it. It’s through this bleak cinematography that we feel sympathetic for those stuck on the island, and it doesn’t take long for their hopes to escape become our own hope, simply through the visuals. However, later elements of the film which explore who these people were before they became stuck in this strange limbo utilise some beautiful moments of cinematography and sound, introducing themes of nostalgia and longing which contrast with the bleak nature of the world found around Omar and the other asylum seekers now. Through this, the director shows the conflict within the characters of whether they should keep pushing forward in hopes of a new life, or return to the safety of what they know. However, the safety of what they know may not be as safe as it once was, and Sharrock has created a brilliant film which meditates on this conflict.

It may not be as easy to find as our usual recommendations, with ‘Limbo’ coming and going from our big screens without too much fanfare. However, it’s a film with so much to offer, and I can safely say it’ll be near the top of my year-end list. If you get a chance, definitely give this one a watch.

No Time To Die – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Rami Malek, Christoph Waltz, Ana de Armas and Lashana Lynch. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge Length:163mins

 Finally – the long awaited 25th instalment of Ian Flemings well loved British agent, 007, has hit our big screens. After having it’s release postponed several times throughout the Covid:19 pandemic, the world seemed to hold it’s breath as thousands returned to the cinema. With all eyes on it’s release, No Time To Die not only wanted to end the ‘Daniel Craig as James Bond’ era with a bang; but shouldered the pressure of enticing customers back to the cinemas.

In No Time To Die Bond has left active service and is enjoying a tranquil life in Jamaica. His peace and quiet is short-lived when his old friend and CIA agent Felix Leiter turns up asking for help. The mission to rescue a kidnapped scientist turns out to be far more treacherous than expected, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology. 

While this film has been criticised for not being ‘Bond enough’, I would have to disagree. The writers have done a good job in creating a story that is fleshed out with action, relationship, humour and, of course, gadgets. There are some lovely nods to past Bond films through the use of its score, one liners and the familiar location of a private island which calls to mind 1962 release, Dr. No. It was a wise move to bring the likes of Phoebe Waller-Bridge into the writers room, you can certainly see her influence around the strong female characters and wit, as well as being mindful of keeping the essence of James Bond in a post #MeToo society. 

No Time To Die gives it’s audiences the chance to experience the deeper relationship between James and Madeleine, showing a more emotional side of 007, a side that we don’t usually get to see. The chemistry between the two, in my opinion, was better than it was in Spectre which made the whole relationship feel more authentic. Due to the deeper relationship and their history, it presented an opportunity for another two strong women to enter the story without being love interests. Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas didn’t disappoint. Both brought flair and humour to characters who were fiercely capable and complimentary to moving the story forward. As far as Bond villains go, this film hits the jackpot. While having two different villains does take away from the impact of one sole threat, you can’t really complain when the characters are manned by the cool, controlled calm of Christoph Waltz and countered with the somewhat wired, yet considered, Rami Malek. 

Visually this film doesn’t disappoint and is full of action. As Daniel Craig’s final Bond film it does have loose ends to tie up so the franchise can move forward. Unfortunately the length is a slight sticking point, at 2hrs43 it is quite a commitment and there are certainly moments that could have been cut, as they serve no purpose in moving the plot forward. No Time To Die is absolutely worth a watch, and on a big screen. There’s something wonderful about returning to a packed cinema to watch a film from long running franchise, with multigenerational audiences all enjoying and connecting to a character that has graced Cinema and TV screens for years. 

Annette – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, Simon Helberg and Devyn McDowell
Directed by Leos Carax
Written by Ron and Russell Mael
Length: 140mins

A slightly detached and dystopian version of modern day LA takes up the setting of Leos Carax’s latest release, ‘Annette’, and although the film takes on the usual extravagances of a high-budget musical, between the high-functioning characters and their equally high-stakes public appearances, you can’t help but feel that there’s something more sinister going on behind the scenes. 

Adam Driver’s electrifying performance as Henry McHenry, a comedian with a tendency for indulging in the darker side of things when it comes to his shows, is another in the multitude of brilliant characters taken on by Driver in recent years. His intense and unmistakable presence on screen is established not only through his quite-literally massive physical appearance, but also in the erratic subtleties that he applies to this role as an equally erratic performer. Marion Cotillard also puts in a great performance as Ann Desfranoux, an opera singer who’s seen in the public eye as a divine and delicate figure – the beauty to Driver’s beast. Together, ‘Annette’ explores the power couple dynamic which forms when the two begin dating, and as the narrative progresses, so does the state of their relationship – for better or for worse.

In terms of pacing, Carax’s modern musical blockbuster hurdles along at a blistering pace, and isn’t afraid to move things forward quickly, with a good number of years being covered during the 140 minutes runtime. Combined with the incredible production design which emphasises the extravagance of this story, ‘Annette’ has an undeniable feeling of grandeur, whilst still managing to maintain an arthouse aesthetic which benefits the more surreal undertakings of the director. Love it or hate it – which I imagine many will – aside from its musical origins, ‘Annette’ feels like an entirely new kind of film, and one which I’m sure will influence future generations, but remain untouchable due to the unique nature of both its story and production.

Written by the infamous ‘Sparks’ brothers, it seemed almost obvious that ‘Annette’ would deliver its story through the use of music. However, I felt that it was actually the songwriting within the film that let the whole thing down. Often extremely repetitive and lacking in subtlety, it seemed a shame that a surrealist narrative delivered from the minds of songwriters who’ve been at it for over forty years couldn’t provide some more exciting or ambiguous lyricism. A multitude of sequences felt as if they dragged on simply because the characters were unable to do more than repeat the same lines of music over and over. Perhaps after multiple viewings, and time to allow the songs to become earworms, their presence may seem more necessary, but upon a first watch, I can’t say I was completely won over.

All in all, it’s undeniable that ‘Annette’ is a bold achievement in both extravagance and absurdity from the French-born director, and whilst there is a lot to love about the film – in particular its performances – it’s difficult to imagine any audience being in one-hundred percent agreement over this one, but that’s no reason not to give it a go and make your own opinion of it.