Elvis – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson and Richard Roxburgh. Directed by Baz Luhrmann. Written by Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell and Craig Pearce. Length: 159mins. 

The release date for Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Elvis’ has arrived and it’s sure to get audiences dancing. We seem to be going through a phase of legendary musician biopics and this one falls slightly out of the framework pattern but that isn’t a surprise to those who know the previous work of Luhrmann. This is the story of Elvis’s dramatic rise to superstardom and the mistreatment he suffered at the hands of those he trusted. 

The film opens with a voiceover by Elvis’s former manager, the infamous Colonel Tom Parker, played by Tom Hanks (unrecognisable beneath layers of prosthetics and unflattering makeup). After sharing details of his gambling addiction, he finishes with the ominous reveal: ‘some people say I robbed Elvis … some even say I killed him’. We get the basics of Presley’s career: the early days of hardship, the profound influence of black music, the blues and gospel; a glimpse at his days on the country circuit before signing for Parker, his huge success, military service in Germany, marriage to Priscilla, a flash of Hollywood, the Comeback Special and the long Vegas goodbye…considering this is the basics and not really in too much detail, it’s an awful lot. With a run time of 2hr39 it’s a bit of a slog but having said this I would have no idea what you can cut. The challenge of a biopic is that audiences need to see a journey, but when the journey includes so much it’s inevitably going to be a lengthy watch.  

This is a very technical film that screams awards season which is unusual for a movie released at this time of year. I hope that it is recognised for what it is as the performances, scoring, editing and direction are bold and deserve acknowledgement. I do feel like some audiences might be disappointed with Elvis – not because it’s bad, it’s actually quite brilliant. It’s just that the trailer presents a movie that is very appealing to the masses. It suggests a straight forward story with a few well known songs and it’s much more complex than that. It’s full of interesting cuts, colours and a wonderfully fused score of music of the era and contemporary hits. 

Elvis is a brilliant film, it’s not one that I would watch again but I would definitely recommend that people give it a watch. It’s another reminder that the grass is not always greener on the other side and that when people appear to have it all – there’s often a lot going on that isn’t known.  

Spiderhead – Review

Rating: 15
Featuring: Chris Hemsworth, Miles Teller, Jurnee Smollett and Tess Haubrich
Directed by Joseph Kosinski
Length: 107mins

Spiderhead’ tells the story of the necessary once-in-a-lifetime genius for this kind of film, with the equally as expected tropical lair to match. Inside, the trials of a handful of volunteers are unfolded, as they take part in a strangely enigmatic research process that brings laughter, fear and tension in equal measure.

Miles Teller and Chris Hemworth lead the film, and despite sharing a great amount of screen time, never seem to build any form of powerful relationship that the audience is able to connect with. Their individual talents feel a little wasted on the film, with the story allowing them little more to work with than the kind of archetypal prisoner/prisonee tropes this type of narrative so often delivers. Perhaps if the writing was stronger during their shared moments, the two actors could have created some great moments of tension and intrigue.

In terms of set design, the layout of ‘Spiderhead’ seems to draw a lot of ideas from the works of early Black Mirror episodes being released ten years prior. A cold and minimalist tone rests over the design of the architecture and the clothing, and resonates further into the film itself. It never seems to find its footing any deeper than a simple overarching story, or the barebones and forgettable locations in which our action plays out.

Perhaps by moving away from attempted one-liners, vague psychological observations, or desperate requirements to show the likely already created spotify soundtrack, ‘Spiderhead’ could have resulted in a decent little thriller inspired by the likes of ‘Lord of the Flies’ or ‘The Stanford Experiment’, but unfortunately it feels a little more like another failed Netflix experiment than any major breakthrough.

Top Gun: Maverick – Review

Rating: 12a Cast: Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Val Kilmer and Glen Powell. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Written by Peter Craig, Justin Marks, Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie. Length: 130mins. 

 Thirty-six years after Top Gun was released and became a smash hit, Tom Cruise is back doing what he does best – flashing his superstar smile and jumping into an aircraft for this brand new blockbuster that doesn’t fail to take your breath away. Top Gun: Maverick re-joins our hero – Naval captain Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, not quite where we left him at the end of the first movie. He’s still flying, he’s still fast and he’s still unapologetically himself. He’s recalled to Top Gun, to train the Navy’s best young aviators for an almost impossible, dangerous and time sensitive mission. While the mission is a challenge in itself, Maverick has to face (and train) the son of his ex-wingman and best friend ‘Goose’ as well as reuniting with an old flame… 

What is so wonderful about this film is that the original was a perfect standalone – it didn’t need a sequel, it was so well rounded just as it was and was released in a time where it was much more common to release a film on its own. BUT, come 2022…delayed ever so slightly due to Covid:19 the sequel lands and it is almost perfect. It embodies just the right amount of nostalgia and reference to the original, the plot is interesting and exciting – different to ‘Top Gun’ but is so well thought out and fitting with the first film. I just think it’s so difficult to create a really great sequel full stop, but to manage to create a sequel over 30 years later and for a film that no one expected a sequel for seems like an impossible task and the creative team nailed it. 

I don’t know enough about how much Tom Cruise was involved, other than I expect him to have been the driving force and quite frankly he deserves a pat on the back. This film released at the perfect time, bringing audiences of all ages back into cinemas and reminding folk what watching motion pictures on the big screen, as they were designed, is all about.  

Tom Cruise doesn’t drop a beat with his Maverick; I expect the initial role was so important to him and he seems to pick the character straight back up with ease. The casting was perfect. Particularly in the selection of Miles Teller as ‘Rooster’. Not only does Teller look like his fictional father but he brings really authentic emotion. This character ‘feels’ so much in this film and is really going through all sorts while still competing to be selected for this mission and Teller nails it. It’s really quite wonderful to watch the character develop and grow in confidence throughout the movie and see his relationships change with him. Jennifer Connelly plays the beautiful, confident bar owner Penny who, of course, captures the eye (and heart) of Maverick. My only slight comment here was that the romantic element wasn’t really necessary. It’s nice – it’s well performed, it breaks up the story a bit and of course the romantics are there for it but it didn’t progress the plot. Maybe I’m scraping the barrel for criticism, but that’s all I’ve got!  

Top Gun: Maverick is simply, a brilliant piece of cinema. Everyone should watch it, at least once, on the big screen. It has a relatively short running time but it holds its audiences from the first moment and doesn’t drop them.  

This Much I Know to Be True – Review

Rating: 15
Featuring: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Earl Cave, Andrew Dominik, Marianne Faithful
Directed by Andrew Dominik
Length: 105mins

Though the story of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s dynamic relationship may not be one familiar to too many people, the echoes of their influence reverberates out to a greater number than many may realise – whether that be through the haunting performance from Cave and his band, ‘The Bad Seeds’, on tracks such as ‘Red Right Hand’ and ‘O Children’, popularised by Peaky Blinders and Harry Potter respectively, or the Cave and Ellis collaborative effort which brought to life the scores of films such as ‘The Assassination of Jesse James..’, ‘The Road’ and ‘Wind River’ to name a few.

So within this intriguing context – what is the story of ‘This Much I Know to Be True’? Sadly, it’s one born of tragedy, as the narrative documents Nick Cave’s grief-stricken attempts to find some consolation through art after the death of his son, Arthur, six years prior. From purely a listeners’ perspective, the fallout being three of perhaps the greatest art rock/chamber pop albums released this side of the millennium. 

Cave and Ellis may appear as if they’ve only recently stumbled out of some desolate Aussie landscape and only vaguely attempted to meet any societal norm – but this unorthodox perspective on life has culminated in some truly beautiful music, which the two perform throughout the documentary whilst accompanied by mesmerising lighting setups and captivating camera movements led by director Andrew Dominik (Assassination of Jesse James, Killing Them Softly, Blonde).

It would be wrong to say that this is a film for the average movie-goer, as at least a vague familiarity with these artists’ work allows for an even greater appreciation of what’s being presented here. However, the brilliance of the performances on display is perhaps matched only in quality by the dynamic and exciting visuals, culminating in something which, for me, became one of the most impactful cinema experiences so far this year. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis are endlessly watchable, both as tirelessly entertaining friends, and genius’s at play.

Even if you only know the voice of Cave through his dramatic ‘Red Right Hand’ performance, or the haunting charm of his ‘O Children’ accompaniment to Harry and Hermione’s waltz in the penultimate Harry Potter film, I would highly recommend taking up any opportunity to see this film. Like D.A. Pennebaker’s ‘Don’t Look Back’ chasing after the unstoppable Bob Dylan of the mid-60’s, or Peter Jackson’s recent revitalisation of a Beatles teetering on the brink of collapse in last years ‘Get Back’, it’s not often you get to witness the whirring cogs of a working genius up close and personal, but ‘This Much I Know to Be True’ gives us this chance once again.

The Lost City – Review

Rating: 12a Cast: Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Brad Pitt. Directed by Aaron Nee and Adam Nee. Written by Oren Uziel, Dana Fox, Adam Nee and Aaron Nee. Length: 112mins

In the Lost City Sandra Bullock plays Loretta, the author of a novel franchise-series that focuses on fictional stories around archeological realities that Loretta and her late husband studied together while he was alive. Her Lara Croft style adventures feature her own character going on adventures with her lover, a character named Dash. What real life Loretta isn’t too keen on, is the reality that her cover model, Alan (Tatum), is a key factor in selling the books and some have trouble separating the fictional characters from the real life. The story ramps up though, when Loretta is kidnapped by an evil British billionaire who takes her to a mysterious Island which is about to be destroyed by a volcano in the hopes that she can help him find an ancient treasure; meanwhile Alan takes it upon himself to rescue her and quickly discovers that ‘Alan’ isn’t quite the natural hero as his character in the books…

The Lost City isn’t a particularly ‘unique’ film – it fits neatly into the genre of ‘adventure comedy’ and it’s not shy about using cliches like a seemingly charming British villain or a volcano due to erupt at any point…but it’s okay. I think most of its audiences are very aware of the ‘type’ of film that they’re going to watch and as long as that is the case, then there won’t be any disappointment.  

Bullock is an absolute master at this level of comedy, she brings such an authentic feel to ridiculous situations and I think just having her lead a cast automatically relaxes an audience into something that’s a bit familiar. Tatum is also playing his stereotype – the handsome idiot – but it’s his stereotype for a reason and he’s very good at it. It was interesting to see him play a more family friendly role and was nice to see that he doesn’t solely rely on some of the more, perhaps, cheap laughs around language or sexuality that we’ve seen him do so many times. The real genius that probably comes from their sheer level of experience is that both Bullock and Tatum are smart enough to know how silly the whole thing is. They perform in a way that suggests ‘they know that we know, that they know’ how ridiculous the action is.

The Lost City is the perfect film for escapism. It isn’t the best in its genre. In recent years I would suggest that films like Jungle Cruise hit the mark a little better than this one. But, it’s a solid, amusing film to watch when the real world just gets a little too much.

Everything Everywhere All at Once – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong and Jamie Lee Curtis
Directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan
Length: 139mins

With a title like ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’, as you can probably imagine, it can be hard to even know where to begin when it comes to explaining its concept, as well as dissecting all its intricacies. Put simply, iMDB first had the synopsis listed as “A woman tries to do her taxes.” However, this film expands outwards from this basic premise, and covers so much emotion, adventure, and action within its two hours and nineteen minutes runtime. As a film that definitely benefits from knowing as little about the plot as possible when going into it, it can become a tricky thing to review – but of course we’ll try our best.

In this modern world of mass consumption, where TV’s play whilst phone screens are held, and music sounds from some distant room, it seems the average person is so often being constantly overwhelmed by content in varying forms. Whether this is a good thing or not is a question for another day, but to say that ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ embodies this stage of humanity within film form would probably be an understatement. Viewers are thrown in completely at the deep end, left to make sense of the overwhelming world defined by partners-in-crime filmmakers Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert at the same pace as our leading actress Michelle Yeoh, who delivers a brilliant performance balancing the spinning plates of motherly duties, business management, and multidimensional calamities. 

It would be difficult to discuss this film without mentioning the dimension-travelling qualities of films most recently churned out by the Marvel conglomerate, and how the ‘EEAAO’ filmmakers have taken those big-budget qualities, and applied them to indie filmmaking. In fact, only five members of the film’s production worked on the intricate visual effects which comprised so much of the story, with most of them having learnt all they know from online tutorials. To see a smaller production crew go toe-to-toe with these behemoth superhero stories which have consumed the big screen in recent years, and succeed in creating an action-packed and exciting story, gives hope to the belief that there are still a great number of genres which can ignite the same feeling of adventure that recently seemed to have been reserved only for the blockbuster format. 

Each character in the story – and there a lot to mention – completely give their all to their performance. Though the script may be unlike anything else they’ve previously brought to life, it seems as if everyone on set was as enraptured in the insanity of the plot as the audience becomes, knowing that what they were making was unlike anything seen before. This film feels like a landmark occasion within independent filmmaking, where it’s proved that with a great story, anything can be possible, no matter how surreal an idea is.  

‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ really is a film which needs to be seen to be believed, dancing elegantly between moments of profound thinking, childlike humour and gripping action. I’m sure there’s so much more to be gained from this film across repeat viewings – it really was a treat to watch this story play out on the big screen.

Downton Abbey: A New Era – Review

Rating: PG Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Allan Leech, Elizabeth McGovern and Maggie Smith. Directed by Simon Curtis. Written by Jullian Fellowes. Length: 125mins.

Downton Abbey: A New Era pulls its fans back in three years after its first motion picture and seven years after the wildly successful television series came to an end. As a fan of Downton Abbey, I was happy to hear that they were going to make a film or two, but it’s very clear that this is a money move rather than anything else. They wrapped the series up nicely and there was no real need to make a feature – having said this, of course, the fans flocked back to the cinemas in 2019 to see what their beloved Crawley family and staff had been up to.

This second film rejoins the family, going about their business but with a leaky roof and no sure way of funding the repairs. As it happens, the estate is approached by a company wanting to use Downton as a location for their latest silent movie and they’re willing to pay. While the traditional members of the family aren’t keen to have their home invaded by filmmakers, Lady Mary, who is now in charge, deems it an interesting proposition and invites the company into the walls of Downton, much to the delight of the gang downstairs. While this is going on, it is discovered that Lady Violet has mysteriously been left a villa in the south of France by a gentleman that she spent a short amount of time with, many years ago… Of course this lends itself for several of the family to visit France to investigate that situation, while Lady Mary and the staff keep a close eye on the creation of the silent film and its stars all while getting a little more involved than initially planned.

I’ve seen several criticisms of this movie, mostly from people who just aren’t Downton fans – which makes sense to me. As previously stated it’s a film created for the money that it will clearly generate and will just not appeal to anyone who doesn’t know the characters. The plot is, in all honesty, a bit of a rip off of Singin’ In The Rain and is terribly predictable, but also, terribly enjoyable. You can see everything that’s coming before it lands and that’s sort of the comfort of a film like this, it’s easy to watch and fairly easy to forget. BUT fans will be thrilled to see some of their favourite television characters getting to wrap up their stories – I’m confident that they won’t make another Downton film, they wrap everything up nicely in a way that manages expectations and doesn’t leave any questions.

I enjoyed Downton Abbey: A New Era, it was so easy to watch and pretty nostalgic, but i’m very aware that my opinion is based purely on having watched the characters develop over years. I found the first movie fairly forgettable and I think I preferred this one, but time will tell if it will have done enough to remain in my head. The long and short of it is, if you enjoyed the series and last film you will more than likely enjoy this one, but if not, it’s very basic and probably lands at ‘fine’.

The Worst Person in the World – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum, Hans Olav Brenner
Directed by Joachim Trier
Length: 128mins

‘The Worst Person in the World’ is a fairly ambiguous title for a film which tells the story of a nearly 30-something woman living in Oslo. Such an extreme description paints a picture of a truly terrible person, but as we watch these two hours of human troubles play out, you come to realise that although there may be moments where our lead, Julie, doesn’t exactly act in the best interests of those around her, these self-professed moments of being the ‘worst’ person are more internal than external – a feeling that I can imagine everyone in the audience has experienced at one time or another.

Divided up into twelve unequal chapters – both in length and emotional weight – the story navigates many of the formative moments within Julie’s post-adolescence. She has to confront the realities of her life as it currently is, and as it will soon be in the coming years. Long-term relationships, aspiring careers and family pressures are captured with beautiful elegance on the equally beautiful streets of Oslo, with the film selling the city along with its own story. 

Of course, the tale of a late twenties character reluctant to face the fast approaching thirtieth birthday balloons is not a new story to the big screen, but there are always interesting ways to approach it. Earlier this year we saw ‘Tick, Tick… Boom’, which brought the story of a real-life musical composer who was unwilling to face a similar fate, but with a theatrical infusion to the narrative. ‘Worst Person in the World’ is just as creative, but in an entirely different form. The innermost desires of our questionable protagonist are fantasised through film manipulation, with a city put on pause allowing her to run into the arms of a new destiny, as well as an incredibly depicted impromptu acid-trip bringing to the foreground all the uncertainties and desires which comprise her being. By approaching such a story in this sporadic way, we delve deep into who Julie is as a person, and are able to interpret her actions with an understanding of her life experiences so far, and those which are soon to come, allowing each audience member to truly consider whether they’d describe her as ‘The Worst Person in the World’. 

There are a few moments throughout the film where it feels as if the narrative has become slightly muddled, with some characters provided a great deal more weight than others, despite their similarly matched importance within Julie’s life. However, when it comes to such a subjective story as this one, battling the ever-changing emotions which run circles around a single person’s mind, the film feels as if it benefits greatly from an appreciation of individual scenes rather than a conclusive storyline, especially when some of these moments are as impactful as they are.

‘The Worst Person in the World’ is absolutely a film which will impact viewers differently depending on where they are in their lives, and whilst it may not receive the most widespread release here in the UK, if you get a chance to see it at your local cinema, I’d definitely recommend giving it a go.

Operation Mincemeat – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, Kelly Macdonald, Penelope Wilton and Johnny Flynn. Directed by John Madden. Written by Michelle Ashford and Ben Macintyre. Length: 128mins

Operation Mincemeat was the bizarre real-life scheme cooked up by British intelligence in 1943 to fool Nazi Germany into thinking the allies planned to invade Greece, rather than their actual target, Sicily. The corpse of a tramp was dressed up as fictitious “Capt William Martin” and carried elaborate plans for this nonexistent invasion; the body was dumped into the sea so that it would wash up in Spain where the British were confident this incorrect intelligence would be passed to the Germans. It sounds as if it was written with a screenplay in mind, but the fact that this is based on real events makes gives this film a different feel. Had the plot been fictitious, I’m not sure people would necessarily be on board, but a glimpse into this bizarre piece of history that played a role in the outcome on the war is truly fascinating. 

Adapted from the non-fiction best seller by Ben Macintyre, the plot takes us steadily from the birth of the idea, through all sorts of ‘phases’ of the operation and right up to the suspense filled moment of finding out whether it was successful or not. As I understand, this isn’t the first film re-telling of the story, however the fact that the corpses real name was only revealed to the public in 1996 allowed the filmmakers to include a more personable approach with regards to he who was known, simply, as ‘The Man Who Never Was’. 

This movie was funnier than I expected it to be, which made a real difference to me as a member of the audience. I was intrigued and excited to learn more about a situation I only knew small amounts about, but to be honest, I was expecting quite a heavy, suspense filled piece. While, of course, there were brilliant moments of that suspense; built with a great score and really authentic performances by the two leading men – the fact that there were moments of humour mixed in throughout just brought the mood up enough to keep things interesting and me engaged. 

As a James Bond fan I particularly enjoyed the involvement of the character Ian Fleming. Of course he was actually involved in the planning of the operation, I don’t mean to belittle his importance in the actual history of the event, but the film gave us plenty of little Bond Easter eggs that I have no idea if they actually happened, but I like the idea that his novels were inspired by that which he had seen. Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen didn’t put a foot wrong, both managed to play likeable but imperfect characters, and lets be honest, any Pride and Prejudice fans will be delighted to see both contemporary ‘Mr Darcy’s’ sharing the screen. 

This is another of the home front wartime ‘Brit-films’ that we’ve seen plenty of in recent years. Focussing their emphasis on domestic morale, strategic questions and political shenanigans, rather than battlefield action. Operation Mincemeat is watchable enough, but certainly not the best ‘war film’ i’ve seen. It’s a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, but not a must watch. 

The Northman – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe
Directed by Robert Eggers
Length: 137mins

Ever since the arrival of the enigmatically titled ‘The VVitch’ in 2015, Robert Eggers has proved himself to be a brilliant storyteller and director who possesses a great many more skills than interesting film titles alone. Often working within historical periods, both ‘The VVitch’ and ‘The Lighthouse’ transported audiences back in time, to an era of history that most people were probably thanking their lucky stars they’d never lived in by the time the curtains closed. His latest release, ‘The Northman’ is no different, and allows us a detailed insight into the unruly and violent landscape of the Viking period, when men seemingly grew to the size of trees, and a dark magic infected Scandinavian land.

Put simply, ‘The Northman’ is a story of revenge, and yet things are never as simple as they seem. First shown as a child, and then later as a grown warrior searching for the man who killed his father and stole his mother from him, Alexander Skarsgård takes up the role of lead character Amleth, and whilst there is fairly minimal dialogue required for his performance, the ferocity and emotion invested into every piece of body language ensures that you can’t help but follow his every move. Combining this with a silver-tongued Anya Taylor-Joy in the role of Olga, a skilled manipulator born into a settlement helpless enough to be at the constant mercy of roaming viking hordes, makes a partnership between the two a powerful combination.

For this film, it isn’t just the leading performers which make it such an interesting watch. Supporting actors Björk, Willem Dafoe and Ethan Hawke all provide the story with a great deal of further complexity through their incredible contributions, but in particular it seemed to me that Nicole Kidman really stole the show at times, delivering a deceptively layered performance as Queen Gudrún, the mother of leading man, Amleth.

On first going into the film, I felt quite concerned that the trailer had, in typical trailer style, given away far too much of the plot. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case at all, and in fact, looking back on the short snippets of the film displayed in those few minutes, I can’t help but feel that it was planned that way all along. Robert Eggers definitely appears to be one of the most exciting storytellers in the industry at the moment (having been helped by prolific Icelandic writer Sjón for this latest release), constantly delivering original and intriguing concepts to the big screen.

Within his previous two films, Robert Eggers’ storytelling has been generally contained within very small communities, focusing on the relationships between only a handful of people to drive the narrative forward. ‘The Northman’ sees a very different change to this style, with the $90 million budget allowing for a move away from indie filmmaking limitations and into blockbuster territory. Despite this, the director’s vision and signature style remains seemingly untouched, as the film carries with it all the incredible intensity of performance and intricately researched storytelling details which have come to define Eggers’ career so far. For any fans of his previous film, I can’t imagine ‘The Northman’ disappointing in any way, but it also provides plenty of room for first-time viewers of his work to become caught up in the action as well.