The Watchers

The Watchers

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Review: Justice League (UK Cert 12A)

SPOILER WARNING! This review discusses and/or mentions a few important plot points. If you would prefer not to have these spoiled, please stop reading now and come back once you've seen the film.

After the death of Superman, the world seems to be a place without hope. When an alien threat arrives and places the planet in danger, Bruce Wayne (with the help of Diana Prince) decides to track down others with superpowers to help fight against this new foe. 

Predictably, general critical response to Justice League has been middling to poor. At the time of writing, it currently stands with a 41% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes (although, tellingly, an audience rating of 84%). Film is an artform, not a science. It's not something that often deals with facts (other than those concrete verifiables like box office receipts, cast and crew, any awards hype, and so on). It thrives on opinion. And that's all that film criticism is: it's someone's opinion. Art is ultimately subjective and the opinions of those of the viewing public- who pay to put their bums on seats and watch the film- are as valid as those of the professional critics.  

My opinion is this: I thought Justice League was a lot better than I feared it would be. 

So what's good? Well, the cast are pretty strong (although Affleck doesn't seem as comfortable here; more on that later). Of the new characters, it's Ezra Miller as Barry Allen/The Flash who comes off the best. Socially awkward, quite geeky, he takes to this brave new world of heroes like an enthusiastic puppy. He also gets a lot of the humour. He gets a particularly good scene opposite Ray Fisher as Victor Stone/Cyborg where they attempt to bond over digging up Superman's coffin. Fisher is decent as Cyborg, although the character feels less developed than the others. Jason Momoa is an imposing, charismatic presence as Arthur Curry/Aquaman and also gets a nice scene where he unwittingly gets a bit too close to the lasso of Hestia. 

Henry Cavill is as strong as he always has been in the role of Clark Kent/Superman. He obviously doesn't make an appearance until just after halfway through and his frenzied fight against the League is pretty impressive. Luckily, there's a deus ex machina to stop him from pummelling them into the dirt (and it isn't as ridiculous as the 'Martha' moment in Batman V Superman). Gal Gadot is assured and powerful as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. She's a de facto leader to the group and the film lifts whenever she's on screen. 

As for the supporting cast, generally strong although with such a large cast, some do get shortchanged. Amy Adams doesn't get much to do as Lois but she's good (although they've inexplicably cut the rather tender scene shown in the trailer where Clark mentions the ring). I did want to see more of J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon, although he did get a particularly good one-liner which I enjoyed. Jeremy Irons is still wonderful as Alfred whilst there's a nice cameo by Billy Crudup as Henry Allen (Barry's father). 

The slow-mo effects on The Flash are amusing (imagine the 'Time In A Bottle' sequence from X-Men: Days Of Future Past or the 'Sweet Dreams' bit in X-Men: Apocalypse and you're on the right track). Danny Elfman's score is powerful and positive and has a few nice little Easter Eggs for those who care to listen. The scene of Superman's resurrection is probably the best sequence in the film. Also, the lighting seems to have improved; there's not a lot of gloomy darkness and I could actually see what was going on most of the time. 

That's not to say the film is perfect. It's far from it. The script is uneven and occasionally very info-dumpy; it does have to properly introduce three new characters who the audience have only ever really seen in passing, but it all feels a bit clunky (especially Aquaman's little tete-a-tete with Mera). It would perhaps have made more sense to have had at least the Aquaman and Flash solo movies prior to the release of Justice League (to cut down on this). And just an FYI- London doesn't have city blocks!

Also tonally, the film is a bit of a mess- Joss Whedon's and Zack Snyder's directorial styles are very different and you can tell what's been added and what's been reshot (the farrago over Superman's CGI upper lip notwithstanding). It's why Ben Affleck feels a little less comfortable in the role than he did in Batman V Superman. There he was the tortured, brooding Batman; here, he's cracking wise. There's also an over-reliance on slow-mo (understandable when you're talking about The Flash, but it soon becomes wearying). 

However, my main complaint against the film is the villain, Steppenwolf. The CGI on him is massively shoddy (he looks like a mid-2000s Playstation character) and the motivation he's given is paper-thin. Plus, the curse of the DCEU strikes again with a massive CGI blow-out final battle which is difficult to keep track of. Bizarrely, it also feels like there's very little at stake: the human consequences of the alien invasion are pinned onto one Russian family who are barricaded into their home as the Parademons swarm. There's no jeopardy.

So yes, the film has its issues. Given the circumstances of Snyder having to withdraw due to a dreadful family tragedy then Warner Bros hiring Whedon to finish/reshoot the film, it was always going to have issues. But it's nowhere near as bad as some reviewers would have you believe. It is a superhero movie. It's two hours of- dare I say it?- fun. Not as good as Wonder Woman, but head-and-shoulders above both Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad

Rating: 4 out of 5


Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Awards Season 2018: Film Independent Spirit Awards Nominations

With today's announcement of the 33rd Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations, Awards Season 2018 is now underway. As they used to say on one of my favourite TV shows as a child (Knightmare), 'the only way is forward; there is no turning back.'

As you will probably know by now, the Film Independent Spirit Awards recognise films made wholly or partly outside the traditional studio system (although there is becoming an increasingly wide overlap between these and the more 'mainstream' awards). 

Below is a selection of nominations:

Best Feature
Call Me By Your Name
The Florida Project
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Rider

Best Director
Sean Baker (The Florida Project)
Jonas Carpignano (A Ciambra)
Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name)
Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Benny Safdie & Josh Safdie (Good Time)
Chloe Zhao (The Rider)

Best Male Lead
Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Harris Dickinson (Beach Rats)
James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
Robert Pattinson (Good Time)

Best Female Lead
Salma Hayek (Beatriz At Dinner)
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Shinobu Terajima (Oh Lucy!)
Regina Williams (Life & Nothing More)

Best Supporting Male
Nnamdi Asomugha (Crown Heights)
Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name)
Barry Keoghan (The Killing Of A Sacred Deer)
Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Benny Safdie (Good Time)

Best Supporting Female
Holly Hunter (The Big Sick)
Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Lois Smith (Marjorie Prime)
Taliah Webster (Good Time)

A full list of nominees can be found here.

Call Me By Your Name leads the field with six nominations, with Get Out and Good Time each with five. 

The Film Independent Spirit Awards will be handed out at a ceremony hosted by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney on Saturday 3rd March 2018 (one of the last award shows before the Academy Awards). 

The next major announcement for awards season will be on 30th November with the Critics' Choice movie award nominations.


Monday, 20 November 2017

For Your Consideration: Possible Contenders For Awards Season 2018

It's that time of year again, folks.

Yes, awards season is imminently upon us again. The annual hoopla of self-indulgent congratulations that spans the winter months will soon begin. This year, awards season is extended by a week so will culminate with the 90th Academy Awards on Sunday 4th March 2018. This is to avoid any clashes with the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. So you can blame/thank the IOC for this.

If you like this sort of thing, welcome and strap yourself in for a lot (and I do mean a lot) of awards coverage. If you don't, then... apologies but keep your head down and it'll be over quicker than you think.

So, as is now usual, I've had a furtle through the major film festivals of the year and here are a few films you may well see mentioned a lot over the next couple of months. 

Martin McDonagh's latest film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, so that could well feature. Frances McDormand has been greatly praised for her performance as a grieving mother demanding answers over the death of her daughter, so she could well get a Best Actress nod. There could be also be Best Supporting Actor nominations for Woody Harrelson, who plays the town sheriff, and Sam Rockwell as the town deputy. 

Sofia Coppola took the Best Director prize at Cannes for The Beguiled, a Southern gothic drama starring Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Colin Farrell. When a wounded Union soldier arrives at Miss Martha Farnsworth's Seminary For Young Ladies, the staff and students all take an interest in this man. Taking him in so he can recover from his injuries, soon the women begin to compete for the soldier's favour, which sets the scene for tragedy. Potential Best Picture and Best Director nods; given a very wide open field for acting nominations this year, I'd be surprised if any of the cast get nominated (although Kidman and Dunst are the most likely candidates if they do). 

Guillermo del Toro's dark fairytale The Shape Of Water won the Golden Lion at this year's Venice Film Festival, so it could feature highly as well. Set in the 1960s, Elisa, a mute young woman (Sally Hawkins) who works in a high-security government laboratory, finds a secret classified experiment and the two of them start to fall in love. Hawkins has had a lot of praise for her role, so she could be nominated for Best Actress, whilst Octavia Spencer could get a third Best Supporting Actress nod for her role as Elisa's co-worker. 

Mudbound, a period drama directed by Dee Rees, could feature too. It's the story of two Second World War veterans who return to work on a farm in rural Mississippi and have to adjust to life back home. Already praised for its ensemble cast and the supporting performance by an unrecognisable Mary J. Blige, this could do very well during awards season.

Luca Guadagnino's luscious 1980s coming-of-age drama Call Me By Your Name has been praised highly, so it may well feature. Timothee Chalamet could well be up for Best Actor for his central role as the precocious Elio, whilst there could be Supporting Actor nods for Armie Hammer (as Elio's paramour Oliver) and Michael Stuhlbarg (as Elio's father).  

Dunkirk may finally be the film that gets Christopher Nolan a Best Director nod from the Academy. It's a technically accomplished film, so it should get a raft of technical awards (editing, cinematography, sound). It may well get a Best Picture nod as well. In terms of any acting awards, the only actor who really stands out is Mark Rylance, so there's a potential Best Supporting Actor nod for him there, but I think it's unlikely. 

Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut Molly's Game could see Jessica Chastain get a Best Actress nod for her central role as Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world's most exclusive high-stakes poker games for a decade before being arrested by the FBI. There could also be a Supporting Actor nod for Idris Elba who plays Molly's lawyer Charlie Jaffey.

Steven Spielberg. Tom Hanks. Meryl Streep. A biopic of the journalists from the New York Times and the Washington Post who declassified 'The Pentagon Papers' (relating to the Vietnam War) which showed that the Johnson Administration systematically lied about the war- not just to the public, but to Congress as well. The Post has pretty much got Oscar-bait written all the way through it like a stick of Blackpool rock. Streep may well get her 21st Oscar nod as Kay Graham (the first female newspaper publisher) whilst Hanks could well get nominated for his role as Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. 

Paul Thomas Anderson is a director whose work is admired within the Academy, so his latest film- Phantom Thread- might get some attention this awards season, not least because it is reputed to be Daniel Day-Lewis' last film before he retires from acting. He may well get a Best Actor nod for his central role as a dressmaker who falls for a younger woman. Anderson may get a Best Director nod and the film could be up for Best Picture. 

Another director whose work is popular with members of the Academy is Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Nebraska). His latest film Downsizing is a satire about a man who realises he would have a better life if he were to shrink himself- it would help save the planet and they could afford a better quality of life at the same time. Payne could get a Best Director nod, whilst Matt Damon could get recognised in the Best Actor category.

Saoirse Ronan could well get another Best Actress nod for her role in Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig. Ronan plays Christine McPherson (nicknamed Lady Bird), a young woman who goes to live in Northern California for a year. Laurie Metcalf has also been getting good reviews for her role as Christine's mum so a Best Supporting Actress nod might not be out of the question either. 

Battle Of The Sexes should feature heavily. A biopic about the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, it's directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (previous Best Director nominees for Little Miss Sunshine), written by Simon Beaufoy (who won an Oscar for the screenplay for Slumdog Millionaire) and stars Emma Stone and Steve Carell as King and Riggs respectively. This year's Best Actress winner for La La Land, Stone could see another Best Actress nomination, whilst Carell could get a Best Actor nod. 

This year has seen big-screen remakes of two previous Oscar contenders, so it may not be a surprise to see either Beauty And The Beast and/or Murder On The Orient Express mentioned. The 1991 version of Beauty And The Beast was the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture, whilst it won two Oscars (both for its music). I can see it getting technical awards- the costume and production design are sublime. As for Murder On The Orient Express, it'll be hoping to replicate the success of the 1974 original with a slew of nods, which included Best Cinematography and Best Adapted Screenplay. 

Biopics are basically awards catnip, so I expect to see at least some of the following films recognised.

- I, Tonya: A potential Best Actress nod for Margot Robbie as infamous ice-skater Tonya Harding, with a possible Best Supporting Actress nomination for Alison Janney as her overbearing mother

- The Greatest Showman: A second Best Actor nod could be in the offing for Hugh Jackman as circus impresario P.T. Barnum

- Victoria & Abdul: Judi Dench may get a Best Actress nomination for her role as the elderly Queen Victoria in Stephen Frears' respectful biopic.

- Darkest Hour: Gary Oldman seems likely to get a second Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of Winston Churchill.

- Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool: Annette Bening may be recognised for her lead role as Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame and there may be supporting nods for Jamie Bell (as Grahame's lover Peter) and Julie Walters (as Peter's mum)

The timetable for the major awards in 2018 is as follows:

Film Independent Spirit Awards
Nominations announced: 21st November 2017
Awards ceremony: 3rd March 2018

Critics' Choice Awards
Nominations announced: 30th November 2017
Awards ceremony: 10th December 2017

Golden Globes
Nominations announced: 11th December 2017
Awards ceremony: 7th January 2018 (hosted by Jimmy Fallon)

Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards
Nominations announced: 13th December 2017
Awards ceremony: 21st January 2017

Writers' Guild Of America (WGA) Award
Nominations announced: 4th January 2018
Awards ceremony: 11th February 2018

Producers' Guild Of America (PGA) Award
Nominations announced: 5th January 2018
Awards ceremony: 20th January 2018

BAFTA Film Awards
Nominations announced: 9th January 2018
Awards ceremony: 18th February 2018

Directors' Guild Of America (DGA) Award
Nominations announced: 11th January 2018
Awards ceremony: 3rd February 2018

Golden Raspberry Awards (Razzies)
Nominations announced: 22nd January 2018
Awards ceremony: 3rd March 2018

Academy Awards (Oscars)
Nominations announced: 23rd January 2018

Awards ceremony: 4th March 2018 (hosted by Jimmy Kimmel)

It all kicks off tomorrow- as is tradition- with the Film Independent Spirit Awards nominations. So, get your spreadsheets ready (or is that just me?) and let's get on with it!

Friday, 17 November 2017

Review: Call Me By Your Name (UK Cert 15)

Call Me By Your Name is a tender, poignant and sensual coming-of-age drama, directed by Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash, I Am Love) with a screenplay by James Ivory (Maurice) adapted from Andre Aciman's acclaimed 2007 novel of the same name.

Northern Italy, 1983. 17-year-old Elio Perlman stays in a villa with his parents for the summer. Elio's father, a professor of antiquities, invites a doctoral student to stay in the villa for six weeks to assist in his paperwork. This year's student is Oliver, a handsome, young Jewish man, carefree and relaxed. Elio is asked to show him around but the two don't exactly get off on the right foot. Eventually, though, as the summer progresses, a bond forms between them and they embark on a relationship. 

It's a wonderful film, a real feast for the senses, and it's anchored by a trio of incredibly strong performances. 

Timothee Chalamet is a revelation as the precocious Elio. Gawky, geeky, introverted, struggling with his feelings for Oliver (especially as he has a girlfriend at the time) and navigating the tricky waters of first love, it's a truly tremendous and incredibly real performance. As the older, more assured, Oliver, Armie Hammer is great. He's handsome, at ease with himself, where Elio may be with a few more years of life experience. One thing that is interesting is that- just as in Carol- it would have been very easy to have shown Oliver as some kind of predator. Nothing could be further from the truth; if anything, it's Elio who instigates several of the encounters and Oliver has to stop them (or not).  

The third performance which moved me greatly was that is Michael Stuhlbarg who plays Elio's father. A kind and supportive man, he has a pivotal father-son heart-to-heart towards the end of the film which gave me a lump in my throat. It's a brilliant supporting turn. There's also solid supporting turns from Amira Casar as Elio's mother Annella, and Esther Garrel as Elio's girlfriend Marzia. 

Ivory's script captures the genuine, authentic feel of first love- slightly irrational, almost obsessive, yearning for a look, a touch, a kiss- and there's a lot that left unsaid or implied which is interesting (for instance, the words 'gay' or 'bisexual' aren't mentioned in relation to Elio or Oliver; there's no labels, it just is). Guadagnino's direction is sublime, understated, allowing the actors to deliver their performances without distraction. The cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is exquisite, bringing the vibrant Italian landscape to life in all its sun-drenched ancient glory.

The soundtrack is also particularly striking, with a mix of various classical pieces including Ravel, Bach and Satie; contemporary pop pieces, such as 'Love My Way' by The Psychadelic Furs, and several songs by Sufjan Stevens which are all beautiful, my favourite of which is 'Futile Devices' as Elio struggles to find the words to express how he feels about Oliver.    

The acting is top-notch. The script is superb. The cinematography is to die for. Raw, emotional, beautiful, bittersweet but not tragic, Call Me By Your Name is destined to be hailed as a modern classic in years to come- and rightly so. I was enthralled from start to finish.

Rating: 5 out of 5


Thursday, 16 November 2017

Review: Murder On The Orient Express (UK Cert 12A)

One of Agatha Christie's best known and best-loved novels, Murder On The Orient Express was first published in 1934. Forty years later, an all-star cast brought the story to life. Now, 43 years later, another all-star cast assemble to tell a new version of the story, with Kenneth Branagh pulling double-duty as director and as the famous Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot. 

After solving a case in Jerusalem, Poirot is asked to return to London and asks his friend, Monsieur Bouc, to find him a berth on the Orient Express. There's one place available which Poirot takes. Whilst on the journey, he is approached by Samuel Ratchett, an American businessman, who asks Poirot for protection as he has been receiving death threats. Poirot turns the offer down. That night, the train gets stuck during an avalanche whilst travelling through Yugoslavia. The following morning, Ratchett is found dead. Stabbed to death multiple times. With many suspects and only a short amount of time before the avalanche is cleared and the Yugoslav authorities get involved, Poirot must follow the clues and find out who wanted Ratchett dead- and who struck the fatal blows. 

This is going to sound like a very backhanded compliment but I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable I found this new version of Murder On The Orient Express. I had my doubts that this would be just a pale imitation of Lumet's star-studded 1974 film (and comparisons are inevitable). This film beats its own path- sometimes successfully, sometimes not. 

Branagh's Poirot is a very different one than any seen before; he doesn't try and ape Ustinov or Finney or Suchet. Poirot's famed fastidiousness is played up here (expecting exactly the same sized eggs at breakfast or asking people to straighten their ties) but he provides a thoughtful and occasionally funny performance. Sadly though, the massive walrus moustache is a misstep. It's a little distracting. 

The rest of the cast are also very strong. Michelle Pfeiffer is excellent as the flighty and flirty Mrs Hubbard, whilst Derek Jacobi provides a strong supporting turn as Ratchett's butler Mr Masterman. Daisy Ridley is great as former governess Mary Debenham and there's an interesting casting choice with Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr (not Colonel) Arbuthnot. Despite a slightly strange English accent, he's pretty good- and it also shows some of the period's attitude to race (which adds an extra dimension). Penelope Cruz is good as missionary Pilar Estravados (changed from Greta Ohlsson), whilst Josh Gad adds a fine turn as Ratchett's secretary McQueen. Johnny Depp is oleaginous and unpleasant as Ratchett- so does his job well of getting the audience to hate him before he's offed. Willem Dafoe is also good as Gerhard Hardman, a stuffy Austrian professor. 

Several of the characters are not sketched out as well, which is a shame- Judi Dench hasn't got much to do as the aged Princess Dragomiroff (but what she does, she does well; hell, she's Judi Dench- she could make a takeaway menu sound like Keats). Similarly, the brilliant Olivia Colman doesn't get a lot as the Princess' dour ladies-maid. The Count and Countess Andrenyi (played by ballet dancer Sergei Polunin and Lucy Boynton respectively) barely feature, although both are strong when they do appear. There's also been some jiggery-pokery with some other minor characters, like the car salesman (who now goes by the name of Marquez). 

This is a handsome-looking film. The production design, the costumes, and the cinematography are all to be commended. There are some lovely long sweeping takes of the train as it travels through the countryside and there's some interesting shots which follow characters walking through the coach. There's an over-reliance on a few types of shot (they seem keen on showing people reflected through glass) and some intriguing decisions made on some shots (for instance, you don't immediately see Ratchett's body when it's discovered). 

There's quite a few bits that have been added which don't really serve much of a purpose except to break up what must have been considered the monotony of people talking in a room. So there's a section where one suspect flees the train to burn some incriminating evidence, another confronts Poirot with a gun; none of it needed and- if anything- for me, it detracted from the film. You've got scintillating actors, a strong story, a pretty good script- you don't need to add these bits in! Not everyone who goes to the cinema has the attention span of a fruit-fly. 

The solution to Murder On The Orient Express is one of the best-known in all of crime fiction (pretty much second to 'the butler did it') which can rob the denouement of some of its power. That said, even if you know the solution going in, the performances as Poirot lays out the facts are very strong even though (another baffling decision) it takes place in a railway tunnel.

There was a lot I liked about the film, and a few things I didn't. There was a lot of unnecessary tinkering which was a bit irksome, but the opulent design of the film and several of the performances win over. All said though, it's a pretty decent stab at a thrilling story. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5


Saturday, 4 November 2017

Review: Happy Death Day (UK Cert 15

The elevator pitch for Happy Death Day- written by Scott Lobdell (Man Of The House) and directed by Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse)- would be Scream meets Groundhog Day (and, yes, the Groundhog Day reference is made but thankfully right at the very end of the film). 

Sorority sister Teresa 'Tree' Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wakes up in the dorm room of gawky but cute student Carter (Israel Broussard). It's Monday 18th, Tree's birthday, a day she doesn't like. She leaves Carter's room, gets back to her sorority house, sees her roommate, is late to class, then gets ready for a party but- on her way there- she's attacked by an unknown assailant is a very creepy baby mask and stabbed to death. She wakes up again in Carter's room. The day has reset. The same scenarios play out again. With Carter's help, Tree has to discover who wants her dead. 

For a teen slasher flick, it's high concept. Cannily, they don't stick to the same death every time, which leads to some inventive offings for the hapless Tree. The jump-scares are present and correct and the tension in several scenes (notably the first murder) is pretty good. And the baby mask is kinda freaky. What's also good is that there's character development- literally. As each Monday 18th passes, Tree gets to examine her life and her personality and makes changes to be a better person. Her relationship with Carter is sweet and develops nicely- although Tree remembers every Monday 18th, Carter (and anyone else she meets) doesn't. 

Rothe carries the lead role with aplomb- starting out as an obnoxious bitch who you can imaging several people wanting dead, she gets some great one-liners and a real character arc which is interesting. Broussard is an engaging co-lead as Carter, helping Tree out in her quest to discover the truth. There's a wonderfully catty supporting turn from Rachel Matthews as sorority president Danielle, a proper mean girl who out-Regina Georges Regina George. Ruby Modine is also good as Tree's roommate Lori, who has made Tree a cupcake (despite Tree's antipathy towards the whole birthday thing). Charles Aitken rounds the main cast off with a suitably sinister turn as Dr. Gregory Butler, Tree's teacher who may or may not be the man behind the mask. 

That said, the film's not perfect. My main complaint is that the killer's motivation is pretty lame when you consider it, which- after such a good build-up- is a let-down. But what comes before it is a delicious slice of black comedy spiced up with a few good jumpscares. Definitely worth watching if you like your horror with an interesting twist.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Friday, 3 November 2017

Review: The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (UK Cert 15)

SPOILER WARNING! This review discusses and/or mentions a few important plot points. If you would prefer not to have these spoiled, please stop reading now and come back once you've seen the film.

Dr. Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a successful cardiologist with a beautiful wife called Anna (Nicole Kidman) and two beautiful children called Kim and Bob (Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic), a beautiful house and- as we keep being told- beautiful hands. He also has a secret: he's been spending time with Martin (Barry Keoghan), a strange teenager who has a link to Stephen's past. When Martin starts to impose his way further and further into Stephen's life, Stephen is forced into a terrible decision.  

I sometimes wonder whether I've seen the same film as other people, especially if it's been praised immensely highly. Here are some of the superlatives that have been given to The Killing Of A Sacred Deer: 'intense, powerful and unsettling', 'venomously funny', 'truly staggering', 'Colin Farrell is perfect', 'one of the finest performance of Nicole Kidman's career'. These are on the poster to advertise the film and some of them are from reputable newspapers. I tend to ignore reviews (because ultimately it's all subjective) but, if I'd been swayed by any of these comments to sit through this tremendous load of old crap, I'd be feeling massively shortchanged. 

Let me unpack some of these statements. 'Intense, powerful and unsettling' (two out of three ain't bad; definitely intense and definitely unsettling- all the characters seem damaged or messed-up in one way or another); 'venomously funny' (I don't think I laughed once); 'truly staggering' (yes, it is staggering; staggering that this film is getting such fulsome praise); 'Colin Farrell is perfect' (he really isn't); 'one of the finest performance of Nicole Kidman's career' (it really isn't; she was better in Batman Forever).

I don't know what irked me more: the fact that everyone seems to speak in a fairly even, dull monotone even in moments where you think they'd be showing some emotion (only twice do either Stephen or Anna break down under the strain of the situation), the incredibly discordant and shoddy sound mixing- where portentous tones suddenly blare over scenes- which actually gave me a headache, or the crashingly implausible moves that Stephen makes as the story becomes more and more ludicrous. 

I'm going to get spoilery now because there's no other way to demonstrate exactly how ridiculous I found this film. Aboiut halfway through the film, Bob starts to get ill. At the hospital, Martin tells Stephen he has to kill either Anna, Kim, or Bob to balance the scales from Stephen killing Martin's father in surgery years ago otherwise all three of them will die of a mystery illness that first paralyses theim, makes them stop eating and then bleed from the eyes before they die. The next shot sees Martin being escorted from the hospital by security. At no point do they ever consider calling the police. There's also no explanation of how Martin has made the children ill (because Kim soon succumbs to the paralysis); all medical tests come back negative. It's utterly ridiculous to think that anyone with a scintilla of common sense would go along with the lunatic plan rather than call the teenage psycho out.   

Frankly this decrepit piece of horseshit has already stolen two hours of my life, and I'm loathe to give it any more of my time. There's an interesting idea buried amongst the pretention but writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos doesn't utilise it. A major disappointment.

Rating: 1 out of 5