Benjamin review

Simon Amstell’s feature debut, Benjamin, is a subtly funny, deeply romantic picture starring Colin Morgan and Phenix Brossard. Led by a powerhouse performance from Morgan, the film explores the idosyncracies of twenty-somethings in the creative industries in London in classic Amstell fashion.

At its core, Benjamin is a romantic character study interested in the unsaid. Exploring what constitutes art (and what inspires it, too), the film gently and playfully mocks the industry it focuses on. Interested in the formation of relationships, Amstell shakes off unrealistic displays of romance and instead grounds the film in everyday examples of love; the kind you can relate to. The kind you might have experienced.

It feels like a personal narrative for Amstell, who has spoken openly in interviews about his own experiences as a gay man navigating relationship territory. Indeed, Benjamin‘s mannerisms are comparative to Simon’s, as is his dry humour and awkward quality. These traits only endear us to the titular character more, as we watch his relationship with Phenix Brossards’ Noah blossom.

Brossard and Morgan share an enigmatic chemistry, both are a joy to watch. They share porridge, take mushrooms and wash each other’s hair. They support one another’s creative ventures. They both feel fear at the strength of their feelings. This is not an exploration of unchartered territory but instead a film interested in honest, innocent love and one that understands the complexities of it.

Joel Fry co-stars as Benjamin‘s best friend Stephen, a struggling comedian battling with depression. The scope of male friendship is explored in a manner both unobtrusive and moving, but Fry isn’t present enough and the short run time doesn’t leave space to explore his story more. However, this is just one small gripe and the feature, as a whole, is beautifully shot and refreshingly original in its take on modern love.

Simon Amstell, known previously for his cut-throat comments on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, shows his penchant for warmth and wit – and it’s not at the expense of others. Simply yet powerfully crafted, Benjamin is a relatable tale of young love that will resonate with anyone who has ever had, or sought out, organic romance.

 

 

The King review

David Michod’s The King combines different Shakespeare plays to deliver a lengthy historical tale that is light on action but big on human drama. Timothee Chalamet flexes his acting muscles, which are many and varied, while Joel Edgerton lends humorous support as Falstaff.

Netflix’s The King has been highly anticipated. Boasting big names and an even bigger budget, its a cinematic gem in scope and talent but it lacks in emotional depth and spectacle punch, leaving the feature a little lacklustre in finish. Reviews have, understandably, been varied. Some love it while others loathe it. Michod is a celebrated director in the independent realm, delivering Animal Kingdom and The Rover which were both met with unarguable acclaim. Here, it’s as though the championed director is slightly out of his depth, delivering a narrative that is disjointed and clunky and, at times, hard to follow.

Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography is the treasure of the piece. Combining beautiful green landscapes with moody sunsets, the land becomes a character and one you can’t help but marvel over. The action is slim on the ground here but the one battle scene that does feature is suitably disorientating, shot in the murky mud of a French battleground. The camera comes in close, demonstrating the claustrophobic horror of 15th century warfare; both unforgiving and feral.

Many have questioned Chalamet’s validity as a leading man of this calibre, but here he shows himself as an actor of depth, one who can match the very best as he stands shoulder to shoulder alongside peers Ben Mendelsohn and Edgerton. Every performance is stellar, including the wonderful Sean Harris who’s star turn is a joy to watch.

While The King is too long and lends itself (if unintentionally) to genre cliches, terrific cinematography and talented acting save it from the depths of poor period drama.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool review

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a deeply moving story tracing the relationship between Peter Turner, a young Liverpudlian actor, and Gloria Grahame, an aging Hollywood star. Adapted from Turner’s memoir of the same name by Paul McGuigan, the film is a portrait of sincere companionship and unexpected romance, featuring Annette Bening in a career-best performance.

McGuigan’s film is charismatic, capturing the surreal glamour of Hollywood with clever visuals, and the immense complexity of Gloria Grahame, an Oscar-winning actress who, in 1981, was coming to the end of her life. Gloria’s character – brilliantly funny, entirely self-aware, and quietly vulnerable – is celebrated in this biopic; a film that is at times great fun, and at others undeniably sad.

Director McGuigan seamlessly weaves scenes together in an unconventional mode of storytelling, intelligently playing with the chronology of the story that charts the pair’s unique love. Grahame’s relationship with Turner – a man who was 20 years her junior – is the focus of the film, but beyond this surface story McGuigan focuses in on the idea of one person giving another a sense of home in a way that feels so familiar, so honest, and as a viewer involves you entirely.

Jamie Bell stars alongside Bening and the pair share a searing chemistry; not only depicting a deep romantic connection, but a sense of friendship often amiss in stories of this kind. The fact that this tale is true of course makes the emotional impact heavier, but McGuigan’s genteel exploration of Turner and Grahame’s relationship gives the film a sensitive quality that is genuinely effecting and totally absorbing.

The support cast are reliably brilliant, bringing in Stephen Graham and Julie Walters, alongside a swift, but no less memorable, appearance from Vanessa Redgrave. It’s not the star power that propels the film to great heights though, it’s the modes of storytelling McGuigan deploys to bring this compelling experience in Turner’s life to the screen.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a terrific feature which tells a truly fascinating story of life, love and death, and one that explores its characters with brilliant warmth. Simply fantastic.

Widows review

Steve McQueen adapts Lynda LaPlante’s iconic mini-series Widows, leaving behind London for inner city Chicago, tackling race, capitalism and contemporary America along the way.

Steve McQueen is a director who, through a handful of exceptional films tackling tough subjects, has cemented himself as one of the best filmmakers working today. From Hunger and Shame to 12 Years a Slave and, now, Widows – perhaps his most Hollywood effort to date – when news hits that McQueen is working on something new, there is a collective buzz among film critics and fans. So, with the release of Widows, an Americanised version of a very British 80’s drama series, we expect big things.

In Widows, Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) and his crew make money stealing from gangsters but their latest job goes wrong leaving their wives to pick up the pieces. Viola Davis is Rawling’s wife Veronica; a wealthy woman who, upon losing her husband, is left with nothing. Threatened by gangster-turned-politician Jamal, she recruits the other lost wives to pull off a heist laid out by Harry. McQueen unites a cast of superb actresses, supported by a handful of acclaimed actors, for a reimagining of Lynda LaPlante’s much-loved heist story. It’s a simple premise which delivers a fantastic twist, but something is slightly amiss.

The treat of the film comes with the cast. Oscar winner Viola Davis is exceptional as Veronica; a woman whose experiences with loss have left her cold and, ultimately, alone. Daniel Kaluuya is excellent as Jatemme, Jamal’s psychotic brother with a penchant for violence. It’s great to see him flex his acting muscles, playing a character who is truly awful, and believably so. The youngest of the esteemed cast, his role leaves a memorable mark, alongside Elizabeth Debicki whose character transforms her emotional vulnerability into a surprising strength. Michelle Rodriguez is cast against type; frequently known as a bad-ass heroine, here she is seemingly out of her depth as a young mother fighting for economic survival. The film establishes McQueen as a director fascinated with people, one who directs with such a fierce virtuosity and understanding of human nature.

Gillian Flynn’s screenplay is paired back and refreshingly realistic; there isn’t a trace of unnecessary dramatics, with the characters reacting to events in a wholly relatable fashion. Every aspect of the film comes together to make it a complete movie that is really rather excellent, but the genre detailing isn’t as fast-paced or exciting as expected and this ultimately leaves us with a sense of dissatisfaction come the end scene.

Carefully, considerately shot – with an ensemble cast of dreams – Widows is, as expected, a fantastic film, but when the final job comes it doesn’t quite deliver the genre punch we came for.

A Star is Born review

Bradley Cooper revitalises one of cinema’s best-loved romances, updating the story of an ageing rock musician and his relationship with a talented rising star with an emotional depth often amiss in romantic-dramas.

With the cinematic release of A Star is Born – a film that had been hovering in development with various directors and actors attached for some time – came a plethora of critical acclaim. That acclaim, widespread and enthusiastic, is not misplaced. Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut – an obvious passion project that he has poured his heart and soul into – is a confident film with songs featuring hair-raising live music scenes, moving adult drama, and knockout performances from a small ensemble cast.

Both Cooper and Lady Gaga are sensational, they share an electric on-screen chemistry meaning their relationship is believable and their shared scenes (essentially the whole movie) are a delight to watch. There are many (quite possibly too many) romantic films out there. None are quite as affecting as this one.a-star-is-born

Gaga gives an Oscar-worthy performance, fusing quiet confidence with a rising-star vulnerability that endears us to her and allows us to see beyond the veneer of her real life star persona.  Cooper directs with a curiosity for his characters and the music industry that takes us on a captivating journey. Morphing into haunted rock star Jackson Maine, Cooper gives a physical and emotional performance that is both memorable and tragic, and veteran Sam Elliott is terrific, supporting his co-stars with comfortable ease.

With A Star is Born Cooper explores timely themes with such gut-wrenching force it’s almost impossible to leave the cinema unmoved. The film’s power is in its ability to stay with you long after the credits roll and, this alone, is its true triumph.

Billed as a romantic-drama, A Star is Born is so much more, going beyond its genre to explore the music industry, masculinity and mental health. It might be the story’s fourth incarnation but it is also quite possibly its best. Superb.

The Predator review

The newest incarnation in the Predator series of films, which was first introduced to us in 1987, comes back to the big screen with bad language, bloody violence and a new set of characters that aren’t only forgettable because they don’t all have names (really), but because of choppy editing and one very hazy narrative.

In The Predator a team of rogue soldiers must band together to protect civilisation from a new kind of threat; an evolved Predator that travels to earth to reclaim a ship and wipe out the human race.

The Predator is Shane Black’s attempt at rebooting the franchise, but Nimrod Antal’s 2010 film starring Adrien Brody achieves much more: it’s well-acted, the effects are spectacular and the story isn’t convoluted. Black’s film has undoubtedly been messed with at editing stage and there’s no question that the director’s vision for the horror is not what we are seeing in the cinema.

The film’s big budget isn’t reflected on screen and a lot of the effects are questionable.  To the movie’s detriment CGI is favoured over practical effects and instead of epic moments of action (which is what we’ve all turned up for) a lot of these scenes pass by in a confusing flash. The moments of violence are bloody and 80’s inspired, but there are also one or two deliveries of poorly-timed humour attached to killing that just don’t fly.

No one turns up to the cinema to watch The Predator expecting sensational filmmaking, but a couple of hours of mindless fun is enough. And the film certainly is funny in moments, particularly early on when Boyd Holbrook meets his ragtag team of  reluctant heroes. The easy humour is lost as the film progresses and with a run time of 107 minutes it’s slightly too long.

It’s almost unbelievable to think Shane Black – the writer-director of The Nice Guys – could have had final say with this film, and, saying that, I don’t think he did. The Predator isn’t the all-out action we wanted, and it certainly isn’t a reboot to remember, but it serves a cinematic purpose with its attempt at old-fashioned fun that, when it works, is worthwhile.

 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review

In Martin McDonagh’s newest film Mildred (Frances McDormand), a mother grieving the murder of her teenage daughter, pays for three messages to be painted on deserted billboards. The messages question local Police Chief Willoughby’s ability to find the culprit and rile the small town, setting off a chain of bizarre and violent events.

McDonagh’s third film is a pitch-black comedy that hits you like a punch in the chest with shocking violence and dark wit. Three Billboards is certainly not for everyone, but those who do get it will simply adore it.

Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes.

The director and writer follows up indie-hit Seven Psychopaths with a feature of the same vein. Three Billboards is similarly blood-soaked and comedic, yet different in the unsuspecting warmth that creeps in among the dark cracks. Another star-studded affair, the film utilises its starry talent well and introduces the audience to some brilliant young new actors (Lucas Hedges is again spectacular).

The hype is real, folks. Frances McDormand is heart-achingly sensational as Mildred, a character whose former life is over and whose current life is ruled by grief, anger and quiet despair. McDormand is given free reign with this role as McDonagh allows her to explore her range, showing herself a true character actress. The results are nowhere short of magnificent. Giving an eye-watering performance that will go down as one of the best in history, McDormand is simply one of the greatest thespians to have walked this earth.

Three Billboards is a film of memorable performances. Every scene offers something to remember from another of Hollywood’s finest. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are both on top-form, the latter flexing his muscles as a racist cop with a true penchant for violence. Rockwell is often memorable, but here he’s something else, giving such complexity to a character who could otherwise be totally one-dimensional. Although the final scene feels initially abrupt and unfulfilling, the importance of the film as a whole creeps up after watching and banishes any initial disappointment.

Three Billboards is completely challenging but completely worth the watch. Wholly uncomfortable in moments yet giggle-inducing and downright silly in others, McDonagh has somehow created his own sub-genre, and may his spellbinding work as auteur continue on.