All the Money in the World

Cast: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: David Scarpa


It would be easy to watch All the Money in the World and assume that the story is essentially about the inhumanity and immorality of greed, but I think that would be a mischaracterisation. Although the Getty we see in this film is a tight-fisted miser whose heartless resolve to keep hold of his money while his grandson suffers defies any sense of empathy, I don’t think calling what he does simple greed gets to the heart of what this movie is really about. What this film is ultimately asking us to consider is what exactly it is that money does to a person and it chooses as its subject Getty, who at the time was not only the richest man in the world, he was the richest man in the history of the world. How does possessing that kind of wealth affect the way one thinks and sees the world? What kind of person does one have to become in order to manage the power, status, and exposure that come with it? How does someone with ‘all the money in the world’ value everything else in their life? Those are just some of the questions at the heart of this story.

Based on his biography Painfully Rich, the film focuses on one specific chapter in the life of J. Paul Getty (Kevin Spacey Christopher Plummer), the kidnapping of his grandson John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) in 1973. A ransom of $17 million is set, an amount that the 16-year-old’s mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) cannot even begin to pay. Having never asked her former father-in-law for a thing since divorcing his son John Paul Getty Jr. (Andrew Buchan), her only hope is to appeal to Getty for the ransom. Getty, despite being fully aware that the amount is mere pocket change to a man of his calibre, flat out refuses to pay so much as a penny. He does however employ Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), a former CIA operative and one of Getty’s top negotiators, to accompany Gail and investigate the matter to help secure his grandson’s release. As the media picks up on the story and the whole matter turns into a sensation, Getty III is kept hostage in a remote location in Italy where his precarious situation gets worse with each passing day.

In his portrayal of Getty, made all the more remarkable with the knowledge that he had mere days to prepare and play the role, Plummer holds nothing back. He is utterly ruthless and repugnant in his refusal to pay the ransom, but with just enough humanity that we can see where his pitiless, cold-hearted mind is coming from. There is a cruel, business-like logic to Getty’s decision as he argues that if he were to pay the full ransom without question, it would set a precedent that would make himself and possibly his family even more vulnerable. That doesn’t mean Getty is coming from a place of regard or nobility though, far from it. It comes from the unfeeling outlook he has accrued from having built his fortune. To him money is not money, it is power and influence. It is an extension of who he is and what he represents and it affects every deal, every relationship, and every interaction in his life. Getty’s understanding of the world, of people and of society has been shaped by his wealth and it has instilled within him this mind-set that everyone else is constantly after what it his. If he gives away as much as an inch, it will open the floodgates. Thus he guards his riches and status the way a dragon guards its treasure.

It’s for that exact reason that Getty was taken aback years before the kidnapping when Gail left her husband and walked away with the kids and nothing else. Having long believed that anybody who interacts with him is always working some angle or holding some agenda and is always trying to get something from him, it is a mystery to Getty in a way that is perfectly obvious to the rest of us how this woman could possibly walk away from his empire with no conditions save to be left alone with her children. Because Getty is the better known character and the meatier role in the film, it’s easy to overlook the stellar work Williams delivers as the frustrated, desperate mother trying to rescue her son. She exhibits a remarkable degree of restraint in her dealings with the icy Getty that is only just able to contain her clear loathing of the man, knowing full well that scolding and pleading with him will get her nowhere and that he must be handled tactically. It is a balance that Williams pulls off wonderfully, creating a character whom we entirely believe will do anything to save her son, including making a deal with the most greedy, ruthless businessman alive.

Scott has shown before that he can make a story as cinematic as anybody else, but here, apart from a couple of elaborate set-pieces, his directing style is restrained, perhaps in order to draw more focus on the actors and allow them to carry the story. In the hands of Plummer, Williams, and a couple of others (like Duris who is very good as one of the kidnappers) the story works well. Wahlberg is the weak link, playing the former CIA operative in a performance that is competent and nothing else. He says his lines and delivers his reactions well enough, but ultimately his character is a nonentity who fails to leave a lasting impression. The film also suffers from a monotonous middle act that plays some of the same beats a little too often and the balance between believable realism and Hollywood fantasy gets a little uneven towards the end with the way that the film places Gail and Fletcher in a precarious situation that they probably got nowhere near in real life (I had the same issue with the car chase at the end of Argo). Still All the Money in the World is all in all a solid film that’s well worth the watch for the fascinating character studies of Gail and Getty and for the intriguing insights offered about money, power, and compassion.

★★★★

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The Greatest Showman

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya

Director: Michael Gracey

Writers: Jenny Hicks, Bill Condon


The Greatest Showman is an upbeat, extravagant musical about love, diversity, and acceptance, centred on a man who was the antithesis of all those things. Far from the glitzy, broad-minded entertainer presented here, the real Barnum was a much more complex and questionable figure; someone who was known for being greedy, exploitative, opportunistic, dishonest, and cruel, and for having (at best) a problematic relationship with people of colour and ‘freaks’. This film brushes so much of Barnum’s darker side under the rug that it could only be called a biopic in the most liberal sense possible. But then, I think the filmmakers are aware of that. This film is so profusely romantic, fantastical, and sentimental that I don’t think any audience member is going to think of it as an accurate representation of Barnum any more than they would think of 300 as an accurate representation of Ancient Greece. Indeed, this story is so obviously phoney and is told in such a sensational way that, from that point of view, The Greatest Showman could be seen as the perfect representation of Barnum.

Barnum (Hugh Jackman) is a dreamer living within his humble 19th century means but is waiting for a chance to shine. He is married to Charity (Michelle Williams), the daughter of a wealthy family whom he’s known since childhood, and together they have two daughters. After losing his job as a clerk, Barnum takes out a loan to start a museum of wax figures, hoping to create a sensation that will take the world by storm. When sales prove meagre, he sets out to enlist individuals of unusual proportions, characteristics, and abilities, including the dwarf Charles Stratton (Sam Humphrey), bearded lady Lettie Lutz (Keala Settle) and African-American trapeze performing siblings Anne (Zendaya) and W.D. Wheeler (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), to add some life to the show. The show is a hit, despite negative press, and Barnum renames his museum ‘Barnum’s Circus’. Seeking to improve his reputation with the upper classes, Barnum recruits playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron) as his business partner and famed Swedish singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) as his star performer. As his success grows however, Barnum starts to lose sight of his family, both literal and metaphorical.

The story is crap, to put it bluntly. It is wholeheartedly transparent, eye-rollingly schmaltzy, and every single second of it rings hollow and feels fake. However, it is the most spectacular, vivacious, entertaining crap I’ve seen in a long time. This movie may not be the greatest show, but every member of the cast and crew sincerely believes that it is and their earnestness and effort shine through. The whole thing feel phoney, but not a single person who worked on this film was phoning it in. Every single song is sung, choreographed and shot as if it is the show-stopping number of the musical and the images and sounds throughout are simply teeming with life, imagination and feeling. There is a sense of purpose and clarity behind every shot in every sequence, even when they get as frantic and intense as Moulin Rouge, and there is always a strong attempt being made to utilise the props and sets to their fullest potential, from the tables, glasses, and stools in the two musical scenes that take place in the bar to the knotted rope hanging in the centre of the ring in Efron and Zendaya’s romantic duet. I can scarcely dream what this team might have accomplished with a story of actual substance.

Even when the film is at its most silly and sappy, each performer from the main stars to the background singers and dancers are trying so hard and so sincerely that it’s hard to hold it against them. Jackman is every bit the showman the movie wants him to be and is so charming and likeable, you almost want to forgive the film for his thin characterisation and unearned climatic redemption. Williams, Efron and Zendaya are all bright-eyed and vibrant in their roles and hold nothing back in their full embrace of the film in all of its glorious splendour and fundamental misguidedness. They’re just so darn enchanting and heartfelt that their lack of self-awareness only adds to their appeal. Humphrey and Settle, the latter of whom is a magnificent singer, do wonders in their small roles, as does Sparks, whose theatre critic character serves as a pre-emptive surrogate for all those critics who don’t ‘get’ the film and denounce it for its gaudiness and cheapness.

But The Greatest Showman is gaudy and it is cheap. As stunning and enjoyable as the style and performances are, it’s all to serve the weakest and shallowest of plots. The film wants to celebrate the outcasts of society and the way that show business can create a home for those who have been rejected by all else so much that it happily overlooks the exploitative qualities of Barnam’s character, portraying him instead as a child of poverty who identifies with the struggles the ‘freaks’ face in their everyday lives. Thus, when his ambition and pride cause him to neglect his wife and children and the makeshift family he has built, he must then be reminded of what’s really important in life, after which everything is fine and they live happily ever after. It isn’t about being historically accurate, it’s about being true to the hardships being depicted and the morals being conveyed and this film is far too one-dimensional and clichéd to offer any insights of actual worth. The Greatest Showman is a spectacle well worth beholding, but the showmanship is all there is.

★★★

Top 10 Films of 2017

Here are my 10 favourite films of 2017.

10. Baby Driver – Edgar Wright

Baby Driver

An irresistibly enjoyable film made by one of the most inventive directors working today. Bringing together the car-chase thrillers of Burt Reynolds and Steve McQueen and the classic musicals of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, Baby Driver is a splendid, song-filled joy ride from beginning to end. Telling the story deaf, baby-faced getaway driver trying to leave his life of crime behind so he can run away with his sweetheart, this is a film bursting to the seams with life and energy. Wright is on top form as he takes through Baby’s musical world with all the creativity and imagination he’s known for. In one scene where Baby is simply walking down the street to pick up some coffee, Wright matches his surroundings with the tone and tempo and song he’s listening to and lines him up with a variety of visual cues. By doing so he is showing us how completely in sync Baby is with the world around him and he brings them together in a perfect harmony. The story itself isn’t anything great, but who cares about that when you’ve got style, character, and heart? This movie has got plenty and it is a delight to sit through. This is an idea that should’ve definitely not worked, but those kinds of ideas are Edgar Wright’s bread and butter. Review here.

 

 9. The Death of Stalin – Armando Iannucci

The Death of Stalin

This was one of the funniest and most agonising movies I’ve seen in a while. Depicting the death of a man who was so feared by his own people that a simple request for a recording of a radio broadcast was enough to send a studio into pandemonium, The Death of Stalin finds humour in the terror and shows the chaotic, morbid aftermath for the horrifying farce that it was. Plots were schemed, backdoor deals were struck, and shots were fired, all in the interest of consolidating power in this tyrannical state where saying the wrong thing (or even appearing to) will get you killed before you can say “long live Stalin”. Even as Stalin lay their on the urine-soaked floor, nobody even dared suggest that he might need a doctor for fear that he would hear them, recover, and regard them as traitors for their lack of faith. It works because the characters do not realise that they are in a comedy, they are simply subjects of the pressures and anxieties of Stalinist Russia scrambling to get ahead of each other by any means necessary. They hatch their diabolical plans and exploit their hapless subordinates and the humour comes with the ever-rising absurdity, desperation and horror of it all. Iannucci assembles a first-rate cast and together they’ve deliver a comedy so unbearable you won’t know whether to laugh or tear your own hair out. Review here.

 

 8. War for the Planet of the Apes – Matt Reeves

War for the Planet of the Apes

I still cannot believe that a movie about sentient apes fighting a war against humankind ended up being one of my favourite films of the year, but here we are. It is the conclusion to an epic trilogy about evolution, survival, and humanity where it all builds up to an all out war between the humans and the apes, both of whom are fighting for their very existence. It is a costly war for both sides and, when Caesar ends up paying a price that is too terrible and tragic to bear, it becomes about nothing more than vengeance. So it is for The Colonel as well, a leader being confronted with the very extinction of his species and responding in the only way he knows how: blood, revenge, and death. Serkis and Harrelson are both excellent at playing these mirror images of each other, two men (so to speak) shaped by a lifetime of violence and misfortune who no longer have anything left to lost except their humanity. It is a brutal and deeply tragic war, more so because in the middle of it all we can see that the possibility for compassion and co-existence is there, if only things had gone differently. Review here.

 

7. Coco – Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina

Coco

Based heavily on Mexican folklore and culture, Coco marks a bigger departure for Pixar than usual, but one that works wonderfully. Through the story of a young boy with dreams of becoming a musician who ends up meeting his ancestors in the Land of the Dead, the film tells a moving, poignant tale about family and legacy and the power of music to bring people together. Like the best Pixar movies it is complex yet comprehensible, huge yet intimate, and fun yet emotional. It depicts the tale of a journey, again like all Pixar films do, one full of twists and turns, many of which you may very well see coming but which still feel no less touching or rewarding because of it. It captures a tone that you don’t see often in American films (never mind animated or Hollywood films!), one that assumes a distinctly Central-American point-of-view. With the way it expresses its views on spirituality and family, Coco feels like an honest representation of the culture it portrays as opposed to an Americanised version of that culture. The animation is breathtaking, the music is delightful, the performances are wonderful, there is no end to the list of what makes Coco great. It is Pixar doing what they do best: telling great stories to an audience of all ages.

 

6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Rian Johnson

The Last Jedi

After The Force Awakens played it safe with its revival of the epic sci-fi/fantasy saga, The Last Jedi has sought to take more risks and take the story into new directions. It was a bold move and I think it paid off. The Last Jedi does more than any Star Wars movie since the Original Trilogy to lead the franchise into uncharted waters and expand on the mythos in unprecedented ways. It harkens to the past and considers the role it does and should have on shaping the present before ultimately passing the torch and moving the story onwards into an unknown but promising future. Along the way it provides us with superb action, enjoyable laughs, and incredible character moments particularly where Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke are concerned. All three characters feel trapped and lost by the traumas of their pasts and through them the film is able to explore fascinating ideas around the themes of legacy, destiny, and redemption. With such sequences as the fight in the throne room and the showdown on the salt planet, The Last Jedi also triumphs as the best-directed, most visually magnificent Star Wars film to date. The Force Awakens left me feeling relieved about the future of Star Wars. Today, The Last Jedi has me feeling excited. Review here.

 

5. Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk

Probably the single most cinematic experience I’ve had this year, Dunkirk is truly something to behold. The scale of this film is epically immense and it is bursting with breathtaking images and earth-shattering sounds that will shake you to your core. Telling the story of the 1940 British occupation from Nazi-occupied France across three separate timelines, Nolan has constructed a masterwork in tension and suspense that perhaps not even Hitchcock could have believed. The movie picks up its momentum from the first frame and never lets it go for a second. Even when it appears that things have calmed down for some of the characters, we can never relax because we know that it’s just the calm before the next storm. There is very little of the brutal war imagery that you might have seen in the likes of Hacksaw Ridge, but the emotional turmoil that Nolan taps into through his characters is so agonising and dreadful that Dunkirk proves every bit as devastating as even the bloodiest, most barbaric of war films. And yet, in all of the film’s sheer range and scale, the humanity is never lost. You feel like you really are there with the characters, which makes you root all the harder for their survival. In the end, when the survivors do finally make it out, it’s almost like you’ve been holding your breath the entire time and now, finally, you get to let out a sigh of relief. Review here.

 

4. mother! – Darren Aronofsky

Jennifer Lawrence in Mother! Credit: Paramount Pictures

Honestly, I keep going back and forth on this one and I debated whether to include it on the list at all. On one hand it is a difficult film to watch; it is antagonistically inaccessible, often grotesque, and relentlessly inscrutable. On the other, it is a fascinatingly crafted and dreadfully compelling film that demands to be watched, analysed, and debated. In the months since the film’s release I’ve talked about mother! to numerous people and have yet to encounter a mild or indifferent take on the film. It is an extreme film and everyone who has gone to see it has had an extreme reaction, both positive and negative. Even my initial reaction, indecisiveness, was extreme. The more I’ve thought and read about mother! though, the less interested I’ve gotten in determining whether it is a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ film. It certainly has good aspects; Aronofsky’s direction and Libatique’s cinematography made for a visually engrossing experience and Lawrence was stellar throughout. What’s more important, to me anyway, is that mother! is truly unlike anything else I’ve seen this year (and most of what I’ve seen full stop) and it left me all at once astounded, perplexed, confounded, disgusted, traumatised, and deeply affected in a way that I cannot explain. I will take that over mild amusement any day. Review here.

 

3. Get Out – Jordan Peele

Get Out

Perhaps the most timely movie to come out all the year, Get Out is a film that needed to be released in 2017. It takes the story of a young black man meeting his white girlfriend’s left-wing, suburban family and turns it into a horror film. It’s a comedy as well, except the subject is so relevant to what’s happening in the USA today that you can barely bring yourself to laugh for fear you might cry. Peele displays an uncanny understanding of what it really means to be black in America today and he unpacks it here in a terribly clever way while still allowing the film to be enormously entertaining. It pays to rewatch this movie because it is only the second (or third, or fourth, or…) viewing that you start to appreciate the attention to detail in this meticulously crafted story with its subtle clues and expert use of foreshadowing. What is immediately apparent on the first viewing though is the eerie sense of dread and uneasiness that Peele is able to convey that takes us from the fish-out-of-water sensation that Chris feels in this setting to his increasingly overwhelming suspicion that something is seriously amiss. If I could only recommend one movie on this list to everyone, it would be Get Out. It’s too good and too important not to watch. Review here.

 

2. Logan – James Mangold

Logan

This was somehow both the Wolverine film I always wanted and didn’t know I wanted. It delivers all the R-rated cussing and bloodiness that the character has always needed to truly come into his own, but it also tells a profound, sophisticated story through the character that raises him to greater emotional and thematic heights than ever before and it provides an eye-opening commentary on the superhero movies as a genre. Logan was of course Jackman’s final outing as the mutant that made him a star and he has never been better. He is old, haggard and disillusioned and the father-figure who once inspired him is now a raving loony who can no longer control his immensely powerful and dangerous mind. When circumstances force him to escort a young girl to the Canadian border, the journey that unfolds is a turbulent one that forces Logan to confront the ghosts and demons of his past and challenges the superhero mythos that has developed in the 17 years since the first X-Men movie in a way that no other movie in this genre has ever done. The character work done with Logan, Laura and Charles Xavier is wonderful and the film’s deconstruction of superhero movies (the never-ending cycle of violence, the paradoxical morality, the inherent trauma of self-sacrificing heroism) makes it the best contribution to the genre since The Dark Knight. This is great and touching a swan song as you could possibly give a character this popular and iconic. Review here.

 

1. Blade Runner 2049 – Denis Villeneuve

Blade Runner 2049

The most visually stunning film of the year and also, I think, the most profound. A common mistake often seen in ambitious science fiction is this tendency to focus on complex, philosophical themes without taking the time to establish an emotional connection with the audience, resulting in a film that feels convoluted, self-indulgent, and empty. Blade Runner 2049 is an ambitious film but it is also a deeply moving one with great characters and a gripping plot, both of which add emotional stakes to the themes being explored. It takes the ideas of humanity and existence that Scott’s 1982 masterpiece explored so beautifully and expands on them in astonishing ways, aided in no small part by Deakins’ stunning imagery. Every single frame is a breathtaking work of art and the poetry they bring to the story being told is what elevated this film beyond all the others I saw this year. In the scene where K is approached by a giant hologram at his greatest moment of despair, I was moved not just by the beauty of the image but also by how it perfectly encapsulated the devastation and loss he feels in the face of the cost he has had to pay to get to the truth. It is a perfectly crafted film that tells a wonderfully constructed story. Review here.

 

Honourable Mention: Twin Peaks: The Return – David Lynch

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I could not in good conscience include Twin Peaks in my top 10 film list because it is, despite what Lynch himself says, television. Even so, I still want to take the chance to write about this 18-hour tour de force because I found it to be my most emotionally tumultuous viewing experience of the year. At times I loved it and at others I hated it. Sometimes I felt like I could see the order and meaning beneath all the madness and at others I found myself utterly baffled and completely lost. And yet, no matter how confusing, frustrating, or downright impenetrable this show got, I was captivated by every single second of it. Rejecting the rules of traditional storytelling, Twin Peaks is instead more like a composition of dreamlike images and sounds that follow their own internal logic and it is a series that defies categorisation and convention. Lynch has always been one of those directors who has never had any interest in straightforward narratives or playing to an audience and he has only gotten more cryptic with age. Here he takes countless unprecedented chances with the absolute confidence of a master and has created something truly new, strange and transcendent unlike anything else in the history of television. From the mystery of the Black Lodge to the silliness of Dougie Jones to the darkness of the atom bomb and the evil force it created, this was a wild rollercoaster of a series and was more challenging and confounding than anything I saw in the cinema, but also more fascinating and overwhelming.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale

Director: Jake Kasdan

Writers: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner


It’s been years since I’ve watched the original 1995 Jumanji with Robin Williams, but I remember it well enough. It was a fun movie with an original concept and in the years since I never felt like it warranted a sequel. What’s interesting about this new movie though is that it isn’t clear whether it is a sequel, a remake, a reboot, or whatever else Hollywood is making these days. You could watch this film and never know that there was another movie released two decades prior. I’m not even sure if the film was originally conceived as a Jumanji sequel; I would have no trouble imagining a scenario where one of the screenwriters envisioned a movie about teenagers getting sucked into a video game, upon which someone at the studio, realising they owned the rights to Jumanji, attached the name to the property so that they might profit from Hollywood’s obsession with recognised brands. Maybe that isn’t the case at all, but what impressed about this Jumanji sequel/remake/reboot was how well it stood on its own two feet.

The movie starts off in a high school where nerdy gamer Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), football jock Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), introverted teen Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner), and Queen Bee Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman), all end up in detention together. In the middle of the mess they must sort out they find a dusty 90s video game console with a cartridge for a Jumanji game attached. They decide to have a quick go, pick their characters, and are then suddenly sucked into the game. They find themselves sucked into the game where they have taken the forms of their avatars. Spencer is now the tough and muscular Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge is the short and feeble Franklin ‘Mouse’ Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha is the athletic and beautiful Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Bethany is the male, overweight, middle-aged Shelly Oberon (Jack Black). Realising they have been transported into the video game and that the most likely way out is to complete all the levels, they set out to obtain a stolen jewel called the Jaguar’s Eye and return it to its rightful place before the evil Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) can get his hands on it.

The body-switching trope of having these Hollywood stars play these teenagers is one that could have gotten old rather quickly if not for the commitment each star gives their role and the movie’s understanding of their character’s anxieties and insecurities. As far as teenage characters go, these ones are not as fleshed out as those in The Breakfast Club (or Power Rangers to give a more recent example) but they suffice for what is after all meant to be a fun action/adventure blockbuster. Dwayne Johnson playing a scrawny, nerdy guy who cannot believe that he now has The Rock’s body works very well, as does casting a great physical comedy actor like Jack Black as a vain, smartphone-addicted teenage girl. Kevin Hart does what he does and gets some laughs and Karen Gillan has some fun as a socially awkward girl who doesn’t feel at all comfortable in a slim body with skimpy clothing, but I do wish the movie had done more to challenge the stereotypes that she is mostly perpetuating. Still, these actors all play their roles so earnestly that it never feels like just a gimmick. There were definitely a few moments there when I actually believed that Jack Black was a teenage girl.

The action/adventure aspect is, I would say, serviceable. It does what it’s meant to do well enough. The story follows a simple video-game structure where the characters have to get through certain levels to get to their objective and along the way they’re able to learn the mechanics of the game such as the strengths and weaknesses of their respective avatars and how many lives they each have. Along the way they overcome obstacles and battle faceless henchmen and a generic villain (whether this is a meta comment on video games or just a typical Hollywood trope, I cannot tell), and in between they have some individual character moments, both comic and (sort of) dramatic. The action scenes are shot well enough that you never lose sight of where everyone is or what is happening, but at the same time you never really feel like the characters are ever in that much danger. It’s a given that these characters will all make it home in the end, so any sense of drama or suspense has to stem from their individual arcs and I didn’t find enough there for me to really invest myself in their survival. Unlike Power Rangers which made a huge effort to give its characters complex personalities and tough, relatable problems, the arcs for these characters feel pretty thin and easily solved in comparison. It isn’t bad, merely serviceable.

The movie is at its best when it’s focusing on the stars and letting them have some fun. Standout moments include Black strutting around and flaunting his chubby physique as he instructs Gillan in the art of sexiness and seduction and also Johnson slipping into his expression of smouldering intensity anytime someone says “smouldering intensity”. This movie didn’t have to be great in order to cash in on the Jumanji name, but it’s clear that a lot of thought went into this film to make it more creative and surprising than it needed to be. That the movie never once resorted to cheap, empty intertextuality, by which I mean relying on the recognisable brand of the Robin Williams film as a substitute for thrills and drama, is to be applauded. This sequel/remake/reboot did its own thing and it worked out fine. The actors are all clearly giving having a ball playing these characters and it is their charm and sincerity that kept me through to the end even when the concept and action started to wear thin.

★★★

Get Out

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield, Catherine Keener

Director: Jordan Peele

Writer: Jordan Peele


Get Out is one of those movies that works on so many levels in so many different yet complementary ways that it defies any easy categorisation or labels. It’s a comedy, but not in a laugh-out-loud sense. You can hardly bring yourself to laugh because of the horror of it all. Yet it’s not the kind of horror movie where you get an escapist thrill from the scares, because the story is far too relevant to the world we live in. It is a social commentary, but it is a wildly entertaining one that expertly delivers its message without beating us over the head with it. It is a movie made by a director with a deep understanding of the state of African-Americans in the USA today and talented enough to present that point in a way that is both enjoyable and terrifying. The most prevalent and iconic image in the film is that of a young black man crying. The film weeps for the world that made a movie like this necessary, and while watching it you won’t know whether to laugh, cry, or scream.

The movie follows Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a black photographer, who has been dating his white girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) for some months. He reluctantly agrees to accompany her on a weekend retreat at her suburban childhood home to meet her family, uncertain of how warm his welcome will really be. There he meets her neurosurgeon father Dean (Bradley Whitford), her psychiatrist mother Missy (Catherine Keener) and her brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones. Together they make a liberal, left-leaning white family who continuously make awkward comments about how totally cool they are with black people (“If I could, I would have voted for Obama for a third term” says Dean). Chris however starts to get the sense that something is really off about this place when he meets the family’s black employees Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel), both of whom seem eerily compliant with their roles of servitude. Chris shares his concerns with his best friend Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howery), who is convinced that something twisted and sinister is going on, and the longer Chris sticks around the more he starts to agree.

The premise then is that Peele has taken liberal, suburban racism, and turned it into a horror film. As a director he exhibits a fluent command over the language of horror cinema and is able to convey an uncanny sense of terror and paranoia in this seemingly innocent, vanilla setting. It’s in the way that the camera lingers on some people and things for just a little too long. It’s in the imagery that is just sinister enough to make us feel like something is definitely off about this place but is also subtle enough that we quite cannot quite put our fingers on it, like with the row of black cars full of white people arriving at the driveway. It’s in the downplayed, natural performances delivered by the actors that somehow make their characters seem all the more menacing. It’s the air of ambiguous dread that echoes movies like Rosemary’s Baby and The Innocents, where there is just enough peculiarity for Chris to be suspicious but enough doubt for him to think that he might be imagining it all. Then there’s the ‘Sunken Place’, an image that brings to life our protagonist’s greatest fears and anxieties and as nightmarish a symbol of suppression as there’s ever been in cinema.

The horror of course stems from racism in America, but here it isn’t all just the overt, conservative, aggressive brand of racism that has already been much explored in films by and/or about African-Americans and that has sadly received much publicity in the year since the film’s release. Here it extends to other facets of racism including that of society’s progressive, left-leaning side, which goes far beyond awkward white people trying to make innocuous conversation with black people to show them how open-minded and tolerant they are. Even when Chris is welcomed into his white girlfriend’s family with open arms, he can never feel at ease there because their behaviour and attitude towards him is founded on stereotypes and political correctness and, as he later learns, his situation is a precarious one that can be taken away from him against his will. The film also explores such themes as the representation of African-Americans in media and culture, black masculinity, racism’s roots in history and many others with such wit and creativity that it never for a second feels forced or banal. The way Peele is able to present the plot in an engaging way and interweave symbols that build on the story and characters while still connecting with something larger and relevant to out world is nothing short of masterful.

Get Out is such scary film, not only because of the larger implications of its story but also in light of all that has occurred prior and subsequent to its release, that it seems rather misleading to label it as a comedy. But that is what it is, just not in the same way as Life of Brian or Ghostbusters. Get Out is more like an episode of Black Mirror where the initial concept, once you fully realise what it is, seems absurd and laughable at first until you give it time to really sink in. There is very little in this movie that will make you laugh outright (apart from Howery’s much needed comic relief), but there are many that will give you the nervous, knowing kind of humour where you cannot bring yourself to laugh for fear that you might cry. Get Out is not just a wonderfully made, thoroughly absorbing, insanely clever film, it is a film that needed to be made exactly when and where it was made. It captures a snapshot of contemporary society that is so horrifying and uncomfortable you will not be able to look away from it any more than Chris can look away from his window into the outside world from the Sunken Place.

★★★★★

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro

Director: Rian Johnson

Writer: Rian Johnson


The reception The Last Jedi has proven to be rather divisive, perhaps more so than even the prequels, and I must confess that I myself wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. In that kind of situation I think it is important to consider what exactly it is you expect of a film such as this going in. With The Force Awakens for example, with the prequel PTSD still making itself felt, I went in hoping to see a movie that looked, sounded, and felt like the Star Wars I loved as a child. If that meant playing it safe and recycling plot points from the previous movies then so be it because I walked out feeling elated in the way that only Star Wars can make me feel. This time, with my child-like faith now restored, I hoped to see a movie that would take more risks and would take the franchise in new directions. The Last Jedi did exactly that and it caught me completely off guard the first time I saw it. On the second viewing I loved it more than I loved The Force Awakens.

The film picks up immediately after Episode VII with what’s left of the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (the dearly departed Carrie Fisher), fleeing the First Order. A counter-attack by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) allows them a chance to escape, but Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and his fleet remain relentlessly hot on their trail. After an attack led (but not executed) by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) leaves his mother incapacitated, Leia’s command is assumed by Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). Disapproving of her inactive strategy Poe, Finn (John Boyega), mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), and BB-8 concoct a plan to disable the device that allows the First Order to track their fleet through light speed. Meanwhile Rey (Daisy Ridley), having arrived on Ahch-To with Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and R2D2 in search of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), find him living there in a self-imposed exile, disillusioned by his own failures and with the teachings of the Jedi. It falls onto her to inspire Luke to complete her training and to help them save the Resistance from the wrath of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and the First Order before it’s too late.

Making a great sequel is a tricky thing, especially with an iconic property like Star Wars. It’s a matter of making things feel old and new at the same time; giving the audience what they want and also what they didn’t know they wanted. The Force Awakens did this by reviving a familiar story while throwing in new, compelling, likeable characters. The Last Jedi does this in a more challenging but ultimately more rewarding way. It harkens back to the past, sometimes nostalgically, sometimes humorously, and sometimes unsentimentally, and provides arcs for the characters that parallel what we’ve seen in the original trilogy, but it also builds on the new elements that were introduced in the prior instalment and allows the torch to be passed into the hands that promise to lead the franchise into an unfamiliar but promising future. The movie tackles themes of legacy and questions whether the past is something that we should allow to shape us and define us or if it is something that should be rejected so we may be allowed to decide our own futures. The answer, the film shows us, is somewhere in the middle and it is fascinating to see how the it gets there.

This is evident in Rey’s anguish over not knowing who her parents are and not knowing her place in the galaxy and in Kylo’s agony over destroying those for whom he cares in order to forge his own destiny, two arcs we get to see mirror each other wonderfully in the telepathic conversations they share. Both feel broken and lost and they find within each other the potential to overcome their past traumas and build a greater future for themselves (for light and for dark). Luke meanwhile, having already grown from a young and naïve dreamer to a learned and capable warrior, is now old, cynical and haunted by his past in a way that Rey can recognise but barely begin to understand. Hamill delivers one of the greatest performances in the epic saga’s decades-long history as a Luke who failed to live up to the promises of Return of the Jedi and has spent the years since punishing himself for it. The fulfilment of his arc at the end is moving and profound in a way that only a story told over several years with a reflective, poetic sense of theme and character can possibly be.

The film demonstrates far more interest in telling the story it wants to tell rather than playing to audience’s expectations (not least of which is its complete and total indifference for fan theories), and that can be understandably unfulfilling and even alienating for fans who deeply love this franchise and its characters. Those who love the hopeful ending to Return of the Jedi and the state of redemption and enlightenment that Luke is able to reach after all he’s been through might not be able to reconcile themselves with this disheartened, pessimistic Luke whose triumphs were defeated by his own failures. But if we truly want Star Wars to continue and evolve as a franchise, we must necessarily open ourselves to ideas and directions that go against our expectations, whether or not we ultimately agree with and embrace the road taken. Personally, I found the direction taken by The Last Jedi to be not only great but also true to the spirit of the franchise and to the characters in it.

The debate over whether The Last Jedi is the best or worst movie in the Star Wars canon is one that will continue to rage many, many years after we’re all dead, buried, and forgotten, but everyone can surely agree that this is the most visually stunning Star Wars movie ever crafted. The set-pieces we see such as Snoke’s throne room, dominated by a shade of red so dreadful and sinister it could’ve been lifted straight out of a Roger Corman film, or the climatic battle on the salt planet, where the white surface is brushed aside to reveal an under-layer of crimson, almost as if the planet itself were bleeding, are masterpieces of colour and composition. Another visual highlight involves a starship going into hyperspace in a way that is as blindingly striking as it is emotionally powerful (and it involves a character we only just met!). Johnson, in my eyes, has secured this movie’s position as the best directed Star Wars movie in the series not just for his inspired visual realisation but for how he handles the story as well. Using the lessons he presumably learned from his tenure on Breaking Bad, he unravels the story with the confidence of a director who trusts that the different plot threads will come together and that everything that has been set up will come through, even when it appears the movie has seemingly miscalculated and leads us down a worrisome path. It all pays off in the end and is all the more powerful for having been doubted by us in the first place.

There are imperfections, as there always have been with Star Wars. The quest undertaken by Finn and Rose feels like more of an aside than it does a major part of the plot (even if it does ultimately get them where they need to be by the time we reach the climax), there is an early scene involving Leia that I’m still not sure how to feel about considering her untimely death, and the resolution to the conflict between Poe and Holdo doesn’t really make much sense. However, after the film’s marvellous work of character development done with Rey, Kylo and Luke, the bold story, the stupendous action, the sharp sense of humour, and all the emotionally overwhelming moments that follow, I’d have been willing to forgive a lot more. This is a movie that fulfils the promise of taking this universe into uncharted waters, expanding on the mythology in unprecedented ways, and bringing a beloved chapter of this franchise to a satisfying close so that we might follow it into a promising and exciting future. It is also an enormously thrilling, funny, moving film that delivers all a Star Wars fan could possibly want and more. As I beheld the image of a sunset that recalled Luke’s last night on Tatooine before the start of his great adventure, I felt that same sense of wonder, sensation and awe that makes Star Wars so special.

★★★★★

The Disaster Artist

Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver

Director: James Franco

Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber


The Room is one of those movies that really has to be seen to be believed. It is a movie that fundamentally does not work on any conceivable level, and yet it is so remarkably unique, mesmerising and endlessly rewatchable. It is one of the great cinematic paradoxes; The Room is a terrible film, but it is also great cinema. If you asked the greatest director in the world to make the worst movie of all time, they couldn’t get any closer to making this film than Gus Van Sant could get to making Psycho. Genius (or maybe ‘anti-genius’ in this case) is something that cannot be replicated, it can only be imitated. There is something there behind the shots and between the edits that cannot be faked, a sense of effort and sincerity that only comes across when the artist truly believes in what they are making. With The Disaster Artist, James Franco takes us behind the scenes to show us what was really going on beneath it all.

The movie follows Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), the author of the book the movie is based on, as a young actor in San Francisco. At one of his acting classes he meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a strange-looking man with a weird accent who inspires Greg with his fearlessness. As soon as the two become friends, Tommy suggests that they move to Los Angeles to try and make it big. There Greg signs up with renowned talent agent Iris Burton (Sharon Stone) while Tommy gets turned down by everyone he approaches. Later he grows jealous of Greg as he enters a relationship with Amber (Alison Brie) and becomes more disheartened with every rejection. As Greg’s auditions start drying up, he reaches out to Tommy, who then decides to write, direct, produce, and star in his own movie. Thus he writes The Room, a drama in the vein of Tennessee Williams, and offers Greg a prominent part. Together they set about making this movie with the help of Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen), the script supervisor, and Raphael Smadja (Paul Sceer), the cinematographer. As the chaotic production proceeds and unravels, only Tommy seems blind to the horrendous quality of the movie they’re making.

The obvious comparison here is Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, a movie that celebrates the director who made another movie often proclaimed as ‘the worst ever made’. And ‘celebrate’ really is the right word because what made Ed Wood a great movie was the way it admired Wood’s passion, sincerity and optimism, even as it understood that the movie he was making was rubbish. That same feeling of admiration is present in The Disaster Artist. There’s a scene where Tommy and Greg stand on the sight of James Dean’s fatal car crash and are inspired to follow his example and show the world what they can do, no matter the obstacles. That scene is there because the movie doesn’t want us to laugh at these two for making a crap movie, it wants us to identify with them and root for them to make the movie that, for better or worse, would make them both stars. Tommy may be the Disaster Artist, but he is also a dreamer and it is clear from watching this movie just how much James Franco admires that dream.

Tommy Wiseau with his unidentifiable accent, ambiguous age, and vampiric demeanour is very much an enigma to those who’ve seen him and his movie, and one of Franco’s successes is finding the human being within that enigma. He still allows us to laugh at Wiseau’s strangeness because, to put it simply, he is a very strange person. He insists that he’s from New Orleans despite not sounding like anything from planet Earth, he appears to be infinitely wealthy but cannot seem to explain where the money comes from, and he claims to be the same age as the twenty-something Greg even though, well, look at him! He’s also at the very least sexually ambiguous and the nature of his feelings towards Greg are never made very clear but are enough to raise some red flags with those around them (what with the way he keeps calling him ‘babyface’ and all). There’s also a monstrous side to Wiseau that comes out in his attempt to be the next Kubrick or Hitchcock which Franco showcases in one particularly revealing scene where Tommy mistreats his co-star Julliette Danielle (Ari Graynor). Yet, beneath all of that, Franco is able to find a vulnerable, insecure side to Tommy, someone who wants nothing more than to be admired and celebrated. It is a wonderful performance.

There is tragedy to The Disaster Artist, but from that tragedy comes laughter. The movie Wiseau made may not have been received the way he’d hoped and he may not be the enigmatic, inspired auteur he wanted to be, but through all the heartbreak and humiliation he made a movie that has brought endless joy to millions of people all over the world. To see just how much of a cult following The Room has gathered, look no further than the number of celebrities who join Franco in his celebration. This includes the likes of Kristen Bell, J.J. Abrams, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Scott, and Kevin Smith, who all appear in the opening montage to discuss The Room and the impact it’s had, and also Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, Melanie Griffith, Hannibal Buress, and Bob Odenkirk, who all make cameos. It’s a movie which reminds us that there is inspiration to be found not only in the greatest successes but also in the greatest failures, and The Room might very well be the greatest failure in the history of cinema.

★★★★

Battle of the Sexes

Cast: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, Bill Pullman, Alan Cumming, Elizabeth Shue, Austin Stowell, Eric Christian Olsen

Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Writer: Simon Beaufoy


I know nothing about sports. I’ve never found them very interesting and before I saw this film I could not have told you who Billie Jean King or Bobby Riggs are. I do however like sports movies a great deal. I think this is because I’ve found that the best sports movies tend to be the ones that aren’t about sports at all. Rocky, for example, is more than a boxing movie; it’s an underdog story about heroism, greatness and the American Dream. Friday Night Lights is more than a TV series about high-school American football; it’s a moving drama about teamwork, faith and community. Battle of the Sexes understands this and that is what makes it worth watching. This movie is about more than a tennis match between a man and a woman; it’s about the much larger conflict between the two genders, the female struggle for equality, and the culture of sexism in modern society that remains prevalent to this day.

The movie dramatizes the events leading to the 1973 match between women’s tennis champion Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and self-proclaimed chauvinist Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) and follows both of their private lives. The story kicks off with Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman), Head of the Tennis Association, organising a tennis tournament that promises a $1,500 prize to the female champion and a $12,000 prize to the male champion. Offended by the shameless inequality, Billie Jean and Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) resolve to form their own tennis championship and take all the best female tennis players with them. Along the way Billie Jean finds herself falling for her hairdresser Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) and fears the effect this romance will have on her career and her marriage to Larry (Austin Stonewall). Bobby, himself a tennis champion as well as a gambling addict, takes notice of this public stance for feminism and sees the chance for his next big hustle. Proclaiming loudly his belief that a 55-year-old male has-been can easily beat the no. 1 female tennis champion in the world, he challenges Billie Jean to a one-time high-stakes tennis match for the entire world to see.

Being set four decades in the past, the film makes a strong effort to recreate the period and this extends to more than the costumes, hairstyles and music. This was a time period where a figure could take a public stance for chauvinism and be received with widespread applause and acceptance. Of course, this brand of sexism is still all too alive today, but it is no longer publicly accepted as a defendable position (only an excusable one in certain aggravating cases). By showing us this time in history where sports commentators, sponsors and organisers could openly and enthusiastically endorse and legitimise Bobby’s views with impunity, we can appreciate the Sisyphean task facing Billie Jean. She is being made to fight against a culture of archaic, frivolous notions of perceived superiority in a system that is rigged against her. ‘Battle’ is the appropriate word because it is very much a fight and it is one that rages on to this day. That’s why I wish the film hadn’t felt quite so superficial. The way it portrays Billie Jean and her struggles is done very well, but it feels a little disingenuous to show just how harmful Bobby’s views were and then to write him off as a harmless clown.

There are echoes of Falstaff in Carell’s portrayal of Bobby as an ignoble but lovable scoundrel, a hustler without honour or shame but more than enough charm to win people over. It’s a good, likable performance, but I cannot help but feel that making him likeable and even sympathetic goes against what the film is trying to stand for. Sure, it is important to show that there are two sides to any story, but that doesn’t mean the film cannot take a harsher view of Riggs and his sexist attitude the way it does to Pullman’s one-note villainous role. Stone as Billie Jean meanwhile is splendid. In contrast to Bobby’s assertive showmanship, Billie Jean is totally averse to the spotlight. She is shy and awkward but has a quiet determination that Stone showcases wonderfully. Her anguish over being torn between a man and a woman, both of whom care for her deeply in their own ways, is powerful and is well aided by Riseborough’s strong performance as the love interest who actually feels like an authentic, three-dimensional character rather than a typical movie love interest.

Battle of the Sexes is engaging and enjoyable and is a good movie. It makes a good use of its ensemble (apart from Pullman and Shue who are both given dull, simplistic characters), the story insofar as it focuses on Billie Jean is engaging and inspiring and the tennis match at the end was thrilling in a way that normal tennis matches never are for me. My only real issue is that it provides us with the safe Hollywood version of a story that could have been something deeper and more provocative. I get that this is meant to be a feel-good movie and that the movie wants to make use of Carell’s charm and comedic talent by showing Bobby Riggs to be a mischievous but likeable goofball who doesn’t really mean the rubbish he spouts and is just looking for his next big gambling fix, but it just feels a little inoffensive and insincere. If you take this movie for what it is, it’s fine; it’s good fun and worth a watch. I was just hoping for a movie that would dare to be as bold as its protagonist.

★★★★

Suburbicon

Cast: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Oscar Isaac

Director: George Clooney

Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney, Grant Heslov


Cinema is an art and the films that get made are inherently reflective of ourselves and the world we live in, which is why movies cannot help but be political and social constructs. Whether it’s done actively or passively, all movies are affected by the societies that shaped them and are indicative of the principles and values of their own time and place, whether it’s confirmation, opposition, indifference or ignorance. This applies whether it’s done well or badly and that brings me to Suburbicon. Clooney has been one of the most actively political American actors and directors of recent years and he has been successful in conveying his liberal beliefs in films such as Good Night, and Good Luck and The Ides of March. Here he tackles the difficult but important subject of race politics, a topic that has never seen much prominence in his filmography. Although I believe his intentions were honest and sincere, Clooney’s handling of the subject is problematic (to say the least).

Set in the 1950s, the film takes place in Suburbicon, a rural neighbourhood with a ‘diverse’ range of white residents. This peaceful community however is shaken up by the arrival of an African-American family who, despite being perfectly pleasant and agreeable people, are received with nothing but harassment, abuse, and scorn. So focused is everyone on their outrage against the Mayers family that nobody notices the dark dealings of the house adjacent to it, that of mild-mannered family man Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon). His house is broken into by two robbers, Sloan (Glenn Fleshler) and Louis (Alex Hassell), and he is taken captive along with his wife Rose (Julianne Moore) and son Nicky (Noah Jupe). Rose subsequently dies from an overdose of chloroform and so her twin sister Margaret (also Moore) steps in to help Gardner and Nicky rebuild their lives. Nicky however suspects that something strange is going on as his father and aunt start being suspiciously in the aftermath of the attack. His sentiments are shared by Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaac), the insurance agent brought in to investigate their case. As the case becomes more complicated and messy, so does the conduct of the white supremacists terrorising the Mayers become more aggressive.

What we essentially have here are two parallel narratives which work neither as parallels nor as narratives. The intention, I imagine, is to put a spotlight on the twisted and evil deeds of white people that go unnoticed because everyone else is looking in the wrong direction due to blinding racial anger. That would be fine if Clooney was prepared to completely invest the film into the characters of the Mayers family and fully explore their plight, but he fails to do so. We never learn the first names of Mr. (Leith Burke) or Mrs. Mayer (Karimah Westbrook) and the film never illustrates their discernable personalities or inner lives to us. They are there to serve as symbols of the African-American community in Clooney’s satire of 1950s racism. By taking this approach there is an implication that this kind of behaviour is a thing of the past, that it isn’t still going on in Charlottesville and other similar places. That may not have necessarily been Clooney’s intention, but by portraying these events by way of parody and depicting the effects on the black family not through their own eyes but rather the eyes of the white main characters, I cannot help but find the movie’s treatment of racism to be outdated.

The other narrative, which Clooney adapted from an abandoned Coen Brothers screenplay, concerns Nicky and the increasingly precarious situation growing in his house. Clooney, despite being a frequent collaborator of the Coens, proves unequal to the task of replicating their unique black noir tone and has instead made a movie that is neither funny enough nor dramatic enough to make the material work. There is no energy in his direction or in Damon’s and Moore’s performances, and so the story unfolds at a steadily stale and stolid pace. Gardner and Margaret are both extremely unpleasant people, as is often the case with the Coen Brothers’ characters, but neither the director nor the actors can bring enough humour, appeal or life to make them at all enjoyable, relatable or memorable. Isaac does better as a shrewd investigator with an uncanny nose for bullshit, but not enough to save the film.

The movie is earnest and well-intentioned, but that just isn’t enough in 2017. This movie takes the real-life story of an African-American family who suffered the horrid persecution of white America and trivialises it. The event is distanced from the audience as a laughable relic of the past, it plays second fiddle to a far less interesting story, and its effects are felt not by the victims but by the white family next door. This kind of movie is patronising for black viewers and undemanding for white viewers. If a white filmmaker wants to take on the weighty subjects of racism, hypocrisy and white privilege, it’s not enough for them to acknowledge that they (white people) understand that these things exist, especially when the movie in question is the product of an industry historically and overwhelmingly dominated by white men. Movies like this need and demand to be more challenging, more inspired and more truthful. Suburbicon is the product of a filmmaker who either didn’t know or couldn’t decide what story he was trying to tell and it falls far too short of whatever good intentions he may have had.

★★

Justice League

Cast: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons

Director: Zack Snyder

Writers: Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon


The DCEU does not have the best track record. Between the four movies that have been released so far they have all suffered from some combination of messy storytelling, overreliance on darkness as a substitute for drama, conflated self-importance, unfocused and clashing tones, lack of humanity, and fundamentally misguided acting choices made by a couple of certain castmembers in villainous roles. Even the inspiring, colourful, focused, refreshingly superb Wonder Woman wasn’t able to avoid all of these trappings as a couple of them seeped their way into the third act. Thus we come to Justice League, the movie it’s all been building up to. It’s been a long and turbulent journey getting here and through all the highs and lows, after all the disorder, disappointment and division, Warner Bros. has beaten the odds and created a superhero team up movie that turned out miraculously okay.

As the world mourns the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) learns that a global threat is imminent and executes his plan to form a team of extraordinary people. Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) joins his cause after receiving a warning from her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) about an attack on Themyscria by the ancient villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds). While Wayne sets off in search of Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), an aquatic being from Atlantis, and Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), a young man with superhuman speed, Diana tracks down Victor Stone (Ray Fisher), whose body is more machine than man. They learn that Steppenwolf is searching for the three Mother Boxes, prehistoric devices of immense energy hidden all over the world. As Batman attempts to bring what will become the Justice League together however, he finds that he isn’t able to inspire them in the way that only Superman could have done and fears that they will not be able to save the world unless he can find a way to unite them.

‘Okay’ is not the word I want to use to describe a Justice League movie but, after the example set by the prior DC movies, I’ll take okay where I can get it. There are issues with the story as there have been with every other instalment (to varying degrees), but there are also two saving graces: the characters and the tone. The film does struggle to find the right balance between focusing on those characters we’ve already met, namely Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman (it’s not a spoiler to say that Superman returns (Henry Cavill’s name is on the poster) it’s only a spoiler to say how and when), and focusing on those we’re meeting for the first time, namely Aquaman, the Flash, and Cyborg. It works though because the characters are all likeable and enjoyable to watch. Affleck continues to shine as a Batman whose cold-heartedness in Batman vs. Superman has been tempered, humbled even, by his awe over Superman’s sacrifice and his guilt for the role he played. Gadot is also once again stellar as Diana as she provides the league with its moral centre and a bit of a motherly presence as the combative and often childish acts of the guys often forces her to be the level-headed one (but thankfully not in a way that does a disservice to the character).

Meanwhile the new guys on the block do their best with what they’re given. The Flash is essentially there to provide comic relief through one-liners, bewildered reactions, and just general eccentricity. It’s hit and miss, but when it hits it really does hit. Aquaman has a couple of cool moments and brings enough appeal and attitude to the role that when he butts heads with Batman it doesn’t feel like conflict for its own sake, it feels authentic. The triumph of Miller and Momoa is making their respective characters interesting and entertaining enough that I actually want to see them carry their own movies. The downside is that Cyborg is mostly sidelined to make room for these characters despite being key to the film’s climax. As for Superman, Cavill is finally allowed to use his charm and charisma to play the Man of Steel the way he was meant to be played. I still think the decision to kill off Superman was a fundamentally stupid one, but Cavill’s performance was so good that I now find myself excited about the character’s future.

With the divisive reception of the previous non-Wonder-Woman DC films, the DCEU has put itself through a lot of self-correcting and, while I can’t say that Justice League was a fantastic movie, it did feel like a definite step in the right direction. A major part of this self-correction has been with the tone and with Justice League, Warner Bros. is ever closer to capturing that tone where it can be serious and funny without coming across as pretentious or childish. There are some scenes that hold real emotional weight, as when Batman shares his private fears and anxieties with Wonder Woman or when Superman is briefly reunited with Lois Lane (Amy Adams). Then there are some genuinely funny moments as we witness the banter and conflicts that ensue between this unlikely collection of unlikely characters (Aquaman’s accidental use of the lasso of truth is a highlight). More than that, there were even a couple of moments that I found truly awesome and exciting (my favourite is one that I cannot go into because of spoilers but basically it involves Superman turning his eyes in slow-motion).

Justice League is not the gamechanger that The Avengers was and is by no means a great film. The villain is as bland and forgettable as the MCU’s were at its most unremarkable, the movie relies on clichés and routine dialogue to get things moving, and the third act is about what you would expect. There are also a bunch of big ideas and themes, something that the DCEU has always been much more interested in pursuing than Marvel, that don’t quite get the development they need. The idea of Superman’s death leading the world to a place of despair where the people feel like all hope is lost and where the darker side of humanity is able to roam free without the presence of this benevolent, god-like symbol of truth, liberty and justice to keep it in check is one I would’ve liked to see more of. Still, I’m glad that I saw this film. Even though Wonder Woman is far and away the stronger film, it was so divorced from the other DCEU movies that it could pretty much be regarded as a standalone. This movie had to build something on top of the mess that the other films had left and that, along with a tempestuous production that saw Whedon take over directorial duties when a personal tragedy forced Snyder to drop out, was no easy task. Justice League is a studio movie through and through, where each and every detail has been calculated according to charts and demographics, but a part of me feels like Warner Bros needed to make this movie as a way of decisively bringing this chapter of the DCEU to an end and allowing themselves to start a new one on a new, blank page. Now, much like the people of Earth at the end of this film, I finally feel hopeful about the franchise’s future going forward.

★★★