Film Review: Red Sparrow (2018)

I had high hopes for this movie. I like a good spy yarn, and done well they can make really great movies.

Jennifer Lawrence is pretty good, her character’s story is credible, although there’s little in terms of backstory to explain why she is who she is. She has inherent skills and attitudes crucial to her survival, but we never really find out how she got them.

Watching the film I was frequently reminded of Inception: the plots within plots within plots, such a staple of Cold War-type stories, is done here too clumsily, without any tangible cause and effect. The writer and director drag us along a twisting road, only showing us the what, never the why or the how.

A couple of times watching the film I realised I had lost the thread of the story, and couldn’t work out if Dominika was good or bad, if I should root for her or against her.

I think it fair to say that the writers boxed themselves in with the twists and turns, and the Deus ex Machina expose at the end was required to quickly tell (not show) us the missing why and how.

Overall, a disappointing film that with more subtle and skilful writing / direction could have been wonderful.

I give this film: 6/10.

Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2018)

Many reviewers describe Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri as a dark comedy, indeed the poster borrowed for this review calls it “Darkly Comic”. I don’t think so: it’s an emotional rollercoaster, but one that delivers hyped-up, intensified emotions rather than rich emotional experiences. But it delivers them well.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film, the performances by Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell in particular are great. The plot thunders along, twisting and turning with a skill so well honed that it barely registers at the time, and only on reflection after the film closes do you have time to think what the hell?

Because of that, there is a certain detachment: you never get enough time to properly engage with your emotions before you are forced into a contrast. You start to cry, then you are forced to laugh before the tears come; you feel anxious, but elated before fight-or-flight can kick in.

This is a film of extremes: one minute you feel the excruciating pain of a mother who has lost her daughter in such horrible circumstances, the next you laugh at the ridiculous racism and stupidity of Rockwell’s Dixon.

The sheriff is a tragic character, played particularly well by Harrelson. We feel contempt for his apparent red-necked laziness at the start, more Boss Hogg than Tom Bell it seems, but we learn about his complexity, the pain (literal and emotional) he struggles with throughout the film, and end up if not respecting him for it, at least understanding it.

This movie is a demonstration of the art of film making, a great piece of cinematography; whether or not the wild twists make it your cup of tea you will have to decide for yourself.

I give this film: 8/10.

Film Review: Darkest Hour (2018)

Darkest Hour tells the story of Winston Churchill in 1940 as he tries to gain support within Westminster for a firm stand against Hitler and the Nazis.

Gary Oldman is outstanding as Churchill, and has the benefit of a great cast around him, particularly Kristen Scott Thomas.

Set against the backdrop of the collapse of the BEF and the subsequent retreat to Dunkirk, there is a real sense of the fragility of Britain’s position in those dark days, and how we came so very close to invasion and defeat.

The film does have its weaknesses, although only a few. There is a cringe-worthy moment where Churchill takes the Tube, and equally cringe-worthy suggestion that the Churchills were going broke in 1940. When Clementine exclaimed that they will be unable to pay their bills, Winston suggests he will cut down to one cigar a day. This doesn’t exactly paint the picture of a man of the people.

Born in Blenheim Palace, Winston bought the Chartwell estate in 1922, where he lived until his death. Chartwell was sold to the National Trust in 1946, with Churchill retaining a life tenancy.

This is a fantastic film, one that I greatly enjoyed even with the reservations above. I give it 8.5/10.

Film Review: Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther is yet another movie in the MCU franchise. I’m not one for the MCU generally, as with Transformers I think the first in a series is often great, but the sequels are generally poor. MCU and Transformers are high-budget, low-brain movies, mostly about special effects and big bangs.

Black Panther definitely shares some of those problems, but as the first outing of this new franchise I think it was done well enough. The story is well paced, the characters are interesting, and it’s skipped-over backstory and technology-from-nowhere (where are the factories?) doesn’t detract from an action packed story.

It is though, standard superhero fare: unassuming hero, initially unwilling, rises to the challenge of greatness, overcoming his nemesis along the way. There is the obligatory big battle scene at the end, although it was actually more entertaining than others in the MCU stable.

I enjoyed it more than most MCU films I’ve seen, so I’d give it an easy 6/10.