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The Beguiled (Review 2)

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Director: Sofia Coppolla

Stars: Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Colin Farrell

Released: 14th July 2017 (UK)

Reviewer: Ren Zelen

I remember watching the original 1971 Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood version of The Beguiled on late-night TV while myself at an impressionable age, and being drawn into its sweaty, sinister Southern Gothic atmosphere of lurid emotion, (and who could out-do Geraldine Page in the lurid emotion stakes?). It reeked of repressed and vaguely deviant sexuality and opened with Clint Eastwood’s character planting a kiss on the lips of the surprised 12-year-old girl who rescues him.

Sophia Coppola’s version of The Beguiled eschews the less palatable sexual overtones and cools down the hothouse histrionics. Her school is not portrayed as a prison of sexually-frustrated vixens, but rather a place where lively girls are isolated, constrained and mind-numbingly bored.

Her film is transplanted to Virginia and is graced by images of stately Southern mansions, moss-draped trees and wildly overrun rose gardens. Coppola, (who also wrote the script) sticks to the basic story of the 1971 version (and Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel A Painted Devil), but her characters behave more rationally, at least for a while.

The story begins 3 years after the secession, when 11-year-old Amy (Oona Laurence), is out gathering mushrooms in the Virginia woods. She stumbles upon Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell), an enemy Union soldier with a severely wounded leg. Being a kind-hearted, Christian child, Amy helps him limp back to the sprawling house that is the girls’ seminary in which she resides, and summons the headmistress – the coolly-collected Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman).

Most of the seminary’s students have gone home because of the war, but 5 girls remain, stranded by the danger of returning to their own war-torn hometowns in the South. The oldest of these girls is Alicia (Elle Fanning), bored to tears by dull routine and eager for flirtation and seduction. Apart from the headmistress, one teacher also remains, Edwina Morrow (played by Kirsten Dunst, all quiet despair and resignation).

The residents first consider turning Cpl. McBurney over as a prisoner to any passing soldiers, but appealing to ‘Christian charity’ they vote to first bring him inside and tend to his wounded leg, lest he bleed-out and die on their porch.

Miss Martha puts him under with chloroform, cleans his nasty wound and stitches it up. Then, while he’s still unconscious, she strips him, and with only a small cloth covering his modesty, she gives him a bed-bath. She trembles as she wets and rubs his body, pausing to take deep breaths to calm herself and mop her gently perspiring brow – it makes for an amusing, but also a delicately erotic scene.

Although they are Initially fearful of an enemy soldier, relations between McBurney and the women quickly improve. He addresses all with chivalrous Irish blarney – particularly the matter-of-fact Miss Martha, the quietly dutiful Edwina, and the precociously flirtatious Alicia – who decides to sneak down to his sleeping place on the very first night, and kiss him.

It gradually becomes clear that McBurney (who’d taken a bribe of $300 to replace another man in the army just as soon as he’d got off the boat from Dublin) has found himself in an ideal situation – surrounded by well-mannered but bored girls. He determines to charm them into letting him stay rather than go back to the army, which he would prefer to avoid at all costs.

No-one does untrustworthy and disreputable quite like Colin Farrell, and over time, he’s got it down to a fine art. His Mc Burney is cunning, and starts to trifle with the affections of various young women. His mistake is to hedge his bets and play the field, a strategy that never ends well.

Coppola’s The Beguiled is handsomely filmed and presented – ghostly moss and mist hang heavily over the trees, the colours are tastefully subdued, the edges of the frame are slightly darkened like old photographs. We are given the image of a decaying Confederacy clinging onto its outmoded values, its social niceties and notions of ‘Southern hospitality’.

The social strictures of the women require them to remain clean, pretty and genteel – to sit in the drawing room considering their embroidery while the sound of cannon fire booms on the not-so- distant battlefield and black smoke rises visibly beyond the trees. All they can do is read the bible, pray, hide their provisions from any passing thieves, and stay out of sight of any passing males in case they awaken unwelcome, violent lusts.

Despite its gorier aspects, the film was punctuated by laughter from the audience several times. There is dark comedy. Sometimes the film plays out like a counterpart to Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire -where several men jockey for position as the Alpha male to impress a single woman. Here, several females try to gain ascendance in the affections of one male. Both these scenarios offer tellingly satiric scenes, mortifyingly revealing the competitive antics of either gender in the realm of sexual attraction.

Kidman, again plays one of those roles she is good at – a repressed, rather brittle woman, but her performance here is one which does not portray her character as a prig, it is subtler and more rounded – a part of her is attracted to McBurney, but she also wants to get him to heal quickly so that she can be rid of his disruptive presence. She is a Christian woman trying to make right-headed choices in order to keep her charges safe.

McBurney’s betrayal and its fall-out destroys the social equilibrium and sets in motion a sea-change in the demeanour of all the participants.  As a revenge drama the film is rather vague – the climax comes across more as an act of desperate self-preservation and an attempt to regain control of a situation.

The Beguiled instead offers the wickedly cathartic pleasure of seeing a cowardly and narcissistic man with few scruples get retribution, perhaps as a symbol for the sins of all scheming, controlling men? In that sense, Coppola’s story might be seen as a timely parable for today’s times.

Editor-in-Chief of Movie Marker. Likes: Scorsese, Spielberg and Tarantino Dislikes: The film 'Open Water' I mean, what was that all about?

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Movie Reviews

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ★★★★

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Released: 20th July 2018

Directed By: Ol Parker

Starring: Lily James, Meryl Streep, Cher, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

The iconic Swedish pop group said ‘Thank You For The Music!’. An overjoyed studio said ‘Thank You For The Box Office!’.

Sure. Pierce Brosnan singing ABBA’s SOS had a hint of the Borat (Sorry Sacha!) about it. But the summer of 2008 bared witness to a cinematic juggernaut in ‘Mamma Mia’, a jubilant jukebox musical whose sense of joy and fun proved irresistible for audiences. Considering life’s too short. Ten years on we return to the sumptuous setting of Kalokairi Greece with ‘Here We Go Again’, as the sequel fleshes out the timeline, remaining keen to create more cinematic memories.

Content with her unorthodox triple father situation in Harry (Colin Firth), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Sam (Pierce Brosnan). Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) fierce determination to honour her mother Donna’s (Meryl Streep) dream of renovating her surroundings into a lavish hotel, coincides with the severe turbulence she’s enduring in her ongoing relationship with Sky (Dominic Cooper).

Increasingly doubtful of her own capabilities. The dynamo duo of Christine Baranski’s Tanya and Julie Walters’ Rosie look to bolster her confidence by delving into Donna’s past, as Lily James’ enthused younger incarnation of the character guides us through her eventful youth with the dungarees intact, reliving her initial encounters in 1979 with Sophie’s dads (Hugh Skinner/Jeremy Irvine/Josh Dylan).

Previously unapologetic in its ramshackle charm and high camp. Director Ol Parker to much relief resists applying restraint to its energetic, big-hearted song and dance numbers, whilst technically and narratively tightening up the deficiencies that perhaps plagued its 2008 counterpart for the purists, with a sharper focus on emotional engagement. As a result, it may not be as quick to overwhelm us with its blindingly sunny disposition like its predecessor, occasionally labouring in its first half with its time-hopping.

Yet when those glorious highs arrive like a new take on ‘Dancing Queen’ and Cher’s stellar firework-heavy rendition of ‘Fernando’, whose cameo evoked hearty cheers in the screening i was in. They are now armed with a poignant and reflective slant, reinforcing the ingenuity in how these timeless songs are integrated into the framework, in order to offer fresh interpretations.

Lighting up the screen as a young Donna Sheridan. Lily James captures the carefree spirit and mannerisms of the character superbly, proving a solid counterpart to Meryl Streep’s original performance and Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie in the singing stakes. Speaking of Streep, much has been made about her (lack of?) involvement in this follow-up. Without slipping into spoiler territory, her gorgeous screen moments this time around epitomise why many fans deemed her an instant hit in the first film. Elsewhere, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters continue to provide fantastic farce, stealing much of the script’s zingy dialogue whilst Andy Garcia’s enigmatic hotel manager is a disarming and dashing addition.

It may not have been a sequel we were warming up the vocal chords for. Yet in striking a killer balance between emotive and euphoric. ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is a truly wonderful follow-up that brims with sincerity and show-stopping splendour.

Dig out the spandex and unleash your inner ‘Super Trouper’…

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Featured Review

Hotel Artemis ★★★

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Released: 20th July 2018

Directed By: Drew Pearce

Starring: Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Iron Man 3 alum Drew Pearce makes his feature directorial debut with this slick future-set actioner – evoking the neon-tinged hyperbolic aesthetic of John Wick and applying it to a more stripped-down set-up akin to Joe Carnahan’s strangely forgotten Smoking Aces. Hotel Artemis sees the eponymous underworld hospital of the future come under siege by forces both outside and in, with a who’s-who of “hey – it’s….!” figures to bring its gleefully vitriolic war well and truly to life.

On Pearce’s part, Hotel Artemis knows its own playbook pretty well – tense action beats are played with coherence but don’t skimp on imagination, and the staging of it all is first rate. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, leads an engaging cast that includes a wonderfully sleazy Charlie Day, the brilliantly deadpan Sterling K. Brown, and an amusingly in-her-comfort-zone Sofia Boutella. It’s best to keep as much of its casting a surprise as possible, but there’s tons of fun to be had via mere cast reveals to keep proceedings engaging.

On the action front, though, it is strange that Hotel Artemis feels as subdued as it does as regards its own sense of internal rage. Whilst far from a bloodless PG-13, Pearce’s film never quite embeds itself as much in the hyperviolence of its world as you’d expect, or, rather, hope. It’s certainly no John Wick in that sense, and, though there is a decent share of world-building to kick things off, it’s quickly evident that this element of restraint is self-imposed by Pearce’s writing, rather than a by-product of now requisite franchise-creation. Hotel Artemis, incidentally, could easily garner itself a cheap and cheerful sequel or two, were there somehow a demand.

On the back of this pretty solid ninety minute actioner, that’s absolutely a consideration. The world it builds is fleshed out enough to intrigue, the cast are game for an intriguing balance of quirk and creepiness, and Pearce steps up to the director’s chair with unbroken confidence and a comic book sensibility that takes him deftly to the finish line. Stoker cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung astonishes as ever, and, while not his showiest work to date, Cliff Martinez’s score fleshes out the bonkers world of Hotel Artemis nicely.

Best aimed at those looking for another round of Smoking Aces-grade action – though, without quite the same singular ferocity – Hotel Artemis is a nice bit of bullet-laden fun with a lively cast and some slick visuals. It’ll never be one of the iconic points on the timeline of action cinema, but it’s a worthy stop-off on the way between the ones that are.

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Movie Reviews

Skyscraper ★★★★

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Released: 12th July 2018

Directed By: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Be honest. Sooner or later, you knew The Rock was going to make Die Hard. It was inevitable. As he ascends higher and higher thought the upper echelons of the – increasingly spartan – Hollywood star system, this was always going to be coming. The only question really, was going to be whether or not it was going to be either any good, or even welcome in a world in which even a bonafide Die Hardsequel now typically ranks among the worst of whichever year it’s released in.

Alas, Dwayne Johnson is no Bruce Willis, and that quality control barrier could not be any clearer as Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno – with a dash of The Fugitive – for Skyscraper. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s adrenaline-fuelled ride takes DJ to China as amputee and former FBI tactical agent Will Sawyer, an American tasked with signing off on the security of The Pearl – the tallest building in the world. When terrorists seize The Pearl, however, Sawyer finds himself the subject of a Chinese manhunt and forced to find a way back into the building in order to save his wife and children from not only the terrorists seeking to fulfil their own agenda, but also to the out-of-control blaze that threatens to consume them all.

Johnson’s played in the sort of arena on more than a few occasions now, with Skyscraper arguably skewing closest to San Andreas as regards the sort of tone and polished spectacle you’re in for. There are some offhand nods to more classical genre archetypes – hell, it makes more Die Hard references than Jake Peralta – and there’s the requisite degree of fistbumping and utilisation of the term “brother”, but those still unsure of what to expect can rest easy on the promise of what’s essentially an Irwin Allen movie with a Neal Moritz sensibility. It ain’t clever, it doesn’t want to be, it just wants you to sit on the edge of your seat and then cheer afterwards. Which you will. A lot.

Neve Campbell brings an impressive amount to what’s an already impressively sketched out female supporting character in Sawyer’s wife (take notes, Bedelia – that’s how you handle hostage takers), and Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) continues to make for an engaging added value element. Roland Møller, meanwhile, makes for a decent enough villain, but lacks the charisma needed to really sell the ludicrously named Kores Botha as much of an evil mastermind. Sure, he was never going to rival Hans Gruber on the scale of action movie villains, but Botha’s so thinly devised as a villain that he’s not up to the grade of Tommy Lee Jones’ Under Siege villain either. And that’s a real detriment when your action hero lead is someone as genuinely charismatic as Dwayne Johnson. Both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Joe Manganiello took the wrong Rock movie, would be a decent takeaway.

In lieu of a captivating villain, Thurber nonetheless ensures value for money is had with a barrage of spectacle-fuelled set-pieces the likes of which will have you squirming in your seat biting your fist for dear life – IMAX could well inspire a sense of vertigo with this one. It’s a glossy-looking actioner – thanks to some smooth production design and slick visuals from cinematographer and Mission: Impossible alum Robert Elswit – and fight choreographer Allan Poppleton goes above and beyond to stage Johnson’s antics not as the all-powerful action commando, but a credible fighter dwarfed by the spectacle of what’s up against him.

It’s a good time for all. Sure, it’s in no way destined to become an enduring classic of the action genre – though, the spoilerific marketing campaign does well and truly show off what will become one of this summer’s more memorable movie moments – but it’s Die Hard on fire. With The Rock. In 2018. And if there’s an easier sell for a good time at the movies than that, it just means Dwayne Johnson has another movie out. In which case, still see Skyscraper first.

 

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