Reviewer: Philip Price
Director: John Madden
Stars: Al Mukadam, Alison Pill, Douglas Smith, Dylan Baker, Ennis Esmer, Gugu Mbatha-Raw,Jake Lacy, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, Mark Strong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Noah Robbins, Sam Waterston
Released: May 12th, 2017
Miss Sloane comes from first time screenwriter Jonathan Perera and promotes the idea that to get ahead in the vicious game of D.C. lobbying one has to know their subject. Perera obviously knows his subject. How Perera, who was living in Asia at the time he wrote the screenplay and who only optioned his work to literary agents over the internet before securing a production deal knows so much about the inside dealings of those hired to persuade legislators to support particular businesses or causes is a mystery, but he seems to have done a fair amount of research. Either that or what he feeds us in Miss Sloane is a huge pile of eloquently written BS. Like an Aaron Sorkin script (I haven’t seen The Newsroom, but I imagine this might feel very similar) where dialogue is almost more important than emotion Miss Sloane fast tracks the audience through a deluge of day to day activities that a lobbyist at the top of their game such as the titular Sloane played with vicious velocity by the one and only Jessica Chastain might engage in. We are given little time to keep up and even less to really gauge what Sloane and her team are working on as the focus is not meant to highlight what kind of case our titular lobbyist and her team are working on, but more how keenly they are framing it to their client’s advantage. While the objective for a lobbyist is the end-game it is the getting there, the journey if you will, that requires the creativity of someone in Sloane’s position and the more creative one is the better the reputation they garner in their professional circles despite undoubtedly garnering a worse one among friends. Of course, this is why it is also made clear Sloane has no family or friends to speak of or to. It is a vicious circle of sorts and Perera makes that evident by reiterating the importance of how information is framed by framing his own film with that aforementioned end-game. In Miss Sloane the end-game is a hearing on Capitol Hill in Caucus Room 4 of the U.S. Senate. What is she doing here? What has brought her to this point? What accusation is being thrown around and what does it have to do with her abilities and/or the moral ambiguities of her techniques? Each are questions begged as small increments of information are fed the viewer within the epilogue of the film, but once the main narrative takes over it is easy to forget that framing device and simply go along for the ride which is exactly what Perera would prefer you do as he finds trouble in both sticking the ending and making it credible enough that we don’t question how well he really does know his subject.
Miss Sloane is a perfect example of a movie that weighs itself by the quality of the average movie surrounding it. There is nothing overly exceptional about any one facet of the film, despite every aspect of it being accomplished in a precise and professional fashion. Professional may actually be the best word to describe Miss Sloane as everything from the aesthetic of the shiny white board rooms that make up a majority of the environment here to Chastain’s sharp as a razor hairstyle are in line with what one would expect from a film about D.C. lobbyists. That may sound as if Miss Sloane packs nothing in the way of surprise and that would be false considering Chastain spews a monologue in the opening frame of the film about how lobbying is about foresight and how it is necessary to anticipate your opponents moves and to make sure they don’t anticipate yours-an idea Sloane takes to her grave-but as far as the filmmaking aspects are concerned: the look, the feel, the music, the color palette-they are all in line with pieces of entertainment we have seen spawned from this world before. And so, it is left to both the screenplay and the performances to elevate the conventional mechanics of the presentation and elevate they do. Not only do we have Chastain leading the charge here in what may be one of her most impressive performances to date (and that’s sincerely saying something given her body of work over the past few years), but Alison Pill manages the fine line of portraying someone intended to be invisible while making her presence known among a roster of all-stars. Among those well-groomed in the art of spouting lengthy speeches compellingly is Michael Stuhlbarg as Sloane’s boss turned opponent when a representative from the Gun Lobby enlists her employer, chaired by Sam Waterston’s George Dupont, to support their cause and kill a gun registration bill. Sloane, for untold reasons, will not support such action and is instead enlisted by the head of the firm that supports the bill (Mark Strong) to lead their uphill battle in winning. Filling out her team are singularly defined members played by appealing faces such as Douglas Smith and Al Mukadam who make one note characters likable while Gugu Mbatha-Raw becomes something of Sloane’s teacher’s pet within this new crop of assistants showing both a strength and vulnerability in her characters complicated and emotionally hilly arc. John Lithgow is also a notable presence as is Jake Lacey (The Office) who turns a character only present to withdraw small excerpts of backstory from Sloane into a flesh and blood character.
Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) Miss Sloane may come off as something of an extended episode of what one could find on cable TV on any given night, but given we’re in the “Golden Age of Television” that might not be as big of an insult as it once was. And while Miss Sloane is the perfect type of feature to spurn a TV series of its own Perera does well to deliver a contained narrative with only hints of extraneous material informing the main storyline. Perera never allows such influencing factors to infiltrate the actual film and distract from the mission at hand though. It is easy to see how this might have been tempting given the history of Chastain’s titular character and her reasoning for acting the way she does is brought into question a handful of times though never explicitly addressed. This brings around the idea of just how effective Chastain is in her performance given what she has to work with in Sloane is more or less a blank slate that is quickly filled with assumptions the moment she opens her mouth in that first frame. Chastain demands our attention be on her every time she enters a room-she has cultivated a reputation of serious influence and that is apparent in how we see her peers respond not just to her words, but to her presence. When she does inevitably speak these responses are even more telling; it is in the way Chastain lends Sloane an effortless fist of control over her linguistics that is absolutely terrifying and thrilling all at the same time. The character is a master manipulator-willing to go to any length to show she’s willing to go to any length-Sloane is a pro at straight shooting and positioning the idea of staying two steps ahead of your enemy is not enough always remaining three steps ahead of whoever might dare cross or challenge her. It is the juiciest of juicy roles an actor could ask for and Chastain seems to realize this as it almost feels like she is gripping the camera every time she speaks; not letting loose until she catches her first breath. As the film hints at the past that might have brought such a character into being it compliments this lack of shading by displaying moments of vulnerability-though only two or so times total. Such vulnerability is necessary when one of the big mysteries around a character is how they get to the point in which Sloane has reached-an insomniac workaholic who pops pills to keep her energy up-but neither Madden, Perera, nor Chastain are willing to allow Sloane to completely give herself over to any one individual. Instead, they keep her convictions and humanity in line not by appealing to our pathos, but rather the ethos of the subject Miss Sloane is keen to bring attention to.
That subject of course, is gun control. The key word there being “control” as in making it difficult for dangerous people to get a hold of dangerous things and not simply taking things away from those who qualify. The film hits the nail on the head over and over again in saying that the supported gun bill is not born out of a desire to confiscate all guns, but rather the desire to keep such weapons out of the hands of as many psychopaths and criminals as possible. Perera phrases it in a handful of different ways so as to make sure those who possess guns legally don’t view the film as an attack on their second amendment rights, but rather as a logical way to keep people safer. In illustrating why certain characters are motivated to feel the way they do Miss Sloane gives credence to either side of the argument and that both sides have valid reasons to act in the way they see fit. It is appreciated that small, but true facets of the battle being fought are brought up and debated rather than the films characters simply resorting to soundbites that form easily misconstrued generalities. The film as a whole embraces these small details and intricacies addressing the issue at its heart with a maturity and common sense that is too often lacking when topics are taboo to the point of nervousness when discussed in public. That said and as admirable as Miss Sloane tends to be for a vast majority of its running time it does inevitably falter when it begins to take turns that feel more outlandish than the first two acts hint at or prepare us for. Considering the blistering pace with which the film barrels through those first two acts it feels a bit deflating when, in the last half hour, Miss Sloane loses a bit of steam. The back and forth is consistently engaging and the debate and particular points characters make are naturally intriguing, but that back and forth goes on for just a tad too long. Overstaying its welcome to the point it seems the film itself doesn’t exactly know how to wrap up all facets of the plot it has laid out thus forcing it to come up with some rather fantastical plot devices in order to give our protagonist the edge when much of what we’ve seen prior only needed determination and a brass tacks mentality. That said, Miss Sloane has her heart in the right place and her head on sturdy shoulders-never attempting to necessarily provoke or condescend, but more to expose the idea our system doesn’t have to reward the rats and con artists of the game, but those who genuinely vote with their conscience. That may be a fantasy of sorts, but Miss Sloane lends a specific type of optimism and hope that we need now more than ever.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ★★★★
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’…
Hotel Artemis ★★★
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.
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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