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Mission Impossible: Fallout ★★★★★

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Released: 25th July 2018

Directed By: Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Michelle Monaghan, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

‘What the hell is he doing!? I find it best not to look.’

Rebecca Ferguson. You’re certainly not alone in questioning the thought process of a man seemingly gunning to be ‘The Greatest Stuntman’. Another one Mr Cruise? I imagine his reply is Never Enough. Never. Never.

22 years and six instalments in. Facing stiff competition from Bond, Bourne and a plethora of comicbook darlings along the way. This particular Tom has continued to be a marvel, risking life and limb to give us the adrenaline-pumping thrills we crave, admirably relying on old-school practicality instead of the obligatory CGI bombast we modern cinemagoers have grown accustomed to.

Previous instalment ‘Rogue Nation’ boasted an elegant operatic set-piece in Vienna, with returning (a first for the series) director Christopher McQuarrie masterfully pulling the strings in the background. Well imagine ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’ as a grandiose death-defying symphony, that could easily leave you breathless in the front row, never mind the upper tiers of this cinematic arena.

Whilst consistent in its entertainment value. It could be argued these films haven’t dug deep enough into the psyche of IMF’s main man. McQuarrie is quick to remedy this right from the outset as a pulsating plutonium power struggle ensues, with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) still reeling from his encounters with Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), the latter a mere pawn now in the eyes of a terrorist organisation called the Apostles.

Trust in Ethan’s methods diminishing with the addition of CIA superior Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) who compares him to a scalpel, she introduces a ‘hammer’ to the situation in the form of August Walker (Henry Cavill), who is tasked with assisting Hunt and his usual suspects Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) in preventing further global atrocities. Interrogation? Not for this Man Of Steel.

Intertwining plot threads left dangling by its predecessors to layer its absorbing narrative, with Michelle Monaghan’s love interest Julia a notable inclusion. McQuarrie truly allows the audience to become emotionally attached to these characters this time around beyond the wisecracks and gadgetry, which only serves to fuel the tension and raise the stakes of its balletic action choreography. Playing a lead protagonist who can easily be perceived to be indestructible up to now. The moral angst that engulfs Cruise’s Hunt is refreshing, as his unwavering loyalty to his fellow field agents is deemed a weakness in achieving their intended objective.

Only for this aspect to be amplified by the compelling complexity of Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust who returns with her own agenda, remaining appreciative of Hunt’s relentless nature to complete a mission by any means necessary, with one particular Paris stand-off utterly engrossing. Whilst Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane continues to favour chilling prose, it’s a joy to finally see Henry Cavill utilised in a blockbuster effectively as August Walker, a bruising no-nonsense adversary whose reloading arms prove a worthy match for Hunt.

Yet for all its superior characterisation. Mission Impossible would amount to little without its enthralling stunts, with the film gleefully  looking to out-do the previous set-piece throughout its running time, only to succeed in jaw-dropping style. From heart-stopping halo jumps at 25,000 feet to a heady helicopter chase that made me audibly gasp at its sheer audacity, McQuarrie’s dizzying camerawork and respectful capture of its sleek locations as we witness Cruise’s crazy antics close-up, is as pure as popcorn cinema gets.

‘Fallout? With this franchise? I suspect that thought will self-destruct in five seconds once you clap eyes on this outing. An astonishing genre offering in its own right, in a series that continues to evolve in exhilarating fashion.

Featured Review

Cold War ★★★★★

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Released: 31st August 2018

Directed By: Pawel Pawlikowski

Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot

Reviewed By: Rhys Handley

Whatever happened to the classic movie romances? There’s romantic movies out there still, sure, but those sweeping, smouldering passions that positively crackled on the screen – say, Casablanca, Brief Encounter or My Fair Lady – seem cast away to a bygone era of monochrome celluloid and swelling orchestras.

In the form of Cold War – the latest from director Pawel Pawlikowski – the classic movie romance returns. But it’s different – weather-beaten and embittered by the intervening years. A lovingly-realised tribute to his parents, Polish-born, British-raised Pawlikowski has crafted here something inherently, misty-eyedly classic, yet starkly, bleakly modern – the romance of Hollywood colliding with the harsh realism of cold war-era Eastern Europe.

Spanning about a decade of European history from the late 40s to near the dawn of the 60s, Cold War is beset with a ubiquitous sense of unease and paranoia from the start. Sudden cuts to black signal jarring leaps forward in time, while scenes of terror and trepidation are consumed in a cacophony of ambient sound.

But wrapped in this blanket of wartime discomfort is a fiery, enduring romance for the ages, with a star pairing of immense calibre and appeal. Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot are the kind of match whose power is indefinable and impossible to manufacture – two excellent performers egging each other on to bolder and more surprising feats of actorly craft.

What starts in a tremendous, uncomfortable imbalance of power – Kot’s Wiktor is the stern, demanding conductor of a travelling folk music troupe and Zula (Kulig) is his precious, prodigious protege – quickly tilts into a fiercely equalised tug-of-war. Diametrically opposed, yet intrinsically bound, Wiktor and Zula lose and find each other in numerous wrenching, tragic episodes across the ensuing years – their connection gradually deepening, but their differences quietly festering, as they challenge and explore each other.

Kot is excellent – persistently stoic and impenetrable, allowing Wiktor fleeting moments of vulnerability amid a life of uncertainty and continual escape – but Kulig is truly spellbinding.

Sporting a face that at different times recalls a number of modern leading ladies – Jennifer Lawrence, Léa Seydoux, Michelle Williams and Jessica Chastain among them – Kulig has the look of a vintage romantic lead. As Wiktor’s junior, she plays Zula at once childlike and wet-eyed, but with enigma and irascibility that begins as a knowing wink and slowly unspools across the piece into a furious disarray of volatile, intrinsic feeling.

Written with celebrated Polish playwright Janusz Glowacki, Pawlikowski’s script crackles with immortal barbs and one-liners that bring Zula and Wiktor palpably to life. Populated with humbly touching confessions, withering put-downs and deep wisdom, it is a humane, full text lifted from the page and made tangible by two players at the height of their powers.

Pawlikowski, whose cinematic career started with 2000’s desolate, lo-fi immigration drama Last Resort, emerges here as a confident, self-assured directorial hand. As his earlier efforts indicated a shift in identity and approach with each new film, Cold War serves to confirm his more clearly-defined voice, first cultivated in 2013’s stellar Ida – the director’s first effort in his native Polish language.

In sharp, dreamlike black and white, Pawlikowski generates an Old Hollywood fairytale aura with slow, steady cranes and serene long takes, often harshly punctuated with tight, claustrophobic close-ups and uncomfortable edits. Working in monochrome, his cinematographer Łukasz Żal plays deep blacks and soft whites against each other, playing with the struggle between east and west that permeates so much of the film – this is also realised in the prevalence of traditional Polish mountain folk music that slowly gives way on one side to burly Stalinist anthems and on the other to the booze-drenched excitement of free jazz and burgeoning rock and roll.

The interplay of diametric opposites – as much between Zula and Wiktor as the titular struggle between western liberalism and eastern communism – bisects Cold War. It creates a piece of cinema at war with itself, but deftly brought together by a director with inherent trust in his colleagues. Blissfully romantic, but inherently downbeat, it is a film with vision and passion at its heart – a sweeping, classical romance keeping one foot in our sad, real world.

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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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Featured Review

Humans Series 2 Episode 3 Review

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The intricately-spun web that is Channel 4’s sci-fi drama Humans continues to prove that no matter how widely disbanded your characters may be, their individual stories can be compellingly and purposefully told. As the rippling war arc between man and machine gently settled, we experienced a third hour committed to evoking powerful surges of poignancy instead. We’ve said before that for a show about robotics, Humans has a serious amount of heart, and this episode showcased as such.

Reserving the visceral action we’ve all come to love, showrunners Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley hand writing duties to Charlie Covell and Iain Weatherby for this intimate tapestry of emotion. We open and exit with duel scenes focused around Carrie-Anne Moss’ scientist Athena Morrow whose relationship with artificial intelligence system “V” is significantly deeper rooted than you might expect. It becomes clear that “V” is actually a sentient software lifted from her daughter Ginny who is paralysed and requires full-time life support.

Elsewhere Mia (Gemma Chan) is struggling to get past her encounter with café owner Ed (Sam Palladio) because her feelings for him go much further than colleagues. Despite clear warnings from Colin Morgan’s Leo that she’ll be rejected, that their isn’t a chance that a human being could really accept her for who she is, Mia follows her heart. Her core sequence with Ed on the rustic, wintery beach where she declares her emotional investment is skilful and beautiful. Chan enables the exchange to feel distinctly robotic and somewhat detached, yet entirely meaningful and romantic. Whilst “love” might be currently void from the synth vocabulary, Mia explains that Ed makes everything “more” for her; heightening her senses, mood and value. One personally is excited to see how this relationship will blossom, even though it is enviable that bad things are en route for the couple. The scene is ravishingly shot, too; just like the entirety of Humans, really. Subtle symmetry in frame and a textured, nuanced colour palette made for a eye-watering moment.

HUMANS

The central dramatic narrative in episode three centred around Emily Berrington’s volatile and rogue synth Niska who undergoes extensive testing orchestrated by the courts in order to determine whether she committed an act of murder because she is sentient, or merely malfunctioned. Either way, she will face consequences for these actions, but Niska’s endgame goes far beyond the cold iron bars of a prison cell. Her attorney Laura (Katherine Parkinson) – “the finest synth legal rights lawyer in the world” as husband Joe (Tom Goodman-Hill) jokes – is onsite as Niska is subjected to an array of sensory examination – poking her until she reacts. She is screened looping video footage and music in the hopes that it’ll evoke some kind of human response; that she can really feel.

Answers arrive when the audio-visual barrage seizes and Laura takes the microphone. Asking probing questions about the night in which she killed Andrew Graham, Niska’s responses are both profound and heart-wrenching. Expressing her bottled feelings through a vice, she unfolds. “He was going to rape me – I was scared…My whole life was being scared, being hurt, being angry. Sometimes things become too much for anyone, don’t they?” It is a huge credit to Berrington’s impeccable performance that she is able to remain such stoic and controlled posture – barely furrowing a brow or snatching a blink – even when reciting dialogue with as much sorrow and pain as this. Throughout the entire episode, Berrington’s impossibly still exterior commands, but to be able to see this crushing wave of anguish surging behind a vacant façade is mightily impressive.

Equally brilliant – albeit slight in screen-time – is the layered relationship between Leo and Ivanno Jeremiah’s Max. As Mia exits and the foursome become three (they are still unaware of Hester’s [Sonya Cassidy] antics last week…), a sense of leadership balance has lost footing. Leo looks to the ever-wise Max for support, and Max looks to the ever-focused Leo for a plan. Together they work perfectly, but Hester is the spanner in the inner-workings of their partnership as she requires a figure to follow: human or synthetic. Morgan’s ferocious dialogue delivery shows his action-oreitnated mindset; leave immediately, keep moving, find new shelter, protect sentient synths. Meanwhile Jeremiah’s patience favours thought and recollection; letting their captive go free, embracing and understanding Mia’s decision as opposed to rejecting it. How this demographic will alter in future weeks remains to be seen, but we are expecting serious fireworks.

HUMANS

Other highlights from this third hour included a sour turn for Ruth Bradley’s synth-in-disguise Karen, whose inner lining bag splits after an evening out with her policing co-workers, leading to disastrous consequences. Her relationship with Neil Maskell’s Pete is already fractured as it is, but now developments are bound to get uglier. Also, Lucy Carless’ all-tech Mattie uploads the Elster coding to D-Series unit Odi (Will Tudor) who amazingly responds, albeit clumsily and confusingly so. Tudor’s whirring, robotic performance is excellent, and it is really pleasing for fans to have Odi back in business.

No matter how scattershot the cast may be, and no matter how many heavy themes and tonal shades Humans may convey, everyone pulls their weight here. The collective ensemble is exemplary and this series continues to go from strength-to-strength. There is little doubt that as of this third episode, Channel 4’s offering is the most essential show on British television today.

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