Reviewer: Philip Price
Director: Sofia Coppola
Stars: Addison Riecke, Angourie Rice, Colin Farrell, Elle Fanning, Emma Howard, Kirsten Dunst,Matt Story, Nicole Kidman, Oona Laurence, Wayne Pére
Released: July 14th, 2017
When it comes to Sofia Coppola I tend to be indifferent; both towards viewing her films and, when I do see them, in my response to them. Granted, I need to re-visit many of her works that were released and that I saw when I was likely too young to comprehend what they were aiming for or even discussing, but even as I’ve grown, expanded my pool of cinematic knowledge, and have been very much excited to see her newer releases a la The Bling Ring (which, admittedly, is likely her worst effort) I was disappointed by the lack of any real vision, any signature voice in her films. That changes with The Beguiled. The Beguiled has made me more anxious to go back and experience The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation again while prompting me to finally make an effort to see Marie Antoinette and Somewhere. The Beguiled is a game-changer of sorts because it brings Coppola onto a plane where she is not only indulging in the type of cinema she finds comfort in creating, but because it simultaneously provides a large entertainment factor. It’s deliciously enjoyable in a way that feels fresh to this work specifically. Though I haven’t the authority to compare and contrast Coppola’s features with one another for, as I’ve mentioned, some I haven’t seen at all and others I haven’t seen in quite some time, but by a general gut feeling The Beguiledfeels like the kind of jump-start Coppola’s career needed to once again find inspiration. Everything about the film creates a sense of restraint around what is a boiling pot of truths and temptations just waiting to be acted upon. Coppola creates this potboiler effect by capturing the musky air of 1864 in visuals that elicit the season’s soft southern sunlight and the lack of any bulbs whatsoever. Candlelight provides the majority of our illumination here and it is the glow, the aura of these yellow-tinged flames that underscore that air of courtesy that is all too often rendered just that by the bluntness with which our characters interact with one another. A gorgeous interpretation of the way in which people can read others based on their circumstance and furthermore, a fascinating study on the ways in which you sometimes can’t-the true motivations of one or several never revealing themselves leaving any action taken to be forever contemplated. A million ideas about currently relevant social issues could make their way into one’s interpretation of The Beguiled, but the truth of the matter is that it is very simply a smoldering tale of intuition and war.
Set in Virginia in the midst of the Civil War we are introduced to Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman) who runs a school of sorts for young girls along with a fellow teacher, Edwina Dabney (Kirsten Dunst). They have seemingly been left to their own devices since the beginnings of the war as any man who was once in any of these women and young girl’s lives has either gone off to war or died during it. And so, it is easily understood why such a commotion is made when one of Martha and Edwina’s young students, Amy (Oona Laurence), stumbles upon a wounded Union soldier while out picking mushrooms for dinner. Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell) lies against a tree, deep in the woods, outside the school where it is evident the soldier has been badly hurt. Doing what is undoubtedly the most Christian thing to do in her mind Amy helps McBurney onto his feet and back to the school house where his arrival and ultimate presence is a subject of much discussion, debate, and distraction. Given they reside in a Confederate state and are loyal supporters of the Southern cause (there was a slave character in Thomas Cullinan’s original novel and Don Siegel’s 1971 film that has been cut here) Miss Martha is largely conflicted by the situation that has been presented to her establishment while Edwina seemingly rejoices in the fact something has come to break the monotony of her day to day if not rescue her from this place in which she has been forced down into the conforming package Miss Martha requires. The younger girls come to form a fascination with the charming McBurney, especially Amy, who continues to help nurse him back to health after being his initial savior. Other students such as Jane (The Nice Guys’ Angourie Rice) and Marie (Addison Riecke) either object to even the thought of a Union soldier in their presence or bring him prayer books so that he may return to health and depart as quickly as possible. It is the oldest of the students, Alicia (Elle Fanning), who brings about the most unseemly of thoughts though. Per Coppola’s adaptation of the screenplay and interpretation of the visual film Farrell’s McBurney is never revealed to us as either a helpless victim or a typically aggressive male who sees himself as the superior sex. Coppola never truly allows her film into the psyche of her sole male character (though it makes us think it does) and Farrell’s performance keeps us on our toes until the credits roll as to whether he’s an upstanding guy who gets seduced as any man might or if he’s simply gunning to have control over these women and keep company with as many as will have him. We can’t discern any games he might be playing, but what develops out of his presence is nothing short of sport.
The perception of McBurney and the position it takes in the film is maybe the most fascinating aspect of how Coppola tackles the subject matter. Aside from the obvious ideas and implications that deal with the large cast of women coming to the realization of their own talents and potentials is that of how McBurney assesses each of his new found companions. That such dynamics shine through means the film does an exquisite job of defining the different types of relationships McBurney develops with each of the women, but more it speaks to the larger, more curious arc of how society views the female in general. Take, for instance, the initial meeting between Amy and the Corporal as she serves the role of savior and him that of a man fallen from grace who has fled his masculine duty of fighting and dying honorably in battle. Amy is a beacon of purity, of sweetness, and of untinged thought. Though her society tells her McBurney is the enemy she can’t help but to assist the defeated individual she sees laying battered under a tree. This forever solidifies who Amy will be in McBurney’s eyes and because of this it communicates how we generally see young girls who have yet to cross puberty; perceived not as sexual objects or a conquest to scale, but as a physical form of innocence and decency. This perception McBurney inherently takes after meeting and being rescued by Amy is expected and by all accounts appropriate and would hardly be something to take note of did Coppola not make how McBurney perceives Miss Martha and Miss Dabney to be as startlingly different yet completely in line with expectation despite the fact Martha and Edwina serve the same savior role as Amy if not to an even greater extent. Rather than McBurney reading the older women of the house to possess the same earnestness and good intent as their young student they are almost immediately pegged as objectified goals: Martha as the stringent and direct headmaster who needs to be let loose and Edwina as the weak and impulsive prisoner who might be preyed upon easiest. This idea that the moment a female comes to possess any type of sexuality at all is also the moment her perception in the mind of any man then shifts from that of her character to that of how much he might accomplish with her is one that would seem to be rather apparent, but there is something to the way Coppola documents the contrast in judgment here that speaks volumes to any male viewer, especially those that might have a young daughter themselves. Of course, Coppola really emphasizes this stark shift by throwing Fanning’s Alicia in the mix as a curious temptation for McBurney he’s not quite sure he can resist, but the point is The Beguiled isn’t shy about showing its characters or its audience things they might not like to admit about themselves.
With that type of understanding it would then be very easy to peg The Beguiled as a film with a wholly feminist agenda that is meant to make men feel bad for thinking of women in any other way than in terms of how much of a gift they are to the male race and why we should constantly be thankful for them, but in truly sublime fashion Coppola reminds us we’re not all that different-men and women-and that instead we’re all only as blunt as we need to be in our given set of circumstances. It just so happens that, as the story of The Beguiled goes, Miss Martha and her school of impressionable young women, find it necessary to do anything but take the instruction of a man as they would typically be expected to in that day and age. That said, the film doesn’t go the most obvious route as one might have expected given what the spoilery trailers purported the film to be and while this may be seen by some as not being as bold as it could have potentially been the terror of the situation is all the more psychological for it. The movie hinges on how well the scenes work between McBurney and each of the individual women as he attempts to decipher the best way to befriend them if not potentially become more to each. In essence, it is the seduction sequences that make or break the effectiveness of what The Beguiled is trying to make a statement around and they are executed rather magnificently, especially on the basis of Farrell’s sly performance. Photographing the actor in ways that make him seem almost ethereal we understand why the women feel a need to take care of McBurney, but it is more than this as Farrell deduces and then intellectually pounces on the unsuspecting women so as to not take things too far, but nudge them in the direction that makes them question what they want to do and what they should do. On the other side of things, the women of Coppola’s picture are equally terrific in their performances. Kidman’s face is a story unto itself as much of what is floating around in her head plays across her eyes and forehead so as to up the ante on the fact that while Miss Martha is indeed very direct in her dialogue there is still very much that is only implied in that directness. As the oppressed Edwina, Dunst strikes a keen balance of insecurity and rebellion that is more about herself getting over her own fears than anything else. Fanning has some pretty fantastic moments as well despite the fact her character feels the most compacted. Speaking to compact, the film comes in at a short ninety minutes as the first hour flies by leaving the shift in action to be something of an abrupt one, but it comes because both the movie and McBurney are running out of time. With a final scene that is pure, raw tension and an atmosphere devoid of a traditional score, but instead filled with the sounds of cicadas, birds, and other natural southern signatures The Beguiled is a moody, lurking melodrama with a lush, but dim aesthetic that is hauntingly beautiful in the same way its protagonists are.
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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