Reviewer: Philip Price
Director: Marc Abraham
Stars: Bradley Whitford, Caroline Hebert, Charlie Talbert, Cherry Jones, Cory Hart, David Krumholtz, Joe Chrest, Josh Pais, Tom Hiddleston. Elizabeth Olsen. Wrenn Schmidt. Maddie Hasson, Wayne Pére
Hank Williams doesn’t seem to have been that great of a guy. He became addicted to the drink, morphine and other painkillers as well as fathering several children, only one of which he ever married their mother and this all before his untimely death at the age of twenty-nine. While Williams may not have necessarily been the best guy (and possibly one of the worst parents) it is usually these types of people that stand to create the most interesting stories and in Williams case, write the most interesting ones as well. Before becoming popular as a singer Williams was primarily known for being one of country and westerns top songwriters. Williams penned and performed countless tunes for a radio show in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama before securing a deal with the music publishing firm Acuff-Rose as a professional songwriter. All of that taken into consideration, you wouldn’t really come to learn much of it from the Marc Abraham (Flash of Genius) biopic concerning Williams as it tends to only patch together a few story points in the singers life rather than dig in and find out what really made him tick. It’s admirable that Abraham doesn’t take the easy route of opening his film backstage before one of Williams last shows and using it as a framing device for a period of reflection in which the movie’s told, but he also doesn’t come up with an alternative way to tell us anything insightful about the man and a movie needs to offer more than a Wikipedia page does.
Based on the book Hank Williams: The Biography by Colin Escott, George Merritt, and William (Bill) MacEwen, I Saw The Light begins in 1944 when Tom Hiddleston’s (Thor, The Avengers) Williams marries Audrey Sheppard (Elzabeth Olsen) in a Texaco Station in Andalusia, Alabama, with a justice of the peace. The film never touches on exactly when or how these two met or even provides any reasoning as to why they actually love one another, but instead assumes the audience trusts that they do despite the whole of their relationship being soaked in turmoil. If it’s not the bickering back and forth between Audrey and Williams mother, Lillie (Cherry Jones), concerning who gets first dibs on the money in Hank’s pocket it’s Audrey wanting to be a singer herself without owning up to the fact she doesn’t have the talent to do so. She insists her husband let her sing on his radio show or at gigs on the road, but while Williams is more than aware of his wife’s vocal shortcomings he can’t bring himself to tell her no. It should also be noted that Williams is twenty-three at the beginning of the film and while Hiddleston is a good looking, well-groomed guy he never pulls off looking this young. It is almost immediately that the fighting begins between Hank and Audrey while Hank is still attempting to get out of Montgomery and on to the Opry stage. Getting to the Opry is the sole objective for the first hour or so thus allowing for the film to focus on the aspect that one would assume would make the film stand apart from something like Walk the Line in that the core relationship here is more of a competitive one where both parties are more interested in themselves and their own successes than the each other. It would no doubt have been an interesting angle to explore more, but again, Abraham simply skims the surface never allowing any of the scenes to breathe.
After hitting on the ups and downs we’re in for concerning Hank and Audrey the film skips forward to 1947 when Williams records, “Move It On Over,” for Acuff-Rose and it becomes a hit. The family moves to Nashville and begins to get comfortable with their new roles in “Music City,” but Hank’s drinking gets in the way and Audrey leaves him for what feels like the first of a hundred times in the movie. We get the obligatory rehab scene where Hiddleston shakes and sweats in a straight jacket before running back to Audrey for her forgiveness. We then get the moment where Williams begs Fred Rose (Bradley Whitford) to let him record his version of “Lovesick Blues,” that Rose doubts, but allows anyway only to see it become Williams ticket to the Opry stage. It is this episodic nature of the film that makes it feel like little more than one moment after another strung together in order to inform us of Hank Williams life and times, but never does the film settle into a groove that feels natural to the people it is describing. The whole thing is rather stilted as we can see the recreation happening instead of becoming so involved with the characters and their plights that we forget we’re watching actors on a screen. One character in the film describes Williams music as being able to, “expose the darkness inside us all through song so that no one has to take the baggage home with them,” and while this may be true (the pioneering facet of country music is how it relates to it’s target audience) this film about one of country music’s actual pioneers never mines it’s subjects own soul to expose his many darknesses.
I Saw The Light tells us that Williams published songs under a pseudonym in order to get the less commercial stuff off his chest, it displays a deep bond between Williams and his steel guitarist Don Helms (Wes Langlois), it even has a doctor explain to Williams and his second wife, Billie Jean (Maddie Hasson), that Williams has spina bifida that has been the cause of Williams back pain his entire life, but with none of these things do we ever get any real context. We never hear any of “Luke the Drifter’s” music, we never see Hank and Don have anything more than short conversations that display their shorthand and we can only guess Williams returned to the drink and popping pills as a way to numb the pain from his spinal defect. More than any of this, we never see Williams writing a song much less any insight into what inspired him to write as much as he apparently did or how he came to love music in the first place. The usual critique of the performances being good, but the movie failing to live up to them can easily be applied here, but not even Hiddleston’s efforts and Olsen’s attempts at crafting a complex female character could save this.
While Hiddleston has Williams signature singing style down, his southern accent is a bit off on certain words. And while the story does Hiddleston’s performance few favors in allowing him to ever really dig into the psyche of Williams the actor is able to get across the singers inability to ever control his impulses and in one of the few exceptional scenes Hiddleston squares off against David Krumholtz as a reporter making an argument for the sincerity of folk music in one of the few instances it feels we catch a glimpse of what the real Williams might have been like. While this aforementioned scene is the one time in the film we cut to the core of the main character there are others, such as when Rose and Williams go to MGM headquarters to visit Dore Schary (Josh Pais), that are only present to solidify the mythology of how Williams is thought of today-as this mysterious, but stern godfather of country music that didn’t care if you liked him or not.
All of that said, the film plays it so straight that it’s not unsurprising it goes the way it does and thus we don’t really feel anything when the inevitable conclusion comes around and the credits begin to roll. The film looks gorgeous as it is handsomely mounted to capture the warmness and welcoming nature of the south and the period details are more than superior as are the handful of performance scenes we get. Hiddleston does favor the late Williams in facial structure and he pulls off his outlandish suits well. If one is looking for an unsurprising, completely traditional music biopic this wouldn’t be a bad way to go as it delivers exactly what one would expect, but the absence of any real heart or soul is apparent and made this a rather stinging disappointment for me considering I typically fall head over heels for movies about the process of creating music. If I Saw The Lightis to be taken at face value it seems Williams never really had an opportunity to enjoy his success and was more a professional at making a mess of things than a singer. Hopefully this isn’t the absolute truth and maybe one day we might get a Williams biopic that does the country legend justice, it’s just a real shame this couldn’t be the one to do that because it certainly had all the right parts in place.
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.
Mission Impossible: Fallout ★★★★★
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.
First Reformed ★★★★★
Consider the bar raised…
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer
Released: 13th July 2018 (UK)
First Reformed has been dubbed as Paul Schrader’s triumphant return to cinema. Widely praised by critics and audiences, it finally hits UK cinemas. What is First Reformed all about you ask? Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a solitary parish priest at a small church in upstate New York. Now more of a tourist attraction catering to a dwindling congregation, it has long been eclipsed by its nearby parent church. When a pregnant parishioner (Amanda Seyfried) asks Reverend Toller to counsel her husband, Toller is plunged into his own tormented past and finds himself questioning his own future and where redemption might lie. With the pressure on him beginning to grow, he must do everything he can to stop events spiralling out of control.
Alienation, social decay makes First Reformed one of the most powerful self portraits in cinema. First Reformed tackles current event topics like the environment, organised religion, politics, and alcoholism as a backdrop for Reverend Toller’s journey through despair. Hawke’s Toller establishes the key theme early in the film: we’re told that we must hold onto both despair and hope simultaneously. Toller’s efforts to live this self-contradicting life, leads him down a path of madness.We discover that existential crises and sincere Christianity make quite the self destructive couple. Toller finds he must reject the shiny glossy presentation of modern contemporary Christianity, and discover his own self belief and re-build his faith within himself. The careful logic of it draws us in; it’s difficult to see where Toller and society goes wrong.
Paul Scharder’s visuals are utterly striking, each shot is rich with balance, depth and artful symmetry; despite the fact that the film is presented in an unusual aspect ratio of 1.37: 1, it pulls its viewers in with nonstop beautiful photography, mostly high-contrast shots with a muted colour palette.The story is spiritual as you would expect but it’s surprisingly political. The pace of the film is steady and switches seamlessly between snapshots and long takes. The scoring slowly builds its ominous tone, every element of First Reformed is built with intention that serves its sobering themes.
Ethan Hawke has delivered the performance of his career as Toller. This performance is truly next-level from him, and I cannot describe enough to you about how captivating it is to watch Hawke. He is spectacular in this, and an early front runner for award season. First Reformed is quietly intense, disturbingly real with a memorable ending. Paul Schrader carefully tackles controversial topics, especially with handling the concept of Christianity. The movie is neither preachy or anti-Christian in its delivery, but rather shows religion for what it is: a reasonable release for sadness and guilt, but also a burden. First Reformed is without a doubt one of 2018’s finest films.
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