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Movie Reviews




Director: Jason Reitman

Stars: Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, Emily Haine, Elaine Tan

Released: 4th May 2018 (UK)

Reviewer: Ren Zelen

In Tully, the third collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody, (Juno, 2007, Young Adult, 2011) Charlize Theron plays Marlo, a suburban mom with two young kids who is about to give birth to her third.

Marlo isn’t just struggling with the imminent birth and demands of another new-born – she has a difficult young son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica), whose behavioural issues mean he’s about to be ejected from his classy elementary school by its politically-correct but unfeeling bureaucrats, who label him as ‘quirky’, while his autistic symptoms are never honestly addressed by staff or parents.

Marlo also has a nine-year-old daughter, Sarah (Lia Frankland), to whom she can accord little attention, and Drew, (Ron Livingston), her well-meaning, but domestically ineffectual husband.

After the birth of her new daughter, Mia, Marlo tries to cope with the recovery of her body, the insistent, and sometimes painful, production of breast milk and the challenge of shedding her baby weight (realities which we rarely see mothers in movies having to deal with).

Director Jason Reitman presents an extended montage of the repetitive daily grind of caring for a new-born baby – the wakeful nights, the rota of feeding and changing of nappies, the school runs, teacher meetings and meal preparation undertaken under the constant fog of sleep deprivation.

Meanwhile, husband Drew works hard at his career, comes home, briefly helps the older children with their homework, and then spends the evening upstairs playing video games, or is literally absent, traveling for his business. He is often emotionally oblivious to the increasing pressures building to a crisis in his wife’s daily life.

It’s Marlo’s rich brother Craig (Mark Duplass), whose smug wife (Elaine Tan) and three children have had the luxury of all the childcare money can buy, who comes up with a suggestion: as a gift to his sister, he offers to pay for a ‘night nanny’ – a ‘mothers’-helper’ who arrives after dark to look after the baby throughout the night. This will allow the mother to catch up on sleep and, when required, the night nanny will bring the infant to feed in bed at its mother’s breast.

Marlo resists the idea until her body is exhausted and her wits are at an end, then she calls the number Craig has given her. The young woman who shows up at the door that evening is called Tully (Mackenzie Davis), and is a caring, vivacious, 26-year-old, who seems wise beyond her years. Reluctant at first, Marlo soon finds herself succumbing to the amity, charm and calm her new friend brings to her life, and she forms an unusual bond with the friendly, free-spirited young woman.

Theron gives a powerful performance, emotionally raw, unglamorous, physically intense – the picture of a beautiful woman who has lost control of her body and her life, battling with exhaustion and anger, overcome by the demands of motherhood.

Mackenzie Davis plays a counterpoint to this beautifully. As she has proved in the excellent TV series Halt and Catch Fire, Davis is a fearless actress, attentive and generous to her fellow actors. Theron responds in kind and their relationship becomes an intriguing exercise in a kind of emotional seduction. Although she often finds Tully’s questioning rather personal, Marlo begins to undergo a poignant examination of her past, her unfulfilled dreams and expectations, and her current place in life, and so to settle.

The climax comes when Tully persuades Marlo to sneak off for one night, leaving the sleeping baby in the house with unsuspecting husband Drew. They drive to Marlo’s funky old neighbourhood where she was single, for a girls’ night out. There they drink bourbon in bars, head bang at a black metal gig, and wind up in a grim, graffitied bathroom trying to drain Marlo’s breasts of the milk that is painfully engorging them, (I don’t think anyone else has yet been brave enough to feature a scene with a woman squirting her troublesome breast milk into a toilet bowl in a dingy bar!).

Although writer Diablo Cody portrays Tully’s arrivals under cover of darkness as somewhat akin to the visits of the mysterious and winsome mermaid who regularly appears in Marlo’s dreams, director Reitman cleverly balances this by framing the scenes between the two actresses in entirely mundane, realistic circumstances and then just letting the two excellent leads do their job.

Tully is an unusual film, as Reitman and Cody unflinchingly, yet engagingly and compassionately, portray some of the more difficult realities of motherhood, when, challenged by sleep deprivation, the complications of the post-natal body and the grind of constant physical demands, some mothers might feel that they are close to losing their minds. Perhaps then, like Marlo, they might be forgiven for finding their own individual method to diffuse their struggles, in order to avoid being utterly overcome by them.

Movie Reviews

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’…

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Featured Review

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.

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Movie Reviews

Skyscraper ★★★★



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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