Advertisements
    Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

  • Advertisements

Non-Review Review: Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots is unfocused and unmoored.

Mary, Queen of Scots feels like it should be a star vehicle for Saoirse Ronan. This makes sense. Ronan is a star in ascent. She has three Oscar nominations, and has recently headlined films with broad appeal like Brooklyn and Lady Bird. The concept of building a star vehicle for Ronan from the life and times of Mary Stuart seems like a good idea. Ronan experimented with larger-scale films in her teens like The Lovely Bones or The Host, but it seems perfectly reasonable to have her approach a large scale period drama as a genuine movie star.

Beth left unsaid.

However, Mary, Queen of Scots suffers from what feels like a crisis of confidence. The film’s second-billed lead is Margot Robbie, a successful Oscar-winning actor with similar star wattage to Ronan. Despite the fact that Mary Stuart retained the title of the film, Mary, Queen of Scots has largely been sold and marketed as a film with two leads; consider the misguided #dearsister hashtag publicity campaign, or the misguided branding on the character-focused profiles. It often seems like Mary, Queen of Scots clumsily aspires to be a biography of Queen Elizabeth I.

Mary, Queen of Scots is never entirely sure whether it wants to be a character-driven story focused on one woman’s life or a two-hander about lives in parallel. Watching the film, it feels like the decision was repeatedly taken and revised at various points during production, never committing to one approach for fear that it might preclude the other. The result is uneven and disjointed. Mary, Queen of Scots devotes enough time to Queen Elizabeth I that she feels like a major player, but only managed to get Ronan and Robbie together on set for a single day.

Queen of hearts.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Non-Review Review: Destroyer

At its core, Destroyer is a pulpy, heightened B-movie.

The basic plot involves a former undercover officer who finds herself tidying up loose ends from a botched job twelve years earlier, Erin Bell trying desperately to stay ahead of everything as the walls close in around her. It’s a standard template for a story like this, and audiences will be familiar with the basic structure of the story. Erin’s life is a disaster zone, and there is a sense that she still carries the scars from the trauma she enduring working with a local criminal gang.

She is become death…

As with most other genre exercises like this, Destroyer lives or dies in the execution. The template is so recognisable because it works efficiently. Apply a talented performer, a good director and a solid script to the template, and the movie will work. In that respect, Destroyer benefits from a compelling central performance by Nicole Kidman as Erin Bell, and from director Karyn Kusama’s understanding of the rhythms and tempos of genre exercises like this.

Destroyer stumbles a little bit in its third act, largely due to a completely unnecessary piece of narrative trickery. However, the film is propulsive and compelling enough to make it across the finish line.

Copping to it.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Monsters and Men

Monsters and Men is an impressive theatrical debut for director Reinaldo Marcus Green, at least in technical sense.

There is an artfulness to Monsters and Men, an impressive level of craft. The compositions are striking and impressive. In particular, the closing shot of the film is an emotive and memorable visual that lingers as the closing credits role. If Monsters and Men is any indication, Green has a long and impressive career ahead of him. He demonstrates a keen eye for cinematic images and an intuitive knack for visual storytelling.

“I’m talkin’ to the man in the two-way mirror…”

Unfortunately, Monsters and Men is much less satisfying as a narrative experience than it is as a collection of shots and images. It is an ambitious and provocative piece of work, a narrative triptych that focuses on three very different characters affected in three very different ways by a police shooting in New York. Monsters and Men hopes to fashion a mosaic, to offer three fractured perspectives that might better illuminate the whole. Unfortunately, these individual stories don’t really work together and do not cohere into a singular or defining statement.

Monsters and Men undoubtedly has its heart in the right place as a piece of low-budget socially-conscious film making, but it simply cannot deliver on its ambitions. Although this ultimately undercuts the film, there are certainly worse flaws to have.

Feeling fenced in.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: The Upside

The Upside doesn’t work.

From the outset, it is very clear what The Upside wants to be. This a movie that aspires towards a broad feel-good mood. Perhaps its closest companion in this particular awards cycle is Green Book. It is easy to be cynical about such films, and it is particularly easy to be cynical about The Upside. The film’s delayed release is not the result of a studio desperately holding a hidden gem until late in awards season, this is a would-be crowd pleaser pried from the cold dead hands of the Weinstein Company.

Hart to heart.

Everything in The Upside seems designed to guide an audience on an emotionally uplifting journey, a story of two characters from very different circumstances brought together so that each might elevate the other. All of the big moments in The Upside are no so much telegraphed as broadcast, the volume turned up to eleven. Characters scream and shout, at both each other and the world around them. Catharsis isn’t just sought, it is amplified. There is no moment at which The Upside leaves the audience in any doubt about what they should feel.

The result is a clumsy and awkward piece of cinema that constantly trips over itself, repeatedly undermining anything meaningful or significant that it might have to say about either of its two central characters.

“So, what is The Upside here?”

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Life Itself

Life Itself is a spectacular disaster.

There’s an incredible amount of ego on display in Life Itself, which makes a certain amount of sense. It is an auteur project from Dan Fogelman, written and directed by the guy responsible for This is Us. It is the kind of adult-centric drama that people don’t really make anymore, from the mind responsible for one of the biggest television hits of the decade. On paper, it is easy to see why there was a bidding war over Life Itself on the festival circuit, major studios tripping over one another to offer the largest cheque.

A pregnant pause.

Watching the film, of course, it is easy to see why Life Itself ended up as a cinematic footnote. It was dumped at the United States box office, dead on arrival. It limped into the United Kingdom with a simultaneous theatrical and television release on Sky One, a strategy usually reserved for enjoyable nonsense like Final Score. There is a reason for this. In Life Itself, ego gives way to indulgence. There is an incredibly and obnoxious smugness to Life Itself, the confidence of a truism scrawled clumsily on a beer mat, punctuated by several exclamation marks and underlined for emphasis.

Life Itself watches like the work of an over-eager film student motivated primarily by the profundity of their own insight, having assembled an impressive cast and offering a globetrotting story. Unfortunately, Life Itself is decidedly less fun than the best of those pseudo-profound philosophical treatises, delivered with a suffocating sense of its own self-importance.

Some significant (An)tonal issues.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Welcome to Marwen

Welcome to Marwen is a deeply weird film, and not in a good way.

The basic structure of the film is a feel good narrative of a character coming to terms with his post-traumatic stress disorder. Mark Hogancamp was beaten almost to death by a group of Neo-Nazis outside a bar, for nothing more than mentioning that he liked to wear women’s clothes. Mark has retreated into himself, creating a model village called “Marwen”, an anachronistic Belgian village from the Second World War. The town is home to a toyetic doppelgänger for Mark, the heroic “Hoogie”, who finds the courage to fight Nazis despite his losses.

The toast of the town.

The arc of the film is very obvious from that premise, with a number of other details sprinkled into the script to provide stakes and momentum. Nicol, an attractive redhead dealing with the loss of her son and a stalker ex-boyfriend, moves in across the way and connects with Mark. At the same time, the sentencing of the criminals who attacked Mark is fast approaching, and Mark needs to read his “victim impact statement” in open court. There is also a suggestion that Mark is wrestling with addiction, having to careful ration his painkillers.

All of this is fairly standard prestige picture stuff, providing Mark and the audience with a very clear journey across the film and offering a potentially hopeful conclusion to Mark’s journey. This is all very hokey, but it could work. It is a very earnest narrative, but director Robert Zemeckis is the kind of storyteller who knows how to make those sorts of narratives work. Forrest Gump is a beloved classic for a reason, no matter how clumsy and hokey it might be.

Mark his words…

However, Welcome to Marwen chooses to elaborate upon its stock upbeat triumph-over-adversity template in a number of frankly bizarre ways. Welcome to Marwen flails wildly between genres, pivoting from earnest and overwrought melodrama to absurd fantasy to lazy comedy on a dime. The issue is not that Welcome to Marwen doesn’t cohere as a film, the issue is that many of the individual scenes within the film struggle to find a consistent tone from one minute to another.

Zemeckis is a skilled enough craftsman that the film impresses on a purely technical level; the dolls tilt into the uncanny valley on occasion, but there is every indication that this is intentional. However, on a purely narrative level, Welcome to Marwen feels like it was put together by a twelve-year-old who had only read about how movies work.

Hoogie’s heroes.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Second Act

In structural terms, Second Act is effectively a romantic comedy. It just hits upon the novelty of stripping out a secondary lead.

Second Act is the story of Maya Vargas, as played by Jennifer Lopez. Maya works as a manager at a local supermarket, where she has found a way to turn the business into a local institution due to her quick-thinking and her understanding of what customers actually want. Maya is grounded, smart and reasonably successful in her chosen field. However, she is also fundamentally unsatisfied. She aspires to something greater than the life that she currently lives, and fate conspires to elevate her through a case of mistaken (or at least obscured) identity.

Streets ahead.

Second Act is a familiar aspiration fantasy, anchored in the idea that personal reinvention is possible through a combination of imagination and insight, that people are capable of transcending their circumstances or their bad luck through a combination of intelligence and commitment. Although Maya only has a single love interest over the course of the film, the boyfriend with which she starts the adventure and who is promptly sidelined, the beats and rhythms of Second Act are taken wholesale from the romantic comedy template.

Perhaps the love affair at the heart of Second Act is Maya learning to properly love herself.

Milo’s to go.

Continue reading