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Non-Review Review: Widows (2018)

At its most basic, Widows is a testament to applying the skill and craft of two filmmakers working at the very top of their game to a sturdy and reliable genre framework.

The basic plot of Widows is relatively straightforward, adapted from Lynda LaPlante’s book by way of a very successful British television miniseries. A group of women find themselves drawn into an unlikely life of crime when their husbands are killed during a botched robbery. Caught between corrupt politicians and scheming gangsters, the women are thrown out of their comfort zone as their leader commits to completing a heist that was carefully and meticulously planned by her late husband. It’s pulpy, it’s trashy, it’s fun.

Widows of opportunity.

However, the beauty of Widows lies in applying the skill of Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen to this set-up. Flynn is one of the biggest writers working today, known for both her novels and for her work on screenplays. Gone Girl was enough of a cultural force to turn its title into a verb, and embodied a certain kind of sleek self-aware trashy storytelling style. McQueen is a great writer in his own right, but already one of the most esteemed and respected directors working in contemporary cinema; known for his work on Shame or Twelve Years a Slave.

Widows is a movie that is completely unashamed of the trappings of its story, a familiar story about unlikely criminals who find themselves forced into “one last job”, with the biggest irony being that it is somebody else’s last job. Widows never looks down upon the heightened aspects of its narrative, nor does it feel a need to elevate or legitimise them. Instead, Widows allows its intelligence and insight to fold into the contours of this slick stylish crime thriller. The result is simply dazzling.

Stealy resolve.

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Non-Review Review: Searching…

Searching… is an interesting fusion. It blends the innovative narrative style of Unfriended with the more convention cinematic language of thrillers like Kiss the Girls.

This cocktail is at once welcome and overdue. Unfriended was one of those rare genuinely innovative pieces of mainstream cinema; in form, if not necessarily in function. Unfriended built from a premise that was both incredibly simple and also formally daring, telling a fairly standard supernatural teenage revenge story entirely through a computer desktop. As with Searching…, all of Unfriended unfolded within a computer screen.

Windows ’95 into the soul…

In hindsight, it is surprising that it has taken other genres so long to embrace that formal experiment. Cinema has a long history of eagerly coopting the language and experiments of horror for more prestigious and high-brow fare. Consider, for example, how quickly other genres coopted the “found footage” revolution of the early twenty-first century for action movies, thrillers, comedies, and even monster movies and superhero films. (Then again, that embrace of the “found footage” aesthetic may have caught on for reasons beyond the success of The Blair Witch Project.)

Searching… takes the basic formal conceit of Unfriended and applies it to a more conventional genre film. The result is an abduction thriller told exclusively through screens, through video streams, search histories, web cameras and screenshots. It’s a provocative premise, effectively turning the bigger screen into a smaller one and changing the rules of how the audience processes the imagery in front of them. However, Searching… clearly aspires to bridge the gap between screens big and small.

She needs to screen her fans better.

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Non-Review Review: La French (The Connection)

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015.

La French (aka The Connection) looks and sounds beautiful.

Working with cinematographer Laurent Tangy, director Cédric Jimenez manages to capture the scenic beauty of seventies Marseilles. The classic architecture, the sea views, even the hot night spots all look absolutely stunning. Le French manages to capture the crisp feeling of the late seventies without ever feeling stylised or staged. Similarly, Jimenez manages to pull together a beautifully evocative soundtrack, with songs as distinct as Call Me and This Bitter Earth helping to underscore emotionally-charged sequences and giving the film a sense of style and taste.

lafrench

La French is a stylishly-constructed crime thriller that stretches from the south of France to New York and back again, a family loosely inspired by the infamous “French Connection” that fed drugs into France and overseas to the United States. However, despite its obvious overlap with William Friedkin’s The French Connection, it seems like Jimenez owes more to the work of filmmakers like Michael Mann or Martin Scorcese, constructing a crime epic that flows beautifully and effortlessly, with an impressive soundtrack complimenting a dynamic visual style.

This is perhaps the biggest problem with La French, a sense that there might actually be too much style – that the film may occasionally feel a little too hollow or detached from its twin leads. However, Jimenez cleverly casts Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche in the lead roles, who help anchor the film with a sense of humanity that only occasionally gets lost in the film’s beautifully-crafted production.

lafrench2

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Non-Review Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones

A Walk Among the Tombstones is an oddly nostalgic serial killer film.

The movie is an adaptation of Lawrence Block’s novel of the same name. Block originally published A Walk Among the Tombstones in 1992, around the time that pop culture’s fascination with serial killers was building to a crescendo. Thomas Harris had released Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs to universal acclaim. Jonathan Demme’s film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs had managed to sweep the Oscars, despite the handicap of a February 1991 release.

Dead letters...

Dead letters…

Scott Frank’s feature film adaptation moves the action forward to 1999, towards the tail end of pop culture’s interest in serial killers. Morgan Freeman’s career in serial killer films offers perhaps the best illustration of the state of the genre. By this point, Freeman had already moved on from 1995’s stylish se7en towards 1997’s efficient Kiss the Girls and was on the cusp of 2001’s unnecessary Along Came a Spider. The serial killer’s stock was falling, and the serial killer would soon be replaced by another bogeyman.

This shift in the story’s setting makes it feel like A Walk Among the Tombstones is a funeral ode towards the serial killer.

Lives are on the line...

Lives are on the line…

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Non-Review Review: A Most Wanted Man

For better or worse, A Most Wanted Man is going to be overshadowed by the passing of its lead actor. Philip Seymour Hoffman was a giant, a performer with a wonderful gift for bringing flawed and real characters to life, and A Most Wanted Man serves as his last leading role in a major motion picture. It is impossible to talk about A Most Wanted Man without talking about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

It is a great performance, one that reminds the audience of why they loved Hoffman in the first place – Günther Bachmann is the sort of flawed human being that Hoffman played so well, given a great deal of depth by the late actor.

What's on the table?

What’s on the table?

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Watch! Mama Trailer…

Universal just set over the new trailer for Mama, the new supernatural thriller produced by Guillermo del Toro. Del Toror is producing, and writer-director Andres Muschietti is making his theatrical début, having worked on a number of short films before this (including one called Mamá). It stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Jessica Chastain and follows the mysterious recovery of two missing girls years after their initial disappearance. It looks nice and atmospheric, and del Toro’s name is enough to make the film worth a look to me.

Give the trailer a watch and let me know what you think.

Non-Review Review: Safe House

Safe House is a perfectly fine international thriller, which manages to effectively capture the look and feel of its setting in South Africa. Light on plot and characterisation, but heavy on action and atmosphere, Safe House isn’t necessarily required viewing. In fact, it has a great deal of difficulty convincing the audience to emotionally invest in either of the two lead characters. Still, director Daniel Espinosa keeps things ticking over with a workman-like efficiency on a simple plot and Denzel Washington is as charming a leading man as ever.

Safe as houses…

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