Sunday, 17 June 2018


Universal Pictures

Much like the ethics surrounding cloning, producers of the Jurassic Park/World franchise don't seem to have ever stopped to question whether their ability to produce film after film of dino misadventures means that they should. But much like the villains in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, sequel to the surprising box office behemoth of 2015, and the fifth Jurassic film overall, Colin Trevorrow, (swapping directing for writing duties) and new helmsman JA Bayona (The Impossible) seem to have decided on the rationale of why do good when you can make money. After being tricked into rescuing dinosaurs from the now twice defunct adventure park, Claire (Dallas Bryce Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) have to stop corporate bad guys Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) and Gunnar Eversol (Toby Jones) from using the dinos for nefarious purposes. Of course, as always happens, all hell breaks loose but very little in the way of genuine fun, thrills or wonder.


Studio Canal

Perhaps not as scary as the Sundance hype would have us believe, Ari Aster's self-assured feature debut, Hereditary, is still a rather unsettling film experience that means to get under your skin - and does. And that's even before things go bat shit crazy for Annie (Toni Collette) and her family, including husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne) and adolescent son Peter (Alex Wolff); still mourning the loss of Annie's mother when an even greater tragedy strikes, an even greater grief takes hold, and things go from bad to worse for the Graham family. It says a lot for Aster's skill for establishing mood and character that Hereditary succeeds at discomforting the audience long before things take a turn for the supernatural; the action may get bloodier in the third act but Aster's spell is also broken somewhat. Collette's performance, however, never wavers. She starts in high gear and accelerates from there.

Saturday, 26 August 2017


Universal Pictures

When TWA pilot Barry Seal, who's already dealing in contraband Cuban cigars, is recruited by the CIA in 1978 to fly photographic reconnaissance missions over Communist-threatened South America, he discovers a knack for field work.

But it's a gateway drug to, well, drugs when he's enlisted by the soon-to-be infamous cartel, operated by Pablo Escobar, to fly plane loads of cocaine into the US.

Rather than be thrown in jail when arrested, Seal's CIA contact (Domhnall Gleeson) decides Barry is the perfect wingman to fly arms to the Contra, and bring them back to the US for training. Bags and bags of cash, as well as a big old adrenaline rush, are Barry's reward.

Pretty soon he and his pretty blonde wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright not required to do too much more than fulfil that description) are living the high life, albeit in small-town Arkansas, where it becomes abundantly clear that you can buy everything but class.

American Made is about the American dream, corrupted, as always, by greed and hubris. If he's not flying too close to the sun in this Icarus-like tale, Cruise's Seal is sailing too close to the wind; legally and morally.

Doug Liman was wise to deploy the star power of Cruise (they worked together on 2014's terrific sci-fi, Edge of Tomorrow) to make his anti-hero so gosh darn likeable. (Not so wise to deploy those annoying camera angles and movements.) Barry doesn't want to hurt, or disappoint anyone: he wants to provide for his family, perform to the best of his abilities, and have some fun while he's doing it.

How much of Seal's exploits as depicted here are factual is probably contentious but American Made, penned by Gary Spinelli, provides some intermittent fun (and occasional political commentary) while playing entertainingly with the facts. Much like Barry Seal himself (who recounts his fantastical tale via a series of to-VHS-camera tapes).

And if nothing else, it's a reminder not only of Tom Cruise's ability to carry almost any film -- he truly is one of the last old school movie stars -- but also of his comic abilities. As he approaches 60, and his action man heroics become too much for his body to handle (or the audience to swallow), he would be wise to seek out projects and directors that can tap into this seemingly rich deposit. That's an adventure you just know Barry Seal would've jumped at.


Transmission Films

Much like the artist herself, Aisling Walsh's Maudie, penned by Sherry White, is a modest biopic of the Nova Scotian painter.

Born with rheumatoid arthritis, and deemed incapable of looking after herself by her aunt and brother, Maud Dowley leaves the conditional comfort of her aunt's home when she replies to an advert on the general store noticeboard calling for 'a woman to keep house'.

That house, such as it is, sits on the outskirts of town and belongs to curmudgeonly jack-of-all-trades, Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke). An orphan who's made his own way in the world, Everett's not about to give free rein of his home to a stranger, not immediately anyway. "It's the dogs, them chickens, and then you", he tells Maud, matter-of-factly, when it comes to the Lewis household pecking order. (The occasional domestic violence also underlines Everett's position.)

Still, Maud decides to stay; cooking, cleaning, and brightening up Everett's weather-beaten shack with her unique landscape paintings boasting brightly coloured flowers and trees, birds and bees (which the pair eventually get around to exploring, biblically, but not before Maud makes Everett put a ring on it).

Maud's paintings soon capture the attention of locals and then, a TV documentary crew. As her fame grows, and her arthritis worsens, her relationship with Everett, like most marriages, experiences up and downs. Aisling's film is no ground-breaker in cinematic terms, but she's fortunate to have two such strong leads.

Sally Hawkins's portrayal of Maud is never showy. Lopsided and gnarled from her arthritis, it's the smile on her face and the glint in her eye, and the occasional emotional outburst that make Maud, and Hawkins' portrayal memorable. It's an award-worthy performance without being "an award-worthy performance".

And Ethan Hawke once again proves to be an excellent support for his female lead; making the gruff, occasionally brutal Everett sympathetic. He may be all rough edges, and growls and grunts, but Hawke doesn't allow for Everett to be reduced to caricature or 'the villain'.

Their relationship may have been problematic, especially when viewed through a 2017-lens, but together Maud and Everett were a perfect fit. Maudie is by no means a masterpiece, but Hawkins and Hawke brighten and deepen its canvas immensely.