D: Sidney Lumet
Columbia (Sidney Lumet, Charles H. Maguire & Max E. Youngstein)
W: Walter Bernstein & Peter George [based on the novel by Eugene Burdick & Harvey Wheeler]
DP: Gerald Hirschfeld
Ed: Ralph Rosenblum
Henry Fonda (The President), Walter Matthau (Groeteschele), Dan O'Herlihy (Gen. Black), Frank Overton (Gen. Bogan), Fritz Weaver (Col. Cascio)
Sailing below the radar due to Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove being released in the same year, this Cold War drama looks at similar themes through more dramatic lenses.
Due to an erroneous message from the Pentagon, a US bomber is despatched with an atomic weapon en route to Moscow, starting a domino effect of events which the American president must account for.
Incredibly well written, with a superb central performance from Henry Fonda, this is a film which would have been harder hitting when watched in the 1960's, when the fear factor was very much part of current affairs. It still has some resonance nowadays, but much of the tech in this film is dated.
It's unfortunate that the much superior Dr. Strangelove was released the same year, despite looking at the Cold War from a satirical viewpoint.
FANTASTIC BEASTS & WHERE TO FIND THEM (12)
D: David Yates
Warner Bros/Heyday (David Heyman, J.K. Rowling, Steve Kloves & Lionel Wigram)
🇺🇸 🇬🇧 2016
W: J.K. Rowling [based on her novel]
DP: Philippe Rousselot
Ed: Mark Day
Mus: James Newton Howard
PD: Stuart Craig
Cos: Colleen Atwood
Eddie Redmayne (Newt Scamander), Katherine Waterston (Porpentina Goldstein), Dan Fogler (Jacob Kowalski), Alison Sudol (Queenie Goldstein), Colin Farrell (Percival Graves), Ezra Miller (Credence Barebone), Carmen Ejogo (Seraphina Picquery), Samantha Morton (Mary Lou)
J.K. Rowling's expanded universe of Harry Potter's wizarding world takes us to 1920's New York, where magical zoologist Newt Scamander and his Mary Poppins suitcase full of fantastic beasts is a new arrival to American shores from Britain.
When one of his creatures escapes from the suitcase at a bank, Newt and a "no-maj" (lacking magic) baker accidentally switch cases. Meanwhile, something is causing havoc around the city, and the unlikely duo, with the help of two magical sisters, investigate the goings-on, while the ominous Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) appears to be doing likewise.
Though the story here is not a direct prequel to Harry Potter's adventures, there are many references to it, and fans of J.K. Rowling's schoolboy wizard certainly won't feel short changed by this.
The production design and costumes capture the period wonderfully, as well as being creative in their own respect. One small niggle is that some of the CGI is nowhere near the standard you'd expect for a top dollar blockbuster, especially for the supposed fantastic beasts, although this can't be said for all of the effects (some of which are well executed). The role of Newt Scamander seems to fit Eddie Redmayne like a glove.
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD (12)
D: David Yates
Warner Bros/Heyday (David Heyman, J.K. Rowling, Steve Kloves & Lionel Wigram)
🇬🇧 🇺🇸 2018
W: J.K. Rowling
DP: Philippe Rousselot
Ed: Mark Day
Mus: James Newton Howard
PD: Stuart Craig
Cos: Colleen Atwood
Eddie Redmayne (Newt Scamander), Katherine Waterston (Tina Goldstein), Dan Fogler (Jacob Kowalski), Alison Sudol (Queenie Goldstein), Jude Law (Albus Dumbledore), Johnny Depp (Gellert Grindelwald)
When the first film (Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them) proved to be a hit, it was inevitable that sequels would follow, especially since the Harry Potter movies proved so bankable for Warner Bros.
Just like the first movie J.K. Rowling penned the screenplay herself, following on from them events to set up the villainous character of Grindelwald, an evil wizard who practices the dark arts of magic. Albus Dumbledore enlists the help of Newt Scamander to find the wizard and defeat him and he attempts to enlist the help of his pals from the first adventure.
The film starts with a bang, as Grindelwald escapes incarceration, but then the next 60-90 minutes is dragged down with boring, plodding exposition, which mostly consists of characters pointing at things and explaining the plot to us muggles who don't have a Scooby what's going on. It also invests a lot of time in setting up characters for more sequels, because J.K Rowling wants another throne to sit on as she judges the rest of us peasants via her Twitter account.
In all honesty, I'm not a fan of Harry Potter and never have been. Some of the films were enjoyable, but some were dull as dishwater, 2-hour plus trailers for the next in the series. That's pretty much what this is, except even Harry Potter fans are disappointed and left theatres wondering what the hell they'd just watched, especially since it seems to retcon things which are already canon.
Perhaps J.K. Rowling should stick to writing books, rather than screenplays (or condescending, disingenuous, virtue-signalling tweets).
FAR FROM HEAVEN (15)
D: Todd Haynes
Focus Features (Christine Vachon & Jody Patton)
W: Todd Haynes
DP: Edward Lachman
Ed: James Lyons
Mus: Elmer Bernstein
PD: Mark Friedberg
Julianne Moore (Cathy Whitaker), Dennis Quaid (Frank Whitaker), Dennis Haysbert (Raymond Deagan), Patricia Clarkson (Eleanor Fine), Viola Davis (Sybil)
An exquisitely-photographed slice of 1950's New England, reminiscent of classic Douglas Sirk melodramas, starring Julianne Moore as a housewife in a wealthy Connecticut suburb who discovers that her husband (Dennis Quaid) is homosexual. To deal with her grief, she embarks on a secret relationship with her black gardener and incurs wrath from the racist townsfolk.
Beautifully filmed, strongly acted and with a powerful message in the script. Julianne Moore has rarely been better.
THE FAVOURITE (15)
D: Yorgos Lanthimos
Fox Searchlight/Element/Arcana/Film 4/Scarlet/Waypoint (Ed Guiney, Ceci Dempsey, Lee Magiday & Yorgos Lanthimos)
🇬🇧 🇺🇸 🇮🇪 2018
W: Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara
DP: Robbie Ryan
Ed: Yorgos Mavropidis
PD: Fiona Crombie
Cos: Sandy Powell
Olivia Colman (Queen Anne), Emma Stone (Abigail Hill), Rachel Weisz (Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough), Nicholas Hoult (Earl Robert Harley), Joe Alwyn (Samuel Masham), Mark Gatiss (John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough)
Political games and cat fights in the court of Queen Anne are afoot in this bawdy 18th Century romp from director Yorgos Lanthimos, working off a screenplay that had been lying dormant for 20 years before getting a fresh reworking and a brand new title (the original was "The Balance Of Power")
The trio of performances see Olivia Colman play the ailing Queen Anne, suffering from poor health at the tail end of her reign, while Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone play a pair of chambermaids who vie for her attention as her main confidant. Rachel Weisz as a duchess of high standing who has the Queen's ear in matters of politics, while Emma Stone's Abigail Hill comes from a far poorer background, but ends up being equally manipulative.
Inspired by true characters and events, artistic licence is made to give the story a rather contemporary feel, mostly to serve the acerbic dialogue and spiteful humour, both of which are hilarious.
The production, filmed at Hatfield House and Hampton Court Palace, capture the period perfectly, helped by Robbie Ryan's fisheye cinematography which captures the sprawling halls of royalty with a sense of panorama. The only thing which didn't work for me was the eerie music, which seemed intrusive more than it did immersive.
The trio of performances at the focal point of the story are all excellent, and though it's Olivia Colman who is being pushed as the lead for the sake of awards recognition, any and all of three of the ladies could be considered the lead. Those expecting a more elegant costume drama (like Downton Abbey) may be perturbed by the humour, but those who like their humour a little dark will likely find it quite hilarious.
D: Denzel Washington
Paramount/Bron Creative/Macro Media (Todd Black, Scott Rudin & Denzel Washington)
W: August Wilson [based on his stage play]
DP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen
Ed: Hughes Winborne
Mus: Marcelo Zarvos
Denzel Washington (Troy Maxson), Viola Davis (Rose Maxson), Jovan Adepo (Cory Maxson), Stephen Henderson (Jim Bono), Russell Hornsby (Lyons Maxson), Mykelti Williamson (Gabriel Maxson)
Fences is virtually a filmed version of a stage play, but it does showcase an ensemble of excellent performances, especially from the leading pair, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, the latter of whom won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, despite being the leading actress in the picture.
The transition from stage to screen doesn't appear to affect the material, which focuses on the relationships of Troy Masson, a rubbish collector and his family in 1950's Pittsburgh, the majority of the scenes taking place in his back yard where he plans to put up a fence with his son.
The dialogue mostly consists of Troy battling with racial oppressions of the time, particularly his failures to make it as a ball player due to the colour of his skin. A sore point which he tries to pass down to his son, an aspiring football player who is bound by his father's strict rules.
Though the material will doubtlessly work better on stage, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis make this eminently watchable with their excellent character portrayals, especially in the quieter moments when Troy isn't shouting at everyone.
D: Carlos Saldanha
20th Century Fox/Blue Sky (John Davis, Lisa Marie Stetier, Lori Forte & Bruce Anderson)
W: Robert L. Baird, Tim Federle & Brad Copeland [based on "The Story Of Ferdinand" by Munro Leaf & Robert Lawson]
Mus: John Powell
voices of: John Cena (Ferdinand), Kate McKinnon (Lupe), Bobby Cannavale (Valiente), Gina Rodriguez (Una), Daveed Diggs (Dos)
The Story Of Ferdinand was originally made into an 8-minute short film by Walt Disney and his studio way back in 1938, winning an Oscar for Best Animated Short.
The story centres on a bull who is more interested in the matador's flowers than he is in fighting.
This feature length update adds 100 minutes to the plot, mostly about the evils of bullfighting and, to a lesser extent, eating meat... you know, for kids.
The animation may be an improvement on the 1930's counterpart and family-friendly it may be, but that doesn't make it a great movie.
Children may find enjoyment in it, but a good animated film should really aim higher. After all, it's the parents who can afford the price of the tickets.
Personally, I find the 8-minute version much more fun.
FIFTY SHADES DARKER (18)
D: James Foley
Universal/Perfect World/Trigger Street (Michael DeLuca, E.L. James, Dana Brunetti & Marcus Viscidi)
W: Niall Leonard [based on the insipid trash masquerading as a novel by E.L. James]
DP: John Schwartzman
Ed: Richard Francis-Bruce
Mus: Danny Elfman
Dakota Johnson (Anastasia Steele), Jamie Dornan (Christian Grey), Eric Johnson (Jack Hyde), Eloise Mumford (Kate Kavanagh), Bella Heathcote (Leila Williams), Rita Ora (Mia Grey), Kim Basinger (Elena Lincoln)
A sequel to Fifty Shades Of Grey, because "No means Yes" if you're rich and "handsome". Also, E.L. James churned out three of these fucking books and the first movie made a shitload of money for some reason I honestly cannot fathom.
The story sees billionaire rapist cram his way back into wet lettuce Anastasia Steele's life because he wants to "renegotiate terms", so he can whip and fuck her at weekends a little bit more. Of course, the best way to do this is to stalk her, buy the company she works for and practically prostitute her for his own titillation. What a gentleman.
Kim Basinger also turns up (caked in clownish makeup) as one of Grey's former lovers and she's less than impressed that she isn't the one being fuck-whipped at weekends & treated like a piece of property. Anastasia also has to deal with a rapey boss, but she's not into him because he's not billionaire-rich.
Honestly, these stories are just trash, and although they may provide a little bit of kink for middle aged women with a questionable sex life, as movies they're just insanely dull, poorly acted, insipid bullshit with a terrible message that romance and sexual relationships are just a rich man's plaything.
FILOFAX (aka TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS) (15)
THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (aka THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY) (15)
FIRST MAN (12)
D: Damien Chazelle
Universal/Dreamworks/Temple Hill/Perfect World (Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Isaac Klausner & Damien Chazelle)
W: Josh Singer [based on the book "First Man: The Life Of Neil A. Armstrong" by James R. Hansen]
DP: Linus Sandgren
Ed: Tom Cross
Mus: Justin Hurwitz
PD: Nathan Crowley
Ryan Gosling (Neil Armstrong), Claire Foy (Janet Armstrong), Corey Stoll (Buzz Aldrin), Pablo Schreiber (Jim Lovell), Jason Clarke (Ed White), Kyle Chandler (Deke Slayton)
First Man is a biopic of Neil Armstrong, though it doesn't take the conventional approach in showcasing his life & achievements. It's fair to say that if you're expecting a cross between Apollo 13 and The Right Stuff, this subverts expectations by presenting a story which is a little bit closer to The Tree Of Life.
The film begins shortly before the death of Armstrong's infant daughter, following which he switches his career focus from test pilot to the NASA space programme, dedicated to both the Gemini and Apollo programmes which aimed to see American astronauts beat Russian cosmonauts in the mission to land on the moon.
Ryan Gosling gives a low-key, emotionally void performance as Armstrong, who was reported to be a very pensive, introverted man who wouldn't allow his emotions to interfere with his work. Claire Foy also gives a solid performance as Janet, Armstrong's first wife and much of the narrative's conflict is with the relationship between the two of them, culminating in a rather powerful scene in which she demands he explains to his sons that there may be a chance he may not survive the mission ahead.
Chazelle's direction is the real star here though, using dizzying cinematography as a tool to disorientate as well as incredible visual effects and sound design to allow the viewer to both feel and fear the perils of space travel. The design of the film is also done with the highest degree of accuracy, focusing on rusty nuts and bolts of the spacecraft rather than sleek fuselage which we've grown accustomed to as the science fiction genre has developed (n.b. This film is not science fiction), as well as utilising realism for the depictions of the missions, such as silence in space and a convincingly accurate vista of the moon's surface at the film's climax.
From a technical aspect, First Man is first class, but it's the narrative which is second rate, suffering from a slow build up and leaving many unanswered questions. It may take one giant leap for filmmaking, but for entertainment value, it doesn't quite reach the heights of the outer stratosphere.
D: Niels Arden Oplev
Sony/Columbia/Cross Creek/Further (Laurence Mark, Michael Douglas & Peter Safran)
W: Ben Ripley [based on the screenplay by Peter Filardi]
DP: Eric Kress
Ed: Tom Elkins
Mus: Nathan Barr
Ellen Page (Dr. Courtney Holmes), Diego Luna (Ray), Nina Dobrev (Marlo), James Norton (Jamie), Kiersey Clemons (Dr. Sophia Manning), Kiefer Sutherland (Dr. Barry Wolfson)
A remake of the 1990 film which nobody was clamouring for, but the film executives at Sony don't give a fuck about that so long as they can make a buck or two back from a minimum outlay.
The plot is much the same, a group of medical students experiment with near death experiences and bring demons back from the other side with them, although, following the experiments in this film, they mostly act like young students without a care in the world, because this remake is for the YOLO generation. This is the film's biggest flaw. The characters don't act like medical professionals, they just act like spoilt teenagers who can do whatever the fuck they want without consequence.
The 1990 movie wasn't without its flaws, but it was atmospherically effective and built the tension incredibly well. This remake lacks both, and for the most part, it's mind-numbingly boring. Watch the original instead, do not resuscitate this one.
FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (PG)
D: Stephen Frears
Paramount/BBC/Pathé/Qwerty (Michael Kuhn & Tracey Seaward)
🇬🇧 🇫🇷 2016
W: Nicholas Martin
DP: Danny Cohen
Ed: Valerio Bonelli
Mus: Alexandre Desplat
PD: Alan MacDonald
Cos: Consolata Boyle
Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins), Hugh Grant (St. Clair Bayfield), Simon Helberg (Cosmé McMoon), Rebecca Ferguson (Kathleen Weatherley), Nina Arianda (Agnes Stark)
Proof that Meryl Streep can do no wrong, and even when she's lousy, she can nab herself an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
In this biopic, played-for-laughs, she stars as 1940's socialite Florence Foster Jenkins, who spent much of her vast fortune attempting to launch a career as an opera singer, despite a lack of basic talent.
Although Meryl Streep won her 20th Academy Award nomination for her performance, it's Hugh Grant, as her husband and manager, who deserves the plaudits for this one.
A good film, sure, but nowhere near an Oscar-worthy one.
THE FLORIDA PROJECT (15)
D: Sean Baker
A24/Cre Film/Freestyle Picture Company/Cinereach/June (Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch, Kevin Chinoy, Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Francesca Silvestri & Shih-Chung Tsou)
W: Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch
DP: Alexis Zabe
Ed: Sean Baker
Mus: Lorne Balfe
Brooklynn Prince (Moonee), Bria Vinaite (Halley), Willem Dafoe (Bobby Hicks), Valeria Cotto (Jancey), Christopher Rivera (Scooty)
There are some who have compared The Florida Project with 2016's Moonlight, but that may not be a shining endorsement of Sean Baker's urban drama, which features a trio of brilliant performance in its less than glamorous setting.
The title itself is an ironic one, making reference to the original name that the Epcot Center has become, a theme park to mirror Orlando's Disneyworld.
Set on the outskirts of Disney's magical kingdom, the story takes place at a rundown motel which has been in decline since its 1960's heyday, and has now become residence to many undesirable tenants, two of whom are Halley, an unemployed single mother who makes her rent by selling stolen goods and occasional prostitution, and her 6-year-old daughter Moonee, who is very much the focal point of the film, spending her school summer break on the motel grounds with her friends, getting up to mischief and begging tourists for ice cream money.
Willem Dafoe also plays a prominent role as the hotel manager, Bobby, trying his best to keep his residents happy as well as keeping the place in business.
The two main actresses, Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince do an excellent job with their film debuts, and an Oscar nomination for the juvenile actress honestly wouldn't come as too big a surprise. Willem Dafoe scoring a third nomination is a certainty - watch this space!
The abrupt ending won't be to everyone's taste, but this still remains one of the best independent films of 2017.