Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Pacific Rim: Uprising - review

Will a film like Pacific Rim Uprising ever be judged as fine art or highbrow entertainment? No.
Does Pacific Rim Uprising deliver on its promise of giant robots fighting giant monsters? Yes. And then some!
Set 10 years after Idris Elba's Stacker Pentecost "cancelled the apocalypse", Uprising follows his son Jake (John Boyega) who is living the life of Riley. Partying all night and spending his days trading Del Toro's Oscar and stolen Jaeger tech for Sriracha hot sauce.
Fate (and the purposes of the plot) brings him into contact with a young upstart Amara Namani (played with zesty zeal by Cailee Spaeny) who has built her own mini-Jaeger. One CGI-heavy chase later and they are arrested and brought back into the Jaeger pilot programme by Jake's half-sister Mako Mori (Rinko Kukuchi returning along with Charlie Day and Burn Gorman).
Mori needs Jake's help to to keep the programme running in the face of a proposed remote drone programme but before you can say "Kaiju believe it?", evil forces have conspired to reopen the breach and giant monsters are soon rampaging through downtown Tokyo like Godzilla going for a midday stroll.
Uprising doubles down on the action in some genuinely surprising and enjoyable ways, even if they create plot holes wider than a breach in the Pacific ocean.
The main reason that the audience will go with them and keep a silly smile on their face throughout is down to lead actor (and producer) John Boyega. It is a performance that cements his position as a bona fide movie star and he could power an entire fleet of Jaegers with the power of his charisma alone..
Pacific Rim Uprising is a classic Ronseal film in that it does exactly what it says on the tin but Boyega is the Jaeger-Bomb!

3 stars

Monday, 26 March 2018

Unsane - review

Steven Soderbergh. The man seems to have retired more times than Deckard has retired replicants. He is Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III. "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!"
However, if he continues to pull films like this and Logan Lucky out of the bag, then "Frankly me dear, I don't give a damn!".
Throughout his career Soderbergh has experimented with storytelling techniques through narrative and technology and Unsane is no different, being shot entirely on an iPhone 7.
He is not the first, Sean Baker made his debut feature Tangerine on an iPhone5, and he certainly won't be the last. Rather than limiting or handicapping production, Soderbergh uses it as a positive.
The handheld camera sets the scene from the first frame. Following Claire Foy's character Sawyer Valentini from a distance. Watching her from afar. Just like the stalker that has destroyed her life, and possibly her sanity.
Visiting a mental health facility to discuss her fears following a relapse, a few signatures later and Sawyer finds herself voluntarily committed for 24 hours.
*ALWAYS read the terms and conditions folks!*
24 hours turns into 7 days as she retaliates against her forced imprisonment. Not only that but she starts to see her stalker within the facility but what is real and what is in her head?
With Unsane, Soderbergh has actually made two horror films for the price of one.
The first is a horror, that seems scarily plausible, about being locked away in a mental asylum even though you are not insane, simply so the hospital can claim on your insurance. This is how the film begins, sort of like a cross between One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Girl, Interrupted. As Sawyer tries to convince people of her sanity, it only goes to antagonise the fellow patients and the staff into sedating her. On the inside she finds an ally in Nate (Jay Pharoah, impressing in a straight role with no Denzel Washington impressions to be found). He tells her about the hospital's scheme and advises her to keep her head down and do the time and she'll be out in a week when the insurance money run out.
Unfortunately, the stress of the situation causes Sawyer to start seeing things. Imagining that her stalker is working in the hospital and messing further with her deteriorating mental state.
The film then becomes a psychological horror as the Sawyer, and the audience, cannot be sure what is real and what isn't. One of the film's most shocking moments is the realisation that the stalker who is played with a placid, creepy calm by Joshua Leonard is Josh from The Blair Witch Project!
Claire Foy is electric in the role and completely convinces as a woman who is scared, vulnerable and perfectly walks the line where she could be sane or insane.
Other reviews have expressed surprise at her performance given her most famous role in The Crown and it is out of her comfort zone. Yet prior to The Crown, Foy had appeared as Lady Macbeth in a West End adaptation of the Scottish play opposite James McAvoy and she was superb as the conniving, crazy wife.
The plot takes some crazy, wild leaps in act 3, as if the film has stopped taking its meds, but leaves things suitably vague to allow for the seed of doubt to grow in the audience's mind as to whether or not to trust what they have seen.
What can be trusted however is Foy's committed performance that elevates this grimy, genre flick that looks and sounds so good that people will think YOU are mad to say it was shot on a phone!

3 stars

Sunday, 25 March 2018

A Wrinkle In Time - review

A Wrinkle In Time is a family friendly adventure about a young girl who travels the universe in search of her missing father. Sadly though, instead of wrinkling time, the film seemingly manages to stretch it. Making a story that is an hour and fifty minutes feel like four hours and none of them that entertaining.
Ava DuVernay made such a strong impression with her debut film Selma. The film was incredibly powerful and perfectly captured the era. Wrinkle In Time had the potential to have power and emotion from the tale of a daughter who feels lost in the world and is desperate to reconnect with her missing father. Unfortunately, that potential is lost the moment the film transfers from the real world to a series of CGI-generated planets filled with giant Oprah Winfreys.
Similar to the three Mrs's who guide Meg (Storm Reid) on her quest, DuVernay has assembled some considerable star power and Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine do their best with the material but they are faced with a number of unintentionally laughable moments such as Pine having to earnestly deliver the line "Love is the frequency!" and it is impossible to have characters shout "Shut up Meg" and not think of Family Guy!
Recent years have seen genuine child talent emerge such as Daphne Keen (Logan) and Millie Bobbie Brown (Stranger Things) but it is unlikely that 2018 will bring a more annoying screen child than Meg's younger brother and child prodigy Charles Wallace. By the time audiences have heard someone shout "Charles Wallace! Charles Wallace!" for the hundredth time, they will want him to disappear into a black hole!
The final disappointment was finding out that after several references to the universal evil called "The IT", there was no crossover with the Stephen King novel and Pennywise the Clown was not the ultimate bad guy. Which could have saved the film and given it a whole new context. Instead, it is as deflating as IT's final form in the TV movie and is strangely voiced by David Oleyowo which means the ultimate evil is voiced by Martin Luther King!
A Wrinkle In Time? More like a colossal waste of time!

1 star

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Ready Player One - review

When Ernest Cline's novel Ready Player One was released, it was described as "the holy grail of pop culture references".
It was therefore a bit of a surprise when Steven Spielberg stepped forward to direct the adaptation. After all, not many have done more than Spielberg when it comes to 80s pop culture. As evidenced by the numerous references to his work in the novel.
But really there was no one better to tackle the material of a virtual online world where people go to escape and get in touch with their inner child. Because much of his work is about the innocence and wonder of seeing the world as a child (E.T., Jurassic Park, Hook).
The book and film's detractors, most of whom were ironically "online", have slated the material as nothing more than page after page of mentions of films, TV programmes, music and games allowing multiple opportunities to use this meme:

In fact the only people who worked harder than the visual effects designers on the film were the team tasked with securing the licences to feature all the different characters and images.
Spielberg makes sure their efforts were not in vain by doubling down on the references and begins the story with a drag race around a virtual Manhattan where cars and bikes such as a DeLorean, Tetsuo's bike from Akira, the Batmobile, Ecto-1, etc must dodge dangers including a T-Rex and end-of-level boss King Kong.
It is an exhilarating sequence that shows that Spielberg is still down with the kids looking to take his place on the Summer blockbuster throne.
After that however, he dials it back from 11 and thankfully the references take a back seat to the plot which sees a group of gamers including Wade Watts' Parzival attempt to solve the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory style competition set down by the Oasis creator James Halliday to find three Easter Eggs within the online world in order to win $500 trillion dollars and control of the system.
The film does stay relatively faithful to the book but does streamline the process. Here taking a matter of weeks rather than years as Parzival (Tye Sheridan) and his friends battle against the IOI corporation led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) for control of the Oasis and stop it becoming a monetised, corporate entity instead of the escape, haven (and yes) oasis that it is.
The more obscure nods and references to certain computer games and films that feature in some of the major plot moments are replaced with more audience-friendly choices which leads to one of the most jaw-dropping, audacious sequences that will feature in any mainstream movie this year.
The gamers must enter a movie watched by Halliday on his first date in order to gain one of the keys but to say which film would spoil the surprise. Suffice to say, seeing the characters walk into the film and interact with the characters and environment is something truly special and is undoubtedly the highlight of the film... provided you have the belly for it that is.
The main issue the film has is balancing the real world sequences vs the Oasis.
It does spend more time with the characters when they are away from their online avatars than the book but due to the nature of the beast, the Avatars have more personality within the Oasis than they do outside. Perhaps this is a deliberate choice as they feel more at home there than in the real world.
It is a frustration that more time wasn't spent building up day-to-day life outside of the Oasis to provide more context as to why people are escaping. Instead we just get a couple of throwaway lines of dialogue and glimpses of "the stacks", the towers of mobile homes where Watts stays.
Admittedly when the Oasis is as beautifully rendered as it is, the filmmakers themselves are so enthralled with it they don't want to leave either. They have nailed the look of the virtual reality space with the characters and environments looking more realistic than a computer game but not uncanny valley enough to pass for real.
This movie is going to have a huge shelf life on demand and Blu Ray as film nerds, similar to the ones who trawl through Halliday's Almanac, spend hours going through the film frame by frame to spot all the references in the background. Of which there are probably thousands. On first viewing, people like Freddy Krueger, Chucky, Harley Quinn, Chun-Li, Gandalf were spotted wandering around. Even Sorrento's avatar looks like Jon Hamm playing Superman Red Son (and now I want to see that movie).
Powered by Alan Silvestri's score that amplifies that 80s vibe, and quite often echoes his music from Back To The Future, this is the ultimate trip for fans of nostalgia who ever wanted the chance to live in their favourite media. Although perhaps not quite, as one Twitter user called it, "our Black Panther" as it is fair to say that nerds have been pretty well represented on screen for years now. In fact, every John Hughes film was really their Black Panther!
However there is always a danger to this obsession with nostalgia and living in the past or an online world separate from reality. As Michael Sheen's character in Midnight In Paris said;
“Nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is Golden Age thinking - the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in - its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”
As much as Spielberg delivers in creating a world in which it would be incredibly appealing to disappear into to escape the problems and stresses of everyday life, and let's face it we could all use something like that at the moment. He also is careful to walk the line and show that not everything is perfect within this world of pure imagination when viewed through those rose-tinted VR headsets. Personified by the life of the creator James Halliday who is played the perfect amount of eccentricity and sadness by Mark Rylance.
Spielberg knows that the mediums of video games and movies are great as an escape for a few hours. Most audiences growing up in the Eighties would still stick on Raiders Of The Lost Ark or E.T. and immediately be drawn back to their childhood. But he knows that they are still no substitute for the real world and real human interaction.
Unlike the characters in a video game, where the stakes are sometimes life and death, with the fate of the world at stake, Ready Player One knows that it is a video game, a popcorn movie. A slice of entertainment that can be enjoyed and then when it is game over, turned off and you are back in the real world. But it will always be there, on a shelf somewhere, waiting to be rediscovered one day, turned on and ready to welcome you fondly back with those iconic words... Ready player one.

4 stars

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Tomb Raider - review

You know that thing were you get stuck on a particular part of a video game and you have to play it over and over to the point that you feel bored at its repetitiveness?
That was the experience of watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Tomb Raider on the big screen.
The film begins with Indiana Jones Lara Croft showing off their reckless side by ignoring orders and authority and engaging in a high-speed chase that ends up with them getting in trouble.
Meanwhile their father has gone missing while searching for the Holy Grail secret island tomb of Himiko. After finding the father's diary secret room containing all their research, they go off in search of their dad, who may have been kidnapped by Nazis an evil organisation who want the Grail Himiko's corpse for their own nefarious ends.
Upon finding the island, Indy Lara is reunited with their father who is relieved to see them and also grateful that they have not brought the diary research with them. There follows the moment where the father expresses disbelief that they have in fact brought the materials right into the hands of the Nazis evil organisation who have now located the whereabouts of the Grail tomb which they will subsequently raid with the help of Indy Lara by threatening the life of his her father.
In order to claim the Grail Himiko, Indiana Jones Lara Croft must face three challenges including the Leap from the Lion's Head cross the Chasm of Lost Souls and The Breath of God that only the penitent man will pass pray to the Face of Himiko.
Alicia Vikander does her best as Indiana Jones Lara Croft. She is certainly more relatable and believable than Angelina Jolie as the British adventurer. Her reactions to the horrors she witnesses on the island feel real and help to build her into the character that audiences are familiar with in the games.
Sadly however she is unable to escape the Oscar curse that has struck the likes of Charlize Theron (Aeon Flux) and Halle Berry (Catwoman) and what should be a fun, exciting experience but is actually as much fun as watching someone else play a video game.

2 stars

Friday, 16 March 2018

Annihilation (Netflix Originals) - review

Annihilation is a film about a team of scientists who enter "the Shimmer", an environmental disaster area of unknown origin, unsure if they will emerge from the other side.
Writer-Director Alex Garland must have felt a bit like that during the post-production process, wondering if the finished film would ever see the light of day.
The much publicised studio stories claim executives at Paramount felt the film was "too intellectual" and wanted Garland to make changes.
He refused and this resulted in them giving it a small, short theatrical run in America but giving Netflix the international rights.
Now this once again opens up the argument over the audience benefits of a non-theatrical release. 
Some are outraged that they cannot watch it on a cinema screen as the director intended. Others claim that by releasing on the streaming service, more people will watch it there than ever would in a cinematic environment.
Who is right? Well, in this particular case, both are right in some ways.
Following his Oscar-winning Ex_Machina, Garland has moved up in terms of scale from a theatrical three-way chamber piece on what it means to be human, to a much grander (wo)men on a mission story where a group of people (possibly literally) meet their maker.
Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist who's soldier husband (Oscar Isaac) has been missing in action for over a year. Consumed by grief, she is all but lost when one day he returns to her dazed and confused. Falling ill he is taking to a military base where she learns he is the only person to have returned from "the Shimmer". Wanting to know what happened to her husband, Lena volunteers to join a team heading in to find the source of the Phenomenon.
Inside the all-female team find plant and animal life that should not exist in nature, along with very real and dangerous threats to their existence, including each other. For the deeper they venture in to the area, the more their connection to reality starts to slip.
Annihilation is a film that was shot to be experienced on the big screen. It has some of the most stunning and visually arresting images you will see all year and some of the impact will understandably be lost if watching it on a laptop or iPhone for example. But its power is in no way diminished and the film's imagery and story will stay with audiences days after watching it.
It is certainly not a film that everyone will appreciate on an initial viewing. The trailer entices audiences in with a brief set up of the story and focuses on certain moments of action and horror but in reality the film has much more in common with films like Arrival and Under The Skin, with a hint of Event Horizon.
That is music to the ears of some film fans to be sure. Arrival and Under The Skin are both five star classics (even if Skin took a few viewings to truly appreciate) and Event Horizon is now a cult classic. However these are not instantly accessible films that found big audiences at the cinema. For Event Horizon in particular, it was the home video market where it truly came alive and that is where Annihilation has the opportunity to grow its potential fanbase.
While there will be some people who just don't get it, there will be some who find it akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey in its themes and messages about humanity. They will spread the word and build up its cult status for years to come. Potentially even organising underground guerilla screenings.
It's legacy on the science fiction genre certainly won't be annihilated. If anything, this is just the beginning!

5 stars

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

You Were Never Really Here - review

You Were Never Really Here could refer to the protagonist's mental state, the film's runtime of 90 minutes or writer-director Lynne Ramsay's absence from the big screen.
Since debuting in 1999 with Ratcatcher, she has only produced adaptations of Morven Callar in 2002 and We Need To Talk About Kevin in 2011. That means she has made, on average, a film every 4.5 years. That is workrate that rivals Terrence Malick but thankfully, when she does return, it is not with a film full of wistful shots of pixie girls running through fields of wheat and dull, lifeless narration.
Instead Ramsay has returned with another adaptation of a pulp hard-boiled thriller, and similar to Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, turned it into a tale of vengeance that is simultaneously one of the most brutal yet tender films of the year.
Phoenix goes full on Joaquin Wick as Joe, a man who it would be fair to say has seen some shit in his time, who works as a hired gun rescuing young girls from harm's way.
Taking the job of returning a Senator's young daughter from a brothel in New York's Midtown, Joe is forced to confront some demons of his own as he wages a one man war on the criminal underworld in this thriller that is stripped back to the bare (broken) bones.
The reasons why Joe is the way that he is have a huge influence on his current career choice but these are only glimpsed sparingly and Ramsay wisely leaves it up to the audience to fill in the blanks and determine the cause of Joe's grief and rage.
If anything casts a long shadow over the film, it is not the spectres from Joe's past but Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver
It would be difficult to ignore given the plot features a mentally disturbed man rescuing a young girl from the clutches of an abusive child abuser with links to a US senator. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sequence where Joe initially rescues Nina from a brothel contained in a Manhattan Brownstone.
Careful to avoid direct comparisons, Ramsay orchestrates the rescue by seeing the action from the perspectives of the security cameras on stark black and white monitors. This further detaches the audience from the savage violence dispensed by Phoenix's character.
Whilst the film features flashes of severe barbarity, intensified by Jonny Greenwood's discordent score, from the ugliness of the violence emerges moments of incredible beauty and tenderness.
This is glimpsed early on with Joe's care for his mother, a theme that runs through the film with his care and protection for vulnerable women, but is replicated later on when he shows surprising compassion to a dying man who is frightened of death and lies next to him and sings "I've Never Been To Me" while holding his hand. It is completely unexpected but one of the most moving scenes of the year.
It is just one of many visually arresting images that Ramsay paints with cinematographer Thomas Townend (whose only previous DoP credit was Attack The Block), along with a stunning underwater sequence.
Joe is a tortured anti-hero, at times literally hammering the point home, and his relationship with Nina mirrors that of Travis and Iris, hinting that an escape and redemption might be possible for both of them. Yet like Bickle, it is left open to interpretation as to whether he is the rain that washes the scum of the streets or is ultimately another one of the animals that come out at night.

4 stars

Monday, 12 March 2018

Wonder Wheel - review

Wonder Wheel was released in cinemas this weekend but you would be forgiven for not realising that as it has had as much fanfare and publicity as an abandoned fairground.
Given the current climate within Hollywood, Woody Allen's latest film has been unceremoniously dumped into cinemas post-Oscars without as much as a trailer or poster to alert audiences to the fact.
No matter your views on Allen as a person or a filmmaker, ultimately the film should be reviewed on its merits and on that alone, it adds context to the decision to slip it out under the radar as it is not a great film at all and certainly in the lower tier of Allen's recent output.
One of the criticisms of Allen's recent work in the Noughties was that his particular brand of comedy and writing did not translate as well to locations such as Barcelona, London, Rome, etc as he went on an extended Euro Trip. His greatest films were always set in his hometown of New York City and Wonder Wheel sees him return to the Big Apple, in particular Coney Island beach.
The tale, set in the 1950s, revolves around the character of Ginny (Kate Winslet), a woman who feels she is wasting her life waitressing at a diner on the Boardwalk, raising a son obsessed with starting fires and is trapped in an unhappy marriage to a recovering alcoholic (Jim Belushi) who works the carousel at Coney Island fairground.
Her mundane life is thrown for a loop bigger than the Thunderbolt rollercoaster when she begins an affair with a young, handsome lifeguard (Timberlake) and also when her husband's 20 year old daughter (Juno Temple) returns home after going on the run from her gangster ex-husband.
If this is starting to sound like a bit like a bad American play, the kind that Joey Tribbiani from Friends would star in, then this is kind of intentional on Allen's part.
The first few scenes are set within an apartment located within the fairground (possibly a direct reference to Annie Hall which also featured a family living beneath the rollercoaster). The dialogue, acting and blocking of these scenes come across as very theatrical. As if the actors were performing a Eugene O'Neill or Tennessee Williams play.
At first it feels very odd but then the reasoning becomes apparent when it is made clear that the story is being narrated by Timberlake's lifeguard Mickey, a young man who dreams of becoming a playwright.
Only he does not have much of a career ahead of him as a wordsmith because the dialogue and plotting are incredibly stilted and on-the-nose.
Timberlake was an effective screen presence in The Social Network, but his casting here seems out of place. He has the matinee looks for a '50s dreamboat but as the Woody Allen cypher in the film, he is not a good match for the dialogue, even if it is nowhere near the calibre of Allen's early days.
In a nice reversal of one of Allen's most reviled plot devices, this movie finally sees an older woman having a romance with a younger man. Even if this romance is threatened by the younger ingenue who enters stage right and sets in motion the events that will lead to the inevitable tragic climax that must feature in an American play.
Allen's films are often the stuff of fantasy. After all, why do so many of them feature a man in his fifties romancing a girl in her twenties?
Wonder Wheel is a romanticised version of New York which features this red, amber lighting that appears on Winslet's face all of the time, no matter what time of day. A light that for some reason can appear to come from two different directions at once and only on the main characters. It is the type of light that only appears in paintings and postcards. Idealised images of a place that wishes to portray a lifestyle that it cannot live up to and this is ultimately Ginny's downfall.
Winslet is the film's saving grace as the third act comes around and her character finally embraces and revels in the drunken Streetcar Named Desire Stella-esque turn.
As for the rest of the movie, it is very similar to the ferris wheel after which Wonder Wheel is named. It might provide a momentary distraction from your daily routine but ultimately it goes nowhere and will leave you right back where you started.

2 stars

Monday, 5 March 2018

Nae Pasaran (Glasgow Film Festival) - review

Not all heroes wear capes...

Gala screenings quite often feature standing ovations following the film to show respect to the filmmakers and cast & crew present at the event. However it is rather rare to attend a screening that starts AND ends with a standing ovation but that is precisely what happened at the Closing Gala for the Glasgow Film Festival on Sunday.
The first Standing "O" was for the staff and volunteers of the Glasgow Film Festival who were forced to battle the #BeastFromTheEast when Glasgow turned into the set from The Day After Tomorrow and forced them to cancel some screenings. Despite the terrible conditions, they worked tirelessly to ensure that as many events went ahead as possible to satisfy the insatiable appetite of film fans and they were rightly praised for their efforts.

This was followed by the film closing the festival, documentary Nae Pasaran by Felipe Bustos Sierra. It explores the true story of the workers in a Rolls Royce engine factory in East Kilbride who refused to repair the engines destined for the Chilean air force so they could not be used to further the military coup in 1974.
Felipe interviews some of the men who refused to work on the engines including Bob Fulton who was the shop steward who made the call to "black" the engines. This was backed by the trade unions, essentially grounding much of the Chilean Air Force.
It is an incredibly powerful and emotional film and you could physically feel the affect it had on the sold out audience, many of whom having a direct link to those involved.
It wasn't just the factory workers who provided testimony but also some of the men who were in government at the time and became political prisoners and tortured by Pinochet's new regime.
These interviews were incredibly difficult to watch but from such pain and despair came hope when they heard about the Scottish protest over the radio and incredibly some of the men were released and found asylum in the UK when, still unconfirmed, they were traded for the release of four of the engines that were mysteriously taken from the factory after three years of sitting in a box on the grounds.
The film concludes with Felipe searching Chile for the stolen engines with the hope of returning them to East Kilbride as a symbolic gesture, along with the honouring of several of the Scottish workers by the Chilean government.
This brought the audience to wave after wave of rapturous applause before taking to their feet in a 10 minute long standing ovation for the cast, crew and the workers who attended the screening.

The film shines a light on a fascinating story from Scottish history, one that not enough people were aware of and demonstrates the power that an act of solidarity can have, no matter how big or small. It also showcased the power and importance that the trade unions had in the Seventies and how industry must look to the future and try to strengthen the unions' positions again in society.
The curtain came down for another year, the entire audience stood in solidarity of the incredible impact the men in front of them had made and for a festival that is equally forward thinking, inclusive and passionate.

4 stars

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Game Night - review

With the world getting people down at the moment, between politics and weather, sometimes audiences just need a good old-fashioned, fun Friday night movie that does not require too much brain power and does exactly what it says on the box.
In the midst of Awards season, finding such a film can sometimes feel like a Trivial Pursuit but Game Night has the Monopoly over the competition going into Oscar weekend.
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play the lead characters who are ultra competitive and would normally be that really annoying couple in real life that everyone hates but have enough charm and chemistry to make them likeable.
They run a weekly game night in order to hang out with their friends; childhood sweethearts Kevin and Michelle and the dumb, without a Cluedo Ryan who brings a succession of dates who are certainly no Masterminds either.
They run each night like a military Operation in order to avoid the unwanted attention of neighbour, police officer and former gamer Gary (a scene-stealing Jesse Plemons) but their perfect Game of Life threatens to be sunk like a Battleship when, Guess Who?, Bateman's more successful older brother Brooks turns up to host a special game night involving a murder-mystery style "kidnapping"role play party where one of the guests will be taken and the others must Connect Four clues to solve the crime.
The problems begin when Brooks is kidnapped for real for getting mixed up with real criminals and they teams Scrabble around to win the game, unaware of the real Risk involved.
The film takes several fun Twisters and turns along the way and, unlike many comedies this decade, is shorter than a session of Dungeons and Dragons.
The end result is not a comedy working at the top of its game but it does just enough to pass go and collect $200.

2 stars

Lady Bird - review

For many years, possibly unfairly, thanks to films such as Damsels In DistressFrances Ha and Mistress America, Gerwig became synonymous as many cinemagoers idea of the a-typical New York generation X hipster who would live in an loft-style apartment in Brooklyn and be more concerned with going out and putting their dinner on Instagram than having a proper job.
However, with her debut feature film as writer-director Greta Gerwig proves that a beautiful Lady Bird is just waiting to emerge from the cocoon of the cover girl for manic, hipster pixie girls.
Being a 38 year old man from Aberdeen, Scotland, this reviewer had no idea what it would have been like for an 18 year old girl growing up in a Catholic school in Sacramento, California but having watched this honest and heartfelt coming-of-age story, they do know.
A large part of this comes from Saoirse Ronan's award worthy performance as the fiercely independent, eponymous Lady Bird and the rest from Gerwig's direction and script based partly on her own experiences of growing up in Sacramento.
The film has a truthfulness and honesty that is enhanced by the attention to detail that successfully creates a period film set in 2002 (which is incredibly depressing for this formerly young reviewer who also would know all the words to Alanis Morrisette's Jagged Little Pill album. But then again who didn't back then?).
While Lady Bird provides the wit and warmth, the real heart comes from the relationship between her and her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf). It has an authenticity to it where you believe every interaction between whether it comes from anger or love, all tempered by the quietly calming influence of Tracy Letts as the father. In fact it is probably the best example of a cinematic parent/daughter relationship since Olive, Rosemary and Dill Penderghast in Easy A.
At one point Marion tells Lady Bird, "I just want you to be the very best version of yourself you can be" and she replies "What if this is the best version?".
Well if this is the best version of Greta Gerwig, then she certainly has a long and successful career in front of her... and not just as a t-shirt!

4 stars