Category: Movie Reviews

Ghost Stories (2018)

Adaptations of successful stage experiences to the silver screen are not always adept at capturing the magic of what drew people to the piece in a theatrical setting. The Woman in Black is probably the best example; widely regarded across the world as one of the most terrifying experiences an audience can have in a theatre, both of its cinematic versions retained for many a sense of atmosphere but lacked the potent dread and fear. The jury will be out as to whether the same is true of Ghost Stories.

Having never seen Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman’s original play performed on the West End stage, I shall refrain from drawing comparisons between the source material and its adaptation. That can be left for others who have had both experiences. As a piece of cinema, Ghost Stories does manage to capture a level of creeping, dreamlike enigma, shot through with not a little dash of the kind of jet black comedy Dyson added as part of The League of Gentlemen foursome – he was their Terry Gilliam, the unseen on screen writing partner, aside from a cameo – indeed you may spot him in Ghost Stories in a similar function if you’re eagle eyed. Ghost Stories is by no means as broad as the BBC comedy, and is first and foremost a dramatic tale, but there is an undercurrent of gallows humour to the piece which at times grounds it in a sense of normality, as it ventures into strange waters.

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I Kill Giants (2018)

It would be tempting to suggest I Kill Giants is a direct result of the critical and commercial success of Patrick Ness & JA Bayona’s A Monster Calls, but given this adaptation of the Joe Kelly & JM Kim Niimura’s indie-graphic novel from 2008 was filmed in September 2016, before A Monster Calls was released, this suggests the two are just a happy, coincidental accident.

I mention this because I Kill Giants owes a huge debt to Bayona’s film, both in terms of narrative structure and thematic sensibility. This is ironic because Kelly & Niimura’s source material was published a good three years before Ness published his novel, which Bayona subsequently made into a film, so in many respects perhaps the inspiration should be flipped on its head. Had I Kill Giants been filmed and released first, that may well have been the case, although somehow I doubt it. For the principal reason that Anders Walter doesn’t nearly manage to evoke the same level of heartfelt anguish, awe and pain from Kelly’s script adaptation of the graphic novel as Bayona managed from Ness’ screenplay adaptation of A Monster Calls. The two may have a great deal of DNA in common, but they are significantly apart in successful execution.

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Love, Simon (2018)

What you make of Love, Simon, and undoubtedly what you take from it, could well depend on your identified sexuality. It shouldn’t, but it doesn’t quite feel we’re at the point yet where gender fluidity and honesty about our sexual preferences is not important. Greg Berlanti’s film, in fact, is all about the fact it still matters.

Love, Simon has been intentionally, specifically crafted to evoke movies and decades past. Adapted from the novel ‘Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ by Becky Albertalli, Berlanti’s film wears its inspirations on its sleeve – principally John Hughes, maestro of the 1980’s teen angst comedy, who managed to fuse the colour and vibrancy of that decade with the love-lorn sense of existential trauma about what it means to be young and trying to figure out who you are in that world. The 80’s and 90’s seemed perfectly placed for those kinds of pictures, whether The Breakfast Club or St. Elmo’s Fire, even Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (even if that’s built around more of a narrative gambit), through to films such as Empire Records or the early American Pie films. They may differ in style and tone but all share that same common element of DNA: teenagers figuring out where they fit in.

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Tomb Raider (2018)

If ever a cinematic franchise in the making deserved the reboot treatment, it was probably Tomb Raider. The adventures of British Lady, Lara Croft, she of pixelated bosom, cut glass accent and frightening wealth, who so entranced video gamers in the late 1990’s, have not to date had the most auspicious history on the big screen.

For half a generation, Lara Croft was epitomised by Angelina Jolie. The bosom came naturally, the accent less so, but she certainly gave it her best shot in two pictures adapting Eidos’ massively successful female replica of the Indiana Jones series – firstly 2001’s slick, hollow Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, in which Jolie-Lara fought Ser Jorah Mormont who went looking for a magical triangle to stop time (or something) and later in 2003’s slick and, yes, hollow Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, in which Jolie-Lara again teamed up with (bellow it) GERARD BUTLER! to stop Mance Rayder (in yet another Game of Thrones connection) from unleashing Pandora’s Box. Not figuratively, you understand, but literally. *The* Pandora and her Box.

Suffice to say, despite fairly decent box office, neither of these films did anything to successfully lift the long-held ‘video game to movie’ curse which has swirled around adaptations of computer games to the big screen since their inception in the 1980’s. The rot undoubtedly started with the fetid 1993 take on Super Mario Bros (arguably the biggest game of the 80’s) and has festered ever since through a cornucopia of cinematic versions of beloved games, some of which were tackled by half-decent directors with fairly strong casts. Assassin’s Creed last year, helmed by Justin Kurzel and starring Michael Fassbender (both fresh off a great new take on Macbeth), was considered the Great Video Game Hope but, alas, it was critically panned. Mind you, I think that film is seriously underrated. But that’s another story. Back to Lara and her tombs…

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Annihilation (2018)

Amidst the online furore around the release of Annihilation, there’s a worry the film itself could well get lost in the haze, which would be unfortunate. Alex Garland once again, with this adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, proves himself a growing allegorical auteur.

Garland first found fame of course as the scribe behind Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, a stripped back, British take on the zombie genre popularised originally by George A. Romero. Garland has always been interested in dystopian surroundings, whether in a post-apocalyptic future where a deadly virus has ran amok, a corporation-fuelled, oily near future crime saga (in Dredd, which star Karl Urban just this week claimed Garland ghost-directed), or his previous, much-celebrated picture Ex Machina, which tackled the thorny subject of artificial intelligence and sexuality, helping to make stars of Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander in the process. These are films using an often disturbing future-lens to reflect anxieties of our time. He’d be very at home in the company of Black Mirror.

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The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

When I’m not looking at all kinds of geeky media on this blog, I’m co-running my website Set The Tape, on which I now and then publish content. This is part of a review you can find the rest of in the link below.

For many, the high point of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s quite legendary Hollywood career is 1950’s All About Eve, a picture which has lingered in cinematic history for its caustic wit, cold glamour and harsh performances. The Barefoot Contessa is, and in some ways isn’t, a lighter affair than Mankiewicz’s previous effort. Filmed in colour rather than black and white, often beautifully shot thanks to the redoubtable talents of great cinematographer Jack Cardiff, The Barefoot Contessa continues to explore Mankiewicz’s obsession with women and fame, the abusive power of privileged white men in the Hollywood system, his own conflicted feelings about it. Though where All About Eve was a spiky satire, The Barefoot Contessa is a Cinderella-fantasy.

The well known fable is mentioned in dialogue several times by Humphrey Bogart’s writer-director and frequent narrator Harry Dawes, underscoring how Mankiewicz saw Ava Gardner’s Spanish-startlet Maria Vargas as the Cinderella-figure and Bogart, essentially, as the Fairy Godfather who, if he was being completely honest, fell in love with a woman he ended up trying to save from a destructive corporate movie-making machine.

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Mute (2018)

The tagline for Mute is “he doesn’t need words”. Honestly, the same can’t be said for the audience watching Duncan Jones’ latest picture.

Mute is either surprising or possibly to be expected, depending on where you stand on Jones as a filmmaker. Removing the interesting fact that he’s the son of David Bowie, Jones comes across as a nice guy of cinema. He’s active on social media and welcoming and friendly to his audience, often sharing storyboards and nuggets of detail about his upcoming movies. Yet he’s been on something of a downward curve over the past couple of years. Warcraft, his take on the world-renowned MMORPG World of Warcraft, was a painfully dull mess of an adaptation. Mute takes him back to his original screenplay roots but, sadly, said dullness appears to have followed him from the unsuccessful swords and sorcery blockbuster.

There is almost certainly a reason why filmmakers don’t traditionally set movies around protagonists who don’t talk, and Mute exemplifies that singular problem. Alexander Skarsgard is Leo, a bartender in a ‘future-punk’ Berlin who also happens to be mute following a boating accident as a child, falls in love with Naadirah, an exotic young woman who works at the same club. When she disappears, so begins a hunt across the skyscraper-filled metropolis by Leo to track her down, facing a range of eccentrics, weirdos, gangsters (such as Paul Rudd’s Cactus Bill) and paedophiles (his brother Duck, played by Justin Theroux) along the way. Such a synopsis makes Mute sound, however, much more engaging than Jones’ meandering, listless and unformed script delivers in reality. From early on, Mute doesn’t seem to have any idea of its own identity.

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