With the tagline "A Star Wars Story", this first spin-off from the saga isn't actually a stand-alone movie. It requires some understanding of the context as it chronicles events that lead directly into 1977's Episode IV: A New Hope. It's also a seriously rousing action film with a riveting cast of characters and a surprising willingness to embrace even the darkest elements of storytelling. In other words, it might be the first Star Wars movie made specifically for grown-ups.
It opens as the Empire is systematically crushing the rebellion, leaving them wondering if there's any point to continuing the fight. Rumours are swirling that the Empire is building a massive Death Star, and rebel Jyn (Felicity Jones) discovers that it was designed by her long-lost father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), who sends her a message saying that he left a flaw in the system specifically for the rebels to exploit. So she joins a team to contact him, led by Cassian (Diego Luna), who doubts that Galen is on their side. They're accompanied by pilot Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) and the sarcastic robot K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), plus the blind wannabe Jedi Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and his battling sidekick Baze (Jiang Wen). And as their mission goes rogue, they come up against the slimy Imperial Director Orson (Ben Mendelson) and the vicious Darth Vader (again voiced by James Earl Jones).
Director Gareth Edwards (Monster) packs the movie with visual references to A New Hope, cleverly matching the design work by avoiding fakey digital effects in lieu of more practical, battle-scared models and lively settings on a series of new planets and a familiar one. This gives the film an electric atmosphere that's edgy and unpredictable even though we all know exactly how this mission has to end. At the beginning, the plot feels a bit splintered, but the strands come together with power, building a gnawing sense of momentum and some real gravitas along the way.
Continue reading: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review
Ben Mendelsohn attending the premiere of Walt Disney Pictures and Lucasfilm's 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States - Sunday 11th December 2016
As the story snakes south through the United States along the Mississippi River, this movie builds up a bleak, mopey vibe that's difficult to engage with. It's the story of two gambling addicts who think that the answer to all of their problems lies just around the next bend in the river, and it's sharply well written and directed, with astute performances from the lead actors. But it's also relentlessly grim and unsympathetic.
They start their journey in Iowa, where estate agent Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is at the end of his rope when he meets cocky gambler Curtis (Ryan Reynolds). There's a spark of recognition between them, as Gerry sees Curtis as himself 10 years younger, thinking maybe he can kickstart his life again. So they hit the road together, heading for a high-stakes poker game in New Orleans. Along the way, they stop to visit Curtis' favourite prostitute (Sienna Miller) in St. Louis and Gerry's bitter ex-wife (Robin Weigert) in Little Rock. And in between, they visit Memphis to win some extra cash. But by the time they reach New Orleans, things are starting to look desperate again.
Continue reading: Mississippi Grind Review
Gerry's gambling addiction has gotten way out of hand. He's already lost everything in his quest for winning, so now he's thousands of dollars in debt to nearly everybody he knows. Continually losing doesn't stop him hitting the casino, but when he meets casual poker player Curtis - who unlike Gerry doesn't let a desire for the win take over his life - he forms an unlikely bond and finds that his luck is beginning to turn, but not necessarily in the money stakes. The pair team up in order to go for the big bucks on New Orleans' legendary poker scene, and Curtis soon finds that Gerry needs something big to pull him out of the rut that is his life. He's got to learn that there's more to life than winning, but is he willing to take a gamble on the advice of his mysterious new friend?
Continue: Mississippi Grind Trailer
First-time feature filmmaker John Maclean takes a strikingly original approach to the Western, creating a realistic road trip for two very different men. Genre fans might wish it was more of a shoot-em-up (the massive final gun battle is astonishingly earthy), but it more than makes up for that with a strong sense of its characters and settings. And by shooting it in New Zealand, Maclean found an unspoiled, spectacular landscape that has its own memorable impact.
The story centres on Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a tenacious 16-year-old travelling from Scotland to find his beloved Rose (Caren Pistorius), who has moved to the Wild West with her father (Rory McCann). As Jay enters dangerous bandit country in Colorado, he meets bounty hunter Silas (Michael Fassbender), who offers to accompany him through the perilous forests and mountains ahead. What Jay doesn't know is that Silas used to be in the most feared gang in these hills, led by his old pal Payne (Ben Mendelsohn). And as they traverse the landscape, meeting various robbers and some angry Native Americans, Payne is never too far behind, because he's hoping they'll lead him to Rose and her father, who have a $2,000 bounty on them, dead or alive.
What makes this movie so engaging is the growing connection between Jay and Silas, who aren't quite as different as they seem to be on the surface. Smit-McPhee plays Jay as soft and naive, and yet his fearlessness shows a steely inner strength that should never be underestimated. Meanwhile, Fassbender gives Silas a jaded charm as the stranger who doesn't want anyone to know who he really is. While Jay wears his emotions on his sleeve, Silas clearly feels them just as strongly but has learned the hard way to keep them bottled inside. Especially while living in a place like this, where any true sense of civilisation has yet to take root.
Continue reading: Slow West Review
When a young boy in Scotland falls in love with young girl, he is prepared to travel across the world to follow her. When she travels to the United States, he follows her, and travels forever west in order to find her. In a lawless land where only the most deadly can survive, the boy, Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is forced to team up with the mysterious Silas (Michael Fassbender), and work under his mentorship as they travel west together. The only problem is, that there is a bounty on his head, and a team of people desperate to collect it.
Continue: Slow West Trailer
With his writing-directing debut, Ryan Gosling shows audacious skill as a visual artist but never quite manages to recount a story that grabs hold of the audience. It's a stunningly gorgeous film packed with strong, earthy performances from a starry cast playing against type. But there's no momentum at all to the narrative, which is packed with random symbolism that never quite resolves into anything either meaningful or emotionally engaging.
Lost River is a decaying, abandoned city on the edge of a lake created by damming up a river and flooding another town. In what's left of their neighbourhood, Billy (Christina Hendricks) lives in her family home with her sons: a toddler and a teen named Bones (Iain De Caestecker), who helps support the household by scavenging for copper in the vacant buildings nearby. But he's encroaching on the turf of self-proclaimed gangster Bully (Matt Smith), who is intent on exacting vicious revenge. Meanwhile, next-door neighbour Rat (Ronan) is caring for her delusional granny (Barbara Steele) and trying to help Bones. And when the new bank manager Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) turns down Billy's cry for help, she takes a job at his seedy underworld nightclub alongside Cat (Eva Mendes).
Aside from some blood-soaked cabaret, what goes on in this nightclub remains rather mysterious, as Billy finds higher-paying work in the purple-hued basement fetish rooms. But then everything in this film is enigmatic, as Gosling deliberately refuses to connect the dots. This gives the film an intriguing David Lynch-style tone, although it lacks Lynch's eerie resonance. There's also a touch of John Waters-style trashiness and Terrence Malick-style natural beauty, plus the clear influence of Gosling's heavily stylised past directors Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive and Only God Forgives) and Derek Cianfrance (Blue Monday and The Place Beyond the Pines). In other words, almost everything in this film feels like a reference to another movie, but it's expertly assembled to look fabulous from start to finish, with some seriously striking sequences along the way.
Continue reading: Lost River Review
Dark times have engulfed the world. With the steady rise of economic depression across the globe, a small town has found itself under the thumb of a feared bully (Matt Smith). Single mother, Billy ('Firefly' and 'Mad Men''s Christina Hendricks) has to engage in a dark lifestyle to provide enough for her family to survive, and provide the best life possible for her children. Her eldest son is desperate to help take some of the load off her shoulders, and ends up stealing from the Bully, earning his hatred. All the while, they town lurks on the banks of a flooded town, known to everyone as the Lost River.
Continue: Lost River Trailer
Aside from impressive 21st century digital effects, this new take on the Moses story pales in comparison to Cecil B. DeMille's iconic 1956 version, The Ten Commandments, which is far more resonant and intensely dramatic. Biblical epics are tricky to get right, and Ridley Scott certainly knows how to make them look and feel terrific (see Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven), but his films are generally about the spectacle rather than the human emotion. So this version of the biblical story will only appeal to viewers who have never seen a better one.
It's set in 1300 BC, when the Israelites have been in captivity in Egypt for 400 years. Now rumours of liberation are circling, centring on Moses (Christian Bale), the adopted son of Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro), raised as a brother alongside the future Pharaoh Ramses (Joel Edgerton). When it emerges that Moses is actually a Hebrew, he is sent into exile in the desert, where he finds a new calling as a shepherd and marries his new boss' sexy daughter Sefora (Maria Valverde). Moses also has a run-in with the Jewish God, who appears in the form of a young boy (Isaac Andrews), challenging Moses to free the Israelites. As Moses attempts to spark a slave revolt, God sends seven horrific plagues to convince Ramses to let his people go.
The script struggles to have its cake and eat it too, finding rational explanations for the plagues and miracles while still maintaining God's supernatural intervention. It's a rather odd mix that demonstrates just how compromised the movie is: it's a big blockbuster rather than a story about people. Several elements work well, such as depicting God as a boy, although the screenplay never manages to make much of the female characters. And only Ben Mendelsohn manages to inject any proper personality as the weaselly overseer of the slaves. Bale and Edgerton both catch the complexity of their characters' situations, privilege mixed with personal revelations. But Scott is more interested in parting the Red Sea than taking them anywhere very interesting.
Continue reading: Exodus: Gods And Kings Review
With jobs for submarine operators steadily beginning to dwindle, an entire sea crew find themselves without jobs. Captain Robinson (Jude Law) has been so committed to the job for so long, that the rest of the world has moved on without him. With his family gone, Robison is turned on to the reports of a Nazi U-boat abandoned at the bottom of the Black Sea. After assembling a crew of half British and half Russian sailors, they set of in search of the gold stash - a stash which will be shared equally amongst them, making them all multi-millionaires. But when the idea starts to circulate that fewer men mean larger shares, the bleak isolation leads to horror and greed, with no possibility of escape.
Continue: Black Sea - Trailer And Clips
While this submarine adventure starts out as a brainy thriller with superior production design, it eventually gives in to the demands of the genre: silly plotting and corny melodrama. Screenwriter Dennis Kelly never remotely tries to sell the two big events that cause considerable mayhem for everyone on-screen, so both feel sudden and contrived. At least the cast is sharp enough that the audience is willing to go with it.
It opens in recession-gripped Scotland. After being sacked from the steelworks, Robinson (Jude Law) teams up with fellow unemployed pal Blackie (Konstantin Khabenskiy) to reclaim their dignity by salvaging Nazi gold from a sunken sub in the Black Sea. With finance arranged by Daniels (Scoot McNairy), they assemble a team of Brits and Russians who immediately start re-enacting the Cold War in the rusty Soviet-vintage submarine they'll be using for their heist. Crewmates include a psycho diver (Ben Mendelsohn), a wheezy veteran (David Threlfall) and an 18-year-old (Bobby Schofield) with nothing better to do. But as they skulk along beneath the Russian Fleet, tempers flare and threaten to undermine their mission. Getting their hands on the gold is one thing; making it home alive might be even trickier.
Director Kevin Macdonald keeps the film fast-paced and tense, as the biggest peril this crew faces is in the fiery interaction between themselves. Arguments, paranoia and mistrust lead to violence, which in turn causes a series of problems that threaten the lives of everyone on board the submarine. Frankly, this seems rather far-fetched for a team of supposedly elite mercenaries who know that they need to look out for each other if they have any hope of accomplishing the mission. And with some major plot twists along the way, the story begins to feel like a collection of increasingly implausible obstacles these resourceful men need to overcome.
Continue reading: Black Sea Review
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First-time feature filmmaker John Maclean takes a strikingly original approach to the Western, creating a...
With his writing-directing debut, Ryan Gosling shows audacious skill as a visual artist but never...
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Aside from impressive 21st century digital effects, this new take on the Moses story pales...