Saturday, 21 October 2017

Geostorm (2017) (Review)


Geostorm could have been a lot of fun. Its first teaser-trailer was rather effective, exhibiting some immense barminess that allows these end-of-the-world disaster films to operate most efficiently. As a slice of fun, dumb entertainment, Geostorm could have cooked up a storm. Now, excuse my French, but the only type of storm Geostorm is, is a sh*t storm of the dullest, most eye-gouging proportion.

Dean Devlin's feature-length directorial debut sees Mr Gerald Butler's Jake Lawson attempt to save the world from a potentially earth-destroying storm, caused by malfunctioning climate-controlling satellites. Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Ed Harris, Alexandra Maria Lara, Andy Garcia and Robert Sheehan star alongside Butler in this mind-numbing, abysmal and pain dreadful excuse of a film, in which everyone involved should be ashamed of. Long-delayed and continually-shelved, it is easy to see why Warner Bros rejected the film to the very pits of their schedule for so long.

Easily one of the year's absolute worst, Geostorm fails in every single area. Honestly, Warner Bros earned this stain against their name the minute the fatal decision to cast a new, barely-qualified director reigns to a $120 million production was made. Without the experience, guidance or skills to execute a film even approaching adequacy, Dean Devlin (who also produces and writes the piece) crumbles under the pressure of taking on such an overwhelming undertaking. His direction is directionless, with bizarre framing decisions and uncomfortable angles utilised to help cover up the fact the post-production team have attempted to salvage the piece with dubbing (presumably with a better script at hand, as hard as that is to believe).

It attempts to emulate many-a-successful disaster films through a paint-by-numbers formula, but fails in spite of the incredibly predictable structure utilised for guidance. Considering this has all been done, in not particularly impressive films, Devlin worsens these tricks further, culminating in an embarrassing feature-length that should be scrubbed from memory. Can Butler's Lawson work on that next please?

Visually, it's an empty spectacle magnified to eye-gouging scale by some atrocious special effects. At times it can be passable - but all those moments can be glimpsed in that first teaser trailer, and the remainder is downright atrocious. At one moment, a giant tidal wave approaches Saudi Arabia (maybe? I'm not definite on that, my eyes were busy bleeding) and it honest-to-goodness looks like an effect lifted straight from Windows Movie Maker, rather than something one of Hollywood's major studios, handling a nine-digit budget, have actively paid for. Substandard at very, very best, at least the film is consistent in being a mess on all fronts. 

From the very second the exposition-heavy, poorly-written voiceover opens Geostorm, the metaphorical writing was on the wall and Devlin's actual writing was on the floor, belonging in the nearest rubbish bin available. If the extraordinarily awful reviews weren't already an indicator and - like me - you wanted to make your own decision, those opening 30 seconds confirm that you are in for pretty torrid time with this one; heartbreakingly, it gets no better either. One sequence, possibly the very worst of the year, sees a computer-wiz cut down a lengthy speech to the precise words required to string together a wordy warning about sabotage and danger, at the touch of a button. Not only is the convoluted plan vapid plot advancements in the history of plot advancements, but it insults the audience terribly. Being subjected to this level of undermining paying consumers made me not want to go the cinema again. Genuinely.

Laughable dialogue and writing induces eye-rolls at every turn, failing even the very basics in storytelling. Whether its the flat characters, cringeworthy encounters, the nonchalant indulgence in genre conventions or predictable narrative tropes, Devlin's script (co-written with Paul Guyot) is a melting pot on how to destroy a once interesting idea. I genuinely struggle to comprehend that this was the final product and not an incredibly awful first or second draft. Absolutely no care to provoke meaningful relationships, a substantial story or layered characters can be evidenced here; it is as if they surrendered to the idea that this was conceptualised for no other reason than to hopefully create a new Gerald Butler-led franchise on the back of his 'Has Fallen' success.

However, the biggest catastrophe here (of, as you can tell by now, many) is the disastrous pacing and pervading dullness. Watching this film again is less preferably than watching paint dry, or grass grow, and undoubtedly a cheaper, less frustrating experience. Crushingly dull, utterly soulless and unintentionally laughable, it drags its heels from start to finish. A telltale sign of a writer out of his depth, struggling to string together a remotely coherent piece, it tires to paint-by-numbers and borrow from elsewhere, but fails even that. I have never walked out of a film, but I can dangerously close here (and, on reflection, I wish I had). Bored out of my skull and holding out for that moment I stepped back into the torrential rain, downpour and winds of Dudley, Birmingham, few films have every pushed me to this level of apathy. It's a total slog that should be used as an anaesthetic in local hospitals.

Lacking any definition or clarity in plot and lacking insightfulness towards its subject matter (climate change), Geostorm operates only as another exhibition for Butler's action star 'skills' - and it's embarrassing even by his standards. He surely has another mindless action picture in the pipeline and it won't dent his career too much but some effort would have been appreciated. When he's not looking smug or racing around a preposterous space station, he's... well, I'm not sure what he's doing to be honest. How he was ever the one qualified to oversee this 'Dutchboy' experiment escapes me, likely because the script was cutting corners and dodging the need to explain anything that happens.

Unconvinced of Jim Sturgess' leading man credentials anyway, this is not the type of film he should be leading if push came to shove. He looks lifeless at times, although his relationship with Jake's daughter, played by Tabitha Bateman, is more convincing than the one with her on-screen father; Bateman is pretty poor herself with some contrived emotion; while Abbie Cornish provides a laboured performance as the kick-ass female the film fights to make her out to be.

Zazie Beetz is promising but her attempt at comedy feels forced and unnatural; Robert Sheehan, an actor of fine talent, performs with a horrendous, unrecognisable accent; Andy Garcia is force-fed some woeful one-liners that could be lifted from anyone 'save the President from this uncontrollable threat' movie; and Ed Harris performs with the least amount of subtlety you've seen in your life. These poor performances should probably be attributed more to the script that pushes all these actors into an inescapable corner - but they took on the project, so they take on the brunt of these issues. 

Geostorm is a car crash of a film. An unmitigated disaster of the dullest. You owe it to yourself, your friends and your family to warn them about the soul-destroying Geostorm. It is your moral duty to prevent those you know and love from subjecting themselves to this abysmal excuse of a film. It could have been a so-bad-its-good flick, frothy and disposable, but instead it commits every film-making sin in the book and crushes your film-loving soul in the process.

Oh, and it ends on a narration as god-awful as the opening narration.

☆☆
(1/10) 

Summary: It is your moral duty as an upstanding citizen of this fine world to prevent those you know and love from subjecting themselves to the abysmal, mind-numbing and soul-destroying Geostorm. Worst film of the year? Very probably.

Friday, 20 October 2017

The Party (2017) (Review)


I knew nothing about The Party. As a matter of fact, it was a last minute addition to my film schedule for the day, if only to pad out the afternoon somewhat. I had not even seen a trailer or poster, only a single still of Timothy Spall when checking the cinema's listings. There's a lot to be said about approaching something as blindly as possible, particularly in the typically marketing-saturated cinematic environment we live in; The Party is a film that truly benefits from that conceit, crafting an endlessly-joyful, consistently-sharp surprise.

The Party concerns itself with a dinner party between friends, hosted by Janet, the new shadow minister of health for the opposition party, which descends into an ensuing comedy of tragic proportions (as the poster so elegantly puts) with each successive revelation and tribulation. The Sally Potter-directed picture stars Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, Cherry Jones, Timothy Spall, Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganza as the eclectic bunch attending a party they will all wish they didn't bother RSVP-ing for.

The Party is a less of a film than it is a brilliant, hypnotic farce. The 71 minute feature-length, shot entirely in black-and-white and contained within one setting, sprawling out over just a few rooms, is totally unique in the cinematic landscape. It takes a singular idea and stretches it into a weighty, meaningful piece (unlike The Death of Stalin, for example), feeling urgent and lively at each unpredictable turn. Potter's sharp, satirical screenplay is chock-full with smart, believable dialogue and the characters that populate it are more than your typical genre staples. Installing a biting sense of urgency allows the film to fly-by in a flash, becoming one of the rare instances this year where you find yourself willing a film to be longer than it actually is. With an enthusiasm and restraint, Potter's screenplay sets the wheels in motion for a black-comedy that a terrific ensemble embrace and go to work on.

Every cast member here is on top form. Impeccably played by all involved, the group dynamics are a constant source of excitement: be it the venomous verbal sparring or an unspoken hostility and subterfuge, there is rarely a dull moment with this effervescent group to keep us entertained. No weak chain to speak of, there are a handful that rise above the rest; Mortimer's steely composure begins to crack as her life comes crumbling down around her, responsible for a good portion of the film's emotion; and Murphy is a triumph as the cocaine-taking, unhinged accountant from the city, losing the plot bit-by-bit. But is is Patricia Clarkson, with masterful aplomb, who shines the brightest as the straight-talking, pot-stirring April. Every acid-tounged line spit at the friends she turns on - in its conception and delivery - is met with hearty belly-laughs from the eager audience, lapping up her retorts and retaliations with gay abandon. She is truly outstanding and I want her to be a guest at every dinner party I attend. When the others can wrestle the limelight away from Clarkson, they excel, with all performers receiving a moment at the centre they revel in.

Both timeless and modern, The Party is so effective because it is always on the money. Amongst the middle-class nightmares, a Brexit-related air hangs over the piece - which would otherwise be a totally depressing thing considering it is all we hear on our news channels at the moment - but it only helps in energising the razor-sharp satire that pervades throughout. Drenched in black and white, Potter's stylistic decisions help enforce a theatrical quality that appears quintessentially British, heightening our enjoyment in The Party. While intrigued to discover how this plays outside the Brexit-land, it is completely effective in tapping in to the time we live in. Contained in one house, without frills and purposely low-scale, these exact scenes could be happening in the house three doors down from you, a large part in the film's charm. There's no need for massive set pieces because the storyline, cast and visuals do more than enough to engage audiences.

Even amid the love and politics musings, the added, hidden poignancy of its messages and the sorry state-of-the-nation captured, there exists a complete hilarity in the whole situation. From inappropriate records scoring key moments to the continuous chiming of a mobile phone (reminding you that life continues outside these four walls), humour is always at the forefront and rarely lost in the farce. An onslaught of witty one-liners - usually from Clarkson's April, I might add - will be the most remembered element of The Party but it's worth nothing that Potter exercises the restriction and control to balance the piece effectively, understanding when enough is enough. While mentioning earlier that the credits seemed to come round too quickly, Potter avoids the age-old saying, 'too much of a good thing...'. Maybe the riotousness would be lost if it became looser with its timing and for that we should appreciate a director keeping on top of their project.

Perhaps one flaw of The Party is that it ends stronger than it begins. The first quarter takes a little too long starting its engine, spluttering out of the starting gate without the grace it ends on. On a couple of occasions it appears to lose sight of some of its characters, thrust back into the foreground when the plot needs a shake-up: that's not a particularly bad thing, just frustrating to witness. I do wish it had a few more minutes to flesh out some ideas as well and it probably won't hurt too much taking it closer to 90 minutes than 60 minutes.

Despite initial trouble to get itself off the ground running, The Party becomes a truly funny satire on love and politics, a calamitous farce that becomes increasingly humorous; far-fetched but still grounded in middle-class reality. A riotous affair, helmed excellently by Sally Potter, provides us with one of the most impressive ensemble performances of the year - although Patricia Clarkson steals the show with her pitch-perfect acidic bite. Clocking in at just 71 minutes, The Party packs in more laughs, satire and poignancy than most would wish, turning its tragicomedy into a roaring success.

(7.5/10) 

Summary: From the riotous to the poignant, Sally Potter's The Party taps into the state-of-the-nation with a smart, sharp comedy populated with hilarious characters and brought to life by a truly fantastic cast. Patricia Clarkson should be at all dinner parties.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Flatliners (2017) (Review)


Flatliners dared us to cross the line. It's underwhelming box office figures suggest very few followed that advice though - and those that did ripped it to shreds. Of course, the 2017 film is a sequel to the 1990 original - which was hardly the most well-liked film - and hoped to spawn a new franchise for the struggling Sony Pictures, but it looks to be dead on arrival. Is the film really as bad as that 5% Rotten Tomatoes approval rating suggests, or has it been unfair attacked?

As with the original, the film follows five medical students attempting to learn about the afterlife. After conducting controlled near-death experiments - flatlining - they are brought back to life to report their findings. As it becomes obvious that something has followed them back into the real world, the students must learn to fight their new demons to survive. Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton and Kiersey Clemons lead the film as the medical students exploring the after-life, while Kiefer Sutherland returns as a new character because this is most definitely a sequel, not a remake (despite IMDB continuing to list it is a remake).

Calling Flatliners one of the worst films of the year, like many others have, would be the easiest option here. Honestly, Flatliners is not a good film - but neither is it the colossal failure most would have you believe. It feels odd trying to defend a film that one cannot knowingly recommend to a friend, but it simply does not deserve its now infamous reputation or fervorous, hateful reception. Critics appeared to jump on this one immediately, picking at its dying carcass in delight, and I'm not too sure why.

Maybe my expectations were lowered to rock-bottom levels approaching Flatliners: I rather disliked the original, the incoming reviews were disastrous to say the least and, frankly, it looked pretty poor. Does the film deserve my pity? Probably not. It's uninspired, conventional and a little bit dull at times. It's not even entertaining enough to justify its existence; but there are worse films to waste your time on. 

Director Niels Arden Oplev reimagines the picture with a solid-enough vision: the nightmare sequences are particularly well-realised, with a genuine sense of horror incorporated into the mix. Although it seems unbalanced in terms of tone and genre - with a definitive, sudden difference between the two halves of the film - it embraces it in a way that is goofy, camp and trashy enough to work visually. In comparison to the original too, it helps that you can actually see what is going on, with some decent cinematography from Eric Kress enhancing the set pieces. 

Ben Ripley's spiritless screenplay is responsible for most of Flatliners' downfalls. Despite working with an intriguing concept, and just like the original, the botched execution means that little enthusiasm can found throughout the narrative. It all feels rather pointless actually, like a slog for Ripley, experienced by the audience too. Admittedly, Ripley lands an admirable third-act twist many doubted it would actually stick with, showing that the potential is there but it goes largely unfulfilled and for every moment that works, there is another that doesn't work.

But the biggest flaw here is the uninspired characters. With next to no characterisation between them, little separates the four medical students undergoing the flatlining process. As we watch a film play out that forces us through the same build-up, flatline, dream, nightmare cycle, we rely on the characters to provide a new experience each time - but there's no personality to any of them. They all experience the same thing; they are react to it in the same way; they all deal with the same agitation and guilt. What do we have that makes watching the same cycle play out four times worthwhile? Very little. It becomes dull and repetitive, and with no meat to these characters, it becomes very difficult to sympathise with many - if any - of them at all. 

Any emotion you feel towards them is down to the best efforts of a cast held hostage to their weak counterparts. Most are forced to deliver melodramatic performances that delve into horror tropes as predictable as they are annoying, and while passable on the whole, the cast deserve better. Page helms it with any emotion and hint of a backstory that appears unresolved, while Clemons is the best of a tortured bunch. Norton feels miscast, while Dobrev takes on the archetypical female-in-a-horror-film role. Luna is the only one provided with something of a little more substance, but his character (while in the right) is treated as a burden. 

You can find entertainment in Flatliners. If it came on the television one day, you may consider keeping it on the in the background. While obviously flawed, it is not a complete disaster and I actually prefer it to the original. Despite all their might, the talented cast cannot save a weak script and the direction isn't creative enough to elevate it either, indulging in horror tropes and conventions at a disappointing rate.

✬☆
(4.5/10) 

Summary: Dead-on-arrival but not as awful as the reviews suggest, Flatliners perishes at the hands of a weak script and dreadful characters, despite solid efforts from the cast and lowered expectations all-round. Please, do not resuscitate.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Snowman (2017) (Review)


The Snowman tries with all its might to follow in the footsteps of the incredible Gone Girl and unfairly-dismissed The Girl On The Train: it is a film adaptation of a best-selling crime-mystery-thriller; it aligns itself carefully for award season glory with a mid-autumn release date; and assembles a promising cast, with at least one well-loved British talent; helmed by a director with prior award-season success. It is unfortunate that, while watchable, The Snowman lets such a promising opportunity melt away in front of our very eyes.

The Snowman follows Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender), an elite but troubled crime squad detective in Oslo, who investigates the disappearance of a young mother on the first snow of winter. An elusive serial killer, nicknamed The Snowman, is feared to be rising again - and looks set to kill with every fresh snowfall. It's up to Hole and promising new recruit, Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson), to track him down before he strikes again,  and blood stains the snow again.

You can accredit The Snowman's disappointment to one of two variables: either, the film's source material - Norwegian author Jo Nesbo's best-selling novel - does not provide the film with a sturdy-enough foundation on which to develop the film on; or the botched page-to-screen translation, headed up Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan and Soren Sveistrup, fails to identify the elements that made the novel such a success and smartly infuse them into the screenplay. Without reading the 2007 novel, it's difficult to make an assertion either way: but my gut reaction leans towards the latter, as notable narrative deviations have supposedly been made, which disfigures the starting point completely.

The Snowman just doesn't have the momentum to keep audiences in the palm of its hand. It starts promising enough, introducing its core mystery and crime in a smart, alluring way: the sense of fear and dread looms large over the case and the tension slow begins to escalate, as the detectives sense the work of a serial killer. Early on, we see a handful of effective set pieces, genuine mystery and strong storytelling. But as we approach the finale, the story becomes increasing preposterous and lazy, taking itself far too seriously for its own good. There's little respite to the brooding mood that hangs so bleakly over the film, which becomes even more transparent as we descend into that underwhelming final stretch. It feels predictable, formulaic and rather generic, endlessly borrowing elements from more successful films and television miniseries.

While Gone Girl has comments to pass on society and The Girl on the Train made assertions about gender, The Snowman has nothing beyond surface-level additions to develop it into something better, stronger, more operational. It feels like an oddly-empty spectacle filled with unmemorable characters, despite the intriguing central concept it considers and some high-level intensity contained within the first half. Claire Simpson and Thelma Schoonmaker valiantly attempt to edit the film together effectively - but the film makes bizarre jumps, allows characters to complete fade into obscurity and ditch sub-plots when that are no longer required, as if crucial scenes went missing between the production and post-production process. Simpson and Schoonmaker can only paper over the cracks so well and their efforts, while admirable, cannot save The Snowman from melting away.

While the characters lack substance, the cast do their best with them. Fassbender plays Harry Hole (I laughed numerous times) effectively but it won't go down as a career best; his main character traits seems to be that he quite likes a drink and continual disappoints his family but lacks the backstory to expand on this. Thankfully, Fassbender is a talented man and just about brings enough likability to this once-sharp detective - it just doesn't feel particularly inspired. Rebecca Ferguson is weighty as Katrine, providing emotion and magnetism as the latest addition to the Oslo's police force. Toby Jones makes a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo and J.K. Simmons leads an interesting sub-plot that completely vanishes as his character is sidelined later in the story.

Fortunately, The Snowman possess some truly captivating imagery to keep audiences (at least visually) engaged. Directed by Tomas Alfredson, the icy landscapes of Oslo provide an excellent and rather stunning backdrop, enhanced by Dion Beebe's terrific cinematography. Its grand, chilling winter landscape cultivates the tone that begins so promising well, as does Marco Beltrami's soundtrack; it won't win awards and it feels like a copy-and-paste job at times, but it is serviceable and helps add some excitement to the otherwise to an increasingly lacklustre affair.

The best way to describe The Snowman is as follow: it is like two jigsaw puzzles were mixed into one box - a straight-forward adaptation from the author, and the director's vision, who took artistic and narrative liberties of his own. When it then came to assembling the end-product, they discovered that a handful of each puzzle's pieces were missing; because they had already committed to it, they tried to scavenge together something that bared resemblance, if only vaguely, to a complete film. As such, the final result is an imperfect, un-synced amalgamation of two competing visions that never coalesce into one satisfying whole. Scenes seem to be missing and things fail to fall into place, prompting an unsatisfying jumble and upsetting missed opportunity.


But here's the thing. Crime-thrillers are my genre when it comes to cinema, so even one that feels as scarcely passable as The Snowman will receive my time and effort - and very probably, at least some enjoyment. If you're the same, you might find The Snowman frosty but watchable; I'm hardly recommending you rush out to catch it while in cinemas but I won't be against you doing so if it encourages studios to continuing funding the genre in the future. While the immense talent on paper struggle with all their desperation to turn this choppy, flat picture into something stronger, it never really comes together in a truly satisfying manner and a film positioned as a potential year-end favourite abandons all hope by the time the credits roll after a particularly weak final act. Fine but not the hoped-for smash.


(5.5/10) 

Summary: This Jo Nesbo adaptation will tide genre fans over until the next page-to-screen film translation or television miniseries - but for those after something a little more substantial, The Snowman will, disappointingly, melt away the further you head into the jumbled blizzard.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Loving Vincent (2017) (Review)


Loving Vincent is an astonishing work of art. Or rather, works of art. Around 115 talented artists are responsible for individually hand-painting the 65,000 frames that make up the 91 minute feature-length oozing with creativity and passion. Crafted entirely from oil paints on canvas, the same technique used by Vincent Van Gogh - the film's muse and centre - the British-Polish co-production is  the world's first fully-painted feature-length and a stunning, poignant and tender artistic triumph.

Loving Vincent begins one year after the death of the great painter, Vincent Van Gough, and follows Armand Roulin's attempt to deliver a letter, written by Vincent, to his brother, Theo Van Gough. Along the way, Roulin meets people who were around Vincent during his final days and starts to question why Vincent would would take his own life after making a breakthrough with his mental health - or whether it was all a cover-up for murder. 

Loving Vincent is a marvellous piece of art that carefully prevents turning its uniqueness into a gimmick, as many feared it would. It is quite fair to say that every frame is a painting, because they quite literally are, creating the most visually jaw-dropping film of the year by a country mile. While adapting to this new style of 'animation' may be a tricky thing for some, the audience are slowly eased in to the distinctive style by a confident and passionate pair of directors; Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman's seven-years-in-the-making effort clocks in at just a shade over 90 minutes, and manages to cram in almost every emotion under the sun in that timespan - heartbreak, anger, comfort, resilience and spirit bubble under the surface as the Starry Night swirls and the Cafe Terrace sparkles with life. It is an undeniable masterpiece. Their labour of love is careful not to place all of its cards on its jaw-dropping visuals, peppering its script with some heady, potent theme work.

As well as the strong themes spliced into the script, Loving Vincent's narrative more than serves its purpose, delivering an intriguing mystery crime drama mash-up. It explores the final days of the gone-before-his-years artist, the people he was surrounded with at the end and his volatile mental state that led to his early demise. It refuses to dish out blame to those who wronged him and it never lionises Vincent, presenting him as a misunderstood human who made his mark on the world after his time. It considers the good and bad within us all, the pressures we place ourselves under and the value of our freedom and artistic license, incorporating these narrative flourishes stunningly.

A talented cast breathe even more life into Loving Vincent with some excellent voice performances. While it may take a few moments to acclimatise to some of the accents, which feel a tad out of place at times, they are generally impressive and help provide further emotion and weight to the story. Douglas Booth is a magnetic lead, searching for solace as he commences his journey to appease the task at hand; Eleanor Tomlinson provides a stunning, stirring turn brimming with warmth and energy; while Helen McCrory is strong as a domineering, matriarch figure, stern and stone-faced but eventually warming to Roulin. Outside these stand out performance, a number of talented populate the piece: Saoirse Ronan, Jerome Flynn Chris O'Dowd and Aidan Turner all deliver substantial supporting performances, enlivening these character effectively.

Clint Mansell's gorgeous soundtrack truly enhances the emotion embedded within the script, crafting a rousing selection of tracks that enriches the film perfectly. Creating a lavish spectacle both visually and sonically, it is subtle enough to avoid distracting from the main narrative but prolific enough to be fully appreciated and recognised by the audience. It may go down as one of the strongest soundtracks of the year, suitably tender and captivating without ever overpowering.

Plenty to love but not without its flaws, Loving Vincent suffers from a reliance on its formula. It is structured to fall in and out of timelines, to uncover more of Van Gough's final days - but it means momentum is never sustained and the stop-start rhythm prevents the film from becoming its greatest self. Furthermore, the film requires more time to breathe: while 91 minutes is an appropriate length, a tightening in other areas could provide the film with an extra few minutes to streamline its story a little more cleanly.

Loving Vincent is a profound, unique and stunning affair, without a shadow of a doubt. A few jolts in the road aside, the gorgeously-rendered rolling landscapes, artistic boldness, touching story and fantastic cast certify the picture as one of the greatest cinematic experiences of the year. Its uniqueness never becomes a gimmick and the rich visuals are a testament to the skill of the artists whose labour of love and dedication to their craft is showcased for the world to see - and I really hope the world sees it. Loving Vincent is a jaw-dropping feat, every frame quite literally a painting, and a stunning portrait of humanity that will be held up for decades to come.

(8.5/10) 

Summary: Loving Vincent is a stunning, tender and committed artistic triumph. While not without its flaw, it is a phenomenal technical accomplishment, elevated to dazzling heights by a stunning cast, gorgeous score and touching story that unleashes the artist inside us all.

Friday, 13 October 2017

The Death of Stalin (2017) (Review)


The Death of Stalin won't be everyone's cup of tea: my mother proclaimed it as 'the worst film all year' but I've seen people who absolutely love it, putting it at the top of their year-end list. It once again comes down to comedy being a wholly subjective entity. Screened early as part of Odeon's Screen Unseen series, the film will probably earn a cult following upon release - but I can't see it being an easy sell for general audiences.

The Death of Stalin chronicles the Soviet power struggles occasioned by the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, as his various cabinet members try to scrap their way to the top. His key ministers consists of Nikita Khruschchev (Steve Buscemi), Georgy Malenkov (Jeffery Tambor), Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), Anastas Mikoyan (Paul Whitehouse) and Mezhnikov (Jonathan Aris). Packaged as a drama-comedy and written by Armando Iannucci (who also directs), David Schneider, Ian Martin and Peter Fellows, based on Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin's graphic novel of the same name, there is so much testosterone flying around that you would be forgiven for believing that women didn't actually exist in Soviet Russian in the 50s.

The Death of Stalin is defined by its ridiculousness: partly-delirious, partly-dull and always scattershot in structure and consistency, the elements are in place but the execution disappoints. The four-person writing team are scrapping almost as viciously as Stalin's committee members to ensure their voices and ideas are heard and fulfilled, leading to an uneven and jumbled screenplay: the film's most lethal flaw. To its credit, The Death of Stalin manages to envision these characters well enough, with some sharp dialogue provided, but the period comedy-drama lacks clarity. How do Stalin's members rank? We have titles flying around left, right and centre but we are without the context for audiences to rationalise this information. Who does these character represent and what are they dynamics between them? We sense the 'Boy's Club' vibe loud and clear but it fails to consider the inner-workings of the group. When the scheming begins, we have no sense as to how and why a support network is formed, and whether it's genuine, because the film cares more about lame insults to bother with the mechanics of the committee and characters.

Stalin felt over-complicated on a frequent basis, something you can attribute to too many cooks spoiling the broth. If it's not an infuriating sexual assault joke, it's a venomous insult; and if it's neither of those things, it's a swear word.  Some of the one-liners land and the comedic timing is almost impeccable, but most of it fails to stick and many more are completely forgettable when all is said and done. Adapting from a graphic novel is already shaky ground to begin constructing your project on - but the writers seem to cling to one central idea and so the tone becomes stale and monotonous. Act one had won me round but the further we venture with this one idea, the more concentration dwindles.

Armando Iannucci won me over with his ambition and his direction is undeniable solid. With some tremendous production and art design across the various sets and costumes, perfectly suitable to the tone and environment, it is a visually formidable piece - particularly when you consider that this is a British production, a notoriously difficult industry to gather funding in. The visual scope exceeds the scale of the production and Iannucci dances with these production elements effectively. Generally, his work is solid if little more and he helms this barmy idea with confidence, even though the script lets him down completely: it constantly walks the tricky line of comedy as satire but there's no variety in the tone, or focus in the writing, and so it becomes a unsatisfying, scattered muddle.

Ultimately, it is the ensemble cast that prevent The Death of Stalin from being a complete wash-out. They are a committed, sharp bunch with high levels of experience and skill between them. The comedic timing is terrific, mastered by the leads and supporting cast alike. There's no weak link in this chain: although stand-outs emerge, almost everyone receives their moment to take control and shine. Simon Russell Beale will likely earn most of the acclaim, with a purposely savage and ferocious performance as power-hungry, lion-like Beria, chief of the secret police. Likewise, Steve Buscemi supplies a sweeping performance as the malevolent Khruschchev, continually ready to strike. Rupert Friend plays the unstable son of Stalin in a performance that frequently threatens to become melodramatic - but Friend has a control that prevents it from doing so, a true testament to his skill and talent. Every one of these real-life figures possess an animalistic quality, which is helpful for the actors (and, in parts, the audience) in envisioning their counterparts. It's just such a shame that this does not come from the screenplay itself, as so much clarity could have been offered with a more streamlined, focused screenplay with less people squabbling to have their idea heard.

It was always going to be an uphill battle - creating a film about Soviet Russian power struggles - and you have to admire Iannucci's ambition. Essentially, The Death of Stalin is so scattershot that feels like a Saturday Night Live sketch stretched to feature-length runtime; like most episodes of SNL though, it's pretty hit and miss as to whether it lands. There will be people who enjoy The Death of Stalin more than I did (and certainly more than my mother did) and I admittedly chuckled a handful of times but the farce becomes too stale and inconsistent to be enjoyed and by the time the credits rolls, the whole affair is tiresome.

★★
(5/10) 

Summary: Despite an impressive ensemble cast and clear ambition from Armando Iannucci, The Death of Stalin is too scattershot for its own good. It takes one singular idea and stretches it into a feature-length, lending to a disappointing and inconsistent end product.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Home Again (2017) (Review)


Not every film is a masterpiece and not every film is designed to be one. Sometimes, all you need is a slice of easy, fluffy, satisfying entertainment to pass the time and fill your heart with joy. On the same weekend we received Blade Runner 2049, Reese Witherspoon's Home Again arrived in the UK; a charming romantic-comedy that does exactly what it says on the metaphorical tin and very often indulges in its simplicity.

Home Again focuses on a 40-year young woman, Alice (Witherspoon), who feels her youth and vivaciousness slipping away as she tries to mature and move on after a recent separation and relocation back to her old stomping grounds. Letting her hair down for the big birthday, she meets a group of three film-makers and ends up inviting home to stay in her home. When a romance sparks between one of them, a young director more than a decade her junior, she begins to question what she has let herself in for.

Home Again doesn't take many risks at all. It strays as humanly close to conventions without becoming completely dull and utilises the typical comedy formula to reliable effect - including a unneeded reliance on third act conflict. But, you would be seriously hard-pressed to leave the film without a warm, fuzzy feeling, no matter how much you want to resist it. It is the true definition of a guilty pleasure and has no qualms in indulging in that notion, always bursting with charm and delight. Hallie Meyers-Shyer makes her directorial and screenwriting debut with the piece, bringing the female-fronted comedy to the fold with enthusiasm and energy: it's a surprisingly confident piece of work for someone only making their debut, firmly marking her as one to watch in the near and distant future. 

Meyers-Shyer's script provides the actors with a strong basis for the screwball shenanigans the group face and it carries this high-energy spirit from first frame to last, despite how predictable it can feel at times. Interlaced with some solid consideration of themes - including a reflection on the pertinent Hollywood age gap, a set-up which Home Again gladly inverts and tackles head on -  it feels fluffy and fun without becoming completely disposable. Visually too, this is a beautiful film. It helps that we are very often surrounded by shiny surface and luxury at each and every turn, set in the sunny Los Angeles and populated by beautiful people. 

But where Home Again truly excels is through its loveable cast and likeable characters. Reese Witherspoon is as charming here as ever, with a natural charisma and warmth that makes her instantly relatable and engaging. She provides audiences with a bubbly performance of this self-aware woman coming to terms with ageing: she's not the spring chicken she once was and, amidst a painful separation, looks to reinvent herself. Witherspoon holds herself with such elegance and grace, and this is the frequently-amusing lead performance she (and we) deserves more often.

The supporting cast are a fine bunch too: Nat Wolff, Jon Rudnitsky and Pico Alexander are all endearing performers and while Teddy, George and Harry are defined largely by broad brush strokes, the characters are likeable and affable, handling the emotion and the humour effectively. Michael Sheen makes a handful of passing cameos to decent effect and Lola Flanery and Eden Grace Redfield deliver a pair of solid performances as Alice's two daughters. This really is Witherspoon's show through and through though and she makes the best use out of it, shining often.

Home Again is an obviously flawed piece of film-making that takes the safest route to its predictable destination - but it does so with warmth, charm and a tremendously likeable cast in tow, who elevate the film beyonds its clear limitations. It's the perfect slice of fluffy, frothy entertainment; humorous without being hilarious; good without being great; and sharp without being conceited. Reese Witherspoon is fantastic and I really hope this open Meyers-Shyer up to an abundance of opportunity in the near (and distant) future, because she proves herself to be a promising director and screenwriter - with more experience under her belt, she'll excel. I had an absolute blast with Home Again: it is 97 minutes well-spent I'd watch at home, again.

★★
(7/10) 

Summary: Home Again isn't the smartest, the funniest or the most original film to grace our screens - but it is an enjoyable slice of light, frothy entertainment in its purest form. It could be a new guilty pleasure for many.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017) (Review)


Everyone knows of Winnie-the-Pooh: it became a beacon of hope and happiness when it was first introduced post-World War One and was recently voted the best-loved children's book of all time, illustrating the enduring impact it has had on the country. The stories of Pooh, Tigger, Eyeore and friends brought joy to so many during one of the darkest times. Goodbye Christopher Robin goes beyond the success of these creations though, exploring A. A Milne's globe-spanning tales and his inspiration behind it - mainly, Christopher Robin Milne, his only child.

After his traumatic involvement in World War One, A. A. Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) returns to England a changed man. While trying to maintain a career as a writer, Milne finds himself continually reminded of the horrors of the Western Front and decides to escape to the countryside, in search of inspiration for new material: despite his trouble connecting with people, including his family, he is joined by his wife, Daphne de Selincourt (Margot Robbie) and his son, Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), lovingly known as Billy Moon. After spending a long weekend with his son, he finds the inspiration - through him and his toys - to write Winnie-the-Pooh, using Billy's childhood adventures as the foundations for his stories.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is not the sanitised and fluffy sugar-rush you may have expected; while the trailers and marketing may have painted it as such, there's a consideration of some darker, grittier themes that elevate it beyond typical biopic-drama conventions. Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan examine life after war - how it must go on despite the long-lasting trauma it inflicted upon so many - through their impressive screenplay, detailed with some beautiful dialogue; the effects of PTSD, commonly known at the time as shell-shock, is pondered with compassion, while a moral argument as to whether Milne exploited his son's own childhood for the joy and happiness of millions more. It's not something I ever expected the film to touch upon, so for Goodbye Christopher Robin to explore it as freely as it did offered a new, refreshing and admirable insight.

A substantial element of Goodbye Christopher Robin is its analysis of family. Relationships and dynamics are the forefront of the feature-length with some surprising results: it becomes clear that the war has placed a considerable strain on Milne's bond with his family, particularly his son, with whom there is a clear discomfort. It's clear Milne feels he cannot be expected to look after a child when he cannot look after himself, freezing with every reminder of the war he endured - yet, as the father and son spend more time together and their bond blossoms in front of our very eyes, a loving and nurturing relationship is found, birthing the beginning of the Winnie The Pooh stories that healed many other families. Without spoiling too much, the film's later reflection on this is heartbreaking in many ways, with a particular line in the final scene likely to put a lump in even the toughest of throats.

Christopher's relationship with his Nanny and Mother proves to be a great point of comparison; I was especially surprised to see Selincourt presented as manipulative and often selfish, utilising the fame and fortune earned from Christopher's childhood for her own gain, despite his growing opposition. Becoming increasingly fraught, their bond is tested and question by the Nanny, with whom Christopher shares a special, loving and maternal relationship: at times she appears to be the only person not caught up in the whirlwind of the fame and fortune, with her caring nature providing Christopher with the love he deserves. Contrasting these mother figures in his life opens the film up to the meaning of family which is one of the most fundamental components of Simon Curtis' film.

Providing the insight into these characters and their relationships is the fantastic ensemble. Each and every cast member works to bring out the film's themes and ideas terrifically, provided their moments to shine. After an intense turn in mother!, Domhnall Gleeson once again showcases his talent with a precise and understated performance as A. A. Milne, illustrating his fragility post-war and his continual attempt to better himself for his family. It's a tender approach to the role and, in turn, Gleeson warrants a career-highlight. Margot Robbie's role as Milne's wife is a self-centred turn that casts a rather negative light on her; Robbie understands where to control and restrict the performance to avoid her becoming wholly unlikeable, which is a very skilful line to balance. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, Kelly Macdonald's performance as Billy's nanny enhances the film's emotion terrifically, with her obvious care for Billy spitefully questioned by his mother.

However, I would argue that young Will Tilston steals the show as the adorable Billy Moon. It's a very solid performance - particularly for a younger actor - with a confident hold of the character and his varying emotion as his stardom increases without his permission. With his beautiful expressions and bewilderment, he adds weight to the emotion with ease, like a performer well beyond his years and with tonnes more experience. When Alex Lawther takes the reigns as an older Christopher Robin, he too upholds the standard terrifically, with some of the film's most heartbreaking moments contained in a cafe-set scene threatening to overspill with emotion. Overall, they are an impressive bunch and really help sell the warmth and heartbreak contained within the story and script.

Outside the fantastic ensemble, Goodbye Christopher Robin is brought to life by a skilled and confident director. Frequently magical and soaring, the incorporation of watercolour animation captures a uniqueness and beauty that brings the stories to life before our very eyes in a smart, elegant and lovely way, as if they have been lifted directly from one of the illustrations. He finds grace in these tender, splendid moments, but demonstrates a grittiness when we visit the Front, all while maintaining a PG rating.

Curtis' visuals are captivating and enchanting in the purest way, with Ben Smithard's cinematography magnifying the beauty even further: the forest-setting is specifically impressive, painting with light and nature in grand, opulent ways. It's a skilled feature-length from a man at the beginning of his career, with this another solid entry into his filmography. Carter Burwell's lovely score is a beautiful addition to the film, strengthening the emotion and tone of the piece excellently.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is not a complete success though: like Selincourt herself, the film feels manipulative at times, working its hardest to provoke an emotion that it may not have fully earned. For example, the final twenty minutes or so are so heavy with development that the film would greatly benefit from more time to breathe and allow audiences to digest the events. The emotion could be deepened even further with extra time, which it could easily siphon from some of the film's slower moments, while still keeping it under two hours. And while I do mention some of the grittier themes incorporated, it does feel slightly too sugary at times, with some jolty tonal shifts interrupting the pace somewhat.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is the perfect autumnal film and as frivolous as it may sound, really benefits from the colder weather causing you to feel like you are escaping into this carefully-crafted world. It is equally heartbreaking and heartwarming, with the screenplay packed to the rafters with soaring poignancy and warm flourishes; which is, in turn, brought to life by a confidence director and impressive, talented ensemble. It genuinely brought me to tears. The infusion of watercolour animation is particularly magical and captures the spirit of A. A. Milne's fluffy, wonderful creations perfectly. A beautiful experience.

(8/10) 

Summary: Goodbye Christopher Robin is a beautiful, stirring and lovely film arriving at the perfect time: it is brought to life splendidly by a confident director and impressive ensemble cast, who enhance every drop of emotion effortlessly.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) (Review)


Sci-fi is not my bag. We all have a genre (I have two - sci-fi and westerns) we can't get on with and, Denis Villeneuve's faultless Arrival aside, sci-fi carries that misfortune for me. Despite being dubbed a cinematic masterpiece, I was largely unimpressed with the original Blade Runner (more extensive thoughts here) - but Villeneuve's involvement in the sequel had me on board instantly. Critical acclaim has propelled hype and excitement to tremendous heights - but how does the picture stand-up for someone largely disconnected from the franchise?

Set 30 years after the original, Blade Runner 2049 follows replicant blade runner, K (Ryan Gosling), and his mission to 'retire' old models. When he requires the help of an expert, he searches for Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who has been in hiding for years. Throughout promotion, 2049's storyline has been heavily-guarded, shrouded in secrecy and hidden from promotion; I'll attempt to withhold that tone throughout this review, because a lot of the beauty of 2049 is not quite sensing where it is going.

Quite simply, Blade Runner 2049 may be the most visually spectacular film of the year, oozing with sophistication and finesse. Villeneuve, one of Hollywood's most consistent directors, transitions the beauty of his smaller-scale dramas and thrillers (Arrival, Sicario and Prisoners) to this big-budget sci-fi epic exceptionally. From sweeping shots of the city to tighter, more intimate moments with the the characters, Villeneuve showcases a plethora of emotions on screen, operating effectively in delivering a film of both beauty and depth, as is now to be expected from the man. He lays the foundations of a tremendous film through his talent and skill alone, and finds a fantastic team to accentuate it further.

2049's beautiful cinematography - courtesy of Roger Deakins, a key player in elevating this piece to thrilling heights - rivals Dunkirk's for the title of the year's best. Every shot feels like a lavish photograph; playing with light, shadows, palettes, colours and hues, Deakins paints a stunning aesthetic that means it will be held up as masterclass of the art for decades to come. If the future is as pretty a picture as Deakins paints, I'm excited for it.

It obviously helps too that the production and art design is second to none. Populated with grand, ostentatious set pieces demonstrating how you should handle a budget of this scale - splash it on to screen for our enjoyment - the scale is immense and you are immersed visually in this detailed, flashy world in awe and admiration. Whether its a wasteland, lab or palace, the screen is bursting with stunning flourishes that ensure you are continually captivated, pouring over every last detail pervading our screen. So much effort and thought has gone into each scene, from the precision of the palettes to the ripple of the water on the wall - that budget really has been well spent (even if it turns out to be the film's undoing commercially).

Blade Runner 2049's talent behind the camera is matched by those on the screen and Ryan Gosling is the perfect leading man. He provides a layered and textured performance as Joe: he is elusive, magnetic and charming, providing audiences with a genuinely intriguing central character who anchors the piece through the conveyor belt of rotating set pieces and scenes. As Villeneuve has, he has proven himself to be one of the most reliable talents of his field, with this going down as another testament to the impressive filmography he has crafted over the years.

Harrison Ford returns as Deckard, bringing with him a decent performance, particularly explosive when sparring with Gosling. A tremendous chemistry and energy is formed between them. While his surprisingly late-in-the-game appearance felt like an unneeded cameo to begin with, his character does fit back into the world rather seamlessly and adds to the narrative efficiently. Ana de Armas is particularly endearing as a soulmate for Gosling's Joe, while Robin Wright makes for his headstrong, potential dangerous boss. Jared Leto and Sylvia Hoeks (in particular) provides two menacing performances operating as the film's big-bads. Hoeks is especially towering, physically and mentally attempting to break the explosive duo down. The whole ensemble is solid, offering audiences new characters to help expand the Blade Runner universe, as well as some familiar faces along the way.

Hampton Fancher and Michael Green's screenplay, based on characters from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, finds a strong story to tell for the sequel, utilising a recognisable Blade Runner template but heading off in a far more personal, intimate direction (despite keeping expanding the scope). It was a smart move to keep the main body of the story hidden from promotional material, as you feel the story unfurls in a surprising, unconventional way. It was a relief that the narrative moves away somewhat from the original, as I found the first outing rather dull on account for the increasingly complex and frustrating story which quickly became one of the most glaring issues with the original for me. The sequel is still an intelligent, thought-provoking piece but without the pretentious frills that undermined the first from my viewpoint.

Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch's soundtrack enhances each and every moment fantastically: I can see award season success for many of the film's technical elements, but the soundtrack is one of the most deserving; it is a varied collection of tracks scoring the film excellently, provoking emotion, excitement and danger effectively and where appropriate. With ebbs and flows it dips and peaks in intensity and power, capturing the mood and operating with terrific effect at every turn.

Blade Runner 2049 deserves to sweep the Oscars on the same scale Mad Max: Fury Road did in 2015, for its visuals, direction and soundtrack are particularly masterful.

But.

With so many indisputable technical achievements and successful elements to it, I question why I left Blade Runner 2049 feeling so cold - disconnected almost. My general, muted reception to the original almost certainly has something to do with that, but it seems to be more than that: I couldn't quite connect to the film emotionally, distant to the world that was being created and unable to immerse myself in it, visuals aside. An excessive runtime and a handful of moments provoking real confusion (again, likely my own fault) did nothing to help, but the root problem for my detachment can't be pinpointed to one thing - it seemed like a concoction of components that failed to bring it together as a satisfying whole.

Now, I can recognise a good film when I see one, and Blade Runner 2049 most certainly is a good film, a clear improvement over the original - but not one I could fully invest myself in.  It was visually astounding, stunningly directed, narratively solid, terrific in its performances and bolstered by an impressive score - but the coldness I felt (both metaphorically and physically, because I'd forgotten my jumper at home) dampened the experience. Maybe a second watch will help alleviate some of my issues with a piece (not that it will miraculously be cut down by half an hour overnight...), but I'll have to let you know in due time...

(7.5/10) 

Summary: Blade Runner 2049's technical achievements are astounding, containing some of the year's most impressive visuals, helmed by a director at the top of his game - but I left the theatre feeling cold and disconnected.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Reflecting on Q3: Late Summer Dregs and Early Award Hopefuls


Q1 smashed box office records while, save for a handful of real gems, Q2 appeared to drop the baton a little. Hollywood's Q3 (July, August, September) seems to continue the latter's trend, delivering a number of underperformers - or downright bombs - alongside just an elite selection of successes and wins. The late summer stretch was a particularly dreadful patch, inspiring little in the way of confidence and cratering numbers: when overall figures wound-up, this summer was the lowest-grossing in a decade and left Hollywood with a little egg on its face. Let's break it down a little more, shall we?

Reflecting on Q3: Late summer Dregs and Early Awards Hopefuls...

The second half of the summer belonged to two films really. Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk ($75.5 million) not only earned critical acclaim (many, myself included, labelled it the man's greatest accomplishment of any already glowing career) and solid worldwide numbers, but it scaled the UK box office to become the 18th highest-grossing film of all time. Award season in firmly in its sights, meaning that number looks likely to rise; it became a phenomenal example of a trusted director delivering the goods with a new, original idea that audiences felt the need to see in cinemas. Spider-Man: Homecoming ($39.9 million) started a little slower, but eventually became one of the most critically and commercially celebrated Spider-Man films of all time. It has impressed audiences and earned Disney/Sony a tidy profit for their colliding universes.

Looking at the second half of Q3, It became the horror event of the year, all but wiping the entire competition. With almost $40 million after just a month of play (and more in the tank), the Stephen King adaptation is quickly working its way up the 2017 list, likely sitting in the top five of the year by the time this article is published. Such a stellar result only stands the 2019 sequel in good stead. Kingsman: The Golden Circle has performed rather admirably in the shadows of It, recording over $20 million after just two weekends of play. Bucking the sequel downturn trend, this will almost certainly leapfrog over the original and sprint up the 2017 list.

Dunkirk wasn't the only original fare this summer, thankfully. While sparingly, it showed that maybe, just maybe, Hollywood still had a creative bone somewhere, providing us the immensely enjoyable Baby Driver. With a very, very tidy $16.8 million, Baby Driver's success demonstrated audiences desire for new, refreshing content which will hopefully pave the way for more next year - and this was during the most intense moments of the quarter. Girls Trip, after opening in a limited capacity, impressed British audiences as much as it impressed those Stateside, eventually expanding and winding up with a sensational $11.6 million, flying the flag for diversity. Comedy doesn't usually travel too well (as Rough Night and its $1 million total will tell you), so this performance is particularly stellar.

Overall, the highest worldwide grosser of the summer was Despicable Me 3, and sits at number three in the UK for the year with an astonishing $62.9 million. To me, it did the business rather quietly, passing the $1 billion barrier worldwide with little fanfare. Still, it was clearly the animation of choice while schools were out. Disney Pixar's Cars 3 underwhelmed despite more positive reviews compared to the franchise's predecessors - it has delivered a pitiful $15.1 million, becoming the heralded studio's worst performing film to date. Ouch. Captain Underpants had a slow and steady performance but its $10.2 million total is little to write home about. And the less said about The Emoji Movie, the better for my blood pressure - it did rather alright with $18.8 million in the UK but most of that was people seeing whether it was really that bad. Fun fact though - it's only just fallen out the UK's box office top five, so it's legs have been solid. Way to go, guys. The Nut Job 2 got lost, digging up $2.7 million in total - or, less than The Emoji Movie's already disappointing opening weekend. So, yeah.

On the blockbuster front, the certified flops came in the form of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Valerian & The City of a Thousand Planets and The Dark Tower. The former, a franchise kick-starter rumoured to have planned another five (!!!) instalments, caved with an embarrassing $6.3 million, despite an early summer release date. It's safe to say that franchise has been rejected and I can say, hand on heart, that more people saw my review (most most-viewed to date, FYI!) than actually saw this film (so thanks!). Valerian scrapped together $5.1 million at the tail-end of the season, another abysmal number that suggests the series was dead on arrival. And The Dark Tower crumbled with $3.5 million, with franchise-hopes for Sony buried under the rubble.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Whatever They Decided To Call It In The UK did not launch to the series' landmark figures but managed $25.1 million to tide Disney over. War For The Planet of the Apes brought in a tidy $26.5 million but this was, again, a comedown from the previous franchise entry. The Flatliners sequel was dead on arrival (you knew I was going to) with $652k over opening weekend with a quick burn-out rate expected.

The underwhelming The Hitman's Bodyguard safety delivered $9.7 million back to Lionsgate HQ: it is nothing to be too thrilled about but decent enough for a studio crafting a purposely varied state. American Assassin, from the same studio, performed less securely with just $2.1 million. It may have a little more in the tank, admittedly. Atomic Blonde underwhelmed somewhat, with a $4.8 million total coming below expectations and aspirations, while American Made did solid business by being the only notable film in the marketplace during the awkward August-September transition, with $7.4 to date. The rather delayed Everything, Everything wasn't really worth the effort, gathering an unspectacular $2.1 million for its troubles.

Horror has had a mixed time of it this quarter. It's now clear that people were saving their pennies for It, but Annabelle: Creation did manage over $10 million by being the only film of its sort in the marketplace over August. My beloved mother! deserved more love and appreciation, with $2.7 million over 3 weeks as business begins to dry up; maybe not all publicity is good publicity after all. It may have performed better by removing itself from It's radar, as I covered over on Film Inquiry. While we're on the topic of more experimental material, A Ghost Story's $173k performed decently in arthouses but unfortunately never made it out of that circle. Raw and It Comes At Night hurt each other due to their proximity (just one week), with $182k for the French-language horror and $783 for the Joel Edgerton-starred.

Q3 also saw the unofficial beginning of the Oscar season, with a number of potential contenders staking their claim early in the game in a bid to stand out from the crowded Q4. Katheryn Bigelow's Detroit disappointed in both a critical and commercial fashion, with $2.8 million and dashed Oscar chances. Wind River, from the people that brought us the four-time nomination Hell or High Water, deserved better with $1.6 million to date, just slightly above the female-revolving remake of The Beguiled, which earned $1.5 million for its troubles. Logan Lucky ($4.2 million) was not the powerhouse it deserved to be and sits in the bottom half of the top 100 of the year. While it may not have turned out to be the award-season hopeful it wanted to be, Victoria & Abdul's $9.4 million across just a handful of weeks is a crowning achievement, while God's Own Country has had a small,  solid and sustained time of it, with $945k. I do hope it can make the conversation over the next few months. The indie winner of the summer was The Big Sick, earning $2.3 million and award-season momentum. Goodbye Christopher Robin did just over $1 million in its first weekend, and will hope to perform well mid-week (I was the youngest in my screening on Wednesday by several decades).

Unless I've completely missed anything, that's a wrap on the major releases of Q3. We've had a couple of major successes, a few complete disasters and everything else has been solid to fine. It lead to the weakest summer figures in a decade Stateside but it tracked far better in the UK, mainly due to the blow-out success of Dunkirk and a selection of others (Homecoming, Despicable Me 3). Early Autumn has helped both with both It and Kingsman impressing both sides of the pond.

Looking towards Q4, award season gets fully underway alongside the big blockbusters fighting for glory. Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League, Coco, Murder On The Orient Express and Star Wars: The Last Jedi are going for big family buck; The Snowman, The Shape of Water, The Disaster Artist and The Killing of a Sacred Deer are searching for an older crowd; and the various award contenders (Wonderstruck, Call Me By Your Name and Battle of the Sexes are just a handful coming this year). We will see who finds glory and who crashes and burn shortly - let me know which films you are most excited for, your predictions for success and what you thoughts were on Q3 as a whole?