First Reformed Review

First Reformed

There’s a sickness at the heart of Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. From man-made pollution of the environment to the creeping cancer in the stomach of its hero, this tale of a devout man’s descent into total crisis balances its spirituality with very real, tangible darkness, anchored by an introspective and intensely compelling central performance from Ethan Hawke. Schrader, no stranger to men of purpose going over the edge, has delivered a deliberately divisive study of faith and big business, and the uniquely American intertwining of the two. It’s a fascinating experiment that doesn’t shy away from weirdness or sincere religiosity.  Continue reading

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The Tale Review

Tale

Jennifer Fox has already made a name for herself at the Sundance Film Festival as a superb documentarian, but this year she brought her first narrative feature to the fest, an astonishing, repellent, and utterly essential look at Fox’s own childhood sexual abuse at the hands of an adult man. It’s a potent, needling look at trauma and the stories people tell themselves to survive it and how the intrusion of cold reality on these stories can hurt nearly as much as the trauma itself. The Tale has seared itself into my brain and, if you have the stomach for it, is the best film of 2018 so far.  Continue reading

The Negotiator (Beirut) Review

Beirut

Writer Tony Gilroy is no stranger to suspenseful espionage action, having penned the original Bourne trilogy, but his latest look at the world of spies, The Negotiator, actually has a lot more in common with his directorial debut, Michael Clayton, than those Matt Damon actioners. It’s tense but intellectual, just as willing to provide an excoriating analysis of American institutions as it is to deliver conventional thrills. This time around, Gilroy sets his sights on US foreign policy in 1982 Beirut, just before the Israeli invasion, painting a picture of short-sightedness and corruption, a bold and timely message that elevates The Negotiator above its rather typical genre trappings.  Continue reading

Leave No Trace Review

Leave No Trace

Best known for launching the career of one Jennifer Lawrence with Winter’s Bone in 2010, Debra Granik is back after a very long eight year wait with Leave No Trace, another tale of remote Americans featuring a fantastic breakout turn from a young actress. This time around, Granik puts the spotlight on Thomasin McKenzie, who plays Tom, a 13 year old girl living with her father Will (Ben Foster) in a national park on the outskirts of Portland. Though Foster may be the cast’s big name, and he is of course excellent from start to finish, this is absolutely McKenzie’s film as she skilfully navigates the conflicting feelings of a loyal daughter who needs to start living her own life.  Continue reading

Solo Review

SoloLarge

Of all the potential spinoffs in the Star Wars universe, one of the few that the fans were not clamouring for was a Harrison Ford-free origin story for the enigmatic smuggler with a heart of gold, Han Solo. Combine that with a torturous development featuring much-publicised creative differences between Lucasfilm and the original directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, it’s a miracle that Solo not only made its initial release date, but also that it made it in relatively good condition. Ron Howard had a huge job on his hands redoing pretty much an entire film, but he proves his mettle as a very steady pair of hands with this flawed and scrappy, but very fun, entry into the Star Wars canon.  Continue reading

Deadpool 2 Review

Deadpool2

Despite his superpowers making him nigh-on unkillable, Deadpool/Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is not a character built to last. His central gimmick of fourth-wall breaking jokes means his charm rests mainly on his audience enjoying references to other current superhero films, and without the novelty factor of the original, the thinness of this premise makes itself evident pretty quickly in Deadpool 2. Quips about Infinity War and the DCEU serve as stand-ins for real jokes, while a jumbled story strips the more serious moments of their potential impact. It’s not a disaster like Suicide Squad or Justice League, but following hot on the heels of one of the best superhero movies ever, Deadpool 2 feels really weak.  Continue reading

Mary and the Witch’s Flower Review

Mary Witch Flower

Mary and the Witch’s Flower opens with an explosive getaway from a magical heist, scattering glowing blue seeds that alter the very makeup of the forest they land in. A flash forward, and we see the verdant, beautiful land that was affected, nature’s glory in full view, panned over until we reach a young girl looking out at the world with wide eyes. ‘I am so bored’ she sighs, a brilliant undercutting of all the visual splendour we’ve just witnessed and a funny reminder that the first feature from Studio Ponoc is fully committed to presenting a child’s-eye view of the world, where fun above all else is paramount.  Continue reading