Film Review: Stan & Ollie

Jon S. Baird’s Stan & Ollie is a lovingly-crafted portrait of the comedy duo. The strong performances certainly add to this.

It is 1953, and comedy double act Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are about to embark on a tour of Britain. The duo aim to reignite their career with the tour, which they are hoping will lead to a new film…

Directed by Jon S. Baird with a screenplay by Jeff Pope, Stan & Ollie focuses on the double act later in their career. This is a good choice, for there is more meat with their career in decline. The film is really about fading lights chasing a second chance, than stars on the rise. The story begins with the pair embarking on their tour in the UK. This set up works well; it is sad to see duo perform half-empty shows at the beginning of the tour, and illustrates that they are far from Hollywood.

As expected, Stan & Ollie concentrates on the relationship between the duo. Everyone know how well they work together on screen, so the film explores their real-life relationship. Baird delves into the gamut of emotions during this later period. The film incorporates some of their skits; the comedy here is gentle at best. There is more amusement to be found from the relationship of their wives, and their interactions with a flamboyant tour manager.

Performances from John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan are great. It is clear a lot of care has gone into getting the moves and mannerisms spot on. Nevertheless, Reilly’s prosthetics are very distracting; it may take a while to get used to them. Nina Arianda is a joy as Ida, and Rufus Jones is perfect as Bernard. The score is a little overblown at times. 

Stan & Ollie is a comforter of a movie, harking back to a bygone era. There is nothing remarkable about the film, but it tells the story engagingly enough, and performances impress.

Stan & Ollie closes the BFI London Film Festival on 21st October 2018.

Film Review: The Sisters Brothers

Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers is a reflective western. By subverting some of the genre tropes, Audiard has created an interesting addition to the field.

Eli and Charlie Sisters are assassins for hire. Working for Oregon’s commodore, the brothers are tasked with tracking down a prospector who has fled to California…

Based on the book by Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers is a Western that both adheres to and subverts conventions. The great thing about Audiard’s film is its illusionary nature. At first, the film appears to be a traditional western, albeit with a comedic edge. As the film progresses, it transitions into something else. The way in which director manoeuvres the narrative is quite something.

The protagonist’s develop well as The Sisters Brothers progresses. To begin with, the brothers are set up as archetypes, with the confident drunk and the more sensitive elder playing off each other. As the narrative continues, they develop into more complex characters, shrugging off the previous archetypes. The perception of masculinity is one of the film’s key themes; this is played out in a pleasing manner.

The relationships which are explored are satisfying. There are some great scenes which focus upon this. The dialogue is definitely a plus, with both humour and emotion to be derived from these interactions. The tonal shifts that occur during the film are never jarring, but instead enhance the overall picture. Audiard sets up a grand finale, which would be very in keeping with the genre. Yet what actually occurs is more rewarding.

Performances in the film are as admirable as you would expect from four great actors. Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly are both great in the film’s humourous and more reflective moments. The interactions between Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters are wonderful to watch. Audiard’s direction is assured, and the cinematography captures the vast and the intimate equally well. The tracking shot in the house at the end is fantastic.

The Sisters Brothers is an engaging and endearing picture. Audiard delivers something far more interesting than what appears at first glance. 

The Sisters Brothers is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

BFI London Film Festival 2018 Launch

Today saw the BFI London Film Festival 2018 launch. Now in its 62nd year, the festival is screening 225 feature films, including 21 world premieres. Here are some highlights from the festival programme…

Headline Galas

The Opening and Closing Gala films had already been announced. The BFI London Film Festival 2018 opens with Steve McQueen’s hotly anticipated Widows, starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Colin Farrell. McQueen co-wrote the  screenplay with Gillian Flynn. McQueen’s last film, 12 Years A Slave, screened at the 2013 London Film Festival to great acclaim. Stan & Ollie, which features John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan as the legendary comedy duo, closes the festival. Other headline galas include Luca Guadagnino’s hotly anticipated Suspiria, Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner, and Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?. A particular highlight is Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest. The Favourite is about Queen Anne’s court, and stars Olivia Colman, Rachel Weiss, and Emma Stone. 

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

There are several great looking films in the Strand Galas and Special Presentation programmes. They include Barry Jenkins’ follow up to Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, which is an adaption of James Baldwin’s novel. Others in this category include Lee Chang-dong’s thriller Burning, and Alfonso Caurón’s first film since Gravity, Roma, and Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Special Presentations include Michael Moore’s Donald Trump documentary Fahrenheit 11/9, Carol Morley’s noir thriller Out of Blue, and George Tillman Jr.’s The Hate U Give. 

Official Competition

There are some big names in this year’s Official Competition. Films include David Lowery’s (A Ghost Story) The Old Man & The Gun starring Robert Redford, László Nemes’ (Son of Saul) Sunset, and Ben Wheatley’s Happy New Year, Colin Burstead – Wheatley’s Free Fire closed the 2016 festival. Also competing is Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer, starring Nicole Kidman. Meanwhile the Documentary Competition features Putin’s Witness (Svideteli Putina’s film featuring footage of Putin from 1999-2000) and Julien Faraut’s John McEnroe: In The Realm Of Perfection. First Feature Competition includes Isabella Eklöf’s Holiday and Paul Dano’s Wildlife. 


As in previous years, the eleven programme strands are back. Love features Fred Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and the Sandra Hüller starring In The Aisles. Debate includes Oliver Assayas’ latest, Non-Fiction, starring Juliette Binoche and Guillaume Canet, and Catherine Corsini’s An Impossible Love. Laugh includes New Zealand comedy The Breaker Uppers, about two women running a relationship break-up service. Amongst the Dare programme is The Green Fog, which sees filmmakers Guy Maddin and Evan and Galen Johnson remake Vertigo using clips from other people’s films. Thrill includes Kim Nguyen’s The Hummingbird Project (starring Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgård), while Cult features Nicolas Cage in Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy. 

Jessica Hynes directorial debut The Fight is part of the Journey strand, and Create includes Joan Jett documentary Bad Reputation. Richard Squires’ Doozy, which recreates the career of Hanna-Barbera’s villain actor Paul Lynde is one of the Experimenta films being screened. The Family strand features Linda Hambäck’s animated detective tale Gordon & Paddy. Finally, there are some great films being screened as part of the Treasures strand. These include Billy Wilder’s classic Some Like It Hot and Mae West in My Little Chickadee.

The BFI London Film Festival 2018 runs from 10th-21st October. The full programme can be viewed here.

Film Review: Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island is tremendous fun. Despite some poor dialogue, the film is a great addition to the monster movie genre.

In 1971, a team of explorers want to take an expedition to a hitherto uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean. The scientists are joined by a unit of soldiers fresh from action in Vietnam. Known as Skull Island, the group have no idea what is in store…

Kong: Skull Island is essentially monster movie meets Apocalypse Now; there are even some distinct references to 1979 film. The film combines aspects of the war genre, with those of the monster movie. The result is a very entertaining spectacle. Set at the end of the Vietnam War, the spectre of the conflict casts a strong shadow. In addition to visual elements, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ film draws strong parallels with the Coppola classic. The film takes cues from Apocalypse Now, particularly with hostile environment and effect that this has on some of the characters.

Kong: Skull Island distinguishes itself from previous King Kong films in two ways. Firstly, the film has the aforementioned conventions of a war movie. Secondly, the title character doesn’t hold quite the same role as in previous incarnation. Whilst always a tragic monster, this version does something different with the beast.

The first quarter of the film sets up what is to follow, in terms of setting up the expedition and bringing together the characters. With several characters taking a role on the trip, it is unsurprising that these characters are quickly established using archetypes. The dialogue is sometimes lacking, but this does not draw away from overall enjoyment. The main focus is on action and spectacle, and here the film delivers. There are some great set pieces, and little let up on the tension in the final third. Visual effects are great, and 3D is used well to add to the spectacle. Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman are reliably solid. Tom Hiddleston does not quite fit the bill of his character, whilst John C. Reilly injects some much needed levity.

Kong: Skull Island offers wonderful spectacle and great amusement. A must-see for monster movie fans.

Previews: The House Trailer, Get Out, More!

Plenty to see in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including The House trailer, Get Out, Aftermath, and more…

The House Trailer

This new The House trailer depicts an unusual way for parents to pay for their child’s tuition fees. Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler are the parents who decide to operate an underground casino to ensure their daughter can go to university. The comedy is the directorial debut of screenwriter Andrew Jay Cohen (responsible for the scripts of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates and others). The House is set for release in UK cinemas on 30th June 2017.

Kong: Skull Island Image

Here is anew image for the upcoming Kong: Skull Island. The film features a stellar cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, and John C. Reilly. The film reimagines the origins of the mythic Kong. Kong: Skull Island launches on to UK screens on 9th March 2017.

Aftermath Trailer

Here is the trailer for thriller Aftermath. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a husband and father who hunts down the air traffic controller who he holds responsible for the crash that killed his family. The film also stars Scoot McNairy and Maggie Grace, and is produced by Darren Aronofsky. Aftermath will hit UK cinemas on 7th April 2017.

Catfight Trailer

Catfight is a comedy about two old college friends who meet again years later. When wealthy housewife Veronica and struggling artist Ashley clash, their rivalry lasts years. The film stars Anne Heche, Sandra Oh, and Alicia Silverstone. Catfight is out in cinemas and on VOD in 10th March 2017.

Get Out Poster

Get Out is a thriller about a black man who visits his white girlfriend’s family estate. Worried that her family don’t realise he is black, the reality is about to get much worse. The trailer can be viewed here. The film is written and directed by Jordan Peele, and stars Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams. Get Out hits UK screens on 17th March 2017.

Logan Clip

Above is footage of Laura, a new character from the upcoming Logan. It reveals a little more about the young character who seems to have the same condition as the title character. Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Dafne Keen. Logan is out in UK cinemas on 1st March 2017.

Life Poster

Life is a new sci-fi thriller about a group of scientists who discover a new life form is space. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, and Ryan Reynolds. Directed by Daniel Espinosa, Life will be released in UK cinemas on 24th March 2017.

Everything Everything Trailer

This is the new trailer for Everything Everything, based on the best-selling novel of the same name. The film is about Maddy, a teenage girl with a condition that means she can’t leave her house, and her neighbour Olly who wants to be with her. Starring Amandla Stenberg and Nick Robinson, Everything Everything is coming to cinemas soon.

Gleason Trailer

Here is the trailer for documentary Gleason. The film is about Steve Gleason, an American football star who is diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND) at the age of 34. The documentary is directed by Clay Tweel. Gleason is out in UK cinemas from 17th march 2017.

Film Review: Wreck-It Ralph

WRECK-IT RALPHAppearing like the video game version of Toy Story, Wreck-It Ralph is an entertaining Disney animation that should satisfy viewers of all ages.

Ralph is the bad guy in the video game Fix-It Felix. He longs to be a hero, however, and decides to try to achieve this aim by trying out other games in the arcade. Jumping from game to game, Ralph unwittingly unleashes havoc in the form of a deadly enemy…

The premise of Wreck-It Ralph is a great idea for a film. It is not unlike Toy Story in its focusing on a world should not exist. It is the premise of what goes on with the characters after a game has been shut down which is a fantastic hook, much like Toy Story‘s characters coming to life when they are not being played with.

The narrative offers more depth than just this initial good idea. Wreck-It Ralph features characters that viewers can warm to. The film does not go down the well-trodden Disney lane of eliciting strong emotions. Nevertheless, the plot is still engaging and the main characters have enough depth for viewers to care about their outcome.

There are several references to video games, as would be expected given the premise. Some of these will require knowledge of actual games, but most are more general than this. It is a shame that characters from real games do not have bigger roles in Wreck-It Ralph, but this is a minor gripe.

The animation is bright, and the various worlds in Wreck-It Ralph are distinctive. The use of 3D also works well in the film. John C. Reilly is an excellent choice for the voice of Ralph, whilst Sarah Silverman is does a decent job voicing Vanellope.

Despite not quite being classic Disney, Wreck-It Ralph is still a lot of fun.

Film Review: Carnage

Roman Polanski’s Carnage works fantastically well as a portrait of social etiquette and the human condition. The film should have audiences laughing, although it has a deeper resonance than simply humour.

After Nancy and Alan Cowan’s son gets into a playground fight with the son of Penelope and Michael Longstreet’s son, both sets of parents agree to resolve the dispute at a meeting. The meeting begins cordially, with all four adults agreeing on the best course of action to take. It does not take long, however, for the atmosphere to descend as the bickering begins…

Originally a play, it is easy to see why Carnage would work on stage, with the vast majority of the action taking place in one apartment. Thankfully, Yasmina Reza’s screenplay also works well on screen. With a running time of under ninety minutes, Polanski’s film feels brisk and energetic. Sufficient time is allowed for the situation to develop, but incidents never feel laboured.

Carnage explores the dynamics of appearance and social conventions in a way that is both humorous and thought-provoking. The breakdown of etiquette is something that is directly referenced by the characters. It is as if the couples undertand their social faux pas, but are too overcome by the notion of carnage to stop themselves. The desintegration of normal social behaviour is depicted in a realistic way; it is gradual rather than rushed.

Comedy in the film is frequent and hits the right note. There is some physical humour, which does generate laughs. More integral than this is the wit of the screenplay, with cutting remarks inducing much of the comedy. Polanski’s direction is great in balancing movement in the very controlled environment.

Performances from the four leads are excellent. Christoph Waltz, in particular, excels as Alan Cowan. Waltz brings energy to the role, as well as relish in the demise of social etiquette. Kate Winslet holds her own as Cowan’s wife Nancy, while Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly make good antagonists in the form of the Longstreets.

Carnage is a great comedy. The film depicts a level of intelligence, which does not detract from the universal enjoyment of it all.

Carnage Trailer

I have heard nothing but positive comments about Roman Polanski’s Carnage. I was dismayed to have missed it at the London Film Festival this year, but the film is being released on 3rd February 2012. Based on Yasmina Reza’s stage play, Carnage focuses on a meeting between two sets of parents attempting to sort out their sons’ playground dispute. The film stars Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster and Christoph Waltz.

Film Review: Terri

Azazel Jacobs’ Terri is an amiable comedy drama. The film’s only crime is that it meanders a little too much.

Terri is an overweight teenage boy who lives with his sick uncle and has few friends at school. When he is called into the principal’s office for tardiness, Terri meets Mr Fitzgerald. The principal seems to genuinely want to help Terri, as he struggles through his adolescence…

Terri is a feel-good film which does not take an obvious route. A story concerning an overweight teenager could have easily been preoccupied with bullying issues. Instead, these remain in the background as the film concentrates on the nature of Terri’s relationships with others. In this sense, Terri is just another regular teenager who struggles in his relationships with adults and his peers.

There is a good mix of comedy and more emotional moments in the film. The main characters all appear three-dimensional, each having natural quirks. Humour is garnered from the interactions between Terri and Mr Fitzgerald, as well as the rather unusual Chad. All the relationships in Terri seem natural; the conversations between teacher and pupil are both amusing and sweet.

Performances in Jacobs’ film are decent. Jacob Wysocki plays Terri with a passivity that implores the audience to empathise with the character. John C. Reilly is great as Mr Fitzgerald, bringing a great deal of the humour in the film. Bridger Zadina brings zeal to the role of Chad.

Those who prefer clear-cut, three-part narratives may not be too impressed with the film. Nevertheless, Terri is an enjoyable watch.

Terri is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.

Film Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin is a harrowing drama that will linger in the mind long after viewing the film. Lynne Ramsay’s film generates a stygian air, but one that is wholly engulfing.

Eva struggles to live a normal life. As she starts a new job, Eva is haunted by the trauma of her past. She looks back on her life, and in particular her son Kevin’s upbringing, as she struggles to understand how and why her son was responsible for a horrific crime…

We Need To Talk About Kevin plummets the audience into the depth of Eva’s despair. The story is told through a series of flashbacks, jumping backwards and forth to different points of Eva’s past. For those unfamiliar with Lionel Shriver’s novel will be intrigued to see exactly how the tragedy plays out. As the film progresses more about the circumstances becomes clear, as well as Eva’s troubled relationship with Kevin. The story plays out from Eva’s point of view, which offers intimacy without aligning the audience with Kevin’s viewpoint.

The tension in We Need To Talk About Kevin is relentless. Ramsay manages to hold the audience in this state for the entire film. The cinematography adds to this unnatural feeling. There is a strong use of colour, a pattern of which is repeated throughout the film.

Tilda Swinton gives one of the best performances in her career to date as Eva. It is such a bleak role; Swinton plays the character with empathy. Ezra Miller is strikingly unsettling as Kevin, while John C. Reilly is solid in a supporting role.

We Need To Talk About Kevin details such an interesting tale. Dealing with such a emotive subject necessitates that the film is a heavy-going watch. Nevertheless, it is a superbly executed film and definitely worth viewing.

We Need To Talk About Kevin is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.