Film Review: Ma

Octavia Spencer is a riot in director Tate Taylor’s Ma. The thriller is a lot of fun, with a gloriously deranged final act.

A group of teenagers in a small town are looking for an adult to buy them alcohol. Sue Ann agrees to make their purchase, and later invites them to use her basement to party. Their host, however, isn’t quite what she seems…

Written by Scotty Landes and directed by Tate Taylor, Ma is a thriller with a healthy dose of humour. Focusing on an adult protagonist and a group of teenagers, the film leads viewers a merry dance. From her initial appearance, it is very obvious that there is something odd about Sue Ann. Yet her secrets remain a mystery until a good way into proceedings. 

There are elements of horror that are scattered throughout the film, but Ma fits squarely in the thriller category. The trope of the unhinged lady and the younger victims was recently seen in Greta. Yet here Taylor knows when to withhold, when to play for laughs, and when to accelerate. The tension sometimes builds to a laugh; the film is very effective at this. Yet the undercurrent of tension is always present. The barmy final act amps up the zaniness walking the tightrope between terror and silliness. It is a combination which is most enjoyable. 

The narrative is careful to not reveal too much about Sue Ann. Viewers are posited with new girl Maggie and her group of friends. There are a number of aspects to Sue Ann’s obsession and mania. These work well in a film of this type, but perhaps doesn’t bear close scrutiny. Nonetheless, the fallout from her actions are wild and a lot of fun.

Taylor aims for the dramatic with frequent use of jump scares. The score plays into this acutely. Octavia Spencer (who is also an Executive Producer) is great in Ma. It is wonderful to see her play a prominent role, and inhabit a character very different from what we have seen before. She seems to be having fun with this role, and this shines through to viewers. Diana Silvers is decent, and has good chemistry with Juliette Lewis. For viewers who have grown up with Lewis since the days of 1991’s Cape Fear, it is rather odd to see her inhabit the mother of a teen role. Yet she is most convincing.

Taylor and Landes know what the audience wants from a film such as this, and do not disappoint. Ma‘s spiral into mania is tremendous fun. Hopefully this will lead to more leading roles for Octavia Spencer.

Film Review: The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi fairy tale The Shape of Water is at times beguiling, at times surprising, and a joy to watch.

Eliza is a cleaner at a high security government facility. She lives a solitary existence punctuated by routine. When a new asset is brought in, Eliza is curious about the creature…

With a screenplay written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water blends a number of genres. First and foremost, the film is fairy tale. It falls within the parameters of this structure, with its character archetypes and plot points. The film distinguishes itself by its setting and the unusual character fulfilling the ‘princess’ archetype.

The Shape of Water places a traditional fairy tale into a science fiction-tinged setting. Dominantly, this comes in the form of the creature itself. However, other markers are there, such as the preoccupation with the space race. The period setting allows for some beautiful production design.

From the first shot of the film, spectacle is almost assured. And the film does not disappoint in this respect. The special effects are excellent, and Dan Laustsen’s cinematography most admirable. There is some beautiful framing in the film, not least the last shot.

The main characters conform to certain archetypes, yet a coloured sufficiently to have their own personalities. It is wonderful to see Sally Hawkins taking the lead in such a big production. The character means she must communicate mostly through expression, and she excels at this. Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer play the type of roles we have seen from them before, but both a great at this. Richard Jenkins and Michael Stuhlbarg are also on good form.

The Shape of Water is a different kind of fairy tale, but one that offers plentiful spectacle and entertainment.

The Shape of Water is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.

Film Review: Gifted

Director Marc Webb hits the right notes with comedy-drama Gifted. The film balances sentiment with humour through a wonderfully depicted central relationship.

Frank Adler is the guardian of his niece Mary, a young girl gifted in the subject of mathematics. Frank’s hopes for a normal upbringing for Mary are put into doubt when staff at Mary’s new school discover her special talents…

Directed by Marc Webb, with a screenplay by Tom Flynn, Gifted is a sweet story about the relationship between a young girl and her guardian and uncle. The film has a very likeable tone, which allows room for both a little bit of schmaltz, and genuine laughs.

Key to Gifted is the central relationship between uncle and niece. This is depicted in an authentic fashion. The film features plenty of little ticks to make their interactions feel convincing. Other relationships function to help colour the world of Frank and Mary. The relationships Frank and Mary have with others, such as Bonnie and Roberta, primarily further the personalities and the story of the protagonists. The narrative progresses in a timely manner, leaving enough time for character development with neglecting the plot. Some aspects of the narrative are rather predictable. Nevertheless, the story is told with sufficient charm for this not to matter.

Production values in the film are good. Chris Evans delivers a convincing performance as Frank. He is subtle enough to allow Mckenna Grace to shine as Mary. She delivers a great performance, and has good chemistry with Evans. Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, and Lindsay Duncan provide good support. Fred is a wonderfully sweet addition to the film.

Gifted is one of those good-natured films which will make viewers smile. It is sweet without becoming cloying, and humorous without detracting from the emotional content. The film is an entertaining watch.

Previews: Spark Trailer, Snatched, More!

This week’s preview of coming attractions features the new Spark trailer, plus Snatched, Alien: Covenant, and more…

Spark Trailer

Here is thew new Spark trailer. The film is about a teenage monkey who must journey across the universe in order to save the galaxy. The film features the voices of Susan Sarandon, Patrick Stewart, Jessica Biel, and Hilary Swank. Spark launches on to UK screens on 26th May 2017.

Alien: Covenant Prologue

This Alien: Covenant prologue (The Crossing) bridges the gap between Prometheus and the upcoming Alien: Covenant. The clip explains what happened to the survivors of the previous film, and features Michael Fassbender’s character as narrator. The latest film in the Alien franchise also stars Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride. Alien: Covenant hits UK screens on 12th May 2017.

Snatched Clip

Amy Schumer shows off her comedy prowess in this clip from the upcoming Snatched. The film is about a mis-matched mother and daughter who take an exotic vacation together. Schumer is joined by Goldie Hawn, as well as Wanda Sykes and Joan Cusack. Snatched is out in UK cinemas on 19th May 2017.

Wilson Trailer

Here is the trailer for new comedy Wilson. The film is about a middle-aged misanthrope who reunites with his estranged wife. The film stars Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, and Judy Greer. Wilson receives its debut at Sundance London on 2nd June 2017, and will be released  in selected cinemas on 9th June 2017.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Trailer

Following the teaser last week, here is the full trailer for Kingsman: The Golden Circle. In this sequel to Kingsman: The Secret Service, the Kingsman headquarters is destroyed, leading Eggsy and co to discover an allied spy organisation. Director Matthew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman return, as do Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, and Colin Firth. They are joined by Juliane Moore, Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry, and Channing Tatum. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is scheduled for release in September 2017.

Gifted Clip

Director Marc Webb’s latest film is Gifted. The film stars Chris Evans as a man single-handedly raising his niece (played by Mckenna Grace). The film also stars Jenny Slate and Octavia Spencer, and a one-eyed cat (according to the above clip). Gifted will be released on UK screens on 16th June 2017.

Film Review: Hidden Figures

Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures is a feel-good film with great performances from its ensemble cast.

In 1961, the United States are in a race with Russia to see who can put a man in space. NASA finds untapped potential in a group of African-American female mathematicians working as human computers. Three of these women play a vital role in the space race…

Hidden Figures tells an important story about the achievements of three women with the odds stacked against them. Based on Margot Lee Sheerly’s book, the film gives worthy recognition to these women and their story. What makes Hidden Figures special is that it is incredibly entertaining, as well as informative.

Melfi’s storytelling makes the film a joy to watch. Hidden Figures first contemporary scene does a succinct job of making viewers aware of the social condition of the era, as well as giving a quick insight in the three main character’s personalities. As the film progresses, Melfi explores each of these characters with sufficient depth, taking place in the overarching narrative of NASA’s mission to put a man in space.

The film combines drama with comedy in a seemingly effortless way. Melfi offers humour throughout, although the film is punctuated by moments of drama and a tense climax. The romance strand is explored just enough, giving an insight into a home life for the extraordinary women. Katherine, Dorothy and Mary are portrayed as talented women who manage to break through an almost overwhelming hierarchy. However, they are each portrayed as characters in their own right, and with enough personal detail. There is an element of the benign father figure to Al Harrison, however this does not detract from the entertainment of the film.

Tara P. Henson delivers strong performance as Katherine Jackson. Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner, and Kirsten Dunst are also good. It is Janelle Monáe, however, who stands out as Mary. Music by Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams (who also produces), and Benjamin Wallfisch ably sets the tone. Costumes and styling in the film are polished and appealing.

Hidden Figures gives rightful attention to the overlooked contribution of three African-American trailblazers of the 1960s. It tells their stories in a very engaging and warm manner.

Previews: Patriots Day Featurette, Rogue One, More!

Plenty in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including a Patriots Day featurette, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Silence, and more…

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Featurette

Here is Diego Luna talking about working on the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Luna plays Cassian Andor, a Rebel Alliance officer. The Star Wars spin-off features a stellar cast, including Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, and Forest Whitaker. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits UK screens on 15th December 2016.

Patriots Day Featurette

This Patriots Day featurette focuses on J.K. Simmons and the character he plays in the film. Patriots Day is an account of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath that followed. Also starring Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, and Kevin Bacon, Patriots Day is set for release in 2017.

Silence Poster

Silence Poster

Martin Scorsese’s latest film Silence revisits some of the themes prevalent in his earlier pictures. Starring Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as Jesuits priests who visit Japan to locate their mentor. Also starring Liam Neeson and Ciarán Hinds, Silence will hit UK screens on 1st January 2017.

Fences Trailer

Here is the second trailer for Denzel Washington’s Fences. This one reveals a little more about the plot and the main characters than the first look at the film. Based on August Wilson’s award-winning play, the film also stars Viola Davis and Jovan Adepo. Fences will be released in selected UK cinemas on 10th February 2017, and everywhere from 17th February.

 

Passengers Clip

Here is a brief clip from the upcoming Passengers, which showcases the special effects that the film offers. Starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, the film is about two passengers on a voyage to a new colony who wake up early in space. Passengers jets into UK cinemas on 21st December 2016.

Power Rangers Image

alpha 5 Power Rangers

Here is the first look at Alpha 5 from the upcoming Power Rangers movie. As with other images released from the film, the character looks pretty different from the 1990s TV show.  Alpha 5 is voiced by Bill Hader in the film. Also starring Elizabeth Banks and Bryan Cranston, Power Rangers is scheduled for release on UK screens in 2017.

Hidden Figures Clip

Here is a brief clip from Hidden Figures. It is based on the true story of a group of black women who worked at NASA during the space race of the 1960s. The film stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, and Kevin Costner. Hidden Figures is out in UK cinemas in February 2017.

Previews: Live By Night Trailer, Doctor Strange, More!

Plenty in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including the Live By Night trailer, Doctor Strange poster, and more…

Live By Night Trailer

Here is the new Live By Night trailer. The film is directed and scripted by, and stars Ben Affleck, based on Dennis Lehane’s novel. Set during the 1920s, Live By Night concentrates on gangster Joe Coughlin and the murky world of prohibition Boston. Also starring Elle Fanning, Bendan Gleeson and Zoe Saldana, Live By Night is set for release on 13th January 2016.

Doctor Strange Poster

Doctor Strange Poster

This new poster for Doctor Strange looks wonderful. Benedict Strange stars as the title character in the latest Marvel movie.Cumberbatch plays an injured surgeon who who meets a mentor on his journey to recovery. Also starring Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Rachel McAdams, Doctor Strange hits UK screens on 25th October 2016.

Hidden Figures Featurette

Here is a featurette on the upcoming Hidden Figures. Producer Pharrell Williams talks about why he had to get on board with the film, which is about the black female scientists behind NASA’s space race. The film stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe. Hidden Figures is scheduled for release in 2017.

Collateral Beauty Trailer

Here is the trailer for Collateral Beauty, an ensemble drama. The film is about an advertising executive who experiences a tragedy, and the colleagues who attempt to help him. With a cast that includes Will Smith, Kate Winslet, and Keira Knightley, Collateral Beauty is out in cinemas on Boxing Day, 26th December 2016.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children Clip

This clip from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children reveals a little more about the film’s antagonist. Director Tim Burton’s latest film is based on the best-selling novel. Starring Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, and Samuel L. Jackson, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children hits UK screens on 30th September 2016.

Nocturnal Animals Poster

Nocturnal Animals Poster

These Nocturnal Animals posters certainly are striking. Tom Ford writes and directs the film, based on Austin Wright’s Tony and Susan. The film stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michael Shannon. After Ford’s magnificent A Single Man,  hopes are high for this feature. Nocturnal Animals will screen at the BFI London Film Festival in October, and will be released in UK cinemas on 4th November 2016.

Amanda Knox Trailer

Here is a trailer for Netflix’s upcoming documentary Amanda Knox. The film focus on the prime suspect in the murder of British student Meredith Kercher. Knox has been convicted and acquitted of the crime twice, and this documentary explores events around the case. Amanda Knox will launch globally on Netflix on 30th September 2016.