Film Review: Sink

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Director: Mark Gillis

90m, Drama, 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★★☆

A truly charming and touching London-set and shot indie film from director Mark Gillis, which is currently screening around the capital, in many cases only a few meters from where it was shot (check the website here for venues, times and dates). This is true low-budget filmmaking at its finest (think crowdfunding and credit cards), the Smoke Screen can testify. In many ways indebted to the tough social realist films of Ken Loach, Sink nevertheless is also genuinely funny and left field much of the time.  It’s about Micky Mason (a naturalistic and empathetic turn from lead Martin Herdman), a skilled manual worker who, since the Crash, can find nothing but menial zero hours jobs. He takes a course of action that is completely out of character, but it’s the only way he can see of keeping his family together. Director Mark Gillis will be in attendance for a Q&A after the show.

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Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Film Review: Deadpool 2

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Director: David Leitch

15 | 1h 59min | Action, Adventure, Comedy | 15 May 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★★☆

How to review a film like Deadpool 2, a superhero film (or "expansive two-movie universe" as the titular mercenary calls it now) that foregrounds its throwaway, tastelessly ultra-violent and demented nature as part of its appeal? Given his love of irony, I am sure that Deadpool himself - the unkillable, gag-spewing mercenary from the (Fox-owned) Marvel comic superhero universe who breaks the fourth wall as often as he breaks wind in people's faces- would appreciate the strange fact that despite being marketed as a refreshing commentary on the staleness of the now-dominant superhero movie genre, Deadpool 2 arrives in cinemas at a time when these movies seem to have avoided sinking into the bog. Or at least, the movies pumped out by Disney/Marvel seem to have kept a certain standard of quality: witness the positive reactions to, and box office haul of, Avengers: Infinity War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Black Panther. Thus, Deadpool 2 and is predecessor sit in a groove where they can maybe be best appreciated as a funnier alternative to the more 'serious' films; Deadpool is not needed to save the genre.

If judging how funny it is is the best way to rate Deadpool 2, then director David Leitch (who helmed Atomic Blonde, which no doubt explains the confident, muscular and inventive action sequences here) and writers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernic, and star Ryan Reynolds (who's commitment to get this character on screen spans over a decade) can take a bow. Despite being overlong, and suffering through some airless moments where the laughs don't come so fast, and allowing for the fact that this sequel is the dictionary definition of 'have cake and eat it', Deadpool 2 is mostly a loopily-enjoyable ride into mayhem. A huge amount of this franchise rests on the manic energy of Reynolds and his machine-gun delivery of gags, profanities and to-screen commentary on the state of supeherodom, with a substantial number of digs aimed at the gloomy tone of the DC superhero universe and the fact that Deadpool's new antagonist is played by a (crazily ripped) Josh Brolin, currently on screen as another hulking villain in competitor studio Disney's Avengers: Infinity War. If you found the pitch of Reynolds's performance, and the entire angle of the previous Deadpool movie totally unbearable, you won't be converted here.

One thing the filmmaker's get is that Deadpool as a film can't just survive on its main character's up-to-date meta commentary, a deliberately campy and syrupy soundtrack (Deadpool is an unabashed Celine Dion and Cher fan) and some inventive action sequences which exploit the fact that Deadpool, like Wolverine, is unkillable and thus can be bent and blown out of shape like a rag doll. As fun as all that can be, Deadpool 2 really gets into a higher gear when Deadpool rubs up against contrasting characters who are fun and interesting in their own right. As with the lone ranger type Wolverine, I prefer such a distinctive superhero character to bounce off other players and create sparks instead of carrying an entire film on their own, which might result in too much boredom or annoyance. Here Reynolds is paired off well with the gruff, beefy, blockheaded figure of Cable (Brolin, under appreciated as an actor with comic timing), a cyborg from the future determined to kill an unstable and bullied mutant teen called Russell (a hugely funny but also genuinely poignant turn from Hunt for the Wilderpeople's Julian Dennison) who Deadpool feels an affection for. Cable's blunt, grim approach and minimal care for conversation leads Deadpool to quip "are you sure you're not from the DC Universe?" Also bringing some buzz to the screen is Zazie Beetz as Domino, a new recruit to Deadpool's totally inept 'X-Force' team (he wants his own 'X' based team, copyright be damned) who's superpower is she is always lucky, which the filmmaker's exploit to create some of the most inventive and amusing action sequences.

Deadpool 2 throws a lot at the screen, so much so it feels inevitable that enough of it would stick, given the proof of concept established from the first film. But although I wouldn't say it surpasses the original in any notable way, what the Deadpool team can take credit for is creating possibly the funniest and, at the same time, the most logical mid-credit sequence of any superhero movie, where Deadpool not only uses Cable's time travel device in a way that totally makes sense (thus the film actually engages with the obvious plot hole in many time travel films, why don't characters use the tech to just fix everything) whilst also allowing Reynolds to warmly embrace all his previous career car crashes. There is also a 'blink and you'll miss it' cameo from a A-List actor which, literally, you could miss if you blink.

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Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Film Review: Revenge

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Director: Coralie Fargeat

18 | 1h 48min | Action, Thriller | 11 May 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★★

Do we need another rape-revenge drama? Writer-director Coralie Fargeat thinks we do, and her being a woman director taking on one of the most divisive sub-genres certainly makes this worthy of attention. But Fargeat brings a lot to the table here in this bloodily comedic neo-exploitation beyond the novelty of her gender. Revenge might be as subtle as a blowtorch to the face, and guilty of having its cake and eating it (like most 'commentary' films are), but its dual flaunting and subverting of the codes of the genre (the gaze, male on female violence) is backed up by some striking visuals, a volley of baroquely gruesome kills and injury-repair sequences (including the surprisingly resilient protagonist Jen cauterizing her impalement wound with a heated beer can whilst high on peyote), and devilish skill at building up the tension as hunter stalks prey.  By the end ,the typical gaze of films is being subverted, as extended male nudity and a stalking camera put hunted manflesh in the spotlight. Expect plenty of exploding heads throughout.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Film Review: The Cured

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Director: David Freyne

15 | 1h 35min | Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi | 11 May 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★

A global disease that turns people into zombies has been cured and the recovered-who remember all what they did when infected- now have to face society's suspicion, in writer/director David Freyne's solidly effective take on the zombie genre. Using the recovered as an allegory for minorities in society (the unemployed, refugees) certainly seems timely, and is reinforced by the Irish setting (a previously divided society still battling the tensions of the past). But in all honesty I was more satisfied with the more leftfield ideas the film toys with, and the machinations of both uninfected and recovered human characters as opposed to the more standard chase and escape goings-on, which eventually take centre stage as the shit inevitably hits the fan.

The real standout is the figure of former infected and prominent community leader Conor (the ace Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, who I've noticed in Peaky Blinders, Daphe and The Infiltrator) who's rise to power in the recovered community increasingly starts looking less like left-leaning, social justice campaigning and more like a power trip driven in part by a desire to recover the sense of wild freedom being a zombie gave him. One scene, where former infected Senan (Sam Keeley, sadly stuck playing a less interesting character than antagonist Conor) sees a group of fellow former infected huddled together and breathing in shallow fashion in an eerie parallel to their past group behaviour as zombies, raises all sorts of interesting questions about the nature of the virus, as well as making you wonder about how many of these poor souls might also actually want to devolve back into their old blood-spattered status; where at least they could be free of doubt and care about what the rest of society feels. Ellen Page gets a small role as Senan's sister-in-law Abbie, and she makes the most of it, even if a major revelation that hits her character feels somewhat inevitable and is then neatly dealt with thanks to a convenient plot development.

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.

Film Review: Lean on Pete

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Director: Andrew Haigh

15 | 2h 1min | Adventure, Drama | 4 May 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★ ★ ★ ★  

A troubled teenager and the old racehorse he has instinctively decided to save from the scrapheap escape out into the wide, empty Portland, Oregon country in 45 Years director Andrew Haigh’s poignant, quiet adaptation of Willy Vlautin’s novel, which boasts a raft of fine, unforced performances. Though the description of the plot sounds somewhat Disney-ish, Haigh's sparse screenplay and the cinematography from DP Magnus Nordenhof Jønck gives us a picture of an often-handsome landscape that nevertheless keeps a hard edge never far out of view. This part of America might offer up plenty of verdant rolling plains and gorgeous desert sunsets which give us a good flavour of a more rural and emptier part of the world, but there are run-down racetracks, crummy diners, and garbage piles too. This part of the country doesn't offer much of a support structure or empathy for someone as young and resourceless as teen jockey assistant Charley (Charlie Plummer), who has impulsively taken off with his gruff employer Del's (Steve Buscemi) broken-down horse Lean on Pete to spare him from what Charley fears is a cashing-out sale to Mexican horseflesh dealers.

Sensitively played by the rake-thin Plummer, Charley is tough enough thanks to a life on the breadline with a layabout drunk of a father (played effectively by a podgy and somewhat childish Travis Fimell, who is nevertheless steered clear of the violent drunk archetype, being just useless) to have built up some cynicism about the world, but he's still too young and isolated to have developed the smarts and to have outgrown a certain level of naivety that might have prevented him becoming so fixated on this horse. His plight is both genuinely touching, but also totally helpless, with bailing on paychecks in restaurants and siphoning gas from cars soon becoming Charley's M.O after about 48 hours into his mission. Romantic it is not, even if the land he is lost in is at times undeniably lovely to look at. But you can't stay lost out here for ever when your gas tank is empty and your wallet is light.

Yet no matter how much he might see it that way, the world Charley is trying to escape from isn't one of clear-cut good and evil either. Both Del and his world-weary jockey Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny) have been undoubtedly poisoned by years of falling deeper and deeper into the less glamorous and cash-poor side of horse racing (in one scene Del opines, after a win with Lean on Pete, that they'd better rapidly pack up and leave before the gambling crowd gets too drunk and aggressive to pay them their winnings), but they aren't without a kind of grudging, fleeting shard of compassion for Charley. They've just long since stopped seeing the fate of horses that can't ride anymore as anything other than just a sad fact of life. Charley, on the other hand, clearly needs something from Lean on Pete, particularly when his father is taken from him and his last anchor is gone. His flight is an act of defiance and desperation. The rumpled, balding Buscemi is great in the few scenes he has, playing Del as a frazzled and bitter guy constantly surprised by the level of care he keeps mustering up for this naive but well-meaning kid. You could build a great film around him too, or Bonnie, for that matter .

Comment

Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.