Film Review: Ant Man and the Wasp

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Director: Peyton Reed

12A | 1h 58min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi | 2 August 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★☆☆

Moderately fun in a whimsical, near-slapstick way at times, with the odd bit of unironic hero musings splashed in here and there, Ant-Man and the Wasp, helmed once again by Peyton Reed, left me feeling much the same about it as I did it's predecessor: this film feels pretty superfluous. Disconnected, until the very last minute, from the world-changing events of the Avengers: Infinity War crossover event movie despite this film being released after that Marvel movie juggernaut, Ant-Man and the Wasp also largely wastes certain elements that you'd think would be front and centre. 

Thus, just like as previous Ant-Man outing only gave co-leading lady Hope Van Dyne (AKA 'The Wasp') a mere glimpse at her own superhero suit in the post-credits stinger, this sequel boasts the addition of Michelle Pfeiffer (enjoying something of a welcome career resurgence it seems this side of the decade) to the cast, but gives us very little of her until the very end. Likewise the film advertised in huge neon letters via its title and poster that this will be a team-up of equals in the shape of Ant-Man (still effectively played by the untagging goodwill Paul Rudd) AND The Wasp, but although Evangeline Lilly as Hope gets to do plenty of ass-kicking and glaring at dumb male decision making (or lack of it), its only really Rudd who gets those golden comedy beats. What worked in the last film still works in this one though, Michael Pena gets a mile-a-minute recall scene, Michael Douglas does amusingly grumpy paternal mode riffs with Rudd in the gaps between action sequences, and said action sequences still remain pretty watchable thanks to imaginative exploitation of the Ant-Man suit's ability to change size in the blink of an eye and also (perhaps the smartest idea in this franchise) to shrink other objects around it. Last time we had an oversized, dementedly-grinning Thomas the Tank Engine sprawling out onto a front lawn, whereas this time we have buildings shrunk down to carry-case size and cars reduced to compact Hot Wheels size. That, at least, still hasn't got old for me

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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: A Sicilian Ghost Story

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Director: Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza

15 | 2h 2min | Crime, Drama, Fantasy | 18 May 2017 (Italy)

RATING: ★★★☆☆ 

When young, good-looking Giuseppe disappears from his Sicilian rural homestead, it is assumed by the wary adults of the neighbourhood that he has been kidnapped by his father’s former bosses. That's just the way things are here. But his wildly imaginative and grittily determined girlfriend Luna is convinced that this is the kind of battle of love that parted lovers are made for, and she battles her mother (who appears as a kind of wicked witch) and the police authority’s sloth in her search for him, a search which increasingly pushes against the veils of reality (caverns under the nearby lake, shooting stars that leave messages in the sky), though it could all be in Luna's mind.

I was pre-primed to like writer/directors Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza's fairy-tale take on a grim real-life story of a Mafia kidnapping in Italy of a 13-year-old son of a Mafia hitman-turned-informant. But for all Sicilian Ghost Story's potential in the way it contrasts Luna's fantastical worlds with the grim reality (and I stress GRIM) of Giuseppe's imprisonment, and for all the fantastical and eerie beauty cinematographer Luca Bigazzi conjures out of the natural world (the extended underwater shot at the end will linger in the mind), I found the film too self-conscious in its approach, and the lead performance by actress Julia Jedlikowska frustratingly one-note, stuck switching between swooning at Giuseppe, and snapping at anyone in her way. Guillermo del Toro does Gomorrah sounded so promising on paper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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: Mission Impossible: Fallout

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Director: Christopher McQuarrie

12A | 2h 27min | Action, Adventure, Thriller | 25 July 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★★☆

They say action is character in film. Well, the filmmakers behind the kinetic, stunt-soaked thriller Mission Impossible: Fallout favour their character building to take place in helicopters ramming each other at high speed before tumbling down gorges, or in SWAT vans upended into rivers, or on motorcycles running a cool 150 MPH threading through oncoming traffic in a Paris rush hour. Stunts and action sequences that make the D-Day landing look like a child's picnic in comparison can only tell us so much about the inner characters of the ludicrously-named Impossible Mission Force (The IMF, I guess the International Monetary Fund can't sue the CIA for copyright) led once more by the suspiciously youthful-looking covert operative Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, who broke about five ankles making this film, according the news), but we aren't here for the sixth instalment of the increasingly ambitious and critically-praised MI series to see a Bergman-esque deep dive.

We are here, of course, for what the series has morphed into over its six film, 23-year run: a self-aware thrill-ride of ludicrously ambitious chases, escapes, break-ins and fistfights taking place in eye-popping locations spanning the globe. Like another spy series, The 60s TV series The Avengers, the MI series started off as a relatively straight spy thriller back in the 90s, then slowly but surely, became a meta experience where audiences were invited back specifically on the understanding that foreknowledge of the sheer amount of insane devotion to the craft of action filmmaking that the single-minded star machine known as Cruise (a producer on this series, don't forget) would have put in, along with the creative control and financial backing to allow the creative teams on each film to let their imaginations to run riot in devising new highwire deathtraps, was going to be part of the bargain. Thus the previous film, Rogue Nation, was trailed as featuring Cruise hanging off an actual plane as it took off from a runway. Fallout doesn't just top that, it crushes that stunt by literally landing on it from a high altitude halo jump before smashing it into a helicopter and then dropping it off a snowy cliff. At one point in Fallout, during the climactic final face-off with the villains with time almost out, Ethan Hunt gasps into his radio mike to his worried team "I won't let you down". Its really Cruise talking to us, of course, reminding us of his promise that he would, for as long as possible, exist to be the world's greatest movie star who would make every penny of your ticket price feel it wasn't enough. Ethan Hunt IS Tom Cruise. No one else could be.

Cruise now has a great deal of ownership of the series, and has ensured a variety of filmmakers have helmed each of the instalments. This time he is back with Rogue Nation's director Christopher McQuarrie (who also serves as writer), and the screenplay, though a little bit twisty  with a lot of revelations delivered on the run and a fair few double and triple crosses to process, does largely successfully squeeze the huge amount of incident and characters into a coherent and fast-moving whole. The threat is suitably epic, and is directly linked to the previous film, making this the first direct sequel in terms of plot carryover from a previous MI movie. This time, three silvery orbs of plutonium have fallen into the hands of the Apostles, an anarchist group planning to use them to blow up the Vatican, Jerusalem and Mecca and start a holy war to 'refresh' humanity. Going undercover, and saddled with the beefy figure of Henry Cavill as CIA Agent Walker who is assigned to watch over him, Hunt has to trade the explosives for anarchist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), whom he captured in Rogue Nation. He is aided by trusty accomplices Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg), and previous female ally Ilse Fox (Rebecca Ferguson) from MI6 is soon back in the mix for unclear reasons. The fact that the concealed villain keeps setting up morality traps for Hunt, forcing him to make the choice he always refuses to make (save one or save one hundred) means vibes of the Joker from The Dark Knight are in the mix, and this is no bad thing. Every time Hunt pulls a last-minute save, his victory is usually punctured by a phone call or text message informing him that he just ruined his day a little further, and the tension rises once more.

This eclectic cast makes for an effortlessly entertaining and diverse bunch (this film has the most for its female characters to do too, pleasingly), and each member of main lineup gets to express either character's own unique sense of humour, fighting style, or technical skill in the various car chases, bomb disarmings and roof jumpings that make up the daily life of an MI agent. Even if action sequences can't get us as deep into a character as a unbroken 20-minute dialogue scene, McQuarrie makes all the action beats 'characterful' in their own way, so if extended shootouts and car chases bore you, you have a score-less, teeth-janglingly brutal three-way punch up in a luxury tiled bathroom to get you off. And McQuarrie is a master at knowing just when to give the audience that small, but perfectly-timed beat that releases the last 20 minutes of tension; either through a broadly comedic moment (Pegg and Cruise have a good rhythm with this) or through deflating Hunt's inherent cockiness by showing him flat on his face through mistiming a jump or simply stuck in a predicament that he has no idea how to get out of because he just figured he'd work it out later. I don't know at what point Cruise decided his mission in life was to become Jackie Chan on steroids in these kinds of movies, but long may this phase continue. This is simply one of the best action films I have ever seen.

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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: Apostasy

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Director: Daniel Kokotajlo

PG | 1h 35min | Drama | 27 July 2018 (UK)

RATING: ★★★★☆

I imagine I'm like most viewers of this new British indie film, in that I know little to nothing about Jehovah's Witnesses beyond the fact they seem to be picketed outside every train station offering up their bright green brochures, and they pop up earnestly outside my front door every so often to try to convert me. It is easy to both mock the devout in cinema, or present religious figures as dangerous, manipulative, and cynical. Apostasy, which focuses on the stresses in the relationship between devout teen Jehovah's sisters Alex and Luisa and their mother Ivanna, takes a very different approach; never monstering or laughing at its subjects but not shying away either from the hypocrisy and misogyny these women face in a life tightly structured and policed by tenets of a faith guarded by elder men. I knew nothing about the writer/director going in, but was not surprised later to find that such a thoughtfully-constructed and authentic-feeling film came from the mind of a former Jehovah's Witness; one Daniel Kokotajlo.

The Jehovah's Witness church that Ivanna has been taking Alex and Luisa to for years, absent a husband who is barely mentioned, sits beside a highway leading out of an unnamed northern city. The traffic roaring past this static and shabby-looking brick building seems symbolic of the cut-off nature of the existence this trio of women are living; as the world is moving faster and faster around them, they are trying with the faith of the devoted to stand still and shut it all out. Alex and Luisa's days are absent music, television or smartphones, their activities outside the home seems include only church sessions and door-to-door prosletysing. They even, awkwardly, spend an inordinate amount of time trying to convert local Muslims, once they have learned some amateur Arabic in night classes. This is all, of course, prep for the apocalypse that they have been told is coming by their mother and the Church elders (all men), when only the faithful will be spared by God. This faith in a post-death reward for all this toil is what younger Alex expresses, chirpily but with a straight-face, to the curious peers she occasionally comes into contact with. We get a sense in the first ten minutes or so of this film, that this is how things have been operating in this tight-knit family for years. But the remaining 80 minutes are an eloquent exploration of what can happen when fault lines start appearing in the superstructure of faith; when the guardians of faith force you to act against what you thought the ideals actually were or allowed, and when someone you love rejects the very faith that you taught them was more important than love.

Two intrusions into Ivanna's carefully ordered life disrupt her comfort blanket of faith. First, elder daughter Luisa starts to question the advice of the Elders following a transgressive pregnancy out of wedlock, which ultimately threatens her expulsion from the congregation. Luisa has spent her whole life in the faith, but her mother has, at least in her own mind, made a fatal 'mistake' in allowing her eldest to attend the local university, where she has tasted the real world. Luisa has also has access to the internet out of her mother's sight, where blogs and magazine features written by ex-JW's ,those who have seen endless 'apocalypse dates' sail past with the Jehovah's Witness elders simply altering the rules to fit, are plentiful.  Ivanna's faith isn't designed to deal with questioning. The real world couldn't be kept out.

The second hammer blow to Ivanna is Alex's deterioration health-wise, the result of a severe anaemia condition, one that could easily be treated by transfusions except that the JW faith explicitly bans such pollution of the blood. Thus Ivanna has to watch her daughter waste away in the service of God (a fate the younger girl seems quietly to accept, which only makes the whole affair more startling), whilst her elder daughter's new found doubt only sees this as further abuse; physical pain now for mere guessed-at salvation later. 

There is plenty of interest in seeing the machinations of the church in all this drama: the court of elders that Ivanna keeps consulting, and who order her to essentially shun her eldest daughter, the almost mechanical way younger church leader Steven (Robert Emms) goes about courting Alex given the rules everyone has to operate under, and the strange, anodyne parties JW families organise. But what really gives the film its punch are the performances of the thee female leads, in particular Siobhan Finneran as Ivanna. This is really Ivanna's story, and Finneran makes her an intriguingly ambiguous matriarch, one who in a less complex film might just simply set fire to her bible and run away by the midway point, once the dictates of the male elders as to how she should treat her daughters and live her life grated too much. Kokotajlo's script never gets close to taking Ivanna there, and it makes sense, 40-odd years saturated in a singular worldview means chains are hard to break. Yet as her youngest daughter approaches death and her eldest rejects the shame she is being ordered to feel, Finneran allows fleeting glimpses of what we might think of as the first hints of the terror of uncertainty to pass behind her eyes, as she begins to ask herself if faith is worth losing family. A superb performance in a gripping debut.

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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: Pin Cushion

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Director: Deborah Haywood

15 | 1h 22min | Drama | 13 July 2018 (UK)

RATING: 

I'm usually drawn to films that showcase a truly unique and compelling world. I'm also drawn to screenplays that have the guts to go through with a merciless conclusion to a character's arc (even when its a franchise I care about, looking at you Star Wars). Pin Cushion, from writer/director Deborah Haywood, is a great example of both. It subverts your expectations, starting off as a somewhat twee study of eccentricity before slowly but surely grinding the idea that such the rejection of such eccentricity by a conservative society will be overcome by love and persistence. The resulting strange mix of hippyish kitsch decor and Loachian social realism is quite unlike anything I've seen for a whole.

The film centres on super close Mother Lyn (Joanna Scanlan) and daughter Iona (Lily Newmark) , a strange mother-daughter duo who dress like the hosts of children's puppet TV shows from the 80s and refer to each other as Dafty One and Dafty Two. Their house, in the working class suburbs of a northern city, is decked out in Lyn's preferred taste: best described as super-chintz on crack. China dolls, nodding dog puppets, childlike hand paintings on the wall, it is as if Lyn has built an entire self contained world of cuddliness to protect her and Iona from the outside world. When you consider Lyn's disability (she has a back condition that causes her to limp) and the absence of a father figure to Iona, it is easy to imagine some trauma and abuse in their past.

We never learn though, because Haywood's dark but compelling drama is more interested in exploring how Iona and Lyn can't make their own future instead of delving into their past. Iona is vulnerable to the predators of the hot clique of girls at school, who act more like frenemies than friends, and bigoted neighbour Belinda is determined to play mind games with Lyn by refusing to give her her stepladders back. You keep expecting Lyn and Iona's naive persistence to break down the barriers society puts up, but Haywood instead explores how its often the outsiders who are broken instead. Superb performances from the leads.

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.