“I do worry sometimes I might just be entertaining myself while staving off the inevitable.”
Reuniting writer-director Martin McDonagh with In Bruges leads Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin is at its core a drama about a rift between two lifelong friends. Colm’s realisation of his mortality has left him desperate to create something that might be remembered — he is convinced that Pádraic, described as “one of life’s good guys”, is destined to be forgotten like most on the island. As the rejected Pádraic, Colin Farrell is palpably heartbroken, his eyebrows permanently crestfallen. Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan’s superb supporting performances are easily the match of the leads. Despair hangs over the island’s population through a lack of stimulation and McDonagh has commented that an underlying theme is that depression is something that has long existed in humans, even if we only now accept it (“he could push it down like the rest of us” Pádraic opines). War is literally on the horizon, sporadic explosions on the mainland reminding islanders of the world beyond and contrasting Colm’s search for a sense of peace. The Banshees of Inisherin is the most fable-like of McDonagh’s films to date, reminiscent of John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, not only in its Irishness (and Gleeson’s presence) but the sense of impending doom, personified here by the portentous witchlike figure of Mrs McCormick who seems almost plucked from The Northman. McDonagh’s work unfailingly elicits emotion, and The Banshees of Inisherin succeeds in provoking frequent laughter through its often unexpected darkly cynical humour, whilst leaving a profound sense of melancholy behind.
“Fear is a tool. When that light hits the sky, it’s not just a call. It’s a warning.”
Matt Reeves’ The Batman is the stylish reboot that (non-comedy) superhero films have needed, with their ever-increasing scale and shared-universe homogeneity. The “Year 2” storyline thankfully avoids yet another origin story, though parallels are drawn early on with the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Instead, we see an established Batman dealing with street-level crime (emerging from the shadows like Vader to Michael Giacchino’s imposing brass score), already mistrusted by the police though he is called in to investigate crime scenes and track down leads. Grounded in realism with noir and gothic cinematic sensibilities, The Batman‘s greatest inspiration seems to come from another dark, winged creature, Alex Proyas’ The Crow, with its relentless pursuit of thugs through stylised streets soaked in shadows and rain. It seems most overt when Batman removes his mask to reveal a smear of black around his eyes and matted hair, reminscent of Eric Draven’s iconic appearance. The open jawline of the redesigned cowl allows Robert Pattinson to emote far more than recent incarnations, perhaps essential when he spends so little time as a reclusive Bruce Wayne. Despite spending most of the time as Batman, the action is rather limited though it oozes style: a brief corridor fight lit only by bursts of muzzle flash, or a car chase in the rain with near-zero visibility. It is a rare superhero where the climactic set piece is actually the film’s most satisfying. Greig Fraser’s cinematography deploys sharp camera angles, high contrast and often limited colour in a creative interpretation of some of the most striking Batman comicbook art. The ensemble cast excels, with few simple caricatures. Paul Dano’s Riddler is deliberately ordinary, like the Zodiac Killer crossed with Jigsaw, as the film briefly explores Batman’s complicity in inspiring his villains as well as the Internet incubation of rightwing extremism. An unrecognisable Colin Farrell is underused as Penguin, though the stage has clearly been set for him to take a central role in the future. The Batman‘s chief flaw is in editing, running too long with intermittent pacing issues affecting a number of scenes, but that only slightly diminishes the overall accomplishment.
Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.
“If you wish to be The King of the jungle, it’s not enough to act like a king. You must be The King. And there can be no doubt. Because doubt causes chaos and one’s own demise.”
Every few years, Guy Ritchie attempts to rekindle the magic of Lock, Stock and Snatch with an East End gangster movie, in essence to prove that he can still make “a Guy Ritchie film”. My expectations were decidedly muted after repeated misfires like Revolver and RocknRolla, but The Gentlemen marks his most successful return to those roots to date. The usual ingredients are present: a talented ensemble cast, heavy sarcasm, drugs, violence and dark humour, this time channelled by a considerably better script. Hugh Grant’s unexpected casting as a scumbag investigator works well and, although his endless narration becomes tiresome, as a storytelling device it allows Ritchie to flex a little creative flair from scene to scene. Yet none of this feels particularly fresh 20 years later and old issues remain, with only a single notable woman as well as unnecessary and unchallenged casual racism (albeit from characters we are not supposed to like). Ritchie may once have shaken up gangster filmmaking but now he is only acting like a king, within an industry obsessed with repeating the past. Nevertheless, for fans of this particular style, The Gentlemen offers enjoyable if anachronistic entertainment.
“A surgeon never kills a patient. An anaesthesiologist can kill a patient, but a surgeon never can.”
Yorgos Lanthimos excels at capturing the disjointed nature of human connection, with conversations unfolding in fits and starts albeit using deliberately unnatural dialogue. This deeply allegorical tale is less accessible than The Favourite, bearing a greater tonal connection to The Lobster by way of Jordan Peele’s more unsettling worlds. Cinematography plays a major part in that disquiet: low, wide-angle tracking shots cause architecture to loom over characters, whilst unusually high shots peer down from a disembodied vantage. Colin Farrell is clearly in sync with Lanthimos’ style on the their second outing together, gradually revealing the layers of a surgeon with a god complex who is forced to confront his own hubris. Many of the locations are fittingly clinical, with rigid lines feeling at odds with the film’s loose logic. Knowing the plot in advance would weaken the film but passing familiarity with the Greek myth of Iphigenia is helpful in decoding its allusions. Ultimately Lanthimos is uncompromising in his vision — surely knowing that the result will appeal only to arthouse audiences — but his intentions are not always apparent onscreen.
Sofia Coppola’s output is frustrating not because of its decline in quality since her first two films but because there are routinely glimmers of that greatness in her later work. With the arrival of a wounded soldier bringing disruption and jealousy to an isolated girls’ school during the American Civil War, The Beguiled crafts some captivating character moments in its first hour, through a heavily vignetted haze of desaturated colour that often approaches sepia. Oona Laurence stands out as the young girl who initiates the story. I haven’t seen the Clint Eastwood original, but Coppola’s take on the material is ponderous and predictable. The serene pacing works well initially but, once the dominoes topple into pure Southern Gothic, Coppola is evidently out of her depth as I don’t think titter-inducing ridiculous was the intention.
director: Scott Cooper writer: Scott Cooper, Thomas Hobb (novel) starring: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, Jack Nation, Robert Duvall running time: 112 mins rating: 15
My real name’ll be on my tombstone. ‘Til then I’ll just stay Bad.
Trailers made Crazy Heart look like a country music version of The Wrestler, a first impression that proves entirely accurate. While Bridge’s impeccable turn as Bad Blake may be more understated than Mickey Rourke (and lacking the certain poignance granted by Rourke’s own tumultuous life), both offer similar introspective views of a washed-up professionals trying to rebuild their careers and their lives.
Bad Blake [Jeff Bridges], once a massive country music star, now finds himself playing low key gigs in small town dives while his protégé Tommy Sweet [Colin Farrell] has soared to success. Rundown, broke and alcoholic, Bad stubbornly refuses Tommy’s help, feeling betrayed by the younger star. Ditching his meaningless trysts with older fans after becoming enamoured with a reporter [Maggie Gyllenhaal] and her son, Bad finds something to live for and ultimately inspiration for his songwriting and a reason to clean up his life.
The entire film rests on Bridges’ very capable shoulders, and the veteran actor absolutely embodies Bad Blake. He capable handles the singing role while exhibiting enough charm that we see both the former star and the spark to which a much younger woman would be attracted. The detailed nuance to the performance is impressive, from his resigned gaze and gait to a stumbling alcoholic stupor that never stoops to caricature. There is a wider supporting cast than in The Wrestler, though all are clearly there to support Bridges. Gyllenhaal handles her role as the love interest believably and sympathetically, and Colin Farrell tones down his charm while retaining his star presence. He sings impressively and Sweet’s respect for his mentor is clear.
Crazy Heart may offer little new, but the palpable honest simplicity of Scott Cooper’s directorial debut shines. Accompanied by a stirring country soundtrack, it offers such a strong central performance that one cannot help but be caught up in Bad’s redemptive tale, and it demands to be seen whether or not you are a country music aficionado.