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Deep End (1970)
Dark and brilliant coming-of-age film
Acclaimed on its first release but mysteriously vanishing not long after, Jerry Skolimowski's dark coming-of-age comedy Deep End has only recently resurfaced. And as it turns out, we didn't know what we were missing.
Beginning rather innocently, the film follows fifteen-year old boy Mike (John Moulder-Brown) after securing a job as a baths attendant at the local swimming pool. There he meets Susan (Jane Asher), an older but attractive young woman who receives extra tips by working in the men's section. Mike develops a crush on her, but gradually becomes obsessive as he finds out she has fiancée, culminating in a disturbing finale at the pool.
Writer on Roman Polanski's tense and claustrophobic Knife in the Water, Skolimowski once again relies on fantastic performances to prevent this dark romance from stumbling. Jane Asher is perfect as the warm but unpredictable Susan in perhaps the highlight of her career, whilst then-relative-newcomer John Moulder-Brown eases the audience in with his charm and genuine only to spit them out as he becomes increasingly obsessive and unstable.
Deep End's greatest achievement however, is its tactless ability to flow between humour, romance and darkness. The black comedy Skolimowski employs is uncomfortably funny yet cold and callous. The ending is so gradual that it seems inevitably tragic yet strangely victorious. This is a film of two sides: it can be sympathetic and observant yet scornful and melancholy.
One of the standout British films of the seventies.
Annabelle Comes Home (2019)
Better than the other Annabelles
The third Annabelle film and the seventh in an ever-expanding Conjuring universe, Annabelle Comes Home is a significant improvement on the series' disastrous recent efforts, albeit whilst sticking religiously to the franchise's cheap scare formula.
Taking place in the home of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson), Annabelle Comes Home is refreshingly small-scale in comparison to the other Conjuring films. It stars the Warren's daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) and her babysitter (Madison Iseman), as they are left to fend for themselves after awakening evil spirits in the artefacts room, led by the terrifying-looking Annabelle. What ensues is a mashup of horrors from various Warren investigations, all of which must be contained before Ed and Lorraine arrive home.
Unlike such Conjuring films as the laughably-bad The Nun and indeed the first Annabelle, Annabelle Comes Home is never boring. Engaging and well-rounded characters, as well as a playfully nostalgic haunted-house premise, mean that Annabelle Comes Home ranks among the best of the series. The film acts as an assembly of all the Conjuring films, rewarding dedicated fans and having fun with a universe that has been in construction for the past six years.
However, as with most of the Conjuring films and producer James Wan's filmography, Annabelle Comes Home is never scary. To its credit, the film doesn't rely on blood or gore for scares, but unfortunately overuses the typical loud noise, jump scare blueprint which so many mainstream horror films follow, lacking any sense of dread or menace. By the seventh Conjuring film, the audience's ability to be scared by the same formula has been saturated.
If you are looking to be truly terrified, I would instead point you in the direction of recent classics such as Jennifer Kent's The Babadook or Ari Aster's Hereditary. However, Annabelle Comes Home has enough charm to satisfy both fans of the franchise and devotees of the horror genre.
Captain Marvel (2019)
Saved by Larson
The latest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is both the first female-led and female-directed film of the Marvel canon. Considering the recent successes of Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther, Captain Marvel has a lot to live up to.
The narrative itself is nonlinear, but for the most part is set in 90's USA during an intergalactic war between two alien races. Oscar-winning actress Brie Larson steps into the titular role, and alongside a digitally de-aged Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), she fights to discover her origins and the truth behind the age-old war. The 90's backdrop sets the tone for a retro-space feel, as Carol Danvers (Larson) bursts through the roof of a blockbuster-video store to find such films as The Right Stuff, while Jackson's regressed face is reminiscent of Pulp Fiction.
Larson's energy breathes life into a somewhat generic origin story and her charisma feels much needed in a male-dominated franchise, but unfortunately this isn't enough to mask the underlying problems of the film. The story suffers from both plot predictability and narrative confusion, with Marvel's trademark formula becoming much too apparent too early on in the film. After the scale of recent Marvel blockbusters it falls a little flat, which may leave some viewers disappointed. Having said this, their generous supplement of humour is always welcome, a characteristic now commonly attributed to Marvel films since its success in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Don't get me wrong, while it does need a clearer and perhaps more original story, Captain Marvel is still a perfectly adequate piece of popcorn entertainment; although, after twenty-one films, it seems that Marvel's seemingly immortal body of films could be starting to wrinkle. We'll just have to wait and see.
Its actually quite good
A throwback to the psycho-thrillers of the 90s, Greta sees The Crying Game director Neil Jordan return to his roots in an over-the-top and thoroughly enjoyable stalker flick.
Set in New York city, the film opens with the discovery of a mysterious handbag on the subway by the kind and innocent Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz). Her search for the owner leads her to the amiable but clingy widow Greta, played by the legendary French actress Isabelle Huppert. Drawn together by their experiences of loss, the pair form a strong friendship, but what quickly ensues is a stalker-like game of cat-and-mouse as the deranged Greta's true motive is slowly revealed.
The cast are among the film's greatest assets, giving it an edge that most other B-movies lack. Huppert brings a deadpan insanity to the role that is at times truly terrifying, whilst Moretz provides the perfect antithesis in her sweet and relatable Frances. However, it is the delirious and over-the-top nature of this thriller which makes it so fun and unhinged. This is an aspect which has drawn criticism, but is in fact essential in capturing the style and tone of such popular films as Fatal Attraction, Single White Female and Scorsese's remake of Cape Fear. Like these films, Greta successfully creates levels of almost unbearable suspense that leave you with sweaty palms, a feat that should not go unnoted.
As with most of Jordan's work, there are hints of fairy tale which percolate through the everyday setting. His 1984 red-riding-hood-inspired The Company of Wolves most prominently shines through, with Greta perhaps embodying the wolf, masked by an outwardly sweet persona, and the innocent Frances, Red Riding Hood. Although Greta doesn't perhaps live up to Jordan's earlier films and is certainly not as rewatchable, there is still an element of the fantasy which has defined so much of his oeuvre.
I do admit there are plot holes. And at times it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. But Greta triumphs because of an entertainingly bonkers plot and a ferociously unhinged performance from Huppert.
One of the best films of the decade
Pulled from the Cannes Film Festival due to its Netflix backing and later going on to win the Golden Lion at Venice, director Alfonso Cuarón's majestic love letter to his home town has been at the centre of much drama in the world of film. It seems that Roma will also be the centre of attention at this year's Oscars, deservedly garnering 10 nominations including best picture, a feat rarely achieved by foreign language films.
In this heavily autobiographical epic, Cuarón paints, with extraordinary detail, the everyday routines and adventures of a 1970s Mexican family living in the neighbourhood of Colonia Roma in Mexico City. The film's main focus is the shy house-keeper Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), who experiences the delights and dysfunctions that exist in the family, as political tensions and outbreaks of violence provide the backdrop to their life in the city.
Roma is an astounding technical achievement and a visual treat: filmed in vivid black and white, with stunning landscapes and tracking shots which quite simply took my breath away. The same can be said about the audio, which perfectly captures the depth and bustle of the Mexican streets, while enhancing the paralysing emotion that the film effortlessly provokes. Among the film's jewels is Yalitza Aparicio, who translates Cuarón's vision flawlessly through her understated and mature performance, despite this being her first role. Her work was duly rewarded as she became the first indigenous actress to be nominated for an Oscar.
Roma is a beautifully observed portrait of both the intimacy and grandiosity of life; a perfect blend of comedy, melodrama and tragedy. It is that rare, timeless film that in years to come will be considered as one of the best in the endless pantheon of cinema.
The Favourite (2018)
Changing his tune from the disturbing revenge saga The Killing of a Sacred Deer, of which I am a big fan, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos returns in even better form with this viciously funny tragicomedy set in and around the court of Queen Anne.
The Favourite follows a trio of characters as Abigail (Emma Stone) and her cousin Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) vie for their position as the favourite of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman); a three-way power struggle involving manipulation, blackmail and jealousy, where no one holds true authority. This often results in wickedly hilarious consequences, inspiring many more laughs than most modern comedies, mainly due to brilliantly composed dialogue and characters expertly crafted by writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. At the hands of Yorgos Lanthimos however, this comedy almost becomes surrealist and absurdist, a common theme throughout all his films, emphasised by the frequent use of a wide angle lens which bends the landscape, and an ominous score underlying the usual classical music that laces costume dramas. This adds sophistication and satirical comedic touches to the drama, outcomes representative of Lanthimos' talent and emergence from the arthouse world.
Despite the fact that all three lead characters are played to perfection - something which is echoed in the awards attention they have received - the stand out is Colman as the child-like and at times tragic Queen Anne. Her performance adds both bitterness and tenderness to the film, reflected not only in her sudden outbursts and complaints but also her care and love for her rabbits, enabling the audience to remain grounded and preventing the film from tipping over into the bizarre.
Yorgos Lanthimos triumphs with this multi-layered period piece, comprised of erudite humour, absurdist satire and an unsettling atmosphere, expertly delivered by three perfectly judged performances.
Viskningar och rop (1972)
A late Bergman masterpiece
Celebrated swede Ingmar Bergman is once again in full command of his craft in this timeless tale of three sisters facing tragedy.
Depicting the effect that the slow and torturous death of Agnes (Harriet Andersson) has on her sisters (Liv Ullman and Ingrid Thulin) and devoted chamber-maid Anna (Kari Sylwan), Bergman mixes romance, regret and even moments of horror to explore the everchanging relationships of and between the trio of characters, ending in confrontation and remorse.
Throughout Cries and Whispers, Bergman focuses in on the ticking of clocks as Agnes' time begins to run out, or the blood red of the walls and furniture in the house, which he once described as the colour of a human soul. Through this, Bergman develops a rhythm which almost seems effortless.
This remarkable assurance and authority is further evident in his direction of actors, helping to create one of the greatest ensemble performances of all time. Impossible to pick out just one of the cast, each of the quartet holds their own in four intense and mesmerising showstoppers that will leave you breathless.
It seems that Bergman's autumnal rumination on memory, family and death still sparkles with life nearly 50 years on.
The film Bohemian Rhapsody should have been
An alcoholic. A cocaine addict. A sex addict. A bulimic. And a shopaholic. Rocketman charters both the highs and lows of the life of rock-n-roll legend Elton John. It is unafraid to delve into the dark moments of the rock star's life but still capable of bursting into song in classic musical fashion.
Taron Egerton stars as a young Reginald Dwight, a misunderstood and relatively unloved piano prodigy who changes his name to Elton John and embarks on a life of rock-n-roll, writing songs with his friend Bernie (Jamie Bell) and achieving fame and glory in his travels across America. Although he isn't the perfect Elton look-a-like, Egerton flawlessly captures both the spirit and personality of the rock star in a wildly emotional performance, even gaining the appraisal of Elton himself. The same can be said for Egerton's singing, which is impressively similar to Elton's real voice.
The most impressive aspect of this film however is director Dexter Fletcher, who brings an undeniable energy to an otherwise by-the-book biopic. There are spectacular shifts into all-singing, all-dancing musical numbers, inventively intertwined with elements of fantasy. The influences of Gene Kelly and Ken Russell shine through, an unlikely synthesis at the heart of the film's character which brings about a striking inventiveness and ingenuity. Rocketman explodes with colour, originality and a refreshing honesty about Elton John's rollercoaster of a life.
Unsurprisingly, there have been many comparisons drawn between Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody, with Fletcher salvaging the Freddie Mercury biopic after the sacking of Brian Singer. Both feature Oscar-worthy performances of rock stars who are struggling with their identity, with legendary musicians providing the jukebox to their films. Rocketman however, is the bold, unflinching and honest film that Bohemian Rhapsody could have been.
The Souvenir (2019)
"I'm trying to work out how you two tesselate..." ponders Richard Ayoade's Patrick in a scene-stealing cameo. These musings epitomise British auteur Johanna Hogg's latest film, The Souvenir, a beguiling venture into an ill-fated romance, which will likely prove to be one of the year's best films.
Honor Swinton-Byrne (daughter of Tilda Swinton, who also stars) is Julie, a privileged but ambitious film student struggling to find her artistic voice as she navigates the world of film in Knightsbridge, London. Here, she begins a poisonous relationship with the suave but arrogant Anthony (Tom Burke), who uproots her life with cruel mind games and lies.
Although Swinton-Byrne is faultless as the vulnerable and naïve Julie, Burke owns the show in what is undoubtedly the finest performance of his career. As with director Johanna Hogg, his genius lies in the difficulty of pinpointing Anthony's motives, and distinguishing his kindness from his callousness. Even after seeing the film it feels as though the surface of his character has barely been scratched.
Such performances have become staples of Hogg's films, none more so than Tom Hiddleston's breakthrough turns in Unrelated and Archipelago. The former, Hogg's debut feature, is founded on a startling sense of realism that would go on to pervade all of her films, reminiscent of Luchino Visconti's masterpiece The Leopard in its portrayal of upper class life. Yet in The Souvenir, this is paralleled with a sense of enchantment that grows as Julie's attachment to Anthony deepens.
One of the best British films of recent years, The Souvenir is an enrapturing love story that demands multiple viewings. I eagerly await The Souvenir Part II which will be released in 2020. This film is a real stunner.