House of Gucci

Ridley Scott’s second film of 2021 dramatises the true story of Maurizio Gucci, his marriage to Patrizia Reggiani and move to head of the Gucci empire. Adam Driver plays Gucci, heir to the business but it’s a role he doesn’t covet and would rather pursue a career as a lawyer. At a party he meets Reggiani (Lady Gaga), attracted to both Gucci the person and Gucci the name. She is driven and sees the opportunity for them both to takeover thr business. Against his father’s (Jeremy Irons) wishes they marry and Reggiani begins to encourage Maurizio to take his place at the company and seeks the help of his uncle Aldo (Al Pacino) to encourage him and engineer his place at the top of the company. Once achieved however, things begin to unravel setting the family against each other with tragic consequences.

House of Gucci is certainly an experience, good and bad! Your enjoyment may depend on your enjoyment of the central characters, luckily they worked for me. Adam Driver is as good as ever as Gucci, fitting right into his Italian suit. Lady Gaga In her first role since A Star is Born is excellent again as the driven and fiery Reggiani. Alongside them Al Pacino feels very much at home as Aldo. While all of the main characters apply a level of “Italian” accent, restrained enough to not slip into parody. But then we have Jared Leto’s over the top Mario Bros.’esque performance as Paolo, which reduces this real life tragic character to no more than a clown.

It is Is Leto’s performance that encapsulates the films issues. Firstly the film is tonally all over the place. It flips between crime drama, love story, melodrama and comedy. And at almost 160 minutes it’s long and baggy and this is partly due to the lack of clarity in the type of film it wants to be. It tries to tell a lot of stories but never fully tells any of them.

But for its faults, its saving grace is its two central performances. Drivers measured presence is as watchable as ever and Lady Gaga, bristles and brings a fiery energy, even if it becomes a little melodramatic toward the end. But both extremely watchable and hold the film together.

The Gucci story is a fascinating one and not sure Ridley Scott’s film explores it well enough. But it is a wild ride, all over the place in reality, but enjoyable none the less mainly for its two central performances and partly for its madness. Making it always watchable and engaging.

Rocky IV: Rocky vs Drago

In 1976 Sylvester Stallone brought to the screen, in my opinion, one of the cinemas greatest and most enduring characters, Rocky Balboa. 9 years later, in 1985, Rocky comes face to face with Soviet super-athlete Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in Rocky IV. Drago is a Soviet propaganda weapon designed to show the west how their expertise has created the ultimate boxer. After an exhibition bout, that sets Drago against Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), goes tragically wrong, Rocky heads to the Soviet Union to face, not only a seemingly indestructible opponent but also the might of the Soviet political machine and a hostile crowd.

However, while Rocky IV was the most financially successful of the franchise, it was one of the least critically successful ones, been thin on story and very big on training sequence montage. It was certainly a film of its time, playing up to west v east suspicions with plenty of big hair and big ballads. But Stallone felt there was a different story to tell so 36 years later Stallone has revisited and reworked it to bring us his director’s cut.

To be honest, not all of it works, which is not a surprise as he is ultimately limited by Rocky IV itself with its clunky dialogue and politics. But it does succeed in making some real changes to the storytelling, especially in the first half. Fleshing out some of the central characters Apollo (Carl Weathers), Adrian (Talia Shire) who we see as much stronger and opinionated, Paulie (Burt Young) and Apollo’s coach Duke( Tony Burton), where we better understand his relationship with Apollo and Rocky. While Drago is perhaps not given the depth it was hoped for, there are subtle changes to show more humanity to his character. Perhaps, humorously, while many characters found more depth, Brigitte Nielson’s Ludmilla was pretty much sidelined.

The Russian training montage remains and the fight scenes maintain their Rocky qualities and there is an interesting change right at the end, perhaps a reflection on Today’s political landscape than that on 1985.

All of this does add up to a different telling of the story, even if not all of it works.

I’m a big fan of Rocky and he is and will remain a great film character. It was a joy to see his 80’s incarnation on the big screen again. But this cut, while interesting, is still restricted by the original story so isn’t wholly successful. But if you love a bit of Rocky then you won’t be disappointed, get down to the cinema and cheer on Phillies finest one more time.

Ghostbusters Afterlife

Directed by Jason Reitman, Ghostbusters Afterlife is a sequel to the original films of 1984 & 1989, directed by his father Ivan. We pick up the story of Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon) a single mum to Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and daughter of Egon, one of the original Ghostbusters. Struggling to make her rent, she finds out her father has died and left her a farm in Summerville a small US town. Deciding to pack up and leave their New York troubles behind, they head to the farm and discover it’s in less than good condition. Condition aside they find the farm, the town and the later life of Egon are not what everyone assumed. Trevor, Phoebe and local kids Podcast (Logan Kim) and Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) find themselves thrust into an adventure with the fate of the world In their hands.

For me Afterlife feels like and to a great extent is, a loving warm hearted tribute to the original films. It is far from perfect, but is fun and pushes some nice, if predictable, nods to the original buttons. But while those links are there it feels that it borrows far more from something like The Goonies.

It’s at its best in the first half as it does a good job of building the tension as the kids discover the secrets of the town. It’s less successful in the second half as the story doesn’t really hold together, with plot holes so big you could easily drive Ecto-1 through the middle.

The young central cast are enjoyable, McKenna Grace and Logan Kim particularly who have a nice on screen chemistry, with wit and adventure well balanced. Around them Wolfhard and O’Connor are solid and the adult cast, while peripheral, are fine.

Where it’s not as successful is its story, in all honesty after its promising start its a little dull and plodding and makes some huge plot jumps, which stretches credibility even for Ghostbusters. The ending is very predictable and while it’s more Ghost less busters, I thought it was a nice touch.

Ghostbusters Afterlife is not perfect, but is a nice tribute to the originals. There is enjoyment to be had, especially in the performances of McKenna Grace and Logan Kim. But a promising first half is let down by a lacklustre second. It’s touted as giving “fans” what they wanted but not sure if it’s good enough to fully please.

tick, tick… Boom!

Available on Netflix.

Directed by Lin Manuel Mirnada, with Steven Levenson’s screenplay based on Jonathan Larson’s musical, is the screen version of tick, tick..Boom!. Based on Larson’s (Andrew Garfield) attempts to write and then get on Broadway his life’s work musical, Superpbia. Mostly set In 1990 ahead of Larson’s 30th birthday we follow his life as he attempts to complete the musical, his struggles, the behaviour that isolates him from those close and its impacts. All this told through a performance of his musical tick, tick…Boom! interspersed with flashes to the scenes that inspired it.

This film is a good example of judging a story in its whole. Because for the first two acts I struggled to engage with it. Yes there’s some fine songs and musical set pieces as you’d expect from Lin Manuel Miranda. Performances are good. Andrew Garfield is really watchable as Larson, delivering a musical performance that wasn’t something I realised he had in him. Alexandra Schipp as girl friend Susan and Robin de Jesus as best friend Michael both provide strong support amongst a good cast. But it all felt a little empty.

But it’s the final act that brings this all together. Built around the undercurrent of intolerance and particularly the attitudes to AIDS that pervades throughout the story. It is these threads that bring real heart to the story and engaged me fully in Larson’s story and more importantly the relationships with those close to him and the importance of them, even if he had occasionally lost sight of them.

While at times I found tick tick..Boom! Difficult to engage with, as it felt a little predictable. The emotional core of the film shines through in its final act and brings it all together, delivering an enjoyable telling of Larson’s story. That I rather enjoyed.

Cry Macho

Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood and written by Nick Schenk is this adaptation of N. Richard Nash’s novel. Eastwood Is Mike Milo a former rodeo star and horse breeder. His best days are behind him, after injury, and then drink brought on by the loss of his wife and son. When he’s approached by his former boss Howard (Dwight Yoakam) to travel to Mexico and collect his son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) from his ex and sons mother and bring him to Texas. Milo accepts and after finding Rafo, a teenager who has gone off the rails, the two head off through Mexico to the US border on a journey that teaches them about each other, trust, friendship and family.

Clint Eastwood remains one of cinemas greatest screen presences a true giant. However, not even Eastwood can save this extremely nuts and bolts, coming of age, self discovery road trip film. It’s dialogue is horribly clunky, some of the performances far from convincing and the plot itself is pretty ludicrous.

Eastwood is, as always, extremely watchable, but his casting is also a bit of a problem as we are asked to believe that not only is a 90 year old man the best option to bring home his son. We also still get him attracting women, one 50 and one 40 years his junior. That aside, Eastwood brings us his stock, grumpy, world weary character, but one who does asks questions about the cult of “macho”, the danger of wasting time, growing old and regret.

The relationship between Milo and Rafo does have its moments and the story does come from a good place. But the films flaws, its slow pacing, clunky dialogue, bizarre moments of exposition and less than convincing performances far outweigh the positives.

Seeing Eastwood on screen is still a treat and because of that I wanted to like this much more than I did. But while it has moments, they are very much outweighed by the flaws, which is a pity. Let’s hope Eastwood gets the chance in the future to bring us something more in line with what his career deserves than this.

The Colour Room

Directed by Claire McCarthy and written by Claire Peate is this biopic of revolutionary ceramic artist Clarice Cliff. Phoebe Dynevor plays Cliff, who we find as a young girl learning her craft moving between the pottery firms of early 20th century Stoke-on-Trent. She finally finds herself at Wilkinson’s run by brothers Colley (Matthew Goode) and Guy (Luke Norris) Shorter. It is here her talent is discovered and her career takes off. Cliff is talented, creative, ingenious and smart and the story follows her struggles for acceptance, the challenges of changing a traditional and male dominated industry which is busy telling its female market what it should like. It follows Cliff’s early career taking us into the 30’s including the beginning of her relationship with Colley.

The Colour Room is a very much (excuse the pun) paint by numbers biopic. We see Cliff’s ingenuity and determination shining through, portrayed through a watchable and enjoyable performance by Dynevor. But we also see the manipulation of Cliff’s actual story to fit a predictable biopic narrative. This includes the standard biopic struggles as Cliff’s bold designs fail to sell and the subsequent determination to fight back, not be beaten and ultimately gain success.

It is this predictable narrative and shoe-horning of plot devices, including a focus on the beginning of her affair with Colley, which detracts from what would be a fascinating enough story without the manipulation to fit the predictable story arc.

Performances are enjoyable with Dynevor very watchable in the lead, well supported by Goode, David Morrisey, Kerry Fox and Darci Shaw particularly. And the film, especially in its first half, is an intriguing look at life in the early 20th century and a really likeable portrayal of Cliff’s intelligence, drive and creativity. Sadly this was let down a little in the 2nd half as the film fell victim to its predictable narrative, altering a lot of the Cliff story to fit it.

The Colour Room is a predictable biopic that’s enjoyable enough. Dynevor is hugely watchable as the lead, but it is let down by its manipulation of the true story to fit its formulaic narrative. Which is a bit of a pity as Cliff’s true story would have been plenty strong enough.

Eternals

Directed by Oscar winner Chloe Zhao, is the latest in the Marvel universe fourth phase films. The Eternals are a group of other world immortal beings sent to earth 7000 years ago by their leader Arishem to protect humanity from a group of evil “deviants” who want to destroy all intelligent life. The group led by Ajak (Salma Hayek) and include the mighty Ikaris (Richard Madden), warrior Thena (Angelina Jolie) and Gemma Chan’s Sersi amongst their number. When they feel they have finally rid the earth of deviants, Ajak sets the group free to spend time learning about humanity until they are called. They spend 1000’s of years hiding amongst humanity, never to interfere, until present day, in a post “blip” world the Eternals come together to fight a new deviants threat.

It feels from early on the Eternals is being asked to do a lot of MCU heavy lifting, introducing a wide array of new characters and possibly setting up a range of story threads. And unfortunately it creaks and ultimately cracks under the weight of that Marvel universe plot building.

The film wasn’t a complete write off for me, there were things I enjoyed. There was some fun with Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo and Ma Dong-Seok as Gilgamesh lightning the mood. And it does some interesting things with the Eternals themselves, making them fallible and ultimately asking questions about their own purpose.

But that’s not enough to overcome its problems. The challenge of trying to introduce so many characters and storylines leads to a disjointed film and ultimately gives us too many new characters to try and care about to a point were you struggle to care for any of them.

With so much to cover, Eternals is long and while I didn’t have a problem sticking with it, it’s clunky narrative made it difficult to engage with fully.

It is not terrible, but it fails to deal with the amount of story, characters and narrative arcs it is trying to develop and is weighed down by the task. And for all its time on screen it never gives itself the chance to build its own characters and story to a point were you don’t care that much about any of it.

Last Night In Soho

Edgar Wright writes and directs his latest musical and visual treat.

Last Night in Soho is part psychological thriller part ghost story that sees us flipping between contemporary London through the eyes of fashion student Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) and the dark underbelly of 1960’s Soho. Ellie is a quiet girl from England’s South West, living with her gran (Rita Tushingham) since the death of her mother. Ellie is a gifted designer given her chance to attend university in London. But she also has the ability to feel and sense history and still sees visions of her mother. After moving out of her student accommodation she finds herself a tenant in the home of elderly Miss Collins (Diana Rigg). It is here that she finds herself linked back to 1960’s London as she sees visions of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) a young girl trying to make herself a name as a singer. As she falls under the control of Jack (Matt Smith) her dreams unravel and she finds herself driven into a world she didn’t want and Ellie is dragged into it with her.

Last Night in Soho is a fabulous atmospheric thriller cum ghost story. Directed with Wright’s usual visual flair and ability to build around an enjoyable 1960’s soundtrack.

For me if you are going to do “horror” then this is how you do it. No need for jump scares, it is much better done with a clever story and intriguing characters you are never quite sure of. And a plot that keeps you unsure of what you think you know.

A couple of unconvincing accents aside the performances are superb Mackenzie and Taylor-Joy whose lives are intertwined, via some very smart editing, are at the heart. Mackenzie balances the fish out of water country girl with the determined young woman desperately trying to save Sandie. Taylor-Joy’s Sandie goes on the opposite journey from hopeful and fiesty to downtrodden and defeated. Matt Smith as ominous controlling Jack in the 60’s and contemporary Terence Stamp bring an uncomfortable under current when on screen. But all are topped by deliciously dark performance by the late Diana Rigg.

Last Night in Soho is a really enjoyable thriller cum ghost story, told with Wright’s usual flair. The plot is smart and wends its way smartly between today and the 1960’s and as the past encroahces increasingly on Ellie’s present it slowly ratchets up the tension. I went in knowing very little about this, but very much enjoyed finding out.

Dune (Part One)

Denis Villeneuve directs this new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel Dune. Set a long way in humanities future Paul Atreidis (Timothee Chalamet) is the son of Duke Leto (Oscar Issac) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) destined for greatness by taking over as the leader of one of the universes most respected families. When the planet, Arrakis, is left by its former leaders the Harkonnens, Atredis is asked to take over. However, Arrakis comes with danger, as the home of the universes most sort after resource “Spice”. Because of this Leto fears that malevolent forces are at work. Before heading to Arrakis, Paul realises his destiny goes beyond his own family and is linked to Arrakis and their indigenous people the Fremen.

Let’s get to it, Dune is spectacular an epic in the very best traditions of epics. Its scale Is huge and is truly magnificent as it moves its way through Herbert’s clearly complex novel.

What Dune does brilliantly is prove their is most definitely room for grown up sci-fi, it doesn’t all have to be explosion filled action packed adventures. Dune takes its time to build its story and the magnificent world it inhabits. It’s science fiction as it should be told, with patience, intrigue and intelligence. This patience completely vindicates Villeneuve’s decision to make Dune a two part story (Although part two is yet to be green-lit) as it allows him to take time to build the characters, their worlds and delve into the complexity of their existence.

The performances throughout are wonderfully judged. Chalamet and Ferguson are at the heart of the film and are both magnificent. But there is not one member of the star studded cast wasted, regardless of the amount of time on screen. Zendeya, Javier Bardem, Stellan Skarsgard, Josh Brolin the list is endless but every single one delivers an important part of the jigsaw.

It looks magnificent and Hans Zimmers score both help to envelop you in the world on screen. Maybe the highest praise I have is that at 2hr40 long if someone offered me 2hr40 of part two straight after I would of quite happily jumped right back into this wondeful on-screen world.

In my opinion with Dune Villeneuve has created a true master piece of science fiction cinema. A modern epic, its story, peformances, visuals and soundscape are incredible. And perhaps my best advice is this is a truly big screen experience, so if you can watch it there. Treat yourself and see it properly, roll on part two.

Another Round

Now available on VOD platforms.

Thomas Vinterberg writes and directs this story of four teachers who, worried their lives are drifting and unfulfilled, discover an unproven scientific theory. The theory is based on humans having too low a natural alcohol blood level and by raising the level, rather than impeding, actually enhances performance. The four friends Martin (Mads Mickkelson), Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Nikolaj (Magnus Milling) and Peter (Lars Ranthe) decide to put it to the test. Initially the experiment seems to support the hypothesis, but as it unfolds and inevitably unravels, we see alcohol both masking and exacerbating the friends issues.

Winner of the best international film at the 2021 Oscars, Another Round is a black comedy, set in Denmark (and in Danish). It isn’t a film about “laddish” behaviour or four middle aged men trying to rediscover their care free alcohol fuelled partying younger selves. It is much smarter than that and while it would be wrong to say it’s not about exploring the impact and culture of drinking, it isn’t just about that. It equally spends time exploring the issues each of the men have in their lives, exploring difficult relationships, dealing with parenthood, loneliness and depression.

It is funny when it needs too be and not afraid to explore the darker aspects of the story when it has to, parking the humour effectively when necessary.

Built around four excellent performances that intelligently explore drinking and its impacts, both negative and positive. My only qualm was in the second half, I wanted a clearer take on the directors view of alcohols impacts, but the film chooses not to judge and that’s OK.

Another Round is about drinking culture but if you are looking for a Danish The Hangover, this isn’t that film. It’s an examination of the life of its four main characters, their hopes and ambitions as well as their frustrations and disappointments. Funny and touching throughout, its a smart look at its sometimes difficult subject matter.

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