Adrian Molina, Alexander Payne, Animation, Anthony Gonzalez, Awakening the Zodiac, Chadwick Boseman, Christoph Waltz, Coco, Comedy, Darkest Hour, Downsizing, Drama, Dylan Minnette, Fabrice du Welz, Family Fever, Gael García Bernal, Gary Oldman, Germany, Hallie Meyers-Shyer, History, Home Again, Horror, Jaume Collet-Serra, Joe Wright, Jonathan Wright, Kathrin Waligura, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lee Unkrich, Leslie Bibb, Liam Neeson, Matt Angel, Matt Damon, Meryl Streep, Message from the King, Mexico, Michael Sheen, Nico Sommer, Peter Trabner, Pixar, Reese Witherspoon, Reviews, Romance, Serial killer, Shane West, Steven Spielberg, Suzanne Coote, The Commuter, The Open House, The Pentagon Papers, The Post, The Washington Post, Thriller, Tom Hanks, True story, Vera Farmiga
Awakening the Zodiac (2017) / D: Jonathan Wright / 100m
Cast: Shane West, Leslie Bibb, Matt Craven, Nicholas Campbell, Kenneth Welsh, Stephen McHattie
Rating: 4/10 – no one knew it at the time but the notorious (and uncaptured) Zodiac killer filmed the murders he committed, something cash-strapped couple Mick and Zoe Branson (West, Bibb) discover when they come into possession of one of the reels, and then find themselves and those around them targeted by the Zodiac killer himself; there’s the germ of a good idea lurking somewhere in Awakening the Zodiac, but thanks to a sloppy script, wayward direction, and an indifferent approach to the Zodiac killer himself (by the end he’s just a generic movie-made serial killer), this never gets out of first gear, and settles for trundling along and signposting each narrative development with all the skill and style of a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest.
Home Again (2017) / D: Hallie Meyers-Shyer / 97m
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Candice Bergen, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitzky, Nat Wolff, Lake Bell
Rating: 7/10 – when middle-aged fledgling interior designer Alice (Witherspoon) splits from her unreliable husband (Sheen), the last thing she expects to do is allow three young men trying to break into the movie business to move into her guest house – and then become romantically involved with one of them (Alexander); it’s hard to criticise Home Again because despite it being almost drama-free and the very definition of innocuous, it also just wants to give audiences a good time, and on that very basic level it succeeds, but it’s still possibly the most lightweight romantic comedy of 2017.
Downsizing (2017) / D: Alexander Payne / 135m
Cast: Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Kristen Wiig, Rolf Lassgård, Udo Kier, Søren Pilmark, Jason Sudeikis
Rating: 5/10 – the answer to the world’s population crisis is revealed to be shrinking people to the point where they’re five inches tall, something that sad-sack occupational therapist Paul Safranek (Damon) agrees to with alacrity, but being small proves to be no different from being normal-sized, and soon Paul is having to re-think everything he’s ever thought or believed; a closer examination of Downsizing (under a microscope perhaps) reveals a movie that contains too many scenes that pass by without contributing anything to the overall storyline, and a satirical approach to the idea itself that lacks purpose, and sadly for Payne fans, his trademark wit, making it all a dreary, leaden experience that goes on for waaaaaay too long.
Family Fever (2014) / D: Nico Sommer / 71m
Original title: Familien fieber
Cast: Kathrin Waligura, Peter Trabner, Deborah Kaufmann, Jörg Witte, Jan Amazigh Sid, Anais Urban
Rating: 7/10 – when two sets of parents get together for the weekend at the request of their respective children (who are a couple), none of them are able to deal with the fallout that comes with the revelation of a secret that threatens the security of both marriages; a German comedy/drama that doesn’t always go where the viewer might expect it to, Family Fever revels in the awkwardness and frustration felt by its quartet of main characters, and though it sadly runs out of steam in the last fifteen minutes, by then it’s done more than enough to provide plenty of wicked laughs and affecting drama.
Coco (2017) / D: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina / 105m
Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Jaime Camil, Alfonso Arau
Rating: 8/10 – Miguel (Gonzalez) is a young boy whose family has rejected any kind of music in order to focus on selling shoes, which leads him into all sorts of trouble in the Underworld on Mexico’s Day of the Dead, trouble that could also mean his never returning to the land of the living; right now you’re never quite sure how a Pixar movie is going to work out, but Coco is a treat, its mix of clever character design, beautifully rendered animation (naturally), heartfelt storylines, and memorable songs making it one to savour time and again… though, be warned, you will be in tears towards the end.
Darkest Hour (2017) / D: Joe Wright / 125m
Cast: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn, Ronald Pickup, Nicholas Jones, Samuel West
Rating: 8/10 – it’s 1940 and Great Britain is faced with a challenge: who is to lead them against the fast-approaching menace of the Nazis, and if it has to be Winston Churchill (Oldman), then what can be done to undermine him and his authority?; the answer is quite a bit – for the most part – but history is firm on Churchill’s success, and so Darkest Hour, while featuring a superb performance from Oldman, has no choice but to succumb to retelling events that have already been retold numerous times before, and in doing so doesn’t offer the viewer anything new except for a number of very good performances and assured, and surprisingly sinewy direction from Wright.
Message from the King (2016) / D: Fabrice du Welz / 102m
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Luke Evans, Alfred Molina, Teresa Palmer, Natalie Martinez, Arthur Darbinyan, Lucan Melkonian, Diego Josef, Tom Felton, Chris Mulkey, Jake Weary
Rating: 5/10 – when his younger sister dies in suspicious circumstances in Los Angeles, South African cab driver Jacob King (Boseman) travels there to find out who caused her death and why – and exact revenge; a throwback to the kind of blaxploitation movies made in the Seventies, Message from the King at least refers to King as an angry brother in the traditional sense, but the movie’s plot is hollow, and the likes of Evans and Molina are wasted in roles that might have seemed fresh (again) in the Seventies, but here feel like caricatures for the movie to focus on in between bouts of King exacting his violent revenge.
The Commuter (2018) / D: Jaume Collet-Serra / 105m
Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern, Killian Scott, Shazad Latif, Andy Nyman, Clara Lago, Roland Møller, Florence Pugh
Rating: 4/10 – ex-cop turned insurance salesman Michael MacCauley (Neeson) is approached by a mysterious woman (Farmiga) on his train home and tasked with finding a complete stranger who’s also on the train – what could possibly go wrong?; everything as it turns out, with The Commuter going off the rails soon after, and never getting back on track, something confirmed (if there was any doubt before then) when the script throws in an “I’m Spartacus/I’m Brian” moment (take your pick), as well as reminding everyone that Neeson really is too old for this kind of thing.
The Post (2017) / D: Steven Spielberg / 116m
Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Zach Woods, Pat Healy
Rating: 9/10 – the publication of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed the level of deceit the US government had perpetrated on its citizens about its involvement in Vietnam, is explored through the days leading up to the Washington Times‘ courageous decision to publish despite the threat of imprisonment for treason that the White House was prepared to enforce; Streep is publisher Kay Graham, Hanks is legendary editor Ben Bradlee, and Spielberg is on excellent form, giving The Post a sense of immediacy and potency that other historical dramas can only dream of (and the relevance to today’s US political scene doesn’t even need to be made obvious).
The Open House (2018) / D: Matt Angel, Suzanne Coote / 94m
Cast: Dylan Minnette, Piercey Dalton, Patricia Bethune, Sharif Atkins, Aaron Abrams, Edward Olson, Katie Walder
Rating: 3/10 – a recent widow (Dalton) and her mopey son (Minnette) get away from their grief and their problems at a house that’s up for sale – and find strange things going on there right from the start; an awful thriller that just refuses to make any sense or make either of its two main characters sympathetic, The Open House does everything it can to make you look away… and not in a good way.