Today we’re doing our regular rounding up of the pick of the week’s UK cinematic releases to see what’s worth a visit to the local multiplex, what’s probably best left to a later viewing at home and what’s not worth wasting your precious time at all… Love it – or leave it!
JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 – dir. Chad Stahelski
Hope Madden writes about lead Keanu Reeves, ‘every once in a while he lands on a role where acting like an actual human just doesn’t matter – like the surprise 2014 hit JOHN WICK. If you enjoyed that splashy bit of violence and canine love, you’re likely to appreciate its strangely anticipated sequel, JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2’. Director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad are also back and ‘improving on their previous effort by streamlining the story, limiting sentimentality and spending more time exploring what was cool the first time – The Continental’, but they transport the story to Rome. Stahelski ‘ups his game with the action sequences. Wick’s movements are without ego – they are clean and efficient, which is appropriate. And he likes to shoot the knees out, so points for that. Stahelski films with flair – fascinating framing, often beautifully backlit. It’s fun’. Still, Hope writes, ‘there’s the problem of Reeves’s acting’ and ‘sure, there are problems – besides the dialog. Why are the bad guys all such bad shots? Where are all the witnesses? Eye-rolling contrivance follows ludicrous convenience, but these guys brought their shootin’ boots’, However, in her ☆☆☆ review, Hope asserts that ‘it’s not like you don’t know what you’re in for here’.
THE FOUNDER – dir. John Lee Hancock
Michael Keaton stars in this ‘faithful dissection’ of how Ray Kroc turned a California burger stand into a worldwide behemoth. George Wolf writes that Keaton is ‘fantastic as Kroc’, ‘he crafts an intensely driven man who listens to positive-thinking albums and becomes a living testament to the mantra of “persistence”’. Keaton makes him a ‘pathetically fascinating hero, possessed with winning at any cost’. John Lee Hancock ‘skips the opportunities in Robert Siegel’s script to give his film more teeth’, though ‘the rise of McDonalds is layered with very relevant threads (crass commercialism, innovation displacing employment, etc.), Hancock, per his resume (THE BLIND SIDE, SAVING MR. BANKS) isn’t interested in exploring anything on that menu’. In his ☆☆☆ review, George states that ‘THE FOUNDER tells the story, and tells it in fine clinical fashion, but misses the chance to go big time’.
MOONLIGHT – dir. Barry Jenkins
Cinema Siren writes that ‘all the actors are exceptional in their roles’ as ‘Naomie Harris continues to prove herself as an actress who can play a wide diversity of women’. Barry Jenkins’ ‘screenplay and direction allows room for the entire cast to embody their roles and interact in very real ways, making them believable and getting the audience fully behind them’. However, ‘what makes MOONLIGHT so exceptional is the way it follows the lead character, without judgement, with such subtlety and truth’, we ‘the audience, are just walking through it with him’. ‘One question about identity posed here is whether there is ever one aspect of experience or orientation that defines us’, the central character is ‘many complicated experiences, lessons, and desires, coalescing into something in a unique and holistic way’, ‘he is not a cliche’. Jenkins ‘is able to create cinema with such quiet dignity featuring a gay man of color and have it be about, and accepted as, so much more’. Read the ☆☆☆☆☆ review here.
HIDDEN FIGURES – dir. Theodore Melfi
George Wolf writes that HIDDEN FIGURES ‘is an inspiring piece of history, one that is overdue for a big screen tribute’ and Melfi ‘gives it as much respect as he can without fully committing to the heroines themselves’. He writes that three leads, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, ‘are terrific’ with the rest of the cast providing ‘fine support’. However, ‘some moments of achievement from these African-American women are framed as if the credit should go to the white people (mostly men) for realizing the ills of segregation and courageously allowing these geniuses to contribute’. ‘HIDDEN FIGURES has all the parts for what could have been a more meaningful sum, if it was a bit less concerned with playing it safe. And considering the subject matter, that’s ironic. You might even call it a miscalculation.’ Read the ☆☆☆ review here.
THE GREAT WALL – dir. Yimou Zhang
Hope Madden asserts that despite the trailer for THE GREAT WALL, the film is not terrible, ‘It’s not good – let’s not get crazy’, it’s ‘a borderline-passable piece of monster-laden eye candy’. She writes that director Yimou Zhang ‘does what he can to visually wow an audience and draw attention away from the leaden screenplay’, though THE GREAT WALL ‘never approaches the style of his best efforts, the aesthetic will keep your attention and create wonder. Vivid color and rhythm drive a joyous spectacle of monster carnage once the CGI swarms come calling’. Matt Damon ‘struggles with more than the accent’, ‘the deadly serious tone the film takes and the broadly drawn characterizations of the Chinese warriors make chemistry or human drama impossible’. In her ☆☆1/2 review, Hope praises that ‘the only thing THE GREAT WALL did right was to swap out director Edward Zwick (associated early in development with the film) for Zhang, because if you weren’t so distracted by how glorious this film looks, it might really be as bad as the trailers made it out to be’.
FILM OF THE WEEK: MOONLIGHT