Tag Archives: movies

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian posterThroughout his career it’s fair to say Luc Besson has often had the same criticism levelled against his work, that it is more style than substance. While his work is often visually high concept, in the likes of Leon aka The Professional and (more relevant here) The Fifth Element he has created films that are engrossing, energetic, eccentric but, above all, enjoyable… And now has come Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Fairly quickly this looks like it might inhabit similar territory to The Fifth Element as we are rapidly sent from the first meeting in space between the US and Soviets to the creation of Alpha, an enormous space station inhabited by species from around the galaxy heading off to explore the cosmos.

We also witness what at first appears to be an unrelated planetary apocalypse of a fairly psychedelic race’s home world getting destroyed by mysterious star ships leaving only handful of survivors.

We then meet our two leads, Dane DeHaan’s Valerian and Cara Delevingne’s Laureline, members of the military that controls Alpha on a mission to recover a mysterious artefact, while indulging in some of the most chemistry free romantic entanglements ever committed to celluloid.

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne in Valerian

Delevingne and DeHaan

From there the story is fairly episodic, giving the impression that Besson has taken a selection of ideas from the source comics and thrown them all into the movie script whether they fit or not.

This is particularly noticeable when the lead pair encounter an apparently xenophobic race who like a tasty human brain and, improbably, pop star Rhianna crops up to save the day for about five minutes and is then never mentioned again (its hard to avoid the feel of misjudged ‘stunt casting’ at this point).

Along with the slightly too episodic nature of the plot (the whole planetary apocalypse thing is present throughout but only really comes into focus again in the very end, by which point you’ll be at least one step ahead of everyone on-screen) the characters and performances have no sense of consistency or believability.

Rhianna in Valerian

Rhianna doing her best Sally Bowles

Now, I’m a fan of sci-fi so it’s not because of the setting or anything like that, but rather because they change entirely almost scene to scene giving particularly the leads and the main villain an almost schizophrenic edge that makes them impossible to get along with, care about or anything else.

Where the film does succeed is in its visuals, I don’t think there’s a single shot without some visual effect and in some cases entire scenes are entirely CGI but fit in with the live action elements (for the most part) excellently and the production design and costumes look, in their way, excellent (though what’s with Rhianna’s Cabaret moment?).

While the script and dialogue are never great it is in the closing scenes, where one might expect something to tidy up the various threads, it all just descends to into what is at best laughable and worst cringeworthy and, while it can be credited for not having a standard city destroying battle in its final act, what it does have just falls flat so, while the ending feels like it should be the beginning of the adventures of Valerien and Laureline, I honestly hope they are lost in space (though part of me was hoping for Roger Moore-era James Bond like final pay off gag).

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GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

Glow dvd coverDespite my longstanding interest in professional wrestling and frequent investigations into its history the 1980s organisation GLOW had largely passed me by. Now, with the Netflix original drama based on the series having emerged, I thought I’d take a look back at its real life inspiration in the documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

At only 73 minutes the film is somewhat superficial and has something of the feel of a Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends show, but without the leading investigator/presenter to ground it.

What we get instead are a series of fairly rapidly cut, loosely threaded, talking heads accompanied by archive footage of the original show alongside current footage of a few of the performers in their everyday lives.

Through this though a few interesting stories come to light, even if they aren’t fully explored.

First is how the show was put together, which somehow explains why it is often not included in the wider pro-wrestling canon.

The GLOW girls

‘The GLOW girls’ and their ring announcer

Rather than relying on already established female wrestling talent (who, while few and far between did exist) of the mid-80s the conspicuously male production and creative team relied on an open casting call to bring in young models and actresses to fill their roster of performers.

While some had an interest or natural aptitude for the wrestling, many didn’t and the product was more of a variety ‘real-life cartoon’ than a wrestling show. While WWE (then WWF) was certainly veering in the cartoony direction around the same time, GLOW turned this up to 11.

In this segment we hear from the man tasked with training the performers, Mondo Guerrero (of the legendary Mexican/Texan wrestling family; brother of Eddie and Chavo, son of Gory) who seems to express a level of disbelief at the job his was given.

GLOW girls - Moretti on the right

GLOW girls – Moretti on the right

We also hear from Tina Ferrari who would become Ivory in WWF in the late 90s (real name Lisa Moretti) who was one of the few who seemed to get the wrestling and she becomes an invaluable addition to the documentary as the story rolls on given her experience from the smallest to biggest shows in the industry.

While the film seems to choose to focus more on the sisterhood of the performers than anything else this is far from entirely coherent, but, as we find out more about the promotions two biggest (in both senses) stars, it does coalesce somewhat.

Matilda The Hun was an older and seemingly more experienced wrestler when the show began in something of the mould of British wrestling legend Klondyke Kate.

While we see here in her prime we also see her now, partially wheel chair bound due to back injuries, though she clearly remains very much the same woman she always has been, bedecked in full ring attire and make up and not regretting anything of her years in the ring.

GLOW - Mountain Fiji

Mountain Fiji

Somewhat more tragic is the story of Mountain Fiji, Matilda’s rival and GLOW’s top hero. A 350lb American-Samoan shot-putter in her heyday, she has since succumbed to injuries and diabetes leaving her permanently wheel chair bound.

Like her arch nemesis she doesn’t seem to regret the damage wrestling may have done to her body, but she also seems far more abandoned by her past life.

So, when Little Egypt organises a reunion at the encouragement of the film’s producers, Mountain Fiji is something of the guest of honour and the reaction of both her and the other ladies as she enters and they all perform the ‘rap’ that introduced them on the original show is genuinely moving.

While generally somewhat rushed GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is still interesting enough and as insight into women’s wrestling as WWE looks to distance itself from its seedier version of GLOW with the ‘Women’s Revolution’ and this summer’s Mae Young Classic tournament has a newly added dimension the producers couldn’t have known about when it was released back in 2012.

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Baby Driver

Baby Driver posterFrom the moment Edgar Wright’s latest film Baby Driver begins with a full volume blast of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion as we focus on Ansel Elgort’s ‘Baby’ sat in a high-powered car waiting for a heist to take place while rocking out to the sounds of his iPod it’s clear this isn’t going to be a normal crime thriller.

What this instantly sets up is something that has become a hallmark of Wright’s work, just taken to a new level, of combining two somewhat improbable genres at once. So, following the romcom/horror of Shaun Of The Dead, the teen movie/comic book movie of Scott Pilgrim Vs The World we get a musical comedy crime thriller.

A fairly simple plot device sets this up and is very well handled through the tale of Baby’s involvement with a criminal gang and his attempt to remove himself from this life.

While the part of Baby is fairly stoic Elgort brings a great presence and depth to his role and, as he in virtually every shot of the film, delivers a very impressive performance.

Ansel Elgort as Baby in Baby Driver

Ansel Elgort as Baby

Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx meanwhile all look to be having a great time letting their villainous sides out and pitching it with a great deal of humour but really turning up the threat when needed (Foxx and Hamm switch to a scary level of intensity very impressively).

Like Wright’s other work though the director’s style really is the co-star as the camera flies and spins around to create some of the best driving sequences I’ve seen in along that never lose the point of the story or get lost in cgi and puts the increasingly overblown Fast & Furious movies to shame with its structural simplicity.

Along with this of course Wright adds a matching level of camera movement and action to the most mundane of tasks like making breakfast or buying coffee, making the whole film move seamlessly regardless of what’s going on and even the romantic sub-plot doesn’t feel forced.

Kevin Spacey and the gang in Baby Driver

Kevin Spacey and the gang

What all this does is create a film that takes Wright away from the ‘Cornetto trilogy’ much of his reputation is based on, and show he is more than capable of translating his style into a more action centric movie Hollywood prefers without losing the thing that makes his films what they are, leaving us with one of the most entertaining films I remember in sometime with a soundtrack to rival any in recent memory.

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Jackie

Jackie movie posterThe story of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is one that has been told time and time again since it happened in November 1963 from documentaries to conspiracy thrillers to (somewhat surreally) Red Dwarf, so what more was there to say in the subject more than 50 years on?

Well judging by Pablo Larraín’s Jackie, quite a lot.

Taking the perspective of Jackie Kennedy, portrayed meticulously by Natalie Portman, it traces events through the medium of an interview with an anonymous journalist (Billy Crudup), from the First Couple’s arrival in Texas up until the president’s funeral. In focusing on this rather short period it allows a level of detail and intensity not usually seen in a conventional biopic which is very much a part of its strength.

This intensity is the film’s hallmark, shot with many more close-ups than you might expect, the grand vistas of such iconic locations as that stretch of road in Dallas, the White House, Arlington cemetery or others are almost entirely absent, making this far more personal than it might otherwise be.

Jackie - Natalie Portman

Portman as Kennedy

Along with this shooting style, Portman’s performance is, of course, what the film hinges on and it comes with a rarely seen sense of precise deliberateness which gives the feeling, I think intended, of Jackie Kennedy as a hugely guarded person.

As the film goes on and the guardedness is maintained but navigated by both Larrain and the journalist, to reveal her grand ambition; to create what has become the legend surrounding the Kennedy ‘dynasty’. In the film’s one slightly heavy-handed moment this is expressed as a kind of ‘modern Camelot’.

While this performance and cinematic style very much help tell the story there are moments where it makes it feel too detached and unemotional. However when the emotion does comes out, such as the scenes of Kennedy’s arrival back at the White House after Dallas and those where she is alone with Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), we get a sense of the state of shock she is operating in, very much in the public eye and there is a very genuine and real sense to this without a hint of the potential melodrama it could easily lapse into.

Peter Sarsgaard and Natalie Portman

Peter Sarsgaard and Portman

The film contains its share of subtly shocking moments as well, that again never feel overplayed but are just present as, I can only imagine, they would be in reality, this is most graphically noticeable when you first see a long shot of Kennedy still wearing the same outfit as she was in Dallas, complete with blood stains.

With amazing period detail and some excellently used sound design, Larraín’s film comes together to be a very impressive work that explores a mythologised event in a way that is genuinely unmythologising and given the situation, surprisingly down to earth, but with an intensity and tension that most mainstream thrillers could but dream of, just in a rather different genre.

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Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman movie posterOver the last decade and a half DC have, for the most part, missed the target with their attempts to get a movie ‘universe’ off the ground. Superman Returns and Green Lantern were total misfires while Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice felt overburdened by a sense of their own importance while being overlong and just a little to ‘dark’ (Suicide Squad remains a bizarre anomaly that while far from successful at least tried to do something different).

Wonder Woman then follows on from these, in the same universe and MoS, BvS:DOJ and SS (as, possibly, no one is calling them), but once the brief modern-day prologue is done with we are launched into one of the most entirely enjoyable comic movies in some time (though Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel still top it).

The opening scene setting is a little laborious as we are introduced to Diana, Princess of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) and said island paradise, it’s race of Amazon warrior women and Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and the fact that we have flashed back to 1917. In this though there are some impressively flashy action beats and the design of Themyscira is excellent.

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman

Gadot in Wonder Woman

From there though things soon pick up and we follow Diana And Steve as they, respectively, try to destroy the God of war Ares and foil a plot that would see Germany win the First World War.

While this is fairly standard and leads to the inevitable big battle scene (albeit a better staged one than any of the previous films in the series) two things set it apart.

First is that, unlike pretty much any other mainstream comic book so far, and certainly unlike any of the DC predecessors, Wonder Woman embraces the inherent ridiculousness of the form in the best of ways.

This leads to moments of humour in odd places but at no point did I feel like I was laughing at the film but more laughing with it, while in other movies similar moments either fell flat, got lost in cliché, or just felt laughable. This really begins with the first time we see Diana as Wonder Woman (though she’s never named as such) in ‘the real world’ and culminates in the big reveal of the main antagonist.

Chris Pine and Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman

Pine and Gadot

Secondly is that, for the most part, the lead is Diana and its her who leads the action scenes and is the hero of them while the male characters are sidekicks or, in the case of Trevor, the love interest in the way the female character usually would be, though he gets to have his moments too.

While this does falter somewhat towards the end, with one moment in particular, it wasn’t so much that it spoilt the rest of it for me and fits the general conventions of the style, and I hope Diana’s position remains strong heading into the upcoming Justice League as she is so far, by a long way, the best leading hero of the current DC films which is also testament to Gadot’s excellently pitched performance.

Themyscira - Wonder Woman

Themyscira

While the film does have its flaws, mostly where the cliché goes a little too far or where it gets a little lost in cgi video game-style territory (though this is far less than in either MoS or BvS:DoJ), it has given me some hope for the future of the franchise, if Zack Snyder can take some of the stylistic notes laid out here by Patty Jenkins and roll it into his work (Watchman proved he’s more than capable of making a good comic book movie after all).

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Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant posterSeveral years ago, when Ridley Scott announced his prequel to his 1979 classic Alien, Prometheus, I wondered whether we really needed an explanation for events leading up to a film that already worked so efficiently and effectively.

Now, with the follow-up to that film, Alien: Covenant, that is also another precursor to the original, that question occurs once again.

From the off it ties the two threads of the story together with a prologue featuring Prometheus‘ replicant character David (Michael Fassbender) before we are sent to the colony ship Covenant and meet another replicant, Walter (also Fassbender).

From that point on we get a story that seems to be unsure quite what it wants to do and say. Certainly there are plenty of thrills and chills and a good dose of action and excitement as the crew of the Covenant (and I don’t think this is a spoiler given the title) encounter a version of the Xenomorph Alien (apparently the ‘Neomorph’) seen in the past instalments of the series.

Katherine Waterston - Alien: Covenant - Daniels

Daniels (Waterston)

Along with the action, again much like Prometheus, the film seems to want to deal with some big questions, so we have Oram (Billy Crudup), thrust into the role of ship’s captain and a self expressed man of faith.

The fact this is self expressed is where the problem with this attempt at exploring something really comes to fore as anything Alien: Covenant might be trying to explore is just stated by the characters rather being genuinely explored through the film, so it falls a little flat.

As well as this there is a thread that, like the original Alien and its direct sequels, takes something of a feminist angle with crew member Daniels (Katherine Waterston) echoing original heroine Ripley as the film’s (comparatively) grounded heroic centre as chaos escalates.

Alien: Covenant - Walter - Michael Fassbender

Walter (Fassbender)

Unlike the original though this feels rather too heavy-handed, especially as it’s already an established trope of the series and it just never quite rings as honest and true, particularly when we reach a rather over gratuitous scene toward the film’s climax.

This might be for the very simple reason that, while Daniels is arguably the hero of this film’s story, I couldn’t escape the feeling that the series now belongs to Fassbender’s replicant characters.

It’s fair to say that, as David initially and then Walter, Fassbender has found a way to make these characters that, in the past were often sinister bit parts, into fascinating explorations of humanity and our place in the universe (as much as a big budget sci-fi blockbuster might).

The Neomorph - Alien: Covenant

The ‘Neomorph’ alien

Fassbender is undeniably the most engaging presence here and, as with Prometheus, his performance is phenomenal – to the point where his blankness is at times a little too convincing and genuinely creepy, and makes any outbursts all the more effective, but I may already have said too much.

As a whole though Alien: Covenant, while enjoyable, feels a little too much like a ‘best bits’ of the better past films thrown together, with the attempt at philosophy of Prometheus thrown in, and not quite coming out with an entirely satisfying whole and it’s hard to escape the fact that this is all somewhat unnecessary exposition for a pair of classic films that never needed it.

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Critics Choice at Beau Cinema: Silence

Silence movie posterAs pointed out by Wynter Tyson (one of the curators of the #CriticsChoice series at Beau Cinema) during his introduction to this screening of Martin Scorsese’s Silence, the revered director has, throughout his career, often explored elements of faith in his work.

From the more obvious in the The Last a Temptation Of Christ to references in Gangs of New York to, arguably, a mirroring of a kind of corrupted faith in Wolf of Wall StreetSilence though follows Last Temptation in being a more direct take on the subject.

The film tells the story of a pair for Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) on a mission to Japan in the 17th century to continue the development of Christianity in the country and seek out the fate of their teacher, Padre Ferreira (Liam Neeson).

From the start, a fog shrouded scene featuring severed heads and a particularly unique and specific form of torture being administered to a group of Christian priests told from the point of view of Ferreira, it’s clear this is going to be a deep, dark journey and exploration of faith, and it doesn’t disappoint.

Silence movie - Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver

Garfield and Driver

While Scorsese is perfectly adept at everything from b-movie style fare to bright modern drama, here he more than proves why he is as regarded as he is as one of Hollywood’s best directors.

Every moment of Silence feels created with all aspects coming together to create something all-encompassing.

The sound design particularly stands out (as the title might suggest) being very low-key but highlighting what it needs to without resorting to the grand sweeping orchestrations or stereotypically ethnic sounds a lesser director might.

Silence - Liam Neeson

Neeson

This allows the visuals, which range from the rusticity beautiful to the genuinely brutal, to really stand out and strike in a way that is never melodramatic, giving the whole thing a sense of realism that is really absorbing.

While Liam Neeson’s appearance feels something like an extended cameo in the mould of his turns as Qui-Gon Jin in The Phantom Menace or Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins (just a little more serious) and Adam Driver brings an impressive intensity to Padre Francisco Garupe, it is Andrew Garfield who owns the film.

Garfield, as Padre Sebastião Rodrigues, is the film’s centre and really, despite the historical themes surrounding him, it is his journey that is the central plot.

We watch him struggle with his faith both physically and psychologically in a way that is (for the most part) brilliantly understated but gradually works its way into a truly effective and effecting place that shows a side to him I honestly never thought possible based on his pair of outings as Spider-Man (an unfair comparison I realise, but it makes the point).

Silence - Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson

Garfield and Neeson

While I’m not sure the film effected me on the spiritual level that it would Scorsese, or indeed anyone of a more religious or spiritual bent, Silence is a genuinely impressive piece of cinema.

It both manages to capture a period of history I knew not as much about and also allows space for a very real feeling story to be told without resorting to typical over the top cinematic tricks to manipulate its audience or rushing to explain every last thing, meaning it will likely sit in the back of my mind for a good while to come.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 posterWhen James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was released in 2014 it was a breath of fresh air in a rapidly expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe that was already beginning to grow somewhat stale.

Now, three years later, its sequel has appeared with far more anticipation and again the hope that it would help add something new to the now apparently inescapable MCU juggernaut.

From the start Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is very much more of the same as Gunn, once again in the director’s chair, subverts standard action movie expectations as a big action scene takes place as the background to a dance sequence from Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) accompanied by yet another nostalgia heavy musical choice.

While this is all fine and entertaining it sets up something that becomes a bit of a frustration, particularly in the first half of the film. The use of vintage pop songs and irreverent punchlines was a highlight of the first movie but here they often seem a bit too forced and it almost as if nothing can happen without a joke being thrown in at the end.

guardians of the galaxy vol 2 - baby groot

Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel)

Some of these are great but some miss the mark and it starts to feel like Gunn is feeling the need to live up what was most notable about the first film (something that looks to have spread to not only the new Thor film Ragnarok but also the upcoming DC superhero mash-up Justice League, judging by the trailers).

Because of this the first half of the film does drag somewhat, despite a few perfectly serviceable action sequences, as it takes a while for the story to really get going as we are reintroduced to the Guardians and their particular corner of the galaxy, along with a vague maguffin about stolen batteries.

Once Ego arrives though things do pick up.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 - Kurt Russell - Ego 2

Ego, The Living Planet (Kurt Russell)

Played by Kurt Russell in a way that is at once one of the film’s biggest 80s nostalgia trips and a genuinely effective character, Ego is something of a rare thing in Marvel’s films of feeling like something a bit different.

Known as ‘The Living Planet’ he expands on the more sci-fi end of the MCU in both visual and character terms and there are some genuinely impressive moments focussing on him that do a great job of translating comic book ‘splash page’ style imagery onto the big screen.

While this leads to a big smash bang action sequence as is the Marvel standard, the connections between the characters, old and new, give this something a little different to keep it interesting enough, if not truly ground breaking.

Much like the first film one of its strong points is in the design of the MCU extraterrestrial world.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 - Chris Pratt

Peter Quill, aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt)

With ships clearly strongly influenced by artist Chris Foss and a somewhat psychedelic sense to its space-scapes it builds in what was set up first time round as well as in the Thor and Doctor Strange films and suggests the upcoming Avengers films that it would seem will focus on Thanos have the chance of some epic visuals.

Laced through with cameos and a strong sense of 1980s nostalgia Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 may be not feel as fresh as its predecessor and be hampered by trying to live up to its own hype, but is entertaining and really picks up in the second half to be one of the better films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I think this is helped by still being totally separate to the ongoing Avengers saga it seems destined to collide with sooner rather than later and having a solid directorial vision from Gunn (who has already been announced as directing the third Guardians film) rather than the often slightly too homogenised feel of the rest of the series.

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Star Trek: Insurrection

Star Trek Insurrection posterThere is a famous theory about Star Trek movies that if it is an even-numbered ‘episode’ it will be good and if it is odd-numbered it will be less so, to an extent The Wrath of Kahn, The Search For SpockThe Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country and First Contact demonstrate this as being true.

Approaching Star Trek: Insurrection, the ninth instalment in the cinematic series, then my hopes were not high, based on the rule and my vague memories from seeing it in the cinema back in 1998. This was not aided by the opening credits stating that this one was directed by Jonathan Frakes, aka Commander William Riker.

The story of the film concerns two opposing alien races and what appears to be a kind of ‘fountain of youth’ type maguffin and the crew of the Enterprise have to sort things out. This is a fairly standard sounding plot for Star Trek, and it feels like it; though normally this would be one of the more disposable weekly 45 minute episodes rather than an hour and forty minutes of film time.

To try to make it seem bigger a few extra twists are thrown into the tale which largely just serve to over complicate the story in a totally unsatisfactory way so any revelations simply fall flat at best or at worst just make no sense at all.

Star Trek insurrection - Picard

Captain Picard (Stewart) has a ‘humourous’ encounter

Away from the story, which incidentally is entirely self-contained and strangely distant from the ongoing Dominion War raging in the then ongoing TV series Deep Space Nine, the entire production of the film just feels a little off.

The script is riddled with moments that appear to be adding a lighthearted air to proceedings but sit entirely at odds with the rest of the story while also being totally out of character for these very well established parts and the apparent internal explanation never quite rings true.

Added to this is the fact that Frakes direction makes the whole thing feel just like a bad episode of a TV show. At the time when Deep Space Nine was starting the development of the television series into the sort of thing it has become now with the likes of Game Of Thrones, this film feels more like a relative of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, just without being an intentional spoof.

Star Trek Insurrection - F Murray Abraham as Ru'Afo

F Murray Abraham as the forgettable villain Ru’Afo

It also seems Frakes and the writers felt the need to include a clumsily handled side plot about Riker’s beard which is simply surplus to any requirements, while another romantic entanglement for Picard just feels like repetition of several similar threads from the past – neither have the weird presence of William Shatner to pull off these sub-Kirk shenanigans.

To their credit it looks like the actors are having a good time doing something a bit more lighthearted than their previous cinematic efforts but with the script failing them so badly even the usually reliable Patrick Stewart is left with little and so hams it up a treat and little else.

Meanwhile the usually reliably Brent Spiner as Data is also left floundering with little that really fits his character and it seems the recently bereaved Worf (Michael Dorn) has just been crowbarred in and reset to his role at the end of The Next Generation TV series with barely a mention of his ongoing exploits.

Star Trek Insurrection - Riker and Troi

Riker (Frakes) loses his trademark beard thanks to Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis)

In the end of course all is sorted out and the status quo remains after a less than exhilarating battle both in space and on planet making Star Trek: Insurrection undeniably continuing proof of the evens and odds rule for the series and, while it may not be as bad as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, it is probably a close second for worst Trek movie.

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Beau Cinema #CriticsChoice: The Manchurian Candidate

Beau CinemaHaving been revamped a couple of years ago to give Guernsey audiences a chance to see current releases on a bigger screen the cinema in Beau Sejour Leisure Centre, dubbed Beau Cinema, has recently branched out to present a (hopefully ongoing) season of films slightly away from the mainstream under the banner of #CriticsChoice.

Following an opening pair of recent releases Train To Busan and Nocturnal Animals (both of which I sadly missed) they headed into classic territory with John Frankenheimer’s Cold War thriller, The Manchurian Candidate.

Before the film #CriticsChoice curator, Wynter Tyson, who has been involved with various cinema events in the past including the local Sarnia Shorts film festival, gave a brief introduction to the film giving a little context to not just the time of its release but also its place within the career of director John Frankenheimer as part of a trilogy of films dealing with paranoia.

The Manchurian Candidate - 1962 posterAnd so onto the film.

Released in 1962, we are dropped straight into the Korean War ten years earlier where we meet a platoon of American soldiers led by Major Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra) and see them taken prisoner by a band of Chinese/Soviet troops.

From there we cut to a number of years later as the American soldiers appear to have escaped from captivity and returned home thanks to the heroics of Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) and he is awarded the Medal of Honor, but all, of course, is not quite how it appears.

From the start Frankenheimer takes the story by Richard Condon and uses fabulous cinematic technique to slowly build a creeping sense of claustrophobia.

Throughout there’s a sense that we are either voyeurs spying on the characters or, as it goes on, trapped in metaphorically tight spaces with them. Even when we head to New York’s Central Park or Madison Square Garden arena there is the feeling of being oppressed and enclosed.

This is predominantly done with the use of startlingly tight close-ups which is particularly effective on the big screen.

The Manchurian Candidate - Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey

Sinatra and Harvey

Also spectacular are the nightmare sequences which are pure cinematic magic in the best of ways, all done very simply but genuinely tense, terrifying and confusing in a good way.

Along with this are some excellent performances. Harvey is excellent as the initially standoffish Shaw who gradually grows across the film before leading to something convincingly unnerving in the genuinely thrilling denouement.

Sinatra meanwhile gives a surprisingly fragile performance, while retaining something of the quintessential American soldier, that must be one of the earliest portrayals of a kind of post traumatic stress disorder – albeit highly fictionalised for the purposes of the plot – and he never comes across as too ‘starry’ as I thought he might.

The supporting cast are also generally very effective, particularly Angela Lansbury who is something of a revelation to see for the first time away from Murder She Wrote or Bedknobs & Broomsticks as she develops a truly unsettling and dark presence in the centre of the story.

The Manchurian Candidate - Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey

Lansbury and Harvey

The only real downside of the film Janet Leigh’s role which really only seems to serve as a slightly improbable love interest for Sinatra that never quite rings true or satisfactorily becomes a part of the wider story as it feels she at first might.

Of course a lot could be made of the film’s political side which is astonishingly relevant today, 55 years after the film’s release, given most of the headlines coming from the US, Russia, France and the U.K, and develops in a way that feels far more intense than you’d expect in the pre-JFK and pre-Watergate world, but I’ll leave that for you to find out and ponder on.

The Manchurian Candidate then is a fantastic film that uses everything cinema can to both tell a tremendous, gripping and thrilling tale and say something truly reflective of real world politics through a (vaguely) heightened filter.

The Manchurian Candidate

One of the film’s startling moments

While the audience was on the small side for this screening the chance to see something a bit different on a big screen is a great one to have and with Scorsese’s latest, Silence, lined up next in 11th May hopefully #CriticsChoice is a series of events that will continue for a long time to come.

To find out about future #CriticsChoice screenings keep an eye on the Guernsey Film Chat Facebook page

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