Here are my film reviews for January.
FILM OF THE MONTH: MOLLY’S GAME – 5*
Image Credit: eOne
Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut is nothing short of a masterpiece. The genius behind The Social Network, Steve Jobs and The West Wing brings together the stunning duo of Jessica Chastain & Idris Elba for this remarkable true story (which he also wrote, based on her book) about the life of Molly Bloom. A former Olympic-level skier who had a forced change of career and now is struggling to find her place in the world, Molly (Chastain) finds herself involved, and later organising, high-stakes gambling for Hollywood’s elite. When the FBI come knocking, Molly’s world is turned upside down as she vehemently fights for her name. Elba is wonderful as her reluctant legal counsel but it’s Jessica Chastain that simply ignites the screen, delivering a powerhouse performance full of integrity, passion and genuine heart. Molly’s Game is a gripping, exhilarating and utterly intense ride that deserves huge awards season recognition.
PITCH PERFECT 3 – 2.5*
Image Credit: Universal
The Bellas return for a third (and final) time in this disappointing send-off. The ladies get a chance to perform for the troops overseas and take part in a ‘battle of the bands’ style competition, but things don’t go to plan. The set-up is sound and there’s no denying the Bellas have never sounded better, but the film shifts focus off the performances and into a convoluted mess of a side-story involving Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) father, played by the brilliant John Lithgow. Still, Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp & Hailee Steinfeld are all great, even if the script lets down its cast. And the film is seemingly obliged to mention the name DJ Khaled every 30 seconds (and who cameos to the point of frustration).
DARKEST HOUR – 3.5*
Image Credit: Universal
Gary Oldman is stunningly transformed into Winston Churchill for Joe Wright’s intriguing but uneven biopic. With the country having lost faith in their leadership, Winston Churchill is given the nod as Prime Minister whilst Hitler’s advancements in Europe cast a foreboding shadow over proceedings. Oldman is a master of his craft and makes every scene watchable but Wright’s direction and visual style are constantly at odds with one another. Scenes not amiss in a Michael Bay film and needlessly imposing screen dates conspire to take the focus off the human interest story, which is a real shame. But Oldman is that good; he manages to transcend these shackles superbly. Solid support from Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas and Ben Mendelsohn too.
BRAD’S STATUS – 4*
Image Credit: Vertigo Releasing
Writer/director Mark White’s brilliant essay on middle-age is both relatable and fascinating. Brad (Ben Stiller) is a happily married father who is taking his son (Austin Abrams) on a college trip to see prospective schools. Whilst there, Brad finds himself questioning his own life choices while measuring himself up to successful friends, the lost ideals that haunt him and his idea of failed ambition. It’s astutely-observed and delivers character driven set-pieces that really have something to say. Throw in a stellar ensemble including Luke Wilson, Michael Sheen, Jenna Fischer and stunning newcomer Shazi Raja, and you have a great dramatic comedy with lots of heart.
THE POST – 4*
Image Credit: eOne
Steven Spielberg returns with a timely and deeply involving project that is indicative of our current troubled times. Kay Graham (Meryl Streep), the first female US newspaper publisher faces some tough choices when her editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) makes a stand against Nixon’s desire to curb the free press. Using The Washington Post, Ben and his team face the daunting proposition of being the first to break the news of leaked documents that suggest a conspiracy dating back past four presidential campaigns. Hanks and Streep are as peerless as you’d expect, and with a brilliant ensemble including Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts & Bruce Greenwood, expect this to be a big awards-season contender.
THE COMMUTER – 3.5*
Image Credit: Studiocanal
Having worked with director Jaume Collet-Serra for 4 films now, Liam Neeson once again finds himself in a bad situation. A family-man who commutes into work every day as clockwork, Michael MacCauley (Neeson) knows a few familiar faces on his train travels. One face he doesn’t know belongs to a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) who offers him a very intriguing proposition one day during his journey. Find a person who isn’t meant to be on this train and get a large cash reward. As the clock ticks, it turns out that this is a very real offer – but with very real dangers attached too. It’s a fascinating thriller that genuinely surprises throughout, with plenty of jaw-dropping moments and lots of questions to pose to its audience. When you realise the filmmakers themselves don’t know