A Victorian thriller with rather heavy echoes of Jack the Ripper, this film struggles to rise above the murky atmosphere it weaves. And the plot itself is as dense as the low-lying London fog. But the gifted cast members make the most of the talky dialogue, drawing the audience into a twisty mystery even if it perhaps isn't as surprising as it hopes to be.
This is 1880 East London, where Inspector Kildare (Bill Nighy) has been dogged by rumours that he's "not the marrying kind", so he's given the most hopeless case in town: finding a ghostly serial killer who is staging increasingly elaborate murders. With Constable Flood (Daniel Mays) helping him, Kildare narrows the suspects down to philosopher Karl Marx (Henry Goodman), stage star Dan (Douglas Booth), novelist George (Watkins) or playwright John (Sam Reid), whose actress wife Lizzie (Olivia Cooke) is on trial for poisoning him. For some reason, Kildare becomes particularly intrigued by Lizzie's case, hoping he can get some inside information about her stage colleagues from her.
In adapting Peter Ackroyd's novel, Jane Goldman seems intent on including all of the book's gyrations and details, which can't help but make the film feel overstuffed. Plot-strands head off in every direction (including flashbacks and imagined sequences), many simply vanishing while others take turns that don't quite make sense. Even so, alert viewers will easily work out whodunit by about halfway through. Then the script waits until the very end to reveal this.
Continue reading: The Limehouse Golem Review
Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches our attention with its vivid characters and original setting. Based on real people and situations, it also rings unusually truthful in its combination of comedy and drama. It's another remarkably observant movie from Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education).
The setting is 1940s London, where the Ministry of Information has assembled a team to make movies to help with the war effort. Catrin (Gemma Arterton) is a secretary who finds herself assigned as a screenwriter, working alongside Buckley and Parfitt (Sam Claflin and Paul Ritter) to write movies for veteran actor Ambrose (Bill Nighy). When Catrin discovers a story about twin sisters who participated in the Dunkirk boatlift, she proposes it as a film idea, and soon the entire crew goes into production, adding an American soldier (Jake Lacy) to the cast to accommodate the wishes of US military allies. This annoys Ambrose, who had been hoping to play the hero himself.
Scherfig directs the film with a light touch that brings the period to vivid life and never bogs down in the intensity of wartorn Britain, recognising the reality while undermining it with brittle humour and messy romance. Catrin has an artist husband (Jack Huston) who isn't happy about her new job, and there are hints of a romantic-comedy subplot between Catrin and Buckley.
Continue reading: Their Finest Review
As in his gorgeous film Far From Heaven and TV series Mildred Pierce, filmmaker Todd Haynes tells a simple story with visual impact and thematic resonance. All three of these projects centre on characters who feel like outsiders in their societies, offering staggeringly complex roles for Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet and now Cate Blanchett. This one is also based on a Patricia Highsmith novel (published originally as The Price of Salt), so it has an added layer of underlying intensity.
The story is set in the run-up to Christmas 1952, as New York department store clerk Therese (Rooney Mara) becomes intrigued by Carol (Blanchett), a glamorous customer who seems unusually attentive. Therese finds a reason to contact her, and the two become friends despite the difference in age and class. Meanwhile, Carol is trying to extricate herself from her marriage to Harge (Kyle Chandler), who is still feeling wounded by Carol's relationship with another woman (Sarah Paulson) and threatens to use her friendship with Therese to deny custody of their young daughter. And Therese also has a nice-guy suitor in Richard (Jake Lacy), who is becoming increasingly suspicious. With all of this pressure on them, Carol and Therese make an impulsive decision to take a road trip together.
The events unfold with delicate precision, as Phyllis Nagy's script smartly allows these woman to circle around each other trying to work out how they feel. There's a gun-in-the-suitcase element that adds a bit of spark, but the real story here plays out between the lines in exquisite performances from Blanchett and Mara, who convey most of their feelings through offhanded glances and subtle gestures. This adds beautifully to the depiction of the period's repressive attitudes without ever being obvious about it, and it also reveals the deep emotions that come with feeling like you don't fit in with what society expects of you.
Continue reading: Carol Review
Nearly 20 years after Interview With the Vampire, Neil Jordan returns to the genre to breath some new life into a mythology that has grown stale, predictable and rather mopey (see Twilight). With a lively script by Buffini, Jordan creates a lushly stylish dramatic thriller that continually takes us aback with off-beat storytelling and complex characters who don't always do what we expect them to.
The story centres on mother-daughter immortals Clara and Eleanor (Arterton and Ronan), who are on the run when they arrive in a fading British seaside town. The resourceful Clara seduces the nervous Noel (Mays) so they can stay in his dilapidated Byzantium guesthouse. To earn some cash, the always resourceful Clara turns the empty rooms into a brothel. Meanwhile, Eleanor befriends the fragile young Frank (Jones) and reveals the fact that she and her mother are actually more than 200 years old and need human blood to survive. Through all of this, they're being chased by two elder vampires, the ruthless Ruthven (Miller) and the more sympathetic Darvell (Riley), both of whom share a tangled romantic past with Clara.
Unusually intelligent, the film holds our interest with an astonishing series of twists and turns plus an array of colourful characters that play on stereotypes. Holding it all together is a fairly simple plot that reveals itself in bits and pieces until the full picture comes into focus. From this point, we pretty much know what has to happen in the big finale, but watching events unfold is satisfying and sometimes both thrilling and moving.
Continue reading: Byzantium Review
Even though Charles Dickens' oft-told story is livened up with a terrific cast and sharp script, it's difficult to see anything terribly new about this BBC-produced version. Especially since it comes less than a year after their previous lavish TV production. But there are plenty of elements in this film that make it worth seeing, as the soap-style plot twists and turns through comedy and romance to its action-thriller climax.
After growing up as an orphan with his blacksmith uncle (Flemyng) and high-strung aunt (Hawkins), Pip (Irvine) is given the chance to live as a London gentleman. He's sure that his anonymous benefactor is the barmy Miss Havisham (Bonham Carter), a broken-hearted hermit he worked for as a child. And since he's still in love with her adopted daughter Estella (Grainger), he decides to use his new position in society to court her. But things don't quite go as expected, and his life takes a surprising turn when scary prison escapee Magwitch (Fiennes) latches onto Pip and begins revealing some surprising connections between all of these people.
This faithful retelling of Dickens' novel is packed with coincidences and revelations, as well as the kind of gleefully thorny rivalries that would be expected on Dallas or Downton Abbey. Overloaded with blackly comical intrigue, it's a compulsively enjoyable film that entertains us on a variety of levels as the story develops. Although director Newell (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) never tries anything too flashy. Which means that despite the high quality, the film is straightforward and perhaps unnecessary.
Continue reading: Great Expectations Review
Michael (Murphy) is a slacker who has four hours to pay back his loan shark Perrier (Gleeson) before a bounty is put out on him. On this fateful day, he teams up with his dying father Jim (Broadbent) and his neighbour Brenda (Whittaker), who accidentally gets involved in his mess. As they run around Dublin trying to stay one step ahead of the goons, as well as a couple of zealous traffic wardens, this trio is forced to examine their lives and relationships, often in the face of imminent injury.
Continue reading: Perrier's Bounty Review
Mona Lisa shares much in common with that painting. The film contains a female character who is serene, dark, and mysterious. It doesn't take a genius, however, to comprehend that the leading actress here is a lot sexier than the woman in the painting.
Continue reading: Mona Lisa Review
Continue reading: In Dreams Review
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