Six time Oscar nominee Glenn Close is still yet to take home one of those famous gold statues. This veteran Hollywood actress has been recognised for her contributions to the industry before though, primarily in the 80s where she was nominated three times in consecutive years for The World According Garp (1982), The Big Chill (1983) and The Natural (1984) - then perhaps most famously for Fatal Attraction (1987) before Dangerous Liaisons a year later in 1988. Whilst her last nom was for her role as Albert Noobs in the film of the same name in 2011, her latest leading role as The Wife demands an eighth shot at the elusive crown on Sunday 24th February.
Swedish director Björn Runge brings the story of the wife (Close) of critically acclaimed author Joe Castleman, who evaluates and questions her life decisions as she travels to Stockholm after her husband is nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature. Close delivers a beautiful, powerfully nuanced and often agonisingly evasive performance in the title role.
The Wife opens with husband (Jonathan Pryce) receiving a call from the Nobel academy in Stockholm, leading him to request that his wife listens in on the landline from a separate phone to hear the wonderful news. From practically minutes in, Close delivers a meticulous portrayal of a woman knowingly eclipsed by the success of her fraudulent husband. Her character is shot almost entirely in close-up - allowing us a magnifying glass view of Close's intricate performance. Glancing deep into her eyes you notice the simultaneous swell of pain and pride, but as we hear of her husband's good news it's her reaction and emotions we are watching. The fundamentality of Close's performance is the precision and delicacy of her expressions. The objectifying title of The Wife is hugely important, as the film encapsulates the treatment of women in relationships and how men can often overlook their ambitions and aspirations.
Being an independent film The Wife is a way away from typical Hollywood glitz and glam - it's a raw, stripped back, character driven story that achieves very little visually but a lot emotionally. That's not nessarilly a criticism however, The Wife is pure, simple filmmaking that is thankfully bolstered by two knockout, heavyweight performances. A despicable tortured soul, Pryce holds his own against Close, matching her powerful, muted performance as a comparatively loud, brash and overindulged character. For any aspiring young actor, The Wife is a hidden gem that stands up with the greatest performances of 2018.
Close gives the performance of her lifetime in The Wife - a film that analyses the power of deceit, fraud and the often neglected talent of female partners in relationships. Runge has utilised two stars perfectly in his admittedly simple but effective character study. It's imperative that films like The Wife still exist, lacking the big budgets and glossy resources but allowing actors opportunities to showcase their very best abilities.
Though torture porn is his usual field of expertise, Eli Roth reins in the severed limbs and decapitated heads for Amblin Entertainment's family friendly horror The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Taking place in 1955 Michigan, a young orphan Lewis Barnavelt moves to live with his warlock uncle Jonathan. Along with the help of the witch next-door neighbour Mrs Zimmerman, they must locate a mysterious clock hidden within the walls of the house before it can bring about the end of the world.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls captures the visual bewitchment of an Amblin 80's classic, delivering an entertaining family adventure that perfectly sets the run in to Halloween. In the same creative vein as Goosebumps and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events - The House with a Clock in Its Walls combines magic with pre-teen style horror. In complete contrast to his previous work, Roth has created an extremely cute and easily digestible picture that will offer kids the thrills they require and, much to the adults dismay, the toilet humour too.
This fantasy feature works because it stands alone from any existing franchise, moreover its CG is used in very short supply. The House with a Clock in Its Walls is so visually appealing because almost everything about it is real. Jon Hutman's fantastic production design throws you into this enchanting, imaginary world - going old-school and creating atmosphere purely through set design. It's an authentic technique we rarely see used today in visual effects heavy modern Hollywood and yet it still works a charm.
Jack Black seems to be making a comeback in recent years, starring this time as off-the-wall Uncle Jonathan. Whilst this is one of his weaker roles he still relishes in Kung Fu Panda style entertainment, his bickering banter with Blanchett's Mrs Zimmerman displays a chummy dynamic between the two. Although she didn't particularly shine in Thor: Ragnarok and was massively overshadowed in Ocean's 8, in contrast to Black this is one of Blanchett's better roles for a while. She plays a cooky witch with conked-out magic and the film takes a surprisingly poignant turn when we discover the tragedy of her past. Not forgetting Owen Vaccaro - so sugary sweet as the lead boy Lewis - but luckily he won't give you tooth decay.
Being an 80's inspired flick it obtains a fairly creaky narrative which feels, by today's standards, a bit simple and unambitious. When the story ramps up and Roth deepens the post-war horror theme the film comes close to greatness but doesn't quite get there. Nonetheless, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a light hearted caper that goes back to basics in the visual department - in this house there's no trick, it's all treat.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls:
He was slimed after Ghostbusters and many assumed the twitter trolls had buried his career for good. Yet from the ashes one Paul Feig rises like a phoenix, with a new genre to his name - although what the genre is I'm afraid I really don't know. Anna Kendrick stars as eager single mum Stephanie who befriends the sexy and mysterious Emily. After Emily goes missing however, Stephanie seeks to uncover the truth behind her best friend's secret life.
Twisted to the point of self indulgence, A Simple Favour plays like an overly extravagant and trashy episode of Real Housewives, struggling hard to understand itself. After much success in the comedy scene with Bridesmaids, Spy and The Heat - Feig attempts to step outside his comfort zone and tackle a new type of film. A Simple Favour flounders undecisively between black comedy, erotic thriller and crime drama, unfortunately for Feig his latest film is two frozen margaritas short of a tonal mess. Some parts really work, some don't at all - and the film is thwarted by a yet again poor comedic timing.
The film opens very promisingly as Kendrick accounts for what happened the day Emily went missing. We then cut to the day the two mums meet, one playful exchange and two stiff drinks later they've practically become chalk and cheese best friends. Nevertheless, once the film unravels, its sharp screenplay soon turns into an exceedingly corny, glorified episode of something you'd find on day time TV. A Simple Favour loses its footing when it tries too hard to subvert your expectations; it so desperately wants to be perceived as a slick flick that it literally throws any random plot development into the mix in the hope that it will work in its favour, but this ultimately leads to an utterly ludicrous finale.
With all that being said this will be the movie that cements Kendrick as a Hollywood star. She symbolises the modern day stay-at-home-mum who throws herself into all of her son's extra-curricular activities. Appearing sanguine and composed, truthfully she's just as shady as a Stepford Wife. Using the idea of yummy mummies to craft a story of dark secrets and hidden personalities, Kendrick and Lively are two very nimble leads. For all its faults, A Simple Favour adds two shots of gin to make this adult-friendly cocktail a tad more flavoursome.
As the ironic title suggests - A Simple Favour is more than a simple movie. In truth Feig has created an incredibly bizarre feature that despite its many faults remains very interesting, whether that be good or bad. Unfortunately the film flip-flops dramatically between genres and becomes surprisingly difficult to keep up with. The near term future may be uncertain for Feig after all.
A Simple Favour:
In Prometheus and, more recently, Alien: Covenant - Ridley Scott revived the Alien franchise with gut-wrenching, bloody bravado. So 20th Century Fox clearly thought a comeback for the Xenomorph's greatest foe (no, not Ellen Ripley) would be warranted - Oh how wrong they were! With Iron Man 3 and the ever so fabulous Nice Guys under his belt, Shane Black commands the latest instalment in the Predator franchise. After a young boy inadvertently triggers the return of a Predator ship it's up to a ragtag team of ex-soldiers and a biology professor to prevent the end of the human race.
With guts, blood and mangled bodies - The Predator is shambolic in every sense of the word. If you try hard enough and imagine everything that could be wrong with a film then The Predator has the lot. Aside the fact that this slapdash - dare I say - "caper" is completely devoid of any thrill, fun or common sense, Black's trademark wise crack humour just does not blend with this silly sci-fi material. It feels as if the film has been butchered by a giant, Shane Black sized cleaver - revealing what is by a long shot the director's worst work.
Given the talent in front of and behind the camera there is simply no excuse for this abominable result. Every single actor has been hugely miscast in their role - Olivia Munn plays as a very unconvincing bilogist, Sterling K Brown casually strolls around as some sort of shady military officer and little Jacob Tremblay is completely striped of any of his credible acting talents. Moreover there isn't a noticeable trait to any character - it's as if they've each been given a big funky prop before being told "just go with it". There is no dynamism between anyone, and the film itself is just fuelled by mean-spirited alien juice. Black seems to think distasteful gags about medical conditions - specifically Tourettes and Aspergers - are for some reason funny, however he's totally oblivious as to how much his script is misfiring.
Fans of this retro 80's icon will be spectacularly let down. The Predator suffers a severe identity crisis and hasn't a clue how to take the franchise any further - so much so that it genuinely doesn't have a story to follow. So many random things happen, there's guts and gore to spare, lousy action sequences, shocking dialog and for a film that has no plot you'll soon begin to question "what the hell is actually happening?".
There's a particular scene towards the middle act where Munn's character pulls up Brown for labelling the alien species "Predator" - stating how "Predators kill their prey to survive, this is a sport's hunter". A Predator film that lessens the impact of the Predator is certainly no friend of yours. When things genuinely seem like they can't get worse, The Predator ridiculously sets up a sequel - I was just hoping, praying, begging on my hands an knees that a Xenomorph would show up, slaughter everyone and then at least the film would be over.
Hollywood's recent trilogy of Asian representations comes to a grand firework finale in Crazy Rich Asians - following the critical, commercial and especially cultural significance of Searching and The Meg. Director Jon M Chu of G.I Joe Retaliation, Step it Up 2 and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never fame - takes the challenge of visualising Kevin Kwan's New York Times Best-Selling book. Luckily for us however, Crazy Rich Asians isn't nearly half as bad as Chu's previous films. New York academic Rachel is invited to meet her boyfriend Nick's family in Singapore, blissfully unaware that they are actually multi-billionaires.
This vibrant and jaw-dropping rom-com is a milestone achievement that really does live up to the hype. Crazy Rich Asians has taken the world by storm, and judging by its lavish cinematography, authentic Chinese soundtrack and charming, all Asian cast it's no surprise why. Chu borrows from the classic, old as time rom-com formula and modernises it in a stylish, suave and spectacular manner. It has the conventional moments we've come to expect but brings us a new type of chick flick protagonist, a headstrong heroine whose decisions are both selfless and well-informed.
Constance Wu is possibly the most captivating rom-com lead since Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada. Rachel Chu is well-rounded, down to earth and extremely endearing - Wu delivers us a completely relatable, girl next door type who must keep her best poker face in a complex game of chicken with Nick's mum Eleanor Young. Chu creates a tense friction between Rachel and Eleanor as she intently seeks her approval, bringing us Mum vs girlfriend - it's a mighty face off and as these two characters butt heads you'll certainly be squirming in your seat. Crazy Rich Asians explores the pressures of family expectations and the glorification of money and wealth - setting native New Yorker Rachel against an empire of Singapore billionaires. The old money power of the Young family closes in on Rachel in true Star Wars trash compactor style - but she never backs down, and brings a sense of realism to their idealistic, isolated world.
Across the board everything works well, but perhaps nothing as wonderfully as the awe-inspiring mise-en-scène - observing Singapore almost like Woody Allen observes Manhattan. With landscape shots that will make your heart skip a beat and street food close ups that will make your mouth water, Crazy Rich Asians is a deep dive into Asian culture, never letting up on its phenomenal cinematography.
Crazy Rich Asians marks a new high for the rom-com genre, maintaining all the same charm but offering a new culture to experience it through. From its opening scene this picture is bursting full of colour, life and visual splendor. Everything about this film works, from its charming lead to its hilarious, knife-edged script that will definitely catch you off guard - Crazy Rich Asians isn't just crazy good it's an absolute must-see.
Crazy Rich Asians:
Director Bart Layton mixes fact with fiction, telling the story of four young men who audaciously attempt to steal one of the rarest books in America from their Kentucky university library. American Animals combines a crime drama with documentary segments - "This is not based on a true story" appears on the screen until the words "not based on" vanish, leaving us with a humorous sense of confusion. The happy fact though is that American Animals doesn't really know the truth either.
This quirky but simple heist movie strikes gold as it zigzags between documentary and fantasy. There are some films we see from time to time that feel unfinished, with blatantly sloppy craftsmanship, but American Animals is so well composed you simply can't ignore the talent behind the editing.
We see the real four men - played by Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Jared Abrahamson and Blake Jenner - during interviews. Often the world of fiction and reality converge, wether it be a line spoken by the "real" Spencer Reinhard becoming relevant in a scene with the imagined Spencer Reinhard, or a documentary action following through to the dramatisation. Layton hits the jackpot as his polished and sharply edited feature balances multiple different truths and weaves them into a unusual, fictional reimagining.
The four men target prized books in their university library - most specifically John James Audubon's Birds of America. From beginning to end this heist flick uses the striking imagery of the birds to reflect each of the young men - the brutal means they took to seize the book - reinforcing the film's title "American Animals". Contrastingly it's also a crime story that truthfully portrays its characters motivations - of four teenagers who simply feel they are existing without any purpose. They naively think pulling off a Hollywood movie style heist will inject their lives with a little more thrill and excitement.
There are lots of intelligent filmmaking techniques that make American Animals more than just a crime drama. Layton's bizarre spin on the biopic genre makes for a hugely entertaining and inspired flick, tossing various perspectives into one big cinematic pot of gold. The four actors make convincing versions of the real life men, even if their stories don't match up, for some odd reason...
Pinch of info
Hi I’m James - a huge welcome to my film blog! I started this site just after my 14th birthday and have been bringing you my own take on the hottest box office arrivals and many art house triumphs ever since.