Thursday, 23 January 2020

Movie Review: Joker (2019)

A mental anguish drama, Joker is a disturbing origins story infused with a dark mood.

In a dilapidating Gotham City, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) suffers from mental issues, including uncontrollable bouts of awkward laughing. He works as a clown-for-hire, and lives with his mother Penny (Frances Conroy), who speaks highly of mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen). Arthur has unrealistic hopes of a career as a stand-up comic, and admires late night television talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro).

Arthur is assaulted by a group of thugs, then budget cuts curtail the social services available to him. A colleague provides him with a gun, presumably for self defence. He meets his neighbour, single mom Sophie (Zazie Beetz), but then loses his job and sinks deeper into despair. While wearing clown makeup Arthur tangles with a group of obnoxious men on the subway, and Wayne's glib reaction to the incident sparks class warfare street protests. Arthur starts to discover shocking secrets about his mother and his past, pushing him over the edge of sanity.

The primary villain in the Batman universe receives his own background story, and Joker is a gloomy descent into despondency. Director and co-writer Todd Phillips conceives of soulless wickedness emerging as a reaction to an uncaring world filled with rampant bullying, where a fragile man like Arthur Fleck does not so much fall through the cracks as is shoved through them.

Colleagues make fun of him, goons kick him in the street, and budget cuts take away his limited opportunities for subsidized help. Unfit for any meaningful work and unable to control his embarrassing laughter to even perform as a comic, Arthur is close to unsalvageable. Once he peels away the layers of his mother's secrets and with a gun in his hand, he turns into something much more dangerous.

The joys of evil cause a rare twinkle in his eye. Arthur notices how his subway incident brings a sense of power, media attention and people to the streets. The celebrity he craves by dreaming of an appearance on the Murray Franklin show is now within reach, but along a twisted pathway littered with victims.

Arthur's gradual transformation from societal victim to murderous freak is the film's sole obsession to the exclusion of any other plot elements, and as a result all the secondary characters are thinly defined. But in the title role Joaquin Phoenix dominates, delivering a haunting performance filled with coiled intensity. He alternates between pitiful, willing and menacing, dark eyes burning with building hatred at a world singularly lacking in empathy for men like him.

Phillips freely borrows aesthetics and themes from Scorsese's Taxi Driver and The King Of Comedy as he steers Joker to several visual highlights, Phoenix physically throwing himself into statuesque posturing and scenes of urban landscape dominance through sheer presence. The costumes and make-up are chilling and build to a classic look as Joker finally introduces himself to a large television audience. The man looks funny, but he will now ensure no one else is laughing.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Movie Review: 1917 (2019)

A World War One drama, 1917 is a gripping technical achievement but lacks narrative complexity and character depth.

It's April 1917 on the front lines of the Great War in France. The German army has set a trap by partially withdrawing from advanced positions to lure the British into an ambush. With the help of aerial photography General Erinmore (Colin Firth) spots the ruse. But with the telephone lines destroyed, he turns to Lance Corporals Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Will Schofield (George MacKay) to deliver the crucial message.

It's a near-impossible mission. Blake and Schofield have a few hours to cross no-man's land, pass through the disputed town of Écoust, and reach Colonel Mackenzie of the Second Battalion, Devonshire Regiment to hand deliver a message calling off a doomed attack scheduled for dawn. The lives of 1,600 men, including Tom's brother, depend on the message getting through. With Tom fearless but Will more circumspect, the two men embark on their mission to face the horrors of a grinding war.

Featuring the simplest of storylines, 1917 is more about a sense of time and place than plot or characters. Director Sam Mendes co-wrote the script with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and constructs the film as a single, uninterrupted two hour shot. Long takes are seamlessly patched together to create the illusion, and the film brilliantly achieves a sense of real-time urgency by staying with the corporals from the first scene to the last.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins and editor Lee Smith deserve enormous credit. 1917 is a wonder of exquisite camera movement, precise timing, and fluid choreography. Many sequences are astonishing in their beautiful complexity, including a plane crash, an escape through a bombed-out town, and a manic sprint parallel to the trenches as men charge into battle and explosions rock the countryside. Through it all the relentless continuity conveys the inescapable theatre of war, enhanced by a lush Thomas Newman music score.

Along their journey Blake and Schofield witness at close quarters the consequences of large scale human devastation. The French terrain is littered with unclaimed corpses left to rot, some in expected locations but others waiting to provide the gruesome shock of the dead. Mendes does not spare the blood, gore and sheer horror of torn bodies ground into the mud or accumulating in rivers.

With the awe inspiring visuals and flamboyant construction occupying centre stage, 1917 shortchanges plot and characters. The story is a linear adventure, and despite a few surprises along the way the film essentially traverses a predetermined obstacle course between two predefined points. And other than the most basic of sketched-in personalities, Blake and Schofield remain everyman soldiers.

But despite limited human-centred warmth, 1917 offers audacious exposure to the unrelenting horrors of war.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Movie Review: Little Women (2019)

An adaptation of the classic Louisa May Alcott book, Little Women is a coming-of-age tale with a focus on women carving out identities while grappling with personal and societal expectations and economic realities.

The film unfolds non-linearly across multiple time zones and locations. In simplified form, the March sisters are from a relatively poor Concord, Massachusetts family and growing up in the shadow of the Civil War. Jo (Saoirse Ronan) is fiercely independent and an aspiring writer. Meg (Emma Watson) loves acting and is a romantic at heart. Amy (Florence Pugh) is a painter and wants to marry well. The youngest Beth (Eliza Scanlen) is a talented pianist. With their father (Bob Odenkirk) serving in the war, Marmee (Laura Dern) instills in the girls a strong sense of service and selflessness.

The Marchs are neighbours of the wealthy and kind Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper), whose grandson Theodore (Timothée Chalamet) becomes friends with the sisters and falls in love with Jo. She sets out to seek her fortune as a writer in New York, where she meets publisher Mr. Dashwood (Tracy Letts) and clashes with academic Friedrich Bhaer (Louis Garrel). Amy heads to Paris for a cultural trip with Aunt March (Meryl Streep). Meg marries a struggling tutor and starts a family. But a sickness will pull the sisters back home to confront unexpected futures.

The sixth cinematic adaptation of Alcott's novel, the 2019 version is a sprawling and ambitious effort infused with a feminist edge. Clocking in at an overlong 135 minutes, writer and director Greta Gerwig takes her time to fully define the four sisters as rounded characters, and chases down their dreams, trials and tribulations on the path to womanhood. Along the way the sisters bicker, fight and support each other, all underpinned by warm foundations of familial love.

Gerwig structures the film as a dizzying jumping exercise, restlessly bouncing between various points of history in the lives of the four sisters. As a result Little Women rarely flows, some scenes spending a matter of seconds in one time and place before the next scene leaps to somewhere else with someone else at a different time.

But the fine work of the talented cast and the investment in characters does pay off in the final third, where the sometimes scattered narrative puzzle pieces start to come together. The film achieves poignant peaks of genuine emotion built on the discrete strengths and weaknesses of the March sisters, and Gerwig presents a satisfyingly wide array of personal achievements mixed with shades of disappointments, all built on honest passion.

While the emphasis on feminism is sometimes speechy and jarring, here it means the freedom to choose a future vision to pursue, and to defend that choice. And while no two dreams are alike, the sisters pragmatically understand their future, like their past, involves compromise and is not meant to be perfect. Gerwig also places admirable emphasis on economics as an essential part of future plans. Balancing the romantic pursuit of love, marriage's role as an economic benefit emerges as a theme.

Little Women enjoys stellar production design, the film recreating interiors and exteriors of the mid to late 1800s with an easy sense of place and time. This is a period piece unafraid to march into the open, as the March sisters stride into a post-war world with every intention to help define it.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Movie Review: Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood (2019)

A comedy-drama, Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood lovingly recreates a slice of time and place but is also inexcusably flabby and lacking in narrative purpose.

In Hollywood of 1969, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is struggling to find acting work. He used to be a television western series star working with his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), but Rick failed in his attempted transition to big-screen roles. Now he is reduced to guest-starring on television shows, although agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) offers him the chance to star in Rome-filmed Spaghetti Westerns. Rick is also dealing with the ignominy of losing his driver's licence due a drinking problem, with Cliff now driving him everywhere.

Rick is neighbours with celebrated director Roman Polanski and his wife actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). She is enjoying her burgeoning stardom and spends an afternoon at the movies watching one of her recent films. Meanwhile as Rick shoots his latest television guest role, Cliff stumbles upon the hangout of the creepy Charles Manson cult at the isolated ranch of his old buddy George Spahn (Bruce Dern).

Featuring a series of vignettes rather than a cohesive plot, Quentin Tarantino writes and directs an ode to an era. 1969 is an assassination-weary inflection point as hippie idealism transitions to 1970s cynicism, with the horrors perpetuated by the Manson maniacs bringing death to the heart of Hollywood. Tarantino uses the looming threat of murder as a backdrop, but otherwise is more interested in celebrating the friendship between Rick and Cliff.

Their bond is the heart of the film, two men with their best days behind them and now confronting fading career prospects, but doing it together. Rick has good and bad moments filming the television pilot, both disappointing and surprising himself before taking a crack at the Italian movie industry. Cliff stands by his friend through thick and thin, picking up scraps of work but mostly supporting Rick because he has essentially nothing else to lean on.

Rick's struggle to accept his career trajectory is an intermittent theme. His drinking and denial get in the way of any positive initiative for transformation, although sparks of pride and talent point to a potential path towards redefinition.

The Sharon Tate chapter stands alone, and is a bittersweet and mostly dialogue-free tribute to an actress delighted by the prospect of her own success. The Manson cult menace intrudes onto both storylines starting with Cliff's visit to the Spahn Movie Ranch, the film's best scene featuring the stuntman infiltrating a twilight zone occupied by lost souls.

Tarantino prolongs the essentially plotless film to a wholly unnecessary 161 minutes. Most scenes are artificially stretched prompting a dance with tedium, and many sequences (hello Bruce Lee and Steve McQueen) are quite pointless. The quest for grandeur is misguided and frequently deflates the film's momentum.

Visually the film is drenched in stark California sunlight, and the production design is excellent in recreating Los Angeles circa 1969 without relying on digital gimmicks. DiCaprio, Pitt and Robbie occupy their roles with relaxed confidence.

The subversive climax features the usual Tarantino outburst of violence mixed with a mean streak of humour, here slightly less bloody than usual but still featuring dollops of gore. Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood expresses a genuine love for the town where movies live, but the good intentions suffer from fundamental narrative fragmentation and plenty of egotistical oversaturation.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Movie Review: Chef (2014)

A lighthearted drama, Chef explores new beginnings in the story of a once-celebrated cuisinier rediscovering his touch and reconnecting with family.

In Los Angeles, chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is being stifled by his restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman), who wants to keep the menu safe. In his personal life Carl is still on good terms with ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and tries to spend quality time with his 10 year old son Percy (Emjay Anthony). A scathing review by food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) triggers a social media war of words, and Carl loses his job.

He agrees to join Inez and Percy on a trip to Miami to recharge. The wealthy Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.), Inez's other ex-husband, agrees to bankroll Carl's venture into the food truck business, selling Cuban sandwiches. With the help of his friend and sous-chef Martin (John Leguizamo) and with Percy tagging along, Carl launches the food truck and embarks on a multi-city cross-country trip back to California.

When early career momentum stalls and early promise buzz evolves into middle age compromise, a fork in the road offers alternatives. Writer and director Favreau places his lead character at the decision point and allows him to flounder. With plenty of close-up shots of food being prepared (tantalizing or boring, depending on appetite and food porn tolerance), Chef is a mostly buoyant study of a career reset assisted by friends and family.

Despite the potentially weighty subject matter the film sidesteps excessive displays of dramatic emotion in favour of some comic highlights, mostly stemming from Carl bumbling into a career-ending social media storm. The film otherwise rides a comfortably fun vibe, the better-than-usual relationship between Carl and ex-wife Inez adding a welcome ray of hope that not all failed relationships need to end in acrimony.

The second half is essentially a food truck summer travelogue, Carl reconnecting with Percy as they establish the Cubano business driving from Miami back to Los Angeles. While a few conflict points spark between father and son, again Favreau steers Chef towards genial fare, Carl building a strong bond by passing on his love of cooking to Percy, while the ten year old takes charge of an effective online marketing campaign.

The high-powered but small supporting cast seems to be having a good time. Scarlett Johansson features in the first half as Carl's confidant and the hostess at Riva's restaurant, but then disappears. Dustin Hoffman and Oliver Platt get two scenes each, Robert Downey Jr. just one, and overall Favreau conveys a sense of buddies pulling together to create a small but pleasant movie on both sides of the camera. No doubt they all also enjoyed good food while on set.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Movie Review: Short Term 12 (2013)

A social drama, Short Term 12 explores the world of troubled young adults with mature awareness.

In Los Angeles, Grace (Brie Larson) and Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) are supervisors at the Short Term 12 group home for troubled teenagers, and help rookie supervisor Nate (Rami Malek) settle in. Not much older than the young adults they look after, Grace and Mason are in a relationship, although she has trouble expressing her feelings and talking about her own troubled past. When she finds out she is pregnant, Grace initially schedules an abortion, but later confides in Mason.

The residents include Marcus (Lakeith Stanfield), who is gloomy as he approaches his 18th birthday. Sammy (Alex Calloway) is deeply insecure, has fits of screaming and often attempts to escape. Luis (Kevin Hernandez) is cocky and spends most of his time antagonizing Marcus. 15 year old Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) is a new arrivee with a sour attitude, claiming her dad will take her home for the weekend. Grace tries to reach out and establish a connection with Jayden, as she senses a common background drawing them together.

The continuum between caregiver and care receiver, and the firm tenderness and intelligent empathy required to manage teens going through traumas, are weighty topics for a movie to address. Director and writer Destin Daniel Cretton tackles the difficult terrain with a firm hand and credible sensitivity, and the independently produced Short Term 12 emerges as a remarkably confident and memorable effort. Running an efficient 96 minutes, the film stays within itself as an individual-scaled snapshot of humans in transition.

Cretton draws compelling characters and slowly reveals their internal struggles. Grace emerges as the heart of the film, a woman not far removed from her own agonies, now doing her best to steer teenagers to calmer waters. Brie Larson delivers a breakthrough performance surfacing Grace's dichotomy of a strong desire to help others coexisting with an inability to confront her own past.

Grace is inexorably drawn to provide the support that she never received. She sees a version of herself in Jayden, who at 15 years old is an expert in pushing everyone away as a defence mechanism and is still living in the shadow of an unstated horror. Kaitlyn Dever teases out hints of Jayden's vulnerability while building her sturdy emotional resilience with surly postures.

Cretton is interested in the troubled teenagers as tragic symptoms of multiple social ills. In a heartbreaking scene, Marcus recounts his childhood story and the resultant rage within him through rap lyrics. But here both the kids and the horrors they are escaping hide in plain sight. The film features sparse and realistic sets, capturing a modest and mostly nondescript aesthetic. Short Term 12 is just a large house with multiple rooms, and from the outside most resembles a school campus.

And once they cross the threshold of 18, the kids age out of the system and are essentially on their own, a prospect causing Marcus enormous stress. The number ticks over, but the scars run deep and the vulnerabilities continue well into adulthood, as Grace knows only too well.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Movie Review: Marriage Story (2019)

A family drama, Marriage Story is a hard look at a divorce case dissolving from amicable to hostile.

The marriage of Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) Barber is falling apart and heading for a divorce. He is the director of a small but well-regarded New York City theatre company. She is his star actress, having give up a possible movie career. They have an 8 year old son Henry, who still prefers a parent to sleep next to him and is late in learning to read.

Nicole now perceives Charlie as self-absorbed and neglectful of her career. She relocates to Los Angeles, taking Henry with her, and starts filming a television pilot. Although they had promised not to use lawyers, Nicole hires the high-powered Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern) and files for divorce. Charlie is shocked, and counters by hiring the laid-back Bert Spitz (Alan Alda). The custody battle hinges on whether the family is based in Los Angeles or New York, and through the legal process all the irritations between the couple come flooding out.

Although Marriage Story is far from original, it is earnest and elevated by sincere performances. Director and writer Noah Baumbach revisits terrain he already traversed in The Squid And The Whale (2005), and earlier made familiar by films like Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and A Cool Dry Place (1998).

The focus this time is on the disruptive and expensive impact of aggressive lawyers in the domestic break-up. From the moment Nora sinks her hooks into Nicole, the divorce trajectory turns from a tentative drift to a swelling avenue of bitterness, with the lawyers the only beneficiaries. Baumach's script allows the depth of Nicole's unhappiness to be revealed in layers, and perhaps her reaching out to Nora was suppressed resentment bursting forth.

The issues generated by Charlie's ego and Nicole's unheralded sacrifice festered for years, and are now exposed in long dialogue scenes. Some work better than others. Nicole revealing the marriage's history to Nora in a long take is simply captivating, with Johansson mesmeric. Later the couple's attempt at civil discourse turns into a emotional shouting match and does not quite land, Driver willing but not quite able to convey the intended anguish.

Laura Dern makes a sharp impression as a barracuda in high heels. Ray Liotta gets a couple of scenes as the legal weapon Charlie considers using for the battle ahead.

A few moments of humour are sprinkled throughout the drama, but Baumbach allows the film to creep to an astonishing 136 minutes. The Los Angeles vs. New York debate drags on for far too long, and a knife incident is a needless distraction. A couple of wholly unnecessary songs add to the tedium.

Sifting through the debris of a once happy union, Marriage Story conveys the unfortunately all-too-common pain and sorrow of breaking up, made much worse by lawyers smelling profit.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: 27 Dresses (2008)

A romantic comedy, 27 Dresses lines up and knocks down all the genre's predictable fundamentals in a story of woman learning to look after her own needs.

In New York City, super-organized Jane Nichols (Katherine Heigl) is always invited to be the maid of honour and efficiently helps her many friends pull together their weddings. Caring and selfless, she helped raise her sister Tess (Malin Åkerman) when their mother died at a young age. Now Jane harbours a secret crush on her clueless boss George (Edward Burns).

While helping out at two different weddings on the same night, Jane meets Kevin Doyle (James Marsden), who covers weddings for the New York Journal but is himself cynical about romance and the institution of marriage. Flirty Tess blows into town and immediately sets her sight on seducing George, while Jane rejects Kevin's overtures to start a relationship.

Writer Aline Brosh McKenna penned the exquisite The Devil Wears Prada, so 27 Dresses is a particular disappointment. This Katherine Heigl vehicle is a strictly formulaic rom-com as Jane stumbles to find herself and prioritize seeking her own happiness.

The moments of humour are bland, with sidekick Casey (the ever dependable Judy Greer) providing the typical caustic comments from the best friend vantage point. The romance elements are cold, Jane pining for a relationship with her boss George when he is clearly not interested, while ignoring Kevin who clearly is.

The contrived conflicts arrive courtesy of the forward Tess, who unlike her sister goes out and gets what she wants. A tangential subplot about Kevin writing a long piece about the always-bridesmaid Jane for his newspaper is used to cause the usual rift between would-be lovers, but is really an excuse for a montage featuring Heigl posing in the titular 27 dresses.

Director Anne Fletcher brings enough polish if not pizazz to the film, Heigl is dependable if vaguely disengaged, and 27 Dresses provides just enough talent to maintain a base level of interest. But a bursting wardrobe does not make a movie, and 27 Dresses needed fewer garments and much more edge.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Movie Review: Tropic Thunder (2008)

A satire about actors and their rampant self-admiration, Tropic Thunder is vulgar, bloody and hilarious.

Five actors are part of an expensive crew on location to shoot Tropic Thunder, a Vietnam war epic based on the memoirs of veteran Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte).
  • Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) is a fading action movie star with one last chance to salvage a career. 
  • Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) is a low-brow comedian and heroin addict looking for respect. 
  • Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) is an award-winning method actor who has undergone revolutionary skin darkening surgery to play a black soldier. 
  • Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson) is a rapper and energy drink promoter attempting to launch an acting career.  
  • Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel) is a relatively new actor, and the only one who has bothered to read the book or the script.
The director is Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan), and he has trouble keeping all the egos in check. Cody (Danny McBride) is the explosives expert, and thanks to Cockburn incompetence detonates a massive explosion when the cameras are not rolling. Back in Hollywood, Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey) is Tugg's agent, keen to ensure his star has what he needs to survive the jungle ordeal, while studio boss Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) is worried about his investment.

To toughen up the actors Cockburn agrees with Tayback's suggestion to drop them deep in the jungle with no support and film with hidden cameras. But the chosen location is in the Golden Triangle, where the vicious Flaming Gang runs a heroine operation. As the actors wander into the danger zone, Tugg still believes they are filming a movie, but Kirk starts to suspect something is very wrong.

An almost miraculous combination of action, comedy, gore and satire, Tropic Thunder grabs a movie-within-a-movie premise and squeezes hard. Director Ben Stiller wrote the screenplay with Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen, and they take direct aim at directors, producers and agents within their own industry, but skewer actors with particular venom.

And the film is a spectacular spoof made successful thanks to relatively sharp writing and a terrific cast in top form. Robert Downey Jr. stands out and deserves credit for taking a potentially disastrous blackface construct and selling it as the epitome of method acting. His Kirk Lazarus stays in characters no matter what is happening in the jungle, spouting inane lines about performance art and scoring the film's biggest laughs.

The other unforgettable role is Tom Cruise as producer Les Grossman, screaming scatalogical threats down phone lines and then pulling off legendary dance movies while concocting an evil plan to turn a turkey into a monetary windfall.

Tropic Thunder also features surprisingly effective action scenes, and in classic war movie fashion these are interspersed with character interactions to build up depth. The conversations are often debates as to whether the stranded actors are in a real or make-believe conflict zone, and the surreal topic provides a suitably ridiculous basis to tease out the various personalities, often wracked with deep-seated insecurities or on the verge of full-out panic.

The humour is a combination of lewd, cringy and disgusting with a large dollop of severed body parts, and remarkably, most of it works.

Equal parts obnoxious and fearless, Tropic Thunder is a preposterous explosion.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Ace Black's List: The 10 Best Movies Of 2016

More than 80 movies from 2016 have been reviewed on the Ace Black Blog. Here are the 10 Best:

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan.
Starring Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler.
A drama about re-engaging with life as ordinary people grapple with private battles in a world of broken families, broken dreams and lives drifting sideways. Full review.

Directed by Mel Gibson.
Starring Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Hugo Weaving and Vince Vaughn.
A war epic based on real events and the stunning story of a conscientious objector who found his purpose on a tortuous field of battle. Presents a harrowing close-up vision of war and its destructive impact on bodies and souls. Full review.

Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig.
Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, and Haley Lu Richardson.
A high school drama and comedy deftly exploring the world of teenagers where every emotion is heightened, friendships are sacrosanct, crises escalate quickly and viable options appear limited. Full review.

Directed by Colm McCarthy.
Starring Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close.
A zombie apocalypse thriller offering intellectual horror in a dystopian setting, progressing towards thought-provoking but blood-soaked territory and raising questions about who deserves to live, and why. Full review.

Directed by John Madden.
Starring Jessica Chastain, Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Michael Stuhlbarg.
A spirited political thriller and electrifying talkfest featuring a classic battle for control over one of the most heated issues in politics. Full review.

Directed by David Mackenzie.
Starring Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Gil Birmingham.
A rural heist drama with plenty of soul exploring an us-versus-them psyche where resentment justifies audacious lawlessness, and both good and evil can knowingly reside in the same hearts. Full review.

Directed by Sean Ellis.
Starring Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Charlotte Le Bon, and Anna Geislerová.
A World War Two action drama and a stellar retelling of the assassination attempt on Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich. Exquisitely constructed to capture the characters, emotions and frightful consequences of a seminal yet controversial mission. Full review.

Directed by Tom Ford.
Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
A social drama with an embedded crime and revenge thriller, the film features a complex narrative structure effortlessly unfolding through gripping interlinked stories. Full review.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Stuhlbarg.
A low-key alien-contact film wielding enormous power, transcending the genre and transforming the mystery of communication into a private and yet monumental journey. Full review.

Directed by Damien Chazelle.
Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, and Rosemarie DeWitt.
A loving homage to the classic Hollywood musicals and the town that created them, combining pragmatism with an infusion of magic, grounded in the reality of modern careerism and a city that promises bright lights but at a price. Full review.

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