The Equalizer 2 *****

The Equalizer 2 is the first time Denzel Washington has ever made a sequel movie, having never received a script that held up the quality of the first incarnation.  This indicates to me that he had confidence that the script, director and production of this film would at least be as good, if not better that the first.

Was he right?

With a big sigh of relief, yes he was.

This is a brilliant thriller, with twists and turns, plots and intrigue, to satisfy this actor’s fan.  A bad or even poor Denzel Washington film is very hard to think of.  I failed while writing this review.

The opening scene is worthy of a Bond, not for the action (of which there is plenty) but for the surprise and cleverness.  This continues through the film to the very last scene.

I have often complained about the lack of originality in sequels but that is not a problem here.  We get a good understanding of the man, his history and his moral compass.  All this while restores good into the world for the weak and some measure of revenge for him-self.

I loved this film, physically excited and emotionally delighted throughout. The full 5 stars out of five and fingers crossed for another instalment from The Equalizer.

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Deadpool 2 ***

The foul-mouthed, super-sarcastic, hero returns in Deadpool 2.

We are given more of the same knowing banter with the audience and ultra violent, consequence free action that seemed so fresh the first time around.

Being unencumbered by not having to tell an origin story, it is straight into the mayhem that has become routine in most of this genre of movie.

This is lightened by the wit and wisdom of the moral free hero.

It is still frequently funny with plenty of ‘did he just say that’ moments to make the film enjoyable but not to the level of the original film.

Sadly the originality of the character now turns predicable and, at times, very strained.

It you enjoyed the first outing, you will probably enjoy this, but not for the first time viewer I am sorry to say.

Down to just 3 stars out of five.

Red Sparrow ***

Red Sparrow is a very contemporary play set against the rising threat of Russian expansionism. The cold war of old has been re-kindled but old spy craft is still a primary tool used against the West.

Enter Jennifer Lawrence as one of the nails used by the Russian hammer against, in this case, the Americans.

The story continues with great pace and gusto that gives the initial impression of being an exciting and gripping story. However, this is no Le Carré or Deighton story. There is no light and dark in the characters. The bad guys are all super-bad and the good guys could almost be wearing white hats.

The viewer is kept guessing about the true motivations of Miss Lawrence’s character till the end, but you can see within the early scenes who is going to lose the most.

Red Sparrow 2On top of this plot is laid a visual assault of violence, gore and sex that is unprecedented in my experience in the legitimate cinema. Many scenes were bordering on the pornographic both in violence and nudity.

This may be artistically justifiable, indeed the presence of several A-List actors would indicate they felt it was justified, but not for me.

This would have benefited from clearer story telling, deeper characterisation and less visual exploitation.

Just 3 out of five stars.

 

The Shape Of Water ****

The Shape of Water is an adult fairy tale, of monsters and lovers, sacrifice and hatred.

We are taken to the post WW2 anti-communist paranoid America, coloured with a dark palate, giving an impression of an old gothic horror.

Emotions are all ramped up to the maximum with no time for nuance or subtlety.

Thankfully the plot moves quickly as a result and the 2 hour 3 minute duration flies as quickly.

This film is probably the director Guillermo Del Toro’s best work (I haven’t seen them all so cannot be certain).

The performances by actors Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Doug Jones are all excellent.

I would particularly pick out Doug Jones who inhabits the central creature around which the story revolves. He brings the full range of emotions to his character without benefit of language, purely by his body language, which shines through his latex prosthetic body. (You may have seen him recently in Star Trek: Discovery, similarly cloaked in alien costume.)

As the story reached the ultimate and predictable conclusion, I felt this to have been a satisfying experience.

This will not be everybody’s cup of tea; indeed I resisted seeing it until after its Bafta success.

It is well worth 4 out of five stars.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri *****

Three Billboards is an intriguing tale about a mother unable to come to terms with the murder of her daughter and the failure of the local police to solve the crime.

We are given a brief history of the offence and the events surrounding it but, the true story is about a mothers drive for justice and what that costs her and her remaining family.  The title refers to the method she chooses to put a firework under the local sheriff after 7 months of apparent inaction.

Casual violence and abuse of authority punctuates the various intertwined family histories to give a grim picture of modern day life in the southern United States.  Life in rural Missouri is dominated by casual extreme violence, racial and gender hatred, abuse of power and ignorance.

The performances throughout this film are very belieable.  The three lead actors, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, will be recognised from their previous films and television roles but their combined performances are so good you totally see them as the characters.

By the end of the film there is redemption for some and sadness for others.  Nobody leaves this tale unscarred by the events.

A remarkable and enjoyable film worth 5 out of five stars.

Breathe *****

This is another British period drama carrying the BBC Films and other respected logos.

It has all the cinematic beauty that you could wish for, ranging from middle class England to the coffee plantations of the African rift. The cars and costumes are sumptuous. The script is delivered like butter on a warm crumpet.   The acting, by many of our finest younger stars, is convincing.

You are made to feel the heartbreak and pain of the protagonists and supporting cast. Delicious.

The story weaves the struggles of a whole family in a battle with Polio, a once common but now thankfully almost eradicated disease. As it reaches its inevitable conclusion, we can reflect on the benefits to the whole world from that family’s troubles. This converts a tragedy into a victory worthy of recording in this film.

This film is the debut for Andy Serkis as a director, boding well for his future projects.

A very solid 5 out of five stars.

 

The Death of Stalin ****

The Death of Stalin has bee created by Armando Iannucci and David Schneider.  You can expect the foul language and biting dark humour of Iannucci’s various television projects for which he is MV5BMTcxMDc1NjcyNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDU0NDYxMzI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_famous.

A large cast of recognisable actors inhabit the characters at the top of Russians political and military hierarchy.   These include Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambour, Michael Palin and Paul Whitehouse.

The events before and after the death of Stalin are treated as a pantomime of opposing ambitions, jealousy and incompetence. However, custard pies are replaced by copious numbers of executions. Running in parallel are stories of families torn open by divisions, massacres and exploitation.

On top of this is the paranoid fear of Stalin that is ingrained into the population, from politicians to musicians and housekeepers who looked after him.  This is made believable by not making the actors adopt stereotypical Russian accents.  Their natural voices are used to great effect to portray the mix of regions they came from within Russia.  It also makes the cacophony of arguing voices easier to follow.

In our age of less than conventional politicians, it is only too easy to suspect the events as shown in this film, may be underplaying the reality of what really happened when Stalin died.

This is a well made political satire.  Four out of five stars awarded.