AN EMPIRE OF WORDS


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The Levelling (2017)

I never knew that a film that entirely took place on a farm could be so gripping. The Levelling is Hope Dickson Leach’s first feature and it’s quite a remarkable piece. There is a certain realisation of talent she possesses with her first feature.

Aside from a few dog walks, the film take places entirely on the grounds of the farm where Clover (Ellie Kendrick) grew up whilst not at boarding school. But what Hope Dickson Leach managed to do was create a realistic feeling that you were there on the farm with her and her father, but using the natural sounds around the farm.

Clover comes back to the farm for her brother’s funeral, after it transpired that he shot himself during a party. Clover cannot get the story straight and there is a clear resentment towards her father, whom she refers to as Aubrey (David Troughton), rather than the usual pleasantries. Instead of having the film adhere to that one narrative, Hope Dickson Leach decided to interplay the story surrounding the out of favour farm and her brother’s death as well.

The night in question was supposed to be a celebration, as Clover’s brother Harry (Joe Blakemore) was taking over the farm, but it ended in tragedy. Clover tries to address the issue surrounding his death whilst Aubrey and James (Jack Holden) try to downplay and dance around the issue.

This is where the narrative is head and shoulders above majority of films today, as the tragedy of Harry is pointed to and displayed right out in front of our eyes, but rather in the reactions from James, Aubrey and Clover. Their conversations are disjointed, but the nuanced movements between the characters really accentuate the story that is behind this.

Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling is incredibly moving and doesn’t rely on any strong visual effects, but rather the powerful story and characters throughout the 83-minute runtime. It’s shorter than I anticipated, but this is irrelevant due to the fact that you become wrapped up in Clover’s story.

That’s not to say that Hope Dickson Leach manages to create some beautiful shots of the English countryside, especially as the birds dance against the greying overcast skies. This adds to the reality that Hope Dickson Leach is trying to convey with the setting being in the countryside.

And this reality is conveyed through Aubrey and Clover as well, with their British mentality. Although the farm is drastically failing, they continue to work throughout the day and milk the cows. Clover falls into this routine, whilst trying to tie up loose ends surrounding the events that brought her home.

But these are real characters that are unfolding on the screen and it becomes incredibly moving as they try to negotiate a way to talk to each other and not be at each others throats night and day. The small knit cast works, as their conversations, or lack of, are the key to this film as Clover finds herself in a place she doesn’t want to be anymore.

It’s a strange film to try and review, because of the calibre of The Levelling. It is best to let Hope Dickson Leach’s directorial debut do the talking, because it can certainly walk the walk. Ellie Kendrick is the centrepiece of this and she is just fantastic in this as she tries to come to terms with her brothers death and also reconcile with her estranged father. The Levelling is a film of true brilliance and really emotes empathy in a strong way. A gem truly worth seeking out.


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Mindhorn (2017)

One of the biggest things that attracted me to Mindhorn was the casting of the Mighty Boosh pairing of Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby. The trailers had me in fits of laughter everytime and it just looked brilliant with Julian at the helm.

Brilliantly the story seemed very simple (which stemmed from a idea by Simon Farnaby) as an old washed-up television detective helps real detectives bring justice. Of course, you just know that Richard Thorncroft (Julian Barrett) is going to be completely inept and if anything, an hindrance to the police.

So why is he helping them?

Well, the accused killer Paul Melly (Russell Tovey) believes Detective Mindhorn to be real. The set up is brilliant, especially as the opening sequence shows Richard Thorncroft severing all ties with the Isle of Man as he exclaims he is off to Hollywood.

Fast-forward to the present day and he is extremely rotund, balding and struggling for work. He reluctantly returns to his old stomping ground to try and help bring justice, but that’s not without scorn from the locals remembering his departure.

Richard Thorncroft soon becomes the butt of the joke as he tries to keep it together and continue the air of arrogance that he possesses, although he is effectively washed up. He interacts with his former co-stars including Pete Eastman (Steve Coogan) who played Windjammer (a now 16-season successful show) and his stuntman Clive (Simon Farnaby) who is now shacking up with Patricia Deville (Essie Davis) who has become a lead journalist for Manx News.

Mindhorn slowly slips into becoming a run of the mill comedy, as Richard becomes Mindhorn once more to try and bring justice to the Isle of Man. But this doesn’t happen without mishaps, as one would expect with Julian Barrett at the helm of this film.

The use of the Isle of Man begins to work; because it becomes a film where there is a feeling that everyone knows everyone, which leads to more comedy at the expense of Richard Thorncroft. The characters throughout the 89 runtime aren’t exactly the most concrete, especially as Richard has the run-of-the-mill epiphany about his life. But it’s not necessary for film like Mindhorn to have the most engaging plot or characters, as long as it keeps you laughing.

And it does. As I mentioned majority of the comedy is situational and at the expense of Richard Thorncroft, but it works, especially as he continues to carry himself through his interactions with the locals and his former co-stars. Unfortunately, majority of the bigger laughs were kept in the trailers, and as it got to these points, I had already seen the sequence numerous times.

The narrative as I mentioned isn’t the most engaging, but has enough to keep the pace of the film chugging along the 89 minute runtime as everything isn’t quite as it seems on the Isle of Man. Mindhorn is quite enjoyable and continues to have laughs throughout, which is what is needed for a film of this calibre.

I was expecting the comedy to be a bit more oddball, but thankfully it didn’t go down that route and stayed under its own influence. Julian Barrettt does channel his Howard Moon character in certain sections, but nothing to move Mindhorn into the realms of the Boosh. It’s of perfect length, especially as the film is a comedy, anything longer would’ve been a detriment to the film. For a good laugh, Mindhorn is top.


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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)

As soon as Guy Ritchie’s name pops up for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, it immediately becomes clear what we’re in for. But that isn’t a bad thing. But who better to make a legendary English tale, and turn it into a cockney-themed battle of wits?

I knew little about the story of Arthur, other than him pulling a Excalibur from the stone and becoming king of England. So I was quite excited to see what other elements Ritchie was going to include and do with this film. And what better way to open the film with an incredibly fun action sequence.

Arthur’s father home of Camelot is laid to waste by the fearful mage Mordred, as the balance between the humans and the mages is demolished. In the aforementioned glorious action sequence, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) beheads Modred to save his kingdom. In the aftermath of the battle, Uther is betrayed his power-hungry brother Vortigern (Jude Law) as he sacrifices his wife to feed his need for power.

It becomes quite interesting, because as Uther is celebrated, you see Vortigern looking onward with jealously and it immediately becomes clear on the direction this film is going in. Especially as Vortigern, his right hand men and their army of Blacklegs reek havoc on the Kingdom of England as he is pronounced king of England.

After the whirlwind opening, Uther’s son wakes up on the banks of Londinium. And you immediately know where Guy Ritchie is going to be taking this film. We see the young child grow up, now named Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), into a quite arrogant and street-smart man running the brothel he was raised in. A reputation blossoms for him around Londinium, which gets him in trouble with the Blacklegs, but he also is a bit rough around the edges to go along with his street smarts.

With this street-smart Arthur, comes a sense of arrogance and attitude to anyone that aren’t his lackies. His performance becomes animated and with the help of Ritchie’s distinct filming style and it kind of begins to work well over the two hours runtime. With how the film opens, its quite unsurprising with the direction that the story takes.

What I was surprised at was that there were some incredibly dark scenes held within King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. Although the film shied from showing these dark scenes, they were still there. Most of them were centralised through Jude Law’s Vortigern and his ruthless ambition to stop at nothing to keep the crown.

I wasn’t quite sure which angle Ritchie was choosing with the music, because there was often the twang of music that perfectly resonated with that time period, but then was juxtaposed with heavy renditions of soulful music like Sam Lee’s The Wild Wild Berry. Don’t get me wrong, it worked, but seemed very odd, but then again, so is King Arthur sporting an air of arrogance and cockney accent.

So there are a few problems with the film. The narrative isn’t overly imaginative and the end point is clearly visible from the get-go. And the build-up to the climax is fairly ridiculous. During the 120 minutes there is an abundance of exposition upon exposition, and shots of Arthur training or learning to wield Excalibur. It doesn’t feel 120 minutes, it feels more like it’s 240 minutes long. The climax begins to feel as though you’re almost in a video game with the amount of CGI-heavy action and slow-mo sequences held within. That being said, I didn’t find myself bored with the film in anyway.

As I mentioned Hunnam’s performance becomes quite enjoyable, especially as it’s a different take on the King Arthur story, but it’s not an electric performance that had me vying for more. His lackie’s filled in a similar sort of role and provided apt laughs along the way with their advantages in street-smarts. Merlin’s mage friend seemed to be a pivotal character, but hardly offered anything other than a push to help out Arthur and some spells.

Is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword an immediate classic? No. But it is a fun way to spend a couple of hours. There are some incredibly fun scenes throughout, especially Arthur’s conversation with Jack’s Eye (Michael McElhatton) in true Guy Ritchie style. As I mentioned, the narrative and the characters aren’t exactly the most electric, but it’s a fun take on the legendary King Arthur story.


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Alien: Covenant (2017)

Ridley Scott returned to his famous franchise with Prometheus back in 2012. If you were anything like myself, you could not wait for the next instalment in the Alien franchise. So fast-forward five years and Scott has followed up the whirlwind piece of Prometheus with Alien: Covenant.

Now while it’s not important to have seen the original Alien films, it’s pretty important to have seen Prometheus as the events of Alien: Covenant takes place ten years after Prometheus and both prominently features the character of David. (Michael Fassbender)

This caught me off-guard a little bit, because after the events of Prometheus, I was confused as to how Fassbender’s David managed to make it safely onto the Covenant ship, practically unscathed. This comes down to the testament of Fassbender’s android performance in Prometheus and the feeling that David is all-too real. However on the covenant ship he takes on the role of Walter, a new and improved android.

Walter assumes a practically identical role to David, caring for the ship whilst the crew are in cryosleep, as the crew head to a planet that is perfect for terraforming whilst Walter tends to the colonists and embryos ready to start a new world. The ship is struck by a neutrino blast that causes the now-awoken crew to question Walter’s commanding of the ship and by chance, due to this blast, they stumble on a seemingly perfect planet to begin their new life.

I thought the music was perfect for Alien: Covenant, and was really extenuated by the mysterious and tense setting of the mysterious planet they land on. From the wide-open spaces that Ridley Scott is incredibly good at, to the small-enclosed spaces of the Covenant ship, the film was made even tenser with that claustrophobic feeling.

(And that use of Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla was gorgeous)

With Prometheus being the origin story for the Xenomorphs that plagued Ripley and co throughout Alien franchise, Alien: Covenant is continuing that trend and peeling away more of those layers. But Ridley Scott continued to tie in attitudes to religion and strongly  conveys the messages of creation and meeting your maker throughout Alien: Covenant.

The themes throughout the 120 minutes really worked and were not piled too heavily onto the story. Otherwise there may have been an overconsumption of this, which would have led to it ruining the story. I thought the narrative structure was brilliant, especially as it builds up around the newly found David and his story of the Prometheus ship and crew.

The great thing about Alien was the terrifying xenomorph that plagued the crew and that there wasn’t much gore used throughout, rather it relied on the closed space and tense battle between it and Ripley. Alien: Covenant has decided to use an abundance of gore through the xenomorph attacks, which is fine, but I feel as though it sometimes it overused and lets the film down in areas.

The casting was electric for the lead roles of Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterson and Danny McBride but I felt everyone else was kind of subpar and throwaway characters. McBride’s Tennessee was an interesting character and worlds away from the comedic background that he has become known for. Waterson seemed to be channeling the headstrong Ripley in this film, but not before showing emotion in the opening scenes that seemed to be devoid of Ripley in Alien.

(That was also different, as the crew were made up of couples in charge of safely navigating to Origae-6)

Fassbender was electric as he channelled two different characters, the companionist Walter and the vengeful and conniving David. The difference between the characters was excellent and was really effective for the different moods they were conveying and I feel as though that is testament to Ridley’s direction through the film.

I was really impressed, and feel as though Ridley Scott’s prequels are currently going strength to strength. I thought the narrative structure on the film was apt, considering what was revealed in the first instalment and was perfectly played out on the screen with the help of David. However, the clear winner is the world building that Ridley Scott is just renown for, from the mysterious planet expanse, to the closed-off spaces that add to the tense scenes within the film.

The planet that the Covenant crew descend on it, is just incredible. Although the film does falter in certain sections, those feelings are soon washed away with the incredibly scenery and intriguing characters throughout Alien: Covenant.

Just like Prometheus, I want to see the next instalment. Now.


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The Sense of an Ending (2017)

It’s not often I am enticed into films with romantic twists hidden beneath it’s depths. But there was something about the The Sense of an Ending that had enticed me, probably down to the intriguing Jim Broadbent character professing he thought he had “more time”.

The Sense of an Ending was adapted from the popular Julian Barnes novel for the big screen, with Jim Broadbent taking the central role of Tony Webster. It takes place over two different time periods. It opens with Tony (Billy Howle) in his younger days as he leaves sixth form and enters the university period of his life. The centralised Jim Broadbent fills his boots with the role of Tony Webster as he approaches the latter stages of his years.

Grumpy. That’s potentially the best way to describe Jim Broadbent’s Tony as you can immediately sense dissatisfaction in his life and the on goings around it, including his strained relationship with his pregnant single daughter. He lives day-to-day, until receiving a letter in the post saying he’s been left a diary by his old girlfriend’s mother.

After receiving the letter, Jim Broadbent indeed becomes the befuddled character that is brilliant for him. The character of Tony Webster on the other end becomes a despicable character as the story bores into it’s latter half of the 100+ minute runtime. He becomes entwined with his ex-girlfriend Veronica (Charlotte Rampling) in the present day, demanding he sees the diary.

But as this happens, it becomes a quite confusing mess and I found myself asking the question, why? Especially as the film tries to pile on a twist, that doesn’t play out as expected. I imagine that the twist was more effective in the book as it played out, but I feel as though it didn’t quite work on screen.

Much of the promotional material featured Jim Broadbent in this hurried frenzy exclaiming that he thought he had more time. I thought the Julian Barnes’ adaptation would feature time as a prolonged theme throughout, but it rather becomes about how one looks back on their lives and how they remember it.

I personally couldn’t get to grips with the characters, as I found the relationships to quite unbelievable to a certain degree. This is probably down to those playing, as they seem fairly rigid and casual about their continued relationships with one another. But Ritesh Batra managed to compact the film in just shy of 110 minutes, which was a good length, it just faltered at other points during the film.

Contrasting the youthful Tony versus the older Tony worked well as the story is built around this event that transpired between Tony and Veronica during their student days. But this event (which I shan’t divulge for fear of spoilers) is really underwhelming. And that tonally set the mark for me for The Sense of an Ending.

Aside from the acting that was on display, I found little to enjoy about this film. As I mentioned, I found the big reveal underwhelming, which left the rest of the film in a confusing state. But it wasn’t enjoyable to watch Jim Broadbent wander round London and his house trying to reminisce about his relationship with Veronica from forty years ago. Although the acting was great, the characters were not as you find young Tony to be a pretentious know-it-all with his friends and the strange relationships that he embarks upon.

There may have been a deeper philosophical meaning driven through Tony’s best friend Adrian, but I feel under everything else The Sense of an Ending was trying to achieve, that message was lost. I just did not get along with it, nor it characters and left the film really rather underwhelmed.


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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

One of the biggest surprises of cinema happened in 2014 with Guardians of the Galaxy. No one anticipated the buzz that happened and it was the marvel film on everybody’s list. Fast forward three years and we have the sequel to the very popular first instalment, with the promise of being bigger and better.

Chris Pratt and the gang ignited the screen with the hapless group saving the galaxy from the ferocious Ronan in the first instalment. This time they are back, some months down the line acting as mercenaries. One of the biggest enjoyments of the first instalment was the soundtrack of 80s forgotten tracks, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is no different opening the screen with Mr. Blue Sky and Baby Groot (Still voiced by Vin Diesel) dancing round whilst chaos is happening behind him.

It’s unsurprising that after the success and enjoyment of the first instalment that the director and writer James Gunn returned to direct the sequel. And it quickly falls into the similar sort of framework that has become synonymous with Marvel films.

It is also unsurprising that the film goes full swing with the comedy, with Baby Groot, Drax’s (Dave Bautista) forwardness and the awkwardness of Peter’s (Chris Pratt) mannerisms to Gamora. (Zoe Saldana) The trouble here is that because Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is trying ridiculously hard to replicate the success that the first one had, the jokes begin missing rather than landing.

And unfortunately the problems continued. It did not seem to know which direction it wanted to head for the narrative and was pulled in four or five different directions. Between the mashing of the multitude of stories in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 there was the clear theme of family, but I felt as though this was lost between the constant chopping and changing between the narrative.

Not to mention that some of the stories are more intriguing than the others, including the relationship that blossoms between Yondue and Peter throughout the + two hour runtime but also former antagonists joining the ranks of the Guardians made for an intriguing change of pace, but something that was quickly cast aside.

One of the biggest things that was going to be anticipated in this film was the soundtrack. After the roaring success of the previous one, this one had to live up to the expectation. And it did to a large degree, as it included some forgotten hits, including Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain, which was brilliant, but wasn’t as toe-tappingly infectious as the first soundtrack. Alas, this could be down to the huge expectation on its shoulders.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 quickly fell into that feel the first one had, as the actors are reprising their roles but as the emphasis seemed to be on the gags rather than the story. It was missing that chemistry I felt was present in the first instalment. I did welcome Kurt Russell’s Ego, though as he was the most charismatic of all during his screen time.

Although there was the ‘main’ overarching story that guided the film to it’s natural climax, I felt myself waiting for it to end. Alas, I felt largely underwhelmed when it came to the credits and post-credits stings laced throughout the names. I knew it would be difficult to live up to the expectation, as the first instalment was such a surprise, whereas this one had the buzz leading up to it’s release. If the film had garnered a relatively straightforward story without the intermittent blasts of other stories, it could’ve been a whole lot shorter, and probably a whole lot more enjoyable.

For me, it seemed as though Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was trying to live up to the expectations that had been set by it’s cooler and better older brother. It worked largely as a film, but I could not help the underwhelming feeling I had. The action sequences were great and exciting, but laced with needless comedy. James Gunn seemed to have overindulged us with the comedy, which is just carrying on the now-unsurprising framework that has been set by the previous Marvel films.


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Lady Macbeth (2017)

Lady Macbeth has always been an intriguing character as she whispers sweet nothings into Macbeth’s ear before he commits an unfathomable sin. This woman for the ages serves as a source of inspiration for Nikolai Leskov’s novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District.

Alice Birch reworked Leskov’s novel and William Oldroyd took the lead in directing the 89-minute period drama for the big screen. Although no clear time period is distinguished in the film, it’s clear that it’s set during the Shakespearean-era as the noblemen are addressed as Sirs and there are slaves dotted around the grand manor Catherine (Florence Pugh) finds herself wandering in.

I found the title of Lady Macbeth to be quite ironic when Catherine seems to be anything but, as she doesn’t enjoy the tightening of a corset, or the brushing of her hair as she grunts with displeasure at the maid Anna. (Naomi Ackie) She often finds herself constantly trying to remain awake, and functions pretty much on autopilot.

The titular Lady Macbeth serves as inspiration for Catherine’s character, rather than producing a telling of Lady Macbeth. Catherine finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage and lives with an arrogant and snarling father-in-law. What I did not anticipate was the darker realms that Lady Macbeth delves into as Catherine vies for a happier life. I should have probably anticipated it with the title of Lady Macbeth.

As the loneliness consumes Catherine, she becomes arrogant in her own way as she barks at Anna for staring and even goes as far as assuming control of the manor as her husband and father-in-law attend to different matters.

As I mentioned, Alice Birch reworked the script from the original and (I can only assume this without reading the novel) placed the setting in Great Britain, as well as changing the names to the English sounding counterparts. I imagine this was to make Lady Macbeth more accessible for the moviegoers in the UK. What this allowed William Oldroyd to do is to take in the British countryside, and this really worked with the wind bellowing around Catherine, giving you the shivers as though you are almost stood there with the protagonist.

Birch managed to make the narrative work, as the screen becomes embroiled in a lust-heavy opening 40 minutes as Catherine engages in adulterous behaviour with one of the workers, Sebastian, (Cosmo Jarvis) but then as the film progresses it becomes tense as whether they can keep their relationship a secret, or do the walls have ears? But also Birch began telling an intriguing story as Sebastian and Catherine’s relationship is continually tested.

I believe the narrative structure is helped monumentally by the performance from Florence Pugh in her on screen-debut as from this solitary Catherine, to a menacing, vindictive woman is really helped by the nuanced facial features as she plots and contrives against her new family.

Her subtle movements from the opening to forty to the remaining forty create a worldly difference for the character of Catherine. She becomes enigmatic and grips the screen in every scene she is placed in.

William Oldroyd with Alice Birch’s script has created what is a rather enjoyable period drama. I’d be intrigued to read the novel that serves as the inspiration for Lady Macbeth, especially after really enjoying Justin Kurzel’s imagining of the Shakespearean tradic play. It would be worth seeking out Lady Macbeth solely for Florence Pugh’s incredible performance at the centre of this film. She dominates every scene she appears in and because quite a scary character through the 86 minute runtime.