The Commuter Review

The Plot

A businessman is caught up in a criminal conspiracy during his daily commute home.

The Good

Liam Neeson adds to his ever growing catalogue of action films that have clogged his career since the surprise hit of 2008’s Taken withThe Commuter. This time however it’s his wife and son as opposed to his wife and daughter who are in danger as they’re taken hostage offscreen in an attempt to force Neeson’s aged ex-cop Michael MacCauley to do ‘one little thing’ for the mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga) which will result in the death of a passenger.

With a supporting cast which includes Patrick Wilson, Andy Nyman and the underused performances from Sam Neill and Jonathan Banks, The Commuter certainly has enough star power to reel you in. Most surprising of all is Florence Pugh who is completely unrecognisable from her previous role in Lady MacBeth, so much so that this writer didin’t even notice her, which is the highest of compliments.

The story is easy enough to follow and plays out at times like a backwards modernised Murder On the Orient Express (though without any gorgeous moustaches) and no matter how ludicrous it gets the entertainment value is just the same as director Jaume Collet-Serra’s previous work (The Shallows) and works as a worthy addition to the now trilogy of collaborations with Neeson after 2011’s Unknown and 2014’s Non-Stop.

The Bad

Having already taken on the Harrison Ford trope of ‘where’s my wife and son!’ it’s a shame to see that Neeson doesn’t utter the phrase ‘get off my train’ at any point. Furthermore it’s a shame he doesn’t kick a train in the face which is what this writer was looking forward to. Suffice to say if you go into this looking for anything serious you’ll be deeply disappointed and may miss the action packed fun that The Commuter provides. If the homage to Spartacus doesn’t have you giggling away then you clearly aren’t the audience that the producers are trying to hook in.

The Ugly Truth

At its very essence, The Commuter is perfect Saturday night multiplex fodder that, if you’re close your logic can very easily become a highlight of the years cinema trips. It’s not necessarily Schindler’s List nor is it at the very top of Neeson’s recent action collection. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a damn good 105 minutes to spend.

 Review by Johnny Ellis

I, Tonya Review

The Plot

I,Tonya documents the rise and fall of controversial Ice Skating superstar Tonya Harding based on astonishing real life events and conflicting personal accounts. The film charts her unlikely path to figure skating glory, her dysfunctional marriage and her ultimately violent rivalry with fellow USA skater Nancy Kerrigan.

The Good

Margot Robbie delivers a truly Oscar worthy performance playing the infamously iconic Tonya Harding from awkward adolescent through to regretful middle aged cynicism. Aside from the obvious physical transformation and intensive ice skating training that Robbie had to endure to play the part, the emotional toll of playing the vulnerably unhinged young Olympian is self-evident. Robbie is able to morph effortlessly into the many different versions of Harding that the story demands, somehow managing to perfectly encapsulate and challenge audiences likely preconceptions at the same time.

Around Robbie’s breathtakingly good central performance supporting turns from Sebastian Stan, Paul Walter Hauser and Allison Janney are scene stealing delights. Janney is on fine foul mouthed form as Harding’s belligerently mean spirited mother, Stan shines as Harding’s husband Jeff Gillooly, while Paul Walter Hauser is a comic joy as Gillooly’s ridiculously delusional best friend Shawn. The combined cast help paint a portrait of Harding’s life that is both hysterically entertaining and disturbed.

Extensive world class skating sequences are a major technical challenge for the film. Thankfully though a combinations of Robbie’s dedication and well applied visual effects it’s possible to make Robbie a convincing skating superstar. It’s especially important that the film does succeed in doing this as arguably seeing Harding’s breath-taking skill and athletic bravery is an essential counterpoint to the infamous disaster of her life when off the ice.

Overall I, Tonya is magnificent fun and skilfully pays with its occasional mockumentary style to illustrate the competing versions of the truth that continue to confuse one of the most bizarre and memorable moments in sporting history. Robbie’s award worthy central performance and a magnificently well-chosen soundtrack propel the movie with all the desperate grace and danger of someone performing a triple axel jump on ice….

The Bad

More critical audiences might object on principal to the notion of in any way deliberately or accidentally glamorizing Tonya Harding’s behaviour and her apparent ‘crimes’. It’s a fine line to tread between capturing an accurate well balanced portrait of one of the most notorious sporting figures of all time and the risk of appearing either overly sympathetic or sensationalist. Thought the film does largely succeed in this respect, obviously those with preconceived notions about Harding and what she represents to professional athletics may find the existence of a big screen version less welcome.

The Ugly Truth

Fuelled by a relentlessly brilliant performance by Margot Robbie, this unconventional sporting biopic is consistently hilarious, tragic and wildly entertaining. Robbie’s portrayal of the notorious former Olympian is simultaneously psychotic and sympathetic. The result of this astonishing star turn is two hours of compelling viewing

Review by Russell Nelson

 

The Post Review

The Plot

Based on the sensational true story The Post follows the legal battle between Nixon’s Whitehouse administration and The Washington Post over efforts to publish sensational revelations about the Vietnam War contained in classified government documents.

The Good

Director Steven Spielberg has a brilliant track record for documenting historical events in a dramatic and accessible way. His past work on Schindler’s List and Lincoln established his astonishing credentials in handling significant moments in global history with skill and due care. Spielberg brings his obvious passion to the cause of a free and fair press to the screen, having hastily made The Post seemingly as an act of urgent political necessity. That enthusiasm and sense of urgency does permeate the best moments of the film, bringing to life the thrill and perils of good journalism.

Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks both on predictably fine form, help inject some genuine personality into the real life news titans they portray. At this stage in their career their mere presence on screen is enough to make audiences realise that it’s important they pay attention. It’s almost as if they each emanate a constant Oscar winning glow, reassuring audiences of the unquestioned importance of proceedings.

Unsurprisingly given the Hollywood royalty behind the camera and in the two lead roles, the surrounding ensemble cast in The Post is littered with familiar faces and accomplished turns from brilliant character actors. The presence and nuanced sincerity of people like Bob Odenkirk and Bruce Greenwood helps lend added depth and sophistication to an otherwise simple story.

Though those familiar with the historical events the film documents may understandably find that the race against time dilemmas The Post explores are robbed of a little tension, thankfully fine performances hold audience’s attention in spite of this. Though the passage of time may have robbed these events of their modern reliance, the film does at least serve as an effective homage to an increasingly bygone era of exciting investigative journalism.

The Bad

While The Post does it’s best to capture the tension of a difficult dilemma of journalistic integrity, the importance of Vietnam War scandal may connect less with younger audiences for whom this chapter of American and world history feels increasingly remote. While some will be quick to try to draw direct parallels with modern political and media issues, in truth it’s difficult to connect these historic events with the dramatically evolved modern world.

Celebrating the golden era of investigative print journalism can’t entirely distract from the general collapse of the industry and the new more complex dilemmas arising from the new increasingly digital news landscape.

While The Post is well crafted it’s perhaps also difficult to avoid direct comparisons with other acclaimed films exploring similar themes such as All The President’s Men and more recently Spotlight. The Post perhaps doesn’t quite have as much emotional and political complexity as those films, though that’s amore a reflection on the facts of history than any particular filmmaking failure.

The Ugly Truth

Iconic director Steven Spielberg and the combined talents of an astonishing ensemble cast breathe life into a point in political, legal and media history that raises some of the same question and concerns that face a modern day audience. The Presence of stars Like Streep and Hanks lends the relatively straightforward events of the film the sense of gravitas and drama it requires.

 Review by Russell Nelson

Coco Review

The Plot

During the day of the dead festivities a young boy with dreams of being a great musician finds himself accidentally crossing over from the land of the living to the world of the dead. While adapting to his strange and colourful new surroundings he finds himself torn between his own dreams and the stubborn objections of both his living and deceased family.

The Good

Coco has only just begun sweeping up best animation awards but already looks certain for forthcoming BAFTA and Oscar glory. These accolades are undeniably well deserved as Coco once again lives up to the astonishing reputation of Disney Pixar productions, effortlessly combining beautiful visuals with poignant emotional storytelling of the highest calibre.

Coco draws heavily on the wildly colourful and whimsical magic of the international renowned Day of the Dead celebrations. That constant explosion of colour and playful slapstick comedy helps allow the film to navigate potentially morbid and dauntingly sad themes in a way which is actually both uplifting and emotionally accessible. There’s something instantly comforting about the very particular view of the afterlife that Coco presents, suggesting that beyond this world is another one equally full of friends, family, music and love. The world of Coco is also beautifully realised through lush and detailed animation that gives Coco a distinctive visual style which is quintessentially Mexican and also universally appealing.

Coco also boasts a typically well-chosen Pixar voice cast with Gael Garcia Bernal doing particularly fine work as a seemingly hapless skeleton chancer who befriends the film’s young living hero and proves to be so much more than he initially appears. Likewise relative newcomer Anthony Gonzalez is convincingly plucky and petulant as young lead Miguel. In truth the entire voice cast breathe even more animated life into inventive character designs.

Music is another major theme in Coco, with the film’s entire narrative driven by the fierce tension between Miguel’s dreams of musical stardom and his family’s emphatically bitter rejection giving music any place in their lives. The music of Coco mirrors the overall tone of the film, succeeding in being obviously cheerful and fun, while gradually revealing more subtly bittersweet notes as the story progresses. In particular one of the film’s most beautifully memorable songs ‘Remember Me’ manages to evolve throughout the film, changing in tone and importance as new elements of meaning are revealed by the unfolding story.

Coco is a film which becomes more poignant and powerful as it progresses. In particular the final act of the film will almost certainly reduce grown up audiences to tears. Particular for those who have lost loved ones in their real lives, there is an emotional sincerity to later stages of the film which will almost certainly leave audiences with unashamedly tearstained cheeks. Any film which has the capacity to make audiences of almost any age laugh, cry and think in equal measure is deserving of praise and makes for truly essential viewing.

The Bad

During the film’s early stages while Coco sets up its central plot, our young hero’s extended family are at times so obnoxiously stubborn that they risk becoming irretrievably unlikeable. Though this is a necessary plot device used to set up an adventure which teaches everyone what ‘family’ truly means, it may still test audiences patience. Overall Coco is colourful and well-crafted but like many of Pixar’s films it deals with themes and emotional subtext that actually play more appropriately for audiences far older than the traditional target market for animated children’s films. Younger children’s attention may wander a little during portions of the film that deal with the poignant themes of mortality, love and loss. No matter how skilfully this content is handled it’s just simply not as appealing or accessible to small children as talking cars or singing snowmen.

The Ugly Truth

Coco is a breathtakingly heartfelt piece of animated magic that fills the screen with continuous colour and wonder. Pixar effortlessly rises to the challenge of tackling potentially difficult and sombre themes in a way that entertains young audiences and impacts grown-ups in equal measure. In particular Coco’s tear stained finale rivals the infamously poignant scene in Up as a contender for being the most beautiful and bittersweet moments Pixar has ever captured on screen. Coco is essential family viewing and a true masterpiece.

Review by Russell Nelson

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Review

The Plot

A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.

The Good

It’s been nearly six years since writer/director Martin McDonagh last graced the silver screen with his second feature film, Seven Psychopaths. Given his obvious talents this absence already felt far too long. Thankfully McDonagh’s dark wit and genius storytelling is back with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, joining Psychopaths and In Bruges in his slow build of fine work.

In a role specifically written for her, Frances McDormand stars as Mildred, a grieving mother radicalised by grief and frustration. In an act of desperate defiance she rents out the titular three billboards running along a rarely used road in Ebbing in order to entice Woody Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby into solving the rape and murder of her daughter.

With a trio of brilliant central performances from McDormand, Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards doesn’t take long to reel you in and keep you on the edge of your seat as mysteries unfold while chuckling away at McDonagh’s script, peppered with dry wit throughout.

In addition, there are strong supporting cast performances most notably from Caleb Laudry Jones and Peter Dinklage who play Red Welby, the owner of the titular billboards and James, a Ebbing resident slightly besotted with McDormand’s Mildred. Undoubtedly though, the films powerhouse performance comes from its main star. McDormand brings a strong yet damaged character to life in a way only she can. While Harrelson and Rockwell are just as entertaining, it’s truly McDormand’s performance which will most likely stay with audiences the longest after the credits roll. It also looks increasingly likely to bring McDormand more well deserved Oscar glory.

The Bad

If you go into Three Billboards hoping to come out completely satisfied in terms of story threads being neatly tied, you may leave wanting more. For this critic the final moments especially are perfecty written with the feeling that these characters exist outside of the confines of the film’s 115 minute runtime however for some it may feel the complete opposite.

The Ugly Truth

As with McDonagh’s previous two offerings, Three Billboards brings characters and performances to the forefront. Those wanting more of a conclusion to the plot may leave feeling unsatisfied but it cannot be denied that McDonagh’s cast are nothing short of great company for the nearly two hour runtime.

Review by Johnny Ellis