Borg McEnroe Review TIFF 2017

The Plot

Chasing a historic fifth Wimbledon title tennis superstar Bjorn Borg is set on a seemingly inevitable collision course with rising star and notorious bad boy John McEnroe. The pair’s contrasting styles of machine like cool and fiery tempered fury capture the imagination of the world, while off court they both battled similar demons of perfectionism and anxiety.

The Good

Borg McEnroe is a film which takes one of sport’s most iconic rivalries and turns it into a finely crafted examination of two seemingly polar opposite champions. The film follows each of these familiar figures throughout their early lives, offsetting their most famous Wimbledon encounter with the shared pain and passions that brought them both inextricably to the same court.

Shia Labeouf is a near perfect fit for John McEnroe, the infamously flamboyant and often furious tennis superstar. Labeouf is an actor with a raw talent that lends itself well to the role, but it’s also fair to say that his own off screen reputation for eccentric outbursts lends a tangible extra dimension to his performance. It’s hard to imagine another actor more implicitly suited to the role of a gifted talent that is to some extent eclipsed by notoriety, whether deserved or not. However despite drawing some inevitable parallels, Labeouf’s performance is brilliant on its own merits. His McEnroe is by turns explosively competitive and vulnerably fragile, drawing an effective portrait of both McEnroe’s infamous on court persona and the real man behind it.

Sverrir Gudnason does a remarkable job of embodying Bjorn Borg, an awesome and deeply enigmatic sporting great. Much like Labeouf his performance is by turns fuelled by convincing ferocity, self-doubt and stoic determination. Gudnason also works especially well alongside Stellan Skarsgard, exploring the complex emotional relationship between the young superstar and his coaching father figure Lennart Bergelin. Skarsgard on typically fine form gives voice to much of what the film has to say about the true burdens inflicted by ambitious sporting greatness.

Gudnason and Labeouf deserve special praise in particular for their physical feats in recreating the astonishing match play when they do inevitably meet on court. Every move and moment of each piece of tennis action in the film feels utterly real and never anything less than a genuine brutal sporting battle.

Even those audiences that don’t quite feel enthusiastic about tennis encounters in real life will find that with the added layers of drama and tension, seeing this particular match up brought to life on screen is a captivating experience.

The Bad

It’s rare to find a film without fault, but Borg McEnroe could not easily be improved upon. Obviously for some audiences highly familiar with tennis history the film’s closing scenes might have a little less tension, but overall the film does an excellent job of keeping the focus on the inner struggles of two great players, rather than merely recreating one classic on court encounter.

The Ugly Truth

Borg McEnroe is a worthy opening film for this year’s TIFF, easily surpassing sports genre clichés to deliver a finely balanced portrait of two iconic champions. Both leads deserve mighty praise for performances that do justice to the greatness of the tennis titans they portray. Avid tennis fans and the uninitiated alike will both mighty enjoy this captivating biopic.

Review by Russell Nelson

Atomic Blonde Review

The Plot

As the 1980s and Cold War draws to a bitter close a British agent is dispatched to the murky underworld of Berlin to recover priceless information and track down the identity of a mysterious double agent.

The Good

From its opening scene to its closing moments Atomic Blonde is relentlessly propelled by a catchy soundtrack of deliciously 80s electro beats. This distinctive score combines very well with the grim urban wasteland of cold war torn Berlin and a fun parade of stark 80s fashion to give the film a truly distinctive style. It’s a colourful and chaotic canvas for director David Leitch to work with.

Charlize Theron is perfectly cast as the beautifully deadly British agent ruthlessly fighting her way through Berlin in pursuit of her mission and some more mysterious personal goals. Beneath of bob of bleach blonde hair and wrapped in a monochrome wardrobe, Theron is the epitome of cool. The film does a fine job of crafting an indestructible aura around Theorn and making her a highly credible and memorable action heroine.

A strong supporting cast packed with familiar British stars like Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan and a notably feral James McAvoy lend authenticity to the brutal and banal world of international espionage. The film also frequently injects flashes of dark humour into its regular barrage of blood soaked action. The film wisely eschews melodrama in favour of unashamed mayhem and copious guilty pleasures.

The Bad

Atomic Blonde tries to balance an ambitious combination of brutal action, spy thrills and black comedy. The results are mostly satisfactory but by turns can feel both a little predictable and gratuitous. The John Le Carre-esque spy plot isn’t quite as clever as it attempts to be, while likewise the consistently blood drenched action is well executed but ultimately becomes slightly repetitive.

The film often panders to the mostly male audience it clearly anticipates attracting by flaunting Charlize Theron’s naked charms and even some surprisingly Sapphic sex scenes. While the film’s target market will no doubt welcome some sexy distractions it may be a little less popular among those hoping to turn Theron’s indestructible super-agent into any kind of de facto feminist icon.

Ultimately while the film fuses various elements of films like Taken, John Wick and even Grosse Point Blank it seems unlikely to match their enduring popularity. It will be interesting to see how well the film ultimately survives repeat viewing once it has been robbed of any initial intrigue. The soundtrack and set pieces are fun but the film does lack the sort of memorable dialogue and iconic scenes that seems most necessary for achieving true cult classic status.

The Ugly Truth

Atomic Blonde flirts obviously with cult classic status thanks to a memorably kitsch style and killer soundtrack. Theron is a perfect fit for her femme fatal heroine and her considerable presence may be enough alone to satisfy some fans. Those seeking a more subtle spy thriller should probably look elsewhere though as Leitch’s 80s throwback is more shameless guilty pleasure than anything else.

Review by Russell Nelson

Dunkirk Review

The Plot

The iconic military evacuation of British forces from France during World War 2 is brought to life following the experiences of soldiers awaiting rescue on land, boats rushing across the sea to save them and fighter pilots trying desperately to protect them all from the air in the skies above.

The Good

Christopher Nolan is one of the most critically accomplished and popular filmmakers of his generation, with Dunkirk he manages to deliver a film which is respectfully realistic but yet still generally uplifting and thrilling. It’s an incredibly difficult balance to create but the film does a generally excellent job at balancing harrowing tragedy and sombre reflection on the horrors of war with more optimistic themes of survival and courage. It’s testament to Nolan’s skill as a storyteller that he is able to turn such potentially grim historical subject matter into something that feels intimate and gripping.

Nolan relies on a familiar line up of charismatic stars such as Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance. He also once again takes full advantage of Hans Zimmer’s genius, with the acclaimed composer providing yet another excellent soundtrack that pulse through the film with the captivating urgency of a ticking clock. Zimmer’s score helps tie together the three strands of the storytelling and keeps audiences suitably adrenalized.

Nolan also bravely hands leading roles to a host of young stars, including a very prominent acting debut for One Direction star Harry Styles. Styles and his fellow fresh faced co-stars do a fine job of collectively breathing fear and desperation into efforts to escape the doomed beaches of Dunkirk. With minimal dialogue and commendable physical performances they make the nightmare of war a horrific reality for audiences. Though Styles may predictably grab headlines and plaudits, in truth there’s little to distinguish him from a generally fine ensemble of young actors.

In truth the film’s most memorable star turn comes from Tom Hardy. Given the role of heroic spitfire pilot, in truth Hardy only has to stare stoically out his cockpit and occasionally pull on his joystick to make him a crowd pleasing highlight. It’s a gift for any actor but at least Hardy is a deserving recipient.

The Bad

Dunkirk is as well-crafted as it possibly could be, but it still can’t escape the fact that it is a war film about a particularly dark, tragic and familiar portion of military history. While individual human stories may hold audiences interest, overall there’s no surprises and the scale of loss of life and human suffering makes it difficult to ever truly ‘enjoy’ proceedings.

Certainly compared to Nolan’s other popular work there’s little chance audiences will leave the cinema feeling an urgent need to race back for another viewing. Real life horrors of human conflict are clearly far less escapist fun the gravity defying dreams and comic book superheroes.

While the film’s approach of exploring the evacuation efforts form the land, sea and air serves as a neat way at exploring the full scope of events, sometimes the transition back and forth between each strand can be a little jarring. Repeating events from different perspectives can briefly confuse audiences already feeling a little overwhelmed by the epic fog of war on screen. It’s never a major problem but not quite as flawless in its execution as it could be.

The Ugly Truth

Christopher Nolan delivers a War film that is both admirably faithful and thrilling. An accomplished director, excellent soundtrack and stoic ensemble cast all combine to keep Dunkirk afloat and to grip audience’s attention from start to finish.

Review by Russell Nelson

Spider-Man Homecoming Review

The Plot

Peter Parker adapts to life back at home in New York after his recent brush with the Avengers. Under Tony Stark’s mentorship he explores his new suit and amazing powers whilst struggling with typical teenage dramas. When a deadly new enemy appears Peter has to learn quickly what it really takes to be a superhero.

The Good

Comic fans will welcome the return of one of the most enduringly popular heroes in a fun and colourful adventure that sit closer to the original spirit of the comics than perhaps the darker Andrew Garfield version. In particular joining the combined Marvel universe is a big and exciting step for the franchise. Which yield the immediate benefit of allowing Robert Downey Jr to lend his swaggering ego/charm to the film. Building upon the playful chemistry established between the billionaire Avenger and wide eyed teenager in Civil War.

The ‘new’ Spider-Man suit is perhaps the closest yet to the iconic comic book design. This will be welcomed especially by more devoted comic book fans for whom such details matter almost above all else. Faithfulness such as this may also soften the blow of some of the new film’s more significant changes. Such as turning elderly Aunt May into a more youthfully attractive Marisa Tomei.

Michael Keaton continues his amazing career resurgence playing The Vulture. Keaton’s flare for wild eyed intensity and gravel voiced gravitas is a perfect fit for the role, making him genuinely dramatic and menacing by equal turn. It’s a huge asset for the film which offers audiences originality in action sequences and storytelling.

Overall the comedic tone and well-polished effects work makes this latest Spider-Man imagining an easy watch for faithful fans and younger audiences learning to love the character for the first time.

The Bad

Spider-Man Homecoming marks the third reboot for the web slinging hero in barely ten years. While Toby Maguire’s and Andrew Garfield’s versions both had their flaws they are still very familiar and much beloved by many fans. While Marvel clearly relishes having a guiding hand in the franchise at last, in truth the five previous Spider-Man films have narrowed the available territory for the new series. As a result most of Spider-Man’s familiar villains couldn’t be reused so quickly. While the film and Michael Keaton does a great job at turning one of the comic’s least plausible character The Vulture into something believably menacing, it’s hard to ignore noticing the absence of more familiar threats.

Likewise faced with the awkward reality of having to rehash Spider-Man’s origin story yet again the film simply chooses to avoid that obligation entirely. There’s no flashback scene explaining the origin of Peter’s amazing abilities and no lectures from Uncle Ben about great power and responsibility.

No doubt many audiences may be relieved to bypass this apparently redundant storytelling and merely to proceed on the basis that by now everyone knows who Spider-Man is and how he became the web crawling hero. Unfortunately though it means that this ‘new’ Spider-Man has no clear identity. Basic questions about his origin remain entirely unanswered, which feels even stranger after an entire standalone film than it did after his rushed introduction in Captain America Civil War.

Tom Holland is the most legitimately adolescent actor yet to be given the chance to play Peter Parker. While the young brit does a good job at mastering the American accent and Spidey’s glib wit, he treads a fine line. At times he threatens to be even more breathless and smug than Andrew Garfield was. The problem with making Peter Parker an actual tween is that you’re left with an occasionally immature superhero who’s still finding his feet.

The Ugly truth

Spider-Man Homecoming benefits from the sensible guiding hand of Marvel studios, allowing Sony to finally deliver a big screen version which integrates into the existing Marvel cinematic universe. Though the film gets much right and succeeds in distancing itself from the five previous films some of those changes will yet again be divisive for fans and leave them wondering why Spidey needed to be rebooted again so soon.

The House Review

The Plot

When their college bound daughter misses out on a much needed scholarship a mild mannered suburban couple resorts to opening an underground casino to raise the cash they need to pay her tuition fees. But the surprising success of the venture soon finds them spiralling out of control and coming into conflict with the local authorities and genuine crime lords.

The Good

Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler are both vastly popular comic stars in their own right and they make for a well-balanced combination as the hapless couple slowly morphing from sensible suburbanites to power mad gangster impersonators. The script plays steadily into Ferrell’s flare for both shouting hysterics and deluded self-confidence. Likewise Amy Poehler clearly relishes flipping between sensible housewife mode and a pot addicted pyromaniac crime lord.

Existing fans of both stars will find quite a bit to enjoy in a film that offers a fairly steady stream of increasingly silly shenanigans that combine’s low brow one liners with occasional bouts of madcap action.

Jason Mantzoukas best known for countless scene stealing supporting roles works well as the film’s third wheel, playing the gambling addict friend who enthusiastically steers the duo from one disaster to the next. He spars well with both Ferell and Poehler keeping things from becoming too monotonous as a mere two hander.

Though at times the film flirts with becoming a more cliché mafia parody thankfully it never quite slides too far down that painfully overdone route. The film seems self-aware enough to at least ensure it doesn’t solely rely on lazy ‘Casino’ and ‘Goodfellas’ references.

The Bad

The House is fairly predictable as it treads comfortably familiar ground for its well known leads. Faint hearted audiences may find some of the films more surprisingly blood soaked set pieces makes for uncomfortable viewing. Likewise those that are usually left unamused by Ferrell’s trademark hysterics won’t find anything to change their mind in this performance. It lacks the quotable genius of Ferrell’s more memorable work and the film largely blends instantly into his increasingly generic back catalogue. Honestly the film’s characters and antics would perhaps have felt more at home in a straight to DVD offering or a prolonged SNL skit.

It’s worth noting as is so often the case, the official trailer largely squanders most of the films funniest moments, so if you are likely to head to cinemas avoid watching this first if you can.

The Ugly Truth

The House is an easy watch and a mostly satisfying guilty pleasure. Ferrell and Poehler keep admittedly generic material watchable due to a combined charisma and earnest enthusiasm.

Review by Russell Nelson