The Equalizer 2 (Antoine Fuqua, 2018) 5/10
Denzel Washington returns in this sequel as retired CIA black op to clean the "filth" around him â la "Death Wish". This time round his anger is directed at the goons who kill his friend (Melissa Leo) who was investigating a double murder in Brussels. He discovers the mystery behind her death is related to his own past. Derivative action thriller is nevertheless a catharsis of sorts as scum get their comeuppance at the hands of Washington who uses his expertise to efficiently smash, knife and shoot. The star's charismatic badass presence holds this formulaic drama together although a third outing would not be welcome at all.
Alpha (Albert Hughes, 2018) 6/10
A young boy comes of age when he is separated from his tribe during a bison hunt and is forced to survive the elements with only a wild wolf as his companion. Old fashioned adventure story is set in the past - 20,000 years ago to be exact - with beautiful shots of barren pre-historic Europe (the film was shot in British Columbia) of steppes, canyons and volcanos all courtesy of CGI. At the forefront of the plot is how man and "dog" came to form a bond which here is forged through necessity - both need each other to survive as both find themselves abandoned with imminent danger around every corner. The film is a delight for all dog lovers with enough sentimentality imbued to make this a thrilling viewing experience. Kudos to the stunning cinematography of Martin Gschlacht who creates images of great warmth.
Le Notti Bianche / White Nights (Luchino Visconti, 1957) 10/10
Visconti's exquisite film about unrequited love is based on a short story by Fyodor Dostoevsky with its setting changed from 19th century St. Petersburg to Italy's modern-day Tuscan city of Livorno. The film is a bridge between the director's neorealist period and his later more elaborate operatic romantic melodramas. It is unusual in that the entire film was shot on a constructed set with small alleys, cafe, an Esso petrol station, houses and a small bridge over a canal which becomes the principle spot where the two lovers meet. A young lonely man (Marcello Mastroianni) encounters a weeping woman (Maria Schell) on a small bridge. He tries to help her but she runs off but later they encounter each other again. Persistent in his pursuit of her she agrees to meet him regularly over the next four days. She tells him that she loves another man (Jean Marais) who left town a year before but promising to return to her. Despite her story the young man falls hopelessly in love with her and they spend time together walking the streets and going to a nightclub where they spend a fun evening dancing together. Just when the shy but slightly hysterical girl are starting to get emotionally close her former lover returns. Heartbreaking film is like a fairy tale with the couple's high emotions reaching a fever pitch before crashing down just as suddenly as it had begun. Sensitively directed film is superbly shot in stunning black and white by Giuseppe Rotunno with a lovely score by Nino Rota. This is one of Mastroianni's most memorable performances with Schell matching him every step of the way as the anguished woman torn between waiting for a lover who may never come and the possibility of new love. A great film and a must-see.
Thugs of Hindostan (Vijay Krishna Acharya, 2018) 8/10
Going into this film I was extremely wary after having earlier watched the film's cheesy premise in the trailer. The film has been torn to shreds by critics and while I made fun of friends who actually enjoyed it there was a nagging feeling deep within that I had to see it for myself. I'm so glad I did and it helped greatly that the cinema screen was ginormous (with a seat that reclined into a bed). This is a fantastic film. Cheesy? Most certainly, but this epic film is what cinema is all about which is to provide entertainment with a capital E. The film not only pays homage to swashbuckling films from Hollywood (the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series comes foremost to mind) but more than that it tugs at one's patriotic nerve bringing back memories of Bollywood films of Manoj Kumar from the 1970s. The film is deeply entrenched in cinema of that decade - the reigning superstar then has the lead role here, the sexy babe who provides two hot item numbers instantly brings back memories of Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi, while the film's main raison d'être was the first time on screen teaming of veteran superstar Amitabh Bachchan with Aamir Khan, who is Bollywood's most versatile and picky actor who makes only one film a year which he chooses with great care. Film critics are aghast at Aamir Khan's choice of this film and wondering if he was blind while reading the script. The answer is so simple once you watch his performance in a role any actor would die to play - a character who balances being outwardly a buffoon but alternatively showing flashes of a heroic nature along with despicable deceit which the actor superbly manages often within the same scene through his facial expressions. It's 1795 and the East India Company has firmly entrenched themselves in India taking over princely states to loot and pillage for their coffers back home in "ye merrie olde England". One state resists but the Prince, his wife and son are killed and their fort taken over by an evil British Commander. Only the Prince's young daughter survives after she is saved by the old family retainer (Amitabh Bachchan). Years pass and the old man and the young woman (Fatima Sana Shaikh) now lead a band of thugs hoping to overthrow the British who use a fawning two-faced small-time crook (Aamir Khan) to infiltrate the gang of thugs to capture their leader. The crook proves difficult to fathom as just when he appears to have become loyal to the thugs' cause he turns reptilian and betrays them. Rousing action-adventure film is a feast for the eyes with jaw dropping stunts, hilariously cheesy interludes with the British cast who speak their entire dialogue in pidgin Hindi (just as they did back in the 1970s), the appearance of stunning Katrina Kaif (with botoxed lips to boot) who performs two sexy dance numbers - "Suraiyya" with Aamir Khan matching her steps, where she brings back strong memories of Zeenat Aman and "Manzoor-e-Khudda" which she performs with both Bachchan and Aamir Khan while wearing what was probably the latest in 1795 fashion - silver sequined hot pants and bra straight out of an old Parveen Babi cabaret production number. The film, produced by Aditiya Chopra, is total 'paisa vasool' with an end that will not only have you cheering but anxiously awaiting the hinted at sequel as Aamir and Katrina sail off towards England to sort out further the bloody Brits, this time on their home soil.
Mile 22 (Peter Berg, 2018) 5/10
The Berg/Wahlberg team come up with yet another generic action thriller in what is now beginning to feel like sheer paranoia on part of the United States by way of stupid Hollywood flicks. Why is it that this country is always under threat by....fill in the blanks....the Russians, Koreans, Mexicans, Chinese, South American drug cartels and Muslims from the Middle East, Africa, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan? Has the world gone mad and countries have made it their aim to bring down the United States? Or could it be karma and/or the biblical idiom "as you sow, so shall you reap"? Here we have the old "get-the-witness-to-the-court-to-testify" plot as mayhem breaks loose all around with factions trying to do him in while a group of elite operatives risk their lives to save him. The "witness" here is a South-East Asian cop (Iko Uwais) with vital information about a terrorist attack and who has to be transported 22 miles from the American Embassy to a remote airfield so he can be flown out and given asylum in exchange for what he knows. Leading the rescue team is a group headed by Mark Wahlberg and his team of killing machines who are moved like chess pieces from a control room in the USA by "Mother" (John Malkovich having a field day calmly barking orders dripping with sarcasm). The journey is fraught with danger as goons keep crawling out of the woodwork and the collateral damage keeps rising at a horrifically alarming rate. Berg films all of this using rapid editing, shaky cam, cross cutting between different characters and overlapping dialogue spoken at breakneck speed. The death count is appalling with scenes of grisly violence of every possible sort. It's like a brainless video game where you numbly kill with no sense of feeling whatsoever. The star of the film is Indonesian actor Iko Uwais who is trained in the traditional martial art of silat. The action scenes that revolve around him are superbly choreographed and shot while the gung-ho American patriotism of Wahlberg and team tastes of extremely sour wine especially in this day and age when the world knows far too much about the United States and its so called foreign policy.
The Little Stranger (Lenny Abrahamson, 2018) 8/10
Slow-burn horror film is low on scares and high on atmosphere. It also touches on the British class system, guilt and intense envy as a group of people come together under the roof of a once grand 18th-century country mansion now facing shabby ruin. Based on the gothic novel by Sarah Waters the story is set in post-war austerity driven Britain. A doctor (Domhnall Gleason), whose mother once worked as a maid at the grand "Hundreds Hall", reaquaints himself with the family who reside there and whom he looked up to with envy as a child. The elegant matriarch (Charlotte Rampling) lives with her son (Will Poulter), facially and mentally scarred during the War, and spinster daughter (Ruth Wilson). Another daughter died as a child and the present mysterious goings on - strange noises, bells ringing - are attributed to her ghostly presence. Subtle, deliberately paced film simmers along with a feeling of dread and menace leading up to a twist ending.
Tous les matins du monde / All the Mornings of the World (Alain Corneau, 1991) 8/10
Stately historical drama is a celebration of music, the bitter pain of losing a perfect love and stifling one's feelings in remembrance of that which was lost. A famous court musician (Gerard Depardieu) who sold his talent to gain fame playing for royalty thinks back to his youth when he as a young man (Guillaume Depardieu) first encountered the master viola player, Sainte Colombe (Jean-Pierre Marielle), whom he begged to learn from. Once a great court musician the old man has gone into seclusion after the death of his wife. The old man at first refuses to tutor the young musician because he feels that although he has great talent his music lacks feeling. But he relents only to have the man betray him by having an affair with his daughter (Anne Brochet). Banished from the house he continues to learn the master's secrets hiding under the rehearsal shed. He abandons the young woman after she gets pregnant and choses a life of privilge at court leaving her devastated and eventually bedridden and a suicide. This is a sad film with a heavy air of melancholia hanging over the characters punctuated by soaring musical interludes which lift the spirit. Winner of 7 Cesar awards for best picture, Corneau's sublime direction, Anne Brochet's heartrending performance, the music score, cinematography, costumes and for sound design. Marielle was nominated for his outstanding lead performance as was young Depardieu in his film debut who here worked for the first time on screen with his legendary father with both actors playing the same character but at different time spans in the film.
After the Sunset (Brett Ratner, 2004) 5/10
While this is nowhere near Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief" it tries to channel that classic film's breezy charm. The location here is equally solid - Bahamas as a substitute for the South of France - and a cast that seems game going through the motions. A relentless FBI agent (Woody Harrelson) is in hot pursuit of a jewel thief (Pierce Brosnan) and his sexy girlfriend (Salma Hayak) who have time and again eluded capture. Now retired on an exotic island the thief is persuaded by the local Bahamian gangster (Don Cheadle) to go into partnership with him and steal a large diamond which is currently on exhibit on a highly guarded yacht out on the ocean. The agent teams up with a local cop (Naomie Harris) to try and foil the robbery. This is absolute fluff and a pleasant time pass with beautiful people - Hayak and her plunging neckline, exposing her ample décolletage, is one of the consistently exotic highlights on view - along with sun drenched beaches and a plug in for the Atlantis Resort Hotel on the island where most of the action takes place. This was Brosnan's first film right after being booted off the Bond franchise. Notwithstanding the clichés and potholes in the plot think of it as a two-hour vacation involving scuba diving and a jewel robbery while sipping alcohol tinged fruity drinks from an umbrella-adorned martini glass.
Outlaw King (David Mackenzie, 2018) 6/10
More than its historical lesson this film celebrates the spectacular Scottish scenery as the camera takes in the majesterial landscape where the drama takes place. In 1304 Scottish rebel leader, Robert Bruce (Chris Pines), crowns himself king and takes on the mighty English army under King Edward I (Stephen Dillane) and his hot headed son, Edward, the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle). At first badly routed by the English and forced to go on the run with a small group of Scots, the rebel King manages to raise an army and during the decisive battle of Loudoun Hill badly defeat the mighty english army. His english Queen (Florence Pugh) and daughter are both captured and imprisoned. The screenplay condenses the time frame of the story for dramatic effect instead focusing on a couple of skirmishes and the final battle which is shot with remarkable ferocity keeping the audience in the thick of the action. Mighty swords clash, mud-splattered soldiers die in brutal and agonizing ways as blood flies in every direction. This is the first time ever I have seen a battle depicted on screen where horses are speared and stabbed to bring down the riders - an act which makes perfect logical sense but previously never shown in Hollywood films. The screenplay makes Pine a rather dull but politically correct hero who not only radiates goodness but does not force himself on his wife on their wedding night which downplays brutal myths about not only the man but also about the lack of chivalry during that era. Their romance plays out like a Mills and Boon novel complete with romantic foreplay under rose tinted candle light as the King and Queen finally consumate their marriage. Apparently the film's original cut was 4 hours which would have made more sense of the story if presented as a mini series.