This week, cinemas were dominated by the bonkers vision of M Night Shyamalan as his ambitious crossover event Glass arrived. But was it any good? There was also the latest crop of prestige pictures hoping to fly high during awards season, and a Netflix documentary about one of the most morbidly fascinating news stories of the last few years. It’s fair to say this was a very varied week!
Mary Queen of Scots
Is there anything Saoirse Ronan can’t do? It’s a question I ask myself pretty regularly, as Ronan repeatedly transforms herself into roles as varied as a headstrong American teenager and a withdrawn British newlywed. She has now added a fierce Scottish queen to her oeuvre in theatre director Josie Rourke‘s debut feature Mary Queen of Scots, which is a sweeping, flamboyant period film.
Ronan is wonderful as Scotland’s returning queen, whose Catholic beliefs cause a stir in the Protestant nation – most notably from a beardy doom-monger played by David Tennant, devouring scenery with every spit-flecked speech. She corresponds in a tense political chess match with Margot Robbie‘s Elizabeth I, as the two women try to maintain their positions by warding off the treacherous men around them before ever even thinking about each other.
The performances are the stars, but Rourke’s theatrical sensibility gives the movie a unique visual feel that enhances some of the strange, history-warping decisions the story makes. Given screenwriter Beau Willimon’s work as showrunner on House of Cards, it’s fitting that this film very much feels like the perfect intersection between that programme and the sexy BBC series The Tudors. I had a hell of a time.
VERDICT: It’s as wiggy and as flamboyant as a period drama can possibly get, but Mary Queen of Scots is a joyously silly movie that has at its centre a duo of terrific performances from Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie.
(Dir: Josie Rourke, 124 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW AT FLICKERING MYTH]
At the end of his enjoyably trashy 2017 horror film Split, M Night Shyamalan tossed his audience a massive narrative curveball by introducing a returning Bruce Willis as his character from Unbreakable. The result is the crossover sequel Glass – a better idea than it is a movie.
For 20 minutes, this film is terrific, tense fun. But then the three central characters end up under the care of Sarah Paulson at a mental institution and Shyamalan uses that character as a conduit for a TED Talk about the possibility of real-life superheroes. Then, a third act gets moving in which Samuel L Jackson points at things with a bug-eyed expression and yells comic book terminology. It’s laughably misguided.
James McAvoy rises to the prospect of a pure acting showcase as the multiple personalities of Kevin Wendell Crumb, but Willis is a pure contrast as a man who looks like he’s involved under duress. There isn’t a single idea that hasn’t already been expressed in Unbreakable and the deliberate decision to avoid a standard superhero finale has the whole thing appearing like something of a damp squib.
VERDICT: Sometimes, there’s a lot to be said for pure, unfiltered ambition. On the strength of Glass, though, M Night Shyamalan should probably have left this muddled idea on a flipboard somewhere in his office. It’s more entertaining there.
(Dir: M Night Shyamalan, 129 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW AT FLICKERING MYTH]
In the summer of 2017, the world briefly became fascinated by the debacle of the Fyre Festival. The sun-dappled expectations of wealthy millennials were let down when they arrived at a supposedly star-studded music event in the Bahamas to see a sort of dystopian campsite where even drinking water was somewhat scarce.
That’s the story told in Chris Smith‘s Netflix documentary Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened. The audience is introduced to digital Del Boy Billy McFarland, who organised the whole affair as a marketing ploy for his new talent booking app, only to see it become a disaster. Rather than admitting his own shortcomings, he tried to brazen it out and is now serving a prison sentence for a series of frauds.
The documentary is a fun, pacy depiction of the events surrounding the Fyre Festival and there’s a certain schadenfreude to watching privileged youngsters being taken down a few pegs. However, it feels a little too surface level and never examines the wider cultural context surrounding the events, despite some intriguing nods to deeper themes.
VERDICT: If what you want from Fyre is a fairly basic version of the story, communicating the story everyone already knows with a sense of cinematic energy and fun, then you’ll leave happy. It’s somewhat frustrating, though, to see it repeatedly come close to becoming something more thoughtful and interesting.
(Dir: Chris Smith, 98 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW AT VULTUREHOUND]
Based on the hard-hitting memoirs of its two central characters, played by Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet, Beautiful Boy had Oscar success written right through it like a stick of rock. The resulting film, though, is something of a snooze.
Chalamet is solid as the crystal meth addicted Nic Sheff, but he’s never completely believable in the role, and Carell never has as much meaty material to get through as his top billing would suggest. The film is in love with montages and constantly leaps around in time, sabotaging any attempt at forming a coherent narrative for the characters. There are times when it’s undeniably emotional, but it’s never subtle.
Director Felix Van Groeningen leans heavily on the musical soundtrack, which is basically the equivalent of standing on the shoulder of each audience member and telling them exactly how to feel in every scene. Despite the strong acting work, it’s never enough to shake the boredom of the misshapen narrative and the overwrought emotion.
VERDICT: With the help of one of the most oppressive soundtracks in recent history, Beautiful Boy substitutes real drama with sledgehammer storytelling tricks to try to evoke emotion. The performances are good, but the movie is something of a mess.
(Dir: Felix Van Groeningen, 120 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW AT VULTUREHOUND]
What did you think of this week’s film releases? Let me know in the comments section and also take a look at last week’s review round-up.