Review Round-up – Vice, Destroyer, Love Sonia, The Mule, Second Act

We’re still in the thick of awards season in UK cinemas, with prestige releases crowding into multiplexes as blockbusters take some time off from their dominance of the big screen. This week’s crop of movies includes Adam McKay‘s incredibly divisive biopic of Dick Cheney, a performance that may well be Clint Eastwood‘s swansong and Nicole Kidman in the wake of a genuinely remarkable physical transformation.

 

** FILM OF THE WEEK **
Poster for 2019 drama Love Sonia

Love Sonia

In true film critic fashion, my movie of the week is one that opened at only 13 cinemas over the weekend. However, it’s a visceral and important story that is well worth seeking out.

Acting newbie Mrunal Thakur plays the titular character, who leaves her home in rural India to follow her sister to Mumbai, where her father sent her. On arrival, she realises that her sister was in fact sold as a sex slave and the same fate befalls her. What follows is a grisly journey into the underbelly of the globe-trotting sex trafficking industry.

Thakur’s performance is vulnerable and intense, giving the story a human heart that only makes its more lurid aspects more terrifying and grounded in bracing reality. Director Tabrez Noorani brings his own experiences as an activist and campaigner to the forefront for a film that is a harrowing watch, but has a very important message to convey.

VERDICT: Love Sonia is a harsh, distressing journey into a dark and shadowy world. It’s not a pleasant night at the cinema, but it feels like the story it has to tell is utterly essential. Thakur deserves to get a tonne of acting offers after this, because she’s terrific.

(Dir: Tabrez Noorani, 122 mins, Cert: 18) [MY FULL REVIEW AT FLICKERING MYTH]

 

Poster for 2019 political biopic Vice

Vice

The rise and rise of Dick Cheney is a compelling chapter of American history and one that is not as widely known as it probably should be. With that in mind, the motivations behind Adam McKay’s Vice are certainly worthy and honourable, particularly as his own perspective on Cheney is clear. Leading man Christian Bale, too, thanked Satan in his Golden Globes acceptance speech, making a clear point.

His performance is the only thing that makes the movie work at all. He is measured and meticulous as Cheney, taking crucial breaths and pausing as if measuring every word that comes out of his mouth. Unfortunately, all of this subtlety is undermined by McKay’s desire to cut away to obvious visual metaphors or to obfuscate valid political points with distracting and unnecessary directorial flourishes.

The rest of the acting work – most notably Sam Rockwell as George W Bush – is largely broad Saturday Night Live caricature and enhances the strange feel of the movie, which is almost written like a comedy of sorts. Unfortunately, it’s a comedy that McKay realised was supposed to be serious and so surgically removed every joke. What’s left is a movie full of its own importance, but unable to convey its message without doing a twirl first and yelling at the audience through the medium of montage.

VERDICT: Is there a more smug filmmaker alive than Adam McKay? After The Big Short and Vice, it’s hard to believe anyone could radiate an attitude as obviously off-putting as this one.

(Dir: Adam McKay, 132 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW AT VULTUREHOUND]

 

Poster for 2019 crime thriller Destroyer

Destroyer

There’s a lot about Destroyer that should work. Karyn Kusama proved with The Invitation that she knows how to create slow-burn thrills and Nicole Kidman is well established at this point as one of the greatest actors of her generation. Having undergone a physical transformation to play a hard-bitten detective delving into her own past, though, she finds little to chew on.

Kusama’s movie takes place in an LA buzzing with activity, but the narrative lacks incident and never feels like it’s crafting much of a mystery. Kidman is strong in the lead role, struggling not to be upstaged by the absurd wigs she wears both in the present day sequences and the lengthy flashbacks to a previous undercover operation.

Where a film like this should be crafting intrigue and dealing in harsh criminality, Destroyer simply meanders around while pointing the camera at the make-up job it is so obviously enamoured with. By the time a very good final twist changes the perspective of what we have seen before, the movie has already dismissed any chance it had of leaving the audience on a thrilling note. A pretentious and over-extended coda does nothing to dispel that.

VERDICT: Nicole Kidman’s physical transformation in Destroyer is undeniably impressive and there’s no doubting Kusama’s credentials as a filmmaker, but this movie fails to capitalise on either of those pillars to find a story that has the power to grip.

(Dir: Karyn Kusama, 121 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW AT FLICKERING MYTH]

 

Poster for 2019 crime drama The Mule

The Mule

Clint Eastwood is a 90-year-old florist who becomes a drug runner for a Mexican cartel. If that sentence is enough to sell you on a movie, then The Mule is absolutely for you. It feels like Eastwood’s equivalent of last year’s Robert Redford swansong The Old Man and the Gun – a movie that gives an icon of the silver screen one final leading man victory lap.

There’s a certain grouchy charisma to late stage Eastwood and he definitely brings that to this role. There’s a sense of a man and movie out of time here, with the character often taking left turns into ‘you can’t say that!’ casual racism and sexism. One party scene would make even Michael Bay blush, and there are at least two threesomes.

However, it’s tough not to be charmed by the film, which is a gentle crime drama that allows Eastwood the chance to display the tools that made him one of the most famous actors of all time. It’s Narcos with a bus pass and probably your granddad’s new favourite film.

VERDICT: There’s something old-fashioned and conservative about The Mule, but that’s Clint Eastwood in a nutshell. It’s a movie that shows Eastwood understands his own appeal and is willing to give that unique charisma one last spin in front of the camera.

(Dir: Clint Eastwood, 116 mins, Cert: 15) [MY FULL REVIEW AT FLICKERING MYTH]

 

Poster for 2019 romcom Second Act

Second Act

What ever happened to Jennifer Lopez‘s film career? Well, the answer is that she’s spent the last few years doing voice work in the Ice Age movies and appearing in enjoyably rubbish stuff like The Boy Next Door. She’s back in her prime romcom spot, though, with Second Act.

Lopez plays a middle-aged woman in a career rut, who is given a second wind in her professional life when her godson falsifies a social media profile that casts her as a Harvard-educated big shot. Soon, she’s working as a consultant for a cosmetics giant and in direct competition with Vanessa Hudgens as a driven young exec.

This is a gentle, cosy movie for the prosecco-fuelled crowd and is set to become a girls’ night in favourite in the years to come. The storytelling is conventional to a fault and Lopez barely even breaks a sweat in ambling her way through the part. It’s sporadically funny and capable of raising a chuckle, but it’s not a memorable affair by any stretch of the imagination.

VERDICT: J-Lo is back on the big screen and, true to form, it’s in an entirely forgettable romcom that no one will remember by the end of the year. With that said, though, there are laughs to be found and it’s an entirely pleasant viewing experience for those seeking something safe and fluffy.

(Dir: Peter Segal, 104 mins, Cert: 12A) [MY FULL REVIEW AT FLICKERING MYTH]

 

Poster for 2019 adventure A Dog's Way Home

A Dog’s Way Home

If a movie’s whole raison d’être is to make you cry, and you do, can you call that film a failure? This is the central question posed by A Dog’s Way Home, which is a terrible film that manipulates the inherent love every human being has for adorable animals. In this case, it’s a stray dog – played by Bryce Dallas Howard in voiceover – who becomes separated from her adopted owner.

With hilariously awful music choices, twee dialogue about “an invisible leash made of love” and a steadfast adherence to cliché, everything about this movie is grotesquely poor. It’s like one of those Saturday morning kid’s films that airs on an obscure digital channel that no one ever watches, but so much more nakedly manipulative.

But, having said all of that, it’s impossible not to shed a tear or three at the climactic scenes. After all, it’s the reunion between a cute pooch and her beloved owner. Of course I cried at that, because I’m not a sociopath.

VERDICT: This is perhaps the worst movie that has ever made me blub like an Academy Award winner. Nothing about it works, and yet it knows exactly how to twist the emotional knife in the most cynical and calculated way. Eurgh.

(Dir: Charles Martin Smith, 96 mins, Cert: PG)

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.

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