Film review- The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman

Starring Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron

Certificate PG

Director Michael Gracey

I’m rather late to Hugh Jackman’s latest big screen offering. It’s a party that launched at Christmas to lukewarm reviews from some critics, and yet proved that many cinema-goers don’t care a jot about what they think. Despite one high profile reviewer claiming there were “no memorable songs”, I wonder if he saw the same film.

In mid-March I finally take the plunge, more curious as to why this musical biopic of legendary showman PT Barnum has kept punters coming back for more.

Yes, it’s slick, formulaic and some of the effects are a little cheesy, but that doesn’t stop me from becoming immersed in the story.

A few years earlier I’d sat through the much talked about stage show Barnum, and despite being captivated by Brian Conley’s tightrope walk, I was pretty bored with the rest of it. Aside from There is a Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute, and Come Follow the Band, I’d struggle to think of another memorable tune in the whole show.

No such problems with The Greatest Showman. From that opening track, The Greatest Show, to Come Alive, the much played This Is Me and delightful Rewrite the Stars, I’m bowled over.

Hugh Jackman reminds me why he is one of the most talented thespians working in movies today. Yes, he honed his craft in West End hits such as Oklahoma!, but it’s still hard to believe this is the same man who wowed me in last year’s Logan.

Zac Efron is also on great form, which is reassuring considering his annoying turn in the Baywatch movie. However, when Rebecca Ferguson turns up, I’m like a kid on Christmas morning.

I have become a little obsessed with the woman who stole Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation from under Tom Cruise’s nose, and kept me gripped throughout sci-fi chiller Life.

I don’t expect much from her in this, and although she mimes to the phenomenal tune Never Enough, my gob is well and truly smacked; it’s hard to see the join between her acting and Loren Allred’s vocals.

When Hugh and company round things off with From Now On, I’m ready to see it all again.

The screenplay by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon ensures the whole thing ticks over with the speed of a locomotive at top speed, while Seamus McGarvey’s photography is terrific.

Considering this is his first feature, visual effects veteran Michael Gracey does a good job in the director’s chair.

While he could have done with more cash than his $84million budget allowed, I doubt he’ll have too much trouble getting a green light for his next picture. TGS has grossed almost $400million in 87 days, and the fact singalong version has kept packing audiences in mean Jackman’s position as one of the most lucrative actors in the business is secure.

Obviously it won’t be for all tastes, and with the DVD and Blu-ray due for release in May, some might want to wait. I’d recommend seeing it on a huge screen before that day as it’s the very thing cinema was invented for: a communal, feelgood experience which makes you forget your troubles for 105 minutes.

The greatest show indeed.

8/10

Advertisements

Film Review – Red Sparrow

Red Sparrow

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts

Directed by Francis Lawrence

Certificate 15

What happens when a Russian ballet dancer with a sick mother suffers a career-ending injury?

She becomes a spy of course, thanks to her uncle, Ivan, who works in Russian intelligence.

That’s the career path chosen by Dominika Egorova, the ever watchable Jennifer Lawrence. For the first hour, her path from pirouettes to spy school and then out in the field is mostly intriguing.

Her ordeals suffered at spy school are pretty degrading as she learns the art of seduction under the tutelage of Charlotte Rampling’s emotionless expert.

She’s tasked with seducing American spy Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton); he’s tasked with gleaning information from her.

Following that promising first hour, I sit through another 100 minutes of torture porn; Jennifer and Joel facing eye-watering pain, and internecine shenanigans.

Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty booms over the speakers at one point. Aptly I fight to stay awake through the second act, and long before the finale, I’ve already considered walking out. Some cinema goers do; there are two of us left by the time the lights come up.

Red Sparrow is overly complicated, and wants to have the class of great John Le Carre, but it’s no Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. It also feels like Atomic Blonde with all the fun removed.

Jennifer Lawrence is as mesmerising as ever, and retains her dignity even when the story demands her character has none.

It’s a pretty miserable experience with the score ramped up to deafening levels in the hope it adds class to a joyless thriller.

A split second before Ciaran Hinds appears on screen I guess he’ll turn up at some point because he plays good Russians in better films like The Sum of All Fears. And there he is, which is scant consolation as the film drags on.

Jeremy Irons shows up as another Russian VIP, and I’m also taken out of the moment with a bit part from Holby City’s Hugh Quarshie.

I’m no espionage expert, but I do know there is a gaping hole in the premise of sending a famous ballerina undercover as a spy. Any intelligence service worth their salt will run facial recognition software over a suspect’s photo on the off-chance she’s in their database.

Red Sparrow is an excruciating experience for the most part. No matter how slick or sexy the trailer is, it’s not reason enough to waste 140 minutes of your life.

Barge poles required.

4/10

Film review – Annihilation (2018)

Film review

Annihilation (2018)

Certificate 15

Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac

Directed by Alex Garland

There was a time when waiting for a movie was a thing. The anticipation of a big budget slick offering was like the smell of a great meal before it arrives at your table.

Then the game changed. Out of thin air the cinematic feast dropped on your table, but despite nice packaging, the flavour was occasionally off.

Netflix has been backing some high profile, disappointing offerings lately, but finally they have a winner.

So after the woeful Will Smith vehicle Bright, humdrum Duncan Jones sci-fi oddity Mute and lacklustre The Cloverfield Paradox, we have another high gloss confection from the streaming service.

And it’s extraordinary.

I’ve been a fan of film maker Alex Garland since he started making waves with The Beach. His under-rated, flawed sci-fi epic Sunshine was the most unforgettable cinematic experience of 2007, and Dredd undid most of the damage caused by Sly Stallone’s 1995 misfire comic book conversion, Judge Dredd.

All of which preamble brings us to his latest offering, the trippy Natalie Portman vehicle Annihilation.

As I’m hard wired to lap up any sci-fi saga, good or bad, the thought of a new offering from the maker of Ex-Machina was a tantalising prospect.

What starts out as a dreamy tale of loss and mourning, soon takes a left-hand turn.

Natalie Portman is the ex-soldier turned biologist whose missing partner (Oscar Isaac) turns up out of the blue.

However, he’s sick, so one thing leads to another and she winds up on an all-female mission into the Shimmer, an energy field that’s expanding in Florida.

In order to save her fella, the only person to emerge from the anomaly, she embarks on a possible suicide mission.

What unfolds is reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, (the film) Southern Comfort, Arrival, The Fountain, and unsurprisingly Sunshine.

There’s also a mix of Avatar and Jurassic Park, with elements of Space: 1999. Oh, and bits of Contact too. And yet while it might remind you of dozens of other movies and shows, Annihilation is also like nothing you’ve seen.

The third act is one of the trippiest things I’ve witnessed since the incredible Under the Skin. And while some might reach for the off button during a scene with a swimming pool and a knife, stick with it.

Garland might tread into the queasy territory of Event Horizon with a recorded slice of past terror, but this is as much Alice in Wonderland as it is a horror movie.

The final shot is a little inevitable, but the journey is extraordinary. Portman and fellow Thor veteran Tessa Thompson may never have shared screentime in that Marvel universe, but in this otherworldly one they shine without standing in the shadow of the hammer-wielding hero.

In a decade’s time, folks will still mention Annihilation in the same breath as classic intellectual sci-fi offerings like Solaris and 2001.

The fact the closing credits are eclipsed by the unfurling graphics is testament to how daring Garland’s project is. He doesn’t even tell you who’s in it.

Do yourself a favour. Turn the lights and your phone off, wait ’til around 10pm, press play and prepare to have your mind blown.

8/10