In a year in which The Emoji Movie is an apparently acceptable entity, and in which The Lego Batman Movie can deliver an exuberant – and surprisingly layered – hit, the former controversy of a blockbuster having been spawned from a theme park ride seems but a drop in the industrial ocean. Yet, when Captain Jack Sparrow, played by then cult-curiosity Johnny Depp, sailed into Port Royal, Jamaica, aboard his sinking ship – to the strum of Hans Zimmer’s self-plagiarised Gladiator score – he brought with him the origins of a three billion dollar franchise. The Curse of the Black Pearl was not only far from the flop predicted by forecasters, but was met with a degree of critical acclaim.
When the grieving fiancé (Paula Beer) of a German First World War casualty visits her beloved’s grave in 1919, the sight of a veteran French survivor (Pierre Niney) laying flowers upon it is the last thing she might expect but the first which she meets. Inspired by Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 film Broken Lullaby, itself based on Maurice Rostand’s ‘L’homme due j’ai tué’ play of two years earlier, such is the set up to François Ozon’s César award-winning Frantz, a heartbreaking tale of love, loss and lies, intertwined with intrigue.
There are a great number of cruelly self-destructive lines in Alien: Covenant. ‘This is a monumental risk not worth taking’ says one character; ‘How did she end up here’ says another. Whereas Prometheus felt like an unnecessary, but successfully atmospheric, origins story to Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien, the problem with its first sequel is that it adds to the pointlessness only derivation and oddities. The visuals are still impressive, as is Michael Fassbender (the only returner from before) but here is a plot so messy that such a degree of scrutiny is required – to simply fathom what’s going on – that exposed is the plain fact that none of it actually makes any sense.
Sleepless is the 2017 remake of Frédéric Jardin’s Nuit Blanche, released six years ago, that you never knew you wanted. This is, of course, predominantly because you didn’t, but that hasn’t not stopped Baran bo Odar from directing it anyway. Isn’t that nice of him. Whilst the first half is fair enough, if not actively good, it is in Sleepless’ second act that the plot swings from banal to bonkers, before finally bombing in boring.
Striking use of colour occupies endless layers of significance within William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth, a film based on Nicolai Leskov’s socially conscious, nineteenth century novel ‘Lady Macbeth and the Mtsensk District’. From the soul-draining dull brown tones of the house’s interior to the brilliant blue worn throughout by Florence Pugh’s Katherine Leicester, much can be teased, in terms of character and emotional dynamics, through the chromatics of their scenes. Note too, an ensemble cast that is diverse in ethnicity, achieving the balance in a way that feels intelligent, relevant and perfectly appropriate. If anything heralds the success of Lady Macbeth, it is absolutely the uncompromising confidence of its conviction and artfulness of its cleverly cineliterate styling. It is a harmony that, in creating intense disharmony, makes for one highly satisfying experience.
From the very first to the final frame, Jessica Chastain sells Miss Sloane – John Madden’s thriller about a lobbyist who takes on the masterminds of Capitol Hill to manipulate the pushing through of strengthened gun restrictions in America. Hers is, with delicious irony, an all guns blazing performance of addictive watchability, which proves essential in holding together the film’s increasingly contrived plot. So good is Chastain here that she very nearly manages to lobby you into an assumption that the film is a political masterpiece. It’s not that, but it is good fun.
If you’re among the masses who remain totally convinced that 20th Century Fox missed a trick by not recruiting Werner Herzog to direct Marley and Me back in 2008, Lasse Hallström’s latest, A Dog’s Purpose (aka Nietzsche and Me), is probably the closest thing you’re ever likely to get to consolation.
This may look like cute, canine fun for all the family, but don’t be fooled – that’s what it wants you to think – the reality is a bleak, so-called adventure in which the film’s ‘Marley’ is euthanised within the first five minutes, before being promptly reborn as a Golden Retriever called Bailey, whose later death leads to a further two incarnations. Also tackled here are: the Cuban Missile Crises, domestic abuse, depression and animal neglect; not forgetting, of course, the philosophical question of ‘being’ that drives the plot.