Directed by Peter Berg. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez
THE PLOT: In April 2010, the biggest oil spill un US history began with an explosion aboard the offshore drilling rig, the Deepwater Horizon. Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) returned to work on the rig not long before the accident, and struggled to get as many people off the rig alive as he could, while trying to stop the disastrous chain of events that had been set in motion.
THE VERDICT: With the actual event of the Deepwater Horizon disaster only six years old, it is, in some ways, surprising that this film has been made so quickly. Especially when considering that the film turns into a typical disaster movie, and pays little heed to the ecological disaster that followed. The original article that the film is based on sets its sights firmly on the events on the rig and the people involved, but without telling the tale of the following 87 days, it feels as though the story is only half told.
Mark Wahlberg leads the cast as Mike Williams, whose real life testimony into the inquiry as to why the rig exploded opens the film. Wahlberg makes the character likeable and loyal, and some of his interactions with other characters on the rig feel natural and strong. Kate Hudson has a smaller role as Mike’s wife Felicia, and is joined in supporting roles by Dylan O’Brien, Ethan Suplee, Gina Rodriguez and James DuMont. Kurt Russell plays Jimmy Harrell, rig boss, while John Malkovich forms the closest thing the film has to a villain, as BP employee Vidrine.
Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand’s screenplay was inspired by David Rohde and Stephanie Saul’s article for the New York Times; Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours, and as such, focuses on the final hours of the rig before the explosion and resulting fallout. In order to tell the story of people, the writers focus on Mike Williams, and it is through his eyes that we see much of the action. The information the audience needs to know to understand the catastrophe is presented well; simply and clearly, but the characters suffer from simply being there as vehicles for the story. The screenplay paints Malkovich’s BP executive as an oily (sorry) bad guy, with the real villain being lack of maintenance and indecisiveness; the blame still landing squarely on BP’s shoulders.
As director, Peter Berg has created a film of two halves; at first ‘Deepwater Horizon’ is a film that focuses on characters and their relationships, but this all falls apart in the second act when the disaster element of the film kicks in. The only things we learn about the characters are that one has a car, and another a family, and this is not enough to consider the characters to be rounded. Of course the audience is going to root for the people on the rig since they are trapped aboard a burning barge – for all intents and purposes – but although ‘Deepwater Horizon’ claims to be a film about the people, we never truly get to know them. As well as this, giving little focus to the following 87 days when oil and gas continued to leak into the Gulf, after the ‘Deepwater Horizon’ sank, feels like we are only getting half of the story.
In all, ‘Deepwater Horizon’ tells the story of what happened on the doomed rig on April 20th 2010, but never manages to round the characters out fully, and ignores the events that happened afterwards. The first half of the film is fun, and the sense of doom builds nicely, but once disaster hits, it feels as though we have seen all of this before. There needed to be more told on the after effects of the spill – as was done in 2012’s ‘The Big Fix’ – and this leaves ‘Deepwater Horizon’ feeling familiar, unfinished, but gripping in places.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Tim Burton. Starring Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Chris O’Dowd, Rupert Everett, Judi Dench
THE PLOT: After his grandfather dies in mysterious and eerie circumstances, Jake (Asa Butterfield) demands to travel from his home in Florida to the island of Cairnholm off the coast of Wales, to find the Children’s Home where his grandfather lived as a child. When he arrives, Jake meets all the people his grandfather told him stories about, including Emma (Ella Purnell) a girl who can float, Olive (Lauren McCrostie) a girl who can control fire, and Horace (Hayden Keeler-Stone). On realising that his grandfather’s peculiar friends are real and seemingly not aging, Jake learns that there is more to these peculiar children and their hidden lives than he ever would have dreamed.
THE VERDICT: Based on the series of books by author Ransom Riggs, ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children’ is director Tim Burton’s first film since ‘Big Eyes’ in 2014. The director seems to have done away with the tropes that he had become known for – Danny Elfman score, stripes and swirls, ghoulish lead characters – to tell a story already beloved by readers around the world.
Asa Butterfield seems to be making a career of playing the odd kids – ‘Hugo’, ‘Ender’s Game’ – but he is one fine form as the curious but cowardly Jake. The heart of the story, and the voice of the audience when things take a turn for the peculiar, Jake is a character the audience wants to root for as he gets drawn into a world he never even knew existed. Eva Green plays the titular Miss Peregrine, and makes the character fierce but caring, while Chris O’Dowd struggles with an American accent as Jake’s father, Terence Stamp makes Abe odd but endearing, and Samuel L. Jackson camps it up as the menacing Baron. The rest of the adult cast features Rupert Everett, Judi Dench and Allison Janney. As far as the kids go, Ella Purnell makes the floating Emma endearing and brave, Finlay MacMillain obviously has fun with the brattish but smart Enoch and Lauren McCrostie is sweet as the pyro-inclined Olive. The rest of the younger cast includes Hayden Keeler-Stone, Georgia Pemberton and Milo Parker.
Screenwriter Jane Goldman is used to adapting literary works for the big screen, but her work with comic books ‘Kick-Ass’, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ and the ‘X-Men’ films becomes obvious in the screenplay for ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’. While there is a lot to love in the film, including the kids’ peculiarities, and the eerie feeling the film is infused with, there are times when ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ feels a little like it was inspired by ‘X-Men’, with a dash of ‘Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant’ and ‘Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief’ thrown in for good measure. The film is fun in a lot of places, but can’t shake a feeling of familiarity, as everything builds to a recognisable close.
As director, Tim Burton has dialled back his signature tropes for ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’, but manages to hold onto the creeping feeling that he did so well in films like Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands; this is our world, but not as we know it. The film is well paced for the most part, but feels bloated at times, as though Burton couldn’t help but stay in this creepy and off-kilter world just a little longer. While it is fun to spend time in the world of Miss Peregrine’s making, tighter pacing and different music over the Ray Harryhausen inspired final set piece could have made for a more engaging and less obvious film.
In all, ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ is the least Tim Burton-y film the director has released in years, and that’s a good thing. The cast do well, the film is beautifully shot, but tighter pacing and less indulgence in the world of the story could have meant the film feeling less familiar and more engaging.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Gary Ross. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Keri Russell, Christopher Berry
THE PLOT: During the American Civil War, Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) deserts from the Confederate Army and, after initially hiding out in the swamp with runaway slaves, begins to grow his own army, one that is open to all who want to join, and has the aim of taking down the bullies within the southern army.
THE VERDICT: ‘Free State of Jones’, written and directed by Gary Ross, is a tale that is incredibly worthy and has some interesting facets, but in trying to blend together the personal and the political, as well as the past and the future, the film loses a lot of its bite.
Matthew McConaughey stars as Newton Knight, and he is the perfect choice for a charming and charismatic leader. We have seen the actor do roles like this many times on the big screen, so it is no great surprise that this is something that McConaughey excels at. The rest of the cast features Keri Russell, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, Christopher Berry and Sean Bridgers, who all do fine with their roles, even though they do not get a lot to do.
Based on a story by Leonard Hartman, Gary Ross’ screenplay starts well in establishing Newton Knight and his motivations for fighting against the Confederate Army. It is a great shock then, 30 minutes or so in, when the film suddenly jumps to 85 years later, and a courtroom hearing of whether a descendant of Knight is 1/8th African American or not. These interludes come and go throughout the film, and although it becomes clear why this is happening, the strangeness and jumpiness of this choice never sits well with the rest of the film. Elsewhere, the film jumps through time in trying to cover the time during the Civil War and after slavery is abolished, but is never clear what story it is actually focusing on. All of the issues brought up are worthy, but none is given centre stage.
As director, Gary Ross coaxes performances from his actors that stand up under the weight of the oddly jumpy storyline, but other than Newton and his friend Moses, the audience struggles to get to know any of the major players in the film. The pacing of the film often feels torturous as it casts around for a story to cling on to. The cinematography of the film is strong, with the swamps looking as weird and otherworldly as possible, while the violent scenes are never shied away from.
In all, ‘Free State of Jones’ is a bit of a mess; there are plenty of worthy stories in the film, but none has been pulled out and brought to the fore. The performances are fine and the cinematography is strong, but ‘Free State of Jones’ needed a stronger directorial vision to be anything other than muddled.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

SWISS ARMY MAN (USA/Club/97mins)
Directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Starring Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Shane Carruth, Richard Gross
THE PLOT: Alone on an island after a shipwreck, Hank (Paul Dano) has given up hope and is trying to hang himself when he sees a body on the beach. Although the man – who Hank christens Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) is dead – Hank soon sees a benefit from his new companion; his constant flatulence. As Hank tries to get home, and strikes up a strange friendship with Manny, he explores life, love and his relationships.
THE VERDICT: If you have heard of ‘Swiss Army Man’, then chances are you have heard that Daniel Radcliffe plays a farting corpse. While this is strictly true, there is a lot more to the film, including a surprising warmth and sweetness, buried underneath the film’s downright oddness, which is wears openly on its sleeve.
Paul Dano leads the cast as Hank. All we know about the character is that he was washed up on the island during a storm, and has had enough of life without company or food. Through his relationship with Manny – which is admittedly all in his head – the audience learns more about this character, why there doesn’t seem to be a search party out for him, and his views on life and love. Daniel Radcliffe makes the flatulent Manny a combination of a friend, multi-tool and tabula rasa for Hank to pour his ideals into. Manny gets most of the smiles throughout the film – there are no outright laughs, unless you find farts hilarious – and his character becomes gentle and childlike with a strong sense of loyalty. Both performances in the film are wonderful and they compliment one another incredibly well. The rest of the cast features Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Shane Carruth and Richard Gross.
Writer/directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert – credited as Daniels – have taken an incredibly odd premise, kept it weird, but somehow managed to make it a touching bromance, adventure tale and existential exploration. The dialogue is smart and often raises a wry smile from the audience, and there is plenty of warmth and heart in the film. It is easy to see why more delicate audiences could be turned off, since there is a lot of discussion of poop, masturbation, erections and flatulence, but there is a warm and gentle heart at the centre of ‘Swiss Army Man’, which is in some ways, unexpected.
As directors, Kwan and Schienert keep the film moving at a decent pace, and keep the mystery of Hank’s stranding to themselves, in order to keep the film engaging. It would be easy to stay superficial on such an odd film, and dismiss it out of hand, but there is a lot to explore here, such as the nature of mental health, survival and the day dreams that get us through those long and dull afternoons. The performances from the two leads are superb, although it all goes to hell once civilisation begins to creep in.
In all,’ Swiss Army Man is a rare’, weird and charming delight. The two leads are strong in their sublimely bizarre roles, the story is touching but it all falls apart in the final 10 minutes, leaving the film feeling rather unfinished and let down by its ending.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Andrew Rossi. Starring Andrew Bolton, Anna Wintour, Baz Luhrmann, Jean Paul Gaultier, John Galliano
THE PLOT: Each year on the first Monday in May, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opens their annual exhibition at the Costume Institute with the famous and star-studded Met Gala. In 2015, the exhibition was China: Through The Looking Glass, and filmmaker Andrew Rossi followed curator Andrew Bolton for eight months in the run up to the fashion event of the year.
THE VERDICT: ‘The First Monday in May’ is really a film for fans of fashion, and who are curious as to just how much work goes into an exhibition like China: Through The Looking Glass, which became the fifth most popular exhibition in the Met’s history, and even managed to beat the money raised the phenomenally successful Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2011.
‘The First Monday in May’ is about the work that goes on behind the scenes of the Met Gala, and is populated with famous faces, as well as Anne Hathaway, Rihanna, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Miley Cyrus and Kate Hudson walking the red carpet at the Gala, the film follows Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour – also Trustee of the Met – as she works with curator Andrew Bolton and creative consultant Baz Luhrmann on the prestigious event. As well as this, The First Monday in May addresses the potential religious and political issues with an exhibition focused on China, the issues posed by the space itself at the Met, and discusses the idea of fashion as art with designers and opinion makers like André Leon-Talley, John Galliano and Jean-Paul Gaultier.
Director Andrew Rossi gives audiences an unprecedented look behind the scenes of the Met Gala, and manages to keep the pace of the film moving steadily, but other than the discussion of fashion as an art form, and the fabulous pieces on display, there is very little to keep audiences interested other than the revelation that Anna Wintour is not the dragon we have all been told she is, and things don’t always go according to plan. The final shots of Bolton quietly walking through the work of art he has put together is a lovely moment, but this is not a film for the Blair Waldorfs of the world, and is not going to win over any of us who live in jeans and hoodies.
In all, ‘The First Monday in May’ is an interesting curiosity, and we all love to gawk at a celebrity on the red carpet – and off – but there is little here for the uninitiated. Fans of fashion and costume art, however, are going to be in their element, even though the film feels immediately dated, since the exhibition took place over a year ago.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Directed by Richard Tanne. Starring Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Phillip Edward Van Lear, Taylar Fondren
THE PLOT: In 1989, Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) and Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) go on a date for the first time. Over the course of the day they spend together, they discuss, race, politics, art and ice cream, and begin to feel a connection growing.
THE VERDICT: ‘Southside With You’ is a strange sort of film. Chronicling the first date between Barack and Michelle Obama – or Robinson, as she was at the time – could be an interesting snapshot into the lives of African Americans in Chicago in the 1980s, but so much time is spent focusing on the fact that Barack smoked at the time, and Michelle’s objections that their meet up was not a date, that this dialogue-heavy film feels as though it is going nowhere.
Tika Sumpter is strong as Michelle Robinson; she makes the character tenacious and strong willed, and a character that the audience understands well. Parker Sawyers makes Barack a smooth talking young lawyer, who is already displaying his trademark charm, charisma and skill at orating. The trouble is that these two people, as President and First Lady of the United States of America, are so well known, their mannerisms and way of speaking so familiar to audiences around the world, that it is hard to tell whether Sumpter and Sawyers are giving strong performances or just imitating mannerisms seen on TV and social media.
Written and directed by Richard Tanne in his feature film debut, ‘Southside With You’ is a film that relies heavily on dialogue, and feels inspired in no small part by Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ trilogy, as these two characters talk their way through their first date together; not only discussing life as African Americans in a society suffering racial stress, but their dreams and aspirations for life. This is all well and good, but since we know where this story ends up, ‘Southside With You’ ends up feeling like a film that foreshadows everything and tells the audience nothing, even though most of the running time is taken up with talking.
As director, Richard Tanne makes sure that the couple keep moving through their day, from lunch to an art exhibition to a community event that Barack speaks at, but this does not help to give the film a feeling of pace, and it often drags its heels. As well as this, even though Barack makes a point about ‘Good Times’ showing stereotypical African American families, the two spend a lot of time having conversations about race and aspirations that feel as though we have heard them before. The characterisations are good, but again, it is hard to tell whether these performances are imitation or acting.
In all, ‘Southside With You’ feels like a new version of ‘Before Sunrise’, starring two of the most well known people in Western politics today. It is hard to know who the film is aimed at, and there is a feeling that it was made either too late or too soon. There are some interesting issues raised about race, wealth and education throughout the film, but the discussions around these end up feeling familiar and vague.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Also opening this weekend is The Lovers And The Despot. Here’s my review:

    Strange stories have emerged from North Korea over recent years, but they stretch back much further than that. The Lovers And The Despot is a documentary about a different generation caught up in the power play of a despotic leader intent on capturing the imagination of the apparently decadent west through the medium of film.

    In the 1970s, Shin Sang-ok was a respected South Korean director who was married to popular actress Choi Eun-hee. They represented the glamourous side of filmmaking to many people, including North Korean ruler Kim Jong-il, a film buff of his own. They separated after Shin’s affair with a younger woman, but that was just the beginning of a strange decade for the couple. Kim wanted to lure them to the North to improve the film industry there and use their films as propaganda to control the already-brainwashed population. The invitation was less than welcoming though, with the couple effectively kidnapped separately, disappearing to their family under mysterious circumstances. Resisting brainwashing, they went on to make North Korea’s first love film before eventually making a bid for escape…

    Ross Adam and Robert Cannan’s compelling documentary lifts the film reel can on a little-known but fascinating true story about the darker side of power and how it affects the lives of others. The film uses a blend of footage, from archival interviews, new interviews and re-enactments with appropriately aged film to visually depict what’s being told. For, the filmmakers have secured secret tape recordings that Choi made while in North Korea with the voice of Kim delivering orders and ideas for the couple in how to make films for North Korea. It makes for intriguing listening and viewing, with Kim coming across as obsessive and used to getting his own way – or else…

    This excellent, seamless blend of footage is woven together to form an investigative story with many twists and turns, which would make a good feature film at some point (maybe made by Park Chan-Wook). While we may scoff at bizarre footage of masses excessively mourning the passing of Kim’s father under pain of death, there is a deep psychological message here about absolute power and why nobody questioned its usage. Shin and Choi were effectively prisoners of Kim, so Choi’s present day recounting of her and Shin’s attempt at escape is even tense and loaded with suspicion. Given that we know so much about Kim Jong-un, The Lovers And The Despot is a glimpse into the past for a like-father, like-son story with reverberations even today. Recommended for film buffs and the curious. ****