Out on Friday November 17
Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen display the worst excesses of the social media generation. Robert Pattinson leads the Safdie brothers’ grungy, high-octane thriller.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Justice League, Ingrid Goes West, Good Time, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, Strangled, Heartstone, and Trophy.
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It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of the universe is riding on Justice League. Well, the future of DC’s Extended Universe. The first full-strength outing for DC’s assorted supers takes small steps in the right direction following the gloom and doom(sday) of Batman V Superman, but it’s another major misfire for the DCEU; one that makes Wonder Woman’s sensational solo outing look increasingly like an anomaly.
Billed as ‘A Zack Snyder film’ in the opening titles, despite extensive, widely publicised reshoots overseen by Joss Whedon, Justice League is a film at odds with itself. While the action features Snyder’s visual hallmarks – muscular slow-mo, comic panel framing – Whedon’s fingerprints are all over the dialogue (he gets a co-screenplay credit). Throughout Justice League does its utmost to convince you that ‘the DCEU is totally fun now!’ – most notably through Barry Allen’s vexing tendency to converse entirely in quips – but the humour falls flat throughout.
The story is similarly two dimensional. Set several months after the ‘death’ of Henry Cavill’s Kryptonian, Superman’s absence has opened the door for alien invasion, with a trio of ‘mother boxes’ (aka, MacGuffin Boxes) beckoning big bad Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), and his army of fear-sapping Parademons to earth. In response Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) set about assembling a League of metahumans to stop Darkseid’s right hand man before he can turn the world into a wasteland.
Tellingly, the film’s two best sequences both showcase the citizens of Themyscira. In the first Wonders makes an explosive entrance by putting those bracelets to dazzling use, while a dynamic battle between Steppenwolf and the Amazonians is filled with exactly the kind of awe-inspiring acrobatics and selfless acts of heroism that made Patty Jenkins’ box office smash such a stirring experience.
Immediately after the film nosedives. Pre-release reports claimed the Justice League’s trim two hour runtime was a directive from the top. And there’s an inescapable sense that the film is in a Flash-like rush to bring the band together, constantly tripping over its own feet in the process. Un-engaging from the off, the plot never convinces as anything more than a bridge between underwhelming, CG-laden action sequences.
While every member of the League has been glimpsed before, it’s here that we get our first substantial helping of Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, Ezra Miller’s Flash and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. Momoa’s glacier-cool protector of the oceans makes a solid if unspectacular first impression – providing cautious hope for his December 2019 solo movie. Miller’s Flash is the comic relief, but his self-deprecating wisecracks feel completely out of step with the rest of the world and its inhabitants. Cyborg meanwhile is several microchips short of a circuit board, offering little reason to invest in the mopey roboman’s plight.
Wonder Woman can always be relied on to pick up the slack – Gadot exactly as endearing as you remember, even if the fish out of water aspect of her solo movie is sorely missed here. As for Batman, Justice League’s lighter Dark Knight is a step backwards. Dialling down the intensity of BvS, he’s a much blander Bats than before, while Affleck appears to have mentally checked out of the role already.
The film also fails to create a credible threat for the League, Steppenwolf the DC equivalent of Marvel’s much-maligned Malekith The Accursed. A pasty-skinned, “obnoxiously tall” armoured potato with a face that seems oddly inarticulate, his master plan is a straight copy and paste of Zod’s World Engine in Man of Steel. Ciarán Hinds provides suitably sinister and sonorous voice work, but the character is so forgettable he fades from memory while still swinging an axe in front of your eyes.
But what of Henry Cavill’s Cal-El? It’s no spoiler to say that Superman returns, yet his miraculous comeback results in no emotional payoff, and little more than a CG double punching a bunch of pixels in a fashion you’ve already seen a hundred times before. And though the idea of Henry Cavill’s Mission: Impossible 6 moustache having to be removed in post was the source of much amusement pre-release, moustache-gate has dire consequences here – it’s comically easy to spot the (clearly extensive) reshoots because Superman’s mouth plunges into the darkest recesses of uncanny valley whenever his face gets a digital wet shave.
Justice League’s most significant shortcoming is how forgettable it all is. There’s barely a moment that sticks, not a single sequence to rival the standout superhero set-pieces of recent years. Say what you will about Batman V Superman, but at least it had ambition and vision. Justice League is a superhero movie made to a familiar recipe. Competently assembled and largely coherent, sure, but it’s dispiriting to see DC so transparently chasing Marvel’s tail now. The universe is looking more precarious by the day.
THE VERDICT: DC’s team up extravaganza is a bust, with a vanilla plot, dire bad guy and largely failed attempts at levity. Worth watching for Wonder Woman, but little more.
Director: Zack Snyder; Starring: Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoam Ray Fisher; Theatrical release: November 17, 2017
Ingrid Goes West
For those still haunted by The Emoji Movie, there is relief at hand. A sly and savage dark comedy, Ingrid Goes West is proof that you can make a good movie out of social media trends. In this case, Instagram – although the photo-sharing app could just as easily be swapped for any other public platform where ‘likes’ and followers are what counts.
When we meet Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza), she’s storming in to the wedding of Charlotte, a ‘friend’ who we later learn is really just someone she stalked on Instagram. After the fracas at Charlotte’s nuptials, Ingrid spends time in a psychiatric hospital. When she emerges, her recovery is hampered by the death of her mother, an incident that hints at the root of her malaise.
Rather than seek solutions, Ingrid lapses into the same old patterns when she reads a magazine article about Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) – headline: “Your newest girl crush” – an ‘influencer’ living in Los Angeles. She’s the type whose wisdom-fuelled posts include: “Another day, another avocado toast,” accompanied by a prayer-hands emoji. But when Taylor replies to one of her comments, Ingrid heads to LA to find her.
Funding her trip with a $60,000 inheritance, Ingrid finds shelter in a rental property next door to Dan (Straight Outta Compton’s O’Shea Jackson Jr.) – a would-be screenwriter obsessed with all things Batman.
Soon, she engineers a meet-up with Taylor – by stealing her dog and then returning it – and before long, the two are BFFs. With Taylor dating artist Ezra (Wyatt Russell), it all looks good for Ingrid, until the arrival of Taylor’s loose-cannon brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen)…
Directed and co-written by debut filmmaker Matt Spicer, Ingrid Goes West is a smartly played piece that both lampoons social media users and explores the darker side of our need for validation through others. It’s also a cry for real-life human connection, largely through the character of Dan, who – despite his never-ending babble about the Dark Knight – is arguably the only genuine one of the group.
Ingrid may be involved in some “Single White Female shit”, as one character notes, and even the soundtrack takes a dig, with the inclusion of ‘Obsession’ by Animotion. But thanks in no small part to Plaza’s winning performance, Ingrid is a likeable misfit who, perhaps, has more of a chance to change than Taylor and her ultra-phoney crowd.
With some highly amusing stabs at LA clean living (“How can I nourish you today?” asks a waiter), Ingrid Goes West will leave you entertained, provoked and probably slightly concerned at how many times a day you log on to Instagram.
THE VERDICT: A superb satirical swipe at the worst excesses of the social media generation. Deserves a lot of ‘likes’.
Director: Matt Spicer; Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Elizabeth Olsen, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Wyatt Russell; Theatrical release: November 17, 2017
Crackling with low-life energy and thrumming with tension, this grungy, high-octane thriller about two brothers’ botched bank heist could well propel arthouse auteurs Benny and Josh Safdie into the big time. It also pulls a shrewd and nervy career-best performance from Robert Pattinson as small-time crook Connie, relentlessly hustling through one crazed night to spring his learning-disabled brother Nick (a touchingly vulnerable Benny Safdie) from a police-guarded hospital.
Less Hell or High Water than a millennial Dog Day Afternoon, the film sends Connie ricocheting across a pitiless, neon-striped New York, enlisting a suspicious schoolgirl and a wacko parolee in a high-risk scheme to bankroll the brothers’ freedom.
This is a grimy, perilous city of dodgy street-corner deals and betrayals, familiar from Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. Yet the up-close-and-personal handheld camera, rapid-pulsing electronic Oneohtrix score and pell-mell editing dodge ’70s nostalgia and give the film a fresh, punky feel.
Despite its ease with sleaze, there’s also compassion here for the brothers’ bond and Connie’s desperate mission – a neat carryover from the Safdies’ restless 2014 junkie romance Heaven Knows What. Rolling from nerve-shredding chases to blackly comic scams without missing a beat, this is a pacey, pulpy thrill-ride of a movie.
THE VERDICT: Pattinson plays a blinder in this gripping, gritty grindhouse-meets-arthouse heist movie.
Directors: Bennie Safdie, Josh Safdie; Starring: Robert Pattinson, Bennie Safdie; Theatrical release: November 17, 2017
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
In the late ’70s, in a lodging house in Primrose Hill, young aspiring actor Peter Turner discovered a fellow lodger was Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame – once an Oscar-winner, acclaimed for In A Lonely Place and The Big Heat, now well past her glory years.
Despite the 30-plus age difference, they fell in love and went to the States together, but the affair broke up. Two years later, back in Liverpool, he got a call: Grahame, in a theatre production in Lancaster, had fallen ill. He brought her back to his family’s small terraced house, where it soon emerged how serious things were…
Paul McGuigan’s film sticks closely to Turner’s 1986 memoir but, switching timelines back and forth, lends it a deliberate theatricality – set transitions, back projection – that slots perfectly into this hearteningly old-fashioned romance.
He’s lined up a crack cast – Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Vanessa Redgrave, Stephen Graham – but it’s Jamie Bell as Peter and (above all) Annette Bening as Gloria who triumph in performances of emotional depth. Eon Productions rarely stray away from 007. We can be glad that here, for once, they did.
THE VERDICT: A real-life May-December romance, movingly told and acted. Bening and Bell give performances to cherish.
Directors: Paul McGuigan; Starring: Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham; Theatrical release: November 17, 2017
Árpád Sopsits’ crime procedural dramatises real-life attempts to catch a serial killer in ’60s Hungary. The action moves briskly, unmasking the murderer early and weaving together the police investigations, the crimes and a wrongful conviction.
Although beautifully shot, this is surface-level only: besides the underdeveloped characters, the scenes of sexual violence are gratuitously repetitive.
Director: Árpád Sopsits; Starring: Károly Hajduk, Péter Bárnai, Zsolt Anger; Theatrical release: November 17, 2017
A sparse but beautiful landscape provides the perfect backdrop for this Icelandic coming-of-ager. Thor (Baldur Einarsson) and Christian (Blær Hinriksson) spend the summer wrestling with teenage hormones, family problems and – particularly for Christian – their feelings about each other.
Sadly, the latter goes under-explored, but this remains a striking look at the trials of adolescence.
Directors: Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson; Starring: Baldur Einarsson, Blær Hinriksson, Diljá Valsdóttir; Theatrical release: November 17, 2017
Ironies and paradoxes abound in this visually striking doc exploring the interconnected industries of big-game hunting and animal conservation in southern Africa.
Following, among others, a rhinoceros breeder, a trophy hunter from Texas and a Zimbabwean wildlife officer, Trophy challenges audience preconceptions, revealing the complexities of the issues at stake.
Directors: Christina Clusiau, Shaul Schwarz; Theatrical release: November 17, 2017