Review: Molly’s Game

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It is safe to say that Aaron Sorkin is one of the best screenwriters working today, a status he has deservedly earned thanks to excellent writing credits including the award-winning scripts for The West Wing, Steve Jobs and The Social Network. While Molly’s Game continues Sorkin’s current trend of writing scripts concerning the lives of real people, the film also marks his first time directing.

Telling its story by segwaying back and forth between the reality of Molly’s life before and after her arrest in usual, non-linear Sorkin style, all the elements one has come to expect from a Sorkin piece are present in Molly’s Game. The snappy exchanges and tightly-scripted dialogue are as plentiful and as enjoyable as ever, which will likely make Molly’s Game a treat for fans of the writer’s previous works.

Jessica Chastain once again proves that she is the thespian gift that keeps on giving, showing just how well she can deliver Sorkin’s trademark quick-witted dialogue with a panache that will likely thrill fans of another 2017 Chastain offering, namely the Sorkin-esque Miss Sloane. Thanks to the combination of Sorkin’s writing and Chastain’s talent, her turn as Molly Bloom therefore makes for a compelling portrayal of an intriguing woman with an unusual life story.

Idris Elba keeps up with Chastain for the most part, which is a welcome reminder of the presence he can at times muster, something that is painfully needed after Elba severely failed to impress in recent atrocities such as The Mountain Between Us and The Dark Tower. While Chastain’s magnetism is evident throughout the film, Elba’s presence is more restrained, save for a particularly outstanding monologue in the latter half of the film. As such, the two leads manage to spar well with one another, ensuring a dynamic contrast of characters, which elevates the dramatic potency without compromising the necessary balance.

Where the film may fall short for some is in terms of its heavy emphasis on the world of poker. While fans of poker will likely enjoy the film’s suave, yet thorough and competent insights into the game, the various players and their dynamics, it may be too niche for those who have little to no knowledge of poker. Thus, the uninitiated may struggle to maintain their interest through significant portions of the film, even though the poker elements are introduced and portrayed in that rapid-fire style so typical of Sorkin.

In addition to the potential issue of the film’s true target audience being too narrow a demographic, the issue of pacing is unfortunately also prevalent. With its 2 hours and 20 minutes, not only is the film substantially longer than usual Sorkin fare, it is also slightly too long from a more general cinematic point of view. Being a little harsher in the editing room could have left the film flowing better, as the intrigue of the story and writing does dip dangerously low at points, however, thanks to the talent and skill on display, the drawback of the runtime is not too severe.

While not a particularly monumental effort from Aaron Sorkin in terms of his well-known writing and his debut as a director, Molly’s Game does succeed overall. As a film about a strong-willed, intelligent and assertive woman, Sorkin once again excels at writing a great character, which Chastain brings to life like only she can. With its pacing issues and overly specific subject matter, Molly’s Game may not be a cinematic royal flush that will win everyone over, but for fans of poker and Sorkin, the combined elements will likely add up to a game-winning full house.

Verdict: 8 out of 10.

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Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

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As Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson continues his vendetta against iconic elements of 90’s pop culture, no property appears to be safe. Having already tormented cinemagoers with the painful Baywatch film earlier this year, it is therefore understandable that many have expressed their concerns about his involvement with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Being not quite a sequel and not quite a reboot either, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle seeks to show us the inside of the Jumanji board game, which has now become a video game, a change that only spurred further outrage from fans of the 1995 original.

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Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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When The Force Awakens was released in 2015, it was met with overwhelmingly favorable reviews, just as the fans for the most part seemed thoroughly pleased by the continuation of the beloved saga. The cause for the success was largely attributed to J.J. Abrams having managed to bring the franchise back to its roots in terms of tone and atmosphere, just as many of the new additions to the cast were also commended for being highly compelling. However, with a change of director and the untimely death of the inimitable Carrie Fisher, people have been wondering where director Rian Johnson would take the saga, as the ominous episode title The Last Jedi and the secretive marketing campaign seemed to suggest that the latest installment would be a much darker outing than its predecessor.

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Review: Justice League

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Not only has establishing the DC Extended Universe proved to be an arduous task with the numerous flops threatening to be a deadly counterweight to the one big hit the current film franchise managed to land with Wonder Woman this summer, the production of Justice League itself has also been tumultuous, to say the least. When Zack Snyder decided to step down from Justice League due to the tragic loss of his daughter, Joss Whedon stepped in to cover for Snyder, helming a substantial amount of re-shoots. Among DC fans, concerns understandably grew that Warner Bros. were simply trying to imitate the Marvel formula by bringing in the director of The Avengers, but while it is for better and most definitely also worse easy to see which elements Whedon has been in charge of, Justice League overwhelmingly comes across as the vision of a Snyder who has reined in his preference for angsty bleakness and muted colors and instead attempted to create a more vibrant film with more of a comic book feel than his previous DCEU offerings.

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Review: Paddington 2

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In 2014, the first film about Michael Bond’s lovable, jam-obsessed bear managed to impress both audiences and critics alike with its sincere charm and heartwarming themes. As everyone knows, a sequel rarely lives up to the original, and it was therefore understandable that many would have low expectations when settling into their seats for the bear’s second set of adventures in London. However, for those who have already had the opportunity to see Paddington 2, the general consensus is thankfully that the sequel not only lives up to its predecessor, it does, in fact, also surpass it.

From the beginning of the film, director Paul King continues in the same playful, slapstick vein of the first film. Ben Whishaw also continues to prove that he is the perfect choice to voice the eponymous bear, and all the recurring characters are as welcome a sight as they should be. However, once we have been reminded of the things that made the first film so enjoyable, the main storyline comes into full effect, and it is at this point that Paddington 2 truly reveals itself as something very special.

Much like the first film succeeded due to the sincerity of its charming narrative – which  prevented it from falling victim to relying on the kind of schmaltz so often overused in family films to provoke a response – the greatest strength of Paddington 2 is that very same sincerity of the original. Without relying on emotional manipulation, the sequel is brimming with warmth thanks to the combined efforts of the talent both behind and in front of the camera being committed to competently bringing the essence of the endearing source material to life.

As previously mentioned, one is once again thankful that Colin Firth volunteered to step down to allow Ben Whishaw portray the Peruvian furball, however, another standout is Hugh Grant in the role of a self-obsessed, has-been actor. Stating that Grant is superb at portraying a failed actor may sound like a snarky dig, but the enthusiasm with which he portrays this character only attests to his talent and wit. Brendan Gleeson also has great fun portraying the initially intimidating Knuckles McGinty, however, the entire ensemble of prisoners during the films lengthy time spent in jail make this portion of the film so engaging that it is rather unsurprising that it has earned Paddington 2 the nickname The Pawshank Redemption.

Aside from its unadultered Paddington-esque qualities causing equally amusing and charming set pieces and character arcs, the moment our furry protagonist lands himself in jail is also where the technical aspects of the film truly shine. While the film as a whole is brightly colored comfort food for the eyes, the prison sequences are on another level; with visuals reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, the craftsmanship applied showcases the kind of stunningly beautiful work that elevates a film when set decoration, cinematography and color grading all come together perfectly.

The family film has always been an incredibly tricky genre to master, as achieving a balance that ensures a film can engage and entertain across all ages for the duration of its runtime is an ungrateful task. With more misses than hits in this genre not only in general but also in recent memory, Paddington 2 is therefore a remarkable feat as it manages to tick all the boxes, both in terms of technical aspects and narrative strength. And I am not ashamed to admit that the film is so utterly charming and compelling that I would frankly feel inclined to take Paddington’s example and give anyone who disagrees a very hard stare indeed.

Verdict: 10 out of 10.

Review: The Florida Project

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So-called slice-of-life cinema may not be everyone’s idea of a fun time at the movies, but for those who enjoy films that seek to engage its audience by making them reflect on human themes they may or may not already be familiar with, such films have time and time again proven to be incredibly rewarding cinematic experiences. Much like Moonlight won the hearts of critics and moviegoers alike thanks to its impressive performances, excellent cinematography and heartbreakingly relevant story, The Florida Project finds itself in a similar vein. While Moonlight is arguably the stronger film of the two, it is perfectly understandable why Sean Baker’s latest effort has been compared to the most recent Best Picture winner, just as The Florida Project has also created a substantial amount of awards buzz already.

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Review: The Death of Stalin

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From subversive World World II comics to Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump parody on Saturday Night Live, political satire has long been an integral part of the pop-cultural landscape, serving as a cathartic breath of fresh air during trying times. As Armando Iannucci has proved with previous directorial and writing efforts such as The Thick of ItIn The Loop and Veep, he is no stranger to this type of satire, but while his previous offerings have focused on contemporary scenarios, The Death of Stalin concerns a gruesome time period that is thankfully a thing of the past. Satirizing such a serious subject may seem like a problematic or insensitive choice to some, but as any good satirist will tell you, it is often within the most volatile political situations the most impactful satire lies, as true satire highlights the absurdity without neglecting the severity.

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