Release date: 12th March 2018/Watch the trailer here

About thirty-five minutes into Annihilation’s run time, there’s an exchange of dialogue between two characters that manages to encapsulate the entire film fairly succinctly: ‘It was dreamlike.’ ‘Nightmarish?’ ‘Not always. Sometimes it was beautiful.’

From Ex Machina writer and director Alex Garland and based on the 2014 novel by Jeff VanderMeer – the first book in the bestselling Southern Reach trilogy – Annihilation tells the story of Lena (Natalie Portman), a biologist and former soldier who finds herself at the government-run ‘Area X’ after the mysterious return of her husband Kane (Oscar Isaac), who went missing on a mission almost a year ago and has since been presumed dead. At Area X, Lena discovers the presence of an anomaly known as ‘the shimmer’, an electromagnetic field that has been spreading across the southern coast for three years. Despite knowing that military teams have been regularly venturing into the shimmer with no one ever returning, Lena joins a team consisting of a psychologist, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a paramedic, Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), a physicist, Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson), and a geologist, Cass Sheppard (Tuva Novotny), on a research mission into the shimmer.


From technology failing to forgetting extensive periods of time and attacks by strange, mutated animals, things grow weirder and weirder for the team from the moment they enter the shimmer. Although certain story beats can’t help but feel familiar for the first half of the film, such a surreal setting allows Annihilation to become something truly original through a combination of cinematography, production design and visual effects. Annihilation contains instances of genuine horror, but this is juxtaposed with a beautiful, dreamlike quality that Garland maintains throughout the film.

As for the more nightmarish elements of the film, they vary from mildly unsettling, to gruesomely gory, to downright horrifying – but even these moments are presented with creativity and ingenuity. While the plot is slow-paced, it builds suspense with a constant, unrelenting atmosphere of dread and foreboding; occasionally breaking this tension with scares that range from disconcerting body horror to a truly disturbing bear attack, made all the more nightmare-inducing by its incredibly inventive use of sound design.


Annihilation is, however, first and foremost a science fiction film, and Garland aims high. The true horror of it lies not with the blood and guts and shock factor but with the lasting implications, the kind that linger for long afterwards and leave you pondering some of life’s bigger and more meaningful questions. The best sci-fi films – Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, Garland’s own Ex Machina – are the ones that can spawn endless discussion, and Annihilation achieves this through both its ambiguous nature and a refreshing level of respect for the intelligence of its audience.

With Annihilation, Garland may not always reach the heights of his own ambitions, but he should be applauded for being daring enough to try. He has crafted a film that is more than just impressive visuals and a gripping mystery – it’s a film that dazzles, haunts and fascinates, and – when done well – that has the potential to be far more rewarding than a film with a clear, decisive conclusion.


Tomb Raider


Release date: 15th March 2018/Watch the trailer here

When the only previous Tomb Raider movies are the Angelina Jolie-starrers from the early 2000s, the good news for the reboot is that the only way to go from there is up. From Norwegian director Roar Uthaug, the 2018 Tomb Raider (loosely) follows the plot of the rebooted game from 2013, and sees Alicia Vikander taking on the iconic role of Lara Croft. Not spending her days training in Croft Manor this time around, Lara instead leads a reckless, carefree life following the disappearance of her father, Richard (Dominic West), years earlier. She eventually comes into possession of a key leading to a series of clues that hint at the last known whereabouts of her father: a mythical island off the coast of Japan, home to the tomb of Himiko, a queen who was once said to command power over life and death. Lara sets off on a perilous journey, enlisting the help of a sailor, Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), along the way – but Lara soon learns that her father wasn’t the only person searching for Himiko’s tomb, and a shadowy organisation named Trinity, seeking to harness and weaponise her power, have sent an expedition led by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) to the island, too.


Tomb Raider comes in at a little under two hours, and at least ninety per cent of that time is spent with Lara in near-peril – even a harmless bike race in the film’s first five minutes is filmed with breathless intensity, and it’s good fun – to begin with. Vikander, known for award-winning roles in films such as Ex Machina and The Danish Girl more so than as an action hero, is surprisingly capable and refreshingly un-objectified as Lara (compared to the Jolie films, at least). She has more than enough charisma and likability to carry the film – and while Lara comes across as a little bland and under-developed at times, those are issues with the script rather than Vikander’s performance – but when Tomb Raider enters its second hour of Lara being repeatedly punched and shot at (she probably spends more time grunting, groaning and screaming than she does actually talking), it becomes more than a little tiresome. There’s a moment when Lara exasperatedly asks ‘really?’ while she dodges her third or fourth near-death experience in the space of about five minutes, and the audience can’t help but wonder the same thing.

Still, Lara gets more to do than the rest of the cast – West is fine as her father, but Walton Goggins’ villain is generic and forgettable, while what started as a promising supporting role for Daniel Wu eventually becomes little more than his character repeatedly talking about not leaving Lara behind, and then disappearing for half an hour. The problem is, all interactions between characters feel like little more than cutscenes, and the action – though occasionally exciting – isn’t much better. Too often Tomb Raider forgets to rise above its video game origins, and while there’s nothing wrong with the odd nod to the game it’s based on, Lara frequently feels less like an autonomous human being and more like a character being controlled by a player on the other side of the screen.


With all that being said, however, Tomb Raider isn’t necessarily a bad film. It’s not a very good one, either, but it passes a couple of hours entertainingly enough, which is perhaps better than expected. It also wastes its final few minutes by getting too bogged down with setting up a sequel that will likely never exist – but then again, perhaps it will. If this is to be the video game movie that progresses the genre from ‘absolutely awful’ to ‘it’s alright’, then who knows – we might even get a ‘quite good’ one in another ten years.


Lady Bird


Release date: 23rd February 2018/Watch the trailer here

Marking the solo directorial debut for actress and writer Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird is a coming-of-age story about a seventeen-year-old girl attending a private Catholic high school in Sacramento. Although the film isn’t autobiographical, Gerwig – who wrote as well as directed Lady Bird – has made a film that is rooted in her own experiences, and it shows: there’s not a single second of Gerwig’s film that doesn’t feel authentic; genuine in a way that only someone who grew up in Sacramento in the early 2000s would be able to achieve, but relatable for anyone who was once a teenage girl, no matter when or where.

Set over the course of a year, the film follows Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) as she navigates a loving but turbulent relationship with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), and an eventful senior year of high school that sees Lady Bird applying to East Coast colleges and balancing her various relationships, friendships, and the ups and downs that come with them.


As pitch-perfect as Gerwig’s writing and directing may be, it’s the acting in Lady Bird that truly brings the film to life, and while there’s not a single actor who gives anything less than an amazing performance, this is Ronan and Metcalf’s movie. They have incredible, believable chemistry as mother and daughter and, with the help of Gerwig’s perceptive writing, they perfectly convey the intricacies of such a relationship – that no matter how much love or frustration or anger is involved, a mother-daughter relationship is rarely straightforward or easy to define. Their performances are staggering in their subtlety: Lady Bird and Marion don’t feel like mere characters in a film; they’re so complex and multi-faceted and nuanced that they feel like real, living, breathing people.

There are some strong supporting turns, too – a quietly powerful performance from Tracy Letts as Lady Bird’s father, Larry; Lucas Hedges as her first boyfriend, Danny, who is at the centre of one of the film’s most heart-wrenching moments; while Timothée Chalamet as the oh-so-edgy Kyle superbly encapsulates the kind of pretentious idiot that having a misguided crush on is practically a rite of passage for teenage girls the world over.


The directing, the writing, the acting – all of it combines to create a film that succeeds in making you feel every emotion imaginable in the space of ninety minutes. At its heart, Lady Bird is a comedy, and the wit and warmth that Gerwig injects every single line of her screenplay with ensures that it’s a very funny comedy, at that. But it’s also incredibly poignant, and the film’s final third evokes a perfect kind of melancholy that leaves you nostalgic for a particular time in your life and the experiences that you may or may not have encountered. Such is the power of Lady Bird, that even if you can’t relate to every aspect of it – if you’ve never had a mother-daughter relationship, or been to a Catholic school, or lived in California, or been a teenager in 2002 – it will still make you feel like you can; like you’ve lived each and every one of those experiences alongside Lady Bird.

It’s this extremely personal approach to Gerwig’s portrayal of female adolescence that makes Lady Bird such a near-perfect film, and although there have been plenty of coming-of-age stories before this one, there has never been one quite so insightful and honest. Gerwig’s ode to growing up makes for a remarkable debut, told with the assured confidence of a director who has been doing this for years. Lady Bird is truly something very special.





Release date: 9th March 2018/Watch the trailer here

Harold (David Oyelowo) is a mild-mannered businessman who, in Gringo, finds himself in Mexico and at the mercy of local drug lords, his backstabbing colleagues Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine (Charlize Theron), and ex-mercenary Mitch (Sharlto Copley) when a fake kidnapping goes awry.

The film, directed by Edgerton’s brother Nash, has assembled a strong and varied cast – Oyelowo, Edgerton, Theron and Copley are also joined by Amanda Seyfried and Thandie Newton – but the cast is just about the only element of Gringo that could be referred to as strong. In fact, many of them appear to be on autopilot in this film, as if they’re all well aware that there are much better things they could be doing with their time. The only exception to this is Oyelowo, who seems to be having a lot of fun with his role while proving himself as a capable comic actor at the same time, after having previously made a name for himself with more dramatic roles.


But despite Oyelowo’s best efforts, the real problem with Gringo lies with Matthew Stone and Anthony Tambakis’ screenplay. For a film that’s been marketed as an action-comedy, Gringo is sorely lacking in both exciting action moments and scenes of funny comedy – the jokes, if they can be called that, are barely amusing enough to even crack a smile over. Most of the film’s attempts at humour are either dated, clichéd or vaguely insulting – and this comes just one week after Game Night proved that a good comedy can be funny without resorting to any of the above factors.

As it happens, ‘clichéd’ is a fitting adjective to describe Gringo as a whole: despite some twists and turns along the way, there’s still not one element of the plot that feels original in the slightest, and the entire film feels like something you’ve seen before, only worse. It might have fared a little better if it could have picked one genre and attempted to stick to it, but instead Gringo is a sprawling and bloated mess of action, crime and comedy. It’s obviously uncertain as to what kind of film it really wants to be, but in trying to be so many different things at once, Gringo only succeeds in failing at all of them.


Frustratingly, it even fails at being bad enough to be kind-of entertaining – while it’s not a good film by any means, it’s also not quite terrible enough to be offensive. Instead, it’s simply just bland and boring, and its morally bankrupt characters are bland and boring, too, with the added bonus of being entirely unlikeable, so that you can never quite bring yourself to care about any of them. By the end of the film, the only interesting thing about it is the question of how on earth a film as mediocre as Gringo managed to assemble such a talented cast – but not even they can save it.



Game Night


Release date: 2nd March 2018/Watch the trailer here

While there may have been plenty of laugh-out-loud-funny movies released recently, it’s a struggle to think of a film that’s marketed itself as an actual comedy that’s managed to elicit more than a brief exhale out of its audience. It’s even more of a struggle to believe that the best comedy in years comes from the director duo (Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley) who previously brought us the awful Vacation, but as it turns out, Game Night is just that.

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) are a competitive couple who host a weekly game night with their friends, but the usual games of charades and Scrabble get thrown out of the window when Max’s brother, Brooks (Kyle Chandler), arrives in town and decides to kick things up a notch. He arranges an elaborate murder mystery party, and when he gets kidnapped, it’s all supposed to be part of the game. But as the competitors split up to solve the case, they soon learn that neither the game nor Brooks are what they appear to be – and Max, Annie and their friends quickly find themselves in over their heads in a game night with far greater stakes than usual.


The premise is completely ridiculous, but it’s also an intriguing one, and Game Night has a knack for playing with its audience’s expectations and knowing the limits of what’s just about believable and what’s going too far. This believability is sold by a terrific cast: McAdams is the standout, and she and Bateman have great chemistry, as do the other couples that make up their game night group – they are joined by the endearingly stupid Ryan (Billy Magnussen), who brings along his colleague Sarah (Sharon Horgan) for a date-but-not-a-date, and Kevin (Lamorne Morris) and Michelle (Kylie Bunbury), who are distracted from the task at hand when Kevin discovers that Michelle slept with a celebrity during a brief separation (and the big reveal of Michelle’s celebrity one-night stand is one of the film’s funniest moments).

The problem with the vast majority of recent comedies is their over-reliance on vulgar humour, but Game Night evokes laugh after laugh from its audience without the need for a single joke involving drunk characters and/or bodily functions. Instead, the humour is witty and good-natured for the most part, and all of the film’s biggest laughs are spread out equally amongst the cast – even if it is Jesse Plemons, as Max and Annie’s awkward neighbour Gary, who ends up stealing every scene he’s in.


The film’s premise also allows Daley and Goldstein to have a lot of fun: from numerous subtle references to various board games scattered throughout the movie, to surprisingly creative cinematography – Game Night experiments a lot with its camera angles and cuts, including some visually impressive tilt-shift shots that make the cars look like pieces on a game board. All of this combines to produce a film that’s far better than it has any right to be, and even if there are a few too many ‘gotcha!’ moments towards the end, it’s still a vastly entertaining jaunt that delights in manipulating its audience through clever twists and turns as much as it enjoys making them laugh until they cry.



Red Sparrow


Release date: 1st March 2018/Watch the trailer here

Red Sparrow sees Jennifer Lawrence and director Francis Lawrence reunited for the first time since the Hunger Games series, of which Lawrence directed all but the first movie. Based on the novel of the same name by Jason Matthews, Red Sparrow is centred around Dominika Egorova (Lawrence), a Russian prima ballerina who faces an uncertain future after suffering an injury that ends her career as a dancer. Her uncle, Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), suggests that she turns to ‘Sparrow School’: a secret intelligence service that trains young people to use their bodies as weapons. After completing the gruelling and sadistic training process, Dominika emerges as one of the school’s most dangerous Sparrows, and her new abilities are put to use on her very first assignment: targeting CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) in a mission that threatens the security of both nations.


Fresh from her best performance yet in last year’s mother!, with Red Sparrow Lawrence continues to take on unexpected and challenging roles in her post-Hunger Games career. Though this film doesn’t quite reach the darkest depths of mother!, it’s an unrelentingly bleak experience that, while compelling and entertaining throughout, could never be described as being much fun to watch. Not for the faint-hearted, Red Sparrow never shies away from its more perverse elements, to the point that the initial shock value of the graphic sex and violence decreases as the runtime goes on (aside from some particularly stomach-churning torture scenes in the film’s third act).

Still, Lawrence appears to embrace the film’s darker side, and her enigmatic central performance is the thing that maintains Red Sparrow’s undeniable watchability – even when the runtime creeps past the two-hour mark – without ever starting to lag or grow tiresome. Even as the film’s various twists and turns begin to be unravelled, Lawrence’s sympathetic but unreadable performance keeps the audience guessing as to whose side Dominika is on until the very end. She is joined by a strong supporting cast – alongside Edgerton and Schoenaerts is also Jeremy Irons as a Russian general and Charlotte Rampling as the headmistress of Sparrow School – who all give engaging performances, but this is Lawrence’s film and she carries it capably.


But while Red Sparrow succeeds in building tension effectively and makes it to the finish line without losing steam (even if it takes a little too long to get there), there’s still not much about it that feels particularly memorable or distinct from most other recent spy thrillers. Francis Lawrence is a competent director but his work here is, for the most part, bland and perfunctory, and it is the performances and a gripping, easy-to-follow plot that makes Red Sparrow worth watching.



I, Tonya


Release date: 23rd February 2018/Watch the trailer here

In 1994, figure skater Tonya Harding and the attack on her fellow US Olympian Nancy Kerrigan made headline news around the world, branded ‘one of the biggest scandals in American sports history’, but it’s still a story that a lot of people (the film’s star, Margot Robbie, included) were unaware of prior to the release of I, Tonya.

As it happens, Harding (Robbie) was one of the most skilled female skaters in the United States, and in 1991 she became the first American woman to complete a triple axel jump during a competition. However, she was often held back by her ‘white trash’ reputation, and with an overbearing mother, LaVona (Allison Janney), and an abusive husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), Tonya didn’t have a much happier life off the ice rink. In 1994, her world came crashing down when Jeff conspired to injure Kerrigan in a poorly-devised attack that instantly tarnished Harding’s life and legacy, transforming her into the most hated woman in the country overnight.


Never has the phrase ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ been more apt than when describing the events that inspired I, Tonya, but Harding’s story is every bit as tragic as it is bizarre and outrageous. The film, directed by Craig Gillespie, combats this with the inclusion of dark humour, and while the tonal shifts from shocking scenes of abuse to laugh-out-loud comedy can feel jarring, Gillespie pulls them off expertly. Choosing to forego the formula of a traditional biopic, I, Tonya is instead interspersed with interviews with some of the story’s key characters and occasional fourth wall breaks (including one that sees Tonya turn to the camera and say ‘this never happened’ as she chases Jeff out of the house with a shotgun), making full use of its unreliable narrators and resulting in a film that ends up feeling more honest and truthful than most other biopics.

But as unbelievable as the true story of I, Tonya may be, it’s nothing compared to the people that populate it – most notably Jeff’s friend and Tonya’s ex-bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), who is almost too stupid to be believed until footage of the real Shawn is shown at the end of the film. This weird and wonderful assortment of characters is brought to life by a cast of actors giving career-defining performances. It’s Janney who’s been receiving most of the praise and awards recognition, and deservedly so – she’s both darkly hilarious and utterly unlikeable as Harding’s outlandish mother – but this is undeniably Robbie’s film. As Tonya, she toes the line between sympathetic and unsympathetic, loveable and hatable: she manages to pour every emotion known to man into her performance and succeeds in making the audience feel each and every one. The moment when she lands the triple axel is a powerful one whether you love, hate or are entirely indifferent to figure skating: the sheer, uninhibited joy that Robbie expresses as Harding is contagious.


The performances may be the crucial key to I, Tonya’s success, but the film that Gillespie has crafted around them is a triumph in its own right, somehow taking a story with real moments of darkness and pathos and transforming it into a film that’s pure fun from start to finish, even if it lags a little in the middle. A huge part of the entertainment factor comes from the wise decision to embrace the more surreal elements of Tonya’s story, and while it’s self-aware enough to know that the Kerrigan incident is the moment that we’re all waiting for, it doesn’t forget to also paint a detailed and sometimes poignant portrait of the people involved, too. Whether you loved or hated Harding (or perhaps knew nothing about her) before watching I, Tonya, there’s a good chance that this film and Robbie’s outstanding central performance may do something to change your mind – but if not, there’s still the very likely possibility that you’ll enjoy every second of her extraordinary story.