“I Love You So Much Leo, But You Don’t Know Me…”
Engaging with and including myself within the small minority who can actually stand up proudly and state that 2016’s Warcraft was actually better than most critics gave the movie credit for, Duncan Jones’ career has drifted from contemplative low-budget success story (Moon) to big budget science fiction spectacular (Source Code) in a reasonably swift amount of time, and with the release of Mute this week as the latest Netflix original after years of development hell, Jones’ long-term project, one deemed as the “spiritual sequel” to 2009’s Moon, is finally brought to life, if only on the small screen. Following Alexander Skarsgård’s (The Legend of Tarzan) Leo, the titular mute barkeep who attempts to solve the mystery of Seyneb Saleh’s Naadirah’s sudden disapearance within the heart of a future-world Berlin, Jones’ latest is unfortunately a cliched and utterly soulless Blade Runner rip-off, one which attempts to sew together a noir-esque primary plot thread amidst stereotypical Russian gangsters, The Fifth Element style campness and eerily ill-judged set pieces which are as ridiculous as they are jaw-droppingly stupid, resulting in Mute conforming to the fate of The Cloverfield Paradox by being yet another Netflix funded let down.
With Sally Hawkins managing to convey both rigorous emotion and heartwarming depth to a character of similar ilk in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, the inclusion of Skarsgård’s Leo, the speech-free central character of the piece, is somewhat gimmicky and undeniably underwritten, with Hawkins’ character necessary in furthering the audience’s understanding of the relationship between herself and Doug Jones’ aquatic monster, a level of narrative depth which is completely absent from the entirety of Jones’ screenplay, resulting in Skarsgård’s performance coming off as nothing more than a growling, angst-ridden puppet which is used to facilitate the furthering of plot when necessary. Whilst the opening forty five minutes of the piece is somewhat interesting, even with a heavy handed dose of exposition which explains absolutely everything in a excruciatingly painful paint-by-numbers fashion, the film really turns after a showdown between Leo and Dominic Monaghan’s sex facilitator on a bed next to a staggeringly imaginative pleasure doll which resulted in one of the biggest unintentional laughs I will have this year, and with the emergence of the similarly awful Paul Rudd (Ant Man) as the least threatening villain of the year so far and Justin Theroux’s (Mulholland Drive) overly misjudged paedophilic sidekick, Mute turns overly wacky and staggeringly dull rather quickly and with a conclusion which doesn’t entirely make up for the wait, Jones’ latest is annoyingly his weakest work to date, and for a project which took more than a decade to bring to the screen, one could have argued it should have stayed on the cutting room floor.
Overall Score: 4/10
Oscars 2018: Best Actor
With the Academy managing to get the winner of the Best Actor category absolutely spot on last year, with Casey Affleck’s performance in Manchester By The Sea one of the best on-screen character depictions I have seen in recent history, the spoils this year all seem to be heading in the direction of Britain’s own Gary Oldman, whose portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour is one of uncanny excellence, a performance with much more credence and power than simply stating it’s Oldman’s “turn” to win an Oscar after being seemingly snubbed for previous nominations in a similar vein to Leonardo DiCaprio’s seemingly odds on win for 2016’s The Revenant. With Daniel Day Lewis shining as always in his so-called final role as Reynolds Woodcock in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread and Daniel Kaluuya creating his own personal waves in Jordan Peele’s Get Out, either performers would be worthy of awards success, whilst Timothée Chalamet and Denzel Washington fill up the remainder of the ballot paper for Call Me By Your Name and Roman J. Israel, Esq. respectively. In regards to missed nominations, Christian Bale’s outstanding performance as Captain Joseph Blocker in Hostiles has been shockingly snubbed in every major awards ceremony worldwide, whilst the more out-of-there mind could argue Vince Vaughn’s career changing role in Brawl In Cell Block 99 could easily have seen recognition too. Anyhow, here are the main points:
Winner – Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Personal Favourite – Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
Nomination Snub – Christian Bale (Hostiles)
“I Want You To Be The Very Best Version Of Yourself That You Can Be…”
Arriving as the final Best Picture nomination from the upcoming Academy Awards to be released in the UK before the ceremony takes place on the first weekend of March, Greta Gerwig (Jackie) halts her acting career for her directorial debut, Lady Bird, a coming of age comedy drama formed around a screenplay written by Gerwig herself and starring Saoirse Ronan as the titular troublesome teen from Sacramento, California who in her transference from school to college faces difficulties within both her home-life and her widening taste of the adolescent outside world. Supported by the likes of Laurie Metcalf (Toy Story 3), Tracy Letts (The Post) and Beanie Feldstein (Neighbours 2), Gerwig’s movie manages to break free from the cliches and pressures of coming-of-age dramas in which the film undeniably takes inspiration from, with the likes of particularly Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and 2016’s little seen The Edge of Seventeen obvious reference points in terms of storyline, thanks to a tightly wound script which manages to balance each of the film’s leading characters with their own personal strengths, weaknesses and flaws, resulting in performances which not only feel perfectly rounded and entirely believable, but are so fundamentally humane and empathetic that the movie spins you around and grips you tightly from the opening scene in which we discover the roller-coaster nature of the relationship which is progressively examined between mother and daughter.
After shining in a wide array of roles including The Grand Budapest Hotel and particularly John Crowley’s magnificent 2015 romantic drama, Brooklyn, Ronan’s portrayal of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is an absorbing and entirely empathetic performance, an awards courting triumph which perfectly captures the wildly inconsistent emotion of teenage angst, acne faced and all, one which is aided profusely by the magnificently resonant aura which the Irish star brings to a leading role bursting with flavourful personality and charisma, a character who although is proven to be riddled with human error and socially shocking flaws, manages to be much more interesting than the standardised Hollywood image of a cinematic on-screen teenager. Although the flashy editing and electrifying pace of the movie interweaves Lady Bird’s in-school debacles and the choppy relationships with both the female and male sex, with Manchester By The Sea’s Lucas Hedges and Call Me By Your Name’s Timothée Chalamet the cameo love interests whose personal narrative endpoints both end in extravagant fashion, the cornerstone of the movie is entirely focused on the exhausting battle between the child and parent, with Laurie Metcalf’s mother figure, Marion, a resoundingly commonplace thorn in the side of youthful curiosity of which many 21st century teenagers are more than accustomed to, with the performance of Metcalf equally as impressive as her younger counterpart, resulting in the many on-screen discussions between the two strong willed characters entirely captivating. With a deep level of care for the characters and precise direction from Gerwig who in her obvious admiration and pride for her screenplay manages to get the best out of even the most bit-part players of the piece, Lady Bird is flawless, a movie full with outstanding performances and a movie which manages to blend laugh out loud and perfectly pitched comic timing with elements of lachrymose inducing tenderness so effectively, you’ll think you would have known each of the film’s characters for years, and for a movie with a runtime with just over ninety minutes, it’s suffice to say, I would have happily stayed for much, much longer.
Overall Score: 10/10
Oscars 2018: Best Director
With a trio of veteran filmmakers and a duo of directorial newcomers, this year’s Best Director category is undoubtedly the tightest one to call, and whilst Guillermo del Toro seems to be the named favourite after picking up awards at both the BAFTA’s and the Golden Globes, any of the five nominees stand a more than plausible chance at walking away with the top prize. Whilst del Toro himself more than deserves at least the slightest of Academy Award recognition after failing to win the Best Foreign Language gong for Pan’s Labyrinth back in 2007, no one can seriously question the remarkable directorial skills of Christopher Nolan on Dunkirk, and whilst many may see Nolan’s wartime masterpiece as more of an technical exercise than that of a classical historic drama, the chance for Nolan to finally win an award after being royally snubbed previously for the likes of Inception and The Dark Knight is a mistake that may indeed come full circle. Elsewhere, Paul Thomas Anderson is a equally prestigious and remarkable filmmaker who has seemingly bypassed the Oscar award fever, and whilst Phantom Thread is an outstanding work of melancholic brilliance, the chance to succeed may indeed seep by once again, but for the likes of Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele for their work on Lady Bird and Get Out respectively, the Academy does deserve some form of applause for attempting to widen its’ cinematic scope when it comes to choosing films worthy of such a prestigious award, and whilst snubs for the likes of Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049 and Darren Aronofsky for mother! prove that that they can’t get it right all the time, at least the Academy are slowly catching up.
Winner – Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
Personal Favourite – Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
Nomination Snub – Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049)
Oscars 2018: Best Picture
With the 90th Academy Awards set to take place on the 4th of March, we begin our examination of the nominations and major snubs in each of the major categories with the prestigious Best Picture nod, a category which features this year, nine movies vying for the chance to win the top prize and whilst the easiest course is to examine elsewhere where movies have done particularly well, including winners at the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s, the Oscars do tend do pop out the odd surprise, with last year’s Moonlight win being arguably being the most iconic in recent history. With the top two in contention for the prize being The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, it would be great to see Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk potentially take away for the award, but with its’ total snub at the BAFTA’s, a ceremony with a predominantly British-centred gaze when it comes to choosing the winners, Nolan’s Oscar vacuum may seemingly go on. Elsewhere, the likes of Get Out, Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name prove that independent, ideas based movies continue to be recognised, whilst Darkest Hour and The Post seem to be the box-ticking historical dramas which although have a wide range of merits, really have no chance of taking home the award, and even with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread potentially being the worthy outsider for the prize, it can be hard to argue between the top two favourites which have been dominating award ceremonies over the past few months. When it comes to nomination snubs, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is the obvious misstep whilst the widely acclaimed Logan and Julia Ducournau’s Raw are too movies which easily could have been chosen with an eye-widening and forward thinking Academy. Anyhow, here are the predictions…
Winner – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Personal Favourite – Dunkirk
Nomination Snub – Blade Runner 2049
“The Universe Has A Tendency To Point Us In The Right Direction…”
Renowned for his work as an accomplished cinematographer on an array of American comedies including War Dogs, The Hangover Trilogy as well as the upcoming blockbuster franchise sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, New Jersey citizen, Lawrence Sher, turns to a debut in directing for Father Figures, a messy, overlong and staggeringly sickening road trip comedy featuring Owen Wilson (Wonder) and Ed Helms (Captain Underpants) as alienated siblings, Kyle and Peter Reynolds who embark on a self proclaimed journey known as “Operation Whose Your Daddy” after being informed by Glenn Close’s (The Girl With All The Gifts) mother figure, Helen Baxter, that she is unaware of her children’s true parentage. With a narrative which twists and turns through redemptive family drama to lad-cultured sex ventures and finally settling for saccharin fuelled cop-out nonsense, Sher’s movie is fundamentally unsure of what it entirely aspires to be, and with a two hour runtime attempting to hold it all together, Father Figures is unsurprisingly dour, a film which not only comes across as your run of the mill Owen Wilson centred comedy, but an Owen Wilson centred comedy without any meaningful laughs.
Settling on air of overripe repetition as our leading duo move from state to state in order to locate their true titular father figure, the screenplay attempts to shoehorn in as many jarring cameos as humanly possible for some form of comedic effect, with the likes of Ving Rhames, Terry Bradshaw and the Oscar winning J. K. Simmons, yes, that J. K. Simmons, each conforming to a soap opera type scenario in which each character has around ten minutes to show off their goods and force some form of sketch show-esque comedic set piece before being entirely forgotten about as we head onto the next underwritten character who swiftly follows such a mould. With Wilson hitting snooze mode and regressing into normality after winning back some form of merits after his performance in Wonder, the star revels in handing the director a stereotypical Owen Wilson performance, one which clashes with Ed Helms’ pretentious, all-moaning flannel of a character who not only couldn’t look farther from being an on-screen sibling of Wilson if he tried but is the type of American character who believes their life is an utter shambles even with staggering levels of wealth and a high class occupation which of course only acts as a continuous, narrative weaving joke. The jokes are joyless, the script soulless and ponderous, and whilst at times the chemistry between the two stars evoke a sense of enjoyment that the film may be heading somewhere, the concluding act is shameful and for two hours of your life you may never get back, Father Figures really isn’t worth the risk.
Overall Score: 3/10
“You Are A Good Man, With A Good Heart. And It’s Hard For A Good Man To Be A King…”
Whilst it is now common practice for Disney to hire critically acclaimed and subversive filmmakers in the ilk of Taika Waititi, Shane Black and the Russo Brothers to helm tangent releases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe post The Avengers, the decision to choose Ryan Coogler as the leading light behind Black Panther, the eighteenth release within the ever-expanding superhero franchise, is a real stroke of genius, a talented filmmaker with the likes of Fruitvale Station and Creed in his back pocket and most importantly, a director who knows full well the balance between script and spectacle when given the chance to helm pedigree franchises and big budget releases. Utilising an astounding array of raw talent to convey the first standalone depiction of the superhero widely recognised as the first character of African descent in American mainstream comics, Coogler’s latest stars Chadwick Boseman (Marshall) as T’Challa, the titular king of the fictional East African nation of Wakanda, who reprises his scene-stealing appearance in Captain America: Civil War as he returns to his homeland in order to address the ceremonial tradition of becoming his country’s ruler after the untimely passing of his father, King T’Chaka, but with the emergence of a long lost royalty successor, T’Challa’s reign is immediately threatened and challenged, resulting in the possibility of detrimental effects to the outside world that the Wakandan way of life has always refused to become an integral part of.
With eye-widening spectacle in abundance, a successful blend of drama and humour, and a cultural exploration unlike any world before it, Coogler’s latest is one of the most fist-pumping releases in the MCU, a joyous ride of popcorn entertainment with an array of substance and depth, with Coogler’s movie undeniably the most thematic based superhero release since Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece, The Dark Knight. Working on a script by both Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther explores a wide range of captivating ideas, beginning with T’Challa’s sudden rise to power and moving through notions of power sharing, the isolation from the perils of the outside world and with the introduction of Michael B. Jordan’s (Creed) physically imposing, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, societal comments regarding the empowerment of the powerless in a world overran with tyrannical rulings and unjust treatment of the voiceless. Celebrating the world of Wakanda in gorgeously designed detail after only being passingly mentioned throughout previous Marvel releases, the visual splendour of the country and the exploration of otherworldly technology is thoroughly entertaining and indulgent, with Letitia Wright’s (Black Mirror) Princess Shuri essentially a hipper, suavely comical Q to Boseman’s Bond-esque hero figure, with a superbly measured action set piece in South Korea demonstrating the blockbuster scale of tools the people of Wakanda are used to and reluctant to let go.
With Andy Serkis (War For The Planet Of The Apes) fleshing out his role as the ruthless arms dealer and all round nasty piece of work, Ulysses Klaue, after his minor stint in Age of Ultron, the character’s hatred of Wakandan privilege and greedy need for the power of vibranium, the strongest metal on Earth and the core of Captain America’s indestructible shield, allows for the introduction of Jordan’s Killmonger, the primary antagonist of the piece whose hidden familial ties and lust for revenge sets him on a path of destruction and idealistic plans of world changing possibilities, a narrative point which aside from failing to adhere to the bog standard cliche of world domination is too a scheme which remarkably does seem inherently understandable, offering a conflicting battle between who and what is truly on the side of what can be deemed sufficiently right or wrong. With the CGI at times a tad iffy and an opening twenty minutes which somewhat disjoints the pacing of the action which follows, Black Panther is no means a superhero masterpiece, but with an organic cultural sensibility which opens the door to engaging and overly exciting new characters and a empowered outlook on the Wakandan way of life in which the most brave and bad-ass just happens to be led by The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira as Okoye, an actress so brilliant in last year’s All Eyez on Me, Coogler’s addition to the Marvel franchise is a riveting and overly cool action adventure, and with Infinity War to come, 2018’s superhero calendar has started with a superhero sized bang.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Think I’ve Made A Terrible Mistake…”
Chosen as Russia’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony, director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s (Leviathon) stark and overly moody latest, Loveless, may be a particularly difficult picture to try and seek out thanks to an incredibly limited release, and whilst icy cold Russian mysteries aren’t exactly the type of movies audiences tend to rush and out and catch as quickly as humanly possible, Zvyagintsev’s latest is an interesting tale of extreme familial breakdowns and a depressing vista of Russia society, one which is helmed together by a central narrative regarding the disappearance of a young, seemingly unloved child and a movie that definitely deserves to be sought out. With a staggering plot pace and a claustrophobic overarching sensibility which not only takes its’ time setting the pieces of the narrative chess board in place but may seem too tough to handle for wandering minds, Loveless is an uncompromisingly depressive tragedy which fails to enforce even the smallest amount of redemption, but for those who can withstand the harshness of its’ winds, Zvyagintsev’s latest is an impressive, overly mysterious achievement.
With the first hour detailing in harsh detail the toxic relationship between Maryana Spivak’s Zhenya and Aleksey Rozin’s Boris as they both attempt to conclude an ongoing divorce and build fresh lives away from one another with new partners, Matvey Novikov’s Alexey is the isolated child in the middle, whose decision to abandon both mother and father sets up a second hour in which the picture switches from an uncompromising domesticated drama to a Scandi-esque thriller of ambiguous and uncertain temperament, bringing to mind in more ways than one the brilliance of The Killing (The Swedish one, not the American re-hash) and the ice-cold atmosphere of Let The Right One In. Portraying a society in which the birth of a child is met with disdain in favour of flavoursome trips of winding romance with new lovers and uninterested public services in which authorities are forced to act through procedure rather than through willingness, Zvyagintsev’s portrayal of modern Russia is unflinchingly negative, and with a conclusion which only serves as a reminder of the stark reality of consequence, Loveless is a sucker punch of a movie, one which leaves you gasping for the cheery horizons and one that even with obvious pacing flaws, keeps you thinking about it for days afterwards.
Overall Score: 7/10
“I Was Loved For A Minute, Then I Was Hated. Then I Was Just A Punch Line…”
Based upon the controversial and compelling career of professional ice skater, Tonya Harding, Craig Gillespie’s (The Finest Hours) Oscar nominated biographical drama, I, Tonya, featuring Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) in arguably her most fleshed-out leading performance yet, takes an impressive shot at attempting to gel together a mix of Scorsese inspired storytelling with a Rocky-esque tale of sporting success, and with the aid of a rockabilly jukebox soundtrack and eye-catching performances all around, Gillespie’s latest is a rousing, crowd-pleasing success. Utilising the form of retrospective interviews with each of the key players to unravel the exposition as the narrative evolves, I, Tonya benefits from a lightning quick editing pace straight from the outset, beginning with a young Harding as she is nurtured and raised by the steely-eyed harshness of Allison Janney’s (The Girl on the Train) LaVona Fay Golden as she begins her love affair with the ice and swiftly moving to the fruition of the relationship between herself and Sebastian Stan’s (Captain America: Civil War) Jeff Gillooly, one which proves central to Harding’s journey through both successes and life-changing failures.
Whilst the interview format does make it easy for Gillespie to cross over every avenue possible in terms of storytelling gaps, the constant switch from past to present does ultimately jar the pace of the movie come the second half, one which is too not exactly helped by the decision to include the breaking of the fourth wall at times which personally never really seemed to work to the film’s advantage, yet where the movie does succeed is in Robbie’s wildly comical and full blooded performance, one which utilises the scripts attempts to balance her love for the sport with the shocking depiction of domestic issues from both Janney’s chain-smoking mother figure and Stan’s abusive and deluded on/off love, and one which through the aid of digital effects and stunt doubles means that the physicality of the skating scenes are brilliantly orchestrated. Of course, with Harding’s biggest association being that of a rather violent moment of utmost craziness, the concluding act of the movie ruffles together elements of jaw-dropping stupidity, laugh out loud comedy and heartbreaking finality, and whilst Gillespie’s movie doesn’t exactly hit the heights of Scorsese-inflicted film-making it so obviously attempts to emulate, I, Tonya is a highly satisfactory and ludicrous tale of a fundamentally interesting public figure.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Do You Ever Feel Life Is Pushing Us Towards A Greater Purpose…?”
Renowned for a distrust in the works of finesse and instead obeying the rule of one take, one hit when it comes to his particular brand of film-making, Hollywood stalwart, Clint Eastwood, returns after 2016’s Sully, with The 15:17 to Paris, a somewhat similar tale of heroism and the remarkable workings of the human spirit, and a movie which features as its’ seat-selling trump card, a trio of leading stars who each portray themselves in attempting to re-tell the widely covered events which occurred upon the titular train on 21 August, 2015. Whilst not exactly the type of character movie executives would tend to disagree with when it comes to the creation of a particular cinematic vision, Eastwood’s bold and brave decision to allow the real heroes of the story to re-enact their own history is one of interesting possibilities, and whilst the tale at the heart of the movie is one of staggering bravery in the face of mindless destruction, The 15:17 to Paris is unfortunately a wildly misjudged mess, a movie which attempts to landfill its’ runtime with elements of backstory and cliched character arcs without any degree of success, and even with a concluding set piece which is undeniably well executed, Eastwood’s latest is a strange case which begs the question whether it was really needed in the first place.
Based on The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Soldiers, a true account of events by each of the famous heroes and Jeffrey E. Stern, the movie begins with a somewhat swift and overly jarring diversion into Boyhood-esque territory in which we see the childhood lives of Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler intertwine through tales of school-time shenanigans and dreams of joining the US Military. Whilst the narrative decision to give backstory to each of the heroes may have seemed crucial in understanding at a deeper level the events which take place, the first hour is instead utterly pointless, with the acting abilities and on-screen charisma of both Skarlatos and Sadler completely devoid of any positivity whatsoever, a outcome rather unsurprising when considering the lack of acting experience between them. With this in mind, the obvious decision to allow Stone to be the leading figure of the film does allow some form of success, with his likeable and openly flawed demeanour the main access point for audience involvement, but when the movie does eventually come to its’ taut and tense concluding set piece which brings together each strands of the story set in place, it is unfortunately too late, and for a movie to have only ten minutes of greatness within a runtime of just over ninety minutes, the wait really isn’t worth it at all.