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Film Review: You Were Never Really Here

“Joe, Wake Up. It’s A Beautiful Day…”

Introduced to the ways of Scottish director Lynne Ramsay back in 2011 with the jaw-dropping, unrelenting and unforgettable We Need To Talk About Kevin, her Terrence Malick sensibility of putting the audience on hold for whatever project ultimately comes up next has resulted in a six year long wait for You Were Never Really Here, a similarly twisted and powerful crime thriller based on Jonathan Ames novel of the same name and featuring Joaquin Phoenix (Inherent Vice) as Joe, a retired war veteran with a tortured psych and suicidal vulnerability who is tasked by a U.S State Senator in hunting down his young daughter who has been in lost in the seedy underbelly of a contemporary and morally duplicitous New York City. With We Need To Talk About Kevin setting the ground-rules for audience expectations when it comes to the mind of a director unafraid to tackle hardened and controversial subject matters, You Were Never Really Here is a hallucinatory, startling and entirely captivating work of art which merges genre within genres and results in ninety minutes of sheer white-knuckle tension and a collection of set-pieces which will rank up there with the best evidence of cinema audiences will see this year.

With narrative similarities to Martin Scorsese’s 1976 classic, Taxi Driver, something of which many have commented on already, Ramsay’s latest is much more infatuated with the harrowing mind of its’ leading character, the brutish, bearded and morally conflicted figure of Phoenix’s Joe, a subverted private investigator whose specific speciality seemingly lies in locating lost children, a career choice somewhat channelled by his own troubling childhood and past traumas, elements of the movie which are highlighted in sporadic, sometimes terrifying flashbacks which couldn’t help but evoke the ghostly imagery of the The Shining, particularly in the film’s final act in which we see Joe scour the surroundings of an Overlook Hotel-inspired residence and is greeted with physical manifestations of his numerous nightmares. With the film reeking of style and a Winding Refn infused sensibility, the Jonny Greenwood score topples even his own outstanding work on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, with a mix of screeching strings and new wave electronica perfectly pumping up the emotion with one stroke and then creating an unbearable level of hostility and tension with the other, and with Thomas Townend’s luscious, vibrant cinematography creating a staggeringly beautiful landscape for Joe’s character to be absorbed within, You Were Never Really Here is a real treat for the senses.

Whereas We Need To Talk About Kevin was constructed around a revisionist tale of the creation of man into monster which relied heavily on backstory and flashbacks, You Were Never Really Here only utilises these elements in an short and snappy basis, with the narrative much more linear in nature, and with the style and substance both accompanying each other majestically hand in hand, to call the movie anything other than heartily fulfilling is a complete and utter falsehood. Boasting extraordinary set pieces including a violent rescue attempt shown only through the ghostly image of CCTV cameras and a The Shape of Water-esque funeral scene which will be hard to to top as the most heartbreaking scene this year, Ramsay’s film is a stunning achievement, one which features Joaquin Phoenix at a level of acting that’s hard to better, and one which lives long in the memory after the final credits begin to appear on screen. With the seven year gap between her last and recent release, it seems Ramsay is indeed a filmmaker who desires quality above all else, and after experiencing You Were Never Really Here, for that is what the movie undeniably is, a groundbreaking experience, it comes at no surprise that her latest venture is very much worth the wait.

Overall Score: 9/10

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Film Review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure

“We Started This Together. We May As Well End It That Way Too…”

Whilst probably not the best person in some way to comment on a concluding act to a trilogy of which I have been completely absent from up to now, the latest entry into the Maze Runner series, directed by franchise stalwart, Wes Ball, brings to end arguably the most uninteresting young adult dystopian book adaptation to date, one which seemed in all honesty to exist primarily in order to latch onto the success of the far superior Hunger Games, and whilst I always revel in the chance to be proved wrong, The Death Cure is unfortunately, if not entirely surprisingly, a complete and utter elongated drag, one which fails to ignite any sense of interest or involvement throughout its’ unbelievably running time and a film which although is primarily designed for the younger side of audiences, seems entirely misjudged and altogether unrewarding. Beginning in a Skyfall-esque fashion with a somewhat well executed train heist, The Death Cure follows Dylan O’Brien’s (American Assassin) indestructible Thomas and his merry band of wavy hair followers through a Mad Max inspired landscape in order to save Ki Hong Lee’s Minho, who has been captured by the ridiculously named organisation, WCKD, in order to utilise his immunity to a virus unlike 28 Days Later’s rage virus and potentially save the remaining human race. Sound convoluted? That’s just the start.

Whilst I am all for spectacle-infused action carnage which sides with brass over an influx of brains, Ball’s movie is fundamentally one which reeks of glaring similarity, and whilst the film seems to be at least made with a somewhat dedicated respect to the source material, the movie ultimately suffers due to a wavering and uncertain narrative and an inclusion of characters which not only come across as the epitome of one dimensional, but too are characters so underdeveloped and dull that any of them could have been simply plucked from the set of either Hunger Games or Divergent without any of the other cast entirely noticing or caring. With Dylan O’Brien in the leading role as the one-note resistance cornerstone, Thomas, his performance similarly seems to have been simply transferred from the set of last year’s American Assassin, with the actor once again proving that with even the strongest will in the world, the American is still one of the most boring leading performers working today, and with the film personifying the term, deus ex machina, thanks to a constant stream of deadly set pieces which are suddenly revoked thanks to laughably bad saviours who seem to pop out of the cinematic ether for no apparent reason, The Death Cure is a shark-jumping bore of the highest order.

Overall Score: 3/10

Film Review: Last Flag Flying

“I’m Not Going To Bury A Marine. I’m Just Going To Bury My Son…”

Famous for works which tend to side on the edge of indie extraordinaire, Everybody Wants Some!! and Boyhood director, Richard Linklater, returns this week in a somewhat low-key fashion with Last Flag Flying, a noticeably comedic and undeniably likeable road movie which although may take a meaningful amount of time and effort to seek out, is just about worth it thanks primarily due to trio of leading performances which personify the meaning of flawless excellence. Utilising the acting chops of Steve Carell (The Big Short), Laurence Fishburne (John Wick: Chapter Two) and Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Linklater’s movie focuses on their long awaited rekindling after almost thirty years since their experiences as young Marines during the Vietnam war, and with Carell’s Larry “Doc” Shephard leading the way for their reunion due to the untimely death of his son, what follows is a two hour journey through experiences both old and new, and one which focuses primarily on the effect of war and its’ continuation through generation after generation.

Beginning in highly ambiguous fashion in regards to the overall direction of the narrative, the first thirty minutes of the movie introduces each of our leading characters in a latter period of their lives in which the memories behind them have somewhat influenced their modern day choices and latter day lifestyle, with Carell’s Shephard a quietly reserved and delicate tragic figure of loss, contrasting Cranston’s Sal, a raging alcoholic with a tendency to speak whatever is at the forefront of his mind, and Fishburne’s Richard Mueller, a character seemingly acting as steady-handed counterpart to both, due to performance portraying a dedicated and contemplative man of faith who is forced into the duo’s journey through his religious sensibilities, much to his own personal disdain. With the bulk of the movie focusing primarily on conversation, ranging from the finality of death to the political landscape of 21st century America, Linklater’s movie works best when the emotional impact of the narrative really hits home, with Carell’s performance arguably the standout thanks to moments of sincere and authentic heartbreak in which you truly feel the pain and suffering which sifts through his now isolated character. Whilst the movie does ultimately feel rather too drawn out and not entirely cinematic in comparison to Linklater’s previous, similar endeavours, Last Flag Flying is worthy of admiration if not for a powerhouse of performances from actors renowned for not giving anything less.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: All The Money In The World

“I Hired You To Do Things That Other People Can’t Or Won’t Do…”

Whilst last year’s Alien: Covenant offered up a pretty solid attempt at dragging the reputation of its’ respective franchise through the gutter, the return of director Ridley Scott still manages to incite a cool sense of fangirl-esque anticipation, particularly when Alien and Blade Runner still remain undisputed masterpieces of cinema, and even though the American still hasn’t hit the high notes his reputation is built on since perhaps American Gangster, the residual feeling of hope for his next classic still remains. Hampered in post production due to the widely publicised sexual harassment claims made against leading star at the time, Kevin Spacey, Scott’s latest, All The Money In The World adds an extra layer of interest to its’ release due to Scott’s decision to recast Spacey’s role as oil magnate, Jean Paul Getty, weeks before its’ slated release. With Christopher Plummer willingly taking up the mantle left by the departed Spacey, Scott’s nine day reshoots with the actor offers up fundamental questions of the quality of the final product, and whilst there is no doubting the manner in which Scott manages to carve out some decent performances from his trio of leading stars, All The Money In The World is a staggeringly underwhelming and mediocre affair, one which suffers from a wildly paced opening first half and a movie which once again reignites the issue of Scott’s dedication of quantity over quality.

With the movie assuming the audience has previous knowledge of the key players involved in the drama which occurs on-screen, David Scarpa’s screenplay, based upon John Pearson’s 1995 book, “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty”, essentially offers no fitting backstory or character development for any of the movie’s leading players, with the first hour of the film a jaw-droppingly dull affair, unaided by amateurish editing which moves the action back and forth between a rafter of time settings in a manner both nauseating and convoluted that you begin to lose track and interest almost immediately on what the overall message and narrative endgame the film is attempting to convey. When the movie does finally settle down heading into the second hour however, the emergence of Plummer’s brilliantly cold and inhumane performance as Getty and the back and forth presentation of hostage and hostage negotiator does becoming an interesting affair, but with the sloggish journey it takes you on to get there, Scott’s movie doesn’t have the sharpness or the nuance to be any more than just a mediocre examination of a story which in other hands may have been much more rewarding, and when a movie utilises the cliched usage of The Zombies’ “Time of the Season” to represent the hippy free feel of the 1970’s, you know it’s going to be a rather laborious affair.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Molly’s Game

“You Managed To Build A Multi Million Dollar Business Using Not Much More Than Your Wits…”

The first film of 2018 has swiftly arrived and brings with it the talented presence of writer/director Aaron Sorkin whose screenplays for the likes of The Social Network, Moneyball and Steve Jobs have placed him at the top of many’s list for the most in-demand screenwriter in America. Turning to the director’s chair for the very first time, Sorkin utilises the prestigious talents of Jessica Chastain in a dramatic representation of Molly Bloom’s autobiographical memoir about the rise and fall of her independently managed luxurious poker empire and the subsequent legal battles following the fallout of a statewide led criminal investigation. With Sorkin’s recognisable literary craft sweeping throughout, Molly’s Game is a rigorous exercise of the American’s unmistakable style audiences have grown to respect and love, and whilst a lengthy and bloated narrative timeline does weaken the finished product and prevent the movie being held in the same esteem as previous Sorkin penned releases, Molly’s Game is a flashy full house of a movie with a Chastain on unmissable form.

Beginning with a quickfire introductory voiceover outlining a young Molly Bloom’s disastrous Olympic skiing experience, Sorkin’s narrative weaves its way sharply and smoothly throughout a first act which follows Chastain’s Bloom as she develops from wandering idealist to opportunist successor, one who uses her real estate agent contact (Jeremy Strong) to flex her intellectual muscles and take over control of an infamous and highly prestigious unlicensed poker ring. With the money flowing, the famous faces increasing and a drug addiction mounting, Sorkin’s script attempts to mix in a wide range of elements of both a personal and dramatic nature of which the source material may have successfully delved into on paper, but even with a two and a half hour runtime to play with, these multiple plot threads do end up feeling convoluted come the final act where even the addition of a ever reliable Idris Elba does strangely seem somewhat added on, with his character never really having the depth to solidify his existence. However, with Chastain owning a leading role which carries all the charisma and charm you would expect from an actress renowned for playing similar characters in Miss Sloane and Zero Dark Thirty, Molly’s Game is a zippy and smart character drama which excels thanks to the involvement of a writer whose move to directing has began more than rewarding.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Wonder

“You Can’t Blend In When You Were Born To Stand Out…”

Based upon R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel of the same name, Wonder tells the tale of Jacob Tremblay’s August “Auggie” Pullman and his battle with Treacher Collins syndrome as he attempts to manage his way through school and a coming of age lifestyle after years of homeschooling designed to prevent him from facing the potential fear of inevitable youth misunderstanding when it comes to his condition. Supported by the beach burnt Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as Auggie’s father and mother tag team, and directed by Stephen Chbosky, whose previous credits include The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the lead writer’s gig for this year’s adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, Wonder is a solid by-the-numbers tale of acceptance and individual strength which although features an important fundamental message regarding acceptance and the impact of schoolground bullying, does become increasingly tiresome and overly manipulative in its’ emotional bulldozing as it passively lingers on to a conclusion which does manage to seal the deal to some extent and leave its’ audience with an undeniable smile.

Where Lenny Abrahamson’s Room introduced the world to the enviable talents of young Jacob Tremblay, Wonder solidifies once again that a huge future awaits for an actor who although throughout the film is covered in prosthetics akin to John Hurt in David Lynch’s heartbreaker, The Elephant Man, manages to encompass Auggie’s spectral of emotions to such an extent that the audience can’t help from getting on board and totally support the film’s leading character as he makes his journey through the trials and tribulations of a diverse and sometimes ignorant collection of fellow schoolmates. Whilst Wonder does attempt to balance the heavy dose of Auggie’s characterisation with his fellow family and friends, with the movie sometimes wandering off on tangents to do such via Tarantino-esque title cards, such diversions do come across as somewhat pointless, particularly when regarding the film’s overplayed two hour runtime, and with overly saccharin scenes of animal deaths and endless crying montages, the sentimental value of the narrative does become pretty irksome at times, but with Tremblay stealing the show and even Wilson and Roberts having a fair share of effective quick comedic quips as the relatable parents, Wonder is sometimes preachy but undeniably good hearted.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: The Disaster Artist

“Just Because You Want It Doesn’t Mean It Can Happen…”

Whilst aware of the infamous nature of Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 independent drama, The Room, a movie widely quoted as the worst cinematic release of all time, I confess to not ever finding the time to sit down and embrace it aside from skimming across YouTube videos and university students screaming “hey, watch this movie, it’s so bad”, of which I inevitably and quickly chose not to listen to. Based upon Greg Sestero’s 2013 autobiographical book “The Disaster Artist”, a first hand account of Sestero’s involvement in The Room’s troubled production and his relationship with Wiseau, James Franco directs and stars in a dramatic adaptation of the source material with Franco himself starring as Wiseau and brother Dave Franco as Sestero. Whilst Franco-led comedies in the past have somewhat failed to ignite my comical ways, the same cannot be said for The Disaster Artist, a sharp and hysterically funny look into one of the more subversive and mysterious characters to originate in the world of filmmaking since the turn of the twentieth century, and a film which on the one hand shares admiration and on the other pokes holes into the darker side of a man whose name is slowly becoming a cine-literate household commodity.

With Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau being introduced in a barmy expose of talentless squander, the narrative primarily follows Dave Franco’s Greg Sestero as he begins to pull back the layers of the mysterious Wiseau after blindly following him to Los Angeles in order to fill the craving of success and stardom in the cut throat world of Hollywood. Bringing into conversation questions regarding Wiseau’s background, age and financial caterings, Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau is indeed one of riveting success, a performance which captures both the comedic traits of the character with a numerous amount of zippy, laugh-out-loud quips, as well as the more subversive, darker means and ways of a person whose societal skills and understanding of basic human conditioning is frankly rather non-existent. With the main comedic bulk of the movie focusing completely on the creation of Wiseau’s dramatic project to an alarming top-notch and uncanny degree, The Disaster Artist is an entertaining blend of comedy gold and character examination, and with a person as inevitably ambiguous as Tommy Wiseau at front and centre of the project, there is no reason to suggest why The Disaster Artist might prove to be the ticket to the Oscars Wiseau always dreamed of after all.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Murder on the Orient Express

“My Name Is Hercule Poirot And I am Probably The Greatest Detective In The World…”

Helmed by the steady of hand of theatre and screen aficionado, Kenneth Branagh, the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express comes eighty three years after the source material was first published and forty three years after the first cinematic venture of such a story, one directed by Sidney Lumet and featured an extensively impressive cast which included the likes of Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman and the post-Bond presence of Sean Connery. Returning to the big screen once again with a similarly majestic group of actors, Branagh’s take on arguably Christie’s most iconic story is one which cranks up the absurdity in a manner which takes on board Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of Noah, whilst being a film which too enjoys basking in the nostalgia factor of its’ early twentieth century setting, and whilst there is undeniable charm and enjoyment at the heart of Branagh’s project, the real lack of freshness and a wavering narrative hook results in the latest Murder on the Orient Express being just good enough to warrant another punt at the famous source material.

Whilst it seems everyone and their dog is aware of the story at the heart of Christie’s novel, Branagh’s movie utilises Blade Runner 2049 and Logan screenwriter Michael Green’s script to introduce a few minor character differences and narrative swings, of which some directly link back to the Sidney Lumet version of the story and some which are wholly original, with my personal favourite being a karate loving Count Andrenyi who is introduced with a simply baffling scene of him roundhousing a fellow passenger before boarding the titular medium of travel. With the added use of CGI to enhance the titular locomotive’s unplanned halt on the snow-filled tracks and some effectively crafted flashback scenes which both improve on the Lumet version and make things simple for even the most wavering audience mind, Branagh’s first attempt at a big-screen Christie tale passes the time rather harmfully, with the director’s portrayal of Belgium’s most famous export being a charming and suave interpretation, and with an concluding act which sets out a possible future franchise, Murder on the Orient Express is best served with a bourbon biscuit and a nice cup of Earl Grey. Put the kettle on love.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: The Shining

“I’m Sorry To Differ With You Sir, But You Are The Caretaker. You’ve Always Been The Caretaker…”

In a year where the works of Stephen King have seemed to have taken siege upon both the big screen and the small, the re-release of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining ironically seeks out to remind how much the horror masterpiece differs from its’ ghostly source material, and whilst King himself has famously distanced himself from the 1980 classic on a moral level, the haunting ambiguity and off-kilter tonal essence of Kubrick’s classic once again reminds why such a movie is always part of the conversation when discussing the greatest and most influential horror movies of all time. Published in January of 1977, King’s third novel quickly followed the breakout successes of Carrie and Salem’s Lot, and whilst the story on the surface primarily focuses on the horrors of the Overlook Hotel and the toll it takes on the Torrance family, the underlying notions of alcoholism and regret mirrored the struggles of the novel’s own during that period of time, resulting in The Shining being arguably King’s most personal work up to that date, creating an understandable air of indifference from King to a movie released only three years later which decided to focus primarily on the supernatural elements of the novel rather than the subplots regarding familial tensions and the conflicted leading character of Jack Torrance to a larger extent portrayed on film. Thankfully for Kubrick, his version of The Shining is arguably more terrifying than one could have envisioned when adapting King’s story from page to screen, thanks primarily to a typically maddened performance from Jack Nicholson whose portrayal of the writer’s block inflicted father will arguably go down as his most iconic and memorable role within a career which goes down with arguably one of the greatest ever.

Whilst the casting of Nicholson seemed to many at the time to be one of ease over exploration, with Nicholson’s Oscar winning performance as Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest already showcasing Nicholson’s penchant for portraying the slightly insane, the guidance of Kubrick as the film’s master of puppets resulted in a live-action Jack Torrance which seeped with uncertainty and ferocious ingrained rage from beginning to end. With Shelley Duvall as the repressed, doe-eyed Wendy Torrance on Nicholson’s arm and the youthful appearance of Danny Lloyd as son, Danny, a child afflicted with the titular mysterious power as coined by Scatman Crothers’ Dick O’Halloran, Kubrick’s take on the already well established horror genre is arguably his most auteurist within a filmography which puts most recent filmmakers to shame, and whilst the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr Strangelove proved the widening spectrum of Kubrick’s work, his OCD-esque tendency for frame-by-frame perfection and famously subverted workings of actors, sets and camera usage is no more apparent than in The Shining, a film, which not unlike the book, has a surface narrative regarding one man’s descent into darkness but underneath is filled with famously hidden notions which ranged from everything from Kubrick’s stance on the moon landing to a comment regarding the massacring of native American indians.

Of course, the discussion regarding the hidden elements of Kubrick’s masterpiece is not exactly hot topic for most, and when reviewing the movie on just cinematic grounds, The Shining is near flawless, a ice-cold spook-a-thon which although was aware of previous examples of the genre such as The Haunting and more obviously, The Amytiville Horror, broke new ground in its’ ghostly balance between psychological horror and flat out slasher, one which is all helmed together by the performance of Nicholson and arguably the most impressive batch of iconic set pieces to ever grace the genre of horror. Whether it be Danny’s meeting with the mysterious visitor in Room 237, the image of two deceased twins or of course, the legendary, improvised line of “here’s Johnny”, The Shining is a rare case of a movie which although is a shadow of the source material of which I am undoubtedly a huge fan, is undoubtedly a masterwork in its’ own way, and with the chance to see Kubrick’s movie on the big screen for the very first time this week, such an opportunity is one which film fans in general cannot pass by.

Overall Score: 10/10

Film Review: The Ritual

“We Should Have Gone To Vegas…”

Based upon British author Adam Nevill’s novel of the same name, the Andy Serkis produced The Ritual might go unnoticed within your respective multiplex this week amidst snow-obsessed serial killers and the latest big-screen Lego animation, and whilst black comedy horror is sometimes hard to get spot on, the likes of Dog Soldiers and Shaun of the Dead prove that when done effectively, such a genre is hard to top in terms of entertainment value, and whilst The Ritual isn’t exactly a movie rooted with jaw-dropping levels of originality, director David Bruckner has executed a movie which does manage to tick the entertainment box rather extravagantly, and with a central four man show including the likes of Rafe Spall at the heart of the action, Bruckner’s latest is a movie bursting with cine-literate genre threads and snigger-inducing, quip-laden dialogue which helps twists the narrative through both horror and comedy ridiculously smoothly through a beautifully harmless ninety minute B-movie feast.

Evoking a wide range of classic horror releases, The Ritual nods its’ twisted head primarily through a Blair Witch style setting into the Pagan influences of Anthony Shaffer’s The Wicker Man and through once again into the creature feature elements of The Descent, and whilst it was entertaining to mentally jot down the movies imbedded within the film’s narrative, Bruckner’s movie does hold enough strength to be classed as a movie on its’ own right, particularly with the four key characters at the heart of the movie each having their own individual characteristics to be much more than just horror movie cannon fodder. With director David Bruckner having past experience in low-key horror releases before, including the “Amateur Night” segment of the highly enjoyable horror anthology, V/H/S, The Ritual does manage its’ horror elements incredibly well, particularly in the first two-thirds of the movie when the film’s leading threat is seeped in ambiguity, and whilst the final act is incredibly ludicrous and ultimately predictable, The Ritual is a highly entertaining piece of popcorn horror cinema which revels in the chance to not take itself seriously whatsoever.

Overall Score: 7/10