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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: Gringo

“Why Do I Always Get Screwed For Doing My Job…?”

Itching with a sense of Hollywood styled nepotism, director Nash Edgerton brings brother Joel (Red Sparrow), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) and Oxford’s own, David Oyelowo (Selma) aboard for his directorial debut, Gringo, a kooky, wildly inconsistent crime caper based on a screenplay by both Anthony Tambakis and Matthew Stone which sees Oyelowo’s white-collared Harold Soyinka caught between his sickeningly narcissistic bosses and the murderous ventures of the Mexican cartel as attempts to reconstruct his life based around cheating partners and financial ills by conning his way into a paycheck suitable enough to begin a new life. With the trailers somewhat misleading the movie’s true intentions by presenting it as a full bodied comedy, Gringo instead is the type of movie which can’t seem to make up its’ mind as it grinds solemnly through a runtime which edges just under two hours, and whilst each of the cast members give it their all in attempting to breathe some sort of life into proceedings, Edgerton’s movie just doesn’t seem to leave any sort of meaningful impression and simply comes in via one ear and departs swiftly out of the other.

Beginning by laying the foundations for the misfortunes which await Oyelowo’s titular “Gringo” as he follows Theron and Edgerton’s success craved business partners across the Mexican border in order to talk business regarding the sale of a marijuana-infused pill, Edgerton’s movie takes time to really set sail, with a first half unsure of its’ ultimate direction resulting in losing audience interest rather swiftly, and even as the action unfolds once we hit the the sunny sights of a gangland infested Mexico, Gringo doesn’t at any time hit a steady stride in regards to what we as the audience are meant to be taking in and dissecting. A few chuckles aside, Gringo doesn’t ultimately work as a comedy either and is a film better served being admired as a Guy Ritchie-esque double crossing caper, just without the freshness of a Lock, Stock… or the zesty absurdity of a Snatch, and with a thrown in penchant for unnecessary violence and crude stereotypes regarding one-dimensional Mexican citizens, Edgerton’s movie is a strangely dull mixed bag of a movie. With the trio of front and centre stars all managing to come across somewhat watchable however, with Oyelowo’s likeable luckless lead the obvious standout, Gringo isn’t exactly poor, it’s just badly managed, and for a cast this talented at the heart of it, Edgerton’s debut could, and should have, been much, much sharper.

Overall Score: 5/10

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: Brad’s Status

“You’re Fifty Years Old And You Still Think The World Was Made For You…”

Tackling notions of the mid-life crisis and looking back on a lifetime gone swiftly by, School of Rock writer, Mike White, directs and provides the screenplay for Brad’s Status, a low-key and pleasantly thoughtful comedy which utilises the leading star skills of Ben Stiller who returns to the big screen after a somewhat nonexistent cinematic footprint over the course of the past few years or so. Whilst Stiller’s comedy can somewhat not exactly hit the mark, take the likes of Zoolander 2 for instance, the emergence of White’s script and a wide range of lovely supporting performances from an extravagantly well-versed cast, proves to be a solid winning return for the comedic stalwart, and although the underlying narrative point of the movie is one which has been tackled before in a wide range of differing movies ranging from American Beauty to last year’s Ingrid Goes West, Brad’s Status is a cool, sombre and sometimes heartwarming drama which doesn’t ever feel the need to raise up from its’ subtle examination of its’ titular leading character.

Accompanying his son, Troy (Austin Abrams, Paper Towns) along the East Coast whilst they seek out potential future colleges, Brad Sloane (Stiller) reminisces about the success of his out of touch school friends whilst he contemplates his own life’s middling mediocrity, one which is full with seething regret and unwarranted shame in comparison to his long lost forgotten acquaintances. With the narrative primarily explained through the use of Stiller’s voiceover and some rather excessive yet undeniably comedic dream sequences which convey’s Sloane’s belief of his friend’s individual successes, White’s movie works primarily thanks to a brilliantly conflicted leading performance from Stiller alongside the grounding of its’ youthful cast, with the likes of Abrams and Shazi Raja counteracting Sloane’s contempt for the world by explaining its’ true riches in a It’s a Wonderful Life style monologue. Whilst the movie falls at times for swaying too much from the central narrative and limiting its’ actual comedic zingers to a minimal amount, White’s movie is still an interesting social drama which reinforces the idea that when put to good use, Stiller is still an important and welcome leading star.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: The Big Sick

“Can You Imagine A World In Which We End Up Together…?”

Of the many cinematic releases within the Judd Apatow staple, there really isn’t many which I could regard as down and out, truly effective comedies, due in part to my tin-eared response to most examples of American-laden comedies, including the likes of Anchorman and Trainwreck, films which may have garnered an array of positive responses from many on release, but to me, just didn’t work on any level from which I can regard as comedic gold. With the release of The Big Sick however, a loose adaptation of the true-life events of leading star Kumail Nanjiani and co-writer Emily V. Gordon, such a film delightfully breaks the mould of mediocrity, taking a humane and totally believable leading narrative and having the extra boost of a perfectly formed cast to reinforce it and create a consistently funny drama which ranks up there with the best comedy films to be released in recent memory, whilst simultaneously proving that with a decent script and filmmakers who understand the effect of comedic timing, not all American comedies can be utter trash.

Although The Big Sick adheres to the boy-meets-girl formula of practically every romantic comedy since the dawn of time, the added depths given to the relationship between leading couple Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan, with the former’s religious traditions and the latter’s narrative hanging medical issues the stand-out elements of the story, forms a charming bond between the two in which the audience only wants to see flourish and prosper come the end of the drama, and with added support from the likes of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, the movie manages to succeed on all fronts as both a romantic drama and a rib-tingling comedy. At the core of the real reason on why the movie really works, is the dedication to the believability of the players involved and each of their separate trials and tribulations, and whilst recent supposed comedies such as Snatched and The House believe comedy is warranted through vulgarity and petulant, adolescent nonsense, thank the baby Jesus for a movie like The Big Sick, a overtly impressive comedy which undoubtedly belongs up there with the best comedies to travel overseas in flippin’ years.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Manchester By The Sea

“I Can’t Beat It. I Can’t Beat It, I’m Sorry…”

Arriving on a weekend packed to the rafters with a wide range of movie releases, the release of Manchester By The Sea carries with it the annoyingly unavoidable air of hype which has engulfed it over the past few months or so, resulting in an inevitable array of Golden Globe nominations as well as being tipped as one of the top contenders for the upcoming Academy Awards which takes place next month. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan, whose previous credits include screenplays for Gangs of New York and Analyze This, Manchester By The Sea follows in the footsteps of La La Land by being a film which lives up to its’ high expectations, a touching tale of loss, sorrow and the chance of redemption held together by a simply outstanding performance from Casey Affleck who undoubtedly will walk away with the Oscar for Best Actor next month, and a sharp, snappy screenplay which dissects the everyday notions of family and friendship upon an overarching melancholic plot thread which acts as the central cornerstone of a movie seeped in utterly believable human emotion.

Cowering throughout the movie in an unbearable understated embodiment of repressed emotion, Affleck’s Lee Chandler is a complex shadow of a character, one who is brought back to his titular homeland after the death of his brother and one whose societal absence verges on the edge of a complete dissociation with anyone around who shows him the slightest bit of attention. Add into the mix Lucas Hedge’s Patrick, the son of Lee’s lost brother, and the film begins to unravel a parallel between the past and the future, one which balances out loss with a chance of redemption for a character who could easily burst into a complete and utter meltdown at any moment throughout the film. Subsequently, the commanding performance of Affleck ironically leads to the film’s only real setback, with Michelle Williams strangely seeming rather absent and underused, alongside other characters which come and go rather too swiftly. Ultimately, Manchester By The Sea is Affleck’s movie entirely and the down-to-earth dramatic turns and realist decisions by his character result in a film which is up there with the most rewarding dramas to be released in recent memory and for a film which is just under two and a half hours, it seemed strange to be leaving the cinema by actually wanting more, the sign of a cracker if ever there was one.

Overall Score: 9/10