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Film Review: Animals

“Sooner Or Later The Party Has To End…”

Less of a coming of age drama and more like a raging alcohol and drug fuelled stupor, South Australian director, Sophie Hyde, brings to life Emma Jane Unsworth’s 2014 novel of the same name in the form of Animals, an internationally produced “buddy” movie which sees Holliday Grainger (My Cousin Rachel) and Alia Shawkat (Green Room) as Laura and Tyler, two close friends hitting the tender age of their mid-30’s who spend their time frolicking, excessively drinking and partaking in hard drugs in the name of staying young, keeping fresh and shying away from the responsibilities of the “adult” world. Screened to the public at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and departing with a overly positive buzz, Hyde’s movie is a refreshingly low-key if wildly spirited take on the trials and tribulations of adulthood, one which embraces many of the plot devices and genre conventions evident in previous and better works of a similar ilk, but too a film which works off the strengths of its’ leading characters as we follow them through a particular path which audiences of similar age range will undoubtedly understand and sheepishly relate to.

With 2019 seemingly being the year where the coming of age movie has re-emerged into the cinematic spotlight, Animals follows most closely to the likes of Booksmart in some ways, a film which takes the American Graffiti route of exploring one last childhood hurrah before venturing into the world of growing up, and whilst of course the age ranges of our particular characters in each film differ by a decade or so, the central narrative of Hyde’s movie focuses on two friends seemingly reluctant to take that next step into becoming what they fear most; serious adults. With Grainger’s Laura then becoming the first to attempt to bridge the gap between child and adult as she falls in love with Fra Free’s (Les Misérables) mopey, piano loving straighthead, tensions soon build up between the pair, with each seemingly beginning to resent each other as they slowly drift apart as Laura falls more into the trap of modern-day normalisation involving marriage and family, whilst Tyler continues her life of unemployment, heavy drinking and endless partying. With the film relying on the central double act to basically hold the film together, the performances of both Grainger and Shawkat are good enough to keep you more than interested, aided nicely by some sharp comedic dialogue and snappy sarcastic quips, and whilst Hyde’s movie will come and go without leaving much of a lasting impression, Animals is an enjoyable, if slightly wandering, tale of friendship and the ability to drink many, many bottles of white wine.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: The Current War

“I’m Working On Something Now, Something So New That The World Will Never Be The Same…”

Filmed and completed almost two whole years ago, with the original release date back in 2017 shelved following the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal and the subsequent MeToo movement, The Current War finally hits the big screen after being acquired and released by Lantern Entertainment, an American film studio who purchased all assets owned by The Weinstein Company as the disgraced company fell into liquidation following their owner’s high profile fall from grace. Directed by Texas-born filmmaker, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, whose previous works include the overly kooky, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, and directorial credits on both episodes of Glee and American Horror Story, The Current War attempts to dramatise the titular battle fought by both Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse during the latter stages of the nineteenth century, as each attempt to outwit each other and become the leading light of electrical power across the globe. With very little background noise or press following closely behind it, it seems fair to say that The Current War is the kind of movie which Lantern Entertainment feel the need to let loose just for the sake of it, with the main goal of course being to recoup a slender amount of financial reward after the cost to make it, yet much in the same way Billionaire Boys Club came and went like a fart in the wind after the similarly troubling Kevin Spacey allegations, Gomez-Rejon’s movie feels rather icky and strangely enough for a film without electrical power, staggeringly lifeless.

Central to the film’s array of issues is its’ central narrative, one based upon a screenplay from American playwright, Michael Mitnick, who seems to have been catching up on the back catalogue of Christopher Nolan by producing what can only be described as a monumental bore of a story, a cheap, Nolanized knock-off which attempts to recreate the fast-paced, engaging storytelling Nolan does so well, yet forgetting to include any sort of pace or engaging, meaty plot whatsoever, resulting in the cardinal sin of watch checking only five minutes in. With the film clocking in and just under two hours, it’s fair to say that The Current War only works as a medicinal prescription for prolonged sleep deprivation, a laborious, yawn-inducing borefest which wastes good acting talent including the likes of Michael Shannon, Tom Holland and Katherine Waterston, whilst reasserting the notion that Benedict Cumberbatch is quickly becoming the most typecast actor in the acting business today, with another leading role which leans heavy on the intelligent, sarcastic know-it-all characteristic and less on the sympathetic nice guy, akin to other historical figures the Brit has played in the likes of The Fifth Estate and The Imitation Game. Add into the mix woozy, sanctimonious camera work from Chung Chung-hoon who seems to think he’s the reincarnation of Kubrick alongside simply awful time-hopping editing and The Current War is the first movie in a good while to be so awfully dull, I began to worry for the future of cinema as we know it.

Overall Score: 3/10

Film Review: Yesterday

“See, We Pay And You Write Songs, And Then You Make A Ton Of Money. And Then We Take Most Of It…”

With Danny Boyle being the subject of a very big hoo-hah after departing the much troubled project which is Bond 25, his latest venture in the form of Yesterday couldn’t be further from a tale about a cold-blooded British spy with a penchant for the ladies. Based around a screenplay from Richard Curtis, the acclaimed writing mind behind stalwart Christmas movies including Love Actually and Notting Hill, Boyle’s latest challenges you to hold back all levels of sanctimonious sniffing and imagine a world in which the iconic voice of The Beatles never existed, a movie which features Himesh Patel (Eastenders) in the lead role of Jack Malik, a passionate and wholly unsuccessful singer-songwriter whose only long-term dedicated fan is his manager and close friend, Ellie, as played by Lily James (Baby Driver). After a worldwide blackout, Jack is the victim of a nasty traffic collision and awakens to discover that neither “The White Album” or “Abbey Road” ever existed, resulting in him deciding to rip off the famous words of Lennon and co. in order to stake a claim of fame for himself.

With a central idea which is in itself slightly ludicrous, Boyle has managed to deal with particularly out-there screenplays throughout his career, whether it be the mind-bendingly confused state of a film like Trance or the more down-to-Earth, family friendly Millions, a film with a central idea which in this political climate seems a million miles away, and with a first act which joyously announces all the lead characters, including Jack’s oblivious parents and Joel Fry’s (Game of Thrones) maniacal roadie, Yesterday begins in interesting and heartwarming fashion, particularly when the first chords of famous Beatles tracks are seemingly heard for the very first time by Jack’s close family and friends. As soon as Ed Sheeran turns up however, the film moves from low-key niceties to schlocky, sentimental nonsense, taking the worst parts of Love Actually and turning them up to eleven as the film evolves into a Beatles inspired love-in with added saccharin sweetness whilst seemingly forgetting the greatness of a first act which in all its’ absurdity still managed to feel real, and with a final curtain which made me nearly gag at the sheer audacity of attempting to make everyone grab the nearest tissue, Boyle’s movie is a messy, violently polished work of tosh which just happens to have a great first act which saves the piece from being a total disaster. Plus, they didn’t even mention the best Beatles song; HELTER SKELTER, COMING DOWN FAST!

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Booksmart

“Amy, We Only Have One Night Left To Have Studied And Partied In High School. Otherwise, We’re Just Going To Be The Girls That Missed Out…”

Acting as the hundred and eighty first coming of age movie this year alone, give or take a couple of exaggerated additions, Booksmart acts as the directorial debut of the wonderfully talented Olivia Wilde, who follows in the footsteps of the equally brilliant Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) by making the tricky transition from in front of the camera to behind it with enormous success. With Gerwig basing the screenplay for her own coming of age story on her personal experiences growing up in 1990’s Sacramento, the template for Booksmart from writing duo, Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, appeared on the infamous “Black List” of unproduced screenplays for a number of years before being picked up by Wilde and her production company, and in the transition from paper to screen, Wilde’s debut sees Kaitlyn Dever (Beautiful Boy) and Beanie Feldstein (Lady Bird) play best of friends, Amy and Molly, as they hit the eve of their high school graduation and become ready for their next step into adult life. With both believing their hard work and grades have been the result of a complete absence of any form of debauchery during their school life, they soon find out that even the hardest of party animals have likewise secured an impressive future, resulting in both utilising the last night of high school to engage in as much carnage and outrageousness as humanly possible.

With the set up rather familiar, taking nods from the classic coming of age tales of old, particularly George Lucas’ American Graffiti and Richard Linklater’s stoner comedy, Dazed and Confused, Wilde’s movie moves like a steam train as it skips from the inner workings of American school life to the party-centric madness of primarily the wealthiest one percent, with gigantic yachts and mansion sized family homes acting as the basis for debaucherous set piece after debaucherous set piece. With the central characters more likeable then one would have thought after the film’s rather irritating trailer, Booksmart doesn’t solely aim for the outrageous, with a generous amount of characterisation and interesting narrative arcs allowing the final payoff to be more than rewarding, one which comes together with a familiar sentiment that all good coming of age movies do, whether it be the riotous declaration of friendship from The Breakfast Club or the beginning of a new chapter in Everybody Wants Some!!, Wilde’s movie nicely fits the mould of what should be expected from such a genre movie. With a few scenes which do unfortunately test the patience, particularly an animated, drug-fuelled nightmare come the halfway mark which doesn’t work at all, Booksmart is still an engaging, ludicrous and highly enjoyable cinematic debut from yet another filmmaker whose switch to behind the camera has paid off in spades.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: Beats

“They Wanna Privatise Our Minds, Keep Us In Our Seperate Boxes…”

Following on from the likes of the excellent, Mid90s, and the not so excellent, Eighth Grade, 2019 treats audiences once again to yet another coming-of-age tale, one which trades the urban wasteland of the United States for the erm, urban wasteland of 1990’s Scotland as we follow two socially isolated friends attempt to rise above their familial and personal issues through their shared admiration and love for rave culture. Directed by Scottish filmmaker, Brian Welsh, who as far as I’m aware bears no genetic ties to the infamous Irvine Welsh, Beats follows a very familiar aesthetic and tonal similarity to the latter’s most well known literary work, Trainspotting, with the subsequent big screen adaptation from Danny Boyle undeniably playing a huge part in influencing a movie which tries hard but ultimately fails to have the same impact on both cinema and culture Boyle’s undisputed masterpiece did back in the day.

With the little known Christian Ortega and Lorn Macdonald in the leading roles of Johnno and Spanner respectively, Welsh’s movie spends the first forty five minutes developing a loving friendship separated by social class, with Johnno’s recent familial move to a fancy new build away from the harsh wastelands of Scotland’s high rises and “scum” a whole different world away from the desperate upbringing of Spanner, whose strength on the outside conflicts with an inner vulnerability caused by his ruthless and sociopathic older drug dealing brother. Come the fifty minute mark however and Beats soon falls into the trap of running completely out of steam, with a central narrative involving a music and drug led revolution not interesting in the slightest, and even with a clear nod to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Beats begins promising but then falls down as it fails to really focus on a meaningful message.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Vox Lux

“One For The Money, Two For The Show, Three To Get Ready, And Four We Go…”

Directed and written by actor-turned-director, Brady Corbet, Vox Lux sees the American return to the big screen after the critical success of 2015’s, The Childhood of a Leader, for a bizarre, sometimes masterful, ideas-heavy drama which blends a whole catalogue of themes and satirical subtexts around a central narrative which focuses entirely upon the character of Celeste Montgomery, the survivor of a brutal mass shooting at her school at the turn of the twentieth century who soon finds worldwide fame and fortune in the musical industry after the song she writes for her fellow fallen students goes viral. Boldly coined by the marketing team as Black Swan meets A Star is Born, Corbet’s movie does indeed have incidental flashes of familiarity from both, but with its’ own individual identity and a strange and overly knowing holier-than-thou, art-house sensibility, Vox Lux is that type of auterish, pretentious work of boldness which tends to divide both audiences and critics alike, and whilst Corbet’s movie does indeed suffer at times from choosing to rely more on it’s very flashy and expertly designed surface over meaningful plot or characterisation, the American’s second big screen venture is a highly original and memorable work of nonsense which grabbed my attention from the offset and never let go.

Split into two very different narrative halves, the first act of Vox Lux begins with a Sunset Boulevard style voiceover, helmed of course by the dulcet and very familiar tones of Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man) as we are dropped into the early life of Celeste, as played in younger form by the excellent Raffey Cassidy (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) as we see her attempt to reason with her fellow student who goes through with his plan to carry out a mass school shooting, an opening set piece so expertly and horrifically orchestrated I sat jaw-dropped for a good five minutes through the opening credit roll. As we progress through Celeste’s sudden rise to fame in the pop world, we are introduced to Jude Law’s (Captain Marvel) passionate music manager and Celeste’s close relationship with her older sister, Ellie, as played by Stacey Martin (High Rise) who both play a part in the doe-eyed victim slowly becoming less and less innocent as she opens her eyes to the wider and more glamorous side of the world in which she lives. Cue a significant time jump and the second act of the movie sees Natalie Portman (Black Swan) take on the role as the elder Celeste, a now world famous, significant figurehead in the music industry suffering from a steady blend of alcoholism, narcissism and broken relationships including that of her sister and young daughter, Albertine, also played in excellent fashion once again by the impressive Cassidy. Whilst I understand the commentary regarding the effects of fame and social pressures wholly evident in the film’s second act, Portman’s performance is so vile and infuriating (in a good sense) that come the final act, Corbet’s movie becomes more and more agitating, and whilst I expect that this is undoubtedly the effect Vox Lux attempts to evoke upon the audience, it’s jarring sensibility is both intriguing and detracting, resulting in a movie which is one of the more original works of the year so far, but boy, is it hard work.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: Tolkien

“It’s A Story About Journeys, The Journeys We Take To Prove Ourselves. It’s About Adventures…”

If Led Zeppelin arguably brought The Lord of the Rings to the big screen by mixing the fantastical mythology of Tolkien with good old fashioned rock and roll, then in a roundabout sort of way, we can all thank the South African born writer for influencing the greatest band of all time in the first place, and whilst there is unsurprisingly a significant lack of Robert Plant or Jimmy Page in the aptly named, Tolkien, this week, such a film would have actually suitably benefitted from the rock god wails of the latter or the chunky, heavy guitar riffs of the former. Directed by Finnish filmmaker, Dome Karukoski, the early life of J. R. R Tolkien marks his first venture into English language film, and whilst the experiences of one of the world’s most revered writers makes some sort of sense to be idolised in a cinematic capacity, Tolkien unfortunately fails to hold a candle to the incredible life of the titular war hero, a movie filled to the brim with many interesting ideas but one which ultimately fails to balance the weight of them effectively enough to be labelled a success, resulting in a jumbled mess of a drama which can’t make the executive decision to stay on one set path and thus annoyingly becomes stranded in no man’s land in a last ditch attempt to bring some sort of memorability to proceedings. Unfortunately for Karukoski and co, Tolkien is anything but memorable.

Planting the youthful, straight-headed figure of Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite) in the leading role, Karukoski’s movie begins proceedings by placing Tolkien in the heart of battle as he attempts to survive the disease and blood-ridden wastelands of trench warfare during the Battle of the Somme, and whilst the film’s trailers promised an intriguing blend of fantasy and biographical drama, the constant transition and wavering throughout Tolkien’s own early life chapters means that the movie can never really set its’ mind on what it ultimately wants to be. With the drama setting up early moments of loss and hardship as we witness the Tolkien brothers move into the confines of adoption, we are soon introduced to both fellow members of the Tolkien coined Tea Club and Barrovian Society and fellow orphan, Edith Bratt, as played by the wonderfully talented Lily Collins (Rules Don’t Apply) who continues to evoke her inner Audrey Hepburn with the best performance in the movie, one which radiates beauty and undeniable charm. Annoyingly however, the film takes these two differing subplots and puts them to battle against each other, and as we move through elements of coming-of-age style drama, romance and war, Tolkien doesn’t expand on any enough effectively to leave you feeling adequately rewarded, and add into the mix a yawn-inducing pace and a complete editorial nightmare, Karukoski’s movie is unfortunately not enjoyable enough as a standalone biographical drama or pleasing enough for those after an insight into anything The Hobbit related, and even with the excellence of Collins in one of the leading roles, Tolkien is unfortunately an opportunity missed.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Long Shot

“I’m Going To Try And Conduct Myself In Such A Way That Does Not Risk Global Humiliation…”

Mixing together the almighty and Oscar winning talent of Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) with erm, Seth Rogen, (The InterviewLong Shot is the latest from American filmmaker, Jonathan Levine, who reunites with Rogen after their work together on the 2011 comedy drama, 50/50, for a romantic comedy which attempts to balance political and social satire with a well-worn tale of unlikely and improbable love. Based around a screenplay from the double-act of Liz Hannah and Dan Sterling, famous for their individual work on the likes of The Post and The Interview respectively, Long Shot is that rare sight in contemporary cinema, an American comedy which actually works, and whilst the central romance at the heart of the story does indeed venture into gargantuan levels of cliche come the end of the almost two hour runtime, Levine’s movie works predominantly elsewhere, with a mix of knowing, and at times, strikingly unintentional, modern-day satire, pleasantly supplementing a likeable and utterly charming core relationship, one which gleefully bursts with volcanic levels of chemistry and pushes the final product into something which although might not be at all memorable, is rather enjoyable.

Coined in the trailer by one of the film’s supporting actors, the one and only, O’Shea Jackson Jr., (Straight Outta Compton) as having a very familiar central narrative to that of Garry Marshall’s 1990 classic, Pretty Woman, Levine’s movie at least jumbles up the profession of the leading characters, with Seth Rogen’s Fred Flarsky not exactly the first person to come to mind when it comes to the prostitution business, with him instead being landed with the role of an idealistic, rough-edged journalist with a penchant for thinking out loud, a character trait of which soon finds him unemployed and penniless. Enter Theron’s Charlotte Field, the highly popular Secretary of State with eyes for the presidency who in her earlier teenage years used to babysit a young and lovestruck Flarsky, and the two suddenly reconnect after Field utilises Flarsky’s innovative written word to boost her appeal to the American public. With worldwide trips on the menu, the two suddenly become attached to each other by the hip, resulting in the film’s central and heartwarming romance, and with an abundance of hilarious set pieces, including one of the best inverted sex scenes in cinema history and a heavy night on the town which results in a majorly mistimed hostage negotiation, Long Shot goes along way to make you care for the film’s characters, and even with a runtime which does slightly drag come the final act, Levine’s movie is a solid slice of American comedy cheese with added Charlize Theron.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Mid90s

“A Lot Of The Time We Feel That Our Lives The Worst, But I Think That If You Looked In Anybody Else’s Closet, You Wouldn’t Trade Your Shit For Their Shit…”

Acting as the first of two independently released coming-of-age dramas this month under the umbrella of the increasingly impressive A24 Films, a film company responsible for backing recent cinematic classics including Moonlight, Under the Skin and Hereditary to name a few, Mid90s sees Hollywood star, Jonah Hill (21 Jump Street, The Wolf of Wall Street) move from in front of the camera to behind it, working off of his own personalised script which sees Sunny Suljic (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) as thirteen year old, Stevie, a repressed, overly quiet teenage inbetweener who finds solace away from his violent and complex home-life in a group of skateboard loving misfits with a tendency for underage parties, drinking and other anti-social discrepancies. With Greta Gerwig’s masterful, Lady Bird, a film also released under the banner of A24 Films, the contemporary benchmark for the modern coming-of-age story on film, Mid90s takes a very familiar if surprisingly low-key approach to the age-old tale of troubled youth, but with a convincing sense of grungy realism and a superb central performance from one of Hollywood’s rising stars, Hill’s movie is a thoroughly engaging and emotionally stimulating ninety minute character piece which acts as an excellent kickstarter to Hill’s career as a director.

Shot entirely with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio and on 16mm film, a cinematic technique used also on Darren Aronofsky’s, mother!, Hill’s movie takes the bold approach to come across as the most nineties inflicted movie ever, at least on an aesthetic level, with the letterbox framing and grainy cinematography actually quite startling and jarringly retro when it first appears on screen, but once the fancy gimmicks are taken in their stride, the drama takes its time to expand Stevie’s character, offering glimpses into his abusive relationship with both his fitness obsessed older brother and emotionally complex and very young single mother, with the only way out in the form of his newly found band of slackish outsiders led by the charming and morally conflicted figure of Na-Kel Smith’s Ray. With a variety of set pieces which tap into the self-destructive nature of a young boy’s journey into adulthood, Hill ultimately chooses to portray his own coming-of-age tale as one of extreme hardship and cruelty, tackling a variety of issues including loneliness, jealousy and despair, and whilst the script does feature elements of seething darkness, the optimism and sentiment you would expect from this sort of movie does eventually fall into place come the final act, and with added excellent supporting performances from the likes of Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts) and the A24 acting staple, Lucas Hedges (Lady Bird), Mid90s is a realist portrayal of youth in crisis with enough dedication from its’ creator to win me over completely. Plus, the soundtrack is freakin’ awesome.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: The Sisters Brothers

“Charlie, When You Kill A Man, You End Up With His Father Or His Friends On Your Tail. It Usually Ends Badly…”

Acting as a cinematic vessel for his first work in the English language after the critical success of foreign language gems including Rust and Bone and the 2015 Palme D’or winner, Dheepan, French filmmaker, Jacques Audiard, brings to life the 2011 novel, The Sisters Brothers, by Canadian-born author, Patrick deWitt, for a “revisionist” Western tale which blends True Grit style black comedy with Hostiles levels of realism, one all held together by a simply stellar cast led by the brilliant one-two of Joaquin Phoenix (You Were Never Really Here) and John C. Reilly (Stan and Ollie) as the titular brothers, Charlie and Eli Sisters. Already classified as a box office bomb after making just over a quarter of its’ respective budget, Audiard’s latest is a prime example of a finely crafted move which deserves to be subject to a wider audience but due to the likes of the awful, Hellboy, among others taking up cinema screens due to their “blockbuster” appeal, The Sisters Brothers is unfortunately not likely to be seen by many at all, a real shame indeed considering how enjoyably dark, comedic and thoroughly engaging Audiard’s first foray into the English language is, with an added Jake Gyllenhaal.

Working from a central narrative which primarily focuses on the blood-bound titular siblings, a pair of very differently minded yet infamous hit-men working under the command of Rutger Hauer’s (Blade Runner) ruthless Commodore, Audiard’s movie sees the bickering duo attempt to track down the whereabouts of Gyllenhaal’s (Nightcrawler) John Morris, a fellow employee of the Commodore and private detective sent to locate Riz Ahmed’s (Venom) Hermann Kermit Warm, after he is accused of theft. Whilst the movie does indeed follow particular genre conventions with hard-edged shootouts, campfire musings on the meaning of life and of course, alcohol-laden bar brawls, Audiard is undoubtedly much more interested in his central characters, with each performance wonderfully directed and expertly written, creating individuals rather than templates which make the drama much more emotionally engaging that I would ever have expected. With Phoenix blending that off-kilter comedic edge he has shown in the past in the likes of Inherent Vice with murderous sadism, his reckless ways are balanced by the lighter touch of Reilly, who amidst murdering people for money, comes across as the much more focused and rational of the pair, with certain set pieces in particular so well designed, you immediately recognise both the strengths and weaknesses of each without the need for exposition or clumsy dialogue. With superb supporting performances from Ahmed and Gyllenhaal, The Sisters Brothers is a tale of greed, redemption and brotherhood, and for a film which is being shown exactly nowhere in my local area, ironically Audiard’s movie is one of the best of the year so far.

Overall Score: 8/10