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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

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Film Review: Battle of the Sexes

“I’m Done Talking, Let’s Play…”

Fresh from her Oscar win in 2017’s best film so far in the form of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, Emma Stone leads Battle of the Sexes, the latest from Little Miss Sunshine and Ruby Sparks directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and a film which focuses on the titular infamous tennis match in 1973 between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs which ultimately lit the touchpaper for King’s advocacy for feminism and LGBT rights within twentieth century America. With Steve Carell co-starring as Riggs and the likes of Andrea Riseborough, Sarah Silverman and Bill Pullman all making an appearance, the husband and wife directorial pair’s return is one of rousing success, a brilliantly acted docu-drama with a hell of a lot to say, and whilst the film sometimes doesn’t quite succeed in cracking open effectively all the notions evident on display, Battle of the Sexes is admirable in its’ attempt to raise the same questions which were raised forty four years ago but are unfortunately still increasingly evident even today.

With Stone continuing to prove why she is arguably the most in-demand talent within Hollywood at this moment in time with yet another brilliantly nuanced performance as Billie Jean King, the film’s strongest narrative thread is undeniably the relationship between her character and Andrea Riseborough’s stylist love interest, Marilyn, a partnership which not only holds the most substance between any of the leading cast in the movie, but thanks to effective dialogue and intensely invasive camera shots is so authentic in its’ design, the movie could have been good enough simply focusing on this particular plot thread alone. With a grainy, stylised 1970’s aesthetic and a jukebox soundtrack accompanying the story, Battle of the Sexes is undeniably a crowd-pleasing ace, and with a final act which although is undeniably inevitable in regards to its’ outcome, still manages to be rousingly intense, Faris and Dayton’s movie is ironically one of the more timely releases in a year rife with discussions regarding women’s liberation and the effect of feminism. Long may it continue.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: Despicable Me 3

“Face It, Gru. Villainy Is In Your Blood..!”

Much like Transformers and even the MCU, Illumination Entertainment is the kind of film company that know the key to success in terms of financial revenue, and whilst expansive items such as The Secret Life of Pets wasn’t exactly received perfectly by the likes of myself and other, more famous film critics, the company know which one of their little darlings will always attract the younger generation and their parents’ hard-earned dollar. MINIONS! Returning in their animated form with Despicable Me 3, the famous yellow coloured dumplings take the backseat somewhat after their success within the standalone entry Minions in 2015, paving way for the return of the Steve Carell voiced Gru, the bad-guy-turned-good who this time faces up against the long lost presence of twin brother, Dru Gru in a reunion which sets the basis for a movie which knows what to do in order to make most of its’ animation-loving audience happy. With slapstick galore and some rather hilarious characterisation of the film’s leading villain, Despicable Me 3 is a solid enough threequel, and a movie which uses the appeal of the Minions to undeniable effect.

Released side by side with the likes of The House, the comedic arsenal of Despicable Me 3 makes the film look like an animated Annie Hall in comparison to Will Ferrell’s woeful excuse for a mainstream comedy, and whilst it is true that watching minions read out the yellow pages would probably be an entertaining pastime in itself, the unparalleled addiction of admiring the existence of their particular race is undeniably the best element about the Despicable Me series and whilst they somewhat play second fiddle in this particular entry, the moments they are on-screen are definitely the strongest. Add into the mix a villain with a penchant for shoulder pads, disco balls and a jukebox soundtrack which features everything from Madonna to Dire Straits, DM3 is a surrealist bag of kooky wackiness, using the animated platform to construct characters and sets which I couldn’t help but laugh at, with the best being the inclusion of a pig-infested Freedonia in which cheese is supplied and eaten between moments of courting. DM3 is actively funny enough to warrant its’ existence in the Despicable Me franchise and whilst the narrative is somewhat predictable and uninspiring at times, sometimes you have just got to leave your brain at the door and admire the madness on-screen. BANANA.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: The Big Short

“We’re Going To Wait Until They Feel The Pain, Until They Start To Bleed…”

To say Adam McKay was the last person on my mind to be at the helm of a film regarding the events leading up to and beyond the financial crisis of 2007 and into 2008 is quite a monumental understatement. Although previous movies of McKay, including Step Brothers, The Other Guys, and of course, Anchorman, have left with me with a fundamental sense of believing American comedy is well and truly heading down the toilet, The Big Short is a movie that tackles a ridiculously complicated subject matter for a member of the lay public without a background in hard economics, and throws in a surprisingly effective comedic element, one in which proves, when diverting from teeny-angst rubbish which has encompassed his previous selection of movies, that in fact, Adam McKay can in fact be a successful director in the hard-nut genre of comedy. With a strong band of actors such as Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt, The Big Short is a movie of a highly enjoyable pedigree, if one that ever so slightly goes over your head in a “I’m so much smarter than you fashion,” but hey, who the heck knows what a credit default swap is anyhow?

Based on the book of the same name by author Michael Lewis, The Big Short details three intertwining stories of events proceeding the financial crisis of 2007/8, beginning with Christian Bales’ slightly exuberant and wholly unsociable Dr. Michael Burry who predicts the impeding collapse and leading on to Steve Carell’s Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling’s Jared Vennett, all of whom are attempting to benefit from the ticking time-bomb of the US’s fraudulent housing market system. Like 99% of cinema goers who will go and see The Big Short, most of the film, I can freely admit, I was completely baffled, with the film being jam-packed with speech and set-pieces that make absolutely no sense whatsoever, with talks of hedge funds, CDO’s and subprime lending meaning absolutely zilch, and to be fair, it shouldn’t, I’m not exactly a top end economist. Thankfully, and critically, The Big Short knows this. Although its’ attempts to try and explain goings on with weird impulsed celebrity cameos just feel plain wrong, the film’s baffling nature is ultimately put to one side due to the sheer power of its’ actors and the swift nature of its’ comedic quips.

Star of the show is no doubt Steve Carell, whose character not only feels like the most three-dimensional out of the key components of the film, but it is a character that most people will find it easiest to associate with, especially in a stand out scene in which Baum is told straight-faced about the sheer unbelievable nature of the housing market by the creator of synthetic CDO’s, one of the core instruments in the downfall of the economy, a scene in which we witness Carell change from a state of interest to one of sheer shock and disgust. It’s a great scene and one in which embodies the hatred behind the capitalist, greedy nature of the US economy. If The Big Short makes you feel anything by the time the credits roll, it’s one that mirrors the state of Baum in such a scene. Hatred. Shock. Disgust. Feelings not aimed at the film in any sense, but feelings that are aimed towards the top one percent, those who watched millions fall to pieces around them whilst they sat and watched, earning profits in the process of doing so. The Big Short is not perfect by any means, but it is a film that encourages you to feel, and that, it sure did. Comedic in places, but straight-faced come the end, The Big Short is The Wolf of Wall Street reversed, attempting to show the sheer horrendous effects of greed and selfishness in a way that is enjoyable and entertaining whilst satirising the corporate nature of the US in the 21st century. Hollywood 1, Wall Street 0.

Overall Score: 8/10

87th Academy Awards: Best Actor

Oscars 2015: Best Actor

Second on this Oscar blog, is the Best Actor category, which features some brilliant performances, particularly from the two British representatives, Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne (Or benedict XCuebrvatch and Eddie Redmaybe, as the Guardian call them*) portraying the iconic Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking respectively. In terms of bookies favourite, Michael Keaton is top of the list for this years gong, for his portrayal of Riggan Thompson in Birdman. In terms of my own particular choice, it’s hard to shy away from Eddie Redmayne, whose transformative performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything is just a wonder to behold, and after winning the Golden Globe, where for the last three years the winner has gone on to win the Oscar, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him lift the golden guy next month. In the category of “overlooked”, is Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Brendan Gleeson in Calvary, and unbelievably Jake Gyllenhaal, for both Enemy and Nightcrawler. Don’t worry Jake, I thing you’re fab. Anyway, we have:

Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game

Bradley Cooper – American Sniper

Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

Michael Keaton – Birdman

Steve Carell – Foxcatcher

Next… Best Actress

Film Review: Foxcatcher

Brother’s Grimm

It’s award season everyone! On the day I am writing this, the Golden Globes is set to descend upon us with the majestic two-hour red carpet special lying in wait along with my pot of coffee and sugar-filled lemonade. Cheers time zones. Of the films listed in the “Best Films” category, Foxcatcher, Selma, and The Theory of Everything, are the only ones I hadn’t seen when the nominations were announced so I decided to catch up when they were released in UK cinemas, starting with Foxcatcher. Foxcatcher brings to life the true story of Jon Du Pont, played by Steve Carell, and his efforts in hiring the Olympic wrestling champions Mark and Dave Schultz, played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo respectively, to train under the “Foxcatcher” estate and ready a team for the 1988 Olympics. Although, from this short synopsis anyway, Foxcatcher seems to be primarily a sports film, the reality is that Foxcatcher is a different monster entirely.

 When I first watched the trailer to Foxcatcher, I was astonished at the transformation of Carell, whose unrecognisable performance as Du Pont is undeniably the best feature of the film, with his character’s eerie presence and ambiguous nature symbolising the tone I felt the film was trying to convey throughout its’ two hour run-time. Both Carell and Tatum portray characters that are undeniably against type, and I felt this only enhanced the film’s strengths, as it’s dark and grim tone was unexpected, due in part to the fact that I had no previous knowledge of the events surrounding the story.

Another strength of the film is Ruffalo’s performance, who, like Carell, is nominated for a Golden Globe, yet what stuck me most about the film was it’s clear emphasis on the notion of family, with themes throughout focusing on brotherhood, paternal and maternal instincts, as well as feelings of isolation, particularly in relation to Du Pont, whose Gatsby-esque wealth and fame, brings with it a sense of loneliness and despair, helped only by his unusual love for his very own Daisy Buchanan, in the form of Mark Schultz.

Overall, Foxcatcher is a dark and twisted tale of one man’s isolation which engaged me throughout. Its’ grim nature and rather depressing feel may be too much for some, but in my opinion, Foxcatcher is a solid and surprising piece of cinema. Roll on the red carpet.

Overall Score: 8/10