Wednesday, January 31, 2018

On The Films I Saw But Didn't Review

2017 was a strange and busy year. Full of lots of films, to be sure. Unfortunately, I was unable to get around to writing about everything I saw.

This blog has always been a passion project, and the moment putting content out becomes stressful I know it's time to take a step back. With this in mind, I made a point to take note of the films I wanted to write about and put together a collective piece briefly sharing my thoughts on each of them.

So this is it! It's written slightly more informally and is more of a brain-dump than my usual reviews, but I hope you enjoy it all the same. There are so many films I'm looking forward to seeing this year, I can't wait to share more reviews on this blog. In the meantime, thanks for checking in.

Baby Driver



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Bursting onto the scene with its all American cast and Hollywood action movie stunts and car chases, Edgar Wright's 6th feature promised something a bit different. However, despite its production value and inherent Americanism, Baby Driver is consistent with Wright's signature style, though admittedly more refined.

Baby Driver decidedly became one of my favourite films of 2017. It really is the full package, with the right amount of humour, well-rounded characterisation, fast-paced and witty dialogue with electric action scenes, all topped off with a 10/10 soundtrack.

For my review of Edgar Wright's 2013 film The World's End, click here.

Okja


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Okja manages to provide a thought-provoking commentary on animal exploitation and the meat industry without feeling preachy. Its commentary did at times feel cheapened slightly by the cartoonish nature of some of its characters, namely Tilda Swinton's Lucy Mirando, head of the corporation in charge of the Super Pig competition.

The stand-out performance by far was from young lead Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija. She manages to perfectly convey her love for her large piggy companion, Okja. Starting out in a remote, mountainous region of South Korea, we are soon taken through Seoul, to New York and beyond, and shown the truest and purest of bonds, that of a young girl and her pet.

Dunkirk



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Many have already remarked on the technical prowess of Nolan's newest feature. In line with his interest in the theme of time, we are shown Dunkirk from three different perspectives: land, sea, and sky. All of which operate in their own separate and respective time zones.

Immersive though this film is, its characterisation is non-existent. For all its technical bravado, it remains a soulless husk, failing to communicate the complexity of the myriad of human lives lost and emotions felt on the day.

Yes, the fear and intensity are palpable, but we are given no reason beyond the immersion that the sharp sound design, and Hoyte Van Hoytema’s brilliant cinematography provide, to care about the fate of the protagonists. Though this may sound cold, that's how the film feels. It works more successfully as a reenactment piece, lacking as it is in anything human unlike Inception, Interstellar or really any of Nolan's other films.

The Beguiled



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Though Coppola remains one of, if not my all-time favourite director, she failed to capture my attention with her spin on the wild 1971 thriller. Admittedly, my expectations were high, as the original provides ample opportunity for her to explore some interesting themes similar to those of her previous work.

However, she doesn't stray far from the original source material, with some aspects feeling shot-for-shot the same, making the eventual twist feel stale and predictable. Perhaps it is to be better enjoyed by those unfamiliar with Don Siegel's original, as a standalone feature in line with her whimsical cinematic style. For those expecting something new or original, it won't be found here.

Click here to read a piece I wrote for Little White Lies Magazine last year about the thematic comparisons between The Virgin Suicides and The Beguiled.
For my review of The Bling Ring, click here.

Blade Runner 2049




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Blade Runner 2049 came as one of the more disappointing films of 2017, that is after T2, of which you can read my review here. I went into this film wanting to like it but just couldn't find the will to care about its characters.

As a whole, it felt like Blade Runner 2049 was trying to be more clever and thought-provoking than it actually was. The original Blade Runner did a much better job at questioning the human condition in a world where replicants are possible. Not to mention, with all the possible narrative directions this film could have gone down, given the ambiguity of its predecessor and the world it left behind, the plot was actually quite absurd.

With regards to what it means to be human, the original asked those questions with more subtlety. Sadly, that nuance and ambiguity are lost in Denis Villeneuve's sequel, making it feel hollow and tedious.

The Handmaiden



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Though technically a 2016 film, I only got around to seeing this at the end of last year. Another of my favourite films I saw this year, I only wish I had watched it sooner!

Playfully erotic and gorgeously shot, there are some scenes in here that feel pulled straight from an oil painting, such is the richness of the colour, texture, and dark atmospheric allure of the dark set-pieces and the devious characters that inhabit them

A sly and sexy revenge thriller, The Handmaiden throws curveballs that will keep you on the edge of your seat until its closing credits roll.

Goodbye Christopher Robin


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More than a little twee, but enjoyable all the same, Goodbye Christopher Robin tells the story of how the world's favourite 'hunny' loving teddy bear came to be.

Having just returned from serving in the first world war, Alan Alexander Milne (Domhnall Gleeson) is set to get stuck into his heavy, pacifistic anti-war tome. Meanwhile, young Christopher Robin (Will Tilston), known to his family as 'Billy Moon' is lonely and bored, having been left in his father's care by his absentee mother (Margot Robbie) and Scottish nanny (Kelly Macdonald).

After much deliberation, Alan drops his pen and gets on board with some much needed father-son bonding time. Coming to terms with his post-war PTSD, he softens and grows to admire Christopher's fun-loving approach to life, and gets to know some of his animal friends. With this, a poem or two, and a children's book, the world falls in love with Christopher Robin and his Pooh bear.

Thrust into the spotlight against his will, Christopher must face the reality of his unwanted fame as he learns that the precious bonding time he spent with his father and woodland friends is no longer his alone. A peek into the flustered world of child stars, and fortune in a family fraught with tension despite its ideal facade under the gloss of fame, it's a story that needed to be told.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Call Me By Your Name Review


'Call me by your name and I'll call you by mine'

A coming of age story different than most, Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name sees seventeen-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) explore his emerging sexuality with his father's research assistant Oliver (Armie Hammer).

Set in 1983, Call Me By Your Name retains a timelessness that comes with the seclusion of small-town life. The conviviality of lazy summer days gives off a nostalgia that stirs a longing for the outstretched sun-dappled lakes of the Italian Riviera, or the orchards where Elio's family pick apricots and pomegranate from worn, low-hanging branches. A number of side characters float in and out of scenes, part of the colourful backdrop and noise that fills Elio's vividly sensory world.

From the tactile strumming of guitar strings and the touch of ivory piano keys to the gentle trickle of a water feature and the crunching tread of bicycle tyres on uneven country roads. Guadagnino creates a truly seductive sensory experience. Beautifully curated shots of humble Italian countryside and the small, quiet town Elio and his family reside in create an earnest yet inviting setting for romance to unfold. 

Call Me By Your Name is fluid throughout, keeping its focus hidden for a while before revealing itself. When it does bare all, the romance is tastefully done. It develops naturally, swells from a palpable chemistry between its two main characters which exudes sensuality and tenderness. 

Like the fading summer sun, their relationship is bittersweet in its transience. Meanwhile, as voyeurs to their playful courtship, it's difficult not to want to know more about them. Struck by a need to know where Oliver and Elio will go next with their lives, such is the investment these characters inspire. It's sad when their stories inevitably end, so easy it is to get wrapped up in their romantic folly. Love works in mysterious ways to cast us under its charm. Call Me By Your Name may just win you over with its own.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Stranger Things 2 Review



Stranger Things season 2 returns to Hawkins a year on from the events of the first series. Will (Noah Schnapp) is confronted with the anniversary of his being trapped in the Upside Down. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) nurses a broken heart, still not having come to terms with Eleven's (Millie Bobby Brown) disappearance. Meanwhile, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) compete for the attention of new girl Maxine (Sadie Sink).

The second series of Stranger Things is best described as a slow burner. With each character we revisit, there's a real sense of cause and effect. This time, we don't jump straight into the action. Not before getting insight into some of the emotional fallout of the events of winter 1983.

Maxine, or 'Mad Max', a feisty skateboarding tomboy is the newest addition to the gang. Rough around the edges with some baggage of her own, she provides a rift in the established dynamic of the group. Her brother, Billy (Dacre Montgomery) is the stereotypical hypermasculine high school villain. Predictable though he may be, he provides an emasculating counterbalance to former 'King of Highschool' Steve Harrington (Joe Keery). 

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Of the interesting character development this series provides, Steve's might be among the most satisfying. Somewhat redeemed is he from the special brand of douchery he inflicted last series, that he actually becomes likeable. Though already established as one of the more likeable personalities, Dustin is also given more room to grow. The addition of Max, as well as two new and unexpected friendships, allow him more opportunities to step up and deliver some of the best moments of the series so far.

Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) and Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) are once again stolen away for a subplot. In line with the rest of the series, this time their mission lacks urgency. Their quest, in particular, feels more like a vehicle to further their onscreen chemistry than anything we should really care about. Despite being responsible in large part for the closure in the series finale, their subplot fails to carry the amount of weight it should.

Noah Schnapp pulls off an outstanding performance as Will Byers, more than making up for his lack of screentime last series. Embodying both his physical and mental trauma, Schnapp steals the scenes he's in with believable intensity. Interestingly, we are also able to witness a different side of David Harbour's Chief Hopper as he plays surrogate father to an isolated El. Almost a year captive in a woodland cabin has left her itching for some normality, as well as answers to the question of her parentage that was so briefly touched on last series.       

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The only lapse in tone came in the series' 7th episode. 'The Lost Sister' follows Eleven to Chicago where she meets fellow Hawkins lab-rat and gifted child-cum-criminal ringleader, Kali (Linnea Berthelsen). Kali has the ability to make people see what she wants them to see, from an imaginary butterfly to a tunnel collapse. Despite this power, she doesn't make this episode look like anything more than a pilot for a potential spin-off. Her band of misfits felt like parodies of themselves, cookie-cut from the fabric of punk outcasts and rebels of 80s films past.

So what is the general consensus? Less derivative yet more predictable than its predecessor, Stranger Things season 2 lacks the iconography and urgency of its first series. Nonetheless, it delivers some excellent screenwriting and a brilliant soundtrack. A satisfying follow-up that culminates in two nail-bitingly tense final episodes, it's a series that wraps itself up neatly. Whether Stranger Things can maintain its consistency and charm for another two series is something else.







Friday, September 22, 2017

Mother! Review




'You give, and you give, and you give. It's just never enough.'


Together in a remote but spacious country home, a couple's peaceful, pastoral existence is rudely interrupted by unannounced strangers in Darren Aronofsky's newest mind-barrage of a feature. Jennifer Lawrence plays young lover to her older husband (Javier Bardem), embodying an air of innocence and utter helplessness akin to that of a leaf caught in a hurricane. Meanwhile, Bardem displays his capability to switch from loving patriarchal caregiver to deranged cult-leader in a matter of seconds. What a ride.

Mother! begins with an air of serenity that can only be compared to the calm before a storm. The vast spaciousness of the house. Its cool, soft lighting. The muted colours. There's something almost sacred about its undefiled purity. What churns the stomach is the unease that follows when things inevitably begin to go awry. It's difficult to talk about this film without feeling like you're going to do it an injustice. It manages to exist in a vague, surreal space that makes it difficult to define.

Mother! could loosely be described as a domestic thriller, which later culminates in an operatic cacophony of chaotic proportions. The audience is then left to soak in the utter vitriol and lawlessness of its enrapturing bravura. The onslaught of symbolic imagery hurled in the last quarter of this film feels like a test in perseverance and nerve. This is not a film that entertains, necessarily. It's uncomfortable. It's tense. At times, very disturbing. Though never is there a dull moment. Lawrence's performance exudes a wariness that we as an audience can share in, to a point. Soon though, the characterisation begins to feel like nothing more than savage puppetry, with Lawrence's character a pawn in the eventual hell-ride that ensues.

You'd be forgiven for not warming up to this film straight off the bat, or at all. It's not a film that's asking to be liked in the traditional sense. There's no positivity to be found here, more of a cautionary tale. A cinematic liberation for all of Aronofsky's frustrations, outrage, and fears. A cathartic release of sorts.

There's a wealth of allegorical significance here to be sure, with nods to environmental issues, biblical symbolism, relationships and the role of women, abusive relationships. Something for everyone? Perhaps, but the best thing about Mother! is that it's in no way cut and dry. So many different meanings and interpretations can be taken from this parable that it deserves repeat viewings. Aronofsky's high-octane come-back makes for a uniquely intense viewing experience akin to Requiem For A Dream. Is it pleasant? No. Is it worth seeing? Absolutely.



Saturday, September 16, 2017

IT Review




'If you'll come with me, you'll float too'

It's been exactly 27 years since the original tv mini-series adaptation of Stephen King's IT aired. Fitting then, that the remake is released in line with IT's feeding cycle. Something the kids of Derry, Maine learn also happens to coincide with their town's grim history. After Bill's (Jaeden Lieberher) little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) mysteriously goes missing one rainy afternoon while chasing a paper boat, it's just the first in a series of regular disappearances. If there's one thing Bill and his friends can agree on, it's that they've been seeing some strange and horrifying things. A demonic dancing clown, amongst other things...

While King's novel and the original mini-series concentrates on the group of characters, otherwise known as 'The Losers' Club' as adults and kids, Andy Muschietti chooses to exclusively focus this chapter on the kids. From the get-go, it's made clear that the film won't be shying away from violence towards children, keeping its teeth (literally) as far as horror movie gore goes.

With that being said, it's never needless or excessive. There's some pretty excellent character development at work here too, with IT's unrelenting horror extending further than Bill Skarsgård's scary clown. We venture into the realm of some pretty dark themes, including but not limited to: child abuse, Munchausen by proxy, hypochondria, and bullying.

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The depths and layers to these characters makes it easy to root for them. Very few modern horror movies achieve this level of connection, which makes it so easy to identify with them as characters, and which makes the horror all the more affecting. The comedy and clownish one-liners coupled with the chemistry between the kids makes for a refreshing tone, which at times feels very similar to Stranger Things, or as many others have described it: Nightmare on Elm Street meets The Goonies. 


There's also something particularly eerie about the town of Derry. The indifference of the adults that inhabit it. Their callous, emotional detachment from their children's pleas. Whether it's Bill's father's anger at the manifestation of his son's grief, Mike's (Chosen Jacobs) father's unsympathetic reaction to his inability to slaughter a farm animal on command, or Eddie's (Jack Dylan Grazer) mother's stifling possessiveness - heck even the local pharmacist has something uncanny about him. Sophia Lillis does a great job of balancing Beverly's trauma with the effortless cool she uses to mask it around the gang. Another stand-out performance is that of Finn Wolfhard as Richie. He delivers his one-liners with ease, reminiscent of a young Corey Feldman as Mouth from The Goonies.


It has to be said that Skargård had some big shoes to fill. Despite those great expectations, he really inhabits the role of Pennywise. Though It's characterisation is much more stylised here than in its 90s counterpart, it suits the look of the film and adds a darker air of mystery to Skarsgård's more dishevelled Pennywise. Taking the form of each character's fear, it's never explained exactly what It is, making his random appearances all the scarier.

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All in all, Muschietti's IT falls into the rare category of film remakes that manage to surpass their originals. Even without comparisons, IT holds its own as one of the better horror films to be released as of late. It manages to have heart and humour, while also being unremittingly terrifying. Characters are fleshed out, and there's more to the narrative than just the frights. There's no protection or solace to be found in the adults and parental figures, who all appear shady or predatorial. The Losers' Club is forced to grow up and face their fears, both literally and figuratively, with nothing but each other to keep the beasties at bay.









Wednesday, July 19, 2017

To The Bone Review



'People say they love you. But what they mean is they love how loving you makes them feel about themselves'

Kicked out of yet another inpatient unit, 20-year-old Ellen (Lily Collins) tries something new with eccentric psychiatrist, Dr.Beckham (Keanu Reeves). Forced into the care of the Dr.Beckham's residential program, here she meets fellow eating disorder sufferer Luke (Alex Sharp), who's recuperating after sustaining a leg injury that's stopped him from dancing. Ellen is forced to confront her erratic relationship with food, as well as her volatile relationships with those around her.

Eating disorders are notoriously difficult to portray on the silver screen. Charged with the responsibility of portraying the illness in a way that doesn't glamorise or sensationalise, films don't have the luxury of time the way tv shows do. With this being said, there are few tv shows that get the equilibrium right either. The many television dramas and rare cinematic examples are often fraught with stereotypes, led by privileged white teens with skeletal frames.

In order to accurately depict any mental illness, a fine line has to be tread such that it doesn't become a 'how-to' for vulnerable viewers. To The Bone isn't perfect. Lily Collins fits the familiar protagonist mould, and the word 'Rexies' is introduced as if sufferers and online communities need another hokey term to refer to themselves by. With these pitfalls aside, what To The Bone brings is much more introspective. Managing to be funny and light-hearted where needed, it respects the fine line it treads. The seriousness and harsh truths of the disorder are made evident without being trivialised. 

Through Ellen and her fellow housemates, we traverse the realities of disordered eating behaviours. Girls casually discuss which foods are easier to purge around the kitchen sink. Roommate Pearl (Maya Eshet), suspended in a state of childhood innocence reminiscent of Girl, Interrupted's Polly, panics at the number of calories she's taking in through her feeding tube. Meanwhile, Kathryn Prescott's reserved Anna hides a bag of sick under her bed, bringing to mind the late Brittany Murphy's Daisy of the same film.

Whether Girl, Interrupted served as inspiration for Marti Noxon's To The Bone is unclear. What is evident is that she knows what makes an eating disorder sufferer tick, having suffered from anorexia nervosa herself in the past. To cast ex-anorectic Lily Collins in the lead role also proved to be a bold and controversial move. A successful one at that. Collins really shines in this role, putting forward her best performance yet. She inhabits the role exquisitely, projecting an air of guardedness and profound guilt in the face of her condition.

Told by her sister more than once that she looks like crap, Ellen never flaunts her appearance or perpetuates the idea that eating disorders are born out of vanity. Instead, she conceals her emaciated frame under baggy shirts and jackets. When she incredulously asks Luke how he manages to eat, he answers by telling her in all honesty, 'I'm not gonna lie, I'm really fucking hungry'. It's a line that encapsulates a feeling many are met with when going through the recovery process, a sense of making up for lost time without losing control again.

The film's third act contains an especially poignant scene between Ellen and her biological mother Judy (Lili Taylor). The regressive and isolating nature of the illness is laid bare. A perfect, symmetric shot isolates them in the dark, brought back to a simpler time to cope with the horror of the present. It's a moving scene that could so easily have missed the mark on paper, but is so delicately handled by Collins and Taylor onscreen. Judy's loss of hope unfolds before our eyes, while Ellen's vulnerability is palpable.

To The Bone at once manages to approach its subject matter with optimism and harrowing poignancy. Nobody magically gets better. There's no real happy ending, and perhaps that's the point. Ditching political correctness in favour of refreshing sincerity, here is a film that aims to level its audience emotionally without making a spectacle of the very real struggles faced by victims of this illness.