Tag Archives: Cinema Review

ON CHESIL BEACH (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

ON CHESIL BEACH (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Dominic Cooke

Produced by: Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley

Screenplay by: Ian McEwan (Based on: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan)

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Billy Howle, Emily Watson, Anne-Marie Duff, Samuel West, Adrian Scarborough

Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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I watch a lot of films. I also write screenplays. Indeed, over the last twenty-five years I have studied and read many “how to” write screenplay courses, books, and articles. One of the major rules of screenwriting, as opposed to radio and television writing is to SHOW and not tell. Deliver your story via the images, performance and shot composition rather than obvious dialogue which spells everything out. As a writer of incredible talent Ian McEwan has, along with director Dominic Cooke and their editor, created an intriguing story of lost love and romance. It flashes forward and back between the past and present beautifully and certainly shows rather than tells the story in a less than obvious fashion. In fact, for me it was ultimately TOO subtle in delivery and the emotional ramifications of certain events are lost in the subtext.

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The story begins in the 1960s as newlyweds, Florence and Edward, nervously entwine on their wedding day. As portrayed by the imperious Saoirse Ronan and compelling Billy Howle we are immediately empathetic of their situation and time. Because traditionally, unlike the more sexualised mores of today, religion and social convention would dictate that the couple were more likely to be virgins. Therefore the nervous glances and small-talk slowly build a sexual tension creating an incredibly awkward and embarrassing mid-point moment between the characters. McEwan’s script also flashes back to the past establishing how the characters met. Edward is a lower-middle class boy from a rural background while Florence’s family are more upper-middle class capitalists. As presented in other McEwan works class tensions also propel the drama as Florence’s family look down on Edward somewhat.

There is a lot of depth within the characterisations notably from Ann-Marie McDuff as Edward’s unfortunate mother. Although, at times I wasn’t sure how her mental condition was linked to the themes of the piece, the performance of the actor alone was fascinating throughout. Ultimately, it’s a film about love, loss and terrible secrets; notably how past events can haunt the present. However, in choosing to bury the big reveal within a blink-and-you-miss-it flashback, the poetic editing, in my opinion, took away from the dramatic power and potential catharsis in denouement. On occasions telling us as well as showing us can empower an audience to feel even more for the characters.

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Dominic Cooke marshals the film with an assured hand as befits an experienced theatre director. Ronan and Howle give brilliant performances. In fact, I don’t think there is a better and more consistent young actor than Saoirse Ronan. In films such as: Atonement (2007), Hanna (2011), Brooklyn (2015), Lady Bird (2017) and now On Chesil Beach (2017), she has proved herself capable of capturing depth and emotional power with her performances. Ronan and her romantic counterpart, Howle, make the film worthy of your attention even if I was left mildly bewildered, valiantly trying to work out why their characters’ relationship was doomed to fail.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

 

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LEAN ON PETE (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

LEAN ON PETE (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Andrew Haigh

Produced by: Tristan Goligher

Screenplay by: Andrew Haigh

Based on: Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin

Starring: Charlie Plummer, Chloë Sevigny, Travis Fimmel, Steve Buscemi

Music by: James Edward Barker

Cinematography: Magnus Joenck

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More times than not I go to the cinema to escape the nagging existential doubt I have in respect of life. I watch movies, even the movies based in some believable reality to escape MY reality, my work, my everyday life. Sometimes, though you find a film which will not allow you to escape. It is so relentlessly realistic in its representation of the human spirit that it does not allow you to get away. You are stuck; imprisoned by the misery and hopelessness one can feel with life. Lean on Pete (2017) is such a film.

Adapted and directed by Andrew Haigh, Lean on Pete is a tunnel-focussed character drama based in the dustbowl plains of Portland, Oregon. The lead protagonist is Charlie Thompson who is portrayed with an incredible maturity by Charlie Plummer. The director Haigh and Plummer deserve much praise for creating such an empathetic and troubled character. I mean he’s a good kid who works hard. He jogs everyday in order to keep his fitness up so he can return to playing football at school. Yet, his life suffers from ennui, poverty and family discord. Put simply: Charlie was born with no luck. His mother left when he was a baby and he’s brought up by a father (Travis Kimmel), who loves him, but is somewhat of a nomad; moving from a different job to a different location to a different women every few years.

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Movement defines Charlie. He’s either running down roads or walking or driving or leading the horses out. He gets a job working with irascible horse race trainer portrayed by the excellent Steve Buscemi and befriends a rundown racehorse called ‘Lean on Pete’. Charlie becomes, against the advice of everyone, attached to the horse and this affection will drive his actions in the tragic latter half of the film. This is no Disney-kid-befriends-animal-rites-of-passage-fairy-tale but rather a depressing and harsh neo-Western where the American dream is a distant memory.

Overall, it’s a strange thing to say that, while brilliantly filmed by cinematographer Magnus Joenck and directed by Andrew Haigh, Lean on Pete, is a tough film to recommend due to the relentless existential misery on screen. However, there is hope there in Charlie’s character as he won’t give in and just keeps moving trying to find some light at the end of that tunnel we call life.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Produced by: Kevin Feige

Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby

Starring:  Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista,  Zoe Saldana. Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt etc.

**SPOILER FREE**

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The reward for Marvel fans and cinemagoers committed to watching every single film – from Iron Man (2008) to Black Panther (2018) – is a gigantic, breath-taking, explosive, colourful, dark, epic, fantastical end-game blockbuster. Unless you have been stuck on a desert island or on a digital detox, Infinity War (2018) is the culmination of decades of comic-book and cinema storytelling coming to a head in one incredible feat of spectacle and super-hero conflict.

The film opens pretty much immediately after the end of Thor: Ragnarok (2017). The Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) has hunted down Thor, Loki and the Hulk in order to obtain the Tesseract and the Infinity Stone within it. In fact, he is after all six Infinity Stones in order to gain twisted, yet in his mind, logical control over the Universe by killing half its inhabitants. Thanos’ characterization as a villain is given the most narrative power throughout and via him we get some nuance and subtext.

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While brilliantly rendered, in look, by the army of special effects, and performance by Brolin, I kind of felt we were missing an element of mania and a committed statement of intent. I knew why Thanos was doing what he was doing but aside from an opening speech about destiny his mission lacked the political or social context compared to say that of Hydra from The Winter Soldier (2014) or Erik Killmonger from Black Panther (2018).  Nonetheless, lack of political context is a mild gripe because spectacle in terms of power and storytelling is what Infinity War is all about.

Thanos’ quest for domination was still a pretty decent structure to hang the story beats on and the writers should be applauded for trying to create a rounded super-villain. Because, allied with the incredible set-pieces and locations across the various galaxies, a major strength of Infinity War’s screenplay was the pace, power and interplay between the multiverse of characters and plot strands which were fantastically juggled by the directorial and editorial teams. This was epic storytelling, not just in length, but in scope. As we cut between Dr Strange, Iron Man and Spiderman on their particularly deadly mission; we also cut between Thor, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Vision, Wanda the Scarlet Witch, Captain America and their respective advnetures. There are so many different elements at play there is little breathing space, yet with a whip-smart script full of one-liners any plot deficiencies are masked expertly with perpetual motion and punchlines.

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Visually, the film is also extremely strong with bright funky new suits for the Hulk, Tony Stark and Peter Parker. Moreover, the locations in space and on Earth from the dark lands of Vormir to the verdant pastures of Wakanda are rendered beautifully on the screen. All manner of magical weapons, space-ships and military hardware explode and destroy and whizz-bang throughout. There is SO much crammed into the film that it’s a major coup that it worked so well. At one point I felt like I was watching three films in one echoing the great ensemble films I grew up with such as The Great Escape (1963). While the now obligatory end-game battle sequence echoed the likes of: Spartacus (1960), Braveheart (1995), The Return of the Jedi (1985) and more recently HBO’s epic Game of Thrones (2011 – )

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In terms of performance it’s difficult to pick out any one stand-out as the ensemble cast were uniformly impressive. My particular favourites were Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Strange, Chris Pratt as Peter Quill and Zoe Saldana as Gamora, all giving memorable performances. Saldana’s Gamora arguably had the most powerful moments of stillness and pathos especially in her tragic backstory. Drax (Dave Bautista) and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker nailed their comedic patter too; the former’s deadpan literalism raising many laughs throughout. I also thought the details in look and voice given to Thanos’ Black Order stood out; notably the wonderfully named Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) and Corvus Glaive (Michael John Shaw).

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In conclusion, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) overall was spectacular blockbuster filmmaking which entertained me thoroughly for over two-and-a-half-hours. It could be argued that the army of special effects technicians, plethora of Disney and Marvel executives, array of Hollywood acting and filmmaking talent and the obscene amount of money spent has churned out YET another soulless super-hero film but wow didn’t they do it in style!!

(Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

BEAST (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

BEAST (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Michael Pearce

Produced by: Kristian Brodie, Lauren Dark, Ivana MacKinnon

Written by: Michael Pearce

Starring: Jessie Buckley, Johnny Flynn, Geraldine James

Cinematography: Benjamin Kracun

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With Marvel’s juggernaut Infinity War (2018) smashing through the Cineplexes this week it takes a brave distributor to release a low budget British thriller at the same time. Nonetheless, Beast (2017) is here secreting paranoia, sexual tension and animal magnetism amidst the super-hero saturation. Beast is the debut directorial feature of Michael Pearce and he certainly demonstrates a lot of talent in the writing and filmmaking stakes. He also gives us arguably one, if not two, film acting breakthrough roles in the casting of the incredible Jessie Buckley and equally alluring Johnny Flynn.

Beast is a slow-burner of a film. It moves at its own pace and quite often this works to heighten the suspense and on other occasions it perhaps slows the story too much. The central character is Buckley’s Moll Huntington, a coach tour guide living on the island of Jersey.  Her middle-class life seems safe and comfortable but beneath the surface her controlling Mother (Geraldine James) and religious background make her feel trapped and isolated. Beneath Moll’s quiet surface is an anger and sexual energy waiting to break out. When she meets Johnny Flynn’s handsome “bit of rough” Pascal Renouf, Moll’s rebellious nature is released as she fights against her mother and her middle-class upbringing.

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Simultaneously, Jersey is under threat from a serial killer who is brutally murdering teenage girls. Thus, the film presents two main plots: a coming-of-age romantic drama, plus a police thriller full of suspense. Writer-director Michael Pearce weaves these strands, on the main, very successfully as the police become more and more certain Pascal is the murderer. Moll’s love and loyalty to Pascal then becomes twisted and her turmoil drives the story into very dark places. I would say, however, the police investigation side was not as successful as Moll’s character study. In fact, there were a couple of plot-holes which let the story down, as did a tad long running time. Yet, these are minor gripes in a beautifully shot and rendered cinema release that makes the most of the Jersey shore, dirt and forestation.

Overall, Beast deserves a lot of praise for the intense acting of Buckley and Flynn. Their relationship crackles with sexuality on the screen and Buckley excels in many scenes when the rage inside her just explodes. Flynn, who was unrecognizable from his role as young Albert Einstein in the show Genius (2017), has an off-centre charm which captures the outsider perfectly. Geraldine James, as Moll’s mother is also on formidable form too. Yet, Jesse Buckley’s owns this film as the complex protagonist; while filmmaker Pearce must be commended for creating a slow-burning and intelligent psychological thriller which stays with you once the credits have rolled.

(Mark: 8 out of 11)

JOURNEYMAN (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW – including PADDY CONSIDINE Q & A

JOURNEYMAN (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW – CLAPHAM PICTUREHOUSE & PADDY CONSIDINE Q & A

Directed by: Paddy Considine

Written by: Paddy Considine

Starring: Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker, Paul Popplewell, Anthony Welsh

UK Release Date: 30-03-18 

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

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“There wasn’t a dry face in the house,” opined a member of the audience following the screening of Paddy Considine’s low-budget, big-hearted boxing narrative. We laughed at the minor malapropism because for ninety-two minutes our emotions and heart-strings had been poked, pulled and ultimately yanked apart in what was one of the empathetic and compassionate human stories I have seen in some time. I mean, I’m no hard man but it still takes a lot for me to be moved to tears, yet, Paddy Considine’s film had me welling up throughout.

The story begins with World Champion Matty Burton (Considine) and the build-up to his fight with brash, unbeaten and mouthy prospect Andre Bryte (Anthony Welsh). Burton is an experienced fighter branded a fraud by the belittling Bryte but he takes it all in his stride preparing to allow his fists do the work. Supporting Burton is his wife, Emma (amazing Jodie Whittaker), and the two have a young child together. The opening montage establishes Burton’s life showing he has everything to fight for including: family, friends, pride, career and community.

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What begins with the makings of a standard sporting genre movie is transformed following Burton’s fight with Bryte. After which Considine and Whittaker take centre stage in a deeply moving portrait of a family coming apart due to tragic circumstances. Their performances as two characters battling to stay in love, together and just fighting to keep going is remarkable. There are so many startling scenes and moments which punch and wind you; in particular, the long-take that holds on Considine while on the phone to his wife moved me beyond words.

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Following the screening Paddy Considine took questions from the editor of Total Film and the audience. It proved to be one of the best Q and A’s I’d experienced. Considine is a passionate writer, director and actor with a clear vision of the projects he loves to work on. His love of boxing as a craft was clear as he both acknowledged that while creating champions, fame and wealth, it’s also a brutal sport which can damage lives. Ultimately, Journeyman is honest and raw and reflects such battles in and out of the ring. This is not a traditional boxing film but rather a sensitive and compelling love story; and while it may be a small independent British feature it’s more epic than most big-budgeted movie releases of recent years.

 (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Lynne Ramsay

Produced by: Rosa Attab, Pascal Caucheteux, James Wilson, Lynne Ramsay Writer: Lynne Ramsay (Based on: You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, John Doman, Judith Roberts

Music by: Jonny Greenwood

Editor: Joe Bini

**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

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Lynne Ramsay’s latest film will not be for everyone; be warned it has some very disturbing sequences relating to abuse and violence. The pitch is simple and accessible: a hired gun hunts down a kidnapped girl.  But the delivery is twisted, violent, fragmented, mesmerising and thoroughly hellish. The story beats along the same drum as the action thriller Taken (2009), but unlike Liam Neeson, Joaquin Phoenix’s Joe has a slightly different set of skills to work with. They are both ex-military but Joe’s past actions haunt him to the point of near-suicide and his preferred weapon is a trusty hammer from the local home improvement store.

It was fascinating seeing Lynne Ramsay taking on a narrative so full of such familiar genre tropes. This story covers aspects such as: kidnapped children; nefarious US government corruption; paedophile rings run by the rich; post-traumatic stress disorder; and the lone wolf ‘soldier’ seeking redemption. Indeed, the film crossed over into territory covered by the likes of: Man on Fire (2004), Hardcore (1979), and the aforementioned Taken trilogy. However, through Ramsay’s skewed and compelling direction I Was Never Really Here is an altogether different beast; spiritually evoking the seminal Schrader scribed story of Taxi Driver (1976). Similarly,  I Was Never Really There is an existential anti-thriller which asphyxiates the audience with: close-ups; canted frames; blurred and obscured shots; oblique angles; claustrophobic urban locations; jolting violence; blinding light; eerie shadows; and jumpy cutting which shreds the nerves throughout.

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The fragmented narrative delivery adds further to the viewer’s creeping tension and developing sense of dread. The character of Joe is essentially in a psychological nightmare, haunted by several events from his past; during his childhood and while in the military and FBI service. Ramsay and her editor Joe Bini cut and chop us into the past before slamming us back to the present abruptly. The effect is to place us in Joe’s disturbed mind-set, creating a psychologically unhinged trip into the heart of darkness. It takes a special filmmaker to manufacture such feelings via the editing dialectic; and I hadn’t felt such nervousness in the cinema since experiencing Dunkirk (2017).

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Ramsay is ably supported in her vision by an incredibly eerie soundtrack from the genius that is Jonny Greenwood. His score scratches under one’s skin like a junkie curse while somehow managing to cling to melody too. Of course, the film would not be so compelling if it was not for Joaquin Phoenix’ battered, bearded bear of a performance. He invokes the naked pain and desperation of the character in his huge frame and determined shark eyes. When faced with an enemy he is a brutal killer but altogether gentler and, dare I say it, fun, while looking after his beloved mother. Overall, this is a nihilistic, gory, scary, unsettling and stunning work of cinema; and while it treads a familiar narrative road it’s presented with such dark energy and meticulous care one cannot fail to be moved.

(Mark: 9 out of 11)  

Del Toro drowns us in a sea of love and visual splendour! THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017): CINEMA REVIEW

THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017): CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Guillermo del Toro

Produced by: Guillermo del Toro, J. Miles Dale

Screenplay by: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor

Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer

Music by: Alexandre Desplat

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**CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS**

Amidst the incredible visual magic, themes of the outsider, forbidden love and the onerous scope of the patriarchy are replete within the works of fantasist Guillermo Del Toro. They are often more than not presented within allegories too where the fantastic elements are employed to both create spellbinding awe while secretly delivering an important socio-political message. For me, Del Toro in attempting to marry grandiose concepts with important messages must be praised for his risk-taking. Above all else there is no doubt, as his latest film The Shape of Water confirms, he is a filmmaker of some brilliance.

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Del Toro’s body of work demonstrates: outsiders, freaks, the silent minority and the shunned are never far away from his vision. In The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and Pans Labyrinth (2006), children find themselves the victims of horrific civil war. While, similarly, in Hellboy (2004) war with the Nazis is central to the core as our anti-hero, a sarcastic red ‘demon’, fights against all manner of monstrous foes. Prejudice against Hellboy is also represented within his “forbidden” love for Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), while an altogether more sinister romance is shown in gothic thriller Crimson Peak (2015). Even muscular vampire-hunter played by Wesley Snipes in Blade II (2002) is a freakish hybrid who does not fit into the societal and patriarchal order.

In The Shape of Water, Del Toro has successfully taken all of these elements and themes and delivered a magical, poetic, at times disturbing, but overall incredible cinematic experience. Set during the Cold War in 1950s Washington, Sally Hawkins plays mute cleaner Elisa Esposito, who along with her friend, Zelda (a wonderful Octavia Spencer), works at a top secret U.S. army base. Silent from birth, what she lacks in voice, Elisa more than makes up for in courage, compassion and confidence. She shares her living space with retired copywriter, Giles — portrayed with incredible warmth and wit by Richard Jenkins — and his army of cats. But when a mysterious “Asset” is delivered to Elisa’s place of work she suddenly becomes entwined in an incredible story of sacrifice and love.

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The “Asset” is considered a monster by the United States Army and the security team is led by a dominant bully and alpha male called Strickland. Here, once again, Michael Shannon proves himself a formidable actor. He doesn’t just do cartoon bad guys but, thanks to some great writing and acting, Strickland is shown to be the biggest monster of the film; full of nasty quirks and a sadistic desire for control. Doug Jones as the Amphibian Man also deserves a special mention as the scenes between him and Sally Hawkins are very special. Here two silent characters are able to say more with a look, hand signal and touch than a thousand words could achieve. Del Toro supports the acting with some terrific visuals, many of them water-based, as raindrops, bath water and aquatic underwater images submerge us in a rich palette of blues and greens. The music is cleverly used too; from Alexander Desplat’s melodious score to the old classic songs of yesteryear humming from the cinema below Elsa’s apartment building.

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In any other year Sally Hawkins, and she may well still do, walk away with all the Best Actress honours;  yet she is up against the incredible Frances McDormand. Nonetheless, Hawkins gives us such a nuanced and heartrending performance you forget that she cannot speak. But that is what Del Toro does so well because throughout his oeuvre he gives voices to the outsiders, orphans, children, supposed monsters and victims of oppression. This is mainly a love story but I also enjoyed the brilliant writing from Vanessa Taylor and Del Toro as the script leaps from romance to horror, suspense, action, cold-war thriller and black comedy. Overall, within this magical experience Del Toro invites us into a dark world where prejudice is ultimately defeated by tenderness; and brutality will never stop the path of true love.

Mark: 10 out of 11