Tag Archives: Film Review

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)

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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)  

CLASSIC EXISTENTIAL FILM REVIEW – THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953)

CLASSIC EXISTENTIAL FILM REVIEW – THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953)

Winter is coming (Again)

A few weeks ago it was very cold and snowy in London and the UK in general. For the end of February and beginning of March the second coming of winter was most unexpected. My eighteen year old Ford Mondeo had been frozen to death with the battery at some kind of half-life and smoke pouring out of the bonnet; no doubt from the fusion of water and oil and air-conditioning liquid. I managed to park it up safely with no harm done and walked the half-an-hour to work. On route I saw a Supermarket delivery driver lugging shopping to someone’s doorstep in the bitter wind on the treacherous icy pavement. I suddenly thought: why do we do this? Why do we carry on? What is the point in it all?

I cannot complain; because things are actually good for me. I’m grateful because alas some people lose their lives in weather like this and have it much worse in regard to such conditions. How they cope I have no idea. I mean, we carry on don’t we? I thought about my current situation: the trivial issue of my car dying; having to walk in the snow; and the Supermarket worker delivering shopping in the freezing cold. I came to the conclusion it all pales into insignificance considering some of the major issues in the world. But we all carry on. We desire to continue living. The eternal existential question remains: why?!

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The Wages of Fear

George Arneud’s Le salaire de la peur translated as The Wages of Fear has been made three times into a film; notably by the great directors Henry-George Clouzot and William Friedkin. The desire to survive and fight and live and abide life is an incredibly powerful thing. It’s instinct in all of us; well, until life, poor decisions, bad luck, other humans’ behaviour or extraneous circumstances beat you into submission. Some people take their lives while others fight to the last breath. This, for me is the intrinsic nature of the film. Why carry on living even when it seems pointless to continue?

The Wages of Fear (1953) is a film I first saw on May 8th 1994 as a twenty-three year old; introduced by screenwriting guru Robert McKee on his brilliant movie season called Filmworks. It concerns a motley crew of European misfits trapped in an unnamed South American shanty town. They are invited to escape their plight by driving trucks of nitro-glycerine over deadly terrain to put out a massive oilfield fire. With McKee’s foreboding gravel voice introducing the film and the spellbinding premise in mind I was immediately compelled to watch.

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I had, since the age of sixteen, worked at the Department of Social Security and as a civil servant I had often felt trapped in my job with no end in sight. Of course, I was over-dramatizing my situation somewhat as the next year I just left for University. However, that feeling of being existentially walled in has meant I’m drawn to such stories in film, literature, music and art etc. The Wages of Fear is all about desperate characters who are forced to risk their life to escape their current plight. Clouzot is careful to establish the terrain, motivation and context of the setting and characters. Thus, by the time the action starts and our anti-heroes – Yves Montand (cool and handsome Mario), Peter Van Eyck (laconic Bimba), Folco Lulli (energetic Luigi) and Charles Vanel (back-stabbing Jo) – are on their treacherous suicide mission we have some semblance of connection with them.

The suspense on the road is incredible. With tight, rocky trails ahead the trucks can only travel at a certain low speed or one bump could blow the vehicles to kingdom come. You have to wonder about the human spirit here and how desperate these characters must be to risk their lives. Clouzot directs the set-pieces with a razor-like precision as each of the trucks must face: oil-filled craters, rickety bridges, boulders and precipices; all while holding their shredded nerves together. Allied to the thriller aspect there is a strong socio-economic context which illustrates the dangerous capitalist ventures of the American oil company draining the 3rd world country of a valuable resource, while scorching the earth and exploiting the indigenous population.

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On release The Wages of Fear won the Palm D’Or at Cannes and the Golden Bear at Berlin. It also holds 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes and is regularly voted one of the best films ever made. The book / film has been adapted / remade twice as Violent Road (1958) and by the aforementioned William Friedkin. His film Sorceror (1977) is an over-looked classic as it transplants the action to a jungle in South America. Sorceror was a box office flop. It failed to find an audience during the summer of 1977 which was dominated by a certain George Lucas space adventure called Star Wars (1977). I finally watched it recently on Film Four and it’s a hard-bitten, cynical and explosive experience which despite the loathsome characters, led by Roy Scheider’s career criminal, still manages to thrill and chill in equal measures.

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The ending to The Wages of Fear is one of the most startling denouements to a film I’ve ever seen. It confirms the futility of existence and reflects deep down what we all feel about life and spend our days trying to block out. It’s that nagging feeling which never lets us off the hook, which haunts our sleep and whispers to us in the dark: what’s the point? Why carry on? What’s the point? Why bother? But of course you must carry on because life is a gift and life is good; especially when you can watch classic films like The Wages of Fear. Because while they hold a mirror up to the dark nature of existence, the sheer intensity of watching such films, paradoxically make life well worth living.

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

Another filmmaking Masterclass from Paul Thomas Anderson! PHANTOM THREAD (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW!

PHANTOM THREAD (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW!

Directed and written by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Produced by: Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, JoAnne Sellar, Daniel Lupi

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps, Julia Davis etc.

Music by: Jonny Greenwood

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One of the great cultural pleasures in life is finding a new filmmaker and building a relationship with them over time. When I found myself watching the quirky low-budget film Hard Eight (1996) in the late 1990s, little did I know that that film would be the beginning of a cinematic friendship with Paul Thomas Anderson. It was only when the sublime 1970s-set-ensemble-drama Boogie Nights (1997) was released that I knew I was watching a filmmaker of incredible talent; and so with subsequent releases that came to pass.

Anderson, can certainly be described, to use old-fashioned film theory parlance, as an auteur. His films formally, technically and thematically all contain recurring tropes and stylistic devices. Although one could argue he leant on his cinematic influences within his earlier works before stamping his own inimitable style in later films. Indeed, films such as: Boogie Nights and Magnolia (1999) – with their talented ensemble casts, whipping camera-moves, over-lapping music montages and a whole host of disintegrating familial and romantic relationships – echoed the films of Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese. Moreover, at the core of his films are father and son relationships, where literal and quasi-parentage is explored. Similarly in Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood (2007) and The Master (2012) obsession, duplicity and dysfunctional family units are examined within their respective settings.

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Anderson has worked a lot in the past. He has covered the 1900s with There Will Be Blood; 1950s with The Master; 1970s with Boogie Nights and strange stoner comedy Inherent Vice (2014). In his latest release, the exquisite Phantom Thread (2018) we are in 1950s London, following the elegant yet idiosyncratic life of fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock; portrayed with formidable zeal by Daniel Day Lewis. Anderson and Day Lewis are, like they were with the fierce Daniel Plainview, in complete control of this fascinating character. He is brilliant at his job but also very specific in how his work, staff and routine must go. When he meets a waitress, Alma, the impressive Luxembourg actor Vicky Krieps, the two become entwined within a less than straightforward employer-employee-lover-master-servant romance. Their complex relationship is driven by attraction, rivalry, pettiness, admiration and envy; propelling the drama as the two enter into an understated and curious battle of wills throughout the narrative.

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Once again Paul Thomas Anderson, along with his incredible filmmaking team, has delivered a masterclass in cinematic storytelling with exceptional camera work, costume design, acting, lighting, plus a score to die for from Jonny Greenwood. I have to admit I was slightly alienated by Anderson’s last two films Inherent Vice and The Master due to the ambiguity of the lead characters. But I can certainly say that emotionally Phantom Thread works way better as an elegant mix of romance, thriller, character study and fashionista drama respectively. Throughout the magnificent 70mm cinema presentation I was mesmerized by the elaborate patterns my old “friend” Anderson has woven within.

Mark: 10 out of 11

Gary Oldman shines in DARKEST HOUR (2017) – Cinema Review

DARKEST HOUR (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Joe Wright

Produced by: Tim Bevan, Lisa Bruce, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten, Douglas

Written by: Anthony McCarten

Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn

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What makes human beings want to go to war?  What is it that determines thoughts and actions which will lead to the death of another human being? Is it: a genetic trait; a tribal desire; a psychological defect; financial gain; jealousy; boredom; passion; political chicanery; religion; greed; anger; revenge; or quite simply madness. Taking a life is something I have never understood. I mean, unless you are forced to defend yourself against a foe hell-bent on your destruction why would you wish to harm anyone else?

So, Adolf Hitler has a lot to answer for because, even accepting the political and social reasons for the rise of the Nazi party and his desire to repair national pride after the first World War, what the hell gives a nation the right to invade and conquer other countries. If you choose to go down that road you are signing the death certificate of a generation men and women and children. It’s not just Germany either. The British Empire, Roman Empire, Vikings, Mongols, United States of America, France and many more have waged war against humanity down the years. Will it ever stop? Sadly, I doubt it.

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In times of war what is needed is obviously bravery, steel, fight, intelligence and more than a little luck. You need hearty human beings to stand and be counted and to die on the battlefields and in the air and in the sea. You also need leaders; figureheads who can rally the troops and galvanise that last ounce of fight in order to repel the enemy. During World War II, with the country on its knees and backs to the walls we had many leaders, but Winston Churchill, above all else, became synonymous with victory.

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As portrayed in Joe Wright’s beautifully shot microcosmic epic, Darkest Hour, Churchill is presented as a flawed-pink-pyjama’d-cigar-chuffing-blustering-iconoclastic-functioning-alcholic prone to fits of rage, melancholy and depression. He also happens to be devilishly intelligent, full of energy, with a wicked tongue and talent for brilliant oration. Much of the plaudits must go to Gary Oldman, and his make-up team, for creating such a wonderfully human portrait. Indeed, Oldman owns the screen with his damned-near perfect impression.

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Anthony McCarten’s fine script centres on a finite number of days during World War II when Churchill became Prime Minister. Aside from one emotionally effective yet historically grating symbolic scene on the London underground, is it well written with fantastic one-liners and Churchill’s greatest verbal ‘hits’. Joe Wright is a talented director (the mis-guided Pan (2015) aside) and he evocatively conveys the shadow of looming defeat. Wright traps Churchill and ensemble in cars, lifts and in underground chambers. Shafts of light also pin the characters to the corners of the screen; pushing them toward the darkness. But through the spirit of Churchill’s never-say-die attitude we fought back against the Nazis and eventually stole victory from the jaws of defeat. War is hell. War is madness. But sometimes it is unfortunately a necessity to prevent the bullies from winning.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11