The Florida Project (2017)

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The sunshine state looks so colourful and yet so grotty at the same time throughout this drama, which is a fair representation of the weirdly wonderful way Florida does actually look. Amongst these bold shots there’s a fantastically realistic tone to watching a set of children independently finding themselves and friendships.

Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) resides at an extended stay motel with her less than present mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). From spitting on cars to claiming free food she has a ball, spending her time with a couple of other kids, much to the annoyance of motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) despite his protective nature.

Straight away, we’re faced with the bright palette of this film; a purple wall backdrops the opening credits and during this movie we see wacky and loud colours of Florida state outlets and buildings. Kissimmee is the perfect setting because it looks touristy enough to have the children revel in their fun but neglected in a serious way as we watch them roam unattended through a place that seems stuck in a rut.

It’s this set up of America that may prove to be the biggest moral idea of the film. The screenplay lands us amongst a group of people not often represented and seeing their lives, however grim they might appear, gives the story its openly empathetic quality. Moonee’s mum Halley may have her faults but we still see that she cares for her daughter. Bobby is a moaner, a grouch even, but he genuinely becomes a caring figure through the film, he for me was the character I was most interested in. There was a believable good guy attitude he carried, no more evident than when he gets some old geezer to follow him for some soda.

Every scene directed in this by Sean Baker is one that leaves you to sit back and almost breathe in the growing up of Moonee and her friends. Certain films have that big moment in a scene where you can tell the impact is being driven home but in this feature there’s a collection of moments and none feel forced, instead the director invites us to observe the dramatic unraveling in an attentive not showy way. It’s as if Baker is inviting the audience to monitor Moonee’s life, not in a judging kind of way but more in a manner that feels life affirming. Halley is someone to slightly frown upon but the focus truly is on Moonee and her kingdom so to speak; her Magic Kingdom within the Magic Castle motel and beyond.

I must say that even with all these positives, the ending didn’t agree with me. It swiftly arrives after a brilliantly emotional scene where I admit I shed a tear, or three. Then the camera kookily speeds up and transfers to an obvious mobile device. The music over the top may have been right for the scene but feels slightly kitsch and it ends any of that overwhelming heartbreaking drama we just witnessed. I was also taken right out of the drama by the ease of access to the finale with no money or security to stop them!

Prince steals the show with a genuine glee and boundless energy. She runs, grins and leads her merry troops with chemistry but can downplay that childlike wonder when sitting back and looking on at the adult world around her, felt heavily when she questions her mum from time to time. Also, as said, a framing of her near the end got me right in the feels as she acts her socks off. Dafoe was a great presence in this, I could actually imagine him as the manager of this tackily painted cheap Floridian motel. I would have liked him in it slightly more right at the end but at the end of the day the film is about the fun and innocent frivolity of childhood. Vinaite is a gripping disturbance throughout and acts in such a way that you can’t help but shake your head at her behaviour.

The happiest place on Earth may reside just a hop, skip and frenzied run away but this film sees us find the happiest place through the eyes of a confident and legitimate star.

7.5/10

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Paddington 2 (2017)

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Hurrah! A sequel that’s just as wonderful as the first time around. Peruvian bear Paddington is back for some more misadventures in this great family friendly film that cleverly mixes fun, heart and a sweet marmalade helping of entertainment.

Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) is used to his Windsor Garden lifestyle at home with the nicer than nice Browns but his Aunt Lucy’s (voiced by Imelda Staunton) birthday is imminent and he’d like to earn enough money to get her a special pop up book of London. This same book gains the attention of actor and thief Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) who wants it for his own greedy gain.

This film isn’t just about the delightfully British storytelling that leaves you with a glow in your heart, there’s plenty of splendid visual glory to aid this narrative along. One example of this brilliance is within the section where the pop up book becomes a fully realised London and we swoop through the 3D paper landmarks, it’s just beautiful. There is an evidently Wes Anderson-esque style to some of the movie, but it isn’t a cheap copy and within the very ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ prison scenes there’s a delightful quirkiness to the plot development emphasised by the similar way in which the 1st Paddington flick opened up a dolls house like building to peer through.

The microcosm of the street that the Browns live on, surviving and flourishing due to the kindness and politeness of Paddington is a great example of his lovely influence for the rest of London and beyond. The family are still a wonderful dynamic each with their characteristics that are nicely set up in the opening narration by Pad-Bear. It’s a funny and yet warming touch as we catch up with how the family is doing since last time we saw them.

As villains go, Hugh Grant’s turn as the dastardly fading actor clinging to any spotlight he can is a marvellous one. The writers Paul King and Simon Farnaby have ensured that his drive propels the plot along but they don’t neglect the humour in setting up wickedly barmy antics of a self indulgent actor. On the slightly poorer side I was hoping the clue hunt idea could have been fleshed out more and been more engaging but they spent more time obviously on Paddington and his hipster prison which I’m sure many would try and break into to experience!

Slapstick is just as present a tool within this movie and it’s not entirely grating like it can so often be. It is admittedly the weaker side of the film aimed at the younger audience goers and yet all the excessive falling doesn’t take the front seat which is a relief. It’s gladly a movie directed with such care and attention, to making a wonderfully cosy feature fun for every age and author Michael Bond’s grizzly creation comes back to the big screen and Blighty’s capital in such a way that you don’t want him to ever leave it.

Whishaw is just as innocently naive yet comfortably good natured as he was before. He brings emotive realness to a bear that you’d be happy to bear in your home. Grant as Buchanan is amazing, his thespian theatrics are turned up to 11 for OTT heaven and stay tuned during the credits for some am dram campy goodness. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins are just as nice as ever, there continual care to be there for Pad-Bear is believably felt. Julie Walters gets more time to shine this time which is good and she delivers an amazing line about the evilness of acting as a profession. Peter Capaldi is a great grouch assigning himself undeserved power in the street. Both Richard Ayoade and Farnaby threaten to steal the show in their cameo roles, the latter back again as Barry; the amusing and mildly sleazy guard.

‘Paddington 2’ splash lands with a window cleaning bucket of charm, leaves you smiling and perhaps teary eyed at times. It’s an adorable and lovely family treat, that I found as enjoyable as Paddington likes the orange stuff.

8.5/10

Train to Busan (2016)

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One of the most exhilarating films I’ve ever seen, bloody and yet beautiful, this is a zombie film with thrills and skills that I wish I’d got to see on the big screen but damn am I happy I’ve seen it anyway…finally!

As a mysterious virus breaks out, workaholic and not so parental father Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) concedes to his daughters birthday wish to go to Busan to see her mother. A host of other passengers board at Seoul but unfortunately an infected woman also joins them leaving their train journey to become a fight for survival.

Honestly, this is probably the best zombie movie I’ve seen in a long time, the rage like virus shoots up the film with a crazed adrenaline which is hugely entertaining to watch but more than this and thus why the film is so good, is that there’s a heartfelt emotion and believable set of characters along for the ride too. Zombie killing and frantic running aside, this is something that grips you because of the relationships between the passengers, how they act and the choices they make create a truly thrilling and emotive story.

Yeon Sang-ho directs this with such care and attention, there’s a skill to making this chaotic zombie outbreak feel less than chaos. It has an artistry and skilled choreographed quality that ‘World War Z’ could only dream to achieve. There are numerous moments in this Park Joo-suk scripted delight that captures you and keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s the rooted developing bond between father and daughter that is special and come the end of the movie leaves you really bound to the film almost teary eyed.

Jang Young-gyu’s music for the movie is a rip-roaring wonder, it’s a score that manages to excite and keep up great tension in places then simmer down for more nuanced moments of tenderness. The confined claustrophobia of setting a majority of this story on a train is shot really well, from shuttling tracking shots to scary overhead shots crammed with the white-eyed undead. Pretty much everything in this film is masterfully set up and executed leaving the audience to watch a dramatically non-stop zombie genre outing that actually feels realistic.

Gong Yoo is a great presence as this obsessive funds manager who gets a well realised character arc that makes him a likable guy. Ma Dong-seok plays a hench father to be that gives the film some aspect of humour and plenty of bad-assery. Kim Su-an is the little daughter Soo-an who gets many a chance to shine and demonstrate wonderful acting skills, more impressive considering she was 10 at the time of acting. Kim Eui-sung gifts the film its human villain, he performs convincingly that you want to punch him in the face.

The characters and the story are top notch stuff, making this a zombie feature like nothing else before. I’d highly recommend this to everyone; it’s tense, engaging and remarkable.

8.5/10

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

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Well…how do I go about reviewing this feature; the latest from the unarguably talented Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos? I don’t even think seeing the film would be an answer because it’s peculiar, dark and very different. All of these attributes are good things and though I can imagine this is a film to everyone’s tastes, I certainly liked it, quite a bit in fact.

Surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) seems to have a good life with wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and their two children. That notion is questioned upon the first and then almost ever present company of teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan) who is always wanting to see Steven and then does something ‘out there’ to truly test the family.

I don’t want to say much more than that because if this is a film you’re interested to see, then it’s best to go in with no preconceptions or expectations of what you may expect. I’d only seen the trailer a while back and I’m glad I’d almost forgotten the surreal tone set up in that trail because it made the entire movie that more engrossing. It’s certainly an original tale and is deserving of award and applaud. To be honest I’m still sore ‘The Lobster’ didn’t win Original Screenplay earlier this year, I hope this is nominated because it’s so refreshing to see cinema in all its quirky and unusual glory.

This story here is definitely a novel one and the way it’s delivered is in such a way, as if the actors are speaking lines for the first time. It’s this almost stilted manner of dialogue and tense set up throughout that lands the film such a unique and interesting feel. Written by Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, this narrative keeps you guessing, even with the title of the movie suggesting a possible death you never know where the hell this film is going to go to.

I can’t do this review without talking about the music, there is not a score as such and no one figure in particular is in charge. The film utilises on a mixture of actors singing, choirs or orchestral sounds. There are uses of classical tracks too which all combine to create what I felt was one of the most unnerving soundtracks in a film. The film is dark and unexpected but with the music it steps up a whole extra level to become an incredibly immersive and troubling yarn that makes you feel unease like never before.

I’m not just saying this as some way to describe how the film made me feel like I’ve done in the past; this movie literally made me sit upright and forward on the edge of my seat at one point. The dynamic of this scene is unsettling and so well executed by the director and the actors involved. There are many moments where this racking sense of dread sinks into you but saying that, this is movie that cleverly manages to incorporate humour into its DNA as well. Just in some of the things the characters say and in that dry way it’s spoken help build comedy, extremely inky black comedy but some nonetheless.

It may be chilling and odd for that sake alone but it’s not a huge weakness, in fact I’d hardly call it a weakness at all because I found ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ to be a mesmerising and menacingly surreal example of original and talented storytelling.

8/10

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

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All aboard the murder mystery express! Tickets please. Or maybe not…is this a film worthy of getting a cinema ticket? If you like crimes and the puzzles of solving them, then the answer to that would be a yes but it’s not an out and out success stalling like the snow-struck train from time to time.

Hoping for a break between detecting cases, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) lands a spot on the Orient Express where he meets a whole host of fellow travellers. He wishes to keep himself to himself but a shady passenger on-board by the name of Ratchett (Johnny Depp) only gets himself murdered, meaning Poirot must step up and deduce who the killer is before the train is back on the tracks and at its next station.

I’ll begin with the positives, the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem to set the scene and more importantly the smarts of Poirot was a good introduction even if I worked out who the culprit was before the film revealed so. There’s a beautiful uncut tracking shot that follows the Belgian detective and Bouc through the departure platform, it continues wonderfully alongside the train as Poirot walks through the carriages. Also the characters initially coming together to board the train is a grand introduction and that’s simply because it’s such an incredible cast the film has garnered.

Patrick Doyle’s score bubbles away nicely, providing a suitable unease and tense quality to the entrapping confines of a derailed train. The music is something that builds that sort of perfect comfy Sunday afternoon TV crime drama atmosphere. That’s the general feel throughout, it’s obviously very cinematic at times but the story itself adapted from Agatha Christie’s novel is a safe one, arriving with that old timey classic storytelling that is presented in a way that wouldn’t be amiss on the stage.

Kenneth Branagh directs his one location set cast well, the story keeps chugging along nicely but I never felt a true sense of threat or eagerness to uncover the killer. Also putting himself front and centre is a decision I could have done without, yes he’s a darn fine actor as the mustachioed detective but it would have been interesting to see someone else play the role but I guess he enjoys the power/thrill of being an actor/director darling!

There are a good many mini interviews throughout the journey but because it is such a big cast of players that having all these characters doesn’t help the mystery plot so much. There is a lot to tackle, a lot of personalities and a lot of do they/don’t they motivations. I felt there never was enough time in the movie to really let the audience know enough of anyone to truly make educated assumptions. I just sat back and watched because there wasn’t enough detail scattered amongst the narrative to try and make guesses. Also very near the beginning there’s a brief character conversation that alludes to the true nature of everything anyway.

Amongst the talented cast is Michelle Pfeiffer who has the strongest and largest role out of the ensemble. She is captivating and in a smaller but no less significant way so is Daisy Ridley who gets a bigger chunk of acting scenes than some of the others. Judi Dench and Olivia Colman are almost criminally underused. Josh Gad makes me hate Olaf a little less as his irritating snowman voice is less present and his role of MacQueen is an interesting one to follow. Johnny Depp is that typical smarmy charmy crook, in the same vein as his turn in ‘Into the Woods’ he simmers with a bad taste in the mouth which works for his character. Also underused are Lucy Boynton and Sergei Polunin who have a brilliant scene with Branagh but never do anything else. This can be said with Penelope Cruz and Willem Dafoe who are great actors but don’t get a chance to shine. It’s like the Avengers on a Train which feels apt considering the final moments of the film clearly setting up what I’m coining The ChristieVerse. It seems cinema isn’t safe from everything turning into a sprawling universe of sequels.

A very old fashioned kind of movie, even with the zippy CGI and confident Branagh overseeing proceedings. It’s a shame that the movie with a magnificent cast and potential of intriguing 12 suspects never grabs you and pulls you along like it should.

6/10

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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Number 17 in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and after two vaguely entertaining but wildly average Thor outings, I wasn’t entirely driven to see this third Asgardian centred feature but upon seeing the trailer and learning of Taika Waititi’s involvement I swiftly changed my mind.

With this comic book movie, we find Thor (Chris Hemsworth) unsuccessful in his Infinity Stones quest and he returns to Asgard. Unluckily for him and the planets’ people, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) reveals that a power seeking goddess of death named Hela (Cate Blanchett) will arrive imminently to take over the throne of Asgard. Thor needs to stop her but first has to overcome imprisonment on a trash filled planet where green Avenger Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) now thrives.

The tone of this ‘Thor’ adventure is vastly different to the previous two, at times his riffing and the comedic style feels misplaced because the muscled God isn’t someone we’ve been used to seeing cracking wise. Yet the film overcomes this and becomes the funniest Marvel flick behind ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1’. By now, I and I’d imagine plenty of others are growing tired of that MCU one liner shtick but ‘Thor 3’ is more than this, the humour is dry and unexpected.

Having Kiwi born Waititi on board was a stroke of genius. I love love both ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ and that zany kind of style/comedy is evident once more. He also almost steals the show voicing a silicon/rock based creature called Korg. The dialogue he comes out with are brilliant. Waititi doesn’t just focus on making this film a fun fest though, in fact it comes with the usual CGI action but some dark moments too.

These darker notes are in the threat of the pristine marvellous Asgard, deaths of some characters and the possibility of a super powerful thunder god failing. They do just enough to balance out the wacky flavour running throughout; what with Jeff Goldblum’s stellar campy Grandmaster, the work-mate jokes of Hulk and Thor and the Loki/Thor relationship too.

Hela as a character may be one of the strongest villains yet, which is something the Marvel franchise have struggled to get right for pretty much every film. She’s powerful, dynamic and has a root to the Asgardian lore that gives her character motive enough to buy into her evil fuelled plans. In an almost Guardians way, this bright space set movie has plenty of out there characters and they team up to create a cosmic delight.

Musically speaking, this score screams of synth and ‘Stranger Things’ like sounds. It once again makes the whole space set vibe feel more prominent. On top of this there’s a fantastic use of a Led Zeppelin song that punches through the speakers with awesome power, accompanied by stunning slow motion visuals and graphic novel looking battle poses.

Chris Hemsworth is on point, adding more to his mythological based hero in the way of great comedy timing and yes he can still wield a hammer like a pro and punch monstrous swarms like the best of ’em. Tom Hiddleston inhabits the sneaky mischief maker like only he can once again, though I still feel like I’d rather he take a back seat in the Thor films. Cate Blanchett is a dominant presence, her spiky headdress accentuating her sharp features and cold stares. Karl Urban plays Skurge and gets some funny moments early on, but he has a path to go on and Urban portrays this journey well. Tessa Thompson is bad ass and holds her own against the might of Thor. She’s someone I look forward to seeing again in the MCU. Oh yeah, enjoy some sweet cameos in a Shakespearean-esque play on Asgard!

This stunningly out there film may not completely break the mould or formula for the Marvel world but it’s damn good fun, damn entertaining and packed with visual flair, comedic gold and enough action adventure to be a feast for the eyes.

8/10

The Babysitter (2017)

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Released on spooky Friday the 13th  this adolescent horror comedy never really gets to grips with either the horror or comedy element. It can; I guess, be viewed as entertaining at points but it’s nothing I’d rush to see again or make a friend see. It belongs where it sits – on Netflix where a late night scroll could end you up watching this tackily made brash trash.

Frequently bullied twelve year old Cole (Judah Lewis) is excited that his parents are off to a hotel because that means the babysitter will be round. He may be the only schoolkid with one, but he has a fun and good relationship with Bee (Samara Weaving). She looks out for him and they share similar interests but one night after goaded by neighbour Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind), Cole keeps himself awake to see just what it is that Bee gets up to when he’s usually asleep. The answer may surprise and shock Cole leaving him experiencing a strangely bloody night.

I knew there was a horror/blood-soaked element attached to this film but I didn’t really look into what the plot was about so I won’t spoil what happens to kick things off or what goes down but yes…wow…there’s a literal WTF moment, those very words even pinged onto the screen seconds after I’d said them aloud to myself! This is when Cole, and the audience, realise what hell may be unleashed and it certainly is unexpected.

So, I guess that element of genuine surprise is a nice touch but before that occurs, the set up of the narrative and characters feels like it’s been transplanted out of that MTV music channel vibe. It’s as if the movie is souped up on a concoction of drugs; the editing and sounds all crackling and switching speeds like the post-production crew had one too many energy drinks. There are titles on screens, random frozen snap shots of moments and a general aura that this film is trying hard to be cool.

Unlike ‘It’ or my favourite TV show of the moment – ‘Stranger Things’, the child acting in this is quite poor, especially between a trio of bullies and Cole. The actor playing Cole does get slightly better but nothing to write home about. On the note of performances, Bella Thorne as yellow costumed cheerleader Allison is cringe, you see her laughing during her ‘panicked’ reaction to the aftermath of police entering the residence. Weaving is believable and I guess I kind of bought into the change of her character but everyone feels like an over the top parody of horror films as if the writer and director are badly spoofing horrors because they don’t like the tropes they come with.

The movie begins quickly descending into mad carnage but the Bee/Cole pairing was already a maddening awkward dynamic, his boob watch and their party time spent together with Stacy’s Mom inspired pool scene felt like unnecessary gratification for the teen audience, further proven by the Weaving/Thorne girl on girl smooch. It’s not just the obvious sexual edge they try hard with, Brian Duffield the writer seems to attempt comedic tension at times but fails with both.

‘The Babysitter’ is definitely not taking itself too seriously and I get that, but that doesn’t mean I can totally forgive it for having its tongue well and truly shoved in it’s cheek. Immaturity is a word I’d use to describe the tone of this release, there’s not much in here to satisfy comedy or horror fans but I’d imagine fourteen year old lads would be happy.

Looking at the above poster, like a GTA one-sheet or visually inspired by ‘The Guest’, it’s sad to say it doesn’t hold the latter’s synth-horror or skewed drama-comedy bite, it feels more like the underwhelming and juvenile ‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse’. Yet with all this negative talk, I in fact found myself enjoying this 2017 film more and more, if enjoy is the right verb to use. I felt the “see you C and bye bye B” sign off is quirky and cute and I liked it. The movie switches into a semblance of ‘Home Alone’ but R rated and I actually grew to like the film as it went on, it is trashy but it’s like a stupid joyride that you know you should jump out of but want to carry on with.

5/10