Downsizing (2018)

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A film about a huge idea has never felt so small and yet so long.

Earth is facing more climate change issues and the devastating toll of overpopulation sees Norwegian Dr. Jorgen Asbjornsen (Rolf Lassgard) invent a procedure that shrinks humans to be inches tall. Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) sees this as a chance to live a better life with his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), but she runs scared from the downsize and leaves Paul to look differently at his way of life, with this newly gained perspective.

This was a movie that initially had me very intrigued and excited. The trailers and Alexander Payne credit gave me good reason to see this as a neat and quirky release but upon seeing the film a few months later, I must say that’s it’s far from the kooky gem it could have been. There’s an unshakeable mundane quality to the storytelling and the majority of the movie left me switched off and yawning.

To its credit, this is a fun idea to play around with but the idea never really gets played around with that much. It’s within the set up and initial thirty or so minutes, that the visual humour of small scaled people with large props works well. Leisureland; a community especially designed for the downsized is a cool idea and all the notions around that are executed very well. It’s just a shame that the movie feels like a split from one half to the next and this shrinking set story from Payne and Jim Taylor becomes one devoid of comedy and stretched to uninteresting ends.

The main problem, I feel with this film, is that almost all the characters left me bored. I never connected to them or felt engaged by their progression. The way they talked was uninspired and certain actions made by some of the characters, between Paul and Vietnamese activist turned cleaner Ngoc felt truly out of place. This idea of a love blossoming like a big yellow rose didn’t ring true. I didn’t really see them as loving each other at all and a lot of the characters; Paul, Audrey, Dave, Dusan and others are cartoonish almost unbearable people, so to follow them for over two hours left me wanting the film to shrink away.

Matt Damon is meant to be a pathetic character and he does carry this constant feeling of uselessness to his role and then manages to turn just upon seeing this inspirational cleaner turn up after a drug fuelled party. It’s the mostly dull and pathetic moping to his character that becomes annoying; to emphasise my point I want to mention Oscar Isaac in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ who is a talented musician but a pathetic man who never gets anywhere, that is a film and performance where you still feel connected and engaged, Damon and ‘Downsizing’ are not. Kristen Wiig is made out to be a villain of the piece after ditching her husband but you never really know enough about her to care. Christoph Waltz is an actor I do like watching but recently he’s appeared in some bad films and that’s no exception here, he’s still going with the shtick he’s been pigeonholed into but with extra arrogance. The MVP of the whole movie is Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran who seems to be the only one with emotion and shows some connection to the film she’s acting in unlike everyone else.

It’s the sheer disappointment of what could have been, that lets down this movie massively. The premise has some good moments to start but becomes lost very quickly. I haven’t felt so unenthusiastic or uninterested for quite a while.

5/10

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Hostiles (2018)

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After a dry spell of Westerns last year; aside from perhaps the snowy frontiers with Caesar and co in ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’, a new year in UK film releases sees us literally follow soldiers and a Cheyenne family ride across New Mexico.

Captain Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is ordered to escort some of his own men and a Cheyenne family to peaceful tribal lands in Montana. This is a journey in itself but the fact that he’s taking Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi); a man who has killed people he knows, makes it even more of a burden. Along the way they find Rosalie (Rosamund Pike) who has her own path to take.

Two years on from his so-so ‘Black Mass’ feature, director Scott Cooper manages to really let us feel the danger and grit of the expansive South West upwards to the North of Montana. It’s a huge and perilous journey, both physically and mentally, and through the choices made we truly sense that overwhelming scale of weight a few of these characters carry with them. Cooper fares well in delivering a palpable sense of tension on more than a few occasions which adds stakes but annoyingly the film does have some problems.

It’s a film that stretches just a touch too much. The pacing of numerous scenes don’t help feeling like this is a long movie. After completing one assignment, we’re thrust back into another similar job to follow which feels like a drag at points. The cliche of the character dynamic we’re left with by the end of the movie is another downer. It’s a film that looks beautiful, can be admired but isn’t a home run and I think that’s more down to the story which as said suffers from pacing issues and general writing missteps in the true harshness of rural America that could have been tapped into much more by changing the ending dynamics.

Bale is quiet and brooding as the rough but kindly captain but has changes of hearts or attitudes that feel slightly off, that’s more down to the writing than the actor of course. Pike is sensational in an opening sequence that bursts with shocking intensity and bleak tension. She’s just as brilliant throughout in a role that sees her show compassion, strength, weakness and forgiveness. Studi is an even quieter presence but one you never fear which is right. There’s a slow sturdiness about how he plays Yellow Hawk that mirrors the slow nature of the film itself.

It may be too slow and slightly long and a film that I’ll likely not remember come the end of the year, or maybe in 6 months time, but it’s shot stunningly well, the acting is great from everyone involved and there is an undeniable sensation of un-glorified violence that works well.

6.5/10

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

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Wow….oh dear oh dear. I have left this little blog of mine neglected for quite a long while. I’ve promised myself now, that with a change in my job patterns, I will get back into a writing rhythm again and that will start by returning to this site and reviewing movies as much as possible. So let’s roll right along with the recent release of the Kingsman sequel. You can find my thoughts of the 1st one here.

Just over 2 years ago Matthew Vaughn delivered cinema audiences a fast and fun action spy movie that was more a Bond film than the actual Bond films are. To say I was looking forward to this film would play down my anticipation but I didn’t want to fall into that ‘over-hype’ trap so I just let the film arrive without overplaying trailers or talking about it a lot. Even without the over-hype this film deserves no hype, it’s fizzled out in comparison and trying too hard.

Eggsy (Taron Egerton) is now living with the Swedish princess from, yes that scene at the end of the first film. After the Kingsman brand is hacked and attacked, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong) travel to Kentucky to meet the Statesman; an American organisation of spies. The two groups must work together to try and stop the mysterious rise of the Golden Circle led by deranged company leader Poppy (Julianne Moore).

Even with all of the flaws that come with this one, I cannot deny that there is still a bundle of fun to be had with it and as long as you flick that ol’ brain off then you’ll enjoy most of it. The super fast sequences, pacy backing music and silly yet brilliantly gimmicky gadgets all combine to create a crazy time.

I must say that the biggest and most serious crime of this film is not the annoying and frenzied camera work nor the muddling mess of new and old characters but the run-time, coming in at 141 minutes this film with all its whizz and spectacle actually begins to tire and by the end I must admit I was growing bored. Back to the first comment of frenziness, what made Secret Service so delightfully entertaining to watch was the energetic way they presented fight scenes, such as that awesome massacre in the church but here most battles are with more than 2 people or cut against other fights so you end up losing the focused choreography and instead begin getting a headache.

The story isn’t much of a change either, instead of Valentine trying to wipe out a huge percentage of the world with technology we get Poppy trying to wipe out a huge percentage of the world with addiction and the idea of legalisation. It starts off as an interesting premise and Poppy’s whole jungle like 50’s ghost town is a cool location but the plot becomes less creative and more stupid.

Egerton is back on form as the almost cocky yet charming and confident street lad turned suave. Strong gets more time on screen but mostly to sing Country Roads which becomes a quite sad note to be honest. Moore is a wonderful watch as the pretend sweet American housewife type with an insane and evil streak. Channing Tatum rocks up and does little more than his Tatum best then there’s Pedro Pascal who almost runs away with the whole film as the whip-cracking lasso wielding Whiskey. Colin Firth gets a mildly interesting arc to play upon his return which I won’t spoil of course.

This is a disappointing film to tell the truth without the creative flair and brutal nature of the first, it feels more like a kiddified rush with no brains and just lots of spare energy to burn up. It does have some funny moments and a few rewarding set pieces but with this golden circle scratch away the layer and you’re left with a cheap knock-off.

Oh….Elton John steals the show!

5/10

 

Snowden (2016)

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With a neat common theme of modern like gloss layered over this political drama it’s hard not to feel some moments are heightened for cinematic effect, but the true life and accounts its portraying are truly interesting, thrilling and I liked the film quite a lot.

After being ruled out of the U.S Army, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) explores his passion for computers and joins the CIA impressing Corbin (Rhys Ifans). At the same time, Snowden is developing a connection with photographer and liberal Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). As his roles develop, Edward Snowden questions the ideas of these huge government groups and winds up releasing date about American security reviling him as the notorious whistleblower.

I do find that with these type of films, there is never a running jump as to who the director wants to place their chips with, leaving us to walk out mulling over our own thoughts. That for me is something annoying and at least here, director Oliver Stone makes it clear that he’s on Snowden’s side. Of course that gives this movie an obvious bias but he’s having the confidence to put his foot down and direct his own mind.

Edward Snowden was someone I’d always heard of, knew of the whistle blowing status and what he had done to a small degree, but this movie explores a lot more which is great. I liked what the whole feature had to say, as it doesn’t just shed light on this man and how not only his work changed his¬†decisions and therefore life but gives us enough to make an opinion even if Stone is leaning us to the fact that what he did was a necessary thing to kick-start a change in American surveillance.

I too will stake my place and agree that what Snowden was for the benefit of a hopeful world, with big countries needing to be more open about their spying on everyday people. The opposite side is agreeable too, concerning how he definitely threatened pivotal date to possible terrorists and stole information but then this is why I liked the film because there’s a huge meaty conversation starter to be had about the actions of an ethical and technological 29 year old.

Structurally the movie is done as you’d imagine, starting at the most recent point in his timeline as he’s about to leak the information before jumping back every now and then with the the newest 2013 scenes interspersed from time to time. It’s never confusing or muddled and sometimes the scenes blend nicely together. There are some beautiful little touches, for example the kaleidoscope hotel corridor as Snowden walks along, almost a visual parallel to the different stands of his career.

What hit me most is when we watch him use a program that hops from a tracked person if interest and links him/her to contacts they have, then contacts those people have and so on and so on. That was an alarming realisation that I’d just ignorantly never thought to think about and it really demonstrates how mostly innocent people are being watched constantly. It’s all cleverly awash with a neon blue and ends on a graphic circle melding into a shot of Snowden’s eye before pulling out and seeing Edward watch that program unfold.

Gordon-Levitt is great, the change to his voice matches the sound of Snowden very well and he looks remarkably like him as the stubble appears. Woodley is radiant as the antithesis to her partner, she acts playfully but shows emotion too as his commitment to work affects their relationship. Rhys Ifans is a sort of formidable character, on the brink of villainy because of what he knows, this characteristic is illuminated further as his faces looms over Snowden on a screen through a Facetime call. Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson aren’t in it too much but do enough to become believable intrepid allies to the cause and likewise Nicolas Cage has little screen-time but is a friendly if typically Cage-like role helping Edward out.

The very biased construction of the film, shining Snowden in a radiant light might be off-putting to some, but he is an icon whichever way you look at him. There’s plenty to think about after seeing this and for me that just outweighs the idealistic siding they’ve taken to their own hero.

7/10

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

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Cue magical music and the Warner Brothers logo in the clouds and rejoice because we’re back into the wizarding world of Harry Potter. This time we’re across the pond and in the jazzy 20’s as J.K Rowling steps up for her first screenplay and David Yates is back to kick start another series of fantastical fantasies.

Hufflepuff member and Hogwarts alumni Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is in New York with a suitcase filled with interesting and exotic creatures. Unluckily some escape and with the help of non magical aka No-Maj Jacob (Dan Fogler) he tries tracking them down and evading the attention of Graves (Colin Farrell) who is a director for Magical Congress in America. Whilst they find beasts, humans are rising against the fear of witches and one group may harbour something more powerful than they know.

Managing to avoid spoilers myself I will refrain from any hint of ruin for people that may read this and not have yet seen the film. I can 100% say though that the dazzling effects and wide-spread world conjured up by the amazing Rowling is on form. As soon as the movie begins you cannot help but feel that Potter nostalgia wash over but gladly it starts moving away and feels tonally different as we enter the busy streets of the Big Apple.

It’s the mythology and attention to detail that truly sells this film and makes it the enjoyable spectacle it is. The moment we follow Newt stepping into his suitcase is a brilliant sight to behold and a great scene to watch. The landscapes and animals contained in his travelling pack like the TARDIS-esque tents from ‘Goblet of Fire’ are incredible and it’s the earlier fun segment of the movie that is better than the latter portion.

J.K Rowling takes her small Comic Relief funding book and transports it to the big screen with what feels like ease. Newt and his love of beasties is believable and the 1920’s American set era helps lift the story, giving it an intriguing edge. This newness lets us see the expanding world of magic and how our trans-Atlantic cousins deal with wizards amongst the towering scenery.

Another highlight in the film is when we see a speak-easy and I was happy to hear some 20’s inspired music, though that’s all we get. The scene flows nicely and though it’s small it features a new character that screams perfect 20’s NYC. Yates returns as director and though he doesn’t provide anything wholly special or creatively outstanding, he brings the audience back into that comforting mould we like from the previous HP outings.

On the whole I really found myself wrapped up in this film and liking it; I only have three complaints. One was probably down to me because I guessed a twist from literally 2-3 minutes in. Secondly the latter half as mentioned nearly lets down the more adventurous gleeful first half, as we drift into the reveal of a dark force rattling through the city. All this wreckage with swirling smoke and black fire is quite messy and feels like too much, like a stitched on story to compete and fail with the better Newt journals of finding beasts and clearing his name. Thirdly, the end seemed to drag out and for me should have came before the last tiny scene which felt tacky.

I know that looks like a big paragraph but trust me, I enjoyed the move a lot. Positives totally outweigh the negatives and the cash cow is mooing heartily I’m excited for the announced sequels to come. This new look into the wizarding world with a great Redmayne had me mostly under their spell and is very entertaining.

7.5/10

American Pastoral (2016)

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Attempting to show the decline of happiness and that big ol’¬†American Dream ideal is this so-called crime drama which is dramatic in more than a few places but the crime aspect is sorely missed and overall it feels like a bland film.

Meeting at a reunion, Nathan (David Strathairn) is told about the crumbling life of high school star Swede aka Seymour (Ewan McGregor). Seymour has a beautiful wife in Dawn (Jennifer Connelly) and a daughter who may stutter but has a motivated attitude in life. It’s this that leads Merry (Dakota Fanning) to have possibly set off a bomb and killed someone and all Seymour wants is to know the truth and get his girl back.

It’s a directorial debut for Ewan McGregor and he does at least know how to capture that period style, the slow moving sense of building our view on the family to see the cracks appearing as more prominent and tragic but the entire subject matter of Lyndon B. Johnson era politics, protests and family failure seems to evade his management and he loses a grip on what could have been a more gripping story.

Everything does look right, costuming and locations put us in a believable time and espicially when we see Merry masked up and wandering through dingy homeless filled streets, that’s the nervous unfolding of drama I’d wished to have seen more often. The plot follows Seymour way too often, from glove factory boredom to odd hotel encounters whereas I’d rather witnessed Merry’s journey and what she did, it may have lost the mystery crime aspect but it could have lifted the interest of the picture.

The heartfelt and probable emotional ties I think this movie was going for never connected with me, I looked at my phone time a couple of times thanks to the tedious slow moving pace and I left feeling underwhelmed and unattached. Considering the real power and trauma I imagine America went through post Vietnam and people rising up against the government, I didn’t ever grasp that power in the movie, it felt too sentimental and the silly last scene at a cemetery did little to rid that notion.

McGregor brings a steady stern and a reliable frown as he tries uncovering where Merry is and what his daughter may have actually done but he’s never more than just a journeying father. Connelly seems left behind as she hopes to change herself after Merry leaves. Fanning delivers a convincing stutter but is also left with little to do as her character is left to be found by Seymour.

Nothing about this drama is special or different, like a paint by numbers book that you give up on after 1 page, not even Desplat on music or a trying McGregor can save this stodgy bore.

4/10

Keeping Up with the Joneses

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The idea is great and the cast are greater but sadly it falls apart like some botched ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ mission thanks to a quite tame and laugh free screenplay.

Cul-de-sac parents Jeff (Zach Galifianakis) and Karen Gaffney (Isla Fisher) get more than they bargained for as apparent perfect neighbours Natalie (Gal Gadot) and Tim Jones (Jon Hamm) move in. Karen is suspicious and after some digging, she and her husband find out their next door folks are spies.

Greg Mottola who directed the still fantastically funny ‘Superbad’ displays a good hand at the action style drama blended in with the suburban set-up and though this mix of action and comedy sometimes works, Mottola cannot do much to save the day as the Joneses may have and that’s down to the writing.

Michael LeSieur seems to forget the cleverness of what a cool premise is on his hands and instead pratfalls, sex jokes and shrieking fill that missed gap. It’s not helped along by the fact this movie feels kind of long, which isn’t top stuff considering the zippy attempts at spy like frenzy produced on the screen. Where perhaps another writer or British studio would have gifted this plot some wit and smart humour, this film just feels like most other average American comedies that fit into a box and don’t even sniff of trying to break out of it.

Saying this, I found the office scene of texting instead of speaking mildly amusing, the smouldering tension between Gadot and Fisher as they meet in a mall changing room is written well to show off one half of the Jones’ power play. The car chase with the Gaffney’s aiding the escape does stretch to a near boring point but doses some nice adrenaline into the film. The odd yet out there snake restaurant was another neat touch giving Galifianakis lots of room to do his funny shtick.

Hamm and Gadot are the perfect good looking, tall and mysterious pair. They stare and smoulder with ease but don’t have much in the way of development even if the film thinks they’re giving them rounded personalities. Galifianakis gladly isn’t the Alan role here, he’s less weird and acts a helpful talkative man well. Fisher…well she’s just…impossibly forgetting the lingerie moment, she plays off Zach nicely and portrays some degree of strength in knowing people and has a chance to pull funny faces, scream and move through scenes in a way that’s put her Jacques Lecoq training to good use.

The whole suburbia thing of hum-drum people attempting to step out of their comfort zones to live a little is made no less predictable and less bland here.The story is not great and I didn’t laugh out loud but then I inwardly chuckled on occasions and found enough of the film enjoyable.

5.5/10