My Friend Dahmer (2018)

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Getting what seems is a limited run in UK cinemas, is this biographical tale adapted from a graphic novel, which was created by Backderf; a school friend of the notorious Jeffrey Dahmer. At times disturbing and at others oddly humorous, Marc Meyers’ fourth feature is a slow morbid watch.

During the late 1970’s, Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch) is forced to give up collecting bones and preserving them in jars and make an effort in school. He becomes a tool of entertainment for a small group of friends and with hopeful cartoonist John Backderf (Alex Wolff) leading the way, Dahmer gains attention but also finds himself more attracted to men. He also treads down the dangerous path to understanding what animals and we could be made of.

What’s eerily compelling about the film, is how light it is during many sections. The school based setting, the domestic location and oddball antics set the story up like a coming of age narrative. Though obviously we know it’s more a coming of killer drama. There is, dare I say it, fun to be had in watching Dahmer finally make a connection with classmates and their clowning around is dumb but entertaining.

Then there’s the more troubling environment of Dahmer’s difficult home life, with a busy father and argumentative mother. I don’t know if it’s a good thing that this movie makes you feel sympathy for him as a person, almost justifying his distant behaviour and clear apathy. As the film moves further down the timeline towards Dahmer’s graduation, it becomes a snail-like trek to get through, the back and forths from school and home is a slow burning aspect that actually makes you want to see Jeffrey crack.

The choice to have this film feature next to no music is brave and works nicely, the lack of a manipulating score gives the movie a banality, similar to the empty life Dahmer leads. It’s only in rare moments, of a shopping centre fool around or the later points when he looks to finally snap, that Andrew Hollander’s effort comes in to impact the unsettling nature of this young mans behaviour.

Lynch is the best thing about a film that did have me feeling it was way, way longer than 1 hour 40. The dead stares, hunched shoulders and dropped arms as he mopes through the story are fascinating. He does a great job in drawing you in and its clear to see the warped processes ticking over in his mind.

‘My Friend Dahmer’ does slightly drag and seems to waver weakly in connecting the school antics with his home life, but thanks to a confined feeling of dread mustered by both Lynch and director Meyers, this is an interesting look at how a monster was born.

6/10

 

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Entebbe (2018)

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Inspired by a true moment in history, this biographical thriller from Jose Padilha has some nicely executed tension in places and a bold choice of book-ended dancing but isn’t as thrilling as you’d expect it to be.

Set over one week in 1976, we see the planning and execution of Palestine ‘freedom fighters’ hijacking a plane and keeping the passengers hostage at an airport terminal in Entebbe, Uganda. Hoping to lead and show they’re not radicals or dangerous is Wilfried Bose (Daniel Bruhl) who doesn’t reckon on the Israeli government strategising a combat response to their demands.

Considering the events being shown to us are based on real life ones, the film never really lifts off and becomes as deeply tense as it would have been in that scenario for the captives. There are some brief elevations of tension that help keep some interest alive, but these are at the beginning and end of the film, which leaves a hefty middle portion to sit almost stale-like.

For a film that’s tackling events previously shown in other TV films, this one bravely includes a sequence to differentiate itself and stand apart. This is the opening dance number that then returns nearing the end and becomes a unique bookend for the movie, that I did find to work well. It mirrors the alarming nature of what is happening in Uganda and is exceptionally edited, giving the film a much needed sheen of atmospheric style.

More than anything, this is a movie that doesn’t just slow burn like great thrillers do, but just feels slow. Come day four and five, ‘Entebbe’ begins to lull and dare I say ache with boredom but does pick up its pace and as day six and seven roll around, the film had me more attuned and awake. There wasn’t much emotional attachment within the film and that’s maybe why the film feels slow, they try showing us a dancer and her soldier boyfriend but it comes to late to capture any connection to them and generally, there’s no one really to root for.

Bruhl is interesting in his role as someone wanting to fight against the powers of Israel and free his people, it also lets him briefly shine as he desperately hopes to step away from the expectations of society viewing the fact he’s German and taking prisoners, as the unfortunate parallels it has to WW2 Nazism, but it’s not his best performance by any stretch. Rosamund Pike is great in this, she has such expressive eyes which are full of guilt, sadness and ultimately, a realisation of the situation she’s ended up in. A scene with Pike at a payphone rings with softly powerful words and a simple yet effective static shot over this scene really hits home the problem Brigitte Kulhmann has gotten into.

The issue of the film is that there are no sides to take and the complexity of the still ongoing Palestine and Israel conflict; sees this film mired with frustrating emptiness, only briefly saved by some snippets of style and tension.

5.5/10

 

I, Tonya (2018)

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Hitting the ice rink like a jacked up Torvill and Dean, is an award contending biographical yarn like hardly any other. It’s at once frenzied and focused and almost consistently splitting to burst with on point black comedy.

In the 1970’s, talented 4 year old ice skater Tonya Harding is pressured to keep training by her abusive and chain-smoking mother LaVona (Allison Janney). By the time Tonya (Margot Robbie) reaches 15 she can be just as abrasive but falls for rink-side spectator Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). Through years of abuse, practice and unfair judgement, Harding gets caught up in an Olympic scandal come 1994.

Pacing wise, this film shuttles along like a bobsleigh at breakneck speeds, it’s a fully riveting story from start to finish and I must say I was on board throughout. The characters, based on real people are fully realised and interact wonderfully, Craig Gillespie directs with an eye to tell this story like the funny yet darkly tragic events were and the rags to semi-riches and back again narrative is as finessed as 1984’s Bolero routine.

Honestly, ice dancing has never looked and felt more intense, engaging and visceral as it does here. These quite spectacular and captivating sequences of figure skating dances are wonderfully incorporated into a script by Steven Rogers that sizzles with humour and ultimately real heartbreak. The final stages of the film, led by Margot Robbie are written and performed masterfully and make the fun time, plus often brutal moments fade away as we see just how important the world of skating is to the titular figure. It’s a narrative of prominence and buffoonery, domestic violence and doggedness shown in such a clever and engrossing way that exceeded my expectations.

The Oscar nomination for Best Editing is deserved, ‘Baby Driver’ may excel with it’s editing in terms of car chases and sound styling cuts but ‘I, Tonya’ is edited greatly by Tatiana S. Riegel, who slices through the film like a skate blade would. It all helps keep up the exciting speed, blend the routines in seamlessly and showcase the second half madness of the incident as something you may expect to see in a slick gangster movie, if the gangsters were inept.

Seeing characters account their views of the matter in an interview style is a perfect method of storytelling that bolsters the unreliable narrative from pretty much everyone. You never really know who could be lying, exaggerating or speaking truths and that’s what makes this such a ride to watch. The breaking of the fourth wall is utilised also and sometimes it is a cliche but it’s used to sparingly good effect to heighten the idiot humour or further the character driven explanation to us.

Robbie may not win the gold medal of an Academy Award but if she did, it definitely would be warranted. It’s evident Tonya craves adoration at first from her mum and then from the public and the Australian actor sells that aspect well. This is her finest performance in ever as she brings the Oregon born Tonya Harding to explosive life. There’s crazy eye, comic delivery, heartfelt softness and broken vulnerability all in the mix of her committed turn as the less than picturesque all American figure skater. Janney swears like a sailor and steals lots of the scenes as the overbearing strict maternal type but there’s times you can see kindness behind the cigarette smoke before she comes out with a cracker once again. Sebastian Stan is alright in his role as Harding’s husband but isn’t anything special, in fact his friend Shawn played by Paul Walter Hauser is a bonafide boob of epic proportions, providing ample amount of humour as a moronic slob thinking himself some clever agent type.

I haven’t even mentioned how brilliant the soundtrack and score are either, suffice to say I really really liked this film. I thought it’d be good but it’s soared past that into greatness, thanks to Margot, Allison, sublime directing and editing and a story device that bounces around with the notion of Tonya Harding as a heroine or not.

8.5/10

 

 

Darkest Hour (2018)

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All hail Gary Oldman, he may not be playing a king in this war drama, but his turn as Winston Churchill is unarguably incredible and deserving of golden awards and a crown.

During May of 1940, Germany are on the attack and reaching the worrying position of heading onto the shores of Britain. People and politicians alike have demanded the resignation of Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and his position becomes available for Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). At such a crucial point in politics and the war effort, it becomes a huge task for him to stick true to his grit and dogged determination to fight on.

Joe Wright captures this massively important passage of time with such stunning detail. There are plenty of tracking shots that sweep through frames of locations heaving with extras and ornate rooms. Birds eye shots are seen on numerous occasions which truly help the audience realise the scale of the scene; as most of these are overhead shots from the men out on the fields fighting for their lives. This is a film that settles you in and makes the ticking over of these integral dates in May feel as significant as they clearly were.

Cinematography and music combine in this biographical war movie in such a beautiful fashion. There’s a captivating sense of weight to what is seen and heard which perfectly reflects the dramatic choices on Churchill’s shoulders. Sadly, the narrative itself isn’t as in keeping with the captivating score and mise en scene. It’s a screenplay that mostly manages to carry the ordeal of political power at the brink of UK failure but there are times that the film chugs along, almost dragging out the days. Also some scenes/moments just screamed of being contrived for pure cinematic, awards season value. The Underground visit being something that yanked me right out of the film.

Luckily, there isn’t too much that did take me out of the movie and one aspect that really immersed me was the creative skills of the hair and make-up team who have achieved a wonderful character in turning Oldman into the well known war leader. The look is incredible and I forgot through almost the entire feature, that I was watching the actor under such inspired prosthetics.

Speaking of which, Gary Oldman is a force of acting nature as the British bulldog. The inner depths of conflict and concerns whether his decisions are the right price to pay are utterly felt in every delivery of the lines; from nuanced engaging moments between the PM and his wife to more ferocious and sometime humorous words of wisdom that roar to life thanks to the apparent effortless talents of an actor well deserving of all award talk. Kristin Scott Thomas has a serene and wonderful presence in the film. She plays Clementine or ‘Clemmie’ as Winston calls her and the scenes with her are great moments that display her emotions to how her life is but they nicely give us respites in Churchill’s usual fiery resolve and show his human side when not performing. Lily James plays secretary Elizabeth Nel and her role, though softened and there to provide easy ways to inspire Churchill when necessary, isn’t entirely bland. James gives grace and helpful assistance to Winston and the film. I must also mention the wondrous Ben Mendelsohn who plays the stammering King George VI with a gracious believable touch and his change in heart to the once disliked Churchill further gives this film the rousing applause to an iconic figure in history.

The plot may not always be a searing delight, but the spotlight on Churchill’s achievements at the crux of British ruin is an intensely detailed marvel to look at and with Oldman stepping into the shoes and hat with a cigar to hand, Winston has never looked and sounded more alive than in this mesmerising showcase.

8/10

Stronger (2017)

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Unlike the usual and therefore, cliched biographical dramas, this film based on a true story of a terrorist attack survivor is mature and involving and raw.

Costco worker and Red Sox fan Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) lives at home in Boston with his mum, Patty (Miranda Richardson). Desperately trying to win back his on/off girlfriend, Jeff ensures he’ll see Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany) at the finish line of the Boston Marathon but he’s caught in the blast and loses both his legs. The following weeks see him try to come to terms with this tragic change in his life.

A lot of films that adapt or take from real life accounts seem to run along with over sentimentality and hope to force their audiences into gushing with sad tears, which of course works on the most part for people but I’ve always been one to find this tactic false and misleading. Gladly, this movie doesn’t push the emotional side of proceedings and lets the devastating tragedy of Jeff’s drama come across in a more genuine and bitterly angry way.

It’s in the relationship between Jeff and Erin that the film feels alive or most real. You see both sides and this film does set up the human flaws in Jeff from before and after the bombing. He’s a figure that never seems wholly scared of commitment just shies away from it, this becomes even more of a realisation once he’s reliant on his wheelchair and the help of Erin. Their journey is very much up and down and the film doesn’t gloss over the troubling but expected anger and self-hatred aspect Jeff faces, which he turn takes out on his girlfriend.

There are some well delivered scenes amongst the relationship angle of this inspirational hero narrative. The way the camera keeps his disabled legs out of focus in keeping with Jeff’s understandable decision to not look as they remove the bandages and gauze is a tough moment. A screaming match in the car may be a certain cliche but it’s a heated and close framed scene that packs a punch. In a dangerous but comedic way, Jeff and his brothers leave a bar and Jeff attempts driving back which is done in a light hearted free spirited way that works quite well.

Certain moments throughout, like the continual patriotic vibe and this hero pedestal he’s been thrown onto feel like a bit too much. The pitching at a baseball game, his flag waving and so on, he’s set up as a hero which the film at times questions how he is for just being there when a bomb went off and having his legs lost, but then at times it truly buys into this hero arc and feels like the only cliche of the movie.

Jake Gyllenhaal is sensational in this, the quite vulnerable child-like eyes he demonstrates from before attending the marathon continue throughout. There’s a crackling damaged intensity in his core that he acts with such outstanding detail. Tatiana Maslany is on par with the acting talents of Gyllenhaal, she releases hugely affecting emotion in the light of her world being turned upside down. As Erin says, Jeff isn’t the only one hurt, there’s a circle all around him of people changed by what happened. It’s not a selfish outburst and thanks to the likable and genuinely deep rooted care and heart she brings, Maslany ensures the connection between the pair is believable.

It’s not a tear-jerker and thankfully it’s not trying to be that kind of weepy picture. It may make you cry just a little but it’s a strong and inspirational film that is carried more by it’s two leads than the way the story is told.

7.5/10

Molly’s Game (2017)

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What a whirlwind of a life this movie shows us. This drama based on the memoirs from the real Molly Bloom is one that really sends the dialogue flying with laser focused intensity, wit and even humour at times.

After a freak Olympic skiing accident when she was 20, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) keeps putting off law schooling and finds herself working two very well paid jobs. It’s within these placements that she learns on her feet about the world of poker and its players. Soon she sets up her own games but the FBI want her for crimes and only Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) seems to be the one who can help Bloom in her case.

Aaron Sorkin, of huge writing acclaim and fame, is here as a writer but also as a captain in his debut with directorial capacity. His ‘The West Wing’ and ‘The Social Network’ credentials surely show off his knack for writing flair and excellence in dialogue build up and in this film that’s the case again. The directing side of things may not be as confidently managed with the expected back and forth in time and there’s a few times where the film just feels quite long.

The dialogue is pretty much consistently on point, even if it a lot of that comes from narration….a lot of narration. It’s not annoying but it’s certainly overused and I get we’re hearing the story from Molly’s viewpoint but it does ramble with bursts of narrated information. Aside from these negatives, the delivery and content of the writing is razor sharp, Ferrari fast and absorbing. There’s a lot to take in but if you do listen up and keep attuned, then the story of Molly Bloom is definitely one to engage and surprise.

Jessica Chastain plays the whip smart Bloom with incredible confidence and a convincing electric aura. She’s a fascinating talent who keeps on picking sharply written roles for women and she’s deserving of nominations for this part. Not only does she show the softer and more worried state of what she’s done with emotion but she carries an undeniable sense of strength, smarts and power throughout the 2 hour 20 minute run time. Both Chastain and Idris Elba handle the Sorkin dialogue with dynamic flair. Elba is another convincing talent and brings unflinching determination to his role as the defence lawyer. Kevin Costner flits in and out of the story-line and has a couple of smoothly delivered jokes but also sells us with the serious overbearing pushy father qualities.

There is an almost tiresome incessant thread of speedy voice-over but apart from that, I’d say that it’s well buying in and pulling a chair up to this film. Get ready, go all in and jump into a fast and dangerously glamorous world led by a superb Chastain.

7.5/10

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

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Game, set and match! This film is an ace of a biopic and extremely relevant with the current climate of the female/male divide. High flying 60s/70s tennis star Billie Jean King and women as a gender themselves rise up and show the grass should be as green on their side of the court as the men.

Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is a world class tennis talent but she and every other racket wielding sportswoman are subjected to taunts, digs and extremely less pay than the apparently better and more exciting male tennis players. King says no more, to important Lawn Tennis Association figure Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) and starts her own tournament. This bold journey leads her agreeing to a match with former champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) in the first Battle of the Sexes match.

The story telling is incredibly engaging and like with tennis we go back and forth between the two sides and see how this very, very different people live their lives and train for the big sporting event. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ writer Simon Beaufoy pens an assured telling of an important topic for empowerment and liberation. There are still great drop shots of comedy to be found along the way but he ensures the serious message of gender equality is at the forefront.

The way this film is delivered really works well in making you get excited for the big face off. I wasn’t expecting it to show much of any tennis playing of the match itself and thought it’d adapt Bobby and Billie’s stories leading up to this point but gladly there’s a lot of edge of the seat playing to be seen, you really see the styles of the two players come to a head and as someone who loves watching tennis, the last sequence is exhilarating, tense and beautiful all at the same time.

There is a set of interesting points with this sports story and a lot of them boil down to loves and politics. It’s not just a dramedy but a smartly told narrative that keeps a genuine interest in its subjects. On the softer side there is a forbidden fruit notion of love that ticks away, this secreted passion further adds to the dramatic relevance of the characters and their pre-match behaviours. One is a incessant gambling man-child and the other is a laser-focused achiever struggling with a new feeling in her life.

Stone serves up a careful and emotive performance as the courageous and capable Billie Jean King. You see past her period glasses and into her eyes and get an idea of the amazing and forward thinking woman she was and I’m sure still is. Carell smashes the movie in a role that continues his run of serious acting performances. It may not carry that chill of ‘Foxcatcher’ or the brains from ‘The Big Short’ but he utilises on his comedic background whilst still giving Bobby Riggs a worrying quality of chauvinistic pig-pigheadedness. Andrea Riseborough is a glowing presence in the life of King and she plays this more confident person with a free spirit in a believable and effortless manner.

It’s not a total grand slam of a bio drama as it hits the net with a couple of expected sporting drama cliches or predictable story moments, but these are mere tiny notes in a film that greatly balances pleasing humour and interesting gender politics with a leading duo of actors that are fantastic.

7.5/10