BlacKkKlansman (2018)

blackkklansman_poster_2

Picking up lots of potential awards season heat and rightfully so, this Spike Lee joint sizzles with a totally resonant consciousness, one that has you feeling both amused and angered by the racial divides seen on screen.

Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) wants to be a cop and make a difference. He gets hired by the Colorado Springs police department and after a while he makes a call to the Ku Klux Klan and pretends to be an angry racist white man to infiltrate and find out about any possible racially motivated attacks. Detective Zimmerman (Adam Driver) takes the mantle of Ron and goes along to KKK meet ups and finds out there could be trouble brewing.

The Ron Stallworth brothers story cleverly mixes a healthy amount of identity comedy and ridiculing the white cloaked members of the KKK. It also is a narrative that can make you feel on edge, uneasy I’d go as far to say as well, flashes of nasty racism and worrying statements uttered that are clearly meant to echo what has been said by Trump’s America all do their job in creating this timely cooking pot of tensions and prejudice.

This is never a film that pokes its finger at white people being the whole issue and painting them with the same brush, which a lesser movie could easily have done. We’re shown a comradery with most of the figures in the police force; a brilliantly applause worthy scene in a bar near the end shows this tight unit at play.

Spike Lee gives this movie a hell of a lot of style, as Ron and student president Patrice talk about black icons, the film shows Pam Grier and Shaft posters, these on-screen billboards and newspaper cutouts all add a punchy visual way of storytelling. Barry Alexander Brown utilises some enhancing cuts, a frequent amount of overlapping edits further add to the 70’s set world. There’s a excellent smooth dolly shot of Ron and Patrice and a burning cross in the final moments which is spooky, coolly spine-tingling and damn effective in mimicking a style straight out of those 70’s movies they were chatting about.

As the actor-led story finishes, we see clashes in Charlottesville from 2017, which really boils the blood and becomes a sobering, stark reminder of how far America truly has to go to be the great nation Donald Trump thinks it is. When the screen went black, the audience was movingly silent causing one of the most immersive reactions I’ve felt in the cinema for a while.

‘BlacKkKlansman’ is a hugely powerful film that has brilliant 1970 production design but sadly sounds like it’s come right out of now. The issue of racial struggles in America and the questions of how it’s still going on are all expertly scripted and performed in this comedy drama.

8/10

Advertisements

The Happy Prince (2018)

the-happy-prince-movie-poster

Titled from a tale within a collection of short stories by the famous Oscar Wilde; this film mirrors the tragic beauty of the swallow and statue. A poet, playwright and author is accounted in his later years and comes across like a touching tribute to the man.

Residing in Paris after being imprisoned for sodomy, Oscar Wilde (Rupert Everett) is a penniless man but still has friends he can depend on. The film then looks back at how Wilde came to this point and the loves and lusts he fell into along the way, none more so than with Alfred Douglas (Colin Morgan).

It’s a remarkably interesting biopic with a remarkable figure at the centre. I’ve read and studied Wilde’s plays through university and his talent is incredible, the film furthers his character and provides depth to a troubled man, pretty much ruined by society. Rupert Everett’s direction and screenplay doesn’t shy away from the grim side of destitution but revels in the lavish nature of Oscar’s behaviours too.

This makes for a mighty kind of film to watch, there are fun moments to be had but it’s quite a heavy going watch because Everett really makes us see how tough the Irish writer had it in the latter stages of his life. Some of the heavier moments make the biographical journey almost on the nose, of filling out criteria you come to expect from a film like this, plus there’s a couple of points where the film starts feeling long; the back and forth and trotting of the globe with Wilde’s past becoming a vague strain.

A stand out moment with Everett providing stand up singing prowess is a sparkling gem, gilding Wilde with the undeniable talent and attention-grabbing ease he possessed. A couple of throwbacks to a bleak time on a platform at Clapham Junction are washed out of colour, grey and therefore work in showcasing the nastier times in his existence when the people had turned on him. It’s not exactly a film constantly keeping up engagement but there’s a showy, absorbing quality to the most part.

Rupert Everett makes the playwright come alive with vivid intrigue and a Brando like touch of greatness to a role he totally inhabits. He provides a balance of desperate scrapings for love and money with Wilde’s whip smart wordsmith wizardry. Colin Morgan is very good in a role that shows off his spoilt and money orientated manner, he does well as a man almost like the villain of the play.

Oscar Wilde’s later years are documented with great care in a clear passion project from Rupert Everett. The film is also being smart in a late US release because I can see award potential from his turn as the Dublin born figure. We may know of the man and his work but this film proves there’s more to learn and feel.

6.5/10

My Friend Dahmer (2018)

frienddahmer

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

 

Entebbe (2018)

entebbe_poster_2000

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)

i-tonya-poster

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)

darkest-hour-poster

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)

stronger_xlg

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