Beast (2018)

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Stalking the screen with effective tension is this beastly feature. It certainly has bark and bite, as we see this dark thriller take hold and swallow you up, in a dangerously palpable mystery.

Celebrating her birthday is Moll (Jessie Buckley), who ends up dancing the night away before crossing paths with the possibly shady Pascal (Johnny Flynn), the next morning. There have been a series of grim murders plaguing the island and it isn’t long until people suspect Moll’s new connection, as the man behind the disappearances.

This is a debut work from Michael Pearce; who unarguably knows how to layer on the tension. The film almost sweats out a deep and engaging psychological tale, as if Pearce is allowing us to peer through a magnifying glass at all the worrying little details possessed by Moll and Pascal, details that keep us questioning their relationship and the trail of murders.

Coinciding with Pearce’s fantastically hypnotic visuals is a score from Jim Williams that drips with almost spine-chilling strength. The entire look of this movie is that of a frightening British drama, with a cold dirtiness and a somewhat fun immersion into thriller territory that is enhanced by the plot. The narrative is one that definitely kept me guessing and the end is one I could talk about for some time yet, it’s visceral, unexpected and almost reaches the realm of being powerful.

Saying all of this, I don’t know whether it’s a film I’d watch again and it’s a story that I was a little disappointed didn’t end up being darker or more twisted. The film also slightly suffers from feeling like a slow tick-tock aspect, which does make it feel a little bit long. I’d definitely say the film is strongest in the first two thirds.

The acting is blindingly great, some of the most captivating performances I’ve ever seen. Flynn excels at playing this secretive, maybe dodgy character that turns up in Moll’s life. There’s a great balance of masculinity and softer love he portrays as he gets wrapped up in the whirlwind of the flame haired Buckley. She is incredible, the emotions she goes through are numerous and each one is carefully performed, drawing you into her as a character. It’s almost a tour de force show that she puts on and Moll comes to vivid and horrific life thanks to this.

This could be bad or good but I still don’t really know how I feel with ‘Beast’ and perhaps that’s testament to how fearless and different it is. The movie is rife with tension and I can at least safely say that it’s two leading stars ensure you cannot look away.

7/10

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Tully (2018)

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Parenting has never looked so awfully stressful and yet this is a film that does shine a light on not missing out on those important family steps. This movie is the fourth team up between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody and could well be their most brutally honest outing yet.

Mum of 2 and heavily pregnant with child number 3; is Marlo (Charlize Theron), who gets little in the way of support from husband Drew (Ron Livingston). The daily routine of making food, school runs etc is clearly piling up to boiling point, therefore Marlo’s brother suggests she uses a night nanny to help with the new baby, so she can some get much needed sleep. Tully (Mackenzie Davis) appears like a perfect granted wish to let Marlo get her life back on track.

First of all, the writing from scribe of ‘Juno’ Diablo Cody is sharp and almost overflowing with neat moments of humour. This is very carefully balanced with necessary elements of dramatic weight we feel towards to the weight Marlo clearly carries day in and day out. What I think works so well within this story, is the genuinely raw emotions and toil of a family set up, in which the script has a brilliant laser focus on the motherhood aspect.

Jason Reitman directs without shying away from the gross moments of raising children, the sweet touches of bonding with a new-born and the believable character building conversations between Tully and Marlo. There are a lot of scenes that see the camera up and close to the characters which really makes us feel the crazed routines Marlo goes through. On top of this, a sequence after the baby arrives, snips fast and precise like a montage as we see her doing a lot of things over and over again. If this film doesn’t at least as some point make you question having children because they’re a nightmare then I don’t know what will.

On the other hand, this film and the dialogue heavy moments shared with Marlo and Tully do a grand job in highlighting just how great being a parent can be, setting up a safe and well practised environment may be boring but it’s secure and it’s home. There are some touching and sometimes some odd dynamics to be had watching the developing relationship between Marlo and the newcomer nanny and the film definitely heads into an unexpected place but one filled with heart and it works well.

Charlize Theron is a joy to behold in this. She loaded on the pounds to play this part and is unshakably perfect as the downtrodden mother, hoping to feel some brief relief of escape. I honestly hope that people aren’t fickle thanks to time and she’s remembered come Oscar season because her performance is incredible. Mackenzie Davis is also great, in a different kind of way but one that mirrors the hopeful desire of Theron. There are some profound snippets of knowledge she provides and her youthful freedom is well realised in a performance that feels slightly weird but in a good way, a way that works for this character.

The pains and yet pleasure of being a mother truly come across in a grim, stressful but also beautifully emotive manner.

7.5/10

Thoroughbreds (2018)

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Posh and psychotic in a way that keeps you guessing and enthralled; this film is never one you can predict and thank goodness to see something original like this. Bolstered further by great performances, this is a nicely wound thriller left best without knowing too much going in.

After committing some extreme off screen act, unfeeling Amanda (Olivia Cooke) gets tutored by distant but once childhood friend Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy). The two girls talk, study and ultimately spend their time coldly discussing an idea to kill someone.

I’ll leave the plot at that, because I feel this film is definitely more rewarding with less prior expectations. This is how I entered, literally knowing who was in it and that’s it, luckily I avoided trailers and this made my viewing experience much better. Debut director and writer Cory Finley has certainly whipped up Patrick Bateman vibes in his story, featuring two females as similarly pinpoint sharp and calculated personas. When we watch the pair chat, reminisce and plot it’s a fascinating blend of dark humour and uneasy creepiness.

The music throughout this movie is perfectly designed, the choice of cellist Erik Friedlander gifts a good number of scenes a very unsettling string arrangement that almost makes you sit bolt upright with the goosebumps over your skin raised. It’s also mixed in with some sounds that I can only describe as unique, oddly pleasant and unsettling at the same time. Also, a workout machine throws another detail of tension as its sounds reverberate around the house.

The upper class is a platform for us to revel and revolt in, with the two prim, well educated and well off women shown to us as bored lasses, procrastinating from work and driven to conspire of murder like it’s nothing. The look of the film added to this interesting window-gaze into their lives, is clean and crisp; like the clinical white spa Lily and her mother visit. This precise cleanliness of every frame creates another layer of unease but doesn’t overtake the good moments of frost-bitten comedy that strikes in the same way as ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’.

Cooke excels in a role masterfully tailored to her performance power. She plays a character lacking joy or guilt in such a mesmerising way and she manifests tears, with an in-film technique that just shows what a talented actor she is. Taylor-Joy is an enigmatic presence, her large eyes drawing you in and really making us see how unflinching and cold they are. She perfectly travels a path into less empathy and cold hearted indifference which can be amusing and troubling to watch. The late Anton Yelchin isn’t involved much as Tim; a character that’s not wholly necessary or interesting, but the great Yelchin displays a maddening ferocity behind his eyes and future plans, which is a nice opposing quality to the skittish, on edge moments he goes through.

‘Thoroughbreds’ is probably something that’ll slip under the radar; like a horse left in the stables but it deserves to be seen because it’s different, killer and a jolt of talent from in front and behind the cameras.

7.5/10

Lady Bird (2018)

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Landing in cinemas finally with its UK wide release, is a stunning and heartwarming coming of age tale, expertly realised by both its cast and debut director Greta Gerwig, who captures and pens meaningful insight into the trials of growing up.

Sporting a red hair style and a pink cast on her arm, American student Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is at a Sacramento Catholic high school trying to find her way and hopefully fly the nest to the East Coast and culture of New York. Her teenage way of thinking causes frictions with her mum Marion (Laurie Metcalf), who sees Lady Bird as being ungrateful. As the teenager tries to find her way, she may indeed find out how important her family is too.

For a debut writing and directing venture, this is almost solid gold from Greta Gerwig. She weaves in great moments of humour between sudden hits of emotion and poignancy, these ups and downs are reflective of the central mother-daughter dynamic and though it isn’t aimed at me, I still definitely connected to the story thanks to seeing how my sister and mum were and are. It’s this fantastic resonance that Gerwig ensures is consistent and truly believable.

Her directing is practically perfect, the choice to numerously have the camera tracking right to left on shots of places within the city help explore the setting nicely and by the end of it all we’re affected by this wonder, boredom and ultimately grounded connection to home. Gerwig gives this film a spirited exploration of adolescent angst with many fantastic confidently static scenes at home and school to illustrate the relatable turmoil of parent-child turbulence.

This is a film that made me and others laugh multiple times. The comedy of difficult teens and the setting of apparently boring Sacramento in 2002/3 is mined startlingly well. Nostalgia through visual fashion, prop decoration and music gifts this a palpable sense of reality and fits in with the same greatly moulded Richard Linklater world of ‘Boyhood’. As someone with a theatre degree I loved the scenes with drama games and warm ups, they’re on point and very funny indeed, especially a sports coach tackling show staging. The whole aspect of Lady Bird and her trouble to find a place in the strife of school social circles is fantastically scripted.

Fundamentally this is a narrative revolving around the often strained mother-daughter bond. They enjoy open houses, shopping and in-car cassette tapes but of course they have their sticky moments of arguments and troubled face-offs. Come the final frame of the movie, the emotional core of family and knowing where your roots are rings loud, though there are plenty of laughs, this is a film that made me tear up from time to time I must say.

Saoirse Ronan is splendid and her talent shines through in the titular role of a teenage girl living the highs and lows of joy, first loves, best friends, craving popularity and wanting nothing more than being out of her mums influence. It’s Lady Bird’s name, bold hair statement and arm cast that are worn like symbols of individuality as she hopes to understand her place in the world. Laurie Metcalf excellently plays the caring yet put upon mother and is convincing with pent up frustrations and maternal tensions that boil over at times. One scene with her near the end is so simply shot but she acts so well I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Tracy Letts provides gentle humour as the calm dad with a kind heart and his character is nicely fleshed out. Lucas Hedges I must commend on creating an impressive blossoming romance before his path is developed and a scene between him and Ronan outside a coffee shop almost rips your heart in two.

I’d say that nearly the entirety of this coming of age comedy/drama had me feeling warmly fuzzy and beaming widely as I watched. Family and home is important and this film comically and charmingly holds a mirror on that central theme.

8/10

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

Gone Baby Gone (2007)

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Batman’s….sorry, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut from nearly 10 years ago now, is a fantastically textured noir mystery. The crime and subsequent drama that follows a media centred case is impressive and raises a big social or perhaps an ethical question.

4 year old Amanda has gone missing and though the Boston police are following leads, the girl’s aunt goes to private investigator Patrick (Casey Affleck) and his work/romantic partner Angie (Michelle Monaghan) to help the search. Police captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) ensure the pair are helped/followed by two other detectives from his force as the mystery of Amanda grows more worrying.

Comparisons aren’t always the best or fairest way in reviewing circles but I must say that I found this film much better shot and handled than ‘The Town’. Affleck gives this Boston set drama a great gritty local feel, highlighting the tough working class side of the city. The entire feature is put across in a slow burning way, but not in a yawn inducing manner, it fits the build up of suspicion and what Patrick will do.

Affleck also shares writing duties with Aaron Stockard, together they create a powerful visual to a story by Dennis Lehane. It’s a hard watch at times, never rough or unflinching, just a film that doesn’t shy away from the immoralities of people and what we do in the name of right and wrong. The final dilemma is scripted so well that you do internally debate what choice you might make, I’d say that Patrick does make the right one though.

Casey Affleck must thank his big brother because his role is interesting and gives the fantastic actor plenty to do as he tries reaching the end goal of promising Amanda’s mother the safe return of her daughter. Morgan Freeman as the captain is a good choice, his voice giving authority to the figurehead and gladly he comes back for one crucial scene that works very well. Monaghan isn’t just in the background, she’s bold and knows what should be done, the working relationship between her character and Affleck’s is a trapping one and feels believable. Ed Harris is loud, tenacious and convincing as Remy, an elder cop who has a big hand in this case. Amy Ryan is a standout, her turn as Helene, the drug abusing, unknowing and possibly uncaring mother is engrossing and disgusting. It’s a perfect two sided coin as we see her messy world but realise she has the parental right for Amanda.

There’s no massive crime in this crime drama, it’s executed fantastically with Casey Affleck and Amy Ryan providing excellent performances. Aside from a minor niggle here or there this is a film that looks and sounds on the money.

7.5/10

 

Nerve (2016)

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This blue-y purple-y filled adrenaline shot of breaking rules and playing high stakes is a giddy watch, not always brilliant but satisfying and fun enough to never get bored or restless.

Single and unadventurous Venus aka Vee (Emma Roberts) is having a hard time with a university application and a boy she likes. Vee’s friend Sydney (Emily Meade) however is daring and popular online thanks to a reality mobile game that challenges players to dares for cash prizes. Vee steps up and joins the game and after joining with stranger and fellow player Ian (Dave Franco), the dares get bigger and ‘Nerve’ becomes dangerous.

Directed by Henry Jost and Ariel Schulman, co-workers from Catfish and Paranormal Activity, means it’s safe to say that this neon coloured movie has a degree of surveillance horror to it. Nothing jump scary or other-worldly but definitely alarmingly voyeuristic and technologically tense. I believe it’s not even that tense either, some places are but why I say it’s tense is because of the worrying reliance on phones and trying to keep up with the crowd that’s so real and is played upon in the film.

Like the trailer, the first two thirds are energetic, slightly funny and thrilling before subverting into a murkier horror-esque vibe. For me, that’s what annoyed me about the trailer but at least with the movie itself, the last act even with it’s quick ridding of fellow players from failing or bailing, doesn’t stride too far into the horror zone I thought it would. It’s rather interesting to be honest as we see the true side of the game come into effect. In fact, that previously mentioned energy does wonders for a film that is admittedly quite adolescent and flawed.

The notion of the game itself is quite cool but becomes a teeny bit messy in places as the movie takes us on a journey in how easily Vee jumps up the viewers ratings. Also, the intro says keep the game secret yet everyone seems to know about it and the last scene features a stadium filled with people which surely officials or cops would have seen going on. That’s just me maybe but it did bug me at times, even if the bright blue sharpness they gift New York is a welcome buzz. Oh and the use of the dark web, an obvious shoot-out scenario and teen boppy romance is a little cliche but hey, there’s fun visual flair throughout the film for distractions to that!

Emma Roberts is perfect for this role, though she can do catty very well, it’s nice to see her as the shy girl and watch her blossom into a ‘Venus’ flytrap of thrill-seeking potential. She brings a whole load of charisma to the part and it ignites well with Dave Franco; who is also fun yet mysterious as the knowledgeable and brave guy to fit into the puzzle. Emily Meade plays a wild child, loose of inhibitions and confident with looks, she’s the perfect opposite to Roberts’ Vee and gets a fun role with an element of bitchiness, fear and friendship to cycle through.

The Big Apple is the best possible place for this wild, tech filled game of dare. Roberts and Franco fill it with confidence and though there are problems and the ending is sub-par, the rest is so fun that you nearly don’t care.

7/10