The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

sacred-deer-poster

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

Advertisements

mother! (2017)

mother-poster

Where do I even start with this film? The exclamation point of the title is certainly necessary and director Darren Aronofsky knew what he was doing by putting it there because this movie is one hell of an exclaiming visceral car crash.

Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) is adamant to keep her home a neat and tidy Eden whilst her husband credited as Him (Javier Bardem) tries overcoming writers block. Their idyllic set up is swiftly interrupted by the arrival of Man and Woman (Ed Harris & Michelle Pfeiffer) who only begin to start the maddening destruction of Mother’s hopeful ordered life.

From this point onward I’ll keep quiet on the plot developments in case you haven’t heard of what crazy events take place. The religious allegorical element becomes so blatantly obvious upon reflection that the entire film feels like a try hard student project from an arrogant director thinking his feature is the Holy Grail. This is a shame and not something I expected from Aronofsky; a director whose work I had mostly enjoyed up until this point.

I guess the tight framings of almost every shot, the close ups or viewpoints stemming from Lawrence help build this frustrating level of anxiety that her character suffers throughout but it also means the film feels dreamlike and slow. It also says something that I felt queasy watching the action of the third act and that wasn’t because of the food poisoning I was already trying to stomach! It becomes, what I feel, is a truly unnecessary debauched trip of torture and an over the top display of what one man can do with a deranged take on the notion of ‘tarnishing Mother Earth’ and $30 million.

The first act is actually really well set up and this initial idea of a home being slowly intruded and torn apart makes for an intriguing and unsettling base point. The mystery of who the two strangers are and what they may end up doing was almost perfect, it felt like the basis of a tightly wound thriller but that ends up becoming bloodied and soiled by the end making me question why I even bothered committing to watching the entire film and not have more fun with my head over a toilet being sick.

Clint Mansell for the first time doesn’t team up with Aronofsky, instead the film is almost void of any music which actually does work to be fair. The sound design is on form and adds an extra layer of frustrating distress to accompany the growing torment of Mother. On another slight positive I have to say that all this press and polarising chatter does help the film because people are talking about it, the movie is getting attention which I’m sure is just what Aronofsky desired.

Jennifer Lawrence has a lot to carry on her shoulders as she appears pretty much constantly through this film bringing in a range of emotions as she becomes more and more pecked and broken by the escalating carnage in her house. Javier Bardem feels like a wasted actor, not doing much of anything apart from carrying some vague sinister indifference to what happens around him. It’s Michelle Pfeiffer that stands out in a creepy way, her stares and her calculated presence being just what the film needs.

mother! is certainly a film that seems to have no middle ground, almost like Marmite in a way. I guess the intelligent comment would be to say I need to see this film again and try and see what the people who like it may be seeing but I just 100% don’t wish to watch this movie ever again!

2.5/10

Allied (2016)

alliedposter

Robert Zemeckis, Brad Pitt and even Marion Cotillard cannot save this film from falling short of the romantic sweeping wartime drama it aspires to be. There’s good performances and a vague sense of spy-like apprehension but on the whole this feels like a bland affair and you’d wish for more gusto.

After teaming up in Casablanca and working on an assassination, Max (Brad Pitt) and Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard) fall for each other and marry in London. It’s only once settling down and keeping out of the war action that Max learns his love may not be who she says she is, throwing him back into action as he tries to find the truth.

Robert Zemeckis is and will always be a director with great films and fun visionary ideas to his name, his collection of movies spanning genres but with his latest outgoings espicially it seems that he’s foregoing interest of story for the shiny spectacle of how it looks. As in ‘The Walk’, any trepidation or unnerving sense of doom was lost because everything felt like a Chaplin adventure with extra sheen. This new release has a similar gloss that even makes the Blitz over London look like a page from a magazine.

It’s this way of heightening the scenery and not the story that lost me and took me right out of what could have been a grittier more engaging wartime drama. It’s like he tried stepping into the Hollywood glitz of ‘Casablanca’ but too hard and therefore it suffers. Steven Knight also comes under my general fire because his writing of the plot is lagging and no true suspense is offered, even some exchanges of dialogue sound forced or dumb earlier on in the film as they chat over tables in French Morocco.

There may be a slightly unexpected end and everything is shot or framed greatly but aside from this, some mildly memorable music and Cotillard trying to sustain the movie, everything begins cracking. Even the so-called hot chemistry between Pitt and Cotillard fizzles without trace, I never felt amazingly connected by their connection. Just in general I didn’t ever become interested or connected to the movie which is a shame considering the story and talent involved.

Everything just felt lacking and leads to a movie that from start to finish is empty of any gripping emotion or dramatic tension and toil. It’s a typical WW2 bait film throwing back to the Hollywoodland heyday that I almost wished I could throwback out of my memory.

5.5/10

Arrival (2016)

arrival

Gladly, this is not your typical ‘alien invasion’ flick, it’s a much smarter story that totally immerses you into a situation filled with dread yet hope, understanding yet confusion. I came out of the film feeling a little lost but it’s a grower because as you think on it the whole idea becomes more interesting.

As 12 shells arrive on Earth and hover above different locations, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called into help the military. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) hopes that she can understand and translate the aliens’ talking and find out why they’re here. Together with scientist and maths man Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) they start uncovering a complex world-changing language.

Coming from ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Sicario’ director Denis Villeneuve, you can surely expect tension and smart movie story-telling and you’d be right to do so, as this sci-fi release is burning with clever ideas about language, time and humanity’s fight for survival and knowledge. Villeneuve doesn’t go for any last minute twist, he keeps his film going along and through shots or blurred flashbacks we begin building a picture of what’s to come. What he does well is ensure every scene has importance or emotion and gives moments with the aliens a nervous and affecting tone as we try to grip what may happen.

Eric Heisserer gives the story no cliches or over expositional content, aside from one line near the end of the film, everything we hear sounds plausible and brings you into this alien filled drama with ease. The way he adapts the short story and ensures the Heptapods’ speech is intellectual, so much so that it befuddled my mind but not enough to make me disengage from the movie. This language is a huge factor of the script, connecting to Louise and creating a rounded story that gives ‘Arrival’ fantastic depth.

Back to help Villeneuve is composer Johann Johannsson, who has a superb skill in building tension through music. The dread mounts and through deeper reverberations in the score we feel on edge as the characters go to encounter the Heptapods. A brilliant track comes in with some narration and is used again for the credits, it’s haunting and a chorus of voices makes it more impacting.

Amy Adams in her second November outing, is much more interesting to watch in this compared to ‘Nocturnal Animals’, that’s to say she has more to do and her character is excellent. The subtle flickers of tired emotion that fill her thanks to flashes of events or the way she gleefully acts when breaking ground with the aliens communication all make Louise a captivating role. Jeremy Renner is good also, his smart mathematician role bouncing off Louise very well. Whitaker is a great choice as the military superior, his calmness a good thing as he easily could have been the villain straining for violence. Michael Stuhlbarg is a fine actor, always doing good with what he’s given and here he grows as the film progresses.

It may still have me slightly puzzling over the whole grand scope of time but this is a science fiction that dazzles and if you like a movie to make you think then this is the perfect choice. Performances, writing, directing and music create something to blow your mind like not much before.

8/10

 

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

nocturnal-animals-poster

Anything can and may be said about this Venice Grand Jury winner, but I believe that all should agree that it’s got a superb style, the performances are brilliant and it shows the director has a film-making talent for visual design.

Gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams) receives a proof copy of a novel from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Titled ‘Nocturnal Animals’ in reference to him calling her that, she becomes taken by the story which features a devastating crime and the hunt for justice by Tony Hastings (Gyllenhaal again). The novel haunts her more so because it links closely to what she did.

Tom Ford in only his second time as feature director, showcases that clear understanding of cinematic style to relay a quite harsh and dark story. Not only did he direct but he handled the screenplay too, adapted from the early 90’s book written by Austin Wright. Ford ensures that Susan’s world is artistic, sleek and modern but there seems to a vapid sadness to this existence that works well. The world of the novel sent to Susan is grittier and makes for a great contrast, which only goes to make the incredible transitions and paralleled shots between book life and real life more impressive.

I have to admit that I found the story within the story aspect of the movie more engaging to watch. That brutal tone and developing crime narrative digs a hook into you as you watch Tony’s struggle continue. That’s not to say that Susan and the real world is bad, it’s just not quite as interesting because it seems to feel empty, maybe that’s a mirror to the character’s feelings on the choices she’s made but there doesn’t seem to be much directorial interest in exploring Susan, her interest in the book and Tony and what it means to her.

Art and music come together in a thoughtful way and pretty much everything to do with this film is something that made me go away pondering what I’d seen. Abel Korzeniowski’s score may not be memorable but it fits well with the haunting and cruel nature the film’s plot exhibits. Little details on walls or in the soft lighting transitions between scenes all speak a higher connection, one that I think warrants second viewing to fully accept and understand the film as a whole.

Amy Adams as arguably one of the finest actresses of the last 10 years pulls off a perfect nuanced performance, subtle changes in her expressions from her eyes to smiling all speak loudly about the inner sadness of Susan and the kind of woman she is. You never dislike her but Adams does well in making her character someone you don’t get on side with either. Jake Gyllenhaal tackles the screen with more power as Tony, his emotion and anger for justice lighting the screen and working so well for a possible Oscar nomination. Michael Shannon is such a great casting choice for a ruthless detective but over all these high class actors, it’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the slimy Ray that steals the show and feels like a vicious wolf in the night. The smirks and overly trying way of being calm yet obviously calculating is pitched expertly and he deserves praise. Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber encapsulate growing fear well and suit the red-headed ties to Susan reading the story, doing little to dispel that silly quip that Adams and Fisher are the same person.

Upon seeing this well fashioned and structured movie, and leaving nearly a day to let it settle, I’m still unsure on what I feel for this movie. I know I liked it and it’s definitely powerful regarding life, loves, achievement and loss but it’s not as stellar in the moments outside of the Tony story.

7.5/10

Wiener-Dog (2016)

Wiener-Dog

I don’t want to write about this movie, it had some promising moments, a few nice laughs but by the end of it all, everything has moped along to such a dreary and try-hard artsy encompassing view of the world, that it’s actually the opposite and rather a soulless and absurd product.

Coming home with a pet dog is Danny (Tracy Letts) who hopes the sausage dog will help their son’s progress. After a granola induced accident, Wiener-Dog is taken to the vets where veterinarian Dawn (Greta Gerwig) smuggles him away. She goes on a trip with Brandon (Kieran Culkin) and soon the pooch is into story number 3 with film school teacher Dave (Danny DeVito) before finding himself with the elderly Nana (Ellen Burstyn) who gets a visit from her granddaughter.

So, to start with the positives, of which there are just a small amount. Story #1 with the family trio has some funny points, for example the mother making up numerous stories about dogs, pregnancies and cremation to her son. Um…I guess the odd intermission starring the pup strolling in front of backdrops whilst music plays was quite strangely funny. Story #3 starts with a hope of the most interest, a New York based film school, comments on students, screenwriting and the industry are scripted well but then it’s over with a dog wearing a yellow dress and something else…which I won’t spoil for you if you do happen to waste your time seeing it.

What this movie and director Todd Solondz does frequently is take something either brimming with humour or life important and drag it out to an inch of it’s life so it’s neither funny or affirming anymore. Either that or he twists it so much with a weirdly wired black sense of comedy that you question what this movie is even trying to do or say. A case in point comes after Miss Wiener-Dog gets explosive diarrhoea which is amusing at the start but then a long tracking shot over pools of the liquid swiftly loses that initial comedic spark.

Another reason, for me at least why this film didn’t sit well is because there’s no connection. Aside from the first 2 stories, the characters don’t feel in any strong way linked. Solondz is probably making a statement that they’re connected by loss, despair or some other dejected emotion but we just skip from one short movie tale to another thanks to the dog and that’s that. Also, after watching the whole feature, there feels like there’s been absolutely zero point to any of what’s happened. It’s eccentric yet empty and the conclusion of the dog’s journey is cause of great and distasteful alarm.

Danny DeVito plays the grumbling professor well, his long time placement as a teacher wearing on his face as he hopes to get a new screenplay green-lit but knowing it’s never likely to happen is always felt as DeVito shuffles through his portion. Greta Gerwig gladly brings an element of sunshine into the world of the movie but is still quite muted on a random trip she takes with the similarly shuffling and muted Kieran Culkin. Ellen Burstyn and Zosia Mamet share a scene that has a more emotional and awkward family aura about it but by this point I felt void of interest like the movie feels void of direction.

I can safely say this is a film I will hopefully forget and never recommend but for fans of Todd Solondz’s work then this may be a movie you’ll enjoy, if that’s the word to use…which it isn’t.

4.5/10

The Neon Demon (2016)

The-Neon-Demon-Banner-Beauty-is-vicious

Heavily stroked by a purple and red brush, this is a strange movie to write about and even stranger to watch. It’s different…and that’s the big word to truly describe what this film is. It’s neither terrible or outstanding, even though people have commented on it being a masterpiece or boo-worthy love/hate release, I shall disagree.

Aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) arrives in LA and soon meets makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone). It doesn’t take long for naturally pretty Jesse to get signed and land modelling gigs leading more experienced models to grow jealous. As this ingenue increases in profile and confidence she sees how dangerous the world of modelling can be.

Now, I have to say that the above summary doesn’t even half cover the madness that occurs in this 2016 movie. There’s a Keanu Reeves plot which maybe best to forget, also for those that have seen this film, then you’ll know about the weirder side of proceedings once the run-time goes past the half way point or so.

Winding Refn definitely knows how to make an impact. This could be his largest stamp of ‘I’m here…notice me doing something unique’ yet. Because it goes without saying that this movie plays with an idea not really seen or dealt with in this way before. The trend of models, their lifestyle and the fanatic obsession of looks in Los Angeles is certainly put under a colourful microscope here and edged with a bite of something sinister.

I must commend Refn for being out there and going against the grain of, but then he does fall into that style over substance trap. The idea is very special but it feels like they run with that more than focusing on how to keep the story engaging. What stops it from being out and out amazing is the thin characters and thirst to go down a gross road. Jesse is clearly innocent and lost in the land of stars but apart from that and a few well placed smirks she feels like a hollow character to have as the main focus.

I won’t venture too much into that gross road comment but Jena Malone makes up nearly 100% of that statement. A table is the only thing I’ll write because it’s already stirring up images of a scene I wish to forget. Moving on from the sicker moments, there is a stylised attempt at horror with tinges of psychological threat striding the catwalk. The robotic personas of other models, the sexy vanity of identity and a trickle of fashionable comedy alongside the blistering soundtrack from Cliff Martinez and Julian Winding’s ‘Demon Dance’ boosts the electric surreal landscape.

Elle Fanning sure looks the part, her doe eyes like a rabbit in the headlights showcase the youthful side of Jesse. She has a glamorous ease with the role and does get a teeny go at playing snide and smirky as the movie goes on. Jena Malone is slightly sordid as Ruby and she’s got the strength to play that necessary elder controlling level and a scene with her out of the model light is a great reveal. Abbey Lee is tall and unflinching as model Sarah and pulls off a flawless lip twitch as Bella Heathcote flails Heathcote more than sells her character Gigi being a season ticket holder to the plastic surgeon, her upright posture and similarly still gaze gives the two models an almost funny twist. Desmond Harrington plays photographer Jack like a vulture praying on the sexuality of women, it’s a neat performance from him as his gaunt figure plays into the maturation of Jesse’s rise.

I can’t be harsh because even though it’s pacing is slow, the characters are nowhere near fleshed out, Refn seeks to shock for an apparent sake of it and it drives you to look on bemused, there’s still an undeniable streak of flair to this movie. There’s a boldness that I admire and the seductive look and sound keeps things intriguingly…different.

7/10