Journey’s End (2018)

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Never shying away from the mud and blood of World War I, this British feature is moving and tense and like the soldiers, is committed to the last in showing this.

Set over a period of four days in March 1918, we follow young lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) into the front trenches. He wants to be here because he knows the captain from back in Blighty, though Stanhope (Sam Claflin) is a different man thanks to the war. There’s been a long stalemate and as Stanhope’s men are tasked with holding the line, any day now seems likely for German soldiers to make their advance.

Based on a play from 1928 by R.C. Sheriff, this drama is incredibly effective and at times almost emotional as we see the horrors and futility of war take hold. There are a lot of different characters and Simon Reade; who wrote the screenplay for this adaptation has ensured that they don’t become overblown stereotypes. Throughout this film there is a definite sense of crushing hopelessness, this works so well in highlighting how pointless actions of these men are and just how grim their situation is.

Saul Dibb directs in a manner that truly throws the audience in amongst the ticking tension. There are plenty of tight frames and close ups of characters that give nearly the entire movie a claustrophobic wash of unease. Seeing these group of soldiers facing a horrifying possibility of death never really lets up, like some slower patriotic movies may have done. It hits home how devastating their plight is and the bitingly cold scenery of their sunken home for that time can be felt through the screen, as if the director is immersing us alongside these men. A camera movement following them through the sodden mud is a great example of how bleak and involving the film can be.

I would say that its only weakness lays in a raid scene, that builds up fantastically but once it hits the editing becomes too frenzied. I know in one way this works to show how maddening and scarily chaotic this would have been but trying to focus and keep up with what was happening on screen became difficult and you lose what happens to the characters.

Asa Butterfield is great in a role that guides us through the outskirts right into the very heart and disheartening midst of trench warfare. He plays the naive and excitable young soul well which makes certain changes in what he sees and eventually understands much more painfully real. Sam Claflin excels here, in what is the best performance I’ve seen him in. Clinging to whiskey and straining to retain calm is evidently felt and in one scene opposite Butterfield, he barks and foams at the mouth with an intensity that isn’t violent but one of increased frustration of how much he can bear. Paul Bettany gifts the film some good ol’ British spirit and stiff upper lip playing Osborne, and ensures to show that behind the eyes he’s just as scared as everyone. Stephen Graham and Toby Jones are other notable mentions who have moments of levity but ultimately are lost men drawn into the front.

This is a film that certainly makes you think. It’s a well made movie with an affecting tone which hangs over your head after the credits scroll. There’s an intensity and undeniable foreboding quality from start to finish.

7.5/10

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Phantom Thread (2018)

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Like a fine piece of silk or a masterfully woven garment; this film is a stunning look at the toxic ups and downs of an odd relationship. It’s also, as expected, another fantastic showcase of acting from method man Daniel Day-Lewis.

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a dressmaker who enjoys his time and order, he lives with Cyril (Lesley Manville), his sister who has grown used to the ways of her sibling. Reynolds falls for a young waitress one day and she becomes his muse and model, she is in love with him but Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps) sees that this is a relationship with differences and difficulties attached.

The whole film has a delicate touch, as if being handled by a careful seamstress itself. In any other hands I could imagine this story being slow or maybe even boring, but with Paul Thomas Anderson in charge it feels like almost perfect direction. PTA conjures up an effortlessly classic narrative that is filled with wit and visuals of beautiful design. He’s directed and written a wonderfully engaging product with stitches of humour sewed in greatly; which I wasn’t expecting when I first saw the trailer.

Breakfast clearly is the most important meal/time of the day for Mr. Woodcock; his ordered quiet he desires is seen on numerous occasions and when that calm is disturbed he becomes an animated and viciously spoken gentleman. What works so well, in character traits like this is the sound design within the film. It highlights the grating noises that he detests, such as a knife buttering toast or pouring tea, I found it an enhanced quality of sound that really brings focus to the character’s head space.

The lengths someone will go to, in a strained play of wanting attention and love becomes a significant thread; which is fascinating to watch unfold. It even gives the movie almost thriller aspects of darkness as their pairing moves forward. It’s in some of these lengths that the film does, for me at least, feel like a tiny drag. After the hour mark and one big step in their relationship, the movie feels slightly stretched and the bookend scenes are somewhat of a cliche but this is just me messily unpicking the tapestry of a film that has next to no weaknesses.

It may not be his best turn but Day-Lewis is a revelation as most would come to expect by now. There’s a charming intellect to his character and he plays with that quite a bit which provides some of the surprising many laughs. He touches greatly on the irritable and sassy side of this designer too and you can almost fear Reynolds in his concrete way of wanting everything to his perfecting standards. Krieps is stunning as this blossoming figure who grows into herself, firstly thanks to Reynolds’ aid but then down to her own self belief and desire. She too acts the comedy moments well, her loud quirks that annoy Woodcock are bliss. The two of them together work amazingly and concoct a truly believable strange yet mesmerising relationship. Manville says practically a thousand words with just a brilliant glare and she brilliantly equals Reynolds’ sharp tongue. On the other hand she has a nuanced display of her softer side in the growing adoration she feels for Alma.

I knew this would be a beautiful film but I wasn’t expecting to get wrapped up in it as much as I did. There’s great bursts of relationship-led comedy and well executed romantic tension that swirl and tumble neatly into a masterful entrancing design.

7.5/10

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

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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

mother! (2017)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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