Loving Vincent (2017)

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Like walking into a gallery and experiencing all the portraits coming alive in front of your very eyes; this biographical movie which is the first fully painted one, is a beautifully realised work of art that is incredibly special to see.

A year after the death of struggling artist Vincent van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk), we follow Armand (Douglas Booth) as he tries to deliver a letter from the artist himself to Van Gogh’s brother. Along the way he meets a host of different people that make him start questioning the lead up to the man’s untimely passing.

Diving straight into the rich oil textures of the film, I have to comment and commend the artists that trained to capture van Gogh’s style and then also become animators to make this film the truly wonderful and stunning product it is. There are 65’000 frames and each one was an actual oil painting on canvas, this staggering amount of work really make the visuals something you’ve never seen before. Seeing the actors as shifting painted faces is definitely unique and they roam in a finely accomplished world of animated scenery that plays with form and perspective.

Also the lines, shapes and swirls of the brush strokes in motion was amazing to see, the flickering of lights in the background or the shaky blobs of paint you watch pulsating help the scenes look like the works of Gogh come to colourful life. I know some of his paintings and recognising them in the movie was interesting but the end credits with a page turning book reveals more about the attention to detail that went into this love letter about a very talented man.

One sad truth is the standard style over substance idea and this film does play its style card and never really finds the substance it needs. I couldn’t shake the notion that the entire narrative; backed by Clint Mansell’s tinkling score, was akin to a Columbo detective mystery as we watch the yellow jacketed Armand keep to his delivery task. Yes, the plot is interesting to a point, as I found out more about the life and times of this Dutch Post-Impressionist but the flashback storytelling with characters spieling off amounts of expositional information is a bit safe and uninspired.

Booth is a charismatic fellow to have lead the film from place to place. Jerome Flynn is an uncannily good choice as the try hard artist/physician Gachet, the look of him compared to the painting is incredibly similar. Helen McCrory is a God-abiding housekeeper who plays stern and uncaring for Gogh with great believable ease. Saoirse Ronan and Eleanor Tomlinson are perfect as two women close to the tortured soul of the title. They add intriguing elements of character not only in the roles they play but how they saw Vincent van Gogh. I must also mention Bill Thomas who plays eccentric Doctor  Mazery.

It may be such a cliche to say, but this is a paint by numbers story and account of a dynamic individual. Yet, even with the simple method of plot delivery, the craftsmanship and labour of heart etched into this film is something else. The film looks vivid, exceptional and shimmers with breath-taking style.

7.5/10

 

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The Glass Castle (2017)

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Based on the real life growing up of Jeanette Walls and her free spirited and quite unorthodox parents, this indie feeling film has some good moments that stem mostly from the performances of the actors involved. Aside from that I cannot shake the feeling that the core of the story never seems to click.

Raised by artist Rose Walls (Naomi Watts) and Rex Walls (Woody Harrelson) who can’t stick to one job or place; are four children. Throughout their upbringing they are taken along for the ride with their impoverished folks. Eventually as they all get older, Jeanette (Brie Larson) truly wants to move on and out and we see her living in New York with wealthy fiance David (Max Greenfield), but her parents may have followed her to the Big Apple.

This is certainly an interesting tale to turn into a biographical film and the heart does certainly strain to be felt from time to time but it’s clouded by a faint mishandling by director, Destin Daniel Cretton, who never seems to keep a pattern or pace to his structure. The Glass Castle uses flashbacks in it’s storytelling but a lot of the time it jumps to and fro, lingers longer in the past or comes back to the present with no real connection to tie the plot together with any interest or style.

It also doesn’t help too much that the parents, especially Rex, seem at times to be too aggressive, alcoholic or out there to redeem themselves as people. I know Rex is based on a real life figure but I just never connected to him and so the final stages of the movie didn’t grip or emotionally resonate with me in the way the director/writers probably intended. The whole bringing up of the family seems completely abusive, but the film seems to go about it in a way that says this way of life is kooky and educational because they’re experiencing life and not trapped in the grind of expected living, and that never sat right with myself.

I guess Cretton, Marti Noxon and Andrew Lanham were hoping to write a screenplay that left its audience uplifted but sadly they are far from that ideal. The flashback timing and abusive quality, as said don’t help but on top of this it feels like a fair-to-middling production you’d see on some network TV station. I know the family is unconventional but the movie comes across as extremely paint by numbers and conventional that the set-up becomes tiresome.

Brie Larson tries to be the glue that holds the film together, her 1980’s older version of Jeanette trying to escape and find a new life but also realising they are part of her family and therefore part of her, but she just can’t quite manage it and her performance though solid and strong isn’t her best. Naomi Watts is interesting to watch and she seems to go for her role with gusto helping her character, Rose, feel real. Woody Harrelson goes for broke playing his part, there are times when it feels over the top but he definitely makes Rex a character of continuous disturbance.

Ultimately, this isn’t a movie I’d watch again in a hurry, there are some vaguely alright moments but overall the entire product tries to be enlightening but only becomes overly sentimental and hokey.

5/10

 

La La Land (2017)

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Well, not for a long while have I been eagerly anticipating a movie like the release of this musical drama. Add on top the record-breaking Golden Globes haul then you have a very excited chap. For the most part this film delivers, it’s stylish, fun, heartfelt but I don’t agree with all the souped up hype it’s received.

After a minor amount of road-rage where aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) cross paths, they end up bumping into each other again and again which leads to a romance through the year. As they try following their dreams in LA it becomes a harder challenge to keep the love alive.

I have to say that I absolutely adored the first half or so of this film. It harks back to that classic glitz and glamour of Hollywood old with a neat dose of a modern touch thanks to the musical and confident direction from Damien Chazelle. Just from the sweeping opening on a Los Angeles highway to the delicate changes in lighting, the songs and story begin with a bang.

It helps that we get brilliant performances and a clear chemistry between the two main characters but also the style adds a neat note to the song-sheet that is this feature. There’s times that it looks and sounds like a studio set production and you’d expect Fred Astaire to come tap dancing in. The writing by Chazelle, is for the most part a well handled story that lends a two-sided coin to the LA lifestyle but with an obvious landing on dreams to follow and achieve.

As I sat in my seat I found myself hooked and smiling along to a wonderful series of scenes but then annoyingly, there came a specific moment where I even felt myself disengaging and from then on, the writing becomes very generic and almost cliched. It drifts into a romantic plot you’d expect to find in every other manically churned out rom-com. This frustrated me because I was expecting it to keep going with the gleeful whizz of CinemaScope delight but instead…it wains.

It is almost saved as we get a short burst of style near the end showing a quick run of events. So yes I agree it’s a fantastically well made and enchanting film, it deserved 3 perhaps 4 of the Globes it picked up out of 7. This is obviously, as I realised as they were winning, a case of the voters loving films that celebrate America or the US saving the day -(note Argo winning Best Picture)

Song wise, ‘Another of Day of Sun’ is jolly, sun-drenched and a perfect, literally perfect way to start a film of this genre. ‘City of Stars’ is sung well and has a melancholy yet magical sound but I don’t see how that gets the attention when Stone’s ‘Audition’ song is better performed and has better lyrics. Though it’s naff for jazz and a typical Top 40’s track, John Legend’s performance of ‘Start a Fire’ works well in showcasing the path Seb is taking away from his dream.

I’m not a total grouch because I did enjoy the majority of the film, I just don’t feel it should have broke GG records and I hope the Oscars gives some variety because ‘La La Land’ does swerve into a nearly boring not great second half.

7/10

Ten from the Bottom ’16

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Well thank goodness 2016 is nearly over. What an eventful year, iconic celebrities passing away, politics around the world going crazy, Stranger Things deservedly soaring, Trump undeservedly soaring and movies of the past 12 months missing the mark more than usual. It truly was a disappointing year for film with a lot of the feature’s I’d seen scoring average marks at best.

This easily could have been a Top 20 list…I’ve even had to be cheeky enough to tie a couple of films just to squeeze them into the running order. I’m also sick of this year and looking forward to a joyful experience of 2017 that here’s the bad movies that just missed out from pride of place in the final countdown:

Ghostbusters….The Legend of Tarzan….A Bigger Splash….Bad Neighbors 2….X-Men: Apocalypse….Office Christmas Party….Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children….The Big Short….Bad Moms….Keeping up with the Joneses….The Girl on the Train….Finding Dory….Passengers….The BFG and The Huntsman: Winters War. 

On with the main show then —

10) SUICIDE SQUAD…AND SAUSAGE PARTY

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Yes it’s cheating the system slightly but just call it the Troy Review Electoral College and this is why they both win (or lose by being in the list). Firstly with Suicide Squad, an eagerly awaiting fun looking film with a punchy trailer that actually had a poor script, poorer execution, a soundtrack like an epileptic record player and a bad Joker. Squad review.

Sausage Party had a good if not great premise but is such a film catered to guffawing teenagers with smut layered on every scene that eventually the sex jokes wear thin and there’s nothing left to offer…that food orgy scene is OTT, a lame sequel set up comes about and well…read more in my full review —> SP

9) ME BEFORE YOU

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Not my type of film anyway but on top of this is the near constant cheesiness involved. It’s also a film pushing into trying to be that sad movie that girls wipe away stains of mascara after watching it. More than this, the problem lies with the main disability and how forced it becomes. Me B4 U review

8) ALLIED

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The so-called passion between Cotillard and Pitt is more wet than a Christmassy brussel sprout fart, the story-line is absurdly dull with no clever turn and the boredom factor reaches near Spinal Tap levels of 11. Don’t be a traitor, read the full review here.

7) ZOOLANDER 2

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Fashion is danger! So is this ‘comedy’ sequel sprawling with celebrity cameos, a very shaky script and an overwhelming disappointing feeling you get by seeing it. It tries too hard and fails harder…check out how hot my review is right now.

6) FRIEND REQUEST…AND THE 5TH WAVE

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Let’s begin with Friend Request which is like an unwanted invite you get after seeing Unfriended. This sort of follow up/remake film is terrible. There’s lame jump scares, things become unintentionally funny and it feels similar but badly so to the visual flair of Unfriended. Delete now.

Chloe Grace Moretz in this shocking young adult science fiction attempt is okay but stares into the distance a lot, like I did trying to watch this film. Cheap effects and a terrible twist don’t help the movie along. Review.

Into the Top 5 we go –

5) AMERICAN PASTORAL

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The directorial debut from Ewan McGregor but not one to remember. The one word that would describe this movie is boring. It could have been way more interesting and powerful but it’s overly sentimental and hard to get through. American Bore

4) WARCRAFT

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So much going on and none if it really any good is this mostly boring fantasy flick from the brilliant director Duncan Jones…though you wouldn’t think it watching this. Long, silly and a titled beginning which hopefully has no middle or end to come. Borecraft.

3) BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

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Long. A ridiculous plot. Lex Luthor’s more ridiculous plan. Jesse Eisenberg’s even more ridiculous acting. Boring Cavill. Boring generally. MARTHA! Thank goodness for Batfleck. BvS review

2) WIENER-DOG

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A couple of laughs really really really don’t save this film. It’s dreary, striving to be artistic and/or pretentious. The comedy it does have becomes annoying as it gets drawn out to breaking point. The movie is disjointed and the ending of it all is so horrendous and of bad taste that it leaves the film with such a sour note making you hate it further. Wiener of a film

Well…after taking that depressing trip down movie memory lane, I’ve come to the end of the line. Numero uno, the big kahuna of bad…a film so utterly terrible, unfunny and disgraceful that I knew it would be the first placed worst movie as soon as I’d finished watching it, almost a year ago.

1) DIRTY GRANDPA

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What do you want?? Read my review. I don’t wish to waste time writing more about this film. Go away…see you (hopefully) in 2017!

Snowden (2016)

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With a neat common theme of modern like gloss layered over this political drama it’s hard not to feel some moments are heightened for cinematic effect, but the true life and accounts its portraying are truly interesting, thrilling and I liked the film quite a lot.

After being ruled out of the U.S Army, Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) explores his passion for computers and joins the CIA impressing Corbin (Rhys Ifans). At the same time, Snowden is developing a connection with photographer and liberal Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). As his roles develop, Edward Snowden questions the ideas of these huge government groups and winds up releasing date about American security reviling him as the notorious whistleblower.

I do find that with these type of films, there is never a running jump as to who the director wants to place their chips with, leaving us to walk out mulling over our own thoughts. That for me is something annoying and at least here, director Oliver Stone makes it clear that he’s on Snowden’s side. Of course that gives this movie an obvious bias but he’s having the confidence to put his foot down and direct his own mind.

Edward Snowden was someone I’d always heard of, knew of the whistle blowing status and what he had done to a small degree, but this movie explores a lot more which is great. I liked what the whole feature had to say, as it doesn’t just shed light on this man and how not only his work changed his decisions and therefore life but gives us enough to make an opinion even if Stone is leaning us to the fact that what he did was a necessary thing to kick-start a change in American surveillance.

I too will stake my place and agree that what Snowden was for the benefit of a hopeful world, with big countries needing to be more open about their spying on everyday people. The opposite side is agreeable too, concerning how he definitely threatened pivotal date to possible terrorists and stole information but then this is why I liked the film because there’s a huge meaty conversation starter to be had about the actions of an ethical and technological 29 year old.

Structurally the movie is done as you’d imagine, starting at the most recent point in his timeline as he’s about to leak the information before jumping back every now and then with the the newest 2013 scenes interspersed from time to time. It’s never confusing or muddled and sometimes the scenes blend nicely together. There are some beautiful little touches, for example the kaleidoscope hotel corridor as Snowden walks along, almost a visual parallel to the different stands of his career.

What hit me most is when we watch him use a program that hops from a tracked person if interest and links him/her to contacts they have, then contacts those people have and so on and so on. That was an alarming realisation that I’d just ignorantly never thought to think about and it really demonstrates how mostly innocent people are being watched constantly. It’s all cleverly awash with a neon blue and ends on a graphic circle melding into a shot of Snowden’s eye before pulling out and seeing Edward watch that program unfold.

Gordon-Levitt is great, the change to his voice matches the sound of Snowden very well and he looks remarkably like him as the stubble appears. Woodley is radiant as the antithesis to her partner, she acts playfully but shows emotion too as his commitment to work affects their relationship. Rhys Ifans is a sort of formidable character, on the brink of villainy because of what he knows, this characteristic is illuminated further as his faces looms over Snowden on a screen through a Facetime call. Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson aren’t in it too much but do enough to become believable intrepid allies to the cause and likewise Nicolas Cage has little screen-time but is a friendly if typically Cage-like role helping Edward out.

The very biased construction of the film, shining Snowden in a radiant light might be off-putting to some, but he is an icon whichever way you look at him. There’s plenty to think about after seeing this and for me that just outweighs the idealistic siding they’ve taken to their own hero.

7/10

Sully (2016)

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Soaring heights and then crashing back to Earth very quickly, is this safe biographical drama that is interesting, good but an overall un-amazing feature that feels as if it’s hovering calmly over the water never daring to pull up or take the plunge.

In early January, Captain Sully (Tom Hanks) is boarding a flight from LaGuardia in New York to Charlotte in North Carolina, but he and First Officer Jeffrey (Aaron Eckhart) literally fly into trouble as a flock of birds damage their engines. In that quickening scenario of danger Sully manages to land the plane on the Hudson but this leads to many eyes determining whether he made a bad decision.

Clint Eastwood directs this inspiring story about a brave yet everyday hero in a similarly painted-by-numbers manner that he did with ‘Jersey Boys’. It all feels like it’s conforming to a pedestrian telling of a real life event. So considering the life-threatening drama involved it is a film that never comes across as something incredible, rather you’re faced with a good but wholly simple movie.

I couldn’t say I dislike the film though, it’s made efficiently enough and captures that work-like nature of a man in crisis with ease. The differing points of view that come throughout sees the landing from both sides and builds a good narrative, but they get slightly drawn aback by two pretty pointless flashbacks that show younger Sully’s through his work progression, they hardly warrant involvement in the actual finalised release.

The words plane and disaster are ones you never want to hear spoken together, so the few times we see Sully’s nightmarish visions of a plane smashing into a NYC building conjures up jangling nerves and a 9/11 horror. Though the twinkling Christmas-esque music over the passengers being saved is cliched it does help create a miraculous aura over the triumph of many people being helped by others.

Tom Hanks is, as you’d imagine, a fine solid lead playing a capable and charmingly knowledgeable hero, on the flip-side though you know it’s Hanks all the way through and you never lose yourself into his performance enough to buy into it 100%. Aaron Eckhart gets a few good quips and does well in helpfully rooting for Sully but is mostly lost to the wayside.

‘Sully’ flies effectively yet super calmly to the screen as a biopic like nearly every other biopic that gets released during this point of the film calendar. It does the job as Sully himself did but it’s a quiet and average film.

6/10

Victoria (2016)

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Hurrah, I have finally got around to seeing this film and by golly it didn’t disappoint after a near 8 month wait. The technical achievement itself is enough to love the movie but then you get an engaging story and deep performances to solidify this as a brilliant complex drama.

Leaving a club in Berlin is Victoria (Laia Costa) who winds up cycling home with a group of loud and rule-breaking men. There’s an immediate connection between her and Sonne (Frederick Lau) and a fun escapade onto an apartment roof furthers her unique night. However, Victoria ends up spending her time in a much more dangerous manner than she could expect as Sonne and his mates need to do something for a man named Andi.

Just having the idea of a continuous shot for an entire movie is brave but then to not only carry it out but do it very well is an astonishing feat. The one take movement of the movie certainly does a lot to help you step into the world of the film and become a voyeuristic character as the plot unfolds.

Sebastian Schipper directs with a confident touch, the way he commands for scenes to stay still and the camera rest as dialogue spills out are great moments to sit back, honestly after watching the whole thing it feels like you’ve been on a night out because you get so wrapped up in the story and Schipper ensures that the careful placements and movements of the camera aids this interesting immersive story. Obviously Sturla Brandth Grovlen deserves a continuous standing ovation for his stunning work on the continuous take.

Also, the lighting is incredible, whether strobe pulses in the club or natural lampposts at night, the wash of blues and yellows over a majority of scenes gives this film an impressive look that works over the gradually growing grittiness of the thriller narrative. The music too is well selected, drowning out diegetic sounds with a piano melody that raises chills and also connects nicely to the instrumental talents of Victoria.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and felt like I was there every step of the way. The one-take is masterful and it’s just so good that the writing of the story matched the clever way of telling it. My heart was sat in my mouth at one moment as Victoria tries starting a car, an empty car park filled with weapon wielding men is a kick-starter of tension and a soft lighted scene in a cafe is actually very romantic, cute and believably funny between a pair suddenly attracted to one another.

Laia Costa is a perfect vehicle to lead us around the unwinding plot. She delivers a wonderfully infectious smile but counter balances her energetic nature with a raw emotion that overflows with tears as she gets caught up in the world of Sonne and the others. Frederick Lau is so great, the way he tos and fros trying to be confident and then having nervous stalls in his mannerisms or speech is wonderful and together with Costa they run with the story like a new Bonnie and Clyde.

The one-take execution is phenomenal but you do forget that and become one with a detailed and impacting drama thriller which grips you by the collar and won’t shake you loose until the camera finally cuts to black.

8.5/10