The Old Man and the Gun (2018)

TOMATG_1Sheet_27x40_MECH_8R1.indd

Last year saw David Lowery give us one of my favourite films of 2017 in ‘A Ghost Story’ and now he returns with a very different kind of film but one that possesses that same soothing atmosphere he handles so well.

Serial bank robber Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) has broken out of countless prisons and can’t seem to stop himself from stealing cash yet in the most kindly way. As detective John Hunt (Casey Affleck) and potential romantic interest for Tucker, Jewel (Sissy Spacek) enter his life, will he change his ways?

This is amazingly based on a true person and it’s an incredible watch just to see yourself rooting for this thief and witness the levels of crime he got away with. The film harbours a gentile air through the narrative and there’s a tranquil charm about it all. It’s a film almost like a caring grandparent; cosy and warming in its quaint storytelling of a man with an insatiable appetite to steal.

‘The Old Man and the Gun’ harks back to the late 70’s/early 80’s style of cinema with it’s flickering reel visual over the entire movie. The robberies themselves are never over egged or sensationalised which would have totally distanced you from the polite nature of Tucker but instead it gives you a calmness and gentle chuckles about what this 70 year old dapper man does. It could be argued that the film is sort of slow but that never overrides the movie.

It’s a mild-mannered film reflecting the lead character which keeps you perked up with traces of humour and in fact this entire feature shares the Robert Redford eye twinkle making it an enjoyable treat, a feeling that similar heist drama ‘King of Thieves’ should have also had but failed on. Redford’s performance is great, a charming and lovely role sold with suitable dazzle from the actor and his gentlemanly demeanour is sharp. If this is to be his final acting gig then what a wonderful way to exit stage left. Spacek is just as lovely in this, the bridge between us and the action as she gets involved in the life of Forrest. Also a red brake light flashes on her face at one point in what I’m taking as a reference to her prom days in ‘Carrie’.

There’s not much else to comment on apart from reiterating that this is simply put – a nice film with spades of charm and feels like one of those dreamy perfect Sunday afternoon watches.

7/10

 

Advertisements

Sorry to Bother You (2018)

91whyhljnql-_sy741_

Not so much galloping but finally cantering into UK cinemas, after an almost 5 month wait due to distribution delays between us and America, comes this Grand National winner of surrealism.

Cassius Green aka ‘Cash’ (Lakeith Stanfield) isn’t exactly rolling in prospects so in the desperate hope to make money he takes up telemarketing and after learning some tricks of the trade from Langston (Danny Glover), he skyrockets to the big leagues of Power Caller status. Once there, Cash must decide between his new luxury life at the cruelty of others or stick with his pals and girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson).

Boots Riley takes a stand for his directorial and film writing debut in what can only be described as a dizzying absurd piece of cinema. There’s no denying that Riley has the skills of style in his arsenal but sometimes the black humour is not so much laced with crazy antics but totally riddled with them. The absurdist quality may not be for all and without spoiling the events of the film it’s very clear to say this ‘Sorry to Bother You’ becomes highly ludicrous but it isn’t terrible.

There are some neat strokes of visual inventiveness like Cash’s promotional rise seeing his apartment and items shift around him, a memorable photo alters to reflect its thoughts on Cassius’ journey and the introduction to Green’s and ours take on the telemarketing world is a stylish flair of creativity. The mad signs and TV programs that fill the world Riley has created feel odd but wouldn’t be amiss in shows like ‘Family Guy’ or ‘Bojack Horseman’.

Even though there is an impressive amount of surrealism to swallow and doses of comedy that lands okay, it is a movie that becomes preposterous enough that you do lose interest in what the director is hoping to convey. It’ll definitely be a film to divide people, whether it grows to become a cult film remains to be seen but for all its outlandish horsing around this does strangely work more often than not even if some ideas get tiresome.

It’s not the worst or weirdest film you’ll ever see though it may come extremely close to both for some people. It has vivid ideas and an ambitious scope to show off a fresh new voice in Boots Riley.

6/10

Tulip Fever (2018)

tulip-fever-1

In this film there is plenty of talk about rare flowers in Amsterdam, fetching a pretty price in auctions. Well, ‘Tulip Fever’ could be a similar rarity in terms of how late it’s been to blossom. Castings and production started back in 2014 and after being pushed back on more than one occasion, the film has finally sprung but is it a marvellous bloom or a wilting weed?

In 17th century Amsterdam, an orphan is purchased by rich and elderly Cornelius Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz). Sophia (Alicia Vikander) hopes to bear her husband an heir but there is no such luck. As Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan); a struggling painter comes in by the request of Cornelius to capture the married couple, a mutual attraction burns between Sophia and Loos.

It’s not just a romantic yarn as the plot would suggest. Throughout the film there is a focus on the tulip market and the wealth certain marked flowers can bring to successful bidders. It is indeed a film boiling over with a duo of fevers that would have your local doctor reaching for aspirins and telling you to get some rest. It isn’t just the hot fever that boils over between the former orphan and the artist but the sweaty atmosphere with people from all walks of life crammed in a dingy auction hall is brilliantly captured and works in creating a fever of a financial kind, a swirling frantic environment which you may not have known about if not for this film.

In regards to the more romantic elements of the film, they are brought to life and detail by director Justin Chadwick, who has a background in corset drama, and the two young leads add further credibility to a pair heavy with arousal. Even though it is all convincing it doesn’t entirely prevent these characters’ desire to come across as melodramatic and there are character choices on route which feel annoyingly pushed, like contrivances just to solely push drama into the building climax when it could have been done more organically, it’s more of the roll your eyes stuff than it should be.

Considering the fires that burn in the loins of the cheating couple, the film doesn’t feel as passionate as it could, the story feels very safe and it doesn’t help that quite a fair portion of the dialogue isn’t exactly inspired or bursting with flair. Though saying that, the tricky games that Jan and Sophia play come with a good sense of doom, putting aside a cliched use of mistaken identity, a pregnancy becomes wrapped up in high stakes and this film neatly balances tension and humour within this scheme.

Dane DeHaan has the charm and smirk of a typically wistful artist always falling for his subjects. Alicia Vikander is as beautifully talented as ever, the emotive range she possesses in her magnetic eyes alone express the entrapping situation her character has put herself in. As she hopes to escape a stale world into a steamy affair, you truly buy into Vikander’s desire which make her final choices more captivating. But it is not really Sophia’s story to be spun, Holliday Granger as Maria is in fact the one whose tale is told. The actor finely sells her plight which runs through the house like a smartly drawn portrait as you feel her life getting caught up in the mix.

So while it may not have been altogether worth the wait, it’s not a dud bud to put on the manure pile either. If some lacklustre dialogue, twirl of many subplots and sappy endings were pruned away then this could have been a much more winning flower.

6/10

Disobedience (2018)

disobedience_quad_art_rc_r2_v-2_lowres-1-600x450

Love is an all consuming thing and this film goes some way in demonstrating the strength of that powerful four letter word. Anchored by two astonishing female leads, ‘Disobedience’ isn’t as resolute in the pursuit of its story and feels slightly lacking of consequence.

After a family tragedy, photographer Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) flies from New York to London to pay her respects. The world she returns to is of the strict Orthodox Jewish community of which she’d left behind. As she stays longer, her past is unbottled and Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams) is a reason for why she was estranged and distanced from her father and his religion.

What this film has going for it, is a good sense of tenderness. Sebastian Lelio ensures that the central pairing of his stars are the focus, their developing connection one that feels soft and lovely around the edges. There are some great moments in the opening scenes of the film with the setting up of characters and Ronit’s arrival back in London comes with traces of strained family humour and a tickling sense of intrigue to these furtive looks that occur between Ronit and Esti.

On the other hand, it is this tender quality that can make the film feel somewhat wishy-washy. The burning nature of love and passion should be unmistakable and though you can tell the two ladies want each other, it’s the aftermath of their connection that never really hits like you’d expect or want. Perhaps the setting of it within the Jewish faith is why the glances and silence are all you get but a darker kick-back to what they do and what happened in the past would make this film more engrossing to watch.

In fact, the film doesn’t totally sell us on the build up to their elicit rendezvous, there’s just a smidge enough to know there’s something going on but it doesn’t feel like the movie has enough gusto to sell us on the fact and suddenly what happens, happens. It’s the softly softly approach which makes for good detailed performances but doesn’t help the screenplay feel sparkling, in fact the film quickly loses dynamics and come the end, it feels vaguely like a quiet soap opera.

Weisz is superb and you can see it in her face and the way she fiddles with her hair or scarf that she’s juggling feelings of grief, annoyance and love. McAdams is just as sensational as her counterpart, if not more so. The complicated state of her marriage, the possible lack of love in her life and the reappearance of Ronit are all carefully balanced by the American actor, she is captivating to watch and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her up for an Oscar in 2019.

‘Disobedience’ has some nice qualities and the background of the Jewish community feels well handled, Weisz and McAdams are the perfect lovers. If only the film didn’t disobey it’s own powerful rules on love, when it should have instead, committed to a more vivid and less unsatisfying flow of tension in the relationship.

6/10

Suspiria (2018)

suspiria_ver24

Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ director Luca Guadagnino’s homage to the 1977 ‘Suspiria’ is a film that has vastly polarised critics and audiences alike and is definitely an example of a weirdly hypnotising film, whether it be good or bad.

Dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) has always felt an urge to be where top choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) is. This desire takes Susie to the Tanz Academy in Berlin where she quickly grows accustomed to the methods of Blanc and other madams and their front as a dance school slowly disappears to reveal them as a chorus of witches.

Off the bat I must admit I have not seen the Dario Argento original but shall definitely seek it out after watching…whatever this was. The whole look of this update doesn’t go down the usual glossier redo but keeps the film in bland, bleak tones of browns, greys and whites which makes the bursts of red all the more alarming. The entire feature has this odd pull; like it’s drawing you into a state of hypnosis which nicely mirrors the inexplicable connection Susie has always had with Madame Blanc.

Guadagnino utilises on some neat shots and clever style choices throughout this film. Whether the frame rate is slowed right down or cameras suddenly whip and zoom toward someone, there’s definitely a smart tactic made by the director in presenting this strange horror with a flair of confidence and compelling curiosity.

People will likely be talking about the near final scene for a while. A carnival of Dionysus proportions with a river of red is outlandish and mad. This creepy coven shows off a beastly display of blood and ritual that is so horrific and over the top that it’s very nearly unintentionally amusing. Better flashes of horror comes from a dance section with the ladies draped in ropes of red which is amazingly choreographed and an earlier back and forth rite of passage between a debut rehearsal and a victim trapped in her own freakish hall of mirrors. This moment is squeamish and damn effective.

‘Suspiria’ does have an abundance of flaws though, a major one lies with the screenwriter’s choice to present the narrative in a 1970’s setting with too much room spent on the aftermath of the Berlin divide and post-war anxieties and grief. This theme is fine but on the whole it drastically takes away from what could have been a more focused look at just the dance academy and its witches. Thom Yorke’s soundtrack provides a heavy dose of piano which adds to the mesmerising quality but often makes the movie like a lullaby to rest your eyelids to. Also, that carnival explosion of gore and coven craziness has a great sinister sound backing the visuals and then Yorke’s vocals come in again and make the whole thing feel dreamy and ridiculous.

Johnson definitely knocks back anyone who says she can’t act because her turn as Bannion is a fantastic journey of passion, training and a personal core of unsettling change to where she ends up. Swinton is as strangely alluring and magnetic as always, just the way she delivers her lines like a precise poet carries a maternal yet worrying edge. The likelihood is that she also plays two other characters and one is of an aged male doctor which further proves what a brilliant chameleon Swinton is as an actor.

‘Suspiria’ to the uninitiated really goes places you won’t expect and feels like a mysterious yet slow descent into hell. It’s often too drab and floaty but has great attacks of visual horror along the way.

4.5/10

Outlaw King (2018)

mv5bmtc4mtu4yzetodbinc00nza4ltg0ngitm2zhzjzlndfinjjjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymdm2ndm2mq-_v1_

“The English are coming…” and so is Chris Pine adopting a Scottish lilt as the lead in Netflix’s latest original feature. As has often been the case, the streaming giant’s release of originals have been hit or miss, so with director of ‘Hell or High Water’ behind this historical drama, which side does this one fall on?

1304 and Scotland hope that Edward I (Stephen Dillane), the King of England can help them select a new successor but instead he takes control of their country. It isn’t long until Robert Bruce (Pine) starts mastering a revolt against the English but with only some men willing to stand with him against a might army, it could prove to be a difficult task.

It is true to say that this is a film that takes a while to get into the sword swing of things but the final 20 minutes make up for a so-so opening 30 minutes. The introductions to Bruce, Edward, the Prince of Wales and other characters are explained in little detail adding no weighted history to a movie clearly happy to be more loosely based on fact than providing rich interest to its audience.

Along the way of rebellion, there are some odd camera shots where they enhance and zoom into certain scenes which just felt off; especially for the period of this story. They felt too modern, too stylish for the context but Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography makes up for these minor quibbles. He’s most definitely a DoP who knows how to capture the gritty dramatics of tension and conflict, from ‘The Hurt Locker’ to ‘Detroit’, this recent offering is no exception as the soiled lands of English’s northern neighbours carry a grounded beauty.

As mentioned, the last spell of this film whacks with medieval carnage, a bold and exhilarating melee of mud and blood which sees the possible hope of Bruce and his Scots carrying out a clever plan. Throughout the film there are a number of other mini battles where daggers and swords provide plenty of maroon-soaked damage and director David Mackenzie doesn’t hide away from the brutality of the actions of these men. ‘Outlaw King’ proudly wears its macho quality but it’s devoid of major heart and would be more memorable on a big screen, left to Netflix it serves as a forgettable distraction.

One of the four top Hollywood Chris sports a crown and beard as Robert the Bruce and his accent is good, which is always nice compared to some Americans trying to don accents from our side of the pond. Pine ensures there’s an honesty and swagger to his performance which helps to keep us on side with his plight. The strongest most memorable turns come from Aaron Taylor-Johnson; as a ballsy, aggressive man desiring his home back and Florence Pugh who is sworn to marriage with Robert but isn’t simply left as the dull wife indoors. Pugh carries likeability and emotion as Elizabeth.

So whilst this may not be a film that really captures your attention, it’s got a strong cast and an excellent final set-piece which keeps this Netflix Original from being one to skip over.

6.5/10

Wildlife (2018)

1069870

‘Wildlife’ marks the directorial debut for actor Paul Dano and what an assured, quality debut it is. Dano and his partner; fellow actor and screenwriter Zoe Kazan, have joined as a force of talent to script this film, which delves into a family through beautiful crisis.

In Montana of 1960, Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) has to find a new job and gets one working away from home, to control the fires in some mountains. Jeannette (Carey Mulligan) finds work of her own and it’s during this time when their son Joe (Ed Oxenbould) has to become the man of the house and witness a shift in his parent’s relationship.

Paul Dano had stated that he always knew he wanted to make films about families and this is a look at one that disintegrates whilst you helplessly watch. Based on a 1990 novel of the same name, his screenplay was looked over by ‘Ruby Sparks’ writer and playwright Zoe Kazan who then helped as joint screenwriter and, together the pair have really nailed down on the personal, unflinching state of separation, explored through the 14 year old eyes of Joe, yet blisteringly sold by Mulligan’s performance.

It isn’t long until the strains of Jerry and Jeannette’s marriage take hold and once this happens the cracks can do little but get larger and larger. Through this slow-motion descent, Carey Mulligan trembles, spills tears and explodes with her affecting portrayal of a mother always asking what her son thinks and slowly taking her own route at whatever cost. She provides a fantastically haunting, mesmerising performance.

The cinematography from Diego Garcia is similarly mesmerising in a haunted, stunning way. Just from the opening shot, which sets the scene for it being a movie about house and home and the dysfunction that can happen within. Then you see the lovely bliss of this town and its peaked background reflecting the story of their apparently blissful marriage clouding over like the fire and smoke which is raging close by.

Dano and Kazan have ensured there’s a quiet burning which runs through the narrative, carrying a simmer of unease. You never truly know if something will boil over and on the occasion it might, the atmosphere slams with such a ferocity of family heartbreak, none more powerful than the silent and final image of this film. Paul Dano himself has seamlessly carried his remarkable magnetic talent from in front of the camera and neatly placed that skill behind it, ensuring there’s no need for showy tension to make a weighty drama and that’s what makes this film all the more important and brilliant.

‘Wildlife‘ is a carefully written work of art with its power buried from the inside out. As it slowly leaks out, the audience are in for a film that feels like theatre, this scenario of a family breakdown gorgeously acted by Mulligan and Gyllenhaal and wonderfully sold from Oxenbould’s Joe, as he and we too, can’t help but face this happen.

8/10