Entebbe (2018)

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Inspired by a true moment in history, this biographical thriller from Jose Padilha has some nicely executed tension in places and a bold choice of book-ended dancing but isn’t as thrilling as you’d expect it to be.

Set over one week in 1976, we see the planning and execution of Palestine ‘freedom fighters’ hijacking a plane and keeping the passengers hostage at an airport terminal in Entebbe, Uganda. Hoping to lead and show they’re not radicals or dangerous is Wilfried Bose (Daniel Bruhl) who doesn’t reckon on the Israeli government strategising a combat response to their demands.

Considering the events being shown to us are based on real life ones, the film never really lifts off and becomes as deeply tense as it would have been in that scenario for the captives. There are some brief elevations of tension that help keep some interest alive, but these are at the beginning and end of the film, which leaves a hefty middle portion to sit almost stale-like.

For a film that’s tackling events previously shown in other TV films, this one bravely includes a sequence to differentiate itself and stand apart. This is the opening dance number that then returns nearing the end and becomes a unique bookend for the movie, that I did find to work well. It mirrors the alarming nature of what is happening in Uganda and is exceptionally edited, giving the film a much needed sheen of atmospheric style.

More than anything, this is a movie that doesn’t just slow burn like great thrillers do, but just feels slow. Come day four and five, ‘Entebbe’ begins to lull and dare I say ache with boredom but does pick up its pace and as day six and seven roll around, the film had me more attuned and awake. There wasn’t much emotional attachment within the film and that’s maybe why the film feels slow, they try showing us a dancer and her soldier boyfriend but it comes to late to capture any connection to them and generally, there’s no one really to root for.

Bruhl is interesting in his role as someone wanting to fight against the powers of Israel and free his people, it also lets him briefly shine as he desperately hopes to step away from the expectations of society viewing the fact he’s German and taking prisoners, as the unfortunate parallels it has to WW2 Nazism, but it’s not his best performance by any stretch. Rosamund Pike is great in this, she has such expressive eyes which are full of guilt, sadness and ultimately, a realisation of the situation she’s ended up in. A scene with Pike at a payphone rings with softly powerful words and a simple yet effective static shot over this scene really hits home the problem Brigitte Kulhmann has gotten into.

The issue of the film is that there are no sides to take and the complexity of the still ongoing Palestine and Israel conflict; sees this film mired with frustrating emptiness, only briefly saved by some snippets of style and tension.

5.5/10

 

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Fishbowl California (2018)

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A film showing people stuck in their own bubble and almost like a goldfish, they merrily swim around their own filth, not noticing or caring about the people and world around them, until of course that could change.

Rodney (Steve Olson) is an unmotivated individual who ends up losing his girlfriend Tess (Katrina Bowden). After this he winds up meeting June (Katherine Cortez), who enjoys alcohol and pushing others away, but these two crude figures find some weird connection and help each other out.

This is the first full length film from Michael A. MacRae and he definitely captures the sun-soaked portrait of California and gives it a semi vulgar filter in showing the rut people can get into, so much so that they lose everything. In the writing there are soft touches of comedy to be had, little moments like leaving a laptop in a coffee shop or a car trunk not closing, all add up to the pathetic character building of Rodney.

‘Fishbowl California’ definitely works better nearing the end as the dramatic side of June and her condition begins to escalate…it gets higher….it doesn’t deescalate! A moment seen after a passage of time where a character stumbles into a certain scenario is unexpected and quite cleverly done I must say. It’s a predictable narrative of souls randomly finding each other and fixing their flaws but it’s watchable.

The film never ever drags which is obviously a blessing and the interest is sustained mostly down to some assured directing and the performances of June, her daughter and a whip smart kid punctuating scenes with knowledge beyond his years. The biggest issue I had with the film was Rodney as a character, he’s just impossible to root for. Some could call it bad luck but I view it as his own making. He complains about everything going wrong but it’s fault that it did and he doesn’t even change come the end. By taking a peek at the money in his wallet instead of perhaps enjoying watching June cycle away shows no journey at all. The tagline states to be a better person but Rodney still feels like a man-child who would drift into laziness like before.

Olson; then is great at portraying this slob who never seems to learn. There’s a convincing idiocy added to his performance which works. Katrina Bowden is ideal as the all too perfect Tess making you wonder what she sees in Rodney before the film nicely reveals her flaws. Richard Riehle has a small but entertaining scene that plumbs to comedic waters in showcasing the funny pipes of plumbing and further illustrating Rodney’s ineptitude. Cortez is fantastic, in a fishbowl of her own drinking and being rude to neighbourhood neighbourinos. She gets the biggest change and Cortez acts this arc magnificently, plus she has some nice scenes with her hard working daughter played by Jenna Willis.

It might not be an outstanding movie but it retains an odd charm and 100% shows that if you have a film-making dream then go for it. Everyone has a story and studios aren’t always necessary to get your vision out there. As MacRae importantly states – “Get some friends, get a script, and make a movie.”

6/10

Tully (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5/10

Annihilation (2018)

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Arriving on Netflix, is this bold and engagingly strange science fiction from Alex Garland. It’s arguably one of the finer films of this genre I’ve ever seen, questioning the audience with its intelligent themes of rationality and life.

After a figure from Lena’s (Natalie Portman) life comes back into the fold, she ends up at a government facility close to a glistening barrier known as The Shimmer which is expanding. Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) leads Lena and three others into this weird anomaly to try and stop it reaching civilisation and to hopefully uncover exactly what it is.

Alex Garland has been writing screenplays since 2002 and after his blistering debut directorial work on 2015’s ‘Ex Machina’, this was a movie I was eagerly awaiting. Garland has managed to capture the traumas and oddities of a strange new world from within Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name. As this film goes along, there’s a fantastic sense of slow-burning tension that doesn’t always need to pay off with big action because he directs in such a way that chills to the core and makes this environment feel visceral.

A sci-fi with plenty of intrigue and interesting ideas aren’t always common to come by, so gladly this is an exception, in the same vein as the smartly concocted ‘Arrival’. It’s a film that I think deserves to go down as a classic in its genre, as it grips like a row of razor sharp teeth sinking into you, as you get hooked onto the creepy air of unease and confusion that roams this altering landscape.

The Shimmer itself is a world of melding possibilities leading to some of the most beautiful shots I’ve seen this year, ones that I utterly wished I could have seen on the big screen, but again Paramount offloaded one of theirs to be released by streaming juggernaut Netflix. Rob Hardy’s cinematography is sublime and truly keeps you on the edge of your seat as we trek through somewhere, that is at once stunning and dripping with mystery.

There are some unnerving moments within ‘Annihilation’ which I won’t divulge any further as to avoid spoilers, but I will say, what lurks in The Shimmer certainly builds a scary level to the back and forth narrative with Lena. Also, the final act is absolutely incredible. My mouth was agape for the duration and my skin was layered with goosebumps, in a lighthouse set sequence I can only describe as hauntingly glorious and terrifying in a way that seems to burrow into your very being.

Natalie Portman is a strong presence from start to finish, her character background aptly aids her through this lush yet dangerous world of lost memories and trepidation. Portman easily acts that sense of forceful wanting and knowledgeable progression. She also carries an empathetic sadness and regret throughout, which makes her an interesting character to follow. The entire team are a formidable squad of females with enough drip fed information about their lives, to give us understanding of their choices and motivations. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny and Gina Rodriguez all neatly display the fraying of their minds as they descend further into The Shimmer. The latter gets a crackling turn to shine in a scene that sees her burst with an intensity, adding to the ferociousness of what happens.

‘Annihilation’ is a masterful movie and one I will definitely be watching again. It carries a quiet menace as the unknown is explored and identity is questioned more and more.

8.5/10

 

Mom and Dad (2018)

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You won’t get many chances to catch your breath, whilst watching this manically charged black comedy accelerate from nought to totally bananas in the blink of an eye.

Living in a picturesque yet typically suburban American neighbourhood are the Ryan family. A household like many others, they deal with arguments, school runs and midlife crises. As their usual routine begins, we see that other parents are inexplicably murdering their offspring and it isn’t long until Brent and Kendall (Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair) are keen to kill their children.

The entire film is just downright bonkers and frankly, marvellous because of it. Brian Taylor directs this movie like he’s just drank a warehouse of energy drinks, though he does ensure to keep the laughter in measure with a couple of darker moments revolving around the murder sprees. It is clear we’re watching the director of the ‘Crank’ movies as ‘Mom and Dad’ shuttles along it’s 83 minute burst, because there’s a joyful twisted bite to almost every souped up sequence.

This is definitely one of those films where you can switch off your brain and simply revel in the madness. Saying that, there are still some interesting ideas about a pent up family going nuclear, in and around this there’s also some fantastic editing and blasting music. On the flip side, a major issue I had when watching this, was many scenes are difficult to keep up with and that’s down to the crazy cuts amongst the fighting, obviously it reflects the crazed subject of the narrative but it was a tad too much and the ending is way too sudden and weak compared to what’s been seen before.

Nicolas Cage takes a note to be a nutty father and runs with it to extreme levels of insanity and frenzied humour. I laughed out loud multiple times thanks to Cage’s over the top performance. He unquestionably steals the show with mad eyes and dialogue delivery that’s spat with self aware loony delight. Selma Blair brings a needed sense of motherly humanity in brief pangs of subdued calm, either before she turns or in great pretences of the doting mum. She also plays the deranged side with convincing attack. Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur showcase youthful confusion and fear in great measure, almost riffing Kevin from ‘Home Alone’ in their house bound terror. Winters adds expected but great teen angst to the film which is nicely rounded with a caring big sister arc.

This movie is Barmy with a capital B, I thoroughly enjoyed the carnage and the crazy plot which needs no explanation as for why. ‘Mom and Dad’ may not be perfect but it’s a rip roaring grin inducing ride.

7/10

Game Night (2018)

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Pop away your Monopoly counters and shelf the tiddlywinks; this film is like a real life Cluedo with black comedy attached around mostly every corner.

Competitive husband and wife Max and Annie (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams) regularly host weekend game nights with four of their friends, but now that Max’s brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) is on the scene, game night is stepped up a notch with a murder mystery theme that suddenly gets out of hand and very very real.

A lot of the fun within this movie comes from the joyful irony, with us knowing the kidnap and subsequent dramatics are in fact not part of the game that the group thinks it is. This is stretched to the right point as the film goes on because obviously at some point the pals need to realise they’re wrapped up in something much bigger, but twists and turns come into effect to throw us a curve-ball also.

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein team up again after joint screenwriting credits for features like ‘Horrible Bosses’ & ‘Vacation’. These two inject a palpable level of energy to the film and with a neat and fairly clever script from Mark Perez, you get a cool spin on a comedy with moments of almost ingenious game inspired hi-jinks. It says something that a film like this actually keeps you hooked because it so easily could have fallen with unmemorable ease like a stray die behind the sofa.

There are a lot of American comedies that do end up being unfunny and highly predictable, gladly this is an example against that. The trailer does show off some of the funnier ideas but there’s still a good amount of comedic moments left to enjoy. The soundtrack adds a weighty energetic punch to proceedings and a cool ‘Birdman’-esque tracking shot following American Football style Faberge egg tactics is thoroughly entertaining, as is seeing Charades being used in an unlikely situation. The dumb kind of douchebag humour with one of the characters and a ‘Denzel’ cutaway sequence going on for a touch too long are the only sidesteps in what is a well handled comedy.

Bateman and McAdams pair up as a convincing duo obsessed with games and winning. Their relationship chemistry feels believable which goes a long way to help the story feel believable even if it does utilise some crazy antics. Billy Magnussen is the dumb stereotype I mentioned which grates after a while and see ‘Ingrid Goes West’ and ‘Black Mirror – USS Callister’ for further proof. Jesse Plemmons steals it all as the MVP with a creepy nature of stares and robotic vocals. Oh, lastly, I hugely lapped up the glorious cameos from one ‘Westworld’ figure and one TV serial killer.

It may not be an outright hilarious movie but it made me audibly laugh on numerous occasions and the real/game back and forth dynamic is one that keeps the interest peaked.

7/10

Lady Bird (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10