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

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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

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

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Dropped like something out of the sky; here comes a game-changer in terms of movie marketing and distribution, but that aside is this a good ‘Cloverfield’ movie?

Set in our future and aboard the Cloverfield Station are a crew from various countries who are hoping to perfect a particle accelerator; which could solve the energy crisis on Earth. As their mission finally catches a break, it seems not everything is good. The team become stranded, meanwhile life back on Earth isn’t looking safe and sound either.

So, after a few months of whisperings and internet talk about a new feature in the ‘Cloverfield’ series, we’re finally greeted with this big surprise release. It was due last year and then apparently again for an April 2018 cinematic date under the name ‘God Particle’ from Paramount Pictures, but as the sporting spectacle of the Super Bowl reached it’s halftime parade of expensive ads and new trailers, a teaser for this very movie was shown. Not long after the game itself the film was up on Netflix for all (subscribers) to see.

This I must admit is a bold move to make and pretty special to keep something under wraps. Having a $45 million movie on your hands and to maintain its secrecy and avoid the usual over hype of many trailers and TV spots is a fantastic achievement, if not one that disappoints me slightly because it’s final destination means it can’t be seen on the big screen. It’s a great film visually and the sci-fi element is explored quite well through the vacuum of space and a sleek revolving spaceship but Paramount mustn’t have had high expectations to forgo a cinema roll-out and leave Netflix to pick up the rights. This can be felt in a film that seems to have grown out of control to fit within the ‘Cloverfield’ universe.

It’s a mildly slow-burner of a science fiction to watch, there’s neat moments of burrowing unease as things start to go wrong; as they always do in these kinds of films. The back and forth between space and Earth feels like the parts where they re-wrote to segue in the movie monster tie-in and general spots do feel like a scrambled mess to keep that storytelling building.

Saying this, the dynamic of the crew is good and the moments of error, confusion and danger aboard the spacecraft are entertaining. I wouldn’t say exciting or wholly dramatic but they work well and keep the film going along nicely too. The main interest for me was in the construct of the shifting paradox and the problems arising from there, which is explored with both thrills and humour but not as deep as perhaps it may have delved. I feel one reason the film isn’t as successful as it could be is down to the distracting technique of its release and expecting the ‘Cloverfield’ monster/arc to keep rearing up.

’10 Cloverfield Lane’ was one of my favourite films from 2016 because it tied in the monster series nicely and felt like a creepily separate thriller at the same time. This is still a good film but nowhere near as great. It’s a film that perhaps, thanks to its many delays and streaming resting place, feels more like a somewhat enjoyable online flick but not a dazzling or suspenseful one.

5.5/10

 

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

Downsizing (2018)

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A film about a huge idea has never felt so small and yet so long.

Earth is facing more climate change issues and the devastating toll of overpopulation sees Norwegian Dr. Jorgen Asbjornsen (Rolf Lassgard) invent a procedure that shrinks humans to be inches tall. Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) sees this as a chance to live a better life with his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), but she runs scared from the downsize and leaves Paul to look differently at his way of life, with this newly gained perspective.

This was a movie that initially had me very intrigued and excited. The trailers and Alexander Payne credit gave me good reason to see this as a neat and quirky release but upon seeing the film a few months later, I must say that’s it’s far from the kooky gem it could have been. There’s an unshakeable mundane quality to the storytelling and the majority of the movie left me switched off and yawning.

To its credit, this is a fun idea to play around with but the idea never really gets played around with that much. It’s within the set up and initial thirty or so minutes, that the visual humour of small scaled people with large props works well. Leisureland; a community especially designed for the downsized is a cool idea and all the notions around that are executed very well. It’s just a shame that the movie feels like a split from one half to the next and this shrinking set story from Payne and Jim Taylor becomes one devoid of comedy and stretched to uninteresting ends.

The main problem, I feel with this film, is that almost all the characters left me bored. I never connected to them or felt engaged by their progression. The way they talked was uninspired and certain actions made by some of the characters, between Paul and Vietnamese activist turned cleaner Ngoc felt truly out of place. This idea of a love blossoming like a big yellow rose didn’t ring true. I didn’t really see them as loving each other at all and a lot of the characters; Paul, Audrey, Dave, Dusan and others are cartoonish almost unbearable people, so to follow them for over two hours left me wanting the film to shrink away.

Matt Damon is meant to be a pathetic character and he does carry this constant feeling of uselessness to his role and then manages to turn just upon seeing this inspirational cleaner turn up after a drug fuelled party. It’s the mostly dull and pathetic moping to his character that becomes annoying; to emphasise my point I want to mention Oscar Isaac in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ who is a talented musician but a pathetic man who never gets anywhere, that is a film and performance where you still feel connected and engaged, Damon and ‘Downsizing’ are not. Kristen Wiig is made out to be a villain of the piece after ditching her husband but you never really know enough about her to care. Christoph Waltz is an actor I do like watching but recently he’s appeared in some bad films and that’s no exception here, he’s still going with the shtick he’s been pigeonholed into but with extra arrogance. The MVP of the whole movie is Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran who seems to be the only one with emotion and shows some connection to the film she’s acting in unlike everyone else.

It’s the sheer disappointment of what could have been, that lets down this movie massively. The premise has some good moments to start but becomes lost very quickly. I haven’t felt so unenthusiastic or uninterested for quite a while.

5/10

Darkest Hour (2018)

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All hail Gary Oldman, he may not be playing a king in this war drama, but his turn as Winston Churchill is unarguably incredible and deserving of golden awards and a crown.

During May of 1940, Germany are on the attack and reaching the worrying position of heading onto the shores of Britain. People and politicians alike have demanded the resignation of Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and his position becomes available for Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman). At such a crucial point in politics and the war effort, it becomes a huge task for him to stick true to his grit and dogged determination to fight on.

Joe Wright captures this massively important passage of time with such stunning detail. There are plenty of tracking shots that sweep through frames of locations heaving with extras and ornate rooms. Birds eye shots are seen on numerous occasions which truly help the audience realise the scale of the scene; as most of these are overhead shots from the men out on the fields fighting for their lives. This is a film that settles you in and makes the ticking over of these integral dates in May feel as significant as they clearly were.

Cinematography and music combine in this biographical war movie in such a beautiful fashion. There’s a captivating sense of weight to what is seen and heard which perfectly reflects the dramatic choices on Churchill’s shoulders. Sadly, the narrative itself isn’t as in keeping with the captivating score and mise en scene. It’s a screenplay that mostly manages to carry the ordeal of political power at the brink of UK failure but there are times that the film chugs along, almost dragging out the days. Also some scenes/moments just screamed of being contrived for pure cinematic, awards season value. The Underground visit being something that yanked me right out of the film.

Luckily, there isn’t too much that did take me out of the movie and one aspect that really immersed me was the creative skills of the hair and make-up team who have achieved a wonderful character in turning Oldman into the well known war leader. The look is incredible and I forgot through almost the entire feature, that I was watching the actor under such inspired prosthetics.

Speaking of which, Gary Oldman is a force of acting nature as the British bulldog. The inner depths of conflict and concerns whether his decisions are the right price to pay are utterly felt in every delivery of the lines; from nuanced engaging moments between the PM and his wife to more ferocious and sometime humorous words of wisdom that roar to life thanks to the apparent effortless talents of an actor well deserving of all award talk. Kristin Scott Thomas has a serene and wonderful presence in the film. She plays Clementine or ‘Clemmie’ as Winston calls her and the scenes with her are great moments that display her emotions to how her life is but they nicely give us respites in Churchill’s usual fiery resolve and show his human side when not performing. Lily James plays secretary Elizabeth Nel and her role, though softened and there to provide easy ways to inspire Churchill when necessary, isn’t entirely bland. James gives grace and helpful assistance to Winston and the film. I must also mention the wondrous Ben Mendelsohn who plays the stammering King George VI with a gracious believable touch and his change in heart to the once disliked Churchill further gives this film the rousing applause to an iconic figure in history.

The plot may not always be a searing delight, but the spotlight on Churchill’s achievements at the crux of British ruin is an intensely detailed marvel to look at and with Oldman stepping into the shoes and hat with a cigar to hand, Winston has never looked and sounded more alive than in this mesmerising showcase.

8/10

All the Money in the World (2018)

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I must admit I knew nothing of Getty or this 1973 abduction before the film started production and went through the well publicised adjustments. In that sense it’s a film that neatly sheds light on an event in history but it’s not one that fully grabbed me or will stay with me.

Sixteen year old Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) is grandson to the wealthiest man in the world; J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) who made a fortune in oil. Whilst in Rome, the teenager is kidnapped and held for ransom but the tycoon refuses to pay, leaving Paul Getty’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) to try and get her boy back.

It isn’t an understatement to say this movie is receiving a lot of attention due to the Kevin Spacey drama and subsequent re-shoots. This is a fantastic and praise worthy feature just in the comradery and work from all involved to hustle and get back together to replace the in the can scenes with new actor Christopher Plummer; and he is a sensation throughout the film almost stealing the movie with his performance.

Ridley Scott manages to direct an almost fully engaging account of this crime ridden event, it just needed a slight more trimming down as the full film feels too long and it is somewhat of a slow affair considering it’s something that could have been more of a thriller. I left the cinema feeling like I got almost into the story but never truly felt immersed or gripped by it. It isn’t just the dragged out narrative that lets the film down, sadly this whole release will be overshadowed because of what it went through.

The screenplay by David Scarpa based on a 1995 book about the scandal, is one that manages to balance the scales well, showcasing the evil of money on one side and the unrelenting motivation and love from a mother on the other. It’s a film and script that comes into its own by the third act when moments heat up and the ‘thriller’ aspect finally seems to kick in but it’s just a shame that it takes forever to get to this point in a long drawn out kidnap plot that becomes boring to a point.

Michelle Williams is the light and soul of the drama, leading us through the majority of the run-time with a confident and incredible aura. She portrays the emotive strength of a caring mother and backs it up with ease of wits and smarts to counter the wily evils of Getty and his money backed reasoning. Christopher Plummer is a force throughout the film who expertly shows us the gross traits of greed and power, he gifts the film some comedic moments but more in the sense of exasperated laughter at how selfish and mean this man is. Mark Wahlberg brings a certain degree of charisma to a role that sees him play Getty advisor Fletcher Chase. It’s a fairly bland figure just shuttling along with former CIA know-how but it leaves Williams to capably swallow the limelight.

It’s an incredible feat to see a film that has openly gone through last minute changes and yet unlike the dire car crash of ‘Justice League’ this movie demonstrates how alterations can become unseen and effortless, in fact the scenes with ‘Plummer formerly known as Spacey’ are some of the strongest. It might not be a wholly engrossing or riveting film but it’s led by strong acting and an absorbing introduction and a solid third act.

7/10