Wild Rose (2019)

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The lead in this musical drama has the words ‘three chords and the truth’ tattooed on her arm. Here are three words and nothing but the truth about ‘Wild Rose’; authentic meaningful satisfaction. And another word because I cannot contain myself – outstanding.

Freed from jail after 12 months, Rose-Lynn (Jessie Buckley) returns to her mam and 2 children but the home sweet home life has never really suited her. She’s a boozer, a force that can’t be tamed and country music swells in her bloodstream. Rose-Lynn only wants to make a name for herself in Nashville but juggling a cleaning job and having a family brings up what really matters.

‘Wild Rose’ contains this inescapable family aspect and director Tom Harper ensures that the carefree Glaswegian antics never overshadow the true feeling of the story. Perhaps his work on shows like ‘This is England 86’ have helped him craft that narrowing in on struggling family units and it pays off wonderfully in this feature.

Rose-Lynn’s home life is engrossing in its richness and it serves as an ideal series of notes in her narrative songbook. By the time we reach the final showstopping moment, with the camera lingering on those closest to the aspirational singer, you’d have to possess no empathy to not be moved to tears by the destructive, yet beautiful smacks of power, heart and delight shown on screen.

In this movie, Glasgow itself becomes a character. It embodies life, entrapment, hope, pain and growth which Rose-Lynn mirrors in fine measure, this helps really make you understand her roots, so by the time she touches down in the shiny world of Nashville you cannot help but know this glittery city, overrun with similar dreamers may not be the oasis she yearned for after all.

Along the way, there are a few parts which sniff of almost whacking in obstacles every other scene, just to keep raising the stakes and adding weight to Rose-Lynn’s personal tug of war but the sheer majesty of her vocals instantly makes you forgive these minor broken strings, on an otherwise finely tuned film.

Jessie Buckley pours her absolute all into this role and therefore her character crackles with life and pure soul. She is wonderful at capturing a feisty energy and emoting Rose-Lynn’s struggles with heart-wrenching power. It’s not just running amok in Scotland and beyond that make her fun to watch, up on stage or on a webcam, Buckley is a firecracker with a voice which gives you goosebumps and can also soothe you with a twang of joy. Julie Walters is a marvellous treasure; her connection to Rose-Lynn and her children are magnificent and you utterly invest into every scene she appears in.

Music can be such a megaton of power and through the truth and storytelling qualities of the country scene, ‘Wild Rose’ is one of those musical gems with something to say and it’s leading lady is a rising star to be reckoned with.

8/10

 

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The Sisters Brothers (2019)

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On horseback, from Oregon to San Francisco comes this dark-comedy Western which may not exactly spring out the saloon doors but has enough cinematic artistry to prevent it blowing like some yawn-some tumbleweed in the breeze.

Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) are the Sisters Brothers; a pair of assassins who are hired by a wealthy gent to track down and violently extract information from a man named Hermann Warm (Riz Ahmed), who may have a formula to aid finding gold.

It has to be said first of all, that the cast on display in this film are a magnificent bunch. The four main characters are extremely talented and put on a satisfying show, to really lure you into this well-worn world of Western dramatics. It’s a shame then that the film has multiple points where it attempts conflict and humour but doesn’t quite succeed on either.

Co-writers Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, who worked together on ‘A Prophet’, manage to drop in some nice flourishes though. Be it Eli’s bedtime routine with a red shawl to the weakening state of his horse, it’s the character based details that triumph more than the whole. It’s a finely tuned exploration of connection and strife but the entire film does not quite echo that sentiment.

Glows of orange and yellows in the beautiful cinematography of a country landscape not only add wonder but it provides dusty intrigue to a tale about family. The film is strongest in the contemplative moments and self-reflection from the brothers. Eli and Charlie are a great representation of sibling life; they bicker, fight, laugh and ultimately they support each other. The gorgeous deserts, hills, streams and towns appear almost like painted backdrops for the pair to play in front of.

Even if the film doesn’t hold court from beginning to end, the final short scene is perhaps the most delightful and saves the long wait to get there. We witness a lovely, homely set-up which perfectly demonstrates the relationship of the Sisters Brothers. A use of a near un-edited tracking shot, flowing through this last sequence adds to the calm denouement.

Phoenix is energetic and feels like the Joker of the duo, he is blissfully happy to follow orders, drink and kill whereas Reilly does well in the more thoughtful role, Eli is a man of aspiration and love. Together, the actors provide splendid yin and yang.

Gold shimmers, guns crackle and horses gallop in a story which strides down a much beaten Western trail but thanks to a brotherly bond, the film however long in its journey, is an interesting one.

6.5/10

Dumbo (2019)

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Another Disney remake is in town, though this time it tries something different to show off because it’s inspired from the short 64 minute run-time of 1941’s ‘Dumbo’. This grants filmmaker Tim Burton the chance to go above and beyond, but does he?

The Medici Brothers Circus; led by Max (Danny DeVito) pulls in punters across America and with the arrival of a new baby elephant he hopes to show off a new hot attraction. However, this cute calf has freakishly large ears which two young children learn can help him fly. The arrival of Vandevere (Michael Keaton), an owner of a hugely popular amusement park sees Max, Dumbo and his circus troupe hit bigger but more troubling heights.

Considering this film has the zany, possibly former brilliance of Burton behind the camera, you’d expect the element of circus life, freaks and outcasts to be right up his twisted street but this quickly becomes a movie that fails to soar, and is far from the engagingly dark and playful retelling it should be.

Calling it boring would be a smidge too harsh but it definitely drags its lumbering ears throughout and feels like a movie that never, ever needed to be remade; the extra story feels totally wasted and unexciting. It’s a Disney big-top event which will have you almost wanting a refund on your ticket, unless you’re a teeny tot amused by the antics of li’l Dumbo.

To be fair, there are some good aspects. A final shot is awesome and is jaw droppingly beautiful in the way it stirs up ‘Planet Earth’ vibes with a lick of paint from the House of Mouse. The baby elephant himself is captivating as heck it has to be said, the CG animators have created life in the eyes of Dumbo, his dopey blue sparklers and his adorable smile do wonders in loving this floppy-eared creature.

Now, more than the overstretched plot and plodding nature of it all comes my biggest disappointment with the movie. The Pink Elephants on Parade portion may as well be non-existent because what this family feature does is present a dull, short bubble show devoid of any trippy quality which Tim Burton was 100% the man to provide. The classic cartoon from the very start of the 40’s still manages to be one of the most amazingly animated excursions into weird hallucinogenic wonder, but if you’re eagerly awaiting a clever, twisted take on that sequence then leave your expectations at the door.

DeVito is as DeVito as ever and the boisterous mannerisms are greatly played. Colin Farrell seems to limp and whine through in a role that sees him struggling to be dad and performer, till the obvious latter stage breakthrough. Keaton puts on what I can only assume is a drawl of an accent to seem showy but it’s distinctly odd and he’s far from an excellent villain, in fact some earlier Rufus character possessed more sneer than the Dreamland owner.

1941’s ‘Dumbo’ had you believing an elephant can fly and now in 2019 he jets off again but this re-imagining is grounded thanks to having next to zero oomph and spirit and the unshakeable fact that it never needed to be made.

5/10

Us (2019)

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‘Get Out’ saw Jordan Peele step onto the movie scene in the most exciting way. ‘Us’ might not be as strong a movie as his 2017 debut but it still confirms him as a necessary cinematic voice and exceptional visionary.

Holidaying to a beach house are the Wilson family and whilst dad Gabriel (Winston Duke) hopes to revel in the fun of summer, his wife Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is concerned about the location due to a dark moment from her childhood. One night, Adelaide, Gabriel and their two children are terrorised by a sinister family who look just like them.

What Peele does so well is devise really interesting takes on genre movies. Horror can be a cheap, stale affair laden with jump-scares but with the racial and political angle skewed throughout ‘Get Out’ and now with this fear of what lies beneath our very own skin taken to extreme measures, Peele solidifies himself as an intelligent creator to keep an eye on and anticipate his next step.

It isn’t solely his idea that works but the content of his dreams; the mixture of suspense, blood-curdling unease and comedy throughout ‘Us’ is a perfect recipe, so it’s a fine shame that the entire film isn’t as impeccable a prescription. Around 30 minutes before the end, the movie starts losing its way mostly because it’s like Peele has mishandled his grasp of the pacing and his twinning horror takes over. It’s as the fearsome folk in red are explained more in somewhat patronising terms that Peele’s second feature grows less focused and tries shovelling a lot in; so much so that however enjoyable the end product is, ‘Us’ is a movie that 100% calls for repeat viewings because not all of it can be delightfully discerned in one sitting.

On the plus side, it is a horror film with chills ringing out from it’s very heart. The atmosphere on the most part is suitably creepy and the house invasion portion is a masterclass in building and then sustaining tension. The family (who don’t wield the golden scissors) possess a wonderful dynamic, their banter, kill list arguments, ups and downs and car journeys truly make you buy into their unit then you have each of their nightmarish reflections, who are not just guaranteed 2019 Halloween costumes but spine-tingling comments on the nature of doppelgangers and our inner evil.

Nyong’o is divine as the matriarch of the family, she is categorically untouchable as a performer through the film; with both sides of the Adelaide coin being flipped wonderfully. If horror were more recognised by the Academy, Lupita Nyong’o would be a shoe-in for a golden nomination because her performance draws you in like some hypnotic trance and you can’t look away from the screen as both versions of her absolutely dominate.

If it wasn’t for the last stages spewing over into something that expands too much and weakens the stone-hard grip on the Wilson quad, then ‘Us’ would no doubt have been a favourite film of mine for years to come, though as it stands, it’s still a delectable horror with chilling music, well-scripted thrills and comedy.

7.5/10

Fighting with my Family (2019)

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Stepping out as solo director, for the first time onto the cinematic mat, is Stephen Merchant who referees this biographical film with a fervent eye on stocking plenty of comedy throughout but he never lets that choke-hold the life and affection out of the movie.

Growing up in Norwich in a family of avid wrestlers, Saraya (Florence Pugh) has come to love the sport and become a dab hand at it too. Along with her brother Zak (Jack Lowden) she attends some World Wrestling Entertainment tryouts in London and only she makes the grade but while she’s away in America training to get signed, her wrestling moniker of Paige may be a far reach as she feels like a fish out of water in tenacious new surroundings.

From the sidelines this looked like a movie which would be average at best but it exceeds the hum-drum of other cliched sports dramas based on real people. A big reason why it does is thanks to a constant bolt of energy that runs through the film, be it from the near constant chimes of comic one-liners or from the sensationally good performances from all involved.

Yes it does follow a clear formula paved by similar coming-of-age stories but it beams with such a positive conviction that there’s no way this movie will find itself on the ropes. It may have helped that as a local lad living in Norwich, there’s some glee to be had in spotting places close to home but there’s a general measure of hilarity and zany passion in the Norfolk family unit of which we’re presented that you can’t help but buy into the story.

If you can forgive predictable moments such as what people might say or do, what music may swell into place or even the motion a camera may move in at specific points then you’re faced with an undeniably radiant film that you cannot help but root for and ultimately like…a lot. It’s a film that knows how to capture drama on both sides of the pond. Stephen Merchant has a good grip on showcasing the glossy States as being a maker and breaker of dreams; America can be shiny and bright but it’s also tough and unflinching. Writer/director Merchant documents both the family bond and the vulnerability of Saraya’s newfound environment with humour and heart.

One thing is for sure; we are not worthy of Florence Pugh’s talent. She is a powerhouse of likeability through every second of what we see. Be it through her gritted teeth whilst flipping tyres or the lovingly witty repertoire she exudes with her brother, mum and dad; ‘Fighting with my Family’ is a lot better off by having Pugh involved. I could gush forever but her performance is magnetism personified. Lowden is equally as fierce; the moments of Zak’s developing bitterness are heartfelt and you can definitely hear his anger through just his looks alone.

It may not be lifting up a championship belt anytime soon but there’s enough charm, soul and well-scripted comedy to make this a film a winner you’ll happily cheer for.

7.5/10

Leave No Trace (2018)

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‘Leave No Trace’ is a powerful story of connection and director Debra Granik uses the delectable backdrop of nature to put across this theme, more than this and why the film is such a gem is that Granik never over-cooks the drama and instead relies on the comforting presence of her actors to be magnificent.

Will (Ben Foster) is a veteran and suffers from PTSD, he finds solace and home with his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) in a public park but one day they are seen and social services tries taking them in to a world with more amenities but how will Will and Tom cope?

Straight out of the bat I have to admit that this was a film I watched on a flight, so the screen size didn’t wholly do the movie justice and my surroundings weren’t ideal so it didn’t draw me in as it may have done had I been in a cinema but considering my environment I must say this is a heartfelt watch which needn’t rely on bells and whistles to manipulate emotions, it just centres brilliantly on the performers and the majesty of nature to do a great job.

Coming off her last feature film ‘Winter’s Bone’, Granik sure knows how to capture the highs and lows of a world removed from buildings, vehicles and civilisation. There’s something so transfixing about this film which Granik handles wonderfully, a lot of that I feel is her knowing how to frame the leafy home of Will and his child to settle into you like some relaxation tape.

Another fabulous quality of ‘Leave No Trace’ is that it doesn’t rely on swelling music to mould your thought process, the film in fact is gladly dependent on the naturalistic sounds of an abundantly crisp environment. Cracking branches, rustling wind or crackling fires become a perfect soundscape to make you feel as if you’re alongside the characters out in the open air. Colour is another great tool, it’s a very green film not just from the trees and shrubbery but even in the clothes that are worn which all work in bolstering the lush landscape which has and always will be home to these two characters.

Quite easily this could have been a feature suffering from fatigue but it’s quite the opposite because of the performances by Foster and McKenzie. The former plays the emotional disconnect just right as we learn about his conditions and past which only goes and makes the final moments that much more heart-rendering, beautifully pitched by him and his young co-star who is a revelation. She really makes her character someone to connect and root for and breaks through as an immense talent to keep an eye on.

Whether playing chess or bonding over beehives, this father and daughter tale is a natural delight which has moments of sweetness and feels incredibly real to watch.

7.5/10

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

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DreamWorks Animation close the curtains to the much loved ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ franchise after a long wait since 2014 due to needing more time to animate and new acquirers Universal taking over the studios. Is the film worth a 5 year wait or should the film have remained in its own hidden world?

The land of Berk’s dragon population is increasing, as Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) continues to rescue the creatures from hunters. After remembering the words of his father about a far off place where dragons roam at the end of the world, Hiccup realises he must move the island residents in the hope of finding this area but with a new deadly foe named Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) tracking their every move, Hiccups best friend Toothless becomes a target.

In terms of story, this final outing for the series is less than stellar. Annoyingly the hidden world of the title is hardly shown and it’s a real shame the plot doesn’t decide to stretch a little longer to actually let us wallow in the wonder of the twinkling majesty the animators have created here. Generally speaking this third entry written by director Dean DeBlois is the weakest of them all and it boils down to the narrative being less than special; not feeling any different to the previous two and therefore it lands with little interest.

Gladly the visuals themselves keep the captivation levels high, because the work of the animation team is drop dead gorgeous. The detail of each characters face and the way they inhabit the world is mesmerising as are the colours and designs for the countless dragons on display. A lot of this beauty is thanks to the great textures utilised making a lot of the background scenery look almost photo-realistic. Fire, water and glowing caves all contribute to make this Viking environment feel as wonderful as possible.

Admittedly, there is a satisfying level of humour attached to the film, be it general knuckle-head humour, Toothless as this dopey eyed dog/dragon or Kristen Wiig being brilliantly infuriating as Ruffnut, the jokes work where the meaty side of the story doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

Along the way there are some flurries of fun action and a faint pitter-patter of sad emotion works but overall it’s a story that wasn’t totally worth the wait, only the animation itself is. If only the film had the courage to go deeper, be darker and commit to flaunting the hidden world instead of being its most safe feature yet.

7/10