Juliet, Naked (2018)

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‘Juliet, Naked’ premiered in January this year at the Sundance Film Festival and it couldn’t be more of a Sundance flick; the charming aspects and the unlikely romance are right in the wheelhouse of indie darlings and on the most part, this Jesse Peretz feature works thanks to the effortless matching of its lead actors.

Annie Platt (Rose Byrne) is stuck in a seaside town thanks to boyfriend Duncan Thomson (Chris O’Dowd), some of her resentment is due to her job but some boils down to Duncan’s love of a rock star named Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), whose music Annie finds intolerable. One day she receives an email from the mysterious musician himself and they begin a 100/1 relationship.

Throughout this darling song of a movie there are a rare couple of comedic moments and though it’s not as outright funny as certain scenes had room to be, what works much better are the dramatic notes that are lyrically added to the appealing narrative. This is a film, almost like a melodic tale of love and regrets, parenting and loneliness and these themes are handled in a great heart-felt manner.

When you have source material from Nick Hornby; novelist of High Fidelity and About a Boy and screenwriter of ‘Brooklyn’ then you know to expect a romantic tale with plenty to say and thematic weight to keep the characters going to their end goals. This adaptation from the 2009 book of the same name works in the sense that you feel a faint smile on your face appear as you watch the relationship of Tucker and Annie grow. The warming sensation of a feel-good film can’t be beaten.

Here is perhaps where I am being critically unfair but the similarly driven ‘Hearts Beat Loud’, also premiering at the same Sundance, managed to capture a great mix of light comedy, fantastic songs, romance and family emotion whereas this more recent release doesn’t quite. There’s something not entirely perfect about this film which I felt the Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons music based movie reached closer to.

Rose Byrne is utterly sensational as Annie; the emotive range is great and she really makes us like her character. She lovingly handles every beat of the journey Annie goes on and the way she performs the disappointments of her life and love for 15 years are really believable. Ethan Hawke as this apparently seminal music star, gives grit and reflective thought to a man clearly unused to the extended family he has and the role as a father he’s meant to live up to. The moments between him and Byrne, whether through email voice-over or in person are touching and yes that word again, charming.

So whilst ‘Juliet, Naked’ might not be as endearing as other rom-coms, there’s a strong character duo to watch and the bittersweet indie aspect of their connection more than make up for the likelihood of its forgettable nature.

6.5/10

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Coco (2018)

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Bursting with music and magic; Pixar are back with a triumph of animated art and festival folklore that is smart, spirited and pure pleasure.

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) has grown up in a family solely (pun intended) focused on making shoes. Frustratingly for him, his passion is with music but that is extremely frowned upon by those around him. On Dia de Muertos also known as The Day of the Dead, Miguel races to his idol’s resting place. Inside de la Cruz’s (Benjamin Bratt) mausoleum the young hopeful musician takes a guitar and finds himself on the other side with the throngs of the dead travelling back to see their families.

The huge Mexican holiday is brought to vivid and stunning life in this colourful and utterly beautiful animation. Pixar have always been a studio that I’ve loved following and after a large dip in quality and tired couple of years with sequels, it’s fantastic to see them release something original and back to the heights they’ve hit with films such as ‘Toy Story 3’ and ‘Wall-E’.

The team of animators deserve infinity applause because how they’ve taken storyboards to the finished product is breathtaking. The detail in not just the characters faces but in the plentiful lush backgrounds of the scenes; especially in the Land of the Dead are exceptional. There is such intense colour and warmth festive culture to be felt bursting from the screen. The Day of the Dead is a rich fruit ripe for the picking and after the musical and underrated ‘The Book of Life’, Pixar have also struck gold in finding a poignant and expressive coming of age story within this vibrant Mexican holiday.

‘Remember Me’ is the anthem of this film and it finds itself sung a few times and each one is presented differently in light of the tone within that current scene. It’s no surprise it has been collecting nominations during awards season as one version of this track; coming quite close to the end of the movie, is tear-jerking and filled with heart and soul that gladly made me forget the simplistic Disney-fied outings of ‘The Good Dinosaur’ or ‘Finding Dory’. Throughout this animated fantasy adventure; the music hits toe-tapping heights and soars through the narrative like another character.

What I enjoy most about this film, is that it doesn’t dumb down to it’s younger audience goers, it portrays a gloriously moving and celebratory tradition with thought provoking effect in such a way that children and families can all enjoy and understand the world presented to them. The emotional idea of being forgotten is such a powerful message and directed by Lee Unkrich and written by Matthew Aldrich & Adrian Molina, this strong core is never mishandled.

The great days of Pixar are here again and fingers crossed they remain, because this is a colourful and joyful movie that made me hope, dream, laugh and cry. There may be some predictable moments the story goes to but it doesn’t take away from how thoroughly engaging and spectacular this film is.

8.5/10

 

The Boy and the World (2013)

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One of the most interesting animations I have ever ever seen, this multi award winning Brazilian movie will stick with me for it’s refreshing originality, message and complexity. I only wish I’d seen it before now but at least I’ve seen it and I hope it reaches a wide audience because it deserves large viewer ship.

A young boy living in a house away from the hubbub of a fictional city with his mum and dad, sees his father leave by train one day. He keeps seeing his dad even when he’s not there so one day the child decides to board a train and try to reunite his family leading him to see more and more of the world.

Ale Abreu’s direction is near flawless; the decisions he makes in expanding this textural world are luscious and seamless. Each scene or new landscape is a transition of pure poetry with lines sprawling into the next white screen to create the next new location. He certainly knows how to direct an animation that speaks volumes even when there is no dialogue.

That’s the thing, with a film of next to no talking this film is rich and weighty and just sublime. There may be a couple of ideas in Abreu’s screenplay that lost me, whether it’s endless dads or the pre-ending home scene but all in all this is a cleverly written script that utilises on a rainbow world for children with grown up themes and very oppressing visuals and subtext to hit home for the adult watchers.

When moving on to the animation, it must be said that you’ve not seen anything like this before, almost guaranteed as we see ever growing worlds filled with technology, absurdity and newspaper cuttings mixed in with the hand-drawn like characters. It’s artwork is mesmerising, just the opening alone with it’s kaleidoscopic and hypnotising lines and swirls draw you into the bright world. A video game looking section as shipping containers get sucked into glass domes or the first train sequence filled with white rails and a black screen shuttling us into the city land are two further examples of how amazingly unique this film is.

Ruben Feffer and Gustavo Kurlat more than make this film too, with their engaging musical contribution. The festival atmosphere and harmonic singing from time to time is distinctive and then there’s the neat sound used. Accordions for car horns or clapping when rain hits the ground. It’s a film fascinatingly magical in colour and sound.

I must also comment on a moment when the cartoon burns and peels away, what an impacting surprise and though there’s been hints to the deep presence of life and Earth shattering changes before now, this is when we fully see one message of this film which raised hairs on my arm and neck. This film is political but not overly so that cute critters and colourful innocence still keep interest for the little watchers.

Apart from a tiny sprinkle of confusion and white screen pain this animation is sensational and I feel better for having watched such an interesting and vibrant story.

8.5/10

 

 

 

Cop Car (2015)

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Simple but effective. I do adore these movies that follow that mantra. It shows that something seeming basic can be all that’s needed. A dodgy sheriff, two runaway lads and an abandoned police car are the main ingredients for the set up and it helps build a tense and satisfying final product.

Harrison and Travis are running away from home and their respective guardians. They stop at a wooded area of land when they see a cop car, soon they realise it’s empty and they build up to taking it for a joyride. Of course, Sheriff Kretzer (Kevin Bacon) is none too pleased to come back and find his vehicle has disappeared for reasons you may not expect also. These two boys gleeful folly behind the wheel could become the drive of their lives as the Sheriff gets hot on their tails.

Jon Watt’s direction is bliss, neatly setting up location as a rusty, dusty dwelling with vulnerable and naive characters thrown right in the mix, you feel the danger for the boys from the outset. Then he neatly shows the twisted values from the long arm of the law with the Sheriff being a figure not to trust. I won’t go any further but he’s one ticked off antagonist. Watt certainly knows how to grip his audience with the opening providing that uneasy set-up and continuing it from time to time as the cop car bounds along the movie run time.

Watts joins with Christopher Ford to write this film and it’s scripted beautifully. The two boys are drawn well with their love of adult language being like all pre-teens, then they shift wonderfully as they get over the heads in cop catastrophes. The way they cut back in time with their screenplay is great, it introduces us to the Sheriff and sheds light on just what may be even worse for Harrison and Travis by taking the vehicle. Oh and though there’s some shaky processes as the film progresses, I lapped up the ending with it being morosely ambiguous.

It does have some predictable moments, such as the stand off on a clear long strip of road, the introduction of a new character however well acted, also weakens from just the approaching doom of the Sheriff hunting down the kids. We also never really gauge who this new character is, why the kids want to run off and what happens to that poor cow!?

Kevin Bacon is killer grouchy as this determined sheriff to keep his name clean at all costs. He does hold a suitable amount of menace and swagger that makes him a cop to fear. The cold stare in his eyes is near constant which adds to why it should just be him providing the obstacles for the boys. Hays Wellford and James Freedson-Jackson portray Harrison and Travis and they did grate on me for the first quarter/third of the film, it’s hard to have kids and animals as they say but by the end, these two actors proved they’re capable and showed the emotion needed in their dire situation. Shea Whigham crops up too and provides a crazy eyed routine, a nasty speech and a character with desperation that peaks and peaks.

It may not be the thrill ride I’d hoped it would be, or the horror road trip I sensed from the trailer but it’s screeching with tension, Kevin Bacon is smoothly chilling throughout and ‘Cop Car’ comes through with grit and awareness.

7/10

Everly (2015)

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Grimy and bloody, this character motivated action thriller is slim on plot pickings and only stays watchable because of the charisma in Salma Hayek and certain fine moments of style within the main frame of the movie.

Everly (Salma Hayek); a prostitute working for criminal nasty Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe) finds herself holed up in her apartment after a misery of sex and torture. Trying to escape to see her mother and daughter, Everly finds her route out of the building a tough ask as all forces come to try and kill her and take the hit money hanging over her head.

In some ways, perhaps a skewed version of what I hoped it could be, this movie appears in style and simplicity like ‘The Raid.’ Of course, not anywhere as near as fun or stylish but it has leaps of flair from time to time and the basic plot structure is reminiscent of Rama’s journey through dull battle torn buildings. This film however does seem even more stripped of interest and therefore the story becomes thin and the bloody nature of the action surfaces in a more exploitative way than necessary.

Joe Lynch does a neat thing with his direction, the shadows and explosive aftermath of Everly’s deteriorating home are seen in cool frames or lighting and even some snappy Edgar Wright like edits come to fruition for Lynch’s vision of making the movie more pacy and blood pumping. The end starts weakening but on the whole he’s a director that knows how to shoot these kind of all out barmy yet simple action fests. Oh and also, check out his Venom/Brock short called ‘Truth in Journalism’, I saw it a couple of years ago and it’s marvellous.

The entire film seems to squander excitement by getting stuck in one place. At first I liked the idea of it being centered on the entrapping nature of Everly’s predicament but by the end, the apartment is a place you’d never hope to see again and utterly get sick of. At least ‘The Raid’ has movement and ‘Rope’ has the one shot take wonder going for them, this feature doesn’t fall back on any cool tricks.

Yale Hannon’s screenplay is gimmicky, with arguing call girls, shady Asians and a feisty capable strong woman somehow knowing how to combat even the SWAT team drag this film quite very nearly into the swirling abyss. There isn’t much great dialogue to listen to, for an action film of this calibre you want action but it’d be nice to have some believable character process to and all of Everly’s lines are pithy even with Hayek doing her best.

Salma Hayek is a brutal feminine warrior who won’t back down and she portrays this scared yet ready female with sheer conviction. I honestly think the film survives because of utilising on a dependent heroine. Hayek gives both emotion and gritty kick ass skills. I liked Akie Kotabe’s Dead Man, who for a small-ish role is actually interestingly nice for the story and stands out. Watanabe doesn’t really power through, appearing for the final piece of the film as the big bad, he’s believably calm and violent but nothing outstanding for the evil menace manipulating Everly’s life until that point.

It doesn’t feel brutally silly just brutal and in that this movie becomes a bloody mess of something you keep watching but don’t want to see again. It has a few peaks of directing style and enigmatic fierceness in Hayek but they’re two points that don’t save it from feeling VHS nasty.

5/10

God Help the Girl (2014)

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This is a quirky film to say the least and one that will most probably divide people down the middle like Moses and the Red Sea. I think I’m the wrong crowd for it, or possibly not full of the heart it tries to enchant but nevertheless it’s still a somewhat sweet affair.

After absconding from hospital Eve (Emily Browning) heads to Glasgow in the search to follow her dream of music success. At a gig she meets a fellow musician called James (Olly Alexander) who in turn introduces Eve to a student of his, Cassie (Hannah Murray). The trio instantly get on and push forwards into trying to make a band and have their shot at being part of music history.

Scripted and directed by a member of a band quickly gives this film a melodic touch, Stuart Murdoch from Belle and Sebastian knows how to capture music if not a surefire hit of a movie. The entire feature comes across like a wafting Kate Bush video and from the beginning as Eve breaks away and sings into the camera you know you’re in for something really different, but this isn’t exactly a good kind of different in my eyes.

The look of the film keeps on course with the feel of the simple plot. Maybe for softer hearted folk the dreamy aspect and twee fashions will enthrall or at least delight but for me and I’m sure others it becomes a film that feels achingly slow and pretentious. The styles of this cool cats may be on trend but the whole show is too hipster for its own good and especially as James whines on about trends and music lore it wades into watery drivel.

The oddness isn’t a huge flaw though as certain shots of Glasgow capture the imagination and numerous uses of faded frames layered over close ups and such carry on that more independent selling tag this film proudly waves. Some weird dance choreography is exactly that; weird but delightfully so as legs sway back and forth or people just generally look like they’re having fun but alas we’re not in the same party boat as them.

The music and lyrics by Murdoch are filled mostly with piano and a backing of guitar that feel indie and chic but after a short time they tire and the way the tracks are played in and mimed feels wholly messed around with, i.e studio echoes and auto-tune. The songs aren’t wishy washy per say but they don’t excite or have the same emotional pull that ‘Once’ managed to do on a small budget and similar style plot.

There’s a degree of fun to be had in seeing a fun screaming horde of chasers parodying The Beatles and a neat yet surreal sight of a Julie Andrews woman riffing on The Sound of Music. The breaking of the fourth walls during songs is actually a neat thing to keep going and the stunning Browning is a great lead to keep you watching even when you wonder why you still are.

Emily Browning is an interesting lovely face and talent to watch and with her character’s problem, which I won’t spoil, you do connect to her and the end is bittersweet but right. As she goes on she grows in self-confidence and you really feel that, the journey of Eve transforming as she looks more like Babydoll from ‘Sucker Punch’ as the film plays out. Olly Alexander is an alright male lead, he gets annoying and fast and that’s it really. Hannah Murray plays another Cassie, this time not a dreamer from ‘Skins’ but a student with a love of music and loyalty to James and Eve as they play their tunes.

This is more of an art like project than a fully functioning film and though I know plenty will like it for it’s charm and playfulness, I couldn’t get past the barrier of hipster material and soft crooning which made it drag with little substance to justify.

4.5/10