Hereditary (2018)

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The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In this film, the apple is definitely not ripe for consumption with the family aspect whirled together with secrets and spirits, which makes for a truly alarming nightmarish vision.

Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother has recently passed and whilst trying to hit a deadline with her miniature artwork, she becomes struck with grief. This isn’t helped by a post-party event where Annie’s son, Peter (Alex Wolff) brings more devastation onto the family and things escalate from there.

That’s as much I’ll comment about the plot because it’s definitely best going into this experience with next to no information about what may or may not happen. I call ‘Hereditary’ an experience because it may be labelled as a horror but it’s more than that, it’s a deeply affecting story which immersed me into a troubling world of fraught family ties and emotional over-spill. The horror isn’t from cheap jump scares of which there are like a couple, but instead it’s rooted in the unflinching portrayal of a mother, father, brother and sister facing distressing events.

I tip my virtual hat to director Ari Aster, because for a debut feature length film this is absolutely phenomenal. The directing and writing chops he demonstrates are practically exquisite. He really knows how to hold a microscope over the family and set up a chilling and almost torturous patience in watching the film cleverly build up. A24 and their releases are ones I always eagerly await. Their back catalogue is exceptional and this is no different, they seem to understand fresh talent and provide unique stories in a cinematic landscape often filled with less than original material.

Sound production within this feature is superb, from some almost constant and never calm heartbeat sounding noises over scenes to the tongue clicking which is used in an effectively creepy way. The score itself by Colin Stetson swells in all the right places, which raised the hairs on my arm and made the film that much startling. The design itself and the way the camera moves throughout the house is brilliant. The tracking shots mirror the dolls house worlds Annie creates and the family as characters therefore come across like figures, manipulated by a sinister exterior force.

There are points when it goes a little bit far and odd but aside from this and a couple of slow-ish scenes I think the film is great. I think because it’s 100% something that will stick in my mind and I’ll need to mull it over to work out exactly what my final thoughts are, but I did like it, yes.

Collette is sensational in this movie and hopefully she won’t be overlooked come awards season because her performance is explosive. There’s times when she’s worrying, times when she gives subtle looks of care or something darker and her bursts of grief gripped me like hooks in my flesh. Milly Shapiro carries with her a quiet, haunted and evil feeling which works well. Wolff is so good, the tears, the stares, the frantic screams and concern for where he finds Peter are played perfectly.

It’s very close to being a mind bomb of a movie, leaving me internally screaming WTF but it works so well because of this and the smart way it plays on fear. The film is disturbing and is one I want to experience again.

8/10

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Ocean’s 8 (2018)

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I’ll admit now that I have never seen any of the George Clooney led ‘Ocean’s’ movies, but this stands tall by itself thanks to a sparky cast and I’d not begrudge this doing well enough to gain itself trilogy status.

Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) has spent over 5 years in jail but manages to get out after a parole hearing. All that time inside got her concocting a heist to steal a diamond necklace to be worn at the annual Met Gala in New York. She enlists the help of 6 others, including former crime partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) and hopefully her plan will land them all, a lot of dollar indeed.

The script by Gary Ross and Olivia Milch is the weakest player in the game. There’s not enough twisty turns to keep the hustle flowing and one of the swerves it does throw at you, I guessed before even seeing the film, thanks to the trailers, promotional imagery and the name of the film itself. If you overlook the quite formulaic narrative then you’ll be faced with an enjoyable flick.

Anything that reminds me of the cool swindling found in BBC’s ‘Hustle’ makes me happy and the production quality in certain places of ‘Ocean’s 8’ is stylishly pulled off. There’s a sort of revelry to be had in watching guilty folk being tricked which Mickey, Danny and his television chums did all the time. This film retains some of that but doesn’t quite justify Debbie’s actions as she does it because it’s what she’s good at and for revenge; another showcase of the plot not being as strong or dynamic as it could have been.

I enjoyed little character moments of small scams and the planning aspect has some entertaining quirks, if not slightly stretching in places. Luckily the first Monday in May sequence hits and the ladies do their thing as the Met gets well and truly in the swing of things. This big plan is directed well; bursting with well dressed celebrities, slick editing and just a pinch of light tension. This sequence, like the majority of the movie, is a glamorous joy to sit back and watch.

Bullock and Blanchett are a formiddable duo and are on top form playing the intelligent and crafty leaders. The scheme being no major sweat off their brow is utterly believable, as is Helena Bonham Carter playing failing, scatty Irish fashion designer Rose who is on the brink of ruin. Rihanna gleefully plays tech smart Nine Ball and her reactions are priceless as she sells her character enjoying every second of the work she’s been hired into. Sarah Paulson is great in everything and here as Tammy, she plays equal measure of business confidence and mumsy warmth nicely. I’m not a fan of either Anne Hathaway or James Corden but I have to say that the former is clearly lapping up the fun of her egocentric turn as Daphne Kluger. The latter….well, for once he’s well cast as an annoying, smarmy insurance guy who can get in the way.

‘Ocean’s 8’ is harmless fun and the con work may not be groundbreaking but there’s a ball to be had spotting cameos, admiring dresses and feeling the effortless cinematic chemistry of the eight females on show.

6.5/10

Cargo (2018)

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In the dusty outback of Australia, ‘Sherlock’ star Martin Freeman tries desperately to survive, in what could only be described as bleak conditions. Adapted from a short film idea by the same creators, ‘Cargo’ does feel like it a little weighed down by a full length run-time but it doesn’t stop it being a gritty portrayal of fighting against the odds.

A virus has swept over the world and anyone infected has just 48 hours of human life left, before they turn into flesh seeking zombies. Andy (Martin Freeman) treks the countryside Down Under carrying his baby girl Rosie, trying to find a hospital to combat the effects he carries with him.

What stands out strongest within this post apocalyptic plot, is the character studying. Yolande Ramke writes a powerfully subtle zombie flick by focusing on the behaviours of its characters, also directing with Ben Howling they ensure the movie doesn’t fill us with easy-to-do blood splattered gore or adrenaline pumped tension. They work nicely together in really making you feel for Andy and understand not just him but the people he interacts with from start to finish. Good zombie films are always showing us the true monsters are found in us when people do the nastiest things to stay alive and this feature is no exception.

I must admit that there are times when a little shot more of tension would have been welcome. The 1 hour 40ish length does have a few points where it feels stretched out and having a couple of scenes whittled down would have kept the dramatic punch alive; as if mirroring the narrow time frame Andy has to survive. Also, aside from the clever and well written/acted character work, this isn’t exactly a film that demolishes the genre, if you’ve seen one or two then you’ve seen this one as well.

Aboriginal life gets a spotlight and there’s a good moment when a trapped Aborigine comments on the sickness but relays it back to how their people, their way of living is all but destroyed by white people, Australia has indeed left this tribe of rich culture to struggle in the background. It’s important that this film highlights them and moments including an Aborigine girl are soft, mystical ones that give the film an original spark.

‘Cargo’ may be a film that would be more tense as a thirty minute outing but there’s no denying that Freeman, newcomer Simone Landers and the writing/directing masters have provided Netflix and us a bold social commentary laced with the gnash of zombie thrills.

7/10

My Friend Dahmer (2018)

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Getting what seems is a limited run in UK cinemas, is this biographical tale adapted from a graphic novel, which was created by Backderf; a school friend of the notorious Jeffrey Dahmer. At times disturbing and at others oddly humorous, Marc Meyers’ fourth feature is a slow morbid watch.

During the late 1970’s, Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch) is forced to give up collecting bones and preserving them in jars and make an effort in school. He becomes a tool of entertainment for a small group of friends and with hopeful cartoonist John Backderf (Alex Wolff) leading the way, Dahmer gains attention but also finds himself more attracted to men. He also treads down the dangerous path to understanding what animals and we could be made of.

What’s eerily compelling about the film, is how light it is during many sections. The school based setting, the domestic location and oddball antics set the story up like a coming of age narrative. Though obviously we know it’s more a coming of killer drama. There is, dare I say it, fun to be had in watching Dahmer finally make a connection with classmates and their clowning around is dumb but entertaining.

Then there’s the more troubling environment of Dahmer’s difficult home life, with a busy father and argumentative mother. I don’t know if it’s a good thing that this movie makes you feel sympathy for him as a person, almost justifying his distant behaviour and clear apathy. As the film moves further down the timeline towards Dahmer’s graduation, it becomes a snail-like trek to get through, the back and forths from school and home is a slow burning aspect that actually makes you want to see Jeffrey crack.

The choice to have this film feature next to no music is brave and works nicely, the lack of a manipulating score gives the movie a banality, similar to the empty life Dahmer leads. It’s only in rare moments, of a shopping centre fool around or the later points when he looks to finally snap, that Andrew Hollander’s effort comes in to impact the unsettling nature of this young mans behaviour.

Lynch is the best thing about a film that did have me feeling it was way, way longer than 1 hour 40. The dead stares, hunched shoulders and dropped arms as he mopes through the story are fascinating. He does a great job in drawing you in and its clear to see the warped processes ticking over in his mind.

‘My Friend Dahmer’ does slightly drag and seems to waver weakly in connecting the school antics with his home life, but thanks to a confined feeling of dread mustered by both Lynch and director Meyers, this is an interesting look at how a monster was born.

6/10

 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

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Roaring into cinemas comes the follow up to ‘Jurassic World’; which decimated competition with a dominating box office weekend and currently stands in the top 5 highest grossing movies ever. There’s no sure way to know if this will topple that but I can safely say that it’s a well and truly flogged horse that does little to break new ground.

3 years after the disastrous events at the Jurassic World theme park, an active volcano on the island threatens to wipe out the dinosaurs once again. Now part of a protective group, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is called to return to the scene and rescue the creatures, with the help of former raptor wrangler Owen (Chris Pratt). As the volcano reaches literal boiling point, it becomes clear another tactic hidden from the two of them is at play.

After the amazingly effective original from Steven Spielberg, it’s overwhelmingly clear that these new films have no real idea what to do with the dinosaurs and are throwing them at the screen with CGI aplenty and little to no engaging plot. The narrative strand of weaponising the beasties is picked up again and it tries to expand on that but doesn’t do a great job, the shift in setting is the only marked difference. This is another issue because as soon as the action moves off of Isla Nublar, I found the film to become dreary.

There are so many stupid character decisions made, which can be amusing and when it’s made by a bad guy you don’t mind but there’s also lots of eye rolling moments that happen, when a character we’re meant to root for is in need of an escape that was impossible before. Another problem, is I don’t feel there’s a character to care about, that is obviously a flaw and when intelligent raptor Blue is the only one I side with, that’s not great.

It’s not all doom though. An opening sequence harks back to the neat prehistoric chills from the 1993 movie. There is a nice threat from a looming dinosaur backed by atmospheric lightning flashes. This playing around with light is used quite a bit throughout the feature and is done well I must admit; even with a vaguely amusing Nosferatu-esque dino stalking its prey. I also liked a small claustrophobic scene based in a T-Rex cage, which provided both a shot of tension and a warming inclusion of animatronics. This film does also feel darker in tone to 2015’s outing and a trapped brachiosaurus was a heartbreaking sight that stood out.

One of the reasons I didn’t really connect to or care for the films’ characters is because headliner Chris Pratt is slowly beginning to grate on me. He’s everywhere almost and plays the same kind of roles which are smarmy, wise-cracking, macho heroes. Bryce Dallas Howard injects the film the emotional heart as we see her caring for the dinosaurs even after she helped create the monster problem three years prior. Somehow the script makes this the most boring I’ve ever seen Jeff Goldblum in anything, whilst he picks up an easy paycheck.

If you turn your mind off, then this is a perfectly acceptable and vaguely fun movie but it’s so dumb and loud that I found a lot of it testing my patience and only enjoyed small fractions of a blatant cash grab.

5.5/10

 

 

On Chesil Beach (2018)

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Here is a reunion of sorts, as ‘Atonement’ star Saoirse Ronan and its author team up to tell the story of a young married couple. It’s a small scale tale and one that’s excellently performed, but it’s a film that comes across as quite bland.

Spending their wedding night at a hotel near Chesil Beach; are classical music player Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and country romantic Edward (Billy Howle). As they near the consummation of their marriage, it becomes clear that something could stand in their way.

The 1962 period and quintessential Britishness of the Dorset locations are prettily shot. Sean Bobbitt certainly gives the stretch of uncomfortable looking shingle a vague haunting quality. It also is a place of quiet yet heated reflection which becomes the setting of the revelation that stirs the pot and helps step the film narrative up.

Before this moment, I have to say the movie is quite a slow and dragging affair. There are some humorous moments and within the flashbacks of their courtship, it’s clear to see their adoration but they’re never totally interesting. There’s also the matter, that after the big moment, there’s two points in the plot that are so predictable. Luckily, I can forgive the expect record shop moment and the ending because they’re performed so well that my gut was punched and my eyes almost welled with tears.

Ronan is always an sensational actor to watch and that doesn’t change here. The way she plays the upper class and more stuffy frigid nature of her character is superb, you always buy into Florence’s pained fears of commitment. Howle, surprisingly, stole the film for me. I love Ronan as an actor but I was enthralled by his turn as Edward and especially in the later stages of the film I felt for him.

It’s not a clumsy film but it’s not exactly a serene picture-perfect one either. The acting from the two lovers are what keep the interests just above nap-mode. ‘On Chesil Beach’ comes across like a great Sunday afternoon watch, to have on whilst you’re enjoying a solid British roast dinner.

6/10

The Breadwinner (2018)

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From the studios that gifted us the stunning fantasy feature ‘Song of the Sea’, comes this equally stunning film. There’s a smart combination of visual wonder and coming of age material, but it’s also a story not scared to tackle the troubling setting of a Taliban controlled city.

On the streets of Kabul, a young girl called Parvana (Saara Chaudry) helps her father sell wares to passersby. A heated argument causes a furious Taliban member to arrest him and he’s taken to prison. Parvana has a mother, sister and little brother back at home, who are running out of food and because women aren’t allowed to roam free by themselves, she decides to change her identity in the hope of helping her family and finding her dad again.

This story based off a book by Deborah Ellis is such an honest, textured look on a world far away from the luxuries of Western living. Ellis and Anita Doron have mastered a screenplay that wonderfully juggles the main narrative with a magical story within a story. What works so flawlessly for this film, is the way they aren’t afraid to show how brutal the place can be and how chained women are; by the words of men and society in general. When the film illustrates these times of powerful masculinity beating down on innocents, it’s a significant weight that bears down on you watching and really makes you think.

The animation is gorgeous and there’s two styles on show. The prominent one is a standard but immersive, grounded and dusty drawing of Afghanistan’s capital, one that’s filled with squared off imagery, browns, whites and muted yellows with the odd pop of candy colour. Then there’s the tale narrated within the story, this like ‘Song of the Sea’, is mystical and bursting with a vivid fantasy set-up. The characters that walk this world look like paper puppetry and the flat visuals roll sideways like a bewitching sideshow act.

There might be some that think a character stepping stone reflects a Disney heroine, but Parvana cutting off her hair is where the ‘Mulan’ similarities start and end. Women are deemed fine to walk the city only if they’re covered up and led by a man, otherwise they best be inside. This stifling way of things leads the well-read and smart young girl to bravely make a change and step out into a place dominated by men. A developing friendship with a fellow child on the streets of Kabul is great to watch and important too, it’s her escape, they can share an innocence and much needed play-about antics, but what’s so well presented is their maturity. Where they’ve grown up has made them wise beyond their years, so they know how to try and avoid the dangerous environment that is presented throughout the film.

‘The Breadwinner’ is a film I won’t forget anytime soon, women live in a world of rules, no breathing room and incoming Western threats which aren’t shied away from. I am devastated to see that on a $10 million budget, the film hasn’t even broken $500’000, because this is a film that deserves to be seen and applauded for it’s beautiful story of culture, humour, war, loss, oppression and transformation.

9/10