I Feel Pretty (2018)

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Sigh. I mean first of all, let me say that I’m not an Amy Schumer fan, so going into this was always likely to lead to pained reactions. In that sense, this film isn’t a disappointment because it is painfully unfunny and a right drag to complete.

Renee (Amy Schumer) helps control the website for a major cosmetics company, but she’s hidden away in a basement and on top of this she’s getting increasingly annoyed at the way society views woman who don’t conform to the stereotypical attractive ‘look’. After an accident at SoulCycle, Renee comes around and thinks she’s changed and become the typically gorgeous woman she always wished to be, but to the bemusement of those round her because she looks exactly the same.

Obviously this film is squaring on a message of powerful self identity and appreciating yourself no matter how you look or what others think and say, which is all well and good but there’s times when it doesn’t follow that road with great conviction and other times when it slams the audience over the head with excruciatingly on the nose dialogue, time and time again forcing the values home, of loving who you are.

The above issue of overbearing and patronising writing to deliver a theme wouldn’t be so bad, if we were at least distracted by some great moments of comedy, but there is none of that to be found. I didn’t laugh once, I counted 9 others in the screen and not one of those watchers laughed or chuckled either. It’s just so boring and seems to rely on the incessant yammering of Renee which is more annoying than amusing. As with Melissa McCarthy movies, these two female performers tend to literally fall back on the uninspired method of prat falling to try and elicit laughter….and I ain’t biting.

I don’t doubt that Schumer has talent and can be charming, but her turn as Renee is horrendous and she’s almost the villain of the piece because I just couldn’t ever connect to her or like her. There’s a couple of places near the beginning where Schumer is fine to watch and made me think this movie could be alright but then it gets worse. Michelle Williams? Yes, why is she in this, again at first I thought she could be great, a kind of Jesse Plemmons in ‘Game Night’ comedic supporting character, but she loses any of her icy fashionista aura and her child-doll voice gets ever irritating.

As said, this was never going to be a film for me, but then it’s great when a movie can subvert expectations and all films should possess that chance. This one never ever gets close to the chance of becoming a fun or funny watch. By the end of it, I Felt pretty close to falling asleep.

2.5/10

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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

 

Bare (2015)

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Almost like a spiritual journey, this film brings together dramatic moments and a sort of coming of age vibe as the main character learns about herself when undergoing new experiences. It’s not exactly the most engaging, entertaining or exciting film but led by an absorbing Dianna Agron it keeps the interest up to an average level.

Supermarket cashier Sarah Barton (Dianna Agron) finds a drifter in the antiques shop owned by her family. Pepper (Paz de la Huerta) has contacts in the local strip joint and it isn’t long until normally innocent Sarah is wrapped up in a world of drugs, stripping and Pepper herself.

Directed and written by Natalia Leite, this film has to be fair, a good structure and follows the struggles of Sarah as well as can be expected. It feels and sounds like a very indie movie, what with Pepper spieling off comparisons to herself being an octopus or the smoky, wafty way we see drug trips or the lesbian affair between the two females. Leite seems to do less well with offering up any riveting insight into the strip club world or the characters around it.

The environment we see comes across in a feeling kind of way, if I can write that making sense!? What I mean is that Reno, Nevada and the Blue Room club possess an atmosphere as if speaking a story to us but sadly the characters don’t hold much gripping investment. There is a spiritual mood to this Tribeca Film Festival premiered film and you vaguely get swept up into a feminine vulnerability and sexual whirl but by the end everything feels a bit dry and forgettable.

It is a good debut for Leite though, showing that she knows how to present the strained longings of a woman trapped in a place, wanting out but not knowing what to expect on that other side. The people, muttering about each other or customers blinkered to the boredom of everyday life speak volumes and Sarah as the hopeful wanderer getting a chance meeting with the experienced and unstable Pepper is a great pairing that at least sets off an initial spark even if it doesn’t light up as bright as it could.

There’s good music to be had, that seems to float in without you knowing, nothing pumps distractingly over the top of scenes, it’s there in a good way just as a meandering background noise that enhances that consistent spiritual quality. At times, it sounds like the angelic tones to be heard in the awesomely sound-tracked ‘Drive’, that characteristic music aiding the story well.

Dianna Agron jumps from the cheerleader steps of ‘Glee’ to this more exposed and much more dynamic role of Sarah. She goes in without any trepidations and bares her art in a performance that’s believable and fragile. You stay with the film because of her journey and the way she makes Sarah come alive, not just because I’m slightly more than in love with her! Paz de la Huerta is just right for the wild one, her crazy look and stumbling words make Pepper a totally believable character even if she doesn’t have much more do than set off Sarah’s new path.

A concoction of sex, identity and progression all tumble together in a pretty neat manner, only let down by a sometimes lack of interest and solid ideas throughout the feature.

5.5/10

Anomalisa (2015)

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Entrancingly sombre and creative; Charlie Kaufman is back but with stop-motion to add to his unique repertoire. It’s a wonderful new layer on top of a beautifully thoughtful story, which even though it isn’t his strongest, it becomes more engaging because of the way everything looks. As if an anomaly itself, this is a movie that deserves the praise and award nominations because it is such a distinct animated sensation.

Self help customer service guru Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is staying over at a Cincinnati hotel for one night before the next day’s book reading. However everyone sounds and appears the same to him, that is until he encounters Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who he falls for and wants to run away with.

I have been aching to see this film for ages, from the first time I saw the trailer and got captivated by how Kaufman it looked. As an added bonus it was stop-motion which is an art form I love and admire for the patience people have to make it happen. Thankfully I have now seen it and can say it was worth the wait. It’s a surreal watch at times with a squinted comic edge that works so well, as things fail around Michael you can’t help but laugh at the awkwardness or typical human elements of what’s happening.

One of the best qualities of this movie lies with the dialogue, for where the plot doesn’t go places the conversations and detail in Kaufman’s writing is smart and personal. There’s an assured vulnerability to both the main characters as they tangle into each other’s lives over one night. The way they talk to each other is full of insight and you end up looking past the puppetry animation and buy into Michael and Lisa as real and lonely people.

Duke Johnson who co-directed this film must be commended for his astonishing and somewhat eerie puppet designs that fill this feature. It’s even more fascinating to realise that these characters were 3D printed, which does give them this special look, with slitted marks defining their faces and making them identifiable to this film. On top of this, the puppet idea is taken a step further than ‘Team America: World Police’ as we see fellatio and sex happen between stop-motion figures in what could be the funniest yet sweetest scene this year.

Musically, this film is handed a lyrical and soft finesse by Carter Burwell who helps the movie sound effortless and hypnotizing, as if we too get lost among the hotel corridors and taken aback by the similar sounding civilians surrounding Michael. The nightmare sequence is both scored greatly and is a fantastic idea to play around with, though from Kaufman I wished it had have been real, manifesting the story a little more as Michael questions his own identity but that’s not his story! Also Leigh performing two versions of ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ is hilarious but poetic.

I can only say that the big fault for me was the plot, story-wise I was a bit saddened to not have something more unique. The visuals and dialogue were incredible but the narrative was a little ‘Lost in Translation’ and nothing else. It’s only one negative I could find because Kaufman usually comes up with something inventive whereas this was a more conventional love story, at least for Kaufman it’s more normal than you’d expect. That being said, the story of two people lost and finding hope to be short-lived is such a tragic and subtly dark tale which I like a lot.

David Thewlis voices Michael in such a British way, being klutzy yet smart in what he knows and how he approaches the vastly different Lisa. It’s pretty much the perfect voice for this puppet. Jennifer Jason Leigh brings innocent comic timing to her worrisome role as Lisa, which bounces off Michael Stone greatly. She’s shy, naive, goofy and comes alive thanks to Leigh’s magical vocals. Tom Noonan who voices everyone else, male or female brings a great one-tone level to his performance that makes all other characters spookily bland and unremarkable in the eyes of Michael.

It’s a very original animation that is crafted masterfully from the puppetry to the written word. Kaufman strikes again, making love a haunting special backdrop to despair into.

8.5/10

 

Self/less (2015)

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Looks very good and in a few places it has a cool sense of substance but it begins ‘shedding’ brains and tense thrills as a more twisting Hollywood series of action sequences taint what could have been a better movie.

Billionaire Damian Hayes (Ben Kingsley) is seriously ill but hears of a new process that can give him chance to continue his work in a younger vessel. Damian meets Professor Albright (Matthew Goode) who lets him know about how moving his consciousness into a grown body works. Soon Hayes wakes up as a younger and fitter man given the new name Edward (Ryan Reynolds). All isn’t as it seems as Edward hallucinates and finds out more is behind this body swap.

Tarsem Singh directs the film with an undeniable flair, the way troubling past lives warp into existence is brilliant for creating that mysterious unease. It is a film that builds and builds in sense of urgency for Edward’s character. Unfortunately Singh’s quite intelligent vision for this movie is lost as he places in more car chases, gun fights and comes to a rather soppy ending. It starts off really well and Singh can direct greatly with inter-cuts of future moments playing out while present narration continues, it does help the film in style but sadly the script isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Alex and David Pastor are the screenplay duo and though it’s a neat concept it doesn’t work to completion when watching. I admit, it’s a stretched sci-fi idea in the first place but when I saw the trailer it enticed me and it seemed like a dark yet fun look at the identity crisis of this scientific breakthrough. Though the more you journey on this film you start questioning why they picked action over intelligence. The script is one that has so much potential in being edge, creepy and smart but apart from a couple of clever qualities this plot crashes into entertaining fodder with little under the surface.

The look of the film is near perfect, even with all the action screeching in your face, that’s still presented coolly as well. Brendan Galvin’s cinematography is sleek and designed like a glossy new model akin to the central feature of the film’s story. Each location is mastered with a confident touch and all in all the movie does visually everything you’d hope for. Musically too the film hits the right notes. It’s a score that builds on that bubbling tension of what is going on and feels like a usual yet great thriller sound.

I honestly can’t say I am disappointed with the film, even though it doesn’t hit the clever heights it could have reached, I still walked out entertained. I went in expecting a close cut thriller and exited seeing a glossy action piece, not fabulous but still slick and watchable. It’s just a real shame that the sci-fi thriller it easily could have been is left dangling in a lazy grip of action and summery cinematic ‘Lucy’ fatigue.

Ryan Reynolds is getting better though, I feel recently he’s making strides in his acting, ‘The Voices’ is still hands down his best but in this movie he balances charm and swag with that worried broken sense of who am I. Ben Kingsley basically cameos as the set up for the movie. Matthew Goode truly has that chilling factor to an art form, playing the professor Goode manages to give the film it’s more tense moments in that fine line where it could have continued being a focused brainy thriller. Michelle Dockery as Damian’s daughter Claire doesn’t have much to do and could have been used further if the story took a better turn.

Self/less is less about self and more about guns, cars and killing. It’s like a Bourne trip to find yourself instead of the intellectual questions that could have produced a finer sci-fi thriller. Saying all this, I still liked it for some reason and enjoyed the potential it had even if it’s squandered.

6/10