Waves (2020)

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Arriving on UK shores from the house of A24 is this gorgeous drama, which will encapsulate you with vibrancy as well as destructive behaviour. Trey Edward Shults has directed and written a potent story of character and change.

High school senior Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is in a relationship with Alexis (Alexa Demie) but also his wrestling ambitions. He’s often pushed beyond limits by his father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) and through this fast-moving account of youthful ups and downs we follow them and Tyler’s sister Emily (Taylor Russell).

Sound and colour, as sung over the closing credits, play an integral part in making ‘Waves’ a sumptuously immersive film. The changes between score and modern soundtrack choices permeate the drama in such a manner that will sweep you away into a tale of family, grief and romance. There are points of stunning neon nightmares which blast out like a wave of anxiety-inducing tension and this middle section of the film incredibly brings you into the life and times of Tyler before dealing numerous sucker-punches.

The fluidity of film-making is gorgeous to see. Most scenes are presented, either with a camera planted in one spot as it rotates around or flowing alongside characters. There come shifts in the aspect ratio too, which fit like chapter marks for progressions in the narrative. These directorial decisions all go together in almost aiding the audience to step in touch with the passage of time. We are pushed back but also pulled in, to share the dynamics of the Williams family.

Unlike the first two acts which put you through the ringer, the films’ third act becomes a semi-paradise of softness, a break from the shocking build up beforehand. These scenes deliver a restoration of hope and delicate, emotive power from the amazing performance of Russell, so that even in tragedy the sunny setting of Florida carries a caring soul. You will come to the close of the film a changed being, one that has lived a new life by having ‘Waves’ wash over you.

It can be said that the end of the film might be somewhat dissatisfying, as if you want more closure from the events witnessed but this goes to show how greatly you become invested in the characters lives. Whilst watching the stages more focused on Emily you’ll feel that other moments were a lifetime ago but that’s not a negative slight. In fact it’s a sublime note on how well the film has you engaged in turbulence and togetherness, that you’re as good as sharing the strife of the family unit. In fact, through the shattering motions of Tyler, Emily and co, I was actually wanting more than the 2 hours and 15 minutes given, because I was so wrapped up by the storytelling.

‘Waves’ is a sensational character study and is a film with a well constructed series of actions that will grapple you and toss you to the mat, absolutely floored by pain, beauty, toxic masculinity and youthful hope.

8/10

1917 (2020)

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Sam Mendes boldly moves from the ‘James Bond‘ franchise into the genre of war and his vision is truly epic; featuring a stand-out performance and teeth-clenchingly raw sights and sounds, you will be shaken and lifted come the end of this powerful film.

Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) is sent on a mission and is asked to select someone to go with him, to deliver a letter to a battalion outlining ceasing their attack, as they are unknowingly advancing towards Germans setting up a devastating ambush. Will Schofield (George MacKay) joins Blake and together they’re sent over the top in daylight to try and save the lives of over a thousand men.

‘1917’ is a film that never lets up; this unrelenting sense of unavoidable conflict through their dangerous order to prevent mass slaughter completely immerses the audience into the film. A massive reason you’ll feel that way is because director of photography Roger Deakins has captured the story in a seemingly one-shot motion. The camera follows the action like an uncut guide which makes you feel as if you’re tumbling into grim trenches or hurtling away from bullets.

This war movie isn’t solely investing due to its continuous cinematography, there’s emotion aplenty and a headstrong mission to follow which helps shock you and grip you. You cannot help but become misty eyed come the climax of the story as it feels like we’ve been right there alongside Lance Corporal Schofield the entire time. It might very well knock the wind out of you but in the best possible way, this film is a grand experience.

Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins have together crafted a breathtaking vision and layered over this is Thomas Newman’s score. This trio melds as one cinematic delight that will stir the senses like you wouldn’t believe. ‘1917’ is thick with mud, blood and mostly heart which goes a gigantic way in making this a beautiful film. The scenes can be harrowing and tough but there are sequences such as a nighttime ruin lit up by flames and gunfire, which looks incredible on screen.

The extensive team behind this film have made an astounding story, one that is never a gimmick of one-shot motions, one that provides sensational technical achievements and one which lures its audience into an interpolating sense of world-building. The work, time and talent poured into this feature must be and deserve to be applauded and celebrated because from second 1 to minute 119 you will be transported into one of the most impressive works of art.

‘1917’ is one of the most staggering wonders I’ve witnessed for a long time. It’s story might be a fairly simple plot but the silence bristling through you as the credits roll will have you thinking of the monumental sacrifices made by soldiers for our country. Astonishing. Stunning. Pure cinema.

9/10

The Gentlemen (2020)

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Rolling up ‘Aladdin’s magic carpet and taking a firm path away from the friendly Disney route of last year, Guy Ritchie is back in the environment he knows inside and out but does his brand of storytelling kick off the new year in a cool way?

American marijuana mogul Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) has built a successful empire and other hot shots, including the likes of the violent Dry Eye (Henry Golding) want to purchase it, but when Pearson’s right hand man Raymond (Charlie Hunnam) gets a visit from ratty journalist Fletcher (Hugh Grant) it becomes clear that all manner of schemes are in gear to take Mickey’s business from him.

As evident in the likes of ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and ‘Snatch’, Guy Ritchie is a man who loves putting out British-heavy gangster flicks and this latest sees him back with an original plot that is a near solid hoot. The director/writer blazes up a weed-centred story and the notion of king-of-the-jungle tactics are slick, and thick with enough cockney muscle and grit to see you through three acts that manifest like the inception, middle and reveal of a con.

It’s this fairly twisty and humorous hustling of business grabbing, money driven characters that helps a quite repetitive movie excel. The actual payoff is by no means a surprise and so that doesn’t help matters plus ‘The Gentlemen’ does take a while to get its wheels spinning in the first place and that’s predominately down to Grant rocking up as the expositional force to invite the audience in.

Even with a script perhaps too often peppered with a potty mouth and a near sense of fatigue to all the criminality, this film does load up with fun ammunition and with the cheeky yet brilliant audacity of Ritchie having the film end with a cinematic hope of script success, teasing ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E’ fans with sequel talk you can’t help but chuckle at the confidence in the directors approach of the gangster genre.

Thanks to the likes of the truly engaging Hugh Grant leading us by the hand there is comedy to be had. The downright special comedy timing of Colin Farrell sees him deliver some of the funniest moments with squealing delight, oink! The gravitas and dramatic side of proceedings land at the feet of the ice-cool power pair of McConaughey and Michelle Dockery. She takes no prisoners and is a resolute woman in charge equalling the power of her husband, together they’re a lion-esque duo brimming with pride and confidence.

‘The Gentlemen’ is a prime cut of Guy Ritchie flair and with dialogue uttered like “spunk-bubble” and “there’s fuckery afoot”, you know what kind of meaty and brazen attitude you’re settling in for.

7/10

Jojo Rabbit (2020)

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Taika Waititi has the impressive back catalogue of ‘What We Do In The Shadows’ and ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’; so you’d hope that his newest release would excel to the same special, lofty heights and you won’t be disappointed because this comedy-drama is an ecstatic tale of destroying hate.

Amidst the later part of WW2 we follow Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a 10 year old who idolises the notion of Nazism and speaks to an imaginary friend in the form of Hitler himself (Waititi). He lives alone with his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) who is harbouring secrets of her own which begin to conflict with her son’s headstrong beliefs.

What succeeds so beautifully with this film is the care to blend laughter and heart. There may be a couple of teeny missteps along the way where you lurch from satirical comedy to a point of reflection but around 90% of the time this is a superbly crafted feature, which humorously attacks Nazis whilst retaining a core of emotional resonance and the very ending moment of ‘Jojo Rabbit’ positively rings out as a heroic feel-good message, stirring up a gorgeous well of feelings.

Setting the film with a backdrop of hate and alienation, brainwashing and anger could make the story a bleak and nasty one but thanks to the joyous beating pulse found with Jojo and a surprising truth in his home, there is a great heartwarming aura to be had. The sight of a gradually war-torn Germany demonstrates the unsettling, saddening effects of battle which has you switching between reeling at the obvious fact that lives were lost and an entire race was persecuted, whilst simultaneously wearing a proud badge of growing friendship and acceptance in an environment so damaged by racism.

At times the flow of satire doesn’t always keep strong and moments in the middle of this film aren’t as effective or funny as they could be, plus there are some accents which slip into sounding somewhat French but there is something tickling about the off-kilter impressions, as if they add to the kooky slant of it all.

This is Roman Griffin Davis’ first feature and wow, what an absolute revelation he is. The actor carries the film with perfect ease and exhibits a splendid mixture of black comedy and emotion. There are similar highlights to witness with his bespectacled friend played by the amusing Archie Yates and Thomasin McKenzie who is a quietly powerful force of talent in the movie. And yes there’s a certain revelry of fun to be had in Waititi’s performance as Adolf.

‘Jojo Rabbit’ bears some odd beats and so-so aspects but it develops into one of the most affecting and joyous coming of age stories with an explosion of humour, that just happens to involve an OTT Fuhrer and an eager Hitler Youth.

8/10

 

2019 Top Twenty

2019 has been chocka-block with blisteringly great movies which made the feat of my end-of-year rundown list a hard task but as a new decade is about to dawn upon us, I managed to finally whittle together a list of my favourite 20 films*

*because I couldn’t choose only 10 and I left no time to do 50!

 

20 – US

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Jordan Peele followed up his star debut directorial with this doppelganger feature that showcases a formidable dual performance from Lupita Nyong’o. The thrills of the home invasion genre are dialled up with dark humour and end of the world mirror-led dynamics. Hands across to my review – US

19 – I LOST MY BODY

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This French animation appearing on Netflix is a beautiful and oddly stirring delight, considering it has us following in the footsteps – or fingertips, of a dismembered hand trying to get back to its’ body. The film gets you completely wrapped up and the soul of identity beats through the flitting past and present of the short run-time.

18 – HUSTLERS

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The ups and downs of a hustlin’ gang of strippers/dancers is wildly exciting and pulsating with a toxic soundtrack. Jennifer Lopez is on sensational form through this ‘true story’ which crackles with female force and energy. Swing over to my review for Hustlers

17 – CRAWL

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With the name Sam Raimi on board behind the scenes you can only pray for a shlocky good time a la ‘The Evil Dead’ and gladly this Florida based alligator horror is rife with tension and does its job to a perfect T. Run don’t crawl to my review

16 – ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD

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QT sets his trademark style on the Hollywood scene of the late 60’s with a dynamite ensemble cast and expected awesome collection of songs. The 9th movie in his arsenal might not be his strongest but the swinging vibe and the what if scenario of Manson/Tate and the summer of loving is an engaging one. OUATIH

15 – THE IRISHMAN

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Hold on world, because the might of Martin Scorcese and the lofty talents of Pacino, Pesci and DeNiro unite for a Netflix Original which is a gangster story right up Marty’s Mean Street. The film is indeed a lengthy one but every minute is gorgeously crafted and you’ll feel as if you’re rooted in the world of Frank Sheeran and company.

14 – FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY

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The trials and tribulations of a wrestling-mad family from Norfolk is much more fun and captivating than you’d ever imagine it had the right to be. The first of three appearances for the incomparable Florence Pugh on this list; ‘Fighting with my Family’ has great jokes, heart and thanks to Merchant’s directing it possesses a lovely feel-good tone. Can you smell what’s cooking over at my review?! 

13 – THE FAVOURITE

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I mean, just look at the poster, that gives you the summary of what mad brilliance Yorgos Lanthimos’ period piece is about! The combined talents of Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Oscar winner Olivia Colman are a dream and there’s something inexplicably wonderful and zany with this film. My review.

12 – READY OR NOT

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There’s great giddy fun to be had in this balls to the wall bloody games night from hell. Samara Weaving is an excellent lead and scream queen who tools up and leads the audience through a nightmare world of rich revenge. Ready or Not my review is here

11 – LE MANS 66

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Titled as Ford v. Ferrari across the pond, this sporting bio-pic revs with edge-of-your-seat immersion through its’ car racing sequences and thanks to the 1-2 punch turns of Bale and Damon this is a riveting drama that never stalls. Brake for a sec and check out my full review.

10 – DOCTOR SLEEP

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Mike Flanagan had a near-impossible task but he somehow manages to weave together aspects of Stephen King’s 2013 book sequel in relation to The Shining novel whilst simultaneously retaining the chilling atmosphere presented through Kubrick’s cinematic adaptation. We return to The Overlook with trepidation and this is a horror leaning away from scares and toward dread, power and addiction. Here’s my revieeeeewww. 

9 – JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL

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I have no reservations or embarrassment around placing this adventure/comedy in my top ten. None. The video game atmosphere is levelled up with shifting characters and more fun environments for our teen-trapped avatars to struggle and succeed in. Who’d have expected the Jumanji re-brand to be so fun and I’m way here for it. Choose your character at my review

8 – FREE SOLO

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I have never felt anxiety and sheer marvel like I did when watching this climbing feat on an IMAX screen. The documentary follows the doubly brave and fool-hardy Alex wanting to scale heights in Yosemite Park without any equipment or rope. The trembling in your gut will be peak dread as you watch him begin the ascent. Climb to my Free Solo review.

7 – JOHN WICK CHAPTER 3: PARABELLUM

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Keanu Reeves is the perfect John Wick and this now trilogy showcases his fighting skills with calm and ease, yet this time he meets his match as the entire world wants to claim the bounty on his head and faces from ‘The Raid’ series crop up to finally give John a hard fight. The market brawl with Halle Berry and assassin dogs are a stand-out too. The clock is ticking, quick, read my full review.

6 – LITTLE WOMEN

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Gerwig strikes again. After ‘Lady Bird’ which I positively adored, she reunites with the constantly wonderful Saoirse Ronan and hires the help of a spectacular cast to retell one of America’s great literary classics. This film will fill you up with goodness twice over. March on to my review

5 – MIDSOMMAR 

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The third and final entry for Miss Florence Pugh in a non-stop year and this Ari Aster directed horror confirms just why she’s a talent that cannot be held down. The near constant sunshine-laden visual of this disturbing break-up tale makes the cult goings on and flowery crown summer vibe an alarming story that you won’t want to forget anytime soon. Gather round the maypole for my Midsommar review.

4 – KNIVES OUT

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A murder mystery with a real stab of intrigue and delectable comedy; Rian Johnson directs a splendid ensemble cast milling in and around a stately home and his screenplay is a truly invested ride of clue solving and that final shot for the movie is downright exquisite and that’s down to the smart writing which has you connecting in the right places to the right people. Full Knives Out review.

3 – AVENGERS ENDGAME

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Sorry Scorsese but this was undeniably the cinematic event of the year. Marvel have been adding to their universe for the last 10 years and this superhero epic is the conclusion for the ages and there’s a bold first third which is no bells and whistles which nicely pieces the stages of grief circulating the heroes after Thanos achieved his goal. The later two parts are visually masterful and shuffle from time-heist to all-out battle which juggle ideas and characters well enough to stand strong as a well-made film, that just happened to break box office records too. I love it 3000 – my review.

2 – BOOKSMART

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Olivia Wilde shows great storytelling and comic chops for her directorial debut. The pair of ladies in the lead are a glorious set of faces and talent to spice up the coming-of-age narrative with bundles of chemistry and captivating enthusiasm. The likes of awkward teacher taxi rides, superb parental cringe with Lisa Kudrow and Will Forte and Billie Lourd’s party popping arrivals seal the deal that this is a necessary female-centred story that you need to see. My whole review.

1 – MARRIAGE STORY

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Netflix have scooped up a great amount of award-ready films and this love story revolving around a divorce is something that made me laugh, cry and moved me when I saw it back in October and it’s stuck with me since. Baumbach has concocted a romantic plot which has taking no sides and has you feeling the sense of family and strained love above all else. If nothing else, ‘Marriage Story‘ has star-confirming turns by Driver and Johansson and the former appears in one of the most brilliantly hilarious scenes you can picture happening live on stage. Check out my full write-up here.

 

Spies in Disguise (2019)

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Watch your tux Bond, because a new super-agent is ready to land and with the help of a souped-up tech lad, the studio behind the ‘Ice Age’ franchise have created something that shouldn’t be as good as it is.

Lance Sterling (Will Smith) is a domineering spy who tackles missions alone and at the expense of stacked body counts but after his own agency thinks he could be on the wrong side he’ll need the help of scientific geek Walter (Tom Holland). Though Sterling does not expect that his new port of call will see him turned into a pigeon and having to clear his name without his own body.

This cartoon caper is based off a short story and it truly does feel like a zany 15 minute adventure but somehow the directors and screenwriters have managed to stretch the idea into a full-length feature that never feels unwarranted or long. There’s a clear and strong message of understanding and embracing weirdness fluttering throughout the narrative and this fuels the final boss battle which blows up into a glorious carnival of colour and weaponised cuteness.

Grounding the sci-fi madness with a slick spy plot aids the film hugely. The audience are almost shuttling from car chases to infiltration plans, secret bases and villainous schemes that Blofeld could only dream of. Thanks to this animated take on the spy world the nature of pigeons somehow in a small way lose their winged-rat rep as the story embraces their impressive stats and sees them flock together as a wildly weird bunch but helpful nonetheless.

The fleshy and cartoonish style is enjoyable and there are frequent break-neck sequences to rejoice at. On top of this the filmmakers have tossed in a happy heap of visual gags to counterbalance the fairly predictable story. It’s nothing to shake your core but this release gets kicked into an overdrive of entertainment to appease all ages.

‘Spies in Disguise’ flaps its feathered wings with exciting pace and puffs out its chest full of zany comedy that takes great flight into fun heights to close the year off with silly style.

7.5/10

 

Little Women (2019)

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This story is a staple of American reading and has been adapted for film numerous times, so what does ‘Lady Bird’ director Greta Gerwig bring to the table perfectly in time for Christmas?

The March sisters are four girls who sport and squabble; Jo (Saoirse Ronan) aspires to be a writer but is set back by a male-dominated world. Amy (Florence Pugh) is the youngest and winds up in France to find wealth and love, leaving Meg (Emma Watson) and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) who round out this story of trials and tribulations.

It was evident within the Ronan-led delight of ‘Lady Bird’ that Gerwig has a keen eye for character and comedy mixed effortlessly with a grounded level of connecting emotion, so there’s no surprises here that the writer/director is the perfect figure to lead a new charge on a tale seen 7 times before. What Greta Gerwig does is wrap up a present of warmth and timelessness.

Gerwig’s screenplay takes Louisa May Alcott’s source material and knits in dreamy one-liners of comedy to harmonise with the more sombre beats of storytelling. It is a luscious character study with beautiful affection for the novel and it’s unarguably a heart-warming treat to round off your Christmas exquisitely.

The look of this period drama can only be described as comforting; the past with its autumnal palette like glowing embers are gorgeously weaved amongst the more cold colours of the films’ present day. The current situation of the sisters is a wintry season to reflect the growing pains of childhood to making their own way. It isn’t just the tones that stir up feeling, there comes great power in the sight of a quill stroke, setting your spine a-tingling as we witness Jo committing to the life and passion she desires.

‘Little Women’ is an excellent ensemble piece with each March girl getting a chance to shine. Pugh has been the talk of the film and you can see why as she’s just enthralling as old and young versions of Amy; the childish manner of wanting attention are splendid in their amusement. Scanlen is a quiet yet trembling force of purity and musical talent whilst Watson is the engaging socialite and pretty flower of the clan who showcases a great bond to her sisters. It goes without saying that Ronan is superb, as she plays Jo with peaks of confidence and angst and softer, more homely and vulnerable ebbs.

Yet nothing is more sublime than when the four of them are united as a force of sisterly play, arguments, love, laughter and liberty. You’d be a fool if you couldn’t warm your hands on the energy emanating from the cast and it’s rooted within this chemistry that the film excels to mixtures of fondness and fun and gut-wrenching bursts of loneliness and strife.

‘Little Women’ is a spirited feature with festive bushels of touching emotion and light humour expertly crafted by Alcott and Gerwig.

8/10