Beast (2018)

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Stalking the screen with effective tension is this beastly feature. It certainly has bark and bite, as we see this dark thriller take hold and swallow you up, in a dangerously palpable mystery.

Celebrating her birthday is Moll (Jessie Buckley), who ends up dancing the night away before crossing paths with the possibly shady Pascal (Johnny Flynn), the next morning. There have been a series of grim murders plaguing the island and it isn’t long until people suspect Moll’s new connection, as the man behind the disappearances.

This is a debut work from Michael Pearce; who unarguably knows how to layer on the tension. The film almost sweats out a deep and engaging psychological tale, as if Pearce is allowing us to peer through a magnifying glass at all the worrying little details possessed by Moll and Pascal, details that keep us questioning their relationship and the trail of murders.

Coinciding with Pearce’s fantastically hypnotic visuals is a score from Jim Williams that drips with almost spine-chilling strength. The entire look of this movie is that of a frightening British drama, with a cold dirtiness and a somewhat fun immersion into thriller territory that is enhanced by the plot. The narrative is one that definitely kept me guessing and the end is one I could talk about for some time yet, it’s visceral, unexpected and almost reaches the realm of being powerful.

Saying all of this, I don’t know whether it’s a film I’d watch again and it’s a story that I was a little disappointed didn’t end up being darker or more twisted. The film also slightly suffers from feeling like a slow tick-tock aspect, which does make it feel a little bit long. I’d definitely say the film is strongest in the first two thirds.

The acting is blindingly great, some of the most captivating performances I’ve ever seen. Flynn excels at playing this secretive, maybe dodgy character that turns up in Moll’s life. There’s a great balance of masculinity and softer love he portrays as he gets wrapped up in the whirlwind of the flame haired Buckley. She is incredible, the emotions she goes through are numerous and each one is carefully performed, drawing you into her as a character. It’s almost a tour de force show that she puts on and Moll comes to vivid and horrific life thanks to this.

This could be bad or good but I still don’t really know how I feel with ‘Beast’ and perhaps that’s testament to how fearless and different it is. The movie is rife with tension and I can at least safely say that it’s two leading stars ensure you cannot look away.

7/10

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Ready Player One (2018)

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Screeching into cinemas this weekend at 88 mph, is the latest feature from Steven Spielberg. It’s fast, fun and enjoyable but that doesn’t completely override the shortcomings of the plot.

Set in 2045, the population are avid fans and players within the OASIS; a virtual reality world where they can be who they want and try to find an Easter egg, only obtained by finding 3 keys placed by creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance). Trying to lead the pack is Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) who soon learns from fellow gamer Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) that there’s more at stake, than just a sprawling game.

I’ll kick off by saying, this is an energetic and pacy film that certainly, for the first two thirds at least, manages to speedily put across a massive virtual landscape of endless possibilities. The immersive quality isn’t fully felt but it comes and goes nicely, as if we’re window shoppers to this electrically charged Easter egg hunt. It’s only within the last third that this movie begins to trail and slightly feel like a slog, as the story it’s thinly been telling, takes over from the nostalgia trip and descends into a predictable and less than exciting mode.

There may indeed be problems but I can’t review this Spielberg outing without spouting fanboy praise for a sequence at the Overlook. I wasn’t expecting that at all, it’s at once hilarious and effectively spooky to see the hexagon carpeted floors of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, in a film that families will watch! The entire sequence was done brilliantly and I enjoyed it further, knowing what would happen in rooms etc.

Nostalgia is clearly what is selling this film and I have no issues with that, it’s a seat filler. People love being reminded of fun flashes to their past and this movie sees games and pop cultural figures storm the cinematic screen with giddy abandon. Marvin the Martian, The Iron Giant and Halo Spartans are just a few of the brilliant visual tie-ins Spielberg and the effects team have gifted us, but there should be more to it down to the main narrative, yet at points it does feel like this is a film solely riding on the cool delight of spotting characters from games, film and TV dotted around.

Music also forms a huge factor of the feel-good fuzzy feeling as Hall and Oates, The Bee Gees and Van Halen all riff on this film’s clear course to Nostalgia-ville. There’s a general fun vibe to had with this film and even though there are problems with the story being devoid of heart or much emotion, a side-lined female character who becomes not much more than a love interest and a show of characters that don’t really develop and therefore never grabbed my attention, it’s a movie of wonder and bright colour, zippy visual treats and a technological feat that should be admired.

Sheridan plays the guy out in the sticks aspiring to win and the lead with a lesson in love, in a way that’s alright enough but I’d never say he was someone I rooted for, he’s kind of just there amongst a world bursting with other avatars. Cooke sprinkles some cool chick moves to her turn as the helpful love sidekick and I found her more interesting to watch than Sheridan, as I did with the hench figure of Aech and their subsequent reveal. Ben Mendelsohn is always an effective presence but his role as the villainous Nolan Sorrento is hot and cold, there’s flickers of chilling menace and then it dissipates. Rylance comes and goes but is a fun addition, with a kind of Wayne’s World/Bill and Ted gamer geek, stoner attribute to his character.

The story isn’t as strong or as engaging as it deserves to be but I have to applaud Steven Spielberg and the visual effects crew, for creating a film that is a lively rush for the senses.

7/10

 

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

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After missing out upon it’s initial release, awards hopeful ‘Call Me by Your Name’ returned to a cinema near me and though I liked the sun-drenched aesthetic, music and performances, I didn’t find myself captivated by the plot in any way.

In 1983, an American grad student called Oliver (Armie Hammer), spends 6 weeks of his summer at the Perlman residence to help with his paperwork. Seventeen year old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) begins seeing this outside figure as a nuisance but it moves forward to secretive hang outs and a blossoming first love for him to ride the highs and lows of.

Luca Guadagnino’s directive stamp on this is pretty stunning, The Great Beauty of an undisclosed Italian location is as ripe as a peach for beautiful moments. Sayombhu Mudkeeprom works with the director to create shots that are filled with yellow rays and highlight the glory of both Italy and this summer love. Closing Guadagnino’s ‘Desire’ trilogy, this is definitely a glorious and interesting melancholic yarn being spun; it’s without a doubt a much more engaging movie than ‘A Bigger Splash’, but again it’s a release that suffers with length.

I must admit I did in fact get quite bored during the late stages of the second half. In the first part, the setting, characters and music all get introduced very well but as the private romance begins, the film started waning and stretched almost into boredom for me, where I was just waiting for the obvious moment when the two would go their separate ways.

The main reason I feel like the later scenes distanced me, is because I never ever bought into their relationship. It’s meant to be this beautiful spark of mutual attraction but I didn’t once believe they loved each other. It felt like Elio was a kid infatuated and Oliver was taking on a summer fling; which makes the consequent second half and their sad parting…well not very sad at all. The story didn’t resonate with me in the way I expected it would, considering all the astounding reviews it’s been collecting recently. I in no way disliked the film, I just started tiring by the end and wouldn’t recommend it outright.

I did thoroughly enjoy the score, almost wrapping me up into the lush scenery of the film. A piano heavy backdrop of music works well in both providing a nice lullaby tone and mirroring the pianist skills of Elio himself. Sufjan Stevens gifts the movie three songs and Mystery of Love; which is in contention for an Academy Award, is like some calm water gently soaking over you as you listen. The song perfectly compliments the look and tone of the film.

Chalamet is a wonderful presence, at times presenting himself wrapped round Oliver, like the curved statues spoken of as displaying desire. He brings this quiet teen intellect to the character but you can see there’s a nervous unknowing to how his narrative plays out, which is quite fascinating to watch. Hammer possesses this goofy charm throughout the picture, a serene confidence to his character and the eventual relationship. It’s definitely one of his finer turns and I’m sold on his dance moves which are care free and delightful. Michael Stuhlbarg is in this and it’s a wonder, no, a crying shame that he hasn’t been up for a major award yet, because he most often is the best quality in a production, and in this he provides good touches of humour, believable dad advice and a calming aspect to run with the general calmness of the story.

‘Call Me by Your Name’ is an assured sweet film about the ride of first love and it’s summer tinged backdrop is a wonderful look to bolster the vivid exploration of Elio’s crush. I just wasn’t as taken by the story itself that’s all.

7/10

The Shape of Water (2018)

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The masterful and visionary Guillermo del Toro is back; with one of this seasons huge awards contenders, and frankly it isn’t too difficult to see why people have fallen for it. There’s a beautiful twisted charm throughout what can only be described as an odd Hollywood fairy-tale.

A mute janitor by the name of Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), ends up cleaning a secretive room in a government facility. In here she discovers and learns more about this amphibian asset (Doug Jones) who she quickly connects to and falls for. It’s soon clear that this water-dwelling creature is in the midst of Cold War tactics and Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) is laser-focused on doing no good to this being.

I never expected to see a film featuring an upright fish man and a non-speaking lead to incorporate elements of such love, engaging humour and aspects of classy glitz a la ‘The Artist’ and ‘La La Land’. Director del Toro has very nearly struck a fascinating gold mine with this film, one that certainly feels like his greatest storytelling achievement since ‘Pans Labyrinth’. I say very nearly because perhaps down to my own over-hyping of this feature, I found the movie to not always keep me immersed and the obscure romance/will they, won’t they element isn’t anything majorly refreshing, even if the romantic partner is green and scaly.

Aside from those points, I found myself enjoying almost the entire run. The cast of characters are believably written and wonderfully acted. There is a healthy mix of fairly absurd comedy to be found considering the subject of this film and what people say is cleverly scripted to elicit humour. The swelling score helps this film feel like a piece of stunning movie-making from a bygone era of classic Hollywood, this can further be realised with the production design of Elisa’s neighbours’ apartment and the numerous visuals of black and white reels on screens. As you might expect with a del Toro picture, there are moments of wincing gore that definitely do their part to make you squeam.

What I think is the best quality in this Cold War set romantic fantasy, is the enchanting rapture of the world we’re presented with; the people within it, the places and the central heart shaped pairing, all mesh together to create inspiring choreography of adoration for movie monsters and Hollywood of old. I don’t know about everyone because this film has been picking up some negative jabs , but for me at least, without any real doubt I can say I was won over by the stylish spin on a love story…and by the glorious amount of key lime pie!

Hawkins gives such a lovely presence throughout, practically saying nothing she manages to tell the story through a spellbinding emotive performance. There’s almost something other-worldly about her and I think she’s the perfect fit for this role. Richard Jenkins is a gem of an actor and character within this movie; he brings great levity, kindness and a loneliness too. Shannon is always someone I enjoy watching and here he has perfect menace in his eyes and a hell bent drive to his narrative, that pretty much only Shannon could muster. Jones is del Toro’s go to guy for making beasts come to life and though it may be no epic Pale Man creation, this amphibian figure splashes with an enamouring touch. Michael Stuhlbarg and Octavia Spencer are incredible supporting players who have their own moments to shine; in both aiding Elisa’s plot and within their own great scenes.
It may not be the winningly dazzling film I hoped it would be, but it’s certainly a film with visual flair, a film I’d re-watch and a film with classical romance flipped upside down and submerged in the wondrous waters of Guillermo del Toro’s mind.
7.5/10

The Greatest Showman (2017)

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Pulling out all the stops, this movie tries shooting for the ol’ razzle dazzle and though there is a definite amount of flair and showbiz style through transitions and musical numbers, it all feels empty and try hard. The story of the man himself; Mr. P.T Barnum is glossed over to make way for a post Christmas family feature that requires no smarts.

As a child, Phineas Barnum was less well off but a dreamer and he finally got the girl he’d loved. Now residing in New York with their two daughters, Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and Charity (Michelle Williams) seem happier than ever, but Barnum wants more and he eventually creates a ‘circus’ of sideshows and freaks to sell tickets and give his family all they could ever wish.

Riding on the success of Academy darling and theatrical luvvie of late 2016/early 2017 ‘La La Land’, this musical drama employs the writing talents of Pasek and Paul to conjure up a bunch of songs. They certainly come under the ear-worm label as I’m still annoyingly humming them as I write this. Saying that, they’re nowhere near as close as subtle or stylishly cool as the songs in the Gosling/Stone led runaway hit. To be honest, there came a time when a character began to sing that I audibly groaned because they just appear almost consistently. I know it’s a musical but they are irritating hokey songs that strive for the stars but end up somewhere amongst bland superficial lyrics of being special – whoever you are – yeah that old chestnut.

Certain elements in this just stood out like cheap distractions at a local funfair. The alarming dubbing of an older man speaking for the clunky walking dwarf. The ‘Siamese Act’ who were clearly two performers standing side by side and the ‘Bearded Lady’ who’s facial fuzz looked like glued on hair a couple of times. I know Barnum revelled in fooling audiences and providing fake attractions but this film doesn’t even show us this as it makes him seem like an idol of blossoming variety entertainment.

Hugh Jackman is a charismatic actor and he certainly helps this film from totally falling flat but I feel he’s too much of a nice guy to play the role of someone who hoaxed the public. Michelle Williams is a glamorous wife and mother and gets to showcase some singing prowess and dancing ability but she has little to do, other than stand by and watch Jackman parade as the enigmatic showman he is. Rebecca Ferguson plays opera singer Jenny Lind but doesn’t even wow because she’s there as a cheap sideline narrative and her song is sung by someone else, plus she’s meant to be a pro opera performer but her song sounds like the typical X Factor winners track. Zendaya carries a believable amount of emotion in her role as acrobat and racially shunned figure for Zac Efron to fall in love with. For me, I found her to be the most engaging and interesting character to follow, with Efron close behind.

All the lights and stage magic never lit a spark in me and it just became a tiresome boringly told story, filled by ever irritating songs. It’s a mess of a musical but one that has just enough charm in places to keep the circus tent from falling down.

4.5/10

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

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The saga returns and the 2nd of the new Star Wars trilogy whams into the cinema with director Rian Johnson ensuring he gives fans a lot to be pleased about whilst gifting the starry sci-fi blockbuster some neat stylish additions of his own.

Continuing on from Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) island meet up with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she hopes to learn the ways of the Jedi. Meanwhile Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is desperately trying to evacuate the Rebel base as the First Order try and diminish hope from the galaxy and wipe out the chance of Luke’s return. As they keep trying to escape, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is at odds with his place in all this, not helped by visions that unwillingly connect him to someone else.

Rian Johnson ensures the Star Wars aficionados can enjoy seeing certain characters, screen wipes and the charm of space opera good versus bad as the ever central theme. Hope and the notion of crushing that ideal is what drives the franchise and this is no exception but gladly the director after J.J. Abrams hands this outing some stylistic moments; ones that almost step out of the comfortable SW bubble, that I thoroughly enjoyed. These choices keep the film fresh and help it look exciting but more brooding than ‘The Force Awakens’. A sequence with endlessly mirroring a character, the salted planet of red surface and crystal critters and an extremely amazing breathtaking snappy edit of a soundless explosion are some examples of the visual splendour Johnson and his huge crew have created, which keep the galaxy alive with big screen wonder.

There are some points, mostly that lay within the story, that can feel utterly safe and predictable. Obviously I’m not wanting to spoil anything in this review so I’ll keep hush on the negatives I had but sufficed to say there are space filled deus ex machinas abounds and little character events that I expected straight away which sort of took me out of the immersive thrill. Also, some writing choices they give the action and/or characters felt cheap or not wholly unnecessary and without spoilers I really felt no need for a kiss that comes at one time.

Luke’s island hideout is rife with creatures and one species is the well advertised and product placed Porgs that clearly strike for the kids and the cute factor. Granted they can be quite fun but the clear merchandise cash in that they are and their constant gaping mouth wide eyed shtick becomes less amusing and ever tiring. Aside from a couple of story gripes and these puffin-esque beasties this movie has a good amount of twists and turns that keep the narrative interesting, a mission on a casino centred Canto Bight is rich with wealth, class differences and a couple of fun cameos. Another positive is John Williams returning with a score that’s safe but swells and simmers with the fan buzz of familiar sounds to satisfy all. I also love that a lot of the creatures you see are handled with animatronics which look much better and charming than the sheen of CGI.

Mark Hamill gets his teeth into much more screen time and it’s nice to see Luke Skywalker back, though he’s getting to play well with the bitter side of things. Hamill delivers enough emotion into his journey of who he is now and why he’s left the Jedi Master qualities behind with a tinge of will he/won’t he be a bad egg. Both Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher lift the film with an explainable grace that probably stems from the nostalgia of their presence amongst the whirlwind of desperate escape tactics. Fisher herself still carries Leia as a beacon of hope and strength, she’s good and efficient and Fisher performs this effortlessly filling the General shoes with ease. Adam Driver gets to slowly break away from his angsty teen fits and dramatics and the conflict in his path is nicely evident in the performance. Daisy Ridley manages to keep up the brave and strong qualities of Rey, a hero through and through but one where Ridley nicely plays with the pressure of balancing her place in the Force and the pull of the dark side. Domhnall Gleeson amps up the villainous panto switch with sneers aplenty. Supreme Leader Snoke gets more screen time and has more depth and a constant creepy shadowy presence thanks to the mo-cap work from Andy Serkis.

It’s definitely a long film and this is a long review to almost reflect that. It’s the longest one yet but luckily it never feels a slog; it may not zip on by but it’s a well handled and well paced space adventure that feels like a grand step up from Episode 7 and one that has humour and stakes around every corner.

8/10

Train to Busan (2016)

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One of the most exhilarating films I’ve ever seen, bloody and yet beautiful, this is a zombie film with thrills and skills that I wish I’d got to see on the big screen but damn am I happy I’ve seen it anyway…finally!

As a mysterious virus breaks out, workaholic and not so parental father Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) concedes to his daughters birthday wish to go to Busan to see her mother. A host of other passengers board at Seoul but unfortunately an infected woman also joins them leaving their train journey to become a fight for survival.

Honestly, this is probably the best zombie movie I’ve seen in a long time, the rage like virus shoots up the film with a crazed adrenaline which is hugely entertaining to watch but more than this and thus why the film is so good, is that there’s a heartfelt emotion and believable set of characters along for the ride too. Zombie killing and frantic running aside, this is something that grips you because of the relationships between the passengers, how they act and the choices they make create a truly thrilling and emotive story.

Yeon Sang-ho directs this with such care and attention, there’s a skill to making this chaotic zombie outbreak feel less than chaos. It has an artistry and skilled choreographed quality that ‘World War Z’ could only dream to achieve. There are numerous moments in this Park Joo-suk scripted delight that captures you and keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s the rooted developing bond between father and daughter that is special and come the end of the movie leaves you really bound to the film almost teary eyed.

Jang Young-gyu’s music for the movie is a rip-roaring wonder, it’s a score that manages to excite and keep up great tension in places then simmer down for more nuanced moments of tenderness. The confined claustrophobia of setting a majority of this story on a train is shot really well, from shuttling tracking shots to scary overhead shots crammed with the white-eyed undead. Pretty much everything in this film is masterfully set up and executed leaving the audience to watch a dramatically non-stop zombie genre outing that actually feels realistic.

Gong Yoo is a great presence as this obsessive funds manager who gets a well realised character arc that makes him a likable guy. Ma Dong-seok plays a hench father to be that gives the film some aspect of humour and plenty of bad-assery. Kim Su-an is the little daughter Soo-an who gets many a chance to shine and demonstrate wonderful acting skills, more impressive considering she was 10 at the time of acting. Kim Eui-sung gifts the film its human villain, he performs convincingly that you want to punch him in the face.

The characters and the story are top notch stuff, making this a zombie feature like nothing else before. I’d highly recommend this to everyone; it’s tense, engaging and remarkable.

8.5/10