Disobedience (2018)

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Love is an all consuming thing and this film goes some way in demonstrating the strength of that powerful four letter word. Anchored by two astonishing female leads, ‘Disobedience’ isn’t as resolute in the pursuit of its story and feels slightly lacking of consequence.

After a family tragedy, photographer Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) flies from New York to London to pay her respects. The world she returns to is of the strict Orthodox Jewish community of which she’d left behind. As she stays longer, her past is unbottled and Esti Kuperman (Rachel McAdams) is a reason for why she was estranged and distanced from her father and his religion.

What this film has going for it, is a good sense of tenderness. Sebastian Lelio ensures that the central pairing of his stars are the focus, their developing connection one that feels soft and lovely around the edges. There are some great moments in the opening scenes of the film with the setting up of characters and Ronit’s arrival back in London comes with traces of strained family humour and a tickling sense of intrigue to these furtive looks that occur between Ronit and Esti.

On the other hand, it is this tender quality that can make the film feel somewhat wishy-washy. The burning nature of love and passion should be unmistakable and though you can tell the two ladies want each other, it’s the aftermath of their connection that never really hits like you’d expect or want. Perhaps the setting of it within the Jewish faith is why the glances and silence are all you get but a darker kick-back to what they do and what happened in the past would make this film more engrossing to watch.

In fact, the film doesn’t totally sell us on the build up to their elicit rendezvous, there’s just a smidge enough to know there’s something going on but it doesn’t feel like the movie has enough gusto to sell us on the fact and suddenly what happens, happens. It’s the softly softly approach which makes for good detailed performances but doesn’t help the screenplay feel sparkling, in fact the film quickly loses dynamics and come the end, it feels vaguely like a quiet soap opera.

Weisz is superb and you can see it in her face and the way she fiddles with her hair or scarf that she’s juggling feelings of grief, annoyance and love. McAdams is just as sensational as her counterpart, if not more so. The complicated state of her marriage, the possible lack of love in her life and the reappearance of Ronit are all carefully balanced by the American actor, she is captivating to watch and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her up for an Oscar in 2019.

‘Disobedience’ has some nice qualities and the background of the Jewish community feels well handled, Weisz and McAdams are the perfect lovers. If only the film didn’t disobey it’s own powerful rules on love, when it should have instead, committed to a more vivid and less unsatisfying flow of tension in the relationship.

6/10

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A Star is Born (2018)

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From comedy star in ‘The Hangover’ to more dramatic turns in films like ‘American Sniper’, Bradley Cooper has certainly been down many avenues and now he throws his stetson behind the camera for his directorial debut; a musical romance and fourth remake of the ‘A Star is Born’ brand.

Hugely famous country star Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) seriously struggles with alcohol and drug addiction. On a desperate trawl to find a bar, Maine staggers into one where waitress by day-singer by night Ally (Lady Gaga) is performing. He quickly falls for her looks and talent and they begin a whirlwind relationship that sees Ally become a singer/songwriter idol.

In the 1950’s Judy Garland headlined the first remake and the 70’s saw Barbra Streisand take the lead in a rock and roll setting, one Bollywood film later and now it’s mega popstar Lady Gaga’s turn to take the cinematic stage. There’s no doubt that she’ll be up for an Oscar nomination because her performance is sensational and she makes the film what it is. The road to success with tricky obstacles and media manipulation is ripe for the times currently in Hollywood and the music perfectly encapsulates Ally and Jackson’s rocky relationship.

This movie is like a biopic of Gaga’s career, you can just see how the films’ content of moulding someone to how the management want them to be, mirrors her Poker Face days, before her songwriting and more heartfelt tunes took flight. The pop music side of Ally’s journey and the SNL showbiz aspect are necessary attributes in showing how the industry works and really demonstrates Ally as a strong individual to stick with all these changes in the dream of being recognised for her talent. She also sticks with Maine because he saw that spark within her, their relationship may be odd and harbour some cheesy moments but it feels real and the pair work beautifully together.

At a certain point it does feel like the film stretches ever so slightly and you could almost check out of the plot but thanks to the music you get drawn back in. Also, there is a very predictable narrative to follow but there’s some stunning cinematography from Matthew Libatique which goes from a pristine bathroom to a gorgeously crimson tinged drag club and the films final shot rests on a powerful, stunning image and though it is silent it sings a thousand words. On top of the great DoP work, the musical numbers themselves are toe-tappingly heartfelt and ‘Shallow’; a song penned by Gaga and Mark Ronson is gunning for an Oscar nom as well and rightly so because it screams with drama.

Cooper, with his flushed red cheeks and slurring Western drawl embodies the stereotypical drunken cowboy singer but softens this rough edges with a clear love for his Ally rose. Gaga is incredible throughout, her voice is a God given gift that fills the heart and the speakers with power. It isn’t just her singing talents that sell the film, she makes Ally a fully rounded character and you truly buy into her rise to stardom with a difficult romance aiding the way.

‘A Star is Born’ is a country and western musical for modern times and like TV show ‘Nashville’, it hits with lyrical gems and dramatic characters to soar to the top of the charts.

7/10

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

 

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

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This was a film that likely would have passed be my; I hadn’t seen a trailer or knew anything about this, but I’d call it a hidden gem because it’s just wonderfully made harking to the Hollywood of old.

After falling ill before a stage performance, former silver screen actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) wishes to stay at the house of Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) and his kin. Turner and Grahame had been in a relationship for the last two years or so and we see their up and down romance throughout the movie.

Based on a memoir from Peter Turner himself, this romantically themed drama is extremely engaging. Firstly I must comment on the utterly believable relationship between Bening and Bell. This old/young romance never feels wrong, strange or make believe, there’s a genuine affection and attraction built between the actors that helps the film along. The film delves back and forth between her at the house in 1981 and her meeting Turner in 1979, the transitions to and from these moments in time are quite clever and give it an almost one take theatrical vibe as if moving scenes forward on a stage.

For my sins, I had no clue that the glamorous performer in question was actually based on a real actress from the heyday of Hollywood. This only made the story more impacting as I came to realise the true account running through the narrative. I liked to think I know Oscars and actors but I obviously need to brush up on the glitz of 40’s/50’s stardom. It’s this pizzazz and studio based ideal of talent and fitting into a mould to sell pictures that gives Gloria real depth and vulnerability as you see her clinging on to youth and wanting to be loved.

There are some aspects in the film that are predictable and you know what someone may say or what characters will do and a sequence you see from one perspective gets re-shown from the other side with a healthy dose of melodramatic strings rising and clear emphasis on trying to make you emotional, almost cheesy I could say. There’s clear green screen in use for places like New York and beaches of California but they’re apt in a way for this film about acting, gifting the whole feature a movie look as if we’re seeing their memories as glances on a film reel.

Annette Bening better get recognised come awards season, if she’s not up for an Oscar then a Golden Globe at least because she is sublime in this. The mannerisms and the way she talks are an almost sweetly yet seductive Marilyn Monroe quality and she carries confidence and false confidence in equal measure. She completely buries herself into the role and I bought her turn as Grahame hook line and sinker. Jamie Bell gives Turner great care and love, you buy into this man that isn’t much of anything, a success or triumph but a funny, interesting and kind guy who cares deeply for this enigmatic presence in his life. He plays opposite Bening with convincing ease and they’re both fantastic together. It’s great seeing Bell reunite with Julie Walters who dons a Scouse accent rather well and brings that expected and needed heart and comedic touch. I also want to comment on the much too short but almost scene-stealing turn from Frances Barber who plays Gloria’s sister. The icy stares and sharp tongue were brilliant.

This is a film that doesn’t seem to acknowledge the intelligence of its audience with predictable moments and repeated scenes driving home points we’d already gathered but it’s a special movie with a fragile soul beautifully illustrated by the exceptional performances from Bening and Bell.

7/10

Son of Saul (2015)

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You know a film hits hard when, as the credits come up the audience is left quiet and no-one wants to be that one to leave first. ‘Son of Saul’ is that film that deals with one of the most atrocious events in history and delivers a story in such a rewarding and powerful way.

1944 and we’re located in Auschwitz for a day and a half as we follow Saul (Geza Rohrig). He is a Hungarian man of Jewish faith and unfortunately he’s a victim as he is a Sonderkommando; who are people prisoners made to work for the German camps for fear of their own deaths. We follow Saul as he sees a dying boy and takes this body as his own son.

It’s so clear to see why this Hungarian drama won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s gripping, unsettling and it doesn’t let you go. The horrors of concentration camps are truly felt in this movie, the noises, the dirt, the bodies all come into the fold to get under your skin and make you understand in some very small way what atrocities happened then.

Laszlo Nemes is incredible because as a director this is his debut film. It’s unflinching and different because it doesn’t gloss over anything. In fact Nemes gives this story a uniquely personal touch as we mostly stay with Saul for the entire duration. There are a lot of extreme close ups and the frame ratio both create a gnawing claustrophobia that gives the camp a nasty enclosed sense through the screen.

In similarity to ‘Birdman’ and The Revenant’, the style of this film is calm and unbroken. A lot of scenes are left uncut and the camera moves around the space letting the moments play out. Having people dying in the background or a character just staring silently for a long while really burrows into and makes what we see relentless, there is no escape like the victims of the German officers. We can of course never get close to feeling what they felt but this story does an unforgettable thing, as it throws us amongst the mud and fire of it all.

Nemes and Clara Royer both write this feature’s screenplay and it is heavy from start to finish. Just the beginning sees the mass and madness of people being queued into a building which you know can only end gravely. The script itself is less about the dialogue which means we never lose focus from the horrendous visuals. Any words spoken play an important part in the desperate rush for Saul to try and peacefully bury a boy or other characters sparking off an uprising to hopefully break free from their captors. A lot of the time we hear dialogue off screen whilst sitting on a close up, this whirls in your mind as you picture what is going on in the background.

Geza Rohrig is a quiet force for this film, not speaking much but staring or walking with a reserved and also tortured impression that is so human but also robotic. It’s a clever performance mixing the two as he comes across like a caring father figure but then he’s switched off, silent and programmed by evil men to carry out even more evil deeds. The cast of prisoners are all brilliant too in adding to the sprawl of visceral horrors.

This is a thoroughly deserving movie of its praise and award glory, a feat of war torn crime from supposed human beings that doesn’t let up and unnervingly almost never cuts/breaks away. It’s a difficult watch and extremely raw but it’s a serious topic and handled seriously by an impressive director to keep an eye on.

8/10

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

 

Oscars 2016 Look Back

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So, another Oscars and film awards season is over. I’ve just woke up after watching the 88th Academy Awards live, which was certainly one with lots of expectations, not just because of switching in to see how the diversity racquet would be dealt with but also because of apparent film darling DiCaprio and whether he’d finally scoop an award.

Before the ceremony began, I always flick on for the red carpet, I don’t get fashion or know what works but you know, if someone looks good, guy or gal then it’s still fun to watch. There’s always that pandering talk but straight out of the blocks was a smouldering Saoirse Ronan in an plunging green number, showing more than usual but looking elegant all the same. Alicia Vikander can do no wrong for me even in a very pale yellow dress. Dapper li’l Jacob Tremblay came up the red runway and he is a cool cat and should have been nominated…I think really one of the big snubs this Oscar year.

So it began…everyone in their seats, me included…not in the Dolby Theater of course, I can but dream. Chris Rock was a fantastic host in my opinion, he dealt with the diverse (or lack of) issue head on which was both honestly searing but energetically funny at the same time.

Best Screenplay became an expected win for Spotlight, considering it’s well handled subject matter though the sci-fi intrigue and technological brilliance of Ex Machina was my favourite.

Adapted Screenplay got handed to The Big Short which for me was a Darth Vader scream of ‘Nooooo’ but apparently people lapped it up, my twitter feed had lots of BS fan’s…and that’s exactly what I’m calling…BS.

Next up we had a little video reel of black actors appearing in Oscar nominated films was brilliantly done; Tracy Morgan as a Danish girl or Whoopi Goldberg with a mop calling out the dumbness of Joy was a great tone to this whole #oscarssowhite issue/debarcle.

Supporting Actress came around, my heart beat levels for the Swedish stunner were rising. Luckily Vikander got the win, I was so so happy, I mean yes, Ex Machina was better but then she was the best feature about The Danish Girl even without eating pastries like Tracy Morgan.

Mad Max: Fury Road gained prizes for all the visual ideas, costume/hair/production which made this action movie more than expected. A huge dystopian world of thrills and vision. What a day, what a lovely day they had.

The Revenant won for cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, his third on the trot; fair as it does look grand, sweeping and beautiful but The Hateful Eight was also glorious but better detailed even when not outside in the snowy landscapes.

I very much liked how awards were presented this year, production or costume props rolled out as presenters came onto the stage. The sound and editing nominees were also presented well in the clips with a neat style to it all. Also commenting on the winners ticker tape that went along the bottom – I liked that, a fair chance for the winner to have names listed even if they forget in the heat of the moment or the orchestra plays them off.

Ex Machina got a Best Visual Effects win, yay, well deserved because the sci-fi of the film is stunning. And could we also pretend that Oscar Isaac’s dance number was a sublime visual effect for the movie.

Nice to see Buzz and Woody even if their voices sounded like they had a cold, even better because they almost made me forget that the Minions appeared at the Oscars, oy, what a sentence I never thought I’d write. Boy and the World perhaps should have won Best Animated Feature because it would have opened it up to more views but I can’t deny that Inside Out was excellent and therefore I’m happy it won.

Supporting actor finally came around after many commercials, what a surprise as I thought the nostalgia factor would of been ol’ Sly to get it after so long, that would have been a dream but from what I’ve heard Mark Rylance was a top draw act opposite Hanks.

Lady Gaga may not have deserved a Golden Globe but her performance last night was emotionally powerful, important, moving and a solid moment when stars stood and the world hopefully took notice. Like Legend and Common’s song of 2015, this performance very much leapt out as the big talking point.

Ennio Morricone seems like such a lovely humble man with his speech accepting Best Score, which spoke even louder volumes. A fantastic soundtrack for a fantastic film, which was followed by Sam Smith, yes really. That’s all I shall say otherwise I’ll get mean. Hang on though, his performance was dreary and his song is so meh…especially after that Gaga song how on Earth did he walk away with the Oscar??

Alejandro G. Inarritu won for The Revenant, very expected but I’m disappointed, we get it, it was a tough cold shoot but George Miller presented a fun yet directorial feat of thrills, spills and unique film-making, I mean a sequel of years for lordy sake and it was exhilarating for a 70 year old to direct.

Brie Larson , yay again, expected again but if you saw her in ‘Room’ then you know she was the rightful recipient for Best Actress.

Now the real big one, no black nominees aside, the Best Actor time had come. More memes for Leonardo DiCaprio or finally his turn?? He must know about the internet love for him and now he gets the Oscar looking genuinely in awe at the standing ovation. He did a lot for the trophy but I still feel this wasn’t the film for his prize, he always felt/looked like DiCaprio but with a beard and muddier. I kind of wanted him to lose for more memes to come rolling in.

Spotlight won the heavy metal for Best Picture and though it does follow all the yawn Oscar tropes it’s a seriously important topic and delved into well, the ensemble acting truly makes it too. I realise this will end up being a forgettable BP winner but it’s delicately directed and acted in the Church crime story being uncovered.

All in all, last night’s late watching proved a great choice, Chris Rock leapt at the hosting chance with great zip, the jokes sometimes got edgy but I feel they needed to be. The Oscars also provided some good surprises this year in terms of winners but sadly it may have all been let down by no sign of the one, the only and wickedly talented John Travolta.