Welcome to Marwen (2019)

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Inspired from a 2010 documentary, this plasticky picture has a great visual flair but feels as loosely coherent as one of the figures’ crooked joints.

Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) was a great illustrator but after a vicious hate crime, he’s lost his skill of drawing and his memory before being beaten to an inch of his life. In trying to combat his new social flaws and trauma, Mark has crafted a model village inhabited by gun-toting women and a brave WW2 pilot based on the likeness of Mark himself.

From ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ to ‘Polar Express’, director Robert Zemeckis has been behind a selection of iconic family films and this film seems to try going down that route but comes across many stumbling blocks, at least the animations aren’t as dead eyed as the festive affair of Hanks and co. The film is somewhat creepy and trying and it grates to new levels when Zemeckis tosses in movie echoes, seen in the ‘Forrest Gump’-inspired poster and a DeLorean style machine with subsequent flames, these aren’t grin worthy call backs but rather painful, self-congratulatory references.

‘Welcome to Marwen’ can never really shake the feeling that it doesn’t which lane to stay in, it’s a tonal mess; one with an alarming mixture of bumpy Nazi drama, witchy screwiness, hobbling melodrama and unusual narrative developments which could have been emotional but just take you right out of any wish of immersion. Also, the plot seems to be aspiring to be this progressive product but more often than not it tests the patience and Mark’s female-centred dream world and his interactions with neighbour Nicol (Leslie Mann) are less movingly sad but resoundingly awkward.

There are some interesting moments; the film possesses a nice shiny plastic sheen and the majority of the visuals are excellently mastered, with this comes a great level of awesome transitions between doll and human world with the town of Marwen being a lovingly detailed environment to be a part of. The film is sometimes quirky and oddball in a good way but more often, in a manner that’s all over the place with plot points to make you roll your eyes and a heavy coating of cringey dialogue lessening the engaging goal of the story.

Carell is alright to watch in this, he gets the balance between stutteringly awkward Mark and the kindness, artistic simplicity of the man. Though moments of strain and anguish where the actor screams, you can’t help but laugh as you’re reminded of a shouting Brick Tamland in the ‘Anchorman’ movies. The females of the ensemble are all well good, Gwendoline Christie, Janelle Monae, Mann and Eiza Gonzalez are caring characters but they never cross over the line to become interesting, they’re simply there to serve Mark’s interests and it feels too easy that they like and understand all of his Marwenian choices.

This is a strange bag, a Zemeckis movie with his effect of heavy-handed attempts of charm backfiring and getting annoyingly lost in a haze of good visuals and irritatingly ineffective sentimental fodder. This is not a doll Al would want to and box and ship to Tokyo.

5/10

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Tag (2018)

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Adulting can be tough, that’s life unfortunately but a bunch of mates playing a game of tag aka ‘it’ in their childhood and over 30 years later, putting aside realities of the real world to still catch each other sounds cool right? Well this actually happened and this comedy takes inspiration from that wacky true story.

Hoagie (Ed Helms) is keen to get his group of friends back together for one last hurrah in the hopes of tagging Jerry (Jeremy Renner); the only member whose never been caught. Every year in May, they play tag wherever and whenever. As the month ticks on and Jerry nears his wedding day, Hoagie and his trio of buddies try to finally get their friend.

The idea itself is a unique and amusing one, from the time I saw the trailer I was on board, because it looked like the film would be genuinely funny with a quirky story throughout. The comedy falls flat though and the actual juvenile witnessing of adults playing a child’s game, seen in some post credit videos are the light-hearted fun that the movie failed at entirely.

Tonally, this movie feels rather odd. It’s like a strange juggling act of typical American prat-falling with more serious elements of how they’re behaving and what they do no matter the cost. A narrative of playing this extensive game of tag to stay in contact could be endearing but it’s not explored enough. What we get instead, are excessive uses of swearing, slapstick violence and slow motion fights with a vaguely comic but over the top Renner voice over.

I will admit there are some funny moments, for example; three of them slapping each other in a small circle so they aren’t it or a house-break that goes beyond where you’d expect. Then there’s a genuinely unfunny joke made me seize up super-hard; a miscarriage strand that’s elongated, truly dark and wildly unfunny. The rest of the movie comes short of the premise and feels little like a comedy, thanks to my mind thinking that with just a tiny shift of direction and a change of score this feature could easily be a horror, Jerry and his dominance are almost sinister and the team are all fairly unlikable.

Helms helms the rag-tag group together nicely, he gives it his all as the competitive ringleader out to finally catch his distant compadre. Jake Johnson is amusing when believing the world is ‘The Truman Show’ and comes across like a stoner version of Nick Miller from ‘New Girl’. Renner drops his Hawkeye arrows but utilises his hero-like Avenger training as the fit and strongest tag player. Isla Fisher is a talented actor and usually funny but here she does little else than shout profanities aggressively. Jon Hamm also has little to do, he smoulders well and plays a tinge of arrogance but feels like the business bound chap to easily get the Wall Street Journal arc into play. Annabelle Wallis plays that journalist and like us is an onlooker to this madness, watching on in disbelief.

I feel like the true aspect itself is a dumb yet good idea but the film runs away with it too much and can’t handle the heavier story points. I was mildly entertained at times and some of the action is exciting but the cast look like they had more fun making it than I had watching them in it.

5/10

Sully (2016)

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Soaring heights and then crashing back to Earth very quickly, is this safe biographical drama that is interesting, good but an overall un-amazing feature that feels as if it’s hovering calmly over the water never daring to pull up or take the plunge.

In early January, Captain Sully (Tom Hanks) is boarding a flight from LaGuardia in New York to Charlotte in North Carolina, but he and First Officer Jeffrey (Aaron Eckhart) literally fly into trouble as a flock of birds damage their engines. In that quickening scenario of danger Sully manages to land the plane on the Hudson but this leads to many eyes determining whether he made a bad decision.

Clint Eastwood directs this inspiring story about a brave yet everyday hero in a similarly painted-by-numbers manner that he did with ‘Jersey Boys’. It all feels like it’s conforming to a pedestrian telling of a real life event. So considering the life-threatening drama involved it is a film that never comes across as something incredible, rather you’re faced with a good but wholly simple movie.

I couldn’t say I dislike the film though, it’s made efficiently enough and captures that work-like nature of a man in crisis with ease. The differing points of view that come throughout sees the landing from both sides and builds a good narrative, but they get slightly drawn aback by two pretty pointless flashbacks that show younger Sully’s through his work progression, they hardly warrant involvement in the actual finalised release.

The words plane and disaster are ones you never want to hear spoken together, so the few times we see Sully’s nightmarish visions of a plane smashing into a NYC building conjures up jangling nerves and a 9/11 horror. Though the twinkling Christmas-esque music over the passengers being saved is cliched it does help create a miraculous aura over the triumph of many people being helped by others.

Tom Hanks is, as you’d imagine, a fine solid lead playing a capable and charmingly knowledgeable hero, on the flip-side though you know it’s Hanks all the way through and you never lose yourself into his performance enough to buy into it 100%. Aaron Eckhart gets a few good quips and does well in helpfully rooting for Sully but is mostly lost to the wayside.

‘Sully’ flies effectively yet super calmly to the screen as a biopic like nearly every other biopic that gets released during this point of the film calendar. It does the job as Sully himself did but it’s a quiet and average film.

6/10

Elvis & Nixon (2016)

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There’s no question that the acting from these impressive male leads is what makes the film. Aside from the twinkling presence they both radiate, I feel this film goes down a bonkers route about a seriously odd meeting in a way that’s less than dominating than it should be.

Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) sees himself as a potential figure of hope and anti-drugs for the youth. He gets an idea to have a meeting with the President to gain a badge and become an agent at large. POTUS Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey) is at first against the idea but soon realises this meeting could prove very popular and so, on December 21st 1970, these two famous men meet.

Before the trailers I had no idea that this meeting ever took place, something I’m sure Elvis Presley would be glad about. He wanted it to be a secret, he wanted badges and control and clearly aiming for the President was the logical step. I’m glad I’ve seen this movie just for the fact in seeing something so absurd yet knowing it happened makes it even more unusual.

Liza Johnson does a great job in building up the apprehension of the real life based plot. We see Presley and Nixon at varying times, we see the men that aid their lives and so we sort of sit on the edge of our seats waiting for the inevitable meeting to take place. This comedy slash drama falls under sparkle yet no bang. There is no grand or even rewarding pay off by the end of this film, the Oval Office scene between these powerhouses of America is like a dud sparkler on Bonfire Night.

It could be called a bio-pic but then as no recordings took place in the office of Nixon until a year later, who’s to say how much of this movie is taking cinematic liberties just for entertainment purposes. I realise that Nixon’s hand Egil Krogh made notes on the event but apart from the photograph and his scribbles, there’s times that this movie makes things feel larger than life and I couldn’t swallow them as facts, comedy or entertaining. The film kind of feels off in a few places, whether it’s the lack of substance or the somewhat slow pacing, which is a shame considering the acting talent involved.

Michael Shannon dons a wig and shades in a convincing manner to portray the King of Rock and Roll. He has the hand gestures and deep drone voice down to an art and makes Elvis come alive in a charismatic way, even if there’s a couple of occasions where he catches your eye as a Vegas impersonator and looks oddly cheap. Kevin Spacey is perfect as Nixon I think, the jowly gravel tone of his voice and the hunched cross armed poses, he does a stellar job as the President. Colin Hanks and Evan Peters are both likable in their roles and Alex Pettyfer plays Presley PA/friend Jerry Schilling with a needed human touch amongst the caricature nature everywhere else.

Not as fascinating as I hoped, Elvis certainly enters the building with swagger but a meeting like this comes across like Heartbreak Hotel and not Whitehouse Rock.

6/10

Fruitvale Station (2013)

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Not knowing anything about the true life case of this movie’s focus point, I can unequivocally say that this a biographical drama that utterly buries into the life and character of a man who we get to know and therefore like. It’s heart rending, powerful and gripping as it looks at life and death.

Based on the real life events at Fruitvale Station of the Bay Area Rapid Transist system in California, this bio-pic follows 21 year old dad of one Oscar Grant (Michael B. Jordan) who is trying to live a better life for the sake of his daughter and partner Sophina (Melonie Diaz). On New Year’s Eve Oscar, Sophina and their friends go out to celebrate but their night ends up going fatally wrong.

Just the way we see day to day life helps us as the audience get on board with Oscar. He may have had a rocky past, lied and been involved with drugs but what matters is we see his progression and all those negative aspects actually aid in making him more human, a person with flaws like most of us. Every step of his life, from being brilliant with Tatiana, his daughter or caring about his mother shows us what a genuine friendly man Oscar was.

Ryan Coogler directs this film with a very motivated sense to stay true to the heart of Oscar and ensure those that watch feel the pain of the injustice served to a kind and young individual. The family of Grant of course worked very closely and I’m sure they’re humbled and proud of the work Coogler created because with the 16 mm format, the locations, the screenplay, everything feels and looks so real that it’s almost a glossy documentary. Also, the fact it was his debut feature promises great things from Coogler, now with ‘Creed’ under his belt too.

This is a very sobering movie, that leaves you very quiet and sucker punched as the credits roll and see the true life pictures on the anniversary of Oscar Grant’s death. I do admit I didn’t hear or know of this atrocity before hearing about the film so thankfully this movie sheds light on something I feel everyone should know. By placing in the mobile phone footage at the beginning it brings everyone else up to speed with what happened and sets the tone of the film running.

Michael B. Jordan is an astonishing presence in this, he’s outstandingly convincing as a fun yet caring father, trying and loving boyfriend and son. He plays the darker and aggressive edges very well just showing enough but not too much. He makes sure he gives Oscar empathy so we understand his journey and feel moved when he’s subjected to the sadly, very real and current act of police brutality. Octavia Spencer is a tower of strength as Wanda, his mother. Always wanting to seem strong and wish the best for her boy, it’s crumbling to watch her reaction when she knows Oscar has died. Melonie Diaz is a perfect note to compliment Jordan, she’s got a fun side but is very real in her emotions for wanting more of an honest man and of course when she wants answers near the end.

One of the more impacting films I’ve watched, leaving me shocked and saddened to tears for the atrocious handling of a night out. It’s thought provoking, relevant, powerful and so moving.

8/10

Love and Mercy (2015)

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It truly is mesmerizing, the music, the story and the acting completes such a whirlwind and engaging film that you want to know more and go out to buy the Beach Boys music. It’s such a deep and personal plot that even someone without much knowledge of the man in question can find this film greatly satisfying.

Cutting between 1960’s songwriter of the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) and 80’s Wilson (John Cusack) we follow this music man as he tries creating a masterpiece of an album and later as he copes with his increased condition and the weight of an oppressive therapist on his every day life.

Bill Pohlad directs this changing time period of a movie with finesse that it never jumbles or loses the audience, at least I don’t believe it ever does. This is only his second directorial gig, after a 24 year gap which is astonishing because this film feels like it’s in the possession of a creator with perfect vision and understanding. All of his producing credits have clearly helped his way as this movie flows effortlessly between the 60’s and 80’s, each setting giving us different yet worrying versions of Wilson as he grows aware of his mental condition.

The music scenes themselves are fantastic, not just because of the songs but in how they’re shown. I’ll give an example, as Brian is trying to put together a piece in the studio it feels like we’re there, witnessing this mastery take shape. The film has such a grand feeling of musical construction as he attempts to break the rock/pop mould. Notes and instruments take front and centre at different points as songs are dissected and painstakingly gone over to fulfill Wilson’s ideas. This is evident as he focuses on the strings in the well known ‘Good Vibrations’ track.

The screenplay is by Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner and is great in the terms of putting a lot in, of course it can’t paint in every fact and figure but there’s surely enough for Wilson fans and people who aren’t so clued up. Even in a little bit of looking about the man just today I see there’s so much about Brian Wilson so it’d be hard to expect the screenwriters to put in all of it. Perhaps more could of been done with Marilyn and the influence of the quite evil Landy but for what’s included, I truly invested in the story and found the life of this icon fascinating.

It goes without saying to mention that the music triumphs in this movie, even Atticus Ross’ score elevates the moments without lyrics. I feel ashamed to say I don’t own ‘Pet Sounds’ but after viewing this I want to badly. The sounds are so innovative and still sound fresh and a world better than the majority of music these days. The scene as we see Paul Dano’s younger Wilson tinkle on the ivories and sing ‘God Only Knows’ is hauntingly beautiful and stood out for me, it’s such a perfect lonely yet uplifting song for this feature’s theme.

Paul Dano crackles with amazing energy as the youthful Brian Wilson, making his more fractured scenes more heartbreaking as he starts hearing voices, getting testy and distancing himself. John Cusack is just brilliant as the middle aged man, trying to break free but quivering in his state. There’s a broken soul to his portrayal as the clearly more beaten down figure. Elizabeth Banks shines a light as the radiant love interest with a burning worry for the man she’s fallen for, she flicks between these emotions with ease showing she’s not just the typical go to comic actress. Paul Giamatti comes in and out as Landy, the assigned therapist and boy is he overbearing, twisted and yet sensationally interesting as this force of further badness pushing into Brian Wilson’s life.

‘Love and Mercy’ has this almost spiritual quality about it. It’s a film that gives great bittersweet truth to the biopic genre and tells a frankly creative and enthralling story about a real life music genius.

8/10