Stronger (2017)

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Unlike the usual and therefore, cliched biographical dramas, this film based on a true story of a terrorist attack survivor is mature and involving and raw.

Costco worker and Red Sox fan Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) lives at home in Boston with his mum, Patty (Miranda Richardson). Desperately trying to win back his on/off girlfriend, Jeff ensures he’ll see Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany) at the finish line of the Boston Marathon but he’s caught in the blast and loses both his legs. The following weeks see him try to come to terms with this tragic change in his life.

A lot of films that adapt or take from real life accounts seem to run along with over sentimentality and hope to force their audiences into gushing with sad tears, which of course works on the most part for people but I’ve always been one to find this tactic false and misleading. Gladly, this movie doesn’t push the emotional side of proceedings and lets the devastating tragedy of Jeff’s drama come across in a more genuine and bitterly angry way.

It’s in the relationship between Jeff and Erin that the film feels alive or most real. You see both sides and this film does set up the human flaws in Jeff from before and after the bombing. He’s a figure that never seems wholly scared of commitment just shies away from it, this becomes even more of a realisation once he’s reliant on his wheelchair and the help of Erin. Their journey is very much up and down and the film doesn’t gloss over the troubling but expected anger and self-hatred aspect Jeff faces, which he turn takes out on his girlfriend.

There are some well delivered scenes amongst the relationship angle of this inspirational hero narrative. The way the camera keeps his disabled legs out of focus in keeping with Jeff’s understandable decision to not look as they remove the bandages and gauze is a tough moment. A screaming match in the car may be a certain cliche but it’s a heated and close framed scene that packs a punch. In a dangerous but comedic way, Jeff and his brothers leave a bar and Jeff attempts driving back which is done in a light hearted free spirited way that works quite well.

Certain moments throughout, like the continual patriotic vibe and this hero pedestal he’s been thrown onto feel like a bit too much. The pitching at a baseball game, his flag waving and so on, he’s set up as a hero which the film at times questions how he is for just being there when a bomb went off and having his legs lost, but then at times it truly buys into this hero arc and feels like the only cliche of the movie.

Jake Gyllenhaal is sensational in this, the quite vulnerable child-like eyes he demonstrates from before attending the marathon continue throughout. There’s a crackling damaged intensity in his core that he acts with such outstanding detail. Tatiana Maslany is on par with the acting talents of Gyllenhaal, she releases hugely affecting emotion in the light of her world being turned upside down. As Erin says, Jeff isn’t the only one hurt, there’s a circle all around him of people changed by what happened. It’s not a selfish outburst and thanks to the likable and genuinely deep rooted care and heart she brings, Maslany ensures the connection between the pair is believable.

It’s not a tear-jerker and thankfully it’s not trying to be that kind of weepy picture. It may make you cry just a little but it’s a strong and inspirational film that is carried more by it’s two leads than the way the story is told.

7.5/10

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Wonder (2017)

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I’d been hearing a lot of good and great things about this film recently, so I checked it out at the cinema and I can see where people are coming from most definitely, but I also am not fully on board the hype bus like the rest of them.

August Pullman aka Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) is about to have his first day at school, which is even more nerve-wracking because he has a condition called Treacher Collins syndrome, he fears how he looks will make him a target of bullying from the other children. Through the movie we see him and his supportive family take a stance and show that love and kindness are apparently all you need.

Directed by author and creator of his own adaptation with ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’, Stephen Chbosky should have a knack for taking novel material and spinning it for cinematic screens. On the whole he does have that skill and manages to run with the evident sentiment of Auggie’s world and his writing/creative aptitude helps us get on the same level as the young lad and truly feel his journey. The bonds between friends and family are what keep the film from truly dipping into sentimental overload.

Saying this I did find a lot of what I watched to be very contrived, the dialogue is extremely on the nose at points and there are some painfully obvious choices of songs at times that feel like you’re watching a tackily edited X Factor audition overlain with one of those power ballad sob stories. Another weak factor for me, was with the child actors who look and sound quite terrible opposite the brilliant Tremblay. Charlotte, for example is a cringey try hard stereotype and the bullies are kind of awkward. There is a lot of predictable storytelling to be found and it’s like the movie is nudging us to emotion which had the opposite effect on me.

The family home scenes were the stronger elements and in fact I found myself intrigued by their stories, the hope of having peeks into other characters kind of happens but not overly and Auggie’s sister is someone who had a story to tell that I was interested in and found more engaging truth be told. There are also some good, fun and quite creative touches in ‘Wonder’, such as the courageous lad imagining space of Chewbacca at school or the amusing imagery of ‘Scream’ Ghostface being left hanging from a high 5.

Owen ‘Wow’ Wilson is alright in this, nothing spectacular as the self believing cool father, he’s got some light relief to add and can go back to his ‘Marley and Me’ roots to act from again. Julia Roberts is superb and shines when she can, showing convincing tearful emotion and really gripping the narrative with her turn as the mum. Jacob Tremblay isn’t exactly a wonder, but he’s a fine young talent that marvellously plays this different but smart and huge hearted kid.

It’s a safe film with a constant drive of messaging us with the moral of being kind and tolerant and I don’t fully get the amazing love people have for it but it’s engaging and sweet nonetheless.

6/10

Battle of the Sexes (2017)

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Game, set and match! This film is an ace of a biopic and extremely relevant with the current climate of the female/male divide. High flying 60s/70s tennis star Billie Jean King and women as a gender themselves rise up and show the grass should be as green on their side of the court as the men.

Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) is a world class tennis talent but she and every other racket wielding sportswoman are subjected to taunts, digs and extremely less pay than the apparently better and more exciting male tennis players. King says no more, to important Lawn Tennis Association figure Jack Kramer (Bill Pullman) and starts her own tournament. This bold journey leads her agreeing to a match with former champion Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) in the first Battle of the Sexes match.

The story telling is incredibly engaging and like with tennis we go back and forth between the two sides and see how this very, very different people live their lives and train for the big sporting event. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ writer Simon Beaufoy pens an assured telling of an important topic for empowerment and liberation. There are still great drop shots of comedy to be found along the way but he ensures the serious message of gender equality is at the forefront.

The way this film is delivered really works well in making you get excited for the big face off. I wasn’t expecting it to show much of any tennis playing of the match itself and thought it’d adapt Bobby and Billie’s stories leading up to this point but gladly there’s a lot of edge of the seat playing to be seen, you really see the styles of the two players come to a head and as someone who loves watching tennis, the last sequence is exhilarating, tense and beautiful all at the same time.

There is a set of interesting points with this sports story and a lot of them boil down to loves and politics. It’s not just a dramedy but a smartly told narrative that keeps a genuine interest in its subjects. On the softer side there is a forbidden fruit notion of love that ticks away, this secreted passion further adds to the dramatic relevance of the characters and their pre-match behaviours. One is a incessant gambling man-child and the other is a laser-focused achiever struggling with a new feeling in her life.

Stone serves up a careful and emotive performance as the courageous and capable Billie Jean King. You see past her period glasses and into her eyes and get an idea of the amazing and forward thinking woman she was and I’m sure still is. Carell smashes the movie in a role that continues his run of serious acting performances. It may not carry that chill of ‘Foxcatcher’ or the brains from ‘The Big Short’ but he utilises on his comedic background whilst still giving Bobby Riggs a worrying quality of chauvinistic pig-pigheadedness. Andrea Riseborough is a glowing presence in the life of King and she plays this more confident person with a free spirit in a believable and effortless manner.

It’s not a total grand slam of a bio drama as it hits the net with a couple of expected sporting drama cliches or predictable story moments, but these are mere tiny notes in a film that greatly balances pleasing humour and interesting gender politics with a leading duo of actors that are fantastic.

7.5/10

Paddington 2 (2017)

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Hurrah! A sequel that’s just as wonderful as the first time around. Peruvian bear Paddington is back for some more misadventures in this great family friendly film that cleverly mixes fun, heart and a sweet marmalade helping of entertainment.

Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) is used to his Windsor Garden lifestyle at home with the nicer than nice Browns but his Aunt Lucy’s (voiced by Imelda Staunton) birthday is imminent and he’d like to earn enough money to get her a special pop up book of London. This same book gains the attention of actor and thief Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) who wants it for his own greedy gain.

This film isn’t just about the delightfully British storytelling that leaves you with a glow in your heart, there’s plenty of splendid visual glory to aid this narrative along. One example of this brilliance is within the section where the pop up book becomes a fully realised London and we swoop through the 3D paper landmarks, it’s just beautiful. There is an evidently Wes Anderson-esque style to some of the movie, but it isn’t a cheap copy and within the very ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ prison scenes there’s a delightful quirkiness to the plot development emphasised by the similar way in which the 1st Paddington flick opened up a dolls house like building to peer through.

The microcosm of the street that the Browns live on, surviving and flourishing due to the kindness and politeness of Paddington is a great example of his lovely influence for the rest of London and beyond. The family are still a wonderful dynamic each with their characteristics that are nicely set up in the opening narration by Pad-Bear. It’s a funny and yet warming touch as we catch up with how the family is doing since last time we saw them.

As villains go, Hugh Grant’s turn as the dastardly fading actor clinging to any spotlight he can is a marvellous one. The writers Paul King and Simon Farnaby have ensured that his drive propels the plot along but they don’t neglect the humour in setting up wickedly barmy antics of a self indulgent actor. On the slightly poorer side I was hoping the clue hunt idea could have been fleshed out more and been more engaging but they spent more time obviously on Paddington and his hipster prison which I’m sure many would try and break into to experience!

Slapstick is just as present a tool within this movie and it’s not entirely grating like it can so often be. It is admittedly the weaker side of the film aimed at the younger audience goers and yet all the excessive falling doesn’t take the front seat which is a relief. It’s gladly a movie directed with such care and attention, to making a wonderfully cosy feature fun for every age and author Michael Bond’s grizzly creation comes back to the big screen and Blighty’s capital in such a way that you don’t want him to ever leave it.

Whishaw is just as innocently naive yet comfortably good natured as he was before. He brings emotive realness to a bear that you’d be happy to bear in your home. Grant as Buchanan is amazing, his thespian theatrics are turned up to 11 for OTT heaven and stay tuned during the credits for some am dram campy goodness. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins are just as nice as ever, there continual care to be there for Pad-Bear is believably felt. Julie Walters gets more time to shine this time which is good and she delivers an amazing line about the evilness of acting as a profession. Peter Capaldi is a great grouch assigning himself undeserved power in the street. Both Richard Ayoade and Farnaby threaten to steal the show in their cameo roles, the latter back again as Barry; the amusing and mildly sleazy guard.

‘Paddington 2’ splash lands with a window cleaning bucket of charm, leaves you smiling and perhaps teary eyed at times. It’s an adorable and lovely family treat, that I found as enjoyable as Paddington likes the orange stuff.

8.5/10

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

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Well cor blimey, this film looks delicious up on the big screen. The visuals aren’t the only delights though; storytelling, acting, music and cinematography are all excellent features of this sci-fi sequel that in my tiny insignificant opinion may be just as good if not better than the original.

Possibly a first here as I won’t go into a usual plot summary paragraph because I feel that any info on what the story serves could be, if not a spoiler at least something that ruins the element of intrigue that you should enter this movie with. Suffice to say it’s 30 years after the setting of the first one and we follow K (Ryan Gosling) in dystopian LA following a case after discovering something potentially world changing at a farm.

Even though I hadn’t seen the 1982 movie at the time, once this film was announced with details of Denis Villeneuve attached I did squeal a little. This incredible visual and smart director gave me cause for excitement and he does indeed pull off an incredibly visual and smart film again. It’s a very intelligent movie with cause for thought and the whole dystopian set up like in the first one gives amazing room for creative space and design. Villeneuve keeps the tone similar but that doesn’t stop him from expanding on ideas and updating them to fit in the mould of what 2049 could bring.

A strong theme within both movies is the notion of identity. In a way I feel this thread is felt even more within this release thanks to the character of K and the freedom movement he is tracking. What makes us human and what does that mean are two powerful questions and they course throughout the film with constant but not overbearing presence. The whole hero idea is another one played with and K is an interesting character because he’s not exactly all out nice guy but that moral code sits within him. A film is always good or great I say when it leaves you thinking about what you’ve seen and immersing yourself into that world to think on possible answers.

Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch have conducted a wonderful score that trickles along in the background adding suitable futuristic sounds and as Zimmer does best the rises and boom of music at times creates the tension within certain scenes. Better than the music though is the sublime work from director of photography Roger Deakins who deserves to finally win an Academy Award with the sheer beauty he gifted this movie. The lines and forms are stunning all the way through, for example the yellow shifting light and frames captured within Wallace’s headquarters are mesmerising.

I have to comment on the newer technological ideas implanted in the movie too; such as the memory maker aspect which was visually pleasing and a very neat idea. The ‘Her’ like sexual encounter with K and hisĀ girlfriendĀ with help from someone else was another case of something visually different. A fight with the background holographic accompaniment of Elvis and some showgirls further boosts the creative visual flair.

This film may be a little long and at times the pacing, like in the original, feels at odds and can be a tad slow but the detective story-line and the stunning future world presented on a big screen makes this a science fiction movie to stand up on its own and not just as a follow up to the Ridley Scott outing. In fact because I got to see this in the cinema unlike the first one, that is possibly the reason I like this more, the atmosphere and scale of seeing it on the big screen is necessary for this movie.

7.5/10

Blade Runner (1982)

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Forgive me Movie Community for I have sinned. Today was the 1st time I’d seen this film in almost 27 years of existence. A cult classic and movie continually hitting Top film lists and finally I have watched it…mostly in preparation for the new flick but also to try and rectify a big list of classics I’ve not yet seen.

As a group of ‘Replicants’ (extremely strong and equally intelligent synthetic humans) arrive to Earth, Deckard (Harrison Ford) takes one last job to track them down and kill them. Things don’t go so easy though as he comes across Rachael (Sean Young) and eventually comes face to face with Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer).

The genre of this movie is something I can wholeheartedly get behind, the slick neo-noir vision is indeed special even to this day, so I can only imagine how it may have looked back in the early 80’s. The combination of futuristic science fiction vibes with film noir is most definitely cool and provides a great backdrop for not only the look of the world being created but the rich story too.

Based off a book by Philip K. Dick, who’s adapted work is further seen currently on Channel 4 which I really want to see, this film written by David Peoples and Hampton Fancher almost effortlessly blends the sci-fi genre of fantastical worlds, gadgets and futuristic elements with the layered and more interesting aspects of noir; the femme fatale, the questionable detective hero and moody lighting and moodier characters.

Not that far into the film I began questioning the central idea of clones and the Replicant possibility within the main character. I see now that it has been a topic of controversy for years. Not helping matters are the changes in various versions of this film that have been shown, released and updated. I watched the Final Cut and I must say that I did start thinking that Rick Deckard could very well be a copy and not human but I guess that interpretation idea makes for good conversations and a thinking piece.

Another controversy is my admittance that though I enjoyed the film and see it’s very very well made, I didn’t completely get behind the hype and amazement people have built it up to have over the years. It’s acted well in places, the music from Vangelis is stellar and the plot is interesting, quite complex and provoking but it felt like a lullaby in places and didn’t keep my interest as I wished it may have done. Perhaps I misunderstood it like people did upon it’s first release but the mystery of the narrative never gripped me and the pacing was slightly irritating.

Those are my only negatives, which I know could well have me shot. Aside from that I get that this film is a superb sci-fi and the ground-breaking hybrid and intelligent story-making on show is cause for this definitive status. I back that status and would recommend the film, I just wouldn’t put it on my Top 10 or Top 20 list of films. Forgive me again Movie Community.

7/10

 

La La Land (2017)

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Well, not for a long while have I been eagerly anticipating a movie like the release of this musical drama. Add on top the record-breaking Golden Globes haul then you have a very excited chap. For the most part this film delivers, it’s stylish, fun, heartfelt but I don’t agree with all the souped up hype it’s received.

After a minor amount of road-rage where aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) cross paths, they end up bumping into each other again and again which leads to a romance through the year. As they try following their dreams in LA it becomes a harder challenge to keep the love alive.

I have to say that I absolutely adored the first half or so of this film. It harks back to that classic glitz and glamour of Hollywood old with a neat dose of a modern touch thanks to the musical and confident direction from Damien Chazelle. Just from the sweeping opening on a Los Angeles highway to the delicate changes in lighting, the songs and story begin with a bang.

It helps that we get brilliant performances and a clear chemistry between the two main characters but also the style adds a neat note to the song-sheet that is this feature. There’s times that it looks and sounds like a studio set production and you’d expect Fred Astaire to come tap dancing in. The writing by Chazelle, is for the most part a well handled story that lends a two-sided coin to the LA lifestyle but with an obvious landing on dreams to follow and achieve.

As I sat in my seat I found myself hooked and smiling along to a wonderful series of scenes but then annoyingly, there came a specific moment where I even felt myself disengaging and from then on, the writing becomes very generic and almost cliched. It drifts into a romantic plot you’d expect to find in every other manically churned out rom-com. This frustrated me because I was expecting it to keep going with the gleeful whizz of CinemaScope delight but instead…it wains.

It is almost saved as we get a short burst of style near the end showing a quick run of events. So yes I agree it’s a fantastically well made and enchanting film, it deserved 3 perhaps 4 of the Globes it picked up out of 7. This is obviously, as I realised as they were winning, a case of the voters loving films that celebrate America or the US saving the day -(note Argo winning Best Picture)

Song wise, ‘Another of Day of Sun’ is jolly, sun-drenched and a perfect, literally perfect way to start a film of this genre. ‘City of Stars’ is sung well and has a melancholy yet magical sound but I don’t see how that gets the attention when Stone’s ‘Audition’ song is better performed and has better lyrics. Though it’s naff for jazz and a typical Top 40’s track, John Legend’s performance of ‘Start a Fire’ works well in showcasing the path Seb is taking away from his dream.

I’m not a total grouch because I did enjoy the majority of the film, I just don’t feel it should have broke GG records and I hope the Oscars gives some variety because ‘La La Land’ does swerve into a nearly boring not great second half.

7/10