Mary Shelley (2018)

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“It’s Alive!” Yes, Dr Frankenstein, the story of how you and your creature came to be, comes almost alive in this Irish/British/Luxembourgian joint production captained by Haifaa al-Mansour.

Mary Godwin (Elle Fanning) has a writer for a father and works in a bookshop, so it’s no surprise that she loves to read and someday she hopes to be a writer. After a trip up to Scotland where she meets poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth), Mary becomes besotted with the man and he too returns those romantic affections. It isn’t long before fractures in their relationship show and these darker moments lead Mary to find her voice and write her story.

Alternatively titled ‘A Storm in the Stars’, this period drama seems to be lost in space at points. It’s a two hour run-time and a good portion of the film feels like a slow crawl. There’s no dazzling spark of a star in the story to be found, it’s almost like the movie is making her hectic late-teenage years feel more mundane than they clearly were. It definitely reached a point where I was internally begging Mary to write the damned story.

Emma Jensen has a good grasp on the poetic language and manages to weave in some nice moments between Mary and her sister Claire but amongst that are a lot of examples that come across with a pretentious tone, which I guess when you have a story featuring English Romantics is to be expected. The script itself isn’t helped further by the actors delivering their lines in a way that’s reminiscent of a stage play, as if they’re projecting their voices up into the rafters which isn’t necessary in cinema. It gives some scenes a distracting hammy quality.

Gladly, ‘Mary Shelley’ the film and the figure herself progress as we enter the stages of the second half. As a Geneva-set ghost story challenge swings into action and Mary’s keen, blossoming interest in science plays on her mind, the film gradually lifts itself out of the dragging mire and lights up a creative bulb within the title character. Haifaa al-Mansour’s previous works that feature strong women help her direct the learning curve of Mary; her troubling years with Percy gift her the experience to work on writing this bold material called ‘Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus’.

Elle Fanning is superb in this, she captures an essence of courage in a girl not quite confident to have her own distinctive voice. Yet, you believe that she’s an intelligent and brave woman and Fanning shows great emotion playing the part of a neglected soul. Douglas Booth utilises his acting chops in a genre he’s well used to by now, that dashing charm works in selling Percy as the sophisticated poet, but there’s an extra something there which he carries and ensures Mary’s beau isn’t a man that can fully be trusted. Joanne Froggatt basically becomes the Lady Tremaine of the act and performs in such a way that wouldn’t be amiss in pantomime. Tom Sturridge revels in his grandeur and mascara as Lord Byron. There’s no denying that the poet is flamboyant and smart but he’s almost a villainous chap too, the misogyny within him is fairly extreme and he has no cares for the feelings or intellect of women.

This film is by no means a terrible one, but the fantastic performance from Fanning isn’t enough to stop me thinking that the real Mary Shelley deserves better than what this story gives.

5/10

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On Chesil Beach (2018)

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Here is a reunion of sorts, as ‘Atonement’ star Saoirse Ronan and its author team up to tell the story of a young married couple. It’s a small scale tale and one that’s excellently performed, but it’s a film that comes across as quite bland.

Spending their wedding night at a hotel near Chesil Beach; are classical music player Florence (Saoirse Ronan) and country romantic Edward (Billy Howle). As they near the consummation of their marriage, it becomes clear that something could stand in their way.

The 1962 period and quintessential Britishness of the Dorset locations are prettily shot. Sean Bobbitt certainly gives the stretch of uncomfortable looking shingle a vague haunting quality. It also is a place of quiet yet heated reflection which becomes the setting of the revelation that stirs the pot and helps step the film narrative up.

Before this moment, I have to say the movie is quite a slow and dragging affair. There are some humorous moments and within the flashbacks of their courtship, it’s clear to see their adoration but they’re never totally interesting. There’s also the matter, that after the big moment, there’s two points in the plot that are so predictable. Luckily, I can forgive the expect record shop moment and the ending because they’re performed so well that my gut was punched and my eyes almost welled with tears.

Ronan is always an sensational actor to watch and that doesn’t change here. The way she plays the upper class and more stuffy frigid nature of her character is superb, you always buy into Florence’s pained fears of commitment. Howle, surprisingly, stole the film for me. I love Ronan as an actor but I was enthralled by his turn as Edward and especially in the later stages of the film I felt for him.

It’s not a clumsy film but it’s not exactly a serene picture-perfect one either. The acting from the two lovers are what keep the interests just above nap-mode. ‘On Chesil Beach’ comes across like a great Sunday afternoon watch, to have on whilst you’re enjoying a solid British roast dinner.

6/10

I Feel Pretty (2018)

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Sigh. I mean first of all, let me say that I’m not an Amy Schumer fan, so going into this was always likely to lead to pained reactions. In that sense, this film isn’t a disappointment because it is painfully unfunny and a right drag to complete.

Renee (Amy Schumer) helps control the website for a major cosmetics company, but she’s hidden away in a basement and on top of this she’s getting increasingly annoyed at the way society views woman who don’t conform to the stereotypical attractive ‘look’. After an accident at SoulCycle, Renee comes around and thinks she’s changed and become the typically gorgeous woman she always wished to be, but to the bemusement of those round her because she looks exactly the same.

Obviously this film is squaring on a message of powerful self identity and appreciating yourself no matter how you look or what others think and say, which is all well and good but there’s times when it doesn’t follow that road with great conviction and other times when it slams the audience over the head with excruciatingly on the nose dialogue, time and time again forcing the values home, of loving who you are.

The above issue of overbearing and patronising writing to deliver a theme wouldn’t be so bad, if we were at least distracted by some great moments of comedy, but there is none of that to be found. I didn’t laugh once, I counted 9 others in the screen and not one of those watchers laughed or chuckled either. It’s just so boring and seems to rely on the incessant yammering of Renee which is more annoying than amusing. As with Melissa McCarthy movies, these two female performers tend to literally fall back on the uninspired method of prat falling to try and elicit laughter….and I ain’t biting.

I don’t doubt that Schumer has talent and can be charming, but her turn as Renee is horrendous and she’s almost the villain of the piece because I just couldn’t ever connect to her or like her. There’s a couple of places near the beginning where Schumer is fine to watch and made me think this movie could be alright but then it gets worse. Michelle Williams? Yes, why is she in this, again at first I thought she could be great, a kind of Jesse Plemmons in ‘Game Night’ comedic supporting character, but she loses any of her icy fashionista aura and her child-doll voice gets ever irritating.

As said, this was never going to be a film for me, but then it’s great when a movie can subvert expectations and all films should possess that chance. This one never ever gets close to the chance of becoming a fun or funny watch. By the end of it, I Felt pretty close to falling asleep.

2.5/10

Love, Simon (2018)

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Better late than never I guess, as I’ve finally gotten around to seeing the film that everyone was talking about, before the Marvel behemoth arrived. I’m so glad I’ve now watched ‘Love, Simon’ because it’s exceptionally sweet, greatly acted and shows diversity isn’t a token thing.

Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) lives a fairly normal American teen life, living with mum, dad and aspiring foodie sister. He also has a solid friendship group but he’s hiding a secret; this being that he’s gay. On a school social chat board, Simon sees that someone calling themselves Blue is also trying to juggle the pressures of his sexuality against friends and family. They soon email back and forth and Simon just hopes that he can uncover the mystery of who Blue is.

Obviously there are some moments within this, that effectively angle towards the emotional aspect of Simon’s dilemma, but the best quality is how spirited and uplifting this movie is. Greg Berlanti has directed a coming out plot, focusing on coming of age and the people around Simon are just as important in his decisions. Working with typical but immersive high school scenery, an eclectic soundtrack and a talented group of performers, Berlanti handles what could have been a soppy or cringey narrative with sincerity and light humour.

The film isn’t by any means a powerhouse movement for gay cinema but it’s long overdue, even if it landed with odd ‘aawws’ from girls in my screening when Simon comes out. Perhaps, that’s the problem, the film does feel a slight too sugary sweet along the way, which for me at least, lessened the dramatic notion of what Simon and Blue are going through.

There are fantastic moments of genius throughout the film, from teens telling their parents they’re straight, to an outrageously camp college dance number, to the drama teacher who was my personal favourite. She’s written damn well, firing great lines of comedy but showing a caring, take-no-prisoners side in a cafeteria scene that made me sit up and clap (in my mind of course, I’m British, I’d die of embarrassment causing a scene in the cinema).

Robinson is a revelation and is a million miles away from the performance I saw in ‘Jurassic World’. Here he balances great joy, pained uncomfortable revelations and genuine romantic chops that drew me in with ease. Alexandra Shipp is fascinating as the kinda new kid in the friendship circle. She also balances beaming moments of joy with a tougher side and seeing her story progress with the forced dates alongside Martin are stunningly acted. Josh Duhamel totally convinces as the little seen jock-cum-father with a soft side and a lack of technological know-how. Jennifer Garner also doesn’t feature much but when she’s on screen she knows how to grab your attention but not distract from Robinson’s performance either. A scene with her and Simon is simply shot but brings all the emotive weight necessary for that moment.

There are some iffy moments that didn’t convince me along the way, but all in all this is a really charming coming of age romantic story, sold by a superbly talented cast.

7.5/10

Lady Bird (2018)

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Landing in cinemas finally with its UK wide release, is a stunning and heartwarming coming of age tale, expertly realised by both its cast and debut director Greta Gerwig, who captures and pens meaningful insight into the trials of growing up.

Sporting a red hair style and a pink cast on her arm, American student Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is at a Sacramento Catholic high school trying to find her way and hopefully fly the nest to the East Coast and culture of New York. Her teenage way of thinking causes frictions with her mum Marion (Laurie Metcalf), who sees Lady Bird as being ungrateful. As the teenager tries to find her way, she may indeed find out how important her family is too.

For a debut writing and directing venture, this is almost solid gold from Greta Gerwig. She weaves in great moments of humour between sudden hits of emotion and poignancy, these ups and downs are reflective of the central mother-daughter dynamic and though it isn’t aimed at me, I still definitely connected to the story thanks to seeing how my sister and mum were and are. It’s this fantastic resonance that Gerwig ensures is consistent and truly believable.

Her directing is practically perfect, the choice to numerously have the camera tracking right to left on shots of places within the city help explore the setting nicely and by the end of it all we’re affected by this wonder, boredom and ultimately grounded connection to home. Gerwig gives this film a spirited exploration of adolescent angst with many fantastic confidently static scenes at home and school to illustrate the relatable turmoil of parent-child turbulence.

This is a film that made me and others laugh multiple times. The comedy of difficult teens and the setting of apparently boring Sacramento in 2002/3 is mined startlingly well. Nostalgia through visual fashion, prop decoration and music gifts this a palpable sense of reality and fits in with the same greatly moulded Richard Linklater world of ‘Boyhood’. As someone with a theatre degree I loved the scenes with drama games and warm ups, they’re on point and very funny indeed, especially a sports coach tackling show staging. The whole aspect of Lady Bird and her trouble to find a place in the strife of school social circles is fantastically scripted.

Fundamentally this is a narrative revolving around the often strained mother-daughter bond. They enjoy open houses, shopping and in-car cassette tapes but of course they have their sticky moments of arguments and troubled face-offs. Come the final frame of the movie, the emotional core of family and knowing where your roots are rings loud, though there are plenty of laughs, this is a film that made me tear up from time to time I must say.

Saoirse Ronan is splendid and her talent shines through in the titular role of a teenage girl living the highs and lows of joy, first loves, best friends, craving popularity and wanting nothing more than being out of her mums influence. It’s Lady Bird’s name, bold hair statement and arm cast that are worn like symbols of individuality as she hopes to understand her place in the world. Laurie Metcalf excellently plays the caring yet put upon mother and is convincing with pent up frustrations and maternal tensions that boil over at times. One scene with her near the end is so simply shot but she acts so well I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Tracy Letts provides gentle humour as the calm dad with a kind heart and his character is nicely fleshed out. Lucas Hedges I must commend on creating an impressive blossoming romance before his path is developed and a scene between him and Ronan outside a coffee shop almost rips your heart in two.

I’d say that nearly the entirety of this coming of age comedy/drama had me feeling warmly fuzzy and beaming widely as I watched. Family and home is important and this film comically and charmingly holds a mirror on that central theme.

8/10

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