Coco (2018)

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Bursting with music and magic; Pixar are back with a triumph of animated art and festival folklore that is smart, spirited and pure pleasure.

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) has grown up in a family solely (pun intended) focused on making shoes. Frustratingly for him, his passion is with music but that is extremely frowned upon by those around him. On Dia de Muertos also known as The Day of the Dead, Miguel races to his idol’s resting place. Inside de la Cruz’s (Benjamin Bratt) mausoleum the young hopeful musician takes a guitar and finds himself on the other side with the throngs of the dead travelling back to see their families.

The huge Mexican holiday is brought to vivid and stunning life in this colourful and utterly beautiful animation. Pixar have always been a studio that I’ve loved following and after a large dip in quality and tired couple of years with sequels, it’s fantastic to see them release something original and back to the heights they’ve hit with films such as ‘Toy Story 3’ and ‘Wall-E’.

The team of animators deserve infinity applause because how they’ve taken storyboards to the finished product is breathtaking. The detail in not just the characters faces but in the plentiful lush backgrounds of the scenes; especially in the Land of the Dead are exceptional. There is such intense colour and warmth festive culture to be felt bursting from the screen. The Day of the Dead is a rich fruit ripe for the picking and after the musical and underrated ‘The Book of Life’, Pixar have also struck gold in finding a poignant and expressive coming of age story within this vibrant Mexican holiday.

‘Remember Me’ is the anthem of this film and it finds itself sung a few times and each one is presented differently in light of the tone within that current scene. It’s no surprise it has been collecting nominations during awards season as one version of this track; coming quite close to the end of the movie, is tear-jerking and filled with heart and soul that gladly made me forget the simplistic Disney-fied outings of ‘The Good Dinosaur’ or ‘Finding Dory’. Throughout this animated fantasy adventure; the music hits toe-tapping heights and soars through the narrative like another character.

What I enjoy most about this film, is that it doesn’t dumb down to it’s younger audience goers, it portrays a gloriously moving and celebratory tradition with thought provoking effect in such a way that children and families can all enjoy and understand the world presented to them. The emotional idea of being forgotten is such a powerful message and directed by Lee Unkrich and written by Matthew Aldrich & Adrian Molina, this strong core is never mishandled.

The great days of Pixar are here again and fingers crossed they remain, because this is a colourful and joyful movie that made me hope, dream, laugh and cry. There may be some predictable moments the story goes to but it doesn’t take away from how thoroughly engaging and spectacular this film is.

8.5/10

 

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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

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

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I do enjoy the Coen Brothers work, but I can’t say I’m gushing over this latest picture. It’s fun in places and soars because of a fabulous cast but I felt it was perhaps scattered too much and bereft of a gripping plot.

We find ourselves in the 1950’s and mostly follow Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood honcho who helps stars and productions keep good press. That could become tricky though as feature star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) gets kidnapped in the midst of filming a religious epic called ‘Hail, Caesar!’. A group calling themselves The Future want money for his release and so Mannix must try to get Whitlock back.

Joel and Ethan Coen direct and write this lark and do so with a clear fondness for the way movies come together. The laughs can be found as actors or directors guffaw over choices, most explicitly in the repetitive yet genius scene between Ralph Fiennes’ directing worry with Alden Ehrenreich’s cowboy icon of Hobie Doyle. The Coen’s flit between different sound stages letting us peek at differing productions which are amusing and interesting but this back and forth never gives the movie a sense of story or tension when there could have been. Without much of a plot this movie does look and sound more like a series of images to be loved by critics or classic film fanatics.

Roger Deakins, who really needs an Oscar by now, is on top form capturing wonder in this filmy feature. The glorious epic feel of the Romans sweeping through the screen or the synchronised swimmers gloriously twirling and floating around bombshell actress DeeAnna Moran played by bombshell actress Scarlett Johansson. It looks all the way through like a glorious picture of old, a love letter to the way movies used to be made.

The film did make me chuckle and grin but I never belted a laugh, and nor did many in the audience either, I feel this movie is more subdued and lacking of an engaging narrative than it should be. The angles it bounces off in become so many that characters are lost to minimal moments making them almost unnecessary. We see ideas skewed in from journalist stories, Capitalist thoughts, kidnap, pregnancy fixing, Communism and movie making that it doesn’t ever mesh, each point just hangs there never defined.

The characters are amusing though, their flourishes and their names being so wonderfully goofy and studio send ups. Thora/Thessaly Thacker, Burt Gurney and the winner – Laurence Laurentz. The dance number is toe-tappingly silly, Channing Tatum’s blonde flick and look backs are hilariously over the top and most character looks fall delightfully under the gormless idiot look that the Coen’s so brilliantly encapsulate in their writing. Only a shame that the characters aren’t backed up by a fun or rewarding plot.

Josh Brolin practically does everything as we see him do all the work, finding himself here there and everywhere trying to solve problems and ultimately bring back Baird. He is a straight man, not really demonstrating much comedy as George Clooney does that, going back to his ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ routine to play buffoonish and moronic. It’s not as good as that film or his performance in ‘Burn After Reading’ either but he is still having a ball. Alden Ehrenreich will be one to watch, he plays the singing Western star with such grounded believability that when he steps out of his comfort zone you feel for him, he ends up being the hero of the piece in my mind. Ralph Fiennes once again proves his unquestionable prowess for comic timing, in his two main scenes his face speaks volumes and his delivery adds even more. Scarlett Johansson pulls the cheesy starlet grin with no depth as the mermaid and then counters with a thick accent and a penchant for problems. Tilda Swinton fans get two for the price of one as she portrays twin journalists with a sense of striking fashion and similarly striking headlines. Frances McDormand is a smoking, scarf wearing editor that is merely a cameo but brings in one of the better moments as we see how well the Coen Bros can do dark material. Channing Tatum tap dances his way through as a sailor and more. Hail, Dumbledore! We even get Michael Gambon as a narrator just to make this whole thing more starry and more filmy filmy.

Flecks of brilliance and movie making behind the scenes comedy but a portion empty and flat for my liking. This Coen outing is boosted by a grand cast and a glowing adoration to movies of the golden era.

6.5/10