Loving Vincent (2017)

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Like walking into a gallery and experiencing all the portraits coming alive in front of your very eyes; this biographical movie which is the first fully painted one, is a beautifully realised work of art that is incredibly special to see.

A year after the death of struggling artist Vincent van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk), we follow Armand (Douglas Booth) as he tries to deliver a letter from the artist himself to Van Gogh’s brother. Along the way he meets a host of different people that make him start questioning the lead up to the man’s untimely passing.

Diving straight into the rich oil textures of the film, I have to comment and commend the artists that trained to capture van Gogh’s style and then also become animators to make this film the truly wonderful and stunning product it is. There are 65’000 frames and each one was an actual oil painting on canvas, this staggering amount of work really make the visuals something you’ve never seen before. Seeing the actors as shifting painted faces is definitely unique and they roam in a finely accomplished world of animated scenery that plays with form and perspective.

Also the lines, shapes and swirls of the brush strokes in motion was amazing to see, the flickering of lights in the background or the shaky blobs of paint you watch pulsating help the scenes look like the works of Gogh come to colourful life. I know some of his paintings and recognising them in the movie was interesting but the end credits with a page turning book reveals more about the attention to detail that went into this love letter about a very talented man.

One sad truth is the standard style over substance idea and this film does play its style card and never really finds the substance it needs. I couldn’t shake the notion that the entire narrative; backed by Clint Mansell’s tinkling score, was akin to a Columbo detective mystery as we watch the yellow jacketed Armand keep to his delivery task. Yes, the plot is interesting to a point, as I found out more about the life and times of this Dutch Post-Impressionist but the flashback storytelling with characters spieling off amounts of expositional information is a bit safe and uninspired.

Booth is a charismatic fellow to have lead the film from place to place. Jerome Flynn is an uncannily good choice as the try hard artist/physician Gachet, the look of him compared to the painting is incredibly similar. Helen McCrory is a God-abiding housekeeper who plays stern and uncaring for Gogh with great believable ease. Saoirse Ronan and Eleanor Tomlinson are perfect as two women close to the tortured soul of the title. They add intriguing elements of character not only in the roles they play but how they saw Vincent van Gogh. I must also mention Bill Thomas who plays eccentric Doctor  Mazery.

It may be such a cliche to say, but this is a paint by numbers story and account of a dynamic individual. Yet, even with the simple method of plot delivery, the craftsmanship and labour of heart etched into this film is something else. The film looks vivid, exceptional and shimmers with breath-taking style.

7.5/10

 

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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

Passengers (2016)

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‘There’s a reason they woke up early’, so the tagline for this movie goes, as it turns out it’s not a very interesting or even great one. The only great thing the film has going for it is the fun chemistry between its leads and a superbly glossy style for the ship where the action takes place.

Avalon; a spaceship, is travelling to Homestead II, a planet for people to live on. The course will take 90 years but suddenly passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) awakes from his hibernation pod and finds himself alone. Preston’s only company is a barman android named Arthur (Michael Sheen). Later down the line, writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) is awoken and with Jim they try to solve the ship’s mystery whilst also falling for each other.

For the positives of this movie, the spaceship has a cool and incredibly sleek design. It’s clear the makers of the film have taken time to think about how certain rooms and items should appear. Avalon is a rotating craft and on the inside, modern technology is advanced with rooms aboard boasting entertainment to rival cruise liners. The connection between Jim and Aurora grows nicely and is believable consistently as they spend more time together. Gravity falls, machines fail and threat does come into play for moments which is good to see but that doesn’t outweigh the rubbish plot.

It’s a shame the story increases in it’s ridiculousness because for the portions of the movie where Pratt is by himself the movie is strong. It of course never reaches that amazing solitary ‘Moon’ vibe of Rockwell/Jones but it gets close and has a neat cold vibe about it as we see him struggle. Sadly as the sci-fi dwindles and the romance takes over it feels like ‘Titanic’ in space, also plot points that create dramatic changes are executed in the most expositional way.

Not only these moments annoyed me in how the writers got the story to move forwards but there were no twists which I expected and the actual thing that caused early rising from hibernation was nowhere near a revelation as it could…should have been. That could have been a clever and possibly dark idea played with but they never tread down that path, even ‘Wall-E’ is a darker comment on society than this is.

Chris Pratt is engaging and manages to submerge his usual Pratt shtick as the cabin-fever sets in. Jennifer Lawrence is a glowing presence as she steps into the story and breaks down with suitable emotion upon realising why she’s there. Together as a couple of love struck space travellers they work well and a spark is clear. Michael Sheen plays a near emotionless character to convincing standards with ever present glossy eyes and almost creepy smile adding to his role.

This film gets more dumb as it continues and makes you forget the nice intense moments that it started with. Aside from a captivating pairing of actors this is a creepily played out love story that doesn’t know how to stop.

5.5/10

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

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This movie certainly possesses that Tim Burton look that most of us recognise now. That’s a positive at least because for the most part it’s the style of the film that is glorious whereas the story feels slightly dull, definitely long and disengaging.

After the mysterious death of his grandfather, Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) is gifted a postcard, this item on top of the stories his granddad told him lead him on a journey to try and stop time loops being invaded by Hollows. Jake and his dad Franklin (Chris O’Dowd) wind up in Wales where Jake steps into a 1943 children’s home run by shape-shifting time-bending Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) who needs Jake to step up and look after her special children as an attack looms.

That’s just the mild basis of what goes on during this movie, to be honest there is a lot more that happens with characters both main and small. It’s this bloated plot that makes the entire feature feel more than a little bit messy and one you’d hoped was more refined. The darker elements are well felt and the Hollows are interesting movie monsters but a narrative bouncing back and forth between time and countries becomes rushed and silly.

What doesn’t help is the lead character in Jake is less than thrilling. He’s a bland hero type who asks questions, obviously falls in love with the girl and that’s about that. Also, though the odd little children have peculiar quirks, we don’t get much at all in the way of their lives or backstories, instead we focus on Jake, his grandfather, the village of Wales and Hollows. In the end, the writing from Jane Goldman based on books by Ransom Riggs shoehorns the children in as nothing special and they solely become their peculiarities and nothing more. A film focused on the twins with death stares is something I’d love to watch.

A pier battle in Blackpool of all places is shot nicely and edited with zip, giving the movie a much needed lift by this point. The skeletons fighting nearly invisible Hollows looks exciting, earlier on in the movie there’s a neat section of stop-motion as ‘Toy Story’ Sid-like creations fight each other. The WW2 vision of the village is detailed and there’s a sunny Edward Scissorhands look to the home during these happier moments. Burton hands this story a welcome kookiness but he’s still not back to his best.

Asa Butterfield is massively boring during this film, whether it’s him or the character or both it makes no difference to the annoying fact that we have to follow him the entire way through. Eva Green does what she does best, her sultry voice and authoritative demeanour working as a kindly yet strict headmaster, mother figure. Samuel L. Jackson is one of the better factors in this, he has some great comedy lines and reacts well to the trying heroics of the children. Ella Purnell is the Burton special with an Alice like dress, big eyes and peculiar ability, she’s enchanting though and helps the film even if she’s no more than the romantic interest.

I won’t lie and say there’s nothing entertaining in this movie, because it does have good moments of whimsy and quite dark treads into that Burton world but it’s let down by plot holes the size of Wales and is far from the interesting spectacle it could have been.

5.5/10

 

The Neon Demon (2016)

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Heavily stroked by a purple and red brush, this is a strange movie to write about and even stranger to watch. It’s different…and that’s the big word to truly describe what this film is. It’s neither terrible or outstanding, even though people have commented on it being a masterpiece or boo-worthy love/hate release, I shall disagree.

Aspiring model Jesse (Elle Fanning) arrives in LA and soon meets makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone). It doesn’t take long for naturally pretty Jesse to get signed and land modelling gigs leading more experienced models to grow jealous. As this ingenue increases in profile and confidence she sees how dangerous the world of modelling can be.

Now, I have to say that the above summary doesn’t even half cover the madness that occurs in this 2016 movie. There’s a Keanu Reeves plot which maybe best to forget, also for those that have seen this film, then you’ll know about the weirder side of proceedings once the run-time goes past the half way point or so.

Winding Refn definitely knows how to make an impact. This could be his largest stamp of ‘I’m here…notice me doing something unique’ yet. Because it goes without saying that this movie plays with an idea not really seen or dealt with in this way before. The trend of models, their lifestyle and the fanatic obsession of looks in Los Angeles is certainly put under a colourful microscope here and edged with a bite of something sinister.

I must commend Refn for being out there and going against the grain of, but then he does fall into that style over substance trap. The idea is very special but it feels like they run with that more than focusing on how to keep the story engaging. What stops it from being out and out amazing is the thin characters and thirst to go down a gross road. Jesse is clearly innocent and lost in the land of stars but apart from that and a few well placed smirks she feels like a hollow character to have as the main focus.

I won’t venture too much into that gross road comment but Jena Malone makes up nearly 100% of that statement. A table is the only thing I’ll write because it’s already stirring up images of a scene I wish to forget. Moving on from the sicker moments, there is a stylised attempt at horror with tinges of psychological threat striding the catwalk. The robotic personas of other models, the sexy vanity of identity and a trickle of fashionable comedy alongside the blistering soundtrack from Cliff Martinez and Julian Winding’s ‘Demon Dance’ boosts the electric surreal landscape.

Elle Fanning sure looks the part, her doe eyes like a rabbit in the headlights showcase the youthful side of Jesse. She has a glamorous ease with the role and does get a teeny go at playing snide and smirky as the movie goes on. Jena Malone is slightly sordid as Ruby and she’s got the strength to play that necessary elder controlling level and a scene with her out of the model light is a great reveal. Abbey Lee is tall and unflinching as model Sarah and pulls off a flawless lip twitch as Bella Heathcote flails Heathcote more than sells her character Gigi being a season ticket holder to the plastic surgeon, her upright posture and similarly still gaze gives the two models an almost funny twist. Desmond Harrington plays photographer Jack like a vulture praying on the sexuality of women, it’s a neat performance from him as his gaunt figure plays into the maturation of Jesse’s rise.

I can’t be harsh because even though it’s pacing is slow, the characters are nowhere near fleshed out, Refn seeks to shock for an apparent sake of it and it drives you to look on bemused, there’s still an undeniable streak of flair to this movie. There’s a boldness that I admire and the seductive look and sound keeps things intriguingly…different.

7/10

The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015)

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Blistering with stylish 60’s sounds and fashions, this movie based on an American TV show, is energetic, fun and sky high with a sizzling over the top series of set pieces. If anything can be taken from this film is that it’s an example of style over substance, but when it looks this damn good then I’m happy with it.

CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is tasked with helping Gabby Teller (Alicia Vikander) escape East Berlin from the Russians including super human-like KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Solo and Kuryakin soon find out they’re being paired up in a battle against the arms race to find important data and stop beautiful and deadly Victoria Vinciguerra (Elizabeth Debicki) from utilising bomb technology.

Guy Ritchie directs with his trademark of barmy violence and fast paced madness. The style of period set locations aids the visuals of the action also. Ritchie seems to revel in shadowy scenes and this film is no different, with darkness playing a key trait in both look and tension of character drama in Russia versus America. He likes his almost indestructible characters too with KGB Illya standing out as the clear winner of that prize. It’s a feast of quick set pieces and 60’s lush style to whet the appetite and Guy Ritchie gifts the movie a glitzy yet gritty touch.

I’ll go with the action first of all which is the style of the movie, from hand to hand combat, boat dramas and dune buggy/motorbike chases, this film just about has it all. It’s shot well and Ritchie’s influence of top speed photography for the explosive moments never shies away. It’s topped off with brilliant split screen sections that ramps the pace even higher and darts your eyes all over the shop which can be distracting but forgiven for working in building up the sense of urgent action.

Daniel Pemberton’s score is exquisite, rising to peaks for the aforementioned action sequences and trickling to a gentile set of sounds for the softer moments in between the mad house cinematic thrills and spills. His score is rounded off with a gorgeous soundtrack of music from the time that helps the film sound truly fantastic and places the audience as if you’re in that decade.

The story itself may not be wholly outstanding, it’s gripping to a degree and has a couple of slightly good twists but it’s a script that unravels and gets lost as it goes on. It’s far from weak, it’s just not strong. I guess it’s a hard juggle between style and substance and this film almost neglects the latter with the plot being quite basic and just there to give an excuse for fun banter, high octane action and 60’s pizzazz.

Production crew, mostly aiming here at the lovely team of costume designers should take a bow or two for their work. The suave suits of Solo made my face tinge with envy, the shadiness of Illya worked from just the cap alone. Victoria’s sass is on point as she jangles with jewelry and sashays in extravagant fashionable dresses. Gabby’s wardrobe is ever changing but chic and relevant to the period with a cool funky and elegant aura about what she wears. As you can most likely tell, I’m not used to writing about the costuming of movies.

Armie Hammer had to my ears an unshakable Russian twang and a brick-house persona to match his mysterious angry KGB background. Henry Cavill is much more interesting here than his dull Clark Kent routine. Solo is smooth but arrogant and Cavill responds to the brilliant back and forth of the script really well, his and Hammer’s attempts at bettering one another are sublime. Alicia Vikander can do no wrong, jumping firmly into one of my favourite actresses, she is enigmatic as Gabby with her full brown eyes drawing you in and leaving you wondering what she’s all about. Elizabeth Debicki is sheer bliss as the calculating yet fun femme fatale villain, I only wish she had a bit more to do. Hugh Grant appears and does enough with some comedic lines but can’t hide from it being a Hugh Grant type of role.

Like a Matthew Vaughn film, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E is bright and breezy with plenty of action and style to enjoy. The story is somewhat blurred over or scripted simply but I won’t complain because it’s a treat with no expectations.

7/10

The Guest (2014)

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Boldly striking in style and content, ‘The Guest’ comes knocking at your door with electronic tunes, breakneck editing and a tour de force performance from Dan Stevens. It’s a clever mash-up of genres that somehow blend together nicely to tell, perhaps not a grand scale story but an enjoyable, dark and tense one nonetheless. 

The Peterson family are trying to deal with the news that Caleb, their son/brother has died at war, it seems that a mysterious and unreadable arrival to their house who knew Caleb could help them through this tough time. This guest’s name is David (Dan Stevens) and it isn’t long until his presence in the house draws in interest from bullied Luke (Brendan Meyer) and parent oppressed Anna (Maika Monroe).

Firstly, the look of this film is incredible, it never feels like it’s trying desperately to come across as stylishly as it does, but yet it does. It’s an environment that lets David breathe and do his thing. From snappy cuts to longer more moody wide shots there’s a lot helping this film run quickly along, especially in the latter half of the movie. This moody wide shots as I call them are done a few times as they pan round to let us see David just staring into the middle distance, not a flicker of any emotion to be had across his face. The shots arrive after something cut together faster so this sudden slowing in movement jolts us into feeling that undeniable worry of who is this man in their house. Going back to the style of the film and its impact, there is an excellent, rattling ride of fun and terror in the final act, it may be an over the top setting but it works in the horror/thriller genre fantastically and…wow, is it ever a final act to take glee in watching unfold. 

Directed and edited by Adam Wingard, who was on directing duty for the horror ‘You’re Next’ brings that know how into this film, it’s toned down slightly but there’s no questioning that some horror tropes are used to great effect in ‘The Guest’. It’s an almost roller-coaster ride from drama, war grief melodrama, bubbling tension and sexual tension, high school life, action, thriller, mystery and horror. This last one is unexpected, I never expected what I saw in the film when I viewed the trailer and that’s no negative point, it’s in fact a welcomed positive to have expectations flipped on their head. The horror thread starts becoming a thicker more prominent stitch in the tapestry of this film as it goes on and it isn’t long until knives, blood and suspenseful music are drawn landing us in some resemblance of horror territory. It’s never actually a full blown horror though, just like everything else mirroring David, there’s aspects of different moods in this movie. 

The film has a brilliant soundtrack which I’m sure will be listened to by many upon hearing it in the movie. A lot of it is instrumental which leaves no vocal distractions to the backing of the scene being played out. It has electronic echoes of ‘Drive’ which help the film build that tension of character as David becomes a sort of Gosling like figure that speaks minimally, looks threatening but has a twinkle in his eye. This soundtrack is clever in linking up to Anna’s character and helps the final act with a neat addition of her mix CD being used to rack up the audible and visual suspense. 

Dan Stevens, who I’ve never seen in anything else, I only know of his ‘Downton Abbey’ roots makes this film what it is in a lot of ways and if he doesn’t become some Hollywood heartthrob or at least the next leading male star to look out for then I don’t what went wrong. To play a cold yet warm character such as this David takes a difficult amount of acting. He’s distant yet charming, alarming yet approachable and a plethora of other antithesis examples. He carries a swag and smirk near constantly that is at once cool and inviting but also unnerving. It’s a blank slate that he makes his own and by the end he’s some good bad guy with a Michael Myers vibe going on. Maika Monroe can easily be the rising star of film if this film is anything to go by. She plays the 20 year old Anna with doubt and confidence of her character with leaps and bounds and provides a more human angle to the show as it plays out, she looks like Kate Hudson and Amber Heard combined with her own thing too, a good looking and talented young actress to keep an eye on. Brendan Meyer, who looks like Chloe Grace Moretz with a wig brings another viewpoint of more human qualities as the tormented kid at school. He has a weird yet interesting rise to overcome his troubles with the help of Steven’s David. 

There’s a few odd things such as how Luke doesn’t care one iota who David is and what goes on concerning him, the mother too makes a jarring stupid decision near the end and the actual truth of who David is can be slightly silly but that’s all part of the fun this film provides. There’s a deathly amount of black comedy that had the screen I was in laughing along at some pretty darkly delivered humour. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and you can tell, it’s having bundles of joy letting David worm his way into the Peterson family and so too do we in seeing it happen.

Slick, funny, dark and brilliantly crafted in creating a thriller/horror hybrid that makes a charismatic steely star out of Dan Stevens. So cool and so good, possible candidate for film of the year because it’s entertaining and seemingly came out of nowhere. 

8.5/10