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

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My Friend Dahmer (2018)

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Getting what seems is a limited run in UK cinemas, is this biographical tale adapted from a graphic novel, which was created by Backderf; a school friend of the notorious Jeffrey Dahmer. At times disturbing and at others oddly humorous, Marc Meyers’ fourth feature is a slow morbid watch.

During the late 1970’s, Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch) is forced to give up collecting bones and preserving them in jars and make an effort in school. He becomes a tool of entertainment for a small group of friends and with hopeful cartoonist John Backderf (Alex Wolff) leading the way, Dahmer gains attention but also finds himself more attracted to men. He also treads down the dangerous path to understanding what animals and we could be made of.

What’s eerily compelling about the film, is how light it is during many sections. The school based setting, the domestic location and oddball antics set the story up like a coming of age narrative. Though obviously we know it’s more a coming of killer drama. There is, dare I say it, fun to be had in watching Dahmer finally make a connection with classmates and their clowning around is dumb but entertaining.

Then there’s the more troubling environment of Dahmer’s difficult home life, with a busy father and argumentative mother. I don’t know if it’s a good thing that this movie makes you feel sympathy for him as a person, almost justifying his distant behaviour and clear apathy. As the film moves further down the timeline towards Dahmer’s graduation, it becomes a snail-like trek to get through, the back and forths from school and home is a slow burning aspect that actually makes you want to see Jeffrey crack.

The choice to have this film feature next to no music is brave and works nicely, the lack of a manipulating score gives the movie a banality, similar to the empty life Dahmer leads. It’s only in rare moments, of a shopping centre fool around or the later points when he looks to finally snap, that Andrew Hollander’s effort comes in to impact the unsettling nature of this young mans behaviour.

Lynch is the best thing about a film that did have me feeling it was way, way longer than 1 hour 40. The dead stares, hunched shoulders and dropped arms as he mopes through the story are fascinating. He does a great job in drawing you in and its clear to see the warped processes ticking over in his mind.

‘My Friend Dahmer’ does slightly drag and seems to waver weakly in connecting the school antics with his home life, but thanks to a confined feeling of dread mustered by both Lynch and director Meyers, this is an interesting look at how a monster was born.

6/10

 

I, Tonya (2018)

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Hitting the ice rink like a jacked up Torvill and Dean, is an award contending biographical yarn like hardly any other. It’s at once frenzied and focused and almost consistently splitting to burst with on point black comedy.

In the 1970’s, talented 4 year old ice skater Tonya Harding is pressured to keep training by her abusive and chain-smoking mother LaVona (Allison Janney). By the time Tonya (Margot Robbie) reaches 15 she can be just as abrasive but falls for rink-side spectator Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). Through years of abuse, practice and unfair judgement, Harding gets caught up in an Olympic scandal come 1994.

Pacing wise, this film shuttles along like a bobsleigh at breakneck speeds, it’s a fully riveting story from start to finish and I must say I was on board throughout. The characters, based on real people are fully realised and interact wonderfully, Craig Gillespie directs with an eye to tell this story like the funny yet darkly tragic events were and the rags to semi-riches and back again narrative is as finessed as 1984’s Bolero routine.

Honestly, ice dancing has never looked and felt more intense, engaging and visceral as it does here. These quite spectacular and captivating sequences of figure skating dances are wonderfully incorporated into a script by Steven Rogers that sizzles with humour and ultimately real heartbreak. The final stages of the film, led by Margot Robbie are written and performed masterfully and make the fun time, plus often brutal moments fade away as we see just how important the world of skating is to the titular figure. It’s a narrative of prominence and buffoonery, domestic violence and doggedness shown in such a clever and engrossing way that exceeded my expectations.

The Oscar nomination for Best Editing is deserved, ‘Baby Driver’ may excel with it’s editing in terms of car chases and sound styling cuts but ‘I, Tonya’ is edited greatly by Tatiana S. Riegel, who slices through the film like a skate blade would. It all helps keep up the exciting speed, blend the routines in seamlessly and showcase the second half madness of the incident as something you may expect to see in a slick gangster movie, if the gangsters were inept.

Seeing characters account their views of the matter in an interview style is a perfect method of storytelling that bolsters the unreliable narrative from pretty much everyone. You never really know who could be lying, exaggerating or speaking truths and that’s what makes this such a ride to watch. The breaking of the fourth wall is utilised also and sometimes it is a cliche but it’s used to sparingly good effect to heighten the idiot humour or further the character driven explanation to us.

Robbie may not win the gold medal of an Academy Award but if she did, it definitely would be warranted. It’s evident Tonya craves adoration at first from her mum and then from the public and the Australian actor sells that aspect well. This is her finest performance in ever as she brings the Oregon born Tonya Harding to explosive life. There’s crazy eye, comic delivery, heartfelt softness and broken vulnerability all in the mix of her committed turn as the less than picturesque all American figure skater. Janney swears like a sailor and steals lots of the scenes as the overbearing strict maternal type but there’s times you can see kindness behind the cigarette smoke before she comes out with a cracker once again. Sebastian Stan is alright in his role as Harding’s husband but isn’t anything special, in fact his friend Shawn played by Paul Walter Hauser is a bonafide boob of epic proportions, providing ample amount of humour as a moronic slob thinking himself some clever agent type.

I haven’t even mentioned how brilliant the soundtrack and score are either, suffice to say I really really liked this film. I thought it’d be good but it’s soared past that into greatness, thanks to Margot, Allison, sublime directing and editing and a story device that bounces around with the notion of Tonya Harding as a heroine or not.

8.5/10

 

 

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

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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It wasn’t a surprise that after the critical and box office success from the 2013 feature, that a sequel would come along. There’s only so much you can do with haunting’s and scaring audiences but this follow up still possesses a genuine creepiness like the first one and through a, perhaps overly long movie it maintains a chill factor.

Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are trying to remain away from haunting’s after Lorraine sees a horrific vision. Over in Enfield, London a family realise their Green Street residence is harbouring a menacing spirit who takes a liking to young Janet (Madison Wolfe). The scares rack up leading the Warren’s to hear of the case and travel to England in search of the truth.

By now I’m sure the majority of movie goers have grown accustomed to horror films and the cliches that roll with them. I’d be lying if I said ‘The Conjuring 2’ doesn’t have them, but they’re minor nuisances compared to the rest of the spine-rattling narrative. Forget the A Level empty swings, moving toys and false scares because what I like about this and the initial Conjuring is they try looking different. Ideas feel thought over and some may say it makes the film slower, it actually helps coat the eeriness in an extra layer of bone-cold drama.

Where other films suffer by having too many writers, surprisingly this one manages to keep it’s head above the tide. Four people are on board for this horror screenplay and luckily it doesn’t make the script stuffed over breaking point. There are a couple of moments it feels like ideas tug back and forth but everything feels consistent, thought through and agreeable. They mix in the real life cases of Amityville and the Enfield Haunting with dark dreams and nightmarish nuns that the film ticks the big scare box well.

James Wan is back directing and thankfully, unlike the messy un-scary directing of spin-off ‘Annabelle’, this is a showcase of how to create a horror outing that harks back to the good days of ghostly movies not needing of jump scares and loud music. There is of course some sudden loud noises but mostly Wan must be credited for working on a film with beautiful transitions, smart sequences and clever story-telling. The dog moment, the Crooked Man, the painting set-piece, the crosses on the wall and more little visuals help this paranormal themed picture more than just a cheap horror.

What is done very well with this sequel, is the connection to characters. We buy into the home and lives of the Hodgson family and begin doubting things near the latter half, even after everything we’ve seen which is a strong positive. The story does a great job in keeping a level of dread which we feel towards the fate’s of the Warren’s, a very last scene in the Hodgson house keeps you teetering as you wonder what might happen to characters.

Vera Farmiga is an enticing presence to watch, that goes with everything I’ve seen her in. As Lorraine she really embodies the part of hopeful wise warrior of demons, the added notion of fear she has for her world and her love is brilliantly acted. Patrick Wilson gets a cool scene in the spotlight as he communicates with the controlled daughter with his back turned, he’s confident but not too macho that it’s dumb…his rendition of an Elvis song is also well placed amongst the film. Madison Wolfe is a sharp young talent, her facial ticks, the first moments she puts on a voice and her constant look of fear helps us realise the true nature of what this house has in store.

The film could have been snipped shorter, it may have been interesting to end the film on a big hoax or not question and aside from a little dropping of cliches, this sequel goes to show how a horror film can still be masterful, jumpy and effective.

7/10

 

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

Miles Ahead (2016)

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I’m going to plead ignorance here, but I went into this film not knowing anything about the musician Miles Davis. Upon exiting this American biopic I feel I know more about his lifestyle but if anything it didn’t really explain much for the common place audience member. It’s as if it didn’t really capture all essences of who this man was and how he got there.

Apparent Rolling Stones writer Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) is interviewing famous jazz icon Miles Davis (Don Cheadle). This leads us back to how they first met and what Dave discovers is that Davis has a mix-tape (reel) of new material after a long absence. Everyone wants it but Davis doesn’t want to hand it in to Columbia Records, he starts thinking back on his music and his relationship with Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi) as everything racks up.

Now, I honestly don’t know what of this movie was real, based on real events or typically altered hugely by the big Hollywood machine. Maybe this sounds stupid but I think this could have dealt with including more pandering to help push along people like myself who don’t know anything about Miles Davis. Because for all I know, what I saw in the heated action and gun fighting of trying to get a mix-tape (reel) is 100% accurate. Also the ending in an obviously now I realise poetic way for his legacy states Miles’ name, then 1926 -, as if he’s still alive, which after checking I can verify he isn’t. So it makes me wonder how much of this admittedly stylish and interesting movie was over exaggerated. Not a good point for a biographical movie.

Don Cheadle is a sturdy War Machine as director, actor, writer, additional composer and producer for this 2015 New York Film Festival closer. He does a great job in all fields and so much so as the director. The way scenes meld into each other or cut sharply into a later/earlier version of Miles or Dave is seamless and cool. It helps the story move along nicely and keep this gangster-esque vibe at sleek levels. It’s mostly a flashback and we flash further back in places, each time arriving with a piece of audio or image that effortlessly transports us to the next moment, which in a way stands for a brilliant statement of Miles Davis’ timeless persona.

It’s not like other biopics I’ve seen before which both is a good and bad thing. It’s good because it’s engaging and not boring, unlike the more conventional ‘Jersey Boys’. It has a musicality at all times, I swear there was a jazz or brassy beat behind all scenes which gave it a coffee shop lift. Then on the flip side, having it flick back and forth and meld possible untrue sequences makes it difficult to buy into and I still feel like I know zilch about the trumpet player, heck even one moment near the end made me think he couldn’t even play the instrument.

Cheadle is a powerhouse as the man behind the golden trumpet, he brings a swagger and electric edge to the role, his physicality dominating the screen and making Miles feel like a force of nature as well as music. The times when he’s more subdued and reminiscing are played nicely, showing the more broken side of Davis. Ewan McGregor is a fun part of the cast, playing a Scots fraud with a buzz kill side in the hope to scoop some story on Miles, but he plays the likable factor well as their odd friendship grows. Emayatzy Corinealdi is beautiful and human as the least cartoonish figure. She provides the drama and shattered dreams of life to great heights that help show the damage Miles can create. Michael Stuhlbarg is once again a fascinating watch, his moustached Harper Hamilton being shady and like a 1920’s honcho with a tricksy manner in his voice and look.

The plot may be hard to jump on board with and it skids off into a weird bio-pic wasteland of trying something new but it’s got style and Don Cheadle rocking the house with an expressive and enjoyable performance.

6/10