First Reformed (2018)

first_reformed

The writer behind great and iconic films ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Raging Bull’ has, it’s fair to say, had quite a run of middling to poor releases but this recent drama has gained lots of attention and acclaim. It’s a slow-burning watch that sheds light on Paul Schrader’s quality scripting of central figures facing conflict.

Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a reverend at the First Reformed church in New York, a building soon facing its 250th anniversary. In the build up to this, Toller begins keeping track of his thoughts in a journal for a year. He also gets asked by church-goer Mary (Amanda Seyfried) to help counsel her husband Michael, who is becoming isolated through his strong views about global warming.

In contrast to what a lot of people seem to be saying, I found the first 90 minutes or so of the film to be the strongest. The final 20 are indeed out there moments and give the movie a bold spiritual identity, but I liked the gentile almost unnerving pace of watching the reverend’s character being set up and then dismantled as his paths and beliefs cross with Michael.

This conflict of belief makes for an engrossing watch and Schrader keeps the majority of scenes in a static, square aspect ratio of 1.37:1. This screening gives the film a vaguely claustrophobic feel, his decision to have little-to-no non-diegetic sound also adds a theatricality to the movie, as if they’re playing out these unexpected turn of events on n intimate stage. It’s only as the final minutes arrive that the camera becomes more animated, circling around characters and moving more than it had been, this works with the dramatic interpretative ending and makes the choices of Toller that much more elevated.

‘First Reformed’ does have transcendent moments which have us literally floating through the beauty of Mother Earth and the consequent destruction it bears, thanks to the actions of the human race but it’s this moment that the weighty climate change theme becomes too on the nose. However a scene between Toller and Michael discussing the horrors of pollution, deforestation etc is brilliant; it’s fuelled with bitterness from Michael and struggle from Toller as he worries for the future and questions his faith.

Amanda Seyfried excels in a turn as a grief-stricken wife bearing a child. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that she’s called Mary, as Seyfried plays a comforting welcome presence to the toils of Toller’s journey. Their pairing certainly takes unpredictable turns but she and Hawke act the binding of their souls well enough to almost forgive how annoyingly the film took me out of the story by the end. Ethan Hawke is quite hypnotising as this pastor facing near Travis Bickle levels of anguish. He never over eggs the performance, ensuring the subtlety of Toller gives him that shaky edge of instability and his problems become a believable oil slick on his life.

If you don’t like slow films…or like Trump, you don’t believe that climate change is a thing then this emphatically underlined story of faith, loss and a parable for the modern era with politics and global warming, is not for you. Aside from a hugely disappointing ending, this is a film that’s thought provoking and will stick with me.

7/10

Advertisements

Mary Shelley (2018)

http3a2f2fmedia-cineblog-it2fc2fc7e2fmary-shelley-trailer-e-poster-del-biopic-con-elle-fanning-2

“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

The Happy Prince (2018)

the-happy-prince-movie-poster

Titled from a tale within a collection of short stories by the famous Oscar Wilde; this film mirrors the tragic beauty of the swallow and statue. A poet, playwright and author is accounted in his later years and comes across like a touching tribute to the man.

Residing in Paris after being imprisoned for sodomy, Oscar Wilde (Rupert Everett) is a penniless man but still has friends he can depend on. The film then looks back at how Wilde came to this point and the loves and lusts he fell into along the way, none more so than with Alfred Douglas (Colin Morgan).

It’s a remarkably interesting biopic with a remarkable figure at the centre. I’ve read and studied Wilde’s plays through university and his talent is incredible, the film furthers his character and provides depth to a troubled man, pretty much ruined by society. Rupert Everett’s direction and screenplay doesn’t shy away from the grim side of destitution but revels in the lavish nature of Oscar’s behaviours too.

This makes for a mighty kind of film to watch, there are fun moments to be had but it’s quite a heavy going watch because Everett really makes us see how tough the Irish writer had it in the latter stages of his life. Some of the heavier moments make the biographical journey almost on the nose, of filling out criteria you come to expect from a film like this, plus there’s a couple of points where the film starts feeling long; the back and forth and trotting of the globe with Wilde’s past becoming a vague strain.

A stand out moment with Everett providing stand up singing prowess is a sparkling gem, gilding Wilde with the undeniable talent and attention-grabbing ease he possessed. A couple of throwbacks to a bleak time on a platform at Clapham Junction are washed out of colour, grey and therefore work in showcasing the nastier times in his existence when the people had turned on him. It’s not exactly a film constantly keeping up engagement but there’s a showy, absorbing quality to the most part.

Rupert Everett makes the playwright come alive with vivid intrigue and a Brando like touch of greatness to a role he totally inhabits. He provides a balance of desperate scrapings for love and money with Wilde’s whip smart wordsmith wizardry. Colin Morgan is very good in a role that shows off his spoilt and money orientated manner, he does well as a man almost like the villain of the play.

Oscar Wilde’s later years are documented with great care in a clear passion project from Rupert Everett. The film is also being smart in a late US release because I can see award potential from his turn as the Dublin born figure. We may know of the man and his work but this film proves there’s more to learn and feel.

6.5/10

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

solo-poster-1

It wasn’t a long time ago, on a cinema screen not that far away, that we had a Star Wars adventure to revel in. Moving on from the hugely divisive ‘The Last Jedi’, we get this spin-off story which centres on Han Solo and his life before turning into Harrison Ford.

On a less than glamorous planet, lives Han (Alden Ehrenreich) who aspires to be a pilot and see the stars with his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). As they attempt an escape, Han ends up by himself and over subsequent years he clings onto any person or team he can, in the hope to make some money, get a ship and find Qi’ra again.

I’ll hold my hands up and say I’m not the biggest Star Wars fanboy. I know enough of the originals to get by and find the recent offerings to be entertaining but hearing that Han was to get a feature, wasn’t something I had any feeling about whatsoever and it still vaguely feels that way after watching the film. It’s enjoyable enough and deepens Han and his world but it never blew me away or felt like something I’d choose to watch more than the one time.

This movie has numerous flaws and a big one lays within the comedic elements the script strains to lean towards at times. The writing of these lighter lines sound forced and maybe boil down to the aftermath of the troubled production; what with previous comedy duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller being kicked out and replaced by Ron Howard. The latter director finds his stride away from the comedy moments and he provides some strong directing in the building of the titular character and adding treachery.

There are also a good number of places where I felt this film was lagging and dare I say, lame. It took a while to feel like the cool science fiction western it’s trying to be and earlier scenes setting up everything didn’t exactly do their best in inviting me in like they should. In my opinion the plot does get better as it goes on and nearer the end, as the mission almost wraps, is where I felt the progressing character paths became so much more engaging and interesting. A neat level of are they/aren’t they back and forth is also played with well.

I had fun whilst watching two major sequences; one being an earlier train heist and the other actually showing us the quotable Kessel Run moment. Both these big blockbuster scenarios are gripping and very well made. They each share elements of fun, personal stakes and visual skill which heightens the drama. Luckily these sequences did just about enough to make me forgive the many uses of extremely on the nose dialogue throughout the movie and moments that caused an eye roll – how Han got his name being a major example.

Ehrenreich is a great youthful Solo, he carries a swag and boyish yet capable know-how which works, with just the right level of roguish charm that I’m sure Ford would admire. Clarke is a captivating character helped by the fact she’s a captivating actor. She definitely does well in playing cards close to her chest, being smart, kick-ass and someone you just can’t quite work out. Donald Glover pretty much steals the galaxy, as do his eye-catching capes. It looks like he’s having a ball playing Lando Calrissian; someone else who can be unreadable and whip smart. Phoebe Waller-Bridge may be a good performer but I found the droid character of L3-37 to be an annoying robot sidekick that never grew on me. Paul Bettany is slightly underused but is a believable villain in a world that’s set up as untrustworthy. Anyone could have an agenda against good hearted motives, anyone that is but Han, whether he’d admit it or not.

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ possesses some moments that make you feel as if you’re in the Millennium Falcon; a cinematic theme park ride to enjoy. Then there’s other moments where both the action and story lulls and you wonder why we need to see this story. There’s fun to be had but it’s not a well-oiled machine.

6.5/10

 

 

 

Deadpool 2 (2018)

deadpool-2-poster-from-studio-that-killed-wolverine-1107580

So, the merc with the mouth is back. He’s taking names, punching balls and wreaking cinematic mayhem like the last time, but is the sequel as cool and fun as before?

A string of worldwide criminal culls leads danger straight to Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) and soon he must learn to find a family and follow his heart to get back what he most desires; not chimichangas. The cancer riddled anti-hero winds up stuck with a powered kid called Russell Collins (Julian Dennison), who is the target of cybernetic Cable (Josh Brolin).

2016 saw ‘Deadpool’ arrive in cinemas with great acclaim, box office records and audience glee, it was always going to be a tough act to follow and the sequels marketing team have certainly taken promotion to the next level, but the movie doesn’t quite follow suit. In my eyes, it’s definitely like Reynolds and the returning two writers from before are hoping to recapture the same profanity fuelled magic, which makes it feel try hard more often than not.

It honestly isn’t as funny as the first outing, I didn’t laugh as much and a good proportion of the quips don’t land with confidence; it’s that try hard aspect where it’s obvious dialogue was shot multiple times and it’s almost like the final choice was picked out of a hat or likely, sealed by test audiences reactions. Also, the much talked about post credits scenes are admittedly amusing, but…here I go…they feature jokes mentioned time and time again and also undo everything just built up in the main feature. Now that’s either lazy writing or just pratting around for the sake of it, but both options grate me.

Saying all of this, the film isn’t bad at all. In fact, I found the action scenes to be more explosive and captivating than in the 1st movie. The plot does take a while to get going but once it does, there’s insane levels of carnage and joyous fourth wall breaking to revel in. A secret room in the Xavier mansion is perfectly timed and very funny, as is a parachuting sequence and the windy aftermath which is hilariously unexpected. Wade Wilson’s more developed emotive side out of the DP suit is nice to see. He learns to lead with his heart whilst still leading forward with his wit and katanas. The human touch presented is a needed touch and a back and forth connection with Russell makes for an interesting dynamic. Oh and anything that rips on DC with its tongue in cheek and laughs at the Martha line is okay in my book.

The movie’s music is filled to breaking point with hits. Firstly a Celine Dion belter seen over a James Bond inspired opening is a masterful parody. The rest of the film lets us listen to the likes of Enya and Skrillex with a Say Anything Peter Gabriel inspired moment to round things off with maximum effort.

Ryan Reynolds is clearly the perfect man to play Deadpool, in fact I don’t think they can be differentiated anymore. Julian Dennison is great as a fiery mutant, which is where I now see Ricky Baker ending up after working out the foster family wasn’t for him once he developed his power. The anger and later emotion he shows, highlight what a fantastic and funny young actor he is and I hope to see him in many more movies. Zazie Beetz excels as lucky Domino with a fun spin on being bad-ass. Josh Brolin may not be as interestingly three-dimensional as he is playing Thanos, but he’s just as gruff, violently determined with added comic chops to bounce off of Reynolds. The less said about the much too used T.J. Miller the better.

Enjoyably packed with violence, twisted humour and ripping into movies and superhero stereotyping. This is an action riot rocketed to the nth degree but still can’t match up to the funny heights of the first film and feels almost over-stuffed.

6.5/10

 

Beast (2018)

mv5bmwjhntm1mwytztllny00mdrhltlmzgqtmwy5mmqwn2fjogu2xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodazodu1ndq-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_

Stalking the screen with effective tension is this beastly feature. It certainly has bark and bite, as we see this dark thriller take hold and swallow you up, in a dangerously palpable mystery.

Celebrating her birthday is Moll (Jessie Buckley), who ends up dancing the night away before crossing paths with the possibly shady Pascal (Johnny Flynn), the next morning. There have been a series of grim murders plaguing the island and it isn’t long until people suspect Moll’s new connection, as the man behind the disappearances.

This is a debut work from Michael Pearce; who unarguably knows how to layer on the tension. The film almost sweats out a deep and engaging psychological tale, as if Pearce is allowing us to peer through a magnifying glass at all the worrying little details possessed by Moll and Pascal, details that keep us questioning their relationship and the trail of murders.

Coinciding with Pearce’s fantastically hypnotic visuals is a score from Jim Williams that drips with almost spine-chilling strength. The entire look of this movie is that of a frightening British drama, with a cold dirtiness and a somewhat fun immersion into thriller territory that is enhanced by the plot. The narrative is one that definitely kept me guessing and the end is one I could talk about for some time yet, it’s visceral, unexpected and almost reaches the realm of being powerful.

Saying all of this, I don’t know whether it’s a film I’d watch again and it’s a story that I was a little disappointed didn’t end up being darker or more twisted. The film also slightly suffers from feeling like a slow tick-tock aspect, which does make it feel a little bit long. I’d definitely say the film is strongest in the first two thirds.

The acting is blindingly great, some of the most captivating performances I’ve ever seen. Flynn excels at playing this secretive, maybe dodgy character that turns up in Moll’s life. There’s a great balance of masculinity and softer love he portrays as he gets wrapped up in the whirlwind of the flame haired Buckley. She is incredible, the emotions she goes through are numerous and each one is carefully performed, drawing you into her as a character. It’s almost a tour de force show that she puts on and Moll comes to vivid and horrific life thanks to this.

This could be bad or good but I still don’t really know how I feel with ‘Beast’ and perhaps that’s testament to how fearless and different it is. The movie is rife with tension and I can at least safely say that it’s two leading stars ensure you cannot look away.

7/10

Tully (2018)

tully-movie-poster

Parenting has never looked so awfully stressful and yet this is a film that does shine a light on not missing out on those important family steps. This movie is the fourth team up between director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody and could well be their most brutally honest outing yet.

Mum of 2 and heavily pregnant with child number 3; is Marlo (Charlize Theron), who gets little in the way of support from husband Drew (Ron Livingston). The daily routine of making food, school runs etc is clearly piling up to boiling point, therefore Marlo’s brother suggests she uses a night nanny to help with the new baby, so she can some get much needed sleep. Tully (Mackenzie Davis) appears like a perfect granted wish to let Marlo get her life back on track.

First of all, the writing from scribe of ‘Juno’ Diablo Cody is sharp and almost overflowing with neat moments of humour. This is very carefully balanced with necessary elements of dramatic weight we feel towards to the weight Marlo clearly carries day in and day out. What I think works so well within this story, is the genuinely raw emotions and toil of a family set up, in which the script has a brilliant laser focus on the motherhood aspect.

Jason Reitman directs without shying away from the gross moments of raising children, the sweet touches of bonding with a new-born and the believable character building conversations between Tully and Marlo. There are a lot of scenes that see the camera up and close to the characters which really makes us feel the crazed routines Marlo goes through. On top of this, a sequence after the baby arrives, snips fast and precise like a montage as we see her doing a lot of things over and over again. If this film doesn’t at least as some point make you question having children because they’re a nightmare then I don’t know what will.

On the other hand, this film and the dialogue heavy moments shared with Marlo and Tully do a grand job in highlighting just how great being a parent can be, setting up a safe and well practised environment may be boring but it’s secure and it’s home. There are some touching and sometimes some odd dynamics to be had watching the developing relationship between Marlo and the newcomer nanny and the film definitely heads into an unexpected place but one filled with heart and it works well.

Charlize Theron is a joy to behold in this. She loaded on the pounds to play this part and is unshakably perfect as the downtrodden mother, hoping to feel some brief relief of escape. I honestly hope that people aren’t fickle thanks to time and she’s remembered come Oscar season because her performance is incredible. Mackenzie Davis is also great, in a different kind of way but one that mirrors the hopeful desire of Theron. There are some profound snippets of knowledge she provides and her youthful freedom is well realised in a performance that feels slightly weird but in a good way, a way that works for this character.

The pains and yet pleasure of being a mother truly come across in a grim, stressful but also beautifully emotive manner.

7.5/10