Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2019)

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Forgery has never looked so gently compelling but ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ is out and about in New York to show how unexpectedly sweet and deliciously sour it can all be.

Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) has a NY Times Best Seller book under her belt but has fallen under writers block and other self-made hard times. Whilst trying to compile notes for a new novel she unearths letters sent by the person she wants to write about. This sets in motion a plan to spin money by forging letters from other writers and along with Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant), Israel gets into her groove once more.

The film is lovingly layered with spot on wit, never over-laden to breaking point, the screenplay has a fair few amounts of razor sharp insults and sniping but it’s still a film that is generally a pleasant watch, like the director has managed to settle her audience in to this calming, jazzy ambience of comedy and drama. It’s like you’re watching this talented yet hard to reach writer figure of Israel, not from a cinema but on a plush armchair with atmospheric lighting setting the mood in comfortable surroundings.

It is also true that it can feel like a biographical picture more like a lazy Sunday afternoon watch because it never changes gears and it takes a bit of time to warm to the aggressive nature of Lee as a person but once she begins her typewriter hustling and forms a bond with flamboyant Jack, the movie becomes a much more investing product.

The film does well in making Lee Israel and her fraudulent letters a rather interesting matter, it’s a story truly deserving of the spotlight and they don’t squander it. It’s made me want to find out more about her and I’m sure it’ll have the same impact on others. ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?’ is a great commentary on the eagerness to lap up literary content and buy into the world of the writer, any unheard of material is ripe for the picking without any due thought which makes her actions all the more understandable. The writers and director never paint Lee out to be some unholy crook but more a mildly unpleasant, anxiety-ridden alcoholic with a mouth on her…so like all writers!

Melissa McCarthy brings amazing presence to the film and silences any critics to her more usual shouty comedy flicks, which was me included. Like in ‘St. Vincent’, McCarthy shines by proving great dramatic chops that she clearly has within her. Richard E. Grant is purely enigmatic with a cheeky smile helping him bring Jack to spritely life. The two actors bounce off each other so well, the characters they play clearly sharing like-minded souls in bittersweet humour and sadness. The pair of performers play the relationship beautifully with a radiant spark flaring up between them every time they’re on screen together.

It’s an intriguing film and very close to being a joyful watch. The witticisms and emotional current that carry the film are wonderfully balanced.

7/10

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Vice (2019)

Adam McKay returns with another awards big hitter after the bank crisis content of ‘The Big Short’ in 2015. His latest still concerns a grandiose story with Red, White and Blue oozing out like overfilled jam in a Stateside doughnut which Dick Cheney would eagerly gobble up but left me with a pain in my stomach and head.

After failing at education and being a general hothead, Cheney (Christian Bale) finds himself under the tutelage of Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell) he learns the tricksy ropes of U.S government and becomes a concocting piece of nasty work through to Vice Presidency with George W. Bush (Sam Rockwell), all whilst being aided by the quiet yet important assistance of his wife Lynne (Amy Adams).

I’ll openly and happily admit I was not a fan of ‘The Big Short’ and I’m definitely no advocate for this movie either. McKay tries to be smart and stylish with an overload of cutaways and general frustrating directorial choices which further my belief that his step up from dumb big comedies like ‘Anchorman’ to Oscar fodder releases are a bridge too far.

The storytelling is all over the place and you can’t shake the fact of how messy the film is. It truly should have ended at the fake-out early rolling credits but alas you have to sit through more trying politics and failed attempts at humour to test your patience to the maximum. It’s a film which really made me angry and I understand in one sense that can work, as the actions carried out by the words of Cheney do boil the blood but the film can’t just tell an impacting, dramatic story, McKay has to feel he’s better than everyone he’s preaching too and he slams political jargon over your head to a point that is both patronising and exhausting.

There’s constant irritation to be had with the editing, from abrupt black outs, random swipes to stock footage and general non-stop fatigue by a film which doesn’t know how to keep on a one track mind, less a parallel to the Dick in question, as he was laser focused on his Republican values and scheme to puppeteer the POTUS and more a shambolic run of tiresome, try hard stylish choices which have you going from voice overs, fourth wall breaks, nature docs, news clips and a ridiculous Shakespearean-tongued conversation.

Bale as the eventual VP is a force to be reckoned with and under his extra weight and thinning white hair becomes a properly terrifying human monster. He’s one of the sole selling points to the film, you completely forget the Welsh actor is involved, he’s a masterful talent in making you despise Dick more than you may already have done before. Adams is as charismatic as ever, though in a more worrying way as she delicately yet powerfully backs and boosts her abhorrent husband. Rockwell is a great actor but his award noms for what is essentially a generic caricature of a figure spoofed countless times feels misplaced.

All in all, ‘Vice’ feels like a pointless film, serving no purpose as it can’t exactly be out to alter minds. A staunch Republican wouldn’t watch and suddenly reevaluate their political agenda nor will people on the right side of the coin go in and be any less appalled at the deplorable nature of Washington politics and the ease in which Cheney could whisper manipulation to the masses. It’s a movie only really there to make you incensed, not just at Dick’s dickiness but at the film being terrible.

4.5/10

Destroyer (2019)

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Harsh and never letting up, ‘Destroyer’ is a ferociously tough thriller; one which certainly leaves you close to stunned silence as the credits materialise.

After receiving a tainted $100 note, detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) believes something from her past has come back. Years ago, she and Chris (Sebastian Stan) infiltrated a gang and their leader could have returned. By any means she can, Bell hopes to get to the man behind it all and close a dark chapter in her life.

Karyn Kusama who previously directed the chillingly great ‘The Invitation’ is behind this near masterful work. The way she ensures that her cast and the story keep on track as this rough and rasping crime which you can’t look away from are fantastic. The story she’s working with is just as merciless. Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi have, apart from the aforementioned horror film, written a run of mostly comedy duds, this is by and large a soar to excellence. The story is cleverly wound and the way the narrative flits back and forth between past and present draws you in.

Julie Kirkwood’s cinematography is as blistering as the unfiltered heat of the California sun, soaking almost every frame of the film. You can really feel the yellow stained edgy nature of this thriller set in the aptly named Golden State. On top of the great visuals is some brooding music from Theodore Shapiro, whose score crackles with a sharp intensity amplifying the tension of the gritty world of which Erin traipses through.

There is a mother/daughter relationship which does seem like a detracting factor at first but it becomes an all encompassing touch of heart straining to reach through the blood, murkiness and nastiness that the central detective has been a part of for too long. Kidman portrays Erin searching amongst the grime of her past with a sensational presence. It’s a peak performance from the actor who embodies the worn off duty cop with sun-bleached skin, frayed hair and sunken eyes from the make-up department complimenting the fascinating turn from Kidman.

Opening and closing on Erin Bell’s eyes, this movie sees us looking at what is mostly a bleary environment for her nowadays, the why to this becomes clearer and all the more haunting as the film develops. An uneasy watch but a great one.

7.5/10

Welcome to Marwen (2019)

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Inspired from a 2010 documentary, this plasticky picture has a great visual flair but feels as loosely coherent as one of the figures’ crooked joints.

Mark Hogancamp (Steve Carell) was a great illustrator but after a vicious hate crime, he’s lost his skill of drawing and his memory before being beaten to an inch of his life. In trying to combat his new social flaws and trauma, Mark has crafted a model village inhabited by gun-toting women and a brave WW2 pilot based on the likeness of Mark himself.

From ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ to ‘Polar Express’, director Robert Zemeckis has been behind a selection of iconic family films and this film seems to try going down that route but comes across many stumbling blocks, at least the animations aren’t as dead eyed as the festive affair of Hanks and co. The film is somewhat creepy and trying and it grates to new levels when Zemeckis tosses in movie echoes, seen in the ‘Forrest Gump’-inspired poster and a DeLorean style machine with subsequent flames, these aren’t grin worthy call backs but rather painful, self-congratulatory references.

‘Welcome to Marwen’ can never really shake the feeling that it doesn’t which lane to stay in, it’s a tonal mess; one with an alarming mixture of bumpy Nazi drama, witchy screwiness, hobbling melodrama and unusual narrative developments which could have been emotional but just take you right out of any wish of immersion. Also, the plot seems to be aspiring to be this progressive product but more often than not it tests the patience and Mark’s female-centred dream world and his interactions with neighbour Nicol (Leslie Mann) are less movingly sad but resoundingly awkward.

There are some interesting moments; the film possesses a nice shiny plastic sheen and the majority of the visuals are excellently mastered, with this comes a great level of awesome transitions between doll and human world with the town of Marwen being a lovingly detailed environment to be a part of. The film is sometimes quirky and oddball in a good way but more often, in a manner that’s all over the place with plot points to make you roll your eyes and a heavy coating of cringey dialogue lessening the engaging goal of the story.

Carell is alright to watch in this, he gets the balance between stutteringly awkward Mark and the kindness, artistic simplicity of the man. Though moments of strain and anguish where the actor screams, you can’t help but laugh as you’re reminded of a shouting Brick Tamland in the ‘Anchorman’ movies. The females of the ensemble are all well good, Gwendoline Christie, Janelle Monae, Mann and Eiza Gonzalez are caring characters but they never cross over the line to become interesting, they’re simply there to serve Mark’s interests and it feels too easy that they like and understand all of his Marwenian choices.

This is a strange bag, a Zemeckis movie with his effect of heavy-handed attempts of charm backfiring and getting annoyingly lost in a haze of good visuals and irritatingly ineffective sentimental fodder. This is not a doll Al would want to and box and ship to Tokyo.

5/10

Wildlife (2018)

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‘Wildlife’ marks the directorial debut for actor Paul Dano and what an assured, quality debut it is. Dano and his partner; fellow actor and screenwriter Zoe Kazan, have joined as a force of talent to script this film, which delves into a family through beautiful crisis.

In Montana of 1960, Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) has to find a new job and gets one working away from home, to control the fires in some mountains. Jeannette (Carey Mulligan) finds work of her own and it’s during this time when their son Joe (Ed Oxenbould) has to become the man of the house and witness a shift in his parent’s relationship.

Paul Dano had stated that he always knew he wanted to make films about families and this is a look at one that disintegrates whilst you helplessly watch. Based on a 1990 novel of the same name, his screenplay was looked over by ‘Ruby Sparks’ writer and playwright Zoe Kazan who then helped as joint screenwriter and, together the pair have really nailed down on the personal, unflinching state of separation, explored through the 14 year old eyes of Joe, yet blisteringly sold by Mulligan’s performance.

It isn’t long until the strains of Jerry and Jeannette’s marriage take hold and once this happens the cracks can do little but get larger and larger. Through this slow-motion descent, Carey Mulligan trembles, spills tears and explodes with her affecting portrayal of a mother always asking what her son thinks and slowly taking her own route at whatever cost. She provides a fantastically haunting, mesmerising performance.

The cinematography from Diego Garcia is similarly mesmerising in a haunted, stunning way. Just from the opening shot, which sets the scene for it being a movie about house and home and the dysfunction that can happen within. Then you see the lovely bliss of this town and its peaked background reflecting the story of their apparently blissful marriage clouding over like the fire and smoke which is raging close by.

Dano and Kazan have ensured there’s a quiet burning which runs through the narrative, carrying a simmer of unease. You never truly know if something will boil over and on the occasion it might, the atmosphere slams with such a ferocity of family heartbreak, none more powerful than the silent and final image of this film. Paul Dano himself has seamlessly carried his remarkable magnetic talent from in front of the camera and neatly placed that skill behind it, ensuring there’s no need for showy tension to make a weighty drama and that’s what makes this film all the more important and brilliant.

‘Wildlife‘ is a carefully written work of art with its power buried from the inside out. As it slowly leaks out, the audience are in for a film that feels like theatre, this scenario of a family breakdown gorgeously acted by Mulligan and Gyllenhaal and wonderfully sold from Oxenbould’s Joe, as he and we too, can’t help but face this happen.

8/10

 

Juliet, Naked (2018)

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‘Juliet, Naked’ premiered in January this year at the Sundance Film Festival and it couldn’t be more of a Sundance flick; the charming aspects and the unlikely romance are right in the wheelhouse of indie darlings and on the most part, this Jesse Peretz feature works thanks to the effortless matching of its lead actors.

Annie Platt (Rose Byrne) is stuck in a seaside town thanks to boyfriend Duncan Thomson (Chris O’Dowd), some of her resentment is due to her job but some boils down to Duncan’s love of a rock star named Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), whose music Annie finds intolerable. One day she receives an email from the mysterious musician himself and they begin a 100/1 relationship.

Throughout this darling song of a movie there are a rare couple of comedic moments and though it’s not as outright funny as certain scenes had room to be, what works much better are the dramatic notes that are lyrically added to the appealing narrative. This is a film, almost like a melodic tale of love and regrets, parenting and loneliness and these themes are handled in a great heart-felt manner.

When you have source material from Nick Hornby; novelist of High Fidelity and About a Boy and screenwriter of ‘Brooklyn’ then you know to expect a romantic tale with plenty to say and thematic weight to keep the characters going to their end goals. This adaptation from the 2009 book of the same name works in the sense that you feel a faint smile on your face appear as you watch the relationship of Tucker and Annie grow. The warming sensation of a feel-good film can’t be beaten.

Here is perhaps where I am being critically unfair but the similarly driven ‘Hearts Beat Loud’, also premiering at the same Sundance, managed to capture a great mix of light comedy, fantastic songs, romance and family emotion whereas this more recent release doesn’t quite. There’s something not entirely perfect about this film which I felt the Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons music based movie reached closer to.

Rose Byrne is utterly sensational as Annie; the emotive range is great and she really makes us like her character. She lovingly handles every beat of the journey Annie goes on and the way she performs the disappointments of her life and love for 15 years are really believable. Ethan Hawke as this apparently seminal music star, gives grit and reflective thought to a man clearly unused to the extended family he has and the role as a father he’s meant to live up to. The moments between him and Byrne, whether through email voice-over or in person are touching and yes that word again, charming.

So whilst ‘Juliet, Naked’ might not be as endearing as other rom-coms, there’s a strong character duo to watch and the bittersweet indie aspect of their connection more than make up for the likelihood of its forgettable nature.

6.5/10

Widows (2018)

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Steve McQueen is certainly an influential figure, his tiny collection of works being as powerful as a director with numerous features. This 2018 release sees the British director slightly move away from drama as he presents audiences with a smart heist thriller.

After Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson) and his crew end up dead following an attempt to steal millions of dollars, their widows are left facing a dangerous choice. Harry’s wife Veronica (Viola Davis) is threatened by the man whose money was lost and she has a month to pay that cash back. Instead of sitting by, she stands up for the count and receives help from two of the other women, as they plan their own score.

With McQueen and novelist Gillian Flynn behind the screenplay you’d be correct in expecting a slick thriller with turns and the pair of them do incorporate some riveting unexpected curves into the narrative. That is not the be all and end all though, they’re not going down the easier route of just creating a twisty thriller for the sake of it, it’s 100% clear that Flynn and McQueen are interested in the characters and their motivations.

On reflection, there are times when you wonder why the three other ladies are sticking with Veronica but this is just a mere fraction of a niggle that is swiftly lost once the plan takes shape. As the latter stages of the film arrive and their heist takes flight, then you’re in for one hell of a ride; a brilliant burst of tense thriller perfection that latches on and won’t let go.

The characters are what keep the tension ticking, even if Veronica feels like the most fleshed out. The other three widows and a driver are less focused on but they provide a good dose of feminine smarts, will, vulnerability and engrossing power to keep us connected to their predicaments. It could be that I was expecting more, but the story amongst the character work, isn’t as magnetic as I’d hoped but there is plenty of style to make for a worthy movie.

Veronica Rawlins is so damn captivating and that’s down in most part to the dominating talents of Viola Davis. She is formidable as this broken yet unbreakable female force. Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez are strong too but aspects of their characters feel off, down to the development in the plot not their acting. There a couple of brilliantly heated scenes between the reliable Colin Farrell and the great Robert Duvall. Daniel Kaluuya is incredible as a wholly mean, unpredictable presence, he sells this vicious streak with masterful skill, making Jatemme Manning someone to truly fear.

‘Widows’ is perhaps not as tight knit all the way through as it could have been but the final parts are filled with adrenaline and dynamic tension. Women are in it together and they definitely have the balls to pull off a watchable thriller.

7/10