Tag Archives: Film Review

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Boots Riley

Produced by: Nina Yang Bongiovi, Kelly Williams, Jonathan Duffy, Charles D. King, George Rush, Forest Whitaker

Written by: Boots Riley

Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Omari Hardwick, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

Just when you think the well was drying up somewhat in regard to favourite films of the year, Sorry To Bother You (2018) comes along and jumps straight into my top twelve. Written and directed by activist and musician Boots Riley, this really is a humdinger of an absurdist comedy and must surely be a contender for best original screenplay of the year.

Centring on Oakland-based Lakeith Stanfield’s downtrodden everyman, Cassius Green, we find him unemployed and desperate to find work. So much so he takes a soulless commission paid job at RegalView selling encyclopaedias. So far so normal but very quickly events take many left field turns and Cassius is catapulted into a world of corporate greed, worker rebellion, romantic difficulties and some very weird science.

I do not want to give too much away but I had a blast with this film. Indeed, it’s best watched when you know as little as possible about the story. All throughout writer and director Riley has managed a great balance between believable situations and ridiculously surreal humour. His screenplay manages to satirise both the greed of corporate America and racial profiling, while at the same time never preaching or getting heavy. The tone of the film reminded me of so many films and TV shows I love, including: Being John Malkovich (1999), Atlanta, TheMighty Boosh and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It’s also a thematic sibling to Jordan Peele’s massive horror hit Get Out (2017); which found white people exploiting Afro-Americans to nefarious ends.

The cast jump on board the many hyper-real and absurd concepts with abandon. Lakieth Stanfield, who is brilliantly deadpan in the show Atlanta, shows what a gifted actor he is. Again, Tessa Thompson proves what a brilliant actress she is as Cassius’ energetic artist and activist girlfriend; while Jermaine Fowler, Danny Glover and Steven Yeun provide really solid support. Special mention for Armie Hammer who really amps up the comedy with his representation of avaricious corporate megalomaniacs who care more for profits than they do for human life.

Incredibly, this is Boots Riley’s debut feature film and what a fantastic job he has done.  Sorry to Bother You is brimming with hilarious comedic scenes, on-point parody, textured style and credible social commentary. Cassius’ journey throughout is believable too as he is tempted by the promise of money but at severe and Faustian cost. Riley, within the hyper-reality of the world he presents, never strays far from the idea that the collective must join forces to overcome the paymasters. Ultimately, the film may be messy and chaotic at times but this project-mayhem-gonzo-style, along with the colourful design and moody cinematography combine to deliver one of the most memorable films of the year.               

Mark: 9 out of 11

FIRST MAN (2018) – OSCAR BINGO #2 AND FILM REVIEW

FIRST MAN (2018) – OSCAR BINGO #2 AND FILM REVIEW

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Produced by: Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen, Isaac Klausner, Damien Chazelle

Screenplay by: Josh Singer

Based on First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Jason Clarke, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Christopher Abbott

Music by: Justin Hurwitz

Cinematography: Linus Sandgren

Edited by: Tom Cross

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I’m probably not the best person to review this film. I do not like flying. I am not a fan of the concept of space travel. I’m firmly in the camp that we should sort our problems out on Earth first. Plus, the geo-political reasons of the era for going into space, such as the Cold War including the “space-race” with the Russians, seem such an alien concept to an idealist as me. Rather naively I just wonder why they couldn’t have just got on with each other.

Having said I am very much aware that in terms of scientific breakthroughs and sheer feat of human achievement, NASA, its staff and the astronauts involved, deserve unlimited praise for their work. Aside from the financial cost and loss of lives, getting into outer space remains an amazing feat of science and technology. But, what of Damian Chazelle and Ryan Gosling’s rendition of Neil Armstrong – is it all that? I will consider the film with a view to its Oscar potential while reviewing the movie as entertainment too.

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**

 

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BEST FILM CHANCES – 7/10

As a work of technical excellence First Man is a wonderfully striking film. The visuals and scientific renditions relating to space travel are incredible. The human story works mainly as a biopic from Armstrong’s perspective as he, and his team, prepare to go into space. Moreover, it also works well as a study of grief and obsession. Armstrong is shown, via Ryan Gosling’s minimalist presentation, as an intelligent and steely individual who buries his life in his work to overcome a deep family loss. Given we already know how the story ends then it is to the film’s testament that the drama is maintained throughout. The dangerous nature of space travel and lives lost while shooting for the moon are powerfully highlighted. Yet, when we reach the lunar destination suspense had peaked before that point. Thus, the story relies on the stunning visuals more than drama to carry it to towards the final credits.

 

BEST DIRECTOR CHANCES – 8/10

Chazelle, as he showed with Whiplash (2014) and La La Land (2016), is a young film director of some force and intelligence. Having directed Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons with an aggressive jazz-style, he would imbue La La Land with an optimistic, colourful and uplifting energy. First Man is completely different though. It is methodical, slow-burn and restrained in performance and shows Chazelle’s expert range. Here is a filmmaker who designs his films dependent on the subject matter. First Man is a confident cinematic work and Chazelle creates his own vision while also echoing the likes of Terence Malick and Stanley Kubrick.

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BEST ACTOR – 8/10

I’m a big fan of Ryan Gosling. He has been in a number great films of recent years such as: Bladerunner 2049 (2018), The Nice Guys (2016), Drive (2011), Half Nelson (2006), Lars and the Real Girl (2007), Blue Valentine (2010) and more. He is a crafty performer as he doesn’t seem to be doing much. His acting style is like an iceberg; little on the surface but extreme depth below. This makes him perfect for a role such as Neil Armstrong and Gosling’s rendition is pure cinema. His face rarely moves but in his eyes and stillness a real gravitas is brought to the screen. I would expect he will go close to winning the Oscar if only for his accumulation of impressive acting work.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – 8/10

Claire Foy delivers a sterling performance as Janet Armstrong. She is shown to be a caring mother but also a fiery protector of her husband. Foy’s acting actually transcends a mildly underwritten role as her intensity deserved more scenes than she is given. Nonetheless, it confirms Foy as an actor of some power and magnetism.

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BEST SCORE CHANCES – 9/10

The best scores, in my view, not only stand alone as fine works of music but also blend with the visuals to excellent effect. Justin Hurwitz’s score for First Man is a wonderful achievement and surpasses his work on La La Land in my view. While the moon landing is an incredible visual feat and silence is used to great effect, Hurwitz’ score never fails to shine throughout.


BEST TECHNICAL AWARDS – 9.5 out of 10

In terms of technical achievement in emulating the era in space and on Earth, First Man, is unforgettable. I’d fully expect it to win some or all technical awards for editing, sound, visual effects, design, etc. – it truly is a technical marvel!

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE FAVOURITE (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE FAVOURITE (2018)

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

Produced by: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday, Yorgos Lanthimos

Written by: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara

Cast: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn

Cinematography: Robbie Ryan

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

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The London Film Festival organisers were very keen to impress we keep our phones off during the screening of The Favourite. Thus, I infer that the filmmakers are also keen that no spoilers are given away; something I will respect during this review. From the marketing blurb I have culled online, The Favourite:  “sees Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster (2015), The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)) on rollicking, virtuoso form with Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz revelling in the wit of his 18th century royal court life.”

Unlike The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Lanthimos is not working from an original screenplay he wrote with Efthymis Filippou; instead he’s taken an adaptation by Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis. Conversely, it is not as eccentric a premise as those previous films and structurally it is actually quite conventional. The story itself sets Rachel Weisz’ Duchess of Marlborough as advisor to Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne in the early 1700s; while Emma Stone’s fallen “Lady” enters the fray and attempts to gain the Queen’s favour while usurping Weisz’ character.

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Historical films relating to Machiavellian scheming, sexual misadventure and political intrigue are legion. Dangerous Liaisons (1988), A Royal Affair (2012) and the recent Love and Friendship (2016) are but a few examples; however, none of them are as absurd, surprising, funny, moving and as crazy as The Favourite. But, this is not a parody of period dramas. Instead, Lanthimos brings his own directorial vision to the story with his often ludicrous switches in tone, while skilfully maintaining a strong emotional balance and intrigue throughout. His use of the fish-eye lens creates a distorted effect making the characters seem trapped by their surroundings and circumstances. Furthermore, the lighting is quite wonderful too with natural and candle light dominating the proceedings.

Lanthimos’ direction of his three stellar leading actors is superb; with Olivia Colman delivering one of the most memorable performances of the year. Her Queen Anne is both pathetic and empathetic at the same time. Anne is to be pitied, laughed at and laughed with throughout. While I genuinely have little sympathy for royal figures, Anne is humanized with great power by the performance. Preying and manipulating her are Weisz’ and Stone’s characters. Weisz’ is, in particular, quite brilliant as we never quite know if her decisions regarding the war against Spain and the increased taxes are to benefit her or the Queen. Moreover, I know Stone won an Oscar for La La Land (2016), but she is even better in this film. Her eyes light up at each devilish choice her character makes; revelling in the skulduggery as ambition fuels her desires. I must add that Nicholas Hoult is quite brilliant too in a supporting role.

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Overall, The Favourite (2018) may not be appreciated by those who prefer their period dramas to be played straight, as it were. The language and behaviour of the characters is often foul and crude but while seeming anachronistic it is paradoxically authentic too. Lanthimos’ interpretation of the screenplay is rather complex. He seeks to humanize, satirize and ridicule life in the Royal Court but without us ever hating the characters. The narrative asks for understanding but also critiques their choices. You kind of wish Weisz and Stone would show some solidarity but ultimately they are narcissistic players craving power, much to the detriment of their sickly Queen — portrayed by the astounding Olivia Colman.

Mark 9.5 out of 11

 

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – PETERLOO (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – PETERLOO (2018)

Directed by: Mike Leigh

Produced by: Georgina Lowe

Written by: Mike Leigh

Starring: David Bamber, Alastair Mackenzie,  James Dangerfield, Eileen Davies, Liam Gerrard, Bronwyn James, Philip Jackson, Rory Kinnear, Nico Mirallegro, Maxine Peake, Pearce Quigley, Tim McInnerny plus many more.

Music by: Gary Yershon

Cinematography: Dick Pope

Production company: Film4 Productions, British Film Institute, Thin Man Films

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**

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Peterloo (2018) is a film of voices, of speech, of reform and of freedom. It is Mike Leigh’s thirteenth feature film production and clearly a labour of love for him, his production team and the army of actors who put their hearts and souls into this powerful work of cinema. Four years in the making, this historical document, as well as paying tribute to those who campaigned for the vote in the 1800s, is also a passionate love letter to Northern England and the proud working classes of the era.

The film begins in 1815 at the battle of Waterloo and then brings us into the factories and streets of Manchester and surrounding Northern areas. As with many Mike Leigh films you can feel the palpable authenticity in the settings, accents and places the characters live. Leigh also cuts to local magistrates who hold up the draconian laws designed to keep the poor in their place; handing out savage justice such as the death penalty to one man for stealing a coat. We also visit London and experience those ruling classes who inhabit the Houses of Parliament and Royal palaces, lording over the oppressed workers.

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The character strokes are broad at first before Leigh further develops their personalities. The dialogue is delivered formally initially as the characters educate the audience regarding various laws affecting them. This seems jarring but also serves the documentary and historical nature of the piece. As the narrative strands build steadily to the fateful march the editing throughout cross-cuts between the ruling, working and legal classes representing their differing perspectives. The march was intended to be a peaceful demonstration; a plea for Parliamentary reform and the desire to be heard. Surely, that’s the right of everyone in a civilised society?  Well, not in 1819.

With the film driven by a whole host of wonderfully written speeches, it could be argued, Peterloo, lacks the warmth and humour of Leigh’s other more personal films. However, there are some formidable performances amidst the huge cast. Maxine Peake is earthy and convincing in her representation of a mother struggling to make ends meet. Rory Kinnear brings an intelligence and pride to the confident character of Henry Hunt; a wealthy landowner committed to reform and repeal of the onerous ‘Corn Laws’. As is the case with Leigh’s other films the acting is uniformly impressive because you know months of planning and rehearsal would have been committed to the production.

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The film is also shot beautifully by cinematographer Dick Pope. There is a strong leaning toward a naturalistic lighting palette. Interiors are often bathed in sunlight shining through windows onto the shadowed faces of the characters. His camera is placed ideally to capture the rural and industrial locations of the era. There’s also some wonderful framing within arches and factories. Lastly, Leigh’s meticulous approach to authenticity reveals the machinery from the time, such as the looms and printing presses. Similarly, you can almost feel the reality of the epoch through the excellent costume design.

The final act brings us to the fateful day itself. Mike Leigh handles the massive crowd scenes expertly and shows the injustice and barbarism brought about by the cavalry and law enforcements attacking up to 80,000 people who are protesting for change. Having spent a few hours establishing the characters and their relevant causes the emotional impact of the attacks by the ruling classes is palpable. This is ultimately very powerful cinema which resonated with me because it reminded of the historical events down the ages where people have been murdered or injured while trying to make their voices heard.

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Peterloo may not be for everyone as it is a long epic with a plethora of dialogue heavy scenes. Yet, I was enthralled as the language and passion of such discourse is very eloquent and heartfelt. The sheer scale of the filmmaking itself is also impressive even if the narrative lacks a specific personal focus throughout. Mike Leigh’s approach is very clear as it represents the working class as victims to an oppressive regime which has no regard for human suffering. Indeed, it should be every person’s basic right to have a voice and given past and current social and political events Peterloo contains a message that remains very valid today.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

PETERLOO (2018) will be released in the UK on 2nd November 2018

BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by:    Drew Goddard

Produced by: Drew Goddard, Jeremy Latcham

Written by: Drew Goddard

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth

Music by: Michael Giacchino

Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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Expectations are a fascinating thing. Based on the prior screenwriting work of Drew Goddard and his amazing debut feature film, the genre-bending horror film, Cabin in the Woods, I was really looking forward to this crime thriller. With a terrific cast of actors in place and an intriguing setting of a hotel split between the United States of Nevada and California there promised to be cinematic fireworks. There were indeed fireworks but, like fireworks, the film paints bright and pretty colours and bangs loudly in the sky yet somehow felt hollow afterwards. This comes from those darned expectations, I guess.

There are seven main characters in the film; all of whom have secrets to keep. They range from: John Hamm’s vacuum-cleaner salesman; Lewis Pullman’s hotel employee; Dakota Johnson’s mysterious femme fatale; Jeff Bridges’ shady priest; plus a couple of other devils who enliven proceedings later in the film. All the characters are seemingly unconnected but soon fate and fortune take hold as Goddard weaves his screenwriting magic. Before you know they are all at each other’s throats jousting verbally and physically; double and triple crossing, resorting often to extreme violence. What Goddard does superbly well is place these various characters in a form of narrative hell or purgatory. He looks into the heart of humanity and finds blood and darkness at every turn.

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Bad Times at the El Royale main strengths are the brilliant script, skilled cast and a wondrous production design. Indeed, the rich neon colours and lighting glow amidst with the foreboding darkness surrounding the hotel.  In terms of performance, Jeff Bridges is just great; in everything! Dakota Johnson and Cynthia Erivo also excel and breathe emotion into their archetypal characterisations. John Hamm is ever the solid player; but Chris Hemsworth’s grand entrance in the second act, almost steals the show with his messianic “Jim Morrison” grandstanding. All told the ensemble has a scream within the clever pyrotechnics of the screenplay.

Overall, Drew Goddard deserves praise for delivering a very sharp script. Structurally, we cleverly move back in time to fill in back-stories. Events are also from multiple perspectives heightening the twisting nature of the narrative. While mainly style over substance the film still manages to critique the racism of the late 1960s setting; satirises celebrity scandals, and also has a dig at religious cults. So, ultimately this is a satisfying B-movie-pulp-fiction-violent-extravaganza with twists and turns galore, that provides an entertaining blast in the noir night sky.                                                                                            

Mark: 8 out of 11 

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – BORDER (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – BORDER (2018)

Directed by: Ali Abbasi

Produced by: Nina Bisgaard, Peter Gustafsson, Petra Jonsson

Screenplay by: Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklöf, John Ajvide Lindqvist

Based on: Border by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Starring: Eva Melander, Jorgen Thorsson, Ann Petrén, Sten Ljunggren

Music by: Christoffer Berg, Martin Derkov

Cinematography: Nadim Carlsen

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

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If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise. Indeed, one of Border’s many strengths is the constant way co-writer and director Ali Abbasi invokes the strangeness of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s original short story to constantly shock and move us. Because while linear in structure and reliant on structural beats from the rites of passage, romance, fantasy and crime genres, Border, is one of the most original and interesting films you could see all year.

We open with the lead protagonist, Tina, working for the Swedish Border Agency. She is a seemingly sad and isolated individual with, what she believes is, a chromosome deficiency in her genetics. Her features leave her open to cruel ridicule from members of the public. However, she is excellent at her job. In fact, her hook is the ability to literally smell fear or guilt on the people coming through customs. Subsequently, Tina’s superiors start to use her to investigate more serious crimes.

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As this is occurring Tina meets Vore, a man with a similar “condition” to her and this is when her life really begins to spiral into very dark and exciting places. Similar to another film I saw called Beast (2017) the film is, at its heart, about sexual awakening and breaking free of the constrictions of society and family. Eva Melander, beneath the very convincing prosthetics, gives an outstanding performance of a woman finding out an incredible truth about herself and her past.

As a character study this film is very powerful. Tina’s world is turned upside down and she is faced with some horrific choices at the end. Arguably, the crime element of the story doesn’t quite meld with her rites of passage journey. Moreover, some of the fantasy elements from Scandinavian folklore required further research after the fade out. Yet, this remains very brave filmmaking with fascinating themes relating to: ritual and child abuse; nature versus nurture; good versus evil; and how those humanity believes to be outsiders should not be treated as monsters but instead with respect and love.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW – THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)

Directed by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Produced by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, Megan Ellison, Sue Naegle, Robert Graf

Written by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Starring: Tyne Daly, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Heck, Zoe Kazan, Liam Neeson, Tim Blake Nelson, Tom Waits and many more.

Music by: Carter Burwell

Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel

**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

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Soon to be appearing on the streaming behemoth Netflix, the Coen Brothers latest film is a difficult one to recommend to those not familiar with their quirky vision of humanity and existence. Set within the Western genre the film presents six stories seemingly unconnected but those which resonate resoundingly on the theme of death. The stories are called:  The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Near Algodones; Meal Ticket; All Gold Canyon; The Gal Who Got Rattled; and The Mortal Remains respectively.

The closest film this anthology resembles from recent times is the riotous black comedy Wild Tales (2014). Moreover, if you ever saw the Coens’ eccentric mid-life crisis comedy A Serious Man (2009), you may recall the prologue which depicted a short stand-alone piece about a ghostly dybbuk visiting a woman at night. Indeed, that story was seemingly unconnected to the film which followed, however, the Coens’ are such skilled storytellers you sense there is a link be it symbolically or thematically.

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Overall, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a genuine mixed bag, in a good way. Their mischievous alchemy combines genres – within the Western setting – such as: musical, comedy, horror, crime, thriller and even romance. Moreover, the filmmakers have reached into their decades of film experience and cinematic bag of tricks to deliver an entertaining and memorable collection of: characters, songs, bloody deaths, jokes, landscapes, snappy dialogue, dark humour and spitfire action.

The cast are uniformly brilliant and as well as some familiar faces there are some newer actors added to the Coens’ stable of performers. Bill Heck, especially, in the story The Gal Who Got Rattled, impressed in his role as a likable cowboy. Overall, and in a similar vein to Hail Caesar (2016), this feels like Coens-lite, without the existential depth of say No Country for Old Men (2007) or humanity of Fargo (1996). However, the Coen’s films often improve with each viewing as their work is so full of stylish depth. Quite often, you’re laughing so much you miss the philosophical happenstance which is occurring between the lines.

Mark 8.5 out of 11