Tag Archives: Oscars

CINEMA REVIEW: HOUSE OF GUCCI (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: HOUSE OF GUCCI (2021)

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Screenplay by: Becky Johnston, Roberto Bentivegna

Based on: The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed by Sara Gay Forden

Produced by: Ridley Scott, Giannina Scott, Kevin J. Walsh, Mark Huffam

Cast: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, Al Pacino etc.

Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



I’m not a fan of fashion. I wear clothes obviously and like to be smart and clean. Yet, the idea of believing one’s garments, shoes and accessories mean you are important, superior or worthy of adulation sickens me to be honest. However, fashion is a multi-billionaire industry and I get that people of variant social standing love it as a cultural phenomena. People either own or aspire to own over-valued garments and objects to inflate their ego or sense of importance is beyond me. Then again, I passionately enjoy watching human beings kick a ball into a net, so everyone has irrational passions. C’est la vie!

I didn’t go to see House of Gucci (2021) to look at the clothes though. My interest in this star-studded, big budget crime drama directed by the legend, Ridley Scott, was more because I did not know anything about the lives and personalities within the Gucci empire. Who would have thought that a wealthy family unit could have turned out so poisoned by greed and envy?

Covering a period of twenty or so years from the late 1970s into the 1990s, the story is structured around the relationship between Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) and Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). They fall passionately is lust, much to the chagrin of his spiteful father (Jeremy Irons) and marry against his will. Patrizia genuinely loves the sensitive Maurizio, but also has green eyes for the Gucci empire and the power that can bring. As her desire for influence in the family business grows, then so does cracks in their marriage. Crumbling relationships, business chicanery and family treachery dominate the narrative, all coming to a head with tragic results.



As a morality tale about how greed corrupts and drives human beings toward unnecessary tragedy, The House of Gucci (2021) is certainly worth a watch. Is there a sense the Gucci family were cursed by there wealth. Perhaps? But the film and screenplay as a whole present this theme without really drawing them out to full dramatic effect. However, the cast are absolutely fantastic throughout with Al Pacino, Adam Driver, and Lady Gaga on particularly exceptional form. Jared Leto dominates many scenes with his bald head, extra weight and screechy voice. While entertaining, the director could have reigned Leto in slightly to extract more pathos from the sad clown that is represented in Paulo Gucci.

I had a few issues with The House of Gucci (2021) inasmuch as it felt incomplete. At times it was as though I was watching a test screening version. The transitions between years were often confusing. What year is it, Ridley? Adam Driver’s arc from likeable young academic to selfish adulterer was rushed and unearned. I got the evocation of a Fredo and Michael Corleone dynamic between Maurizio and Paulo, but this really could have been developed further. The cinematography was grey and dull with the natural lighting style working against the expected colour and vibrancy of the 1980s era. I also wondered if the film had been graded?

While watching The House of Gucci (2021) I just kept thinking of more superior crime and gangster films. It is also mildly disrespectful to a genius like Ridley Scott to say Martin Scorsese would have knocked this story out of the park. I truly felt, while Lady Gaga was excellent in her role, her character could have been written and given a voice-over up there with that of Henry Hill’s. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the film but wonder if there is a director’s cut out there which doesn’t feel rush released. Or even the possibility HBO or Showtime may adapt it into a longer drama series in time. Yet, does one want to spend more time with such avaricious and vain characters? Depends who is telling the story I guess.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11



“CINEMA” REVIEWS: NOMADLAND (2020) & SOUND OF METAL (2019)

“CINEMA” REVIEWS: NOMADLAND (2020) & SOUND OF METAL (2019)

Due to the being very busy at my day job I have fallen slightly behind with my film reviews. Thus, I am consolidating two quality dramas I have watched in a double bill review presentation. In fact, it is quite apt that these two films are critiqued together as they are both Oscar winners, both focus on an individual’s struggle against difficult personal trauma, both films represent an alternative vision of America and are told in a meditative and absorbing style.


NOMADLAND (2020)

Directed and written by: Chloé Zhao

Produced by: Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Chloé Zhao

Based on: Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder

Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie etc.



Winning the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress in a leading role, perhaps upsold my expectations for Nomadland (2020). It is an example of amazing filmmaking without being a particular brilliant film. I get why it won Best Picture, but that was more to do with there not being one specifically superb standout film among the nominees. Frances McDormand isn’t even very memorable as the lead protagonist, Fern. Don’t get me wrong she is highly empathetic and admirable in her resilience to stick to the road, living in her van and scrapping by independently. However, the film is one-paced. It is all set-up and little pay-off, with the odd flat tyre, van breakdown and Fern having to shit in a bucket providing occasional spikes in the drama.

Much praise though goes to the incredible cinematography and Chloe Zhao’s intelligent and naturalistic direction. She really gets into the weeds of the flailing American dream, as well as providing insight into the lives of working-class people disenfranchised by American capitalism. Moreover, Zhao’s use of non-professional actors is quite astounding, as at times you feel like you are watching a pseudo-documentary. Ultimately, Nomadland (2020) though, is arguably too meditative and glacially paced. It remains a brave and quietly powerful film, but it’s just too quiet for my dramatic needs.

Mark: 8 out of 11



SOUND OF METAL (2019)

Directed by: Darius Marder

Produced by: Bill Benz, Kathy Benz, Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche

Screenplay by: Darius Marder, Abraham Marder

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Mathieu Amalric etc.



Sound of Metal (2019) is another quiet drama, however, it really begins with a load of noise. It derives from Riz Ahmed’s drummer, Ruben, thrashing on stage with his girlfriend, Lou, as she fronts their heavy metal band giving an energetic performance to a lustful crowd. Ruben and Lou live out of their R.V. travelling and gigging around America, but he soon discovers his hearing has been severely damaged. Doctors offer hope in the form of an operation, but it’s extremely expensive. As Ruben is an addict, he also seeks spiritual help at a shelter for deaf people in recovery. There he meets, Joe (Paul Raci), the facilitator at the shelter and Ruben’s slow road to recuperation begins.

Riz Ahmed is outstanding as Ruben, a talented, bright and strong-willed individual who finds himself tested by a loss of hearing. His journey is a slow-moving but compelling one. I especially enjoyed the process where Ruben learns to cope, sign and believe that deafness should not be considered a disability. Indeed, the scenes Ruben shares with the wiser Joe are incredibly moving and thought provoking. Further, Darius Marder directs with a sure hand and really uses the sound effects powerfully, getting us into Ruben’s head both literally and figuratively. Overall, Sound of Metal (2019) beats along steadily but with incredible purpose and rhythm. It teaches us that losing a major sense need not be the end of one’s life, but rather the beginning of an altogether different one.

Mark: 9 out of 11


SIX OF THE BEST #26 – ENNIO MORRICONE (R.I.P 1928-2020)

SIX OF THE BEST #26 – ENNIO MORRICONE – (R.I.P – 1928-2020)

“If you scroll through all the movies I’ve worked on, you can understand how I was a specialist in westerns, love stories, political movies, action thrillers, horror movies, and so on. So, in other words, I’m no specialist, because I’ve done everything. I’m a specialist in music.” Ennio Morricone


As if 2020 couldn’t get any more dramatic, one of the greatest musical composers and dramatists ever known has passed away. Ennio Morricone, rather incredibly, wrote the scores for over four hundred films and television works. He also managed to write well over one hundred classical pieces. To say Ennio Morricone was a prolific genius is somewhat of an understatement.

Morricone won six BAFTAs, eleven Nastro d’Argento, three Grammy Awards, three Golden Globes, six BAFTAs, ten David di Donatello, two European Film Awards, the Golden Lion Honorary Award and the Polar Music Prize. In 2007, he received the Academy Honorary Award for his outstanding commitment to cinema. Moreover, he was also nominated for a further six Oscars. Lastly, Morricone had to wait until 2016 to receive his only competitive Academy Award for the haunting score to Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2016). For Morricone to receive only one Oscar for musical composition is astounding and proves once again there is no justice in the world.

A meagre blog piece from a London-based hack will never be enough of a tribute to a composer who worked in every cinematic genre and with an incredible array of famous and infamous filmmakers. Notables include: Sergio Leone, Oliver Stone, Warren Beatty, John Carpenter, Quentin Tarantino, Sergio Corbucci, Dario Argento, Duccio Tessari, Sergio Sollima, Henri Verneuil, Bernardo Bertolucci, Mauro Bolognini, Giuliano Montaldo, Roland Joffé, Don Siegel, Mike Nichols, Brian De Palma, Barry Levinson and many more companies including advertisers, singers, recording artists and fashion designers. Morricone even found time to compose the 1978 World Cup theme song.

Thus, as a tribute to one of the greatest cinematic artists I have selected six of Morricone’s best film orchestrations. Although given his brilliance and spectacular output, one could certainly pick many more; even sixty of the best!! Riposa in pace, Ennio, il maestro!




THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966)



THE GREAT SILENCE (1968)



ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968)



ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)



THE MISSION (1986)



THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2016)


MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #19 – DENZEL WASHINGTON

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #19 – DENZEL WASHINGTON

In all the excitement, I seemed to have forgotten about this feature, but will reignite it here. Essentially, I pick a favourite film actor or director or writer or composer or film craftsperson, who I have followed and admired for some time, and pick out five of their works which resonate with me. Usually it is difficult to stick to just five selections, however, I find writing with a rule or discipline sharpens the critical mind. Today’s choice is one of the greatest actors to have walked the boards, appeared on the box, and graced the silver screen. His name is of course, Denzel Washington.

Born in Mount Vernon, New York and having initially attended a military academy, Washington would later gain a BA in Drama and Journalism from Fordham University. He began by acting in Summer Stock theatre, but his first major break was in the television series, St Elsewhere. His performances as Dr Philip Chandler would lead to castings in prominent film roles, notably as Steve Biko in Cry Freedom (1987). In that film he would receive his first Academy award nomination. From then on Washington would go from strength to strength traversing stage and screen roles with incredible range and skill. As writer, director and actor he is an artist who can span genres and disciplines, equally brilliant in commercial projects and more arthouse productions. Here are just five roles which I very much think he excelled. But to be honest, there are many, many more I could have included.



GLORY (1989)

Glory (1989) was the first major Hollywood film to profile the fight of black soldiers to free themselves from slavery in the context of the U.S. Civil War. It is an excellent drama with some brutal battle scenes and memorable characters. None more so that Washington’s portrayal of Private Silas Trip. He is quite understandably an angry man determined to fight all the way against oppressors. Washington delivered a searing performance which would earn him a Best Actor in a Supporting role award. It is an outstanding portrayal full of power and strength.



MALCOLM X (1992)

Washington worked with Spike Lee on many film productions and Malcolm X (1992), is arguably their most significant and impressive film. It charts the life and death of a man born Malcolm Little who would grow to be anything but. After a troubled childhood he became a drug dealer and criminal in order to survive. Having converted to Islam he rejected his slave roots, going on to become one of the most outspoken voices against black oppression the world has ever known. Both Lee and Washington should have won Oscars for their work, and Washington’s intense performance stands as a fine cinematic tribute to a true spokesperson for a generation.



TRAINING DAY (2001)

Washington has played his fair share of heroic and complex anti-heroes trying to find their way in the world, but in David Ayer’s brilliant cop drama Training Day (2001), he revels in the role of bad-ass corrupt cop, Alonzo Harris. Washington and Ethan Hawke are both brilliant as the mentor and apprentice narcotics officers who are about to have a very intense day of plots and double-crosses. Washington spits and chews up Ayer’s meaty dialogue as Harris, who has a devilish plan up his dirty sleeves. Ultimately, the respect between the two erodes and a violent power game ensues with surprising twists ahead. Washington won the Best Actor award at the Academy Awards, and while it was well earned, it was arguably more for his body of incredible film performances overall.



MAN ON FIRE (2004)

While not necessarily the best film on Denzel Washington’s amazing acting C.V., Man on Fire (2004) is one of the more memorable films he made with uber-Hollywood genre filmmaker, Tony Scott. Washington clearly respected Scott as a man and director, and while Scott’s flashy and bombastic style could drown his actors, Washington’s talent always shone through. As John Creasy, Washington’s characterisation is that of a broken ex-military man who has killed for his country, and now realised it was all for nothing as he lost and alone. Alcoholic and suicidal, Creasy finds redemption in the guise of a young girl, portrayed brilliantly by Dakota Fanning, who following her kidnapping, goes on a vengeful kill-crazy-rampage-search-for-justice. Washington’s acting is both muscular and tender in equal measure as Scott delivers an explosive genre film of the highest quality.



FENCES (2016)

Denzel Washington’s honest, down-to-earth and heart-cracking drama is a formidable character piece and acting tour-de-force. Adapted from August Wilson’s prize-winning play, the narrative bristles with authentic working-class lives of 1950s Pittsburgh, and is littered with some wonderful stories and dialogue. At the heart of the drama are Denzel Washington’s complex character, Troy Maxson, and his long-suffering wife, Rose; portrayed with significant humility by Viola Davis. Troy’s character is charismatic, and he delivers some hearty yarns from his past, but he’s also bullies everyone around him. Moreover, Washington directs brilliantly, “fencing” in the characters to create a sense of claustrophobia and intensity. By keeping the players mainly in the yard and the house we feel as trapped as they are by society, social status and their life decisions. It’s an intimate film about proper characters and real lives and overall, the performances alone make the film feel cinematic.


fences

PARASITE (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

PARASITE (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Bong Joo-ho

Produced by: Kwak Sin-ae, moon Yang-kwon, Bong Yok-cho, Jang Young-hwan

Screenplay by: Bong Joon-ho & Han Jin-won

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jung Ji-so, Jung Hyeon-jun, Lee Jung-eun

Cinematography by: Hong Kyung-pyo

******* MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ********



I actually saw this incredible work of cinema storytelling on Saturday just passed, so am writing this review AFTER the film rather incredibly won several Oscars at the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday. I say “rather incredibly”, not because the film wasn’t a worthy winner of the Best Film award, but because high quality films not in the English language usually have to be satisfied with the Best International Film Award, as it is known now. Parasite (2019) in fact, deservedly won that award too. Anyway, irrespective of the awards it has earned, the film has also been universally praised. Not surprisingly, because it is not just a Korean arthouse film, but rather an ingenious genre classic. It blends dark comedy, horror, drama and thriller tropes to create a funny, suspenseful and consistently surprising experience.

The story premise itself is relatively simple and it begins not too differently from a Japanese film I watched recently called, Shoplifters (2018). A lower class family, in this case Korean, live in cramped conditions and struggle to survive on a daily basis. Their apartment is below level and the Kim’s including father, Ki-taek, mother Chung-sook, daughter Ki-jeong and son Kim Ki-woo are all out of work. While they struggle on they stick together as a family, battling drunks who piss against their window, steal local wi-fi and also carry out menial part-time jobs like making up pizza boxes. Fortunately, a friend of Ki-woo recommends him for a teaching position within a very wealthy household belonging to the Park family. Then the narrative really gathers pace as the Kim family surreptitiously begin to infest and inveigle their way into the Park’s privileged lives.



You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Kim family are the antagonists in the narrative, however, they are very empathetic characters. Their dubious actions lead the story into very dark and funny territory, as they manipulate Mr and Mrs Park, plus their young son and teenage daughter. While not condoning their actions one can identify with their class struggle because they are desperate to improve their situation and prosperity. The issue is though they get a bit greedy and the superb screenplay throws a massive twisting curve-ball at them as the Kim’s plans unravel and events go completely off the rails.

Filmmaker, Bong Joon-ho, like he did with the brilliant films, Snowpiercer (2013) and The Host (2006) is clearly using the social status of his characters to satirise and critique capitalist society. It’s literally an ‘Upstairs versus Downstairs’ narrative in terms of both locations and themes. Beautifully filmed, in a property that was actually built for the film, the cinematography makes clever use of glass and windows to mirror characters and reflect identity. Moreover, it has more than a voyeuristic air to it with characters hiding around doorways and stairwells, as well as following, spying and watching each other secretly. It’s a film which Hitchcock would have been proud to have directed too, with many suspenseful and gripping set-pieces throughout.



Ultimately, the first three-quarters of the Parasite (2019) are a cinematic masterpiece, so brilliantly plotted and planned out. When the Kim’s plans are then upended, the film gives way to an unhinged ending as events descend into bloody chaos. However, Bong Joon-ho is so in control of the material he tells us, via Ki-taek, that this careful planning is about to give way to something more messy. Furthermore, the final act while moving and tenderly rendered, I felt, was replete with somewhat poetic narrative holes. But, this is not a criticism as even in the final scenes Joon-ho is inventive while surprising the audience. Although, overall, the biggest shock would come when Parasite (2019) won the best film at the Oscars. I’m still reeling the Academy made such a risky choice!

Mark: 10 out of 11


VICE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW & OSCAR BINGO #3

VICE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Adam McKay

Produced by: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Kevin J. Messick, Will Ferrell, Adam Mckay

Written by: Adam McKay

Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Lily Rabe, Jesse Plemons

**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**

Unlike the previous Oscar Bingo attempts for A Star Is Born (2018) and First Man (2018), this review has full knowledge of the nomonations. So, rather than be guess work this review of Vice (2018) is intended to be based on more constructive critiques of the Oscar nominated films I have seen.

BEST FILM CHANCES – 8/10

For starters, Vice is certainly worthy of its award nominations. I have seen some criticisms that it is cartoonish and simplistic and while I actually agree with this, it is also a brilliant and scabrous work of satire. Yes, it’s preaching to the liberal and left-winged Hollywood choir, but it definitely presents a fascinating snapshot of Dick Cheney’s rise from alcoholic wastrel to powerful political figure.

While I believe Roma (2018) will win the Best Film, I enjoyed Vice more from a stylistic, educational and emotional perspective. I was drawn into the murky world of American politics by McKay and his fantastic ensemble cast, and was compelled by the machinations of Cheney’s manipulative puppet-master to Bush’s marionette President. McKay’s film, while certainly one-tracked, powers along picking apart and satirising one of the most shadowy political figures of recent years.

BEST DIRECTOR CHANCES – 8/10

In terms of tone and narrative, McKay’s The Big Short (2015) was arguably a more cohesive film. Indeed, Vice is presented more as a non-linear monatge and sketch style recreation of key events in Cheney’s life. But I loved the style and McKay should be praised for his editing choices. He throws the veritable formalistic kitchen sink at the film using: direct address, Shakepearean monologue, cross-cutting montage, fake credits, voiceover, freeze frames, fake footage, stock footage, flashbacks, flash forwards, inter-titles, third-party narrator and many more stylised tropes. In my view his directorial bag of tricks are utilised without losing emotional impact too. While Alfonso Cuaron will probably win McKay certainly deserves kudos for enlivening his subject matter with such storytelling choices.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE CHANCES – 10/10

Christian Bale should win. I have not seen Rami Malek, Viggo Mortensen or Willem Dafoe’s acting in their respective roles but Christian Bale is astonishing. Fair enough, he has taken a real person and delivered an emulation performance, but he also brings to Cheney to life with formidable cinematic style. Of course, the physical transformation could take the headlines but in terms of emotion and mentality he really raises the perfomance bar. Cheney may be an enigmatic character but Bale brings quiet menace, whispers and manipulation to the role. There is also a sly humour there too which makes Bale’s Cheney another memorable acting monster he’s created.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE CHANCES – 8/10

Amy Adams is one of my favourite actors. Not quite a Lady Macbeth character, her Lynn Cheney pushes Dick forward mercilessly to make a better man of himself. She is the foundation and rock of their relationship and glues his life together when he faces health issues and political setbacks. Adams nails the role, and while Rachel Weisz will probably win for The Favourite (2018), Adams may finally get the Oscar she deserves.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE CHANCES – 5/10

Sam Rockwell is excellent in emulating George W. Bush but he only has a few scenes. While Rockwell dumbs down with the best of them I would have nominated Steve Carell instead. His Donald Rumsfeld, was a creeping, neurotic and conniving joy and definitely deserved the nomination in this category.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY CHANCES – 7/10

The film benefits from a sparky screenplay which keeps a potentially dull subject spinning along in an entertaining fashion. It takes a complex set of characters and scenarios, and despite simplifying to fit a leftist agenda, still constructs intelligent analyses of Cheney and Washington at large. Ultimately, Cheney is shown to be an opportunist and dangerous person who manipulated information and policy to finagle the USA and allies into a war for profit. Even worse he did so from the position of Vice President – boo Cheney! Boo! While McKay deserves praise for his brave creative choices, I would go for Paul Schrader’s exceptional First Reformed (2018) in the original screenplay category; Schrader deserves it more.

CONCLUSION

I am a big fan of satirical works such as: Private Eye, Yes Minister, Spitting Image, The Thick Of It, Veep and South Park. They seek to undermine and take critical shots at our leaders, illustrating the danger, absurdity and stupidity of those in power. They also, in an entertaining way, carry a message that those serving their country are often serving themselves more. Conversely, a film like Vice, however cartoonish or broad, still has the power to highlight the corruption and horror of a man like Cheney. While the script and direction are tonally scatter-gun, Bale’s incredible rendition, and the marvellous supporting cast, anchor the film and ensure this satirical ship rarely hits the rocks.

Mark: 9.5 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

First-Man-release-date-cinemas-UK-US-cast-plot-1010795

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**

First-Man-Damien-Chazelle-©-2018-NBCUniversal-5-1-1024x383

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.

FirstMan3-1.png

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.

75th-Venice-Film-Festival-First-Man-Movie-Review

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

A STAR IS BORN (2018): OSCAR BINGO #1 & CINEMA REVIEW

A STAR IS BORN (2018): OSCAR BINGO AND FILM REVIEW

Directed by: Bradley Cooper

Produced by: Bill Gerber, Jon Peters, Bradley Cooper, Todd Phillips, Lynette Howell Taylor

Screenplay by: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters

Based on: A Star Is Born by William A. Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Sam Elliott

Cinematography: Matthew Libatique

a-star-is-born-bradley-cooper-lady-gaga-1200x5201

When a star is born others will die. Some will fade. Some will collapse. Some will burn bright like the sun before vanishing. That is the cycle of life and the narrative of this standard film classic. Yet, if you’re going to cover an old traditional then you’ve got to be confident you’re going to do it justice. It could be considered an easy track to lay down by replicating a story done three times before, however, if you get it wrong and play a bum note then you’ve ruined the song. Safe to say that writer, director and star Bradley Cooper has thrown his heart and soul into this story and with on-screen partner Lady Gaga, and an incredible production team, they’ve collectively knocked it out of the park. For this review I’d like to play a bit of Oscar bingo and consider the merits of the film along with the players award chances.

BEST FILM CHANCES: 8 out of 10

This is a film about dreams: living, broken and dying dreams. It’s a beautifully timeless tale of two people who fall in love but their trajectories veer in opposite directions. Bradley Cooper is Jackson Maine: a successful rock star still selling out stadiums and seemingly with everything positive on the outside. Inside though he’s crumbling; he suffers from tinnitus, alcoholism and the inner demons of a broken family past that drugs, booze, music and his long-suffering brother, portrayed by the excellent Sam Elliott, cannot block out. When a chance meeting with a bar singer occurs, sparks fly with Ally, as she suddenly brings a burst of light and hope into his life. While she is insecure off-stage she nails it on-stage; not surprising as she is portrayed by pop mega-star Lady Gaga. The two fall in love but the path of romance, while powerful on and off stage for a while, ultimately struggles with both his addiction and Ally’s subsequent pop success. Given the familiarity of the story the ‘Best Film’ chances could be slightly hampered in regard to originality. But overall it has the feel of both an epic and powerful love story combined with some tragically intimate moments that will make it one of the front runners when the nominations come out.

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BEST DIRECTOR CHANCES: 7 out of 10

While this is his is directorial debut, Bradley Cooper has infused the story with an energy, immediacy and intimacy akin to that of a veteran filmmaker. The on-stage scenes put you at the heart of the gigs, while his sterling performance and that of Lady Gaga’s absolutely soar. There is a core reliability of emotion in so many memorable scenes, from the humour of Ally’s father and his chauffeur circle of friends, to the happy times of Ally and Jackson in love, and the more tempestuous boozy periods. Cooper’s helming is consistent and it is clearly a labour of love as he successfully melds romance, tragedy and backstage musical in an impressively directed story.

BEST ACTRESS CHANCES: 9 out of 10

Lady Gaga is a ridiculous name but it’s hard to forget. While not a massive fan of her pop persona she has released a plethora of songs catchier that the bubonic plague. I had only seen her acting before in a couple of things, notably American Horror Story: Hotel, but due to the hysterical style of that gruesome anthology it’s difficult to tell if she had much range. However, as the working class Ally, she infuses the character with a bright-eyed innocence and fiery passion that wins you over immediately. Her and Cooper’s chemistry is tremendous and very believable and those eyes; they just made me melt at times. Oh, and of course THAT voice. What a voice and what amazing interpretations of so many great songs. Lady Gaga will go very close to the Best Actress Oscar in my mind.

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BEST ACTOR CHANCES: 7 out of 10

Cooper directs himself very well and his quietly impactful performance both on and off stage really got me in the heart. The pathos and emotion he conveys in charting the collapse of a man crumbling from the inside out is very powerful. Cooper reminded me of a younger Jeff Bridges and indeed, Sam Elliott with his performance encapsulating a talented and pained artist who is never happier than when on stage. Off stage the demons are still there haunting him emotionally and physically. Being harsh, one could say the familiarity of the character – a grizzled alcoholic musician battling addiction – could go against his Oscar chances, but Cooper’s performance remains one of nuance and empathy.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: 8 out of 10

There are a couple of serious contenders here with Andrew Dice Clay giving a sly comedic turn as Ally’s protective father. Moreover, there’s the battle-born gravitas of Sam Elliott as Jackson’s long suffering road manager and brother. The scene where he puts his drunken brother to bed in order to stops him choking on his own vomit, protecting yet also reviled by this broken man, impacts greatly. Elliott just nails his role and the film could have benefitted even more from his presence throughout. Nonetheless, he steals those scenes he does inhabit and will certainly get nominated.

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BEST SONG CHANCES: 10 out of 10

Shallow will win the Best Oscar no doubt. When introduced acapella by Lady Gaga you only get a suggestion of its’ power. However, when she launches into it on stage it is an absolutely memorable and stand-out musical moment. The music throughout is linked powerfully to the emotion of the characters from Jason Isbell’s composition Maybe It’s Time to the final heartfelt song, I’ll Never Love Again, sang beautifully by Lady Gaga. Even the sly satirical digs at the soulless pop that Ally sings are done with skill. The juxtaposition of their plasticity versus the realness of the rock music delivered by Ally and Jackson creates another layer of musical depth in a consistently brilliant soundtrack.

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OVERALL

A Star Is Born (2018) is a great cinematic experience with every person involved in the production at the top of their game. The story is familiar but the performances, characterisation, direction and the songs all combine to create a very emotional and human journey. I’m not the greatest fan of musicals but this one had me hooked from start to finish and is a fine example of classic Hollywood genre storytelling at its best.

Mark: 9 out of 11

WAR AS HEAVEN AND HELL! HACKSAW RIDGE (2016) REVIEW

WAR AS HEAVEN AND HELL! HACKSAW RIDGE (2016) REVIEW

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

What is it with Andrew Garfield and his battles with the Japanese, armed only with his faith?  In a thematic replica of the compelling drama, Silence (2016), Garfield leads the cast of Hacksaw Ridge (2016) by portraying 7th Day Adventist, Desmond Doss, who while compelled to serve his country during World War II, declines, on principle to pick up a rifle and kill. He wants to save lives not end them. Now, I, as a screenwriter feel this is a fantastic base for drama and suspense; and so it turns out to be, in a rip-roaring, inspirational, bloody and heroic war film.

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Hacksaw Ridge is classic Hollywood filmmaking par excellence. Andrew Garfield’s Doss is a humble everyman we can all root for as he contends with a drunken father, and then with army training as colleagues and superiors fail to recognise his religious stance. In the final lengthy battle scenes he then faces the Japanese, along with his unit, as they clamber the eponymous Hacksaw Ridge in an attempt to gain control of Okinawa. This is where the action really takes off as the gruesome war scenes create an astounding flurry of bombs, shots, bullets-on-tin-and-bone and whooshing flame-throwers searing the skin of men. All produced by both sides apart from Doss who, incredibly without a rifle, saves many, many lives.

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Mel Gibson the storyteller doesn’t do grey areas in his narratives. Black is black; white is white; good is good and the Japanese are just plain bad. Indeed, this film reminded me of the good old-fashioned war epics of yesteryear such as Howard Hawks’ Sergeant York (1941) starring Gary Cooper. Moreover, the brilliant constructed action sequences echoed the kinetic majesty and orgiastic bloodbaths of Saving Private Ryan (1998); as well as the director’s own work in Braveheart (1995).

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Andrew Garfield inhabits the character of Doss perfectly exuding a homespun goodness and religious core which at no time feels sappy. He is ably supported by an excellent cast including: Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington, Rachel Griffiths, Luke Bracey and scene-stealer Vince Vaughan. While the characters are essentially binary archetypes, the film stands ultimately as a formidable war film with suspense elements. Because we care so much about Doss, the tension is incredible during many nerve-jangling moments; and especially when he’s in the rat-infested Japanese tunnels.

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Given Mel Gibson’s controversial history especially when it comes to alcohol-related domestic fights, rants and convictions, he is no doubt looked at suspiciously by the public and filmmaking community. Thus, it meant he would have to produce something special to redeem his reputation in Hollywood; so a Best Oscar Director nomination aids his comeback. Yet, while this film does not represent total redemption for Gibson personally, he once again proves his value as a worthy movie-maker. Overall, via Doss’ heroics, Gibson, his writers, cast and crew demonstrate that war is hell but with such acts of compassion for humanity, Doss showed, it can represent a fragment of heaven too.

A LOVELY NIGHT IN THE SUN: LA LA LAND (2016) REVIEWED

LA LA LAND (2016) FILM REVIEW

**SPOILER ALERT!**

In light of the FOURTEEN Oscar nominations from the Academy who am I to go against the tide of musical loveliness that is La La Land. Indeed, while I dislike all kinds of award ceremonies per se it does deserve most of the accolades coming its way. Because as the Trump puppet rears his huge, ugly head in the United States and Brexit looms large in the UK we all need something feel-good and nostalgic to lift us; especially amidst the bitter cold of winter.

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Damian Chazelle, who wrote and directed the exceptional drama Whiplash (2014), has sculpted a sunny post-modern musical which soars throughout paying tribute to both Los Angeles and Hollywood. The movie stars Ryan Gosling as an uncompromising jazz pianist and Emma Stone as a sensitive, budding actress who meet in a contemporary yet somehow old-fashioned vision of LA; where magic and love are in the air and the potentialities of dreams are a palpable force.

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Stone and Gosling are a stunning couple and while Chazelle’s leads may not have the strongest voices they serve the songs exceptionally well with an ordinary wonder. The chemistry between the two sparkles as the story entwines their characters within a “follow your dream” narrative. Arguably there could’ve been slightly more differences between the two than the “I hate jazz” tension; but as in the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), Stone and Gosling sail through the film with confidence and profound likeability.

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Chazelle throws everything at the story employing jazz, 80s pop, old band numbers, R and B, and ballads. Moreover, all manner of parody, pastiche and cinematic devices are employed to echo the classic Hollywood musicals of yesteryear; the formidable work of Jacques Demy; plus the more modern pop promos of recent times. The opening Another Day of Sun traffic sequence is a real showstopper as Fame-like dancing and singing on motors in an LA highway jam brilliantly establishes the hyper-real and fantastical elements to come.

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It seems obvious to say that the music in La La Land is to the fore, but Chazelle and the ultra-talented composer Justin Hurwitz commit a verve and soul to the songs and direction. Clearly the characters and lyrics reflect their own personal emotions, dreams and desire to escape everyday existence. While much of the film skims a stylish surface of colour and verve, numbers such as City of Stars and The Fools Who Dream really touch the heartstrings and draw out the internal emotions of the characters.

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It’s hard to criticize such a funny, feel-good movie and as a musical it is probably a masterpiece, however, while the love story served the musical structure really well, I felt that, compared to say Funny Girl (1968), Grease (1977) and Half-A-Sixpence (1967) it arguably lacked a bit of dramatic tension. Indeed, the break-up itself was under-baked and latterly covered by a have-your-cake-and-eat-it “what could have been” fantasy flashback. Yet, this is a minor critique of an incredibly well realised escapist joy.

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So, roll on the Oscars where the film will almost certainly win best film and direction, plus accolades, no doubt, for the musical and technical achievements. The wonderful Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are certain to be in the fray too. However, while I have seen other more dramatically impactful films such as: Arrival (2016), Manchester by the Sea (2016) and Silence (2016) (not even nominated!!), this remains one terrific musical that will lift the spirits even on the darkest day.