Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Moonlight (2017)

Image is property of A24, Plan B Entertainment and Pastel Productions

Moonlight – Film Review

Cast: Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali

Director: Barry Jenkins

Synopsis: Set in three distinct acts, chronicling the life of a young black boy growing up in Miami, charting his childhood, teenage years and finally his growth to adulthood.

Review: Growing up no matter who you are can be extremely difficult, no matter the circumstances. However, there is in certain parts of the world, a massive stigma that is attached towards people who are homosexual, which for any person in that situation, can be extremely difficult to come to terms with who you are. This makes Barry Jenkins’s coming of age drama about a young black boy growing up in a difficult Miami neighbourhood feel particularly relevant and poignant, what with the extremely delicate racial tensions occurring in the USA right now.

Adapted from In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, an unfinished play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, we follow young Chiron in three stages of his life: childhood, adolescence and adulthood (played in each by Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes respectively). To say he leads a difficult life is an extreme understatement. Picked on at school, an absent father whose whereabouts are never disclosed,  a mother who is addicted to drugs (Harris) and facing questions about his sexuality. In comes Juan, a father figure to Chiron who fills that void that so desperately needed filling. With the help of Juan, Chiron seeks to find his place in the world.

YE-Film-Top 10

With three distinct acts, the film chooses to not do what Boyhood did and narrow its focus to a few quite specific points in this three very different stages of life. This first act is the Mahershala Ali show, he’s the figure that Chiron needs in his life right now and there are a few scenes in particular that feel raw and emotional. With the move to adolescence, Juan is now out of the picture and although Sanders’s performance feels very raw, Juan is sorely missed as his absence is really felt. Jenkins script and direction helps to capture that struggle that it’s quite possible every teenager goes through, which is only compounded when you’re getting ruthlessly picked on because of your sexuality.

However, despite the delicate themes that the film seeks to explore, there is something in Jenkins’s screenplay that feels absent. As emotionally impactful as the subject matter may be, there isn’t really enough to really engage the audience or to get them to care about Chiron perhaps as much as they should. The dialogue at times feels drawn out and aimless in its direction, and though there is some character development, there is not sufficiently enough to the point where you feel completely invested in the life of this young man as you really ought to, and the final act in particular drifts painfully aimlessly to an extremely melancholic conclusion.

Alongside Ali, Naomie Harris gives perhaps her best ever performance as Chiron’s drug addicted mother. A woman who clearly loves her son, but though she tries so hard to show it, her addiction really harms their relationship. Harris rightfully scooped an Oscar nomination for her impact performance, and Ali went one step further and also very deservedly became the first Muslim actor to win an acting Oscar.

Nicholas Britell’s accompanying score is also worthy of immense praise, adding to the raw emotion really effectively in particular scenes. The Best Picture gong at the 89th Academy Awards indicates that there is no shortage of admirers for Moonlight, but for a film that has such delicate subject matter, there was a real opportunity to make a powerful statement, but with such an uninspiring third act, it feels like a glorious opportunity squandered.

With great performances from Ali and Harris, there’s something to be admired about tackling such tricky subject matter, but the end result is just not as compelling in a way that it could, and perhaps ought to be.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox and Marv

Kingsman: The Golden Circle – Film Review

Cast: Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, Halle Berry, Sophie Cookson, Pedro Pascal

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Synopsis:  After their organisation comes under attack, The Kingsman seek the help of their US Counterparts, the Statesman, to help them save the world…

Review: It is always nice when a film knows exactly what the audience wants and doesn’t take itself too seriously. In addition, when said film knew that it was a ridiculously over the top, almost parody of the the spy films that it obviously drew inspiration from, and plays that to its advantage to deliver an absurd amount of entertainment, and laughs, that’s always a most welcome outcome, and this is precisely what Kingsman: The Secret Service was. Therefore, a sequel to this surprise hit was almost inevitable, and Vaughn despite perhaps some initial hesitation, eventually came back to the director’s chair.

The first film was, for the most part British-centric, and more specifically on the Kingsman and the recruitment of young Eggsy into this elite spy organisation. The plot now goes a bit more global, well across the Pond to be exact. With the Kingsman on their knees following a vicious attack, a clue leads them to their US based allies, the Statesman. Their research leads them to something that is known as the “Golden Circle” and with the Kingsman and Statesman now side by side, they must band together to help save the world because as you would expect, as there’s always some dastardly villain looking to wreak world havoc.

Eggsy’s development from deadbeat chav, to a sophisticated gentleman spy was a central theme of what The Secret Service was all about. All the while saving the world with mentor Harry Hart (Firth) by his side. Though Harry initially seems to have suffered a grim demise, but with a presence that is hard to miss if you have seen any promotional material, it indicates that Harry did not meet said demise. Their character development was a key arc of the first movie, but there is much less focus on that arc, and indeed character development as a whole, which can be frustrating to say the least.

“We are the three amigos…”

Instead Vaughn and Goldman zone in on the action stakes, turning up the volume to maximum. If his past work is anything to go by, Vaughn is certainly a director who knows how to helm jaw dropping action scenes,  the church scene from the first film certainly stands out. They’re very fast paced and exhilarating, although sometimes they way they are cut together, with very fast, quick cut editing can make them a bit jarring to watch. The plot is again a bit far fetched to say the least, even more so than the last film, but the movie knows that this is part of its charm, and it uses that to its advantage.

Taron Egerton remains on great form as Eggsy and he is ably supported by the familiar faces of Merlin and Roxy, whilst continuing a relationship with his royal girlfriend. The main bunch of new recruits comes in the shape of the Statesman cast, with Bridges giving Rooster Cogburn a 21st century makeover in the form of Statesman top dog Champ. Tequila and Ginger Ale (Tatum and Berry) are welcome additions but both feel somewhat underutilised. Meanwhile Pedro Pascal as Whiskey is perhaps the most interesting of the new bunch, honing his Oberyn Martell-esque fighting skills to great effect, and while she does have some time to shine, Julianne Moore as the antagonist would have benefited from a bit more screen time.

Though it doesn’t get too bloated, the film does feel perhaps a tad too long, perhaps because Vaughn does cram so much into this new adventure. but there’s more than enough good material here for audiences to enjoy. Like last time, the movie remains very self-aware, it knows it is a bat shit crazy experience with spies, espionage, gadgets, action and VERY adult humour. And that’s just what you signed up for, suited and booted and all.

There’s not a great deal of character development to be found, but like its predecessor, The Golden Circle delivers those insane and thrilling action set pieces and adult humour that make it such a blast to watch.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

mother! (2017)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures and Protozoa Pictures

mother! – Film Review

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Synopsis: A married couple are in the middle of redecorating their home, living a quiet peaceful life, yet when some uninvited guests show up, their tranquil  lifestyle is changed forever…

Review: The wonder of film is that it can generate a considerable array of responses among audiences. A film can be inspirational viewing, it can leave you speechless in shock, it can make you very angry, and it can leave you wondering what on earth you just watched, leaving you thinking about the film for days afterwards. In the case of Darren Aronofsky, here’s a director who is not afraid to make some psychologically damaging stories that leave their mark on their audiences.

In his latest film, Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem play a wife and husband, neither of whom are really properly identified, known only as Mother and Him respectively. In a large house that is far too big for just the two of them, they live in quiet harmony with Mother decorating their house while Him is a poet, struggling to find his muse. However, their peaceful existence is ruined when a guest, Man (Harris) turns up unannounced. Mother is uncertain, but Him welcomes this visitor into their home. And when Man’s wife shows up (Pfeiffer) this is where everything gets really sinister.

To say this film is strange would be a severe understatement. Aronofsky reportedly wrote the screenplay in five days, which could imply that the story maybe a bit rushed, but this is for the most part, not the case. Though a slow burn in the initial act, once the guests start to arrive is when things go south very quickly. Right from the first shot, the tone is creepy and sinister with some very vivid imagery, and metaphors that can be open to many different interpretations. Be warned, some of the imagery is macabre,and deeply unsettling at times. The very unequivocal undertone that is at the centre of this story will either infuriate or mesmerise, as is evident by the boos and cheers that greeted the movie in equal measure at its Venice Film Festival debut. Divisive in every sense of the word.

With her Hunger Games days now long behind her, Jennifer Lawrence continues to show her considerable acting credentials by giving a haunting , wounded performance, an Oscar nomination wouldn’t feel out of place. She is front and centre of the film, we witness many of the horrors in this film from her perspective. Bardem has shown in the past that he can portray a terrific villain but here, he’s a bit more nuanced, but still also gives an unsettling performance given the role he plays in the developing horror that we witness in this film. The rest of the cast also do their best to add to the ensuing tension, and that makes said tension almost palpable.

Aronofsky helms the film in a way that makes it deeply unsettling to watch, which is clearly what he was going for. The camerawork certainly helps to build the tension. However, the screenplay is so engaging it will ensure that you will be transfixed by the events you see on screen, and equally aghast. Yet at the same time, there’s something so intriguing behind the themes and ideas that drive this film. With metaphors about a plethora of topics aplenty, Aronofsky has made something that certainly will not be to everyone’s taste. Nevertheless, what he has crafted has ensured it will be dissected and analysed at films schools for years and years to come, and that’s no mean achievement.

You will probably either love it or hate it, bold but dark and unsettling storytelling with two haunted performances at its heart, a film that will leave a lasting impression on its audience, for better or for worse.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Wind River (2017)

Image is property of The Weinstein Company, Thunder Road Pictures and Ingenious Media

Wind River – Film Review

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Synopsis: In the depths of Wyoming, USA, a rookie FBI agent and a veteran hunter to solve the mystery of the death of a young woman…

Review: Winter, a season that can be extremely punishing and harsh if you venture out in the wilderness not fully prepared for the brutality that that particular time of year can deliver. And it’s in winter in Wyoming, USA that sets the stage for the second directorial effort of Taylor Sheridan, the scribe behind the quite brilliant Sicario and Hell or High Water. Much like both of those films, there’s some crime involved. But this time there are no drug cartels or bank robbers to be found, it’s the mystery surrounding the death of a young woman’s body that is found in the brutal wilderness and the job of law enforcement to investigate what happened.

Leading the investigation is  Jane Banner (Olsen) a rookie FBI agent who’s called to the scene of the crime after the discovery was made by Cory Lambert (Renner) Together, Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye  these two go on the hunt for the clues that they hope will lead to finding out those who are responsible for this young woman’s death. In the same way that The Revenant might have made you feel cold whilst you were watching, the use of practical sets makes the audience feel like they are in the deep wilderness of this harsh place which can send a cold shiver down your spine. Clearly choosing to shoot on practical locations gives the film a real authenticity and adds to the gritty nature of the story.

Avengers on a mission…

Sheridan showed his writing credentials with the aforementioned films he scribed, and once again his script though it does wobble in places is strong and is ably backed up by well developed, interesting characters. As a man who married into a Native American family, Cory is a man driven by his desire for justice due to the connections he has with the deceased woman in question and Renner’s performance is excellent. Though initially reluctant he joins Banner on her quest for justice, and in this frozen land where nearby help is not exactly forthcoming, the two of them must use their experience to help solve this case. Olsen is also on good form, if perhaps not as well developed as she maybe could be in the officer leading this investigation but nevertheless, the characters are well written to keep you engaged in the story.

The pacing is a bit slow to begin with as the investigation begins and the hunt for clues begins. However despite the slowish pace in the beginning, the story remains riveting to watch. Once the investigation has yielded some substantial results is when the film really picks up the pace and delivers some pulsating and tense scenes, particularly when you reach the third act and the key details of this investigation begin to emerge. Sheridan showed his skill when it comes to screenwriting, and he transfers those skills to directing tremendously well with great wide shots of the territory that really make you feel that this place is cold, vast and very unforgiving.

Though the crux of the movie focuses on the hunt for clues surrounding the deceased young woman, the film does have a bigger picture focus that while is an important part of the film isn’t explored perhaps as much as it ought to be, at least not until the end credits when it really hits you like a wrecking ball. The score composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis helps keep the tension up particularly in that mesmerising third act that will ensure you feel those cold chills in your body, almost as if you were the ones in this brutal environment that makes you realise, that in spite of whatever horrors humanity may commit, that Mother Nature is a merciless force you dare not mess with.

Tremendously well made, with two excellent performances at its core, and a story that will shock you and send a cold shiver down your spine.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Detroit (2017)

Image is property of Annapurna Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Entertainment One

Detroit – Film Review

Cast: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell, John Krasinski, Anthony Mackie, Hannah Murray

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Synopsis:  1967,Detroit, USA. With riots threatening to tear the community apart, Police enter a hotel on the hunt for a sniper, which leads to a horrifying ordeal for the residents.

Review: It kind of goes without saying that for a long time that in the United States of America, the issues of racism and police brutality have unfortunately been dominant in American society, and recent events in 2017 certainly indicate that these issues are very much prevalent in modern America, as relevant today as they were half a century ago. As such, to tackle such a tricky and emotional subject for a film requires a director whose previous films have shown she is not afraid to tackle such controversial subject matter, step forward Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow.

Her first film since Zero Dark Thirty, which focused on the hunt for Bin Laden, drew criticism for being almost pro-torture. Furthermore, controversy has arisen over whether Bigelow is the right director to tell this story, but given her immense directorial portfolio, this was never in doubt. However, right from the off, Bigelow throws you right into the heart of the riots and the tensions that were building right across America. With a screenplay from long time collaborator Mark Boal, the tension is there right from the first shot as you watch communities being torn asunder. There was a gritty, almost documentary like manner to which Bigelow told the story of Zero Dark Thirty, and here, she does replicates that method again to tell the story. The script is uncompromising and absolutely brutal when it wants to be. Yet the first act is a little choppy as we’re introduced to a lot of characters which means you’re unsure which characters to really focus on.

It’s at the film’s second act where things really start to get tense and scary. After a prank weapon is fired, the cops descend onto the Algiers Motel and several of the cops led by Philip Krauss (Poulter) begin to terrorise the frightened residents of the motel by demanding who it was that shot what they believed to be sniper fire. As time wears on and no one gives them any answers, the cops take matters into their own hands, and it is not pretty for those residents. The version of events displayed on screen are somewhat dramatised as it is not fully known what actually transpired that night, but Bigelow showed that when it comes to building tension, she is an absolute pro. This is unflinching storytelling and it makes you almost gawk at the screen in horror at what you are witnessing.

Everyone in the film delivers great performances but by far the most standout performance is that of Will Poulter’s Krauss. Right from the moment you meet this horrifyingly bigoted cop, you just know he is bad news for all who get in his path and that includes Algee Smith’s Larry, Anthony Mackie’s as Greene and John Boyega’s Melvin Dismukes a part time security guard who witnesses all of it. After that brutal second act, the film slows down to deliver a brutal gut punch in the third act, but the script could have done with a little bit of polishing to really hammer the point home as the third act does falter a little bit.

However, by the time the credits begin to roll, and the crux of the film reaches its audience, it really will make you sit up and take notice of the problems that have existed in America for the best part of half a century. In that time that you would have thought that humanity might have move forward from that point, that things are still far from perfect with innocent folk, quite often black people, losing their lives to severe unnecessary police brutality to this very moment. It will really give you plenty of food for thought. Though these events took place fifty years ago, there are messages in this movie that are incredibly still relevant in today’s society, and society needs to immediately sit up and take notice.

Uncompromisingly brutal, tense storytelling at its finest/scariest but told with authenticity and care that makes the film’s themes as relevant today as they were 50 years ago.