Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Phantom Thread (2018)

Image is property of Universal Pictures and Annapurna Pictures

Phantom Thread – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicki Krieps

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Synopsis: Reynolds Woodcock is an accomplished dress designer, with a set daily routine and some extremely wealthy clientele. When he meets Alma, a strong willed woman, his daily life and routine is turned upside down.

Review: When it comes to actors and method acting, there is perhaps no one who does this better than the one and the only Daniel Day-Lewis. With every role he takes on, he goes to extraordinary lengths to get into character, and he has done so across his career. It is an approach that has served him well, becoming the only man to win three Best Actor gongs. Reuniting with his There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson, for one last hurrah after he announced he would retire from the profession, it is safe to say that one of the most legendary actors to ever grace our screens has gone out on a very high note indeed.

Telling the story of meticulous fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock, living in 1950s London. He is a man who lives his life with a very strict routine and any break from that routine is most certainly not welcome. Yet whilst on a break from his daily life he meets a woman named Alma (Krieps) and falls head over heels for her. Before long the two of them are in a relationship with Alma assisting Reynolds as he makes his luxury garments. Yet while Alma’s arrival is initially a joyful one, things soon start to turn a little difficult as Alma’s presence starts to interrupt his fastidious way of life.

With this his swansong performance, he once again adopted his meticulous approach to the roles he takes on, as he learned how to create and design a dress all on his own, and it adds so much sincerity and conviction to his performance, you really get the impression that he’s a man who not only knows his craft, but is one of the best in the business. Of course by being so good at what he does, it does mean he comes into friction with people when his routine is disturbed. These people are mainly of course Alma, and his sister Cyril (Manville) who is an instrumental part of why Reynolds’s business is the success it is.

Opposite Day Lewis, who of course has landed a final nomination, both women really shine in excellent performances that earned Manville an Oscar nomination. Both have to wrestle with Reynolds’s stubborn mannerisms, but Krieps can count herself really unfortunate to not have landed one as well as it’s her relationship with Reynolds that becomes the spotlight of the picture.  To hold her own opposite Day Lewis, and perhaps maybe even outshine him is an extraordinary feat that should see more scripts get pushed in her direction.

Like the process of designing and making an extravagant gown probably is, the film is written and directed meticulously and superbly by Anderson. He takes his time with his three principal characters and gives each of them their moment to really shine. All three are extremely well fleshed out and strong-willed and so to see the sparks fly between these very fierce personalities clash is almost always utterly compelling.

Something would have gone very badly amiss if the costumes on display weren’t absolutely sumptuous, rest assured that is simply not the case. The production design likewise is immaculate, as is the beautiful cinematography and Jonny Greenwood’s score is both beautiful and haunting in equal measure. The film does maybe suffer from a few pacing issues in part, but it remains an exquisite piece of cinema and if this is to be Daniel Day Lewis’s final bow, then this truly magnificently talented man has ensured that he leaves behind a legacy to the art form of cinema that will never diminish.

Immaculate production elements combined with three remarkable performances ensure that Day-Lewis is given a send off worthy of one of the finest actors to ever grace the big screen.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Shape of Water (2018)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight Pictures and TSG Entertainment

The Shape of Water – Film Review

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Synopsis: In the middle of the Cold War, a mute woman working at a top secret research facility develops a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that has been brought in for testing.

Review: Hollywood is certainly no stranger to stories about love, but when you have a director like Guillermo del Toro, here’s a filmmaker who’s certainly no stranger to making a couple of films about some intriguing creatures. Hence, to merge these together for a film with themes of love and acceptance at its core, and fuse these with some fantasy elements, it’s a unique mishmash of genres, the latter of which is right up del Toro’s alley. It’s most definitely bold film-making, but it also happens to be exquisite and beautiful film-making at the same time.

Set in Cold War 1960s USA, Elisa (Hawkins) is a mute woman working at a top secret research facility as a cleaner. She goes about her shift as normal with close friend and co-worker Zelda (Spencer). Their job is very unremarkable, about as mundane as it gets. This is until the arrival of an extremely rare amphibian creature that has been brought in to give the USA an advantage in the Cold War arms race changes everything for Elisa as she forms a very close relationship with the creature.

Love at first sight

To have a leading role in a film and be a mute requires an actor to have extraordinary ability, and thankfully Sally Hawkins has that in abundance as she delivers a truly  remarkable performance. Without saying a word she manages to convey the trauma that her past has clearly inflicted on her. Yet through it all she shows such raw and powerful emotion, about her life and her feelings for those around her, which is an extraordinary accomplishment.  The way that del Toro builds the relationship with his leading lady and the creature (portrayed by GDT regular Doug Jones) is beautiful to watch and to do so without either character uttering a word is all the more remarkable. It serves as a timely reminder that love is such a powerful emotion that it transcends anything, be it disability, gender, race, religion.

Alongside Hawkins, Octavia Spencer provides excellent support as Elisa’s best friend and who also serves as her sign language translator. Likewise for Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s roommate who’s desperately trying to get back on the scene as an artist, who also has his own set of problems that he’s trying to fight. The two of them give Elisa the support she needs as she tries to build her romance with the creature. On the opposite side of that coin comes Michael Shannon’s Strickland, who definitely does not share the emotional connection that Elisa has for the creature. It’s a similar role for Shannon, this no nonsense mean-spirited bad guy, but he does it so well it’s undeniably intriguing to watch.

The work done by the make up team to create the creature is once again absolutely extraordinary, and with some absolutely mesmerising production design and cinematography. The film looks immaculately beautiful, which works to reflect the incredibly heartfelt and touching story that del Toro brings to the screen, which is boosted by an immaculate score provided by Alexandre Desplat. Not everything that you see on screen is pretty mind you, what with it being set in the Cold War, there’s a fair few agendas flying around.

The central themes that this film champions remain as relevant today as they did over half a century ago.  Pitching this film was probably not the easiest film to have been given the green light, but when you have a director like del Toro on board you’ve got enormous potential for greatness, and this is his drenched masterpiece.

A beautiful blend of genres results in a touching and powerful story, soaked with gorgeous visuals and an absolutely stunning turn from Hawkins, this is cinema at its most majestic and magical.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Black Panther (2018)

Image is property of Marvel Studios

Black Panther – Film Review

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyongo’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

Director: Ryan Coogler

Synopsis: In the wake of his father’s death, T’Challa returns to his homeland of Wakanda, to be crowned King. Yet as he seeks to continue the Black Panther legacy, challenges to his rule begin to emerge…

Review: For all the might and marvel that the MCU has built and delivered to audiences all around the world, there was always something missing from this vast and enthralling universe. No, not a female led superhero film (though that is on its way), but a film that taps into a vast culture that up until now hadn’t really been explored. A culture that encompasses the beautiful continent of Africa, and all the beauty it has to offer. Indeed, little Easter Eggs were placed in earlier films but now at long last, it takes centre stage.

Following on from the events of Civil War, T’Challa returns to his home of Wakanda, a technologically advanced nation in Africa that has chosen to shield itself and its absolutely awesome technology away from the world. However, trouble is brewing for T’Challa as events from the past are threatening to reap terrible consequences on Wakanda and its people. All the while, T’Challa must balance his duties as the King of his country, whilst also being the iconic Black Panther, being a King is sometimes not the great thing it is so often cracked up to be.

After reinvigorating the Rocky franchise so succesfully with Creed, Ryan Coogler takes on what his comfortably his largest project to date. Yet much like Taika Waititi before him, he brings his own sense of style to the story and indeed to the wider Marvel Universe. The work that is done to establish this world of Wakanda is so breath-taking and done in such a vivid manner, it feels like it almost could be a place on this planet, which regrettably it is not. Of course it being an MCU film certain things are almost guaranteed to be present, such as the humour. While a few jokes can be hit or miss, for the most part, the humour adds to the scenes but never compromises the experience of what is ultimately a very personal story about a man, his duty to his country, and to his family, and what that means to his country.

Ready to pounce…

Speaking of which, Boseman continues his excellent work as both the man and the hero, but special mention must go Letitia Wright as the King’s technological whizkid of a sister, Shuri. She has all the technological toys that she and her brother get to utilise, and their chemistry is excellent. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o is also on excellent form as the tough warrior Nakia, as is Danai Gurira as the head of the Dora Milaje, a fearsome squad of badass female warriors serving Wakanda. This cast packs plenty of stars and nearly all of them really get their moment in the spotlight. Coogler’s muse though seems to be Michael B Jordan, and as Erik Killmonger, he comes across as a strong villain who’s well fleshed out, and you fully understand his motivations.

Re-teaming with his cinematographer from Fruitvale Station, and recent first time Oscar nominee for cinematography  Rachel Morrison, the film is beautifully shot with stunning shots of the Wakanda landscape. There are more than a few insanely good action sequences to relish but the film is not reliant on these to tell the story and let the audience have fun. The deeply personal story that Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole craft is what makes this story so invigorating. It has central themes that will hit home with any and all who watch it. It’s extremely relevant and important film-making in this respect, and for Marvel to continue to break new barriers, after an incredible 18 films into their Universe, is an important and remarkable achievement.

 A gripping personal story, packed with vibrant colours and costumes, terrific characters and a fascinating look into a breath-taking civilisation, it’s another landmark achievement for the MCU. Wakanda forever!

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Post (2018)

Image is property of DreamWorks Pictures, Universal and 20th Century Fox

The Post – Film Review

Cast: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Jesse Plemons

Director: Steven Spielberg

Synopsis: When classified government documents concerning the Vietnam War end up in the hands of journalists for The Washington Post, they must decide whether to risk their careers and the paper’s legacy and publish these documents, whilst risking the wrath of the United States Government.

Review: There is something to be admired about those people who go above and beyond to try and report the facts in this crazy world we live in, especially at a time when journalists in this day and age find themselves under intense scrutiny. As so many people, especially certain world leaders, just dismiss stories about them that paint them in a negative light. Yet, the work these people do plays such a vital role in our society, and that cannot be ignored, especially when the work of journalists .

Indeed, the work of journalists has helped to break some pretty major stories like the enormous scandal that engulfed the Catholic Church, making films such as this and 2015’s Spotlight feel extremely relevant in today’s society. When some government secrets that reveal some shocking truths concerning the US Government and the Vietnam War fall into the hands of The New York Times, the US Government forbids them from running any further stories. When the same documents fall into the hands of The Washington Post, the editor Ben Bradlee debates with the paper’s first female owner Katharine Graham as to whether these documents should be published.

In much the same way that Spotlight was a very dialogue driven film, The Post follows in that manner. Therefore the screenplay has to be of a very high calibre, and that quality is ably provided by Spotlight’s scribe Josh Singer as well as Liz Hannah, marking her first foray into screenplay writing. Though the first half of the film delves into newspapers and business, it does mean that unless you’re extremely well versed in the worlds of newspapers, business, stocks and shares, then this could feel a little bit over-whelming. However, once we get to the small matter of whether the story should become front page news, is where it becomes very intriguing to watch.

Under the guidance of such a masterful director like Spielberg, the performances of everyone really shine. Yet in news that should not be surprising to anyone, the limelight belongs to Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks (more the former than the latter though). It is fascinating two of the biggest actors in the business, who had never worked together prior to this film, engage in some deep discussions about whether or not the decision is made to go to print. With this role banking her a 21st Oscar nomination, it’s little wonder that Streep is regarded as one of the finest women to ever grace the big screen, as no matter what the role is, she never fails to impress. Much like Streep, Hanks almost always impresses and as Ben Bradlee, the man who helped break the infamous Watergate scandal, he’s a man who is absolutely committed to telling the public what he feels they have the right to know.

Though the script doesn’t fully portray the important role that The New York Times played in the leaking of the documents, it does remind everyone that at such times when the press is under such fierce criticism, that this industry and indeed these people serve a role that needs to be respected. Otherwise politicians would try to  to sweep certain things under the rug. Though the film doesn’t carry the emotional sucker punch like Spotlight did, the key message about journalism integrity and the commitment to the truth retains its indispensable value to our society and our democracy.

Assured direction from Spielberg, and strong performances from Streep and Hanks ensure this trio of extraordinary talents provide a timely reminder of the power of the press and the fundamental aspects of a democracy.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

I, Tonya (2018)

Image is property of AI Film and Neon

I, Tonya – Film Review

Cast: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale

Directors: Craig Gillespie

Synopsis: Telling the story of controversial ice skater Tonya Harding who, whilst competing for her country in the Winter Olympics, becomes embroiled in a scandal following on attack on a fellow competitor Nancy Kerrigan.

Review: The lives of sports stars and professional athletes, are so often very glamorous, particularly when they enjoy success in their field and acquire incredible wealth and fame on a global scale. However, every once in a while, an athlete finds themselves in the public eye for all the wrong reasons. Take for instance, ice skater Tonya Harding. In the build up to the 1994 Winter Olympics, after an attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan was carried out, a massive public scandal ensued, and the fallout was quite extensive.

This infamous incident is not the focus of the whole movie though. Indeed director Craig Gillespie chooses to focus on Tonya’s entire life, from her early upbringing and being forced into ice-skating by her pushy/over-bearing mother LaVona Golden (Janney) to her marriage to Jeff Gillooly (Stan) to of course the infamous attack on Nancy Kerrigan. He chooses to tell this story in a very unique way, by having the characters as if they were being interviewed by us the audience, and then flashing back to the key moments in Tonya’s life. Constantly jumping back and forth in this manner can be problematic but the film is edited together tremendously well, ensuring it flows coherently.

In a performance that has landed her her first Oscar nomination, Robbie really shines as Tonya Harding. Despite some of her less than pleasant mannerisms and behaviour, she is in many ways a very tragic character. Clearly very talented, she never quite fully realised that potential, this is perhaps more down to factors beyond her control. Of course she isn’t perfect but, her extremely difficult mother and her topsy-turvy home life certainly didn’t help matters. Janney as Tonya’s mother is also getting some well deserved recognition. Almost every word out of her mouth is profanity or a derogatory utterance directed if not at her daughter, at someone else. Though she strives to do what’s best for her daughter, it certainly doesn’t yield the right results, and she certainly wouldn’t win any Best Mother of the Year Awards.

For a person who had more than a few dark and bleak moments in her lifetime, the screenplay does manage to inject some humour into this picture, which is in no small part down to LaVona’s outbursts, and the bumbling incompetence of some of the characters who played a key role role in the attack on Kerrigan. The aforementioned use of editing in the interviews to tell the story, intertwined with some frequent fourth wall breaking keeps the plot moving for the most part along as briskly as an ice skater who’s right in the middle of their routine would.

The film does suffer from a few pacing issues though, as it seems unsure as to which element it really wants to focus on at least in the first act.  There’s also the not-so-small matter of the ice skating scenes themselves. While the camerawork to make them happen is impressive, there are a few scenes in which it is very apparent that we are looking at a stunt double, and not Robbie herself, which can be just a little bit jarring. Yet once we reach the third act and the now infamous attack on Kerrigan becomes the main focus, it becomes wildly entertaining, and serves a reminder of how even the smallest action can have devastating consequences on people’s lives and careers.

Unconventional in how it chooses to tell its ultimately tragic story, but with excellent performances from Robbie and Janney in particular fused with some very dark comedy ensures this biopic has some legs (or should that be skates?)

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Coco (2018)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Coco – Film Review

Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Edward James Olmos

Directors: Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina

Synopsis: 12 year old Miguel strives to be a musician, but due to a tragic family past, his family won’t allow it. Undeterred, when he’s accidentally transported to the Land of the Dead, he seeks out his ancestor, who was himself a famous musician.

Review: It is perhaps a question that we as humans have been asking ourselves for as long as we have been around, what happen to us when we die? The belief in an afterlife is certainly extremely prevalent among certain cultures, perhaps most notably The Día de Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead, a holiday celebrated in Mexico. It is on this premise that animation juggernaut Pixar uses as a backdrop for its latest feature film.

After a few sequels, the decision to focus on an entirely original concept is a welcome one, especially since the studio has arguably been at their best when focusing on original concepts (see Inside Out). At the centre of this new tale is Miguel, a young boy who has a passion for playing music. He is desperate to pursue this dream, but a terrible incident in his family’s past means that music is not welcome in his family, instead their focus is solely on their thriving business. Yet this doesn’t stop Miguel from his dreams. But in trying to accomplish these goals, Miguel finds himself in the Land of the Dead, and is in a race against time to get back to the Land of the Living before it is too late.

The true power of music…

For a film that focuses on the afterlife, in which a considerable proportion of the cast are well dead people, seems unlikely to be family friendly material and is perhaps just a bit too macabre for the kids. However as they so often do, Pixar makes it all work an absolute treat. The story they construct is so beautifully told that once again, there are moments here that will tug on your heartstrings to such an extent that any audience member will find it hard to resist the urge to not have a quiet sob.

With Pixar you usually find some of the most beautiful animation to ever grace the big screen, and here they do so once again. The colours on display here are so vivid and just stunning to look at, and the animation feels so life like, that it brings all of the characters to life, whether they are living or if they have moved on. Miguel as our lead is immediately likeable, and despite the aggression he receives from his family for wanting to pursue music, he doesn’t take no for an answer, even when it looks like it will land him in a significant amount of bother.

Once again, Pixar has crafted a story works on two levels to tremendous for both the kids and adults. It explores themes such as love, family and what it means to have a dream, especially if you’re not encouraged to pursue these dreams. With another superb score from Michael Giacchino and what could well be another Oscar winning song in Remember Me from  Frozen duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. At this point, with their filmography brimming with so many beautifully told pieces of storytelling and animation, it is hard for any new release to take its place among the cream of the crop. However, Coco might just ensure it takes its place in that collection, as it is another string in Pixar’s guitar, that almost always hits the right notes.

Delivering animation of the highest quality once again, with another beautifully crafted story that tugs at the guitar strings and the heartstrings in equal measure. Another Pixar masterpiece.