Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

If Beale Street Could Talk (2019)

Image is property of AnnaPurna Pictures and Plan B

If Beale Street Could Talk – Film Review

Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna
Pedro Pascal

Director: Barry Jenkins

Synopsis: After finding out she is expecting a baby with her partner, a young woman and her family seek to clear her lover’s name after he is arrested for a crime he did not commit…

Review: What do you do when only your second feature length directorial feature wins you an Academy Award for its screenplay, as well as (eventually) the Academy Award for Best Picture? This was the quandary for Barry Jenkins, the writer/director of Moonlight, having been catapulted him into the spotlight by the film’s incredible success. The answer to that question, is to make something that’s cut from a similar cloth as Moonlight, a story that tells a very human, emotional journey.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by James Baldwin, we are taken back to 1970s Harlem, where we meet Tish (Layne) and Alfonso (or Fonny as Tish affectionately calls him), two beautiful young people who, having been very close as children, have since become a blossoming couple, seemingly made for one another. However, their romantic bubble is burst when when Fonny is arrested and charged with a horrific crime that Tish insists he is innocent of, and Tish and her family must do whatever they can to clear Fonny of these charges.

On the surface, this would appear to be a simple story about the love that two young people have for each other, and the desperate bid to prove her husband-to-be innocent of the crime he is being accused of. And while it is undeniably beautiful and romantic to watch these two fall in love with each other, much like his work with Moonlight Jenkins’s screenplay goes much deeper than that exploring a variety of themes such as racism, family and the brutal horrors of the justice system that can bring such an unfair injustices to Black communities and devastate these families across America, even when people may be innocent of the crimes they are being accused of.

As the main couple, KiKi Layne and Stephan James are both excellent. Their chemistry is just so honest and authentic that you completely buy them as a couple. You revel in their moments of love and affection for one another, and are equally devastated when they are torn away from one another. As Tish’s mother Sharon, Regina King is just utterly marvellous as she leads the fight to win her prospective son-in-law’s freedom, even in the face of extremely long and difficult odds, and indifference from some members of Fonny’s family to Tish’s plight.

The cinematography from James Laxton is once again sumptuous to look out, even when the circumstances may be extremely bleak, his cinematography shines a hopeful light on the situation of this couple. Nicholas Britell also returns to provide the score, and once again, the work he does to add to the romanticism and by contrast, the heartbreak of this story is remarkable. For those who might have had issues with Moonlight’s pacing, they could well run into some issues again here as Jenkins does take his time to slowly build up Tish and Fonny’s relationship. Though some scenes do feel necessary, others do drag on perhaps for a tad longer than they really need to.

For characters depicted in the 1970s, Jenkins’s characters feel very contemporary and the story and the themes are very topical, but the film never gets preachy with the events depicted on screen. It is above all else, a very sweet story about the love two people have for one another, and the challenge that the human spirit faces when facing the going up against the cruel nature of the world and its institutions, Barry Jenkins has once again crafted something that, in these very emotionally charged times, he has made a film that will speak something to everyone who sees it.

Beautiful and melancholic,sometimes in the same shot, with a fantastic ensemble of well realised characters, Jenkins once again crafts a moving tale of love and hope in the face of terrible adversity.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Green Book (2019)

Image is property of Universal, Participant Media and Dreamworks

Green Book  – Film Review

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Director: Peter Farrelly

Synopsis: In need of work, Italian-American bouncer Tony Lip is recruited by renowned pianist Dr Don Shirley to be his driver/bodyguard as he embarks on a concert tour in the Deep South…

Review: One of the many wonderful thing about films is that they have the power to raise important messages about such important subjects, especially when such subjects are very topical right now. A prime example of this is racism which is an issue that is under more scrutiny than normal in recent years. Recently some film-makers have really been making some powerful films that hone in on this increasingly important issue, and in so doing, they make powerful statements, but some do it much better than others.

It is 1962, and Tony Vallelonga (Mortensen), known as Tony Lip, a native of the Bronx area of New York City, finds himself out of a job for a few months. When looking for something to fill that time, he is pointed in the direction of Don Shirley (Ali), a renowned concert pianist who is set to go on a concert tour of the Deep South of the USA, and is need of someone to be his driver/assistant/bodyguard, as that particular part of the country is/was not exactly the most hospitable of places.

What really shines through with this film are the excellent performances of both leading men. Mortensen as Tony is a brash self-proclaimed “bullshit artist” initially very much set in his ways. Meanwhile, Don is a much more suave, more refined gentleman, and some of Tony’s habits do not sit well with him. These two men are essentially complete polar opposites of one another, and though they initially clash over the other’s mannerisms and characteristics, they develop a solid understanding, almost a friendship if you will, as they embark on this slightly perilous journey. The chemistry between the actors really shows and it drives the film forward, particularly when they run into some trouble whilst on the tour.

For a film that is trying to go for the powerful themes of racism, the screenplay penned by Tony’s son Nick Vallelonga, along with Brian Hayes Currie and director Peter Farrelly is a little simplistic in how it chooses to handle the more heavier themes. It does show glimpses of the horrors of segregation in the 1960s and how black people were treated harshly for the colour of their skin, but one could simply pick up a history book to realise that. Unfortunately, it really only scratches the surface of what it could explore when it comes to this subject matter, particularly when other films have managed to strike a balance between that nuanced tone, and when it really needs to, emphatically and dramatically getting its point across to the audience.

In such a time when the issue of race in America has become increasingly in the public eye, given the quality of the actors and the really interesting nature of this story, the execution really just feels like a missed opportunity to tell something more riveting, something that really would have thrown the book at the status quo of the 1960s. The film has some undeniably good intentions and there are heart-warming sentiments behind its central story and the relationship of its two characters. However, given that there was scope for something much more powerful, it ultimately is a missed opportunity.

Excellent performances from Mortensen and Ali help keep the story moving along at a steady pace, but a rather simplistic approach of tackling a heavy issue such as race relations in 1960s America is undeniably frustrating, especially in these very emotionally charged times.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Vice (2019)

Image is property of AnnaPurna Pictures and Plan B Entertainment

Vice  – Film Review

Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrell, Tyler Perry

Director: Adam McKay

Synopsis: A study of the life of Dick Cheney and how he went from an alcoholic Yale dropout to becoming one of the most powerful Vice Presidents in the history of the United States.

Review:  The President of the United States, one of, if not the most powerful individuals in the world. Yet today’s political climate is one that, especially in the last few years, has become increasingly divisive and hostile when it comes to, well just about anything and everything. Yet while Presidents tend to enjoy the bulk of the limelight, the Vice President is someone who may not receive quite so much of the media spotlight, but, much like the President, the power and influence they can have is quite frightening given, the current incumbents in these positions.

For a director whose early films were very much in the realms of comedies, Adam McKay has experienced quite the transition into more serious heavy-hitting film-making. The Big Short dabbled in the 2007 collapse of the housing market, and he goes much more political with this film. To go from that to a deep foray into early 2000s US politics, which was a chaotic time (to put it mildly) for the country as a horrific attack on US soil, put them on the war footing, is a bold move. Not least because in a deeply divided political spectrum, if you’re going to tell a story about how one politician of a particular political persuasion ruthlessly rose to power, that portrayal isn’t likely to sit very well with those who also are of that politician’s political persuasion.

Christian Bale is no stranger to dramatic physical transformations, having done so for a plethora of roles, and here he does it once again. He is unrecognisable under all the make up that helps him deliver an emphatically authentic performances as Dick Cheney. he goes from a drunkard college dropout, to the very top of the pyramid of US politics. Right by his side is the ever reliable Amy Adams as his wife Lynne, who as her husband rises in stature and acquires more power, she takes full advantage to further her own career, making them an extremely powerful couple. With Cheney arguably becoming even more powerful than his commander-in-chief: one George W Bush, played by an entertainingly buffoonish Sam Rockwell.

McKay chooses to tell this story in a manner that is helpful to digest the information to the audience, especially if they’re not au fait with early 2000s US politics. What is irksome is the way that he jumps from one point early in Cheney’s life, to a much later point with no explanation as to why, it’s all a bit sloppy in terms of its structure and some streamlining would have been most beneficial. While there are some funny moments, these are ultimately few and far between, which is problem for a film that is clearly trying to portray itself as political satire, it isn’t really that satirical, or funny. Furthermore, at a run time of 132 minutes, there’s a lot of unnecessary filler that really hampers the pacing.

Though there is one instance that shows Cheney’s compassion, these are overshadowed by the cold and ruthlessness nature that he possessed on his way to the top of the Washington power pyramid. The way in which McKay delivers his overall message is done in quite a reprehensible manner that, quite justifiably, will leave those who dwell on the Republican side of the aisle feeling a bit peeved. Though having said that, when you think of the current administration and his VP, and the power that they can wield, that’s quite daunting to say the least.

There’s some good intentions here, but a strong pair of performances from Adams and Bale cannot save a film that is very obnoxiously put together and just too full of its own self importance. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

Image is property of Working Title, Focus Features, and Universal Studios

Mary Queen of Scots – Film Review

Cast: Saorise Ronan, Margot Robbie, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant, Guy Pearce, Gemma Chan

Director: Josie Rourke

Synopsis: After the death of her first husband, Mary Stuart returns to her Scotland where she is crowned Queen,  posing a threat to the crown of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I…

Review: The time of the Tudors was, as perhaps its most well known ruler Henry VIII is any example, an interesting period in history. Squabbles with the Pope and the Catholic Church, half a dozen different wives for one particular monarch, a few hundred Protestants being burnt at the stake for another, and quite a few people literally losing their heads. An interesting period then for a director who has a wealth of theatre experience, Josie Rourke to make her cinematic debut, and it’s a transition one she makes remarkably well.

In this period piece however, we focus on the final monarch of the Tudor dynasty, Elizabeth I and specifically her struggles that she endured when a younger Queen, namely Mary Stuart, arrives in Scotland and poses a very serious challenge to the English throne. Mary, meanwhile has her own problems to deal with as being a Catholic, some do not approve of her religion and hence do not see her as being the rightful ruler. And so begins a power struggle, with the two Queens competing to rule.

Being the regal women that they are (both in life and in this film), Saorise Ronan and Margot Robbie are both on excellent form as Mary and Elizabeth respectively. Ronan brings a real fiery feminist nature to her portrayal of Mary, fierce but determined to succeed when there are men, such as John Knox (an excellent David Tennant) who view her with pure contempt due to her Catholic faith, not to mention her gender. For Robbie, she is not quite as fierce as her Scottish counterpart, but she possesses some steely determination when, with the years passing, her inability to produce an heir to her throne, start to take their toll.

The screenplay by Beau Willimon of House of Cards fame does take a little bit of time to get going in the initial stages, but when it gets going, it successfully weaves politically scheming and conniving, mixed in with some romantic drama and political squabbling. That being said, what with there being so much history in the period of Elizabeth I alone, the film tries to cram a substantial amount into its run time, which can leave things feeling a little uneven in terms of its story. Rourke’s direction is remarkably confident for someone making their cinematic debut, and she clearly shows that she has the talent to further her career as a film director.

When bringing any period piece to the screen, it’s imperative that the costumes and production design are resplendent and both are equally so, with Alexandra Byrne’s costumes especially going some way to add that extra layer of authenticity. Their brilliant work is complimented by the gorgeous cinematography provided by two time Oscar nominee John Mathison. For sure the film takes some liberties with its source material, but so long as it serves the story, which in this case it does, then all the better for it. Given the times we are living in, the film reminds its audience, that women, no matter who they are, where they come from or what time they lived in, deserve to have their voices heard.

Offering an intriguing look at the workings of Tudor politics, mixed in with two excellent performances from its leading ladies, ensures that this biopic packs some royal ferocity.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Favourite (2018)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight and Film4

The Favourite – Film Review

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

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Synopsis: In 18th Century England, with the country at war with France, a frail Queen (Colman) relies on her confidante (Weisz) to run the country. However when a new woman (Stone) arrives at court, a battle for the Queen’s attention ensues.

Review: If you encounter someone who complains about Hollywood becoming too dominated by superheroes, reboots , prequels etc., you should encourage them to seek out the filmography of Yorgos Lanthimos. If you are after something unconventional, he is your man. Eccentric to the extreme, having dabbled in a dark love story, and a wholly unique spin on the classic revenge tale. Now Lanthimos takes his idiosyncratic style to the realm of period dramas, and combines it with some very dark comedy, and a riotous romp ensues.

At the centre of this royal feud is Queen Anne, who is in rather poor health at this moment in time that means she finds it difficult in terms of being the Queen and governing her country. Instead, the Queen likes to fill her time with some rather obscure past-times so her confidante Lady Sarah is effectively ruling in her stead. This is until a new arrival at court, Lady Sarah’s cousin Abigail arrives seeking employment to turn around her own fortunes, and gain favour with the Queen, giving rise to a feisty battle between the two women to be the Queen’s “Favourite.”

Though not written by him, this feels of similar ilk to Lanthimos’s previous filmography, simple because of how out of the ordinary it is, Downton Abbey this most certainly isn’t. Telling a story in chapters is nothing new, but it’s done in a manner that feels extremely innovative. The screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara packs in a copious amount of expletives which go hand in hand with some very sharp and witty dialogue that just works so fluently between these engaging characters who seem to be continuously scheming. There are more than a few extremely humorous exchanges that should get those laughter muscles moving.

Though every member of this cast are on top form, including a brilliant turn from Nicholas Hoult, it is the performances of the three central women that are by far the standouts. Colman as Queen Anne is delightful when she wants to be, screaming at those who dare look at her. Yet she is at other times melancholic, given the tragic nature of her past. As the Queen’s confidante/lover, Sarah can be a bit bossy when push comes to shove, but Weisz plays her so brilliantly that you sympathise with her in what she is trying to do. It is however the fierce rivalry that ensues between Lady Sarah and Emma Stone’s Abigail that is the driving force of this story. This is a far cry from her work in La La Land, but Stone takes to this role like a duck to water, and just bosses it from the moment we are first introduced to her, after she has fallen face first into a pile of mud.

As he demonstrated with his previous films, Lanthimos brings a very unique visual style to this film which includes a considerable use of wide shots. The gorgeous cinematography provided by Robbie Ryan only adds to the visual flair of the film. No expense was spared when it came to the production design or the costumes as both are just absolutely exquisite, very befitting for a Queen mind you. Though the film does start to lose its way a little bit in and around the third act, it is only dips momentarily. Lanthimos is certainly different in terms of what he brings to the big screen. While different doesn’t always mean great, it has just the right amount of idiosyncrasy that makes it such a riot to watch.

Raunchy to the maximum, but an extremely witty screenplay with a trio of terrific performances from its leading ladies cement this as a period drama that revels in its eccentricity. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Roma (2018)

Image is property of Netflix, Participant Media and Esperanto Filmoj

Roma – Film Review

Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira , Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Synopsis: Charting the life of a middle class family and their two maids, living in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City in the 1970s, as social turmoil threatens to tear their peaceful lives apart…

Review: The name Alfonso Cuarón, much like his other two compatriots Alejandro G Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro, is so synonymous with the big budget Hollywood productions. This particular side of Hollywood is one that all of the three Amigos have dabbled in at one point in their careers,a nd all have achieved remarkable success in doing so, with some remarkable films. However, rather than continue on that trajectory for his next film, Cuarón goes much more personal and humane in his latest feature film, and once again, he has made something rather special.

There is a beating heart at the centre of the latest film, but it is not Cuarón’s, it is that of his main character Cleo (Aparicio), a character loosely based on Cuaron’s own nanny as a child. In many respects, this is a film is very much autobiographical as the events seen on screen are based on Cuaron’s own experiences growing up in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City. Cleo’s life is very much grounded in the routine of her job, looking after the children of a wealthy middle class family, tending to the kids’ needs, and being that figure of support in . This is until a dramatic change of events turns Cleo’s life upside down, and ensuing turmoil in the area runs the risk of tearing her life, and the lives of this family apart.

For someone who has never acted before, Yalitza Aparicio is nothing short of astonishing as Cleo. Her performance is so raw and emotional (as is just about every performance) that it feels like you are not watching a film, but real life, which in many ways you kind of are. With each scene, the work that must have gone on behind the scenes to recreate 1970s Mexico, and the way that Cuarón shoots these scenes brings such authenticity, as well as incredible humanity to this film. Granted, the pacing of the film can be a little sluggish at times, but there is a moment when everything changes. You will know it when it happens.

Shooting entirely in black and white enables Cuarón to add a layer of authenticity to the events on screen, again capturing that affectionate feel to them, and grounding them in reality. Cuarón served as both cinematographer and director, and through it, his skills in both crafts to really come to the fore. It feels as though every frame here was worked on intensely like a rare exquisite piece of artwork, and it pays serious dividends. His direction is breath-taking, with a couple of one take moments in a few scenes that will just leave you speechless in shock, and will also likely to reduce you to a blubbering wreck.

There are certain moments in life that just make you stop and think about the things that are most important to you, and Cuarón captures these moments with so much emotional weight. Going on this extremely emotional journey with these characters is one that everyone should experience, simply due to the profound impact that it should have on the audience. With Hollywood awash with prequels, sequels and the like, such rare and outstandingly beautiful pieces of art like this need to be watched, and above all, they need to be celebrated for what they bring to the medium of film.

With an outstanding central performance at its core, Cuaron has crafted one of his finest films and something truly special in Roma. A personal and profound masterpiece.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Creed II (2018)

Image is property of MGM and Warner Bros

Creed II – Film Review

Cast:  Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu

Director: Steven Caple Jr

Synopsis: With the World Heavyweight Championship title now under his belt, Adonis Creed faces a new threat to his title, in the form of Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan, the man who killed his father Apollo…

Review: Every so often, a film comes almost completely out of nowhere, with little fanfare and just absolutely blows audiences away. An example of this would be 2015’s Creed, the seventh entry in the Rocky franchise. It reinvigorated a series that hadn’t had an entry for almost a decade. As such many might have assumed that it had fought its last fight and was out for the count, this is until one Ryan Coogler came along, and a new champion of the franchise was born.

That champion is Adonis Creed, who has in the wake of his bout with Ricky Conlan, has gone on to enjoy a tremendous run of success that leads him to the World Heavyweight Championship title. However trouble is brewing as Viktor Drago the son of Ivan Drago, is emerging as a very credible threat to his newly won title. Complications further arise when after Adonis proposes to Bianca (Thompson), she becomes pregnant with their first child, leaving Adonis with a dilemma as to whether he should take this challenge on, given what happened the last time a Creed faced off against a Drago. To say there’s history and bad blood between the Creeds and the Dragos would be putting it mildly.

One significant factor that made the first film such the knockout success it was, was the trio of terrific performances from its three leads and the chemistry that they had with each other. Michael B Jordan is once again terrific in the lead role, with excellent support from the great Sly Stallone once more. Likewise for Tessa Thompson, although she is an integral figure in Adonis’s life, as they are both about to go on the most personal of journeys together. There is considerably less development on her own life and career when compared to the first film.  Though this is understandable considering the challenge Creed is facing from Viktor Drago, who is desperate to prove himself to his father, and as a fighter. There is an attempt to develop his character, but it falls short of making him a truly compelling character. He is built like a tank though, and that doesn’t bode well for Adonis.

Due to his involvement with some rather obscure Marvel property called Black Panther, Coogler stepped down from directing duties. Now merely on board as executive producer, with those gloves were passed to Steven Caple Jr. Though not as visually as impressive as the work that was accomplished with the first film (there’s no masterful one take fight scene), Caple fills his shoes admirably well, as the fight scenes are once again very raw and rough in their execution. The camerawork really makes you feel those punches as they fly in, though some more footage of the fights would have been most welcome as some fights are montage-d through rather quickly.

This being the eight film in this franchise, it does follow similar paths that previous films in the franchise have, which may lead to criticism from some quarters. However, if you walk into a Rocky/Creed film, or indeed almost any boxing film, the chances of seeing a good training montage, some well executed fight scenes, mixed in with some deeply moving and personal family drama, are quite high. What matters is if the film is done with care and continues the story in a compelling manner that was brought to life so effectively with Creed, which this film does like a champ.

Though not as impactful as its predecessor, this second round of a revitalised franchise continues to bring that heart and emotion, boosted by three superb performances from its three leads, and some well executed fight scenes. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Regency, and Queen

Bohemian Rhapsody – Film Review

Cast:  Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Mike Myers

Director(s): Bryan Singer (Dexter Fletcher)

Synopsis: A look at the lives of the legendary rock band Queen, charting their formative years and initial success leading up to their Live Aid concert performance in 1985.

Review: There’s a moment in this biopic where one music executive completely rubbishes the idea a song that spans six minutes could possibly become a radio hit. Oh how wrong he was. That six minute song in question is of course “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the band behind this true masterpiece of a song was Queen. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that as a band, Queen produced some thumping great tunes, and the legacy and impact that they have had on the music industry is truly substantial, and will likely continue to endure for decades to come.

Of course, not every band achieves such phenomenal success instantaneously so when we first meet Farrokh Bulsara as he was known before adopting his more familiar name, he spends his days working at London’s Heathrow Airport and going to gigs at night. During one such gig, he meets Roger Taylor (Hardy) and Brian May (Lee), who as luck would have it need a new singer, which Freddie gladly accepts. With John Deacon (Mazzello) also on board as the bass player, their royal highness, Queen was born.

However, the journey to get this Queen biopic to the big screen has not been an easy one. With original director Singer having been fired quite late into filming, up stepped Dexter Fletcher to complete the film. In circumstances like this, there’s a substantial risk that the whole film could completely fall apart. Though Singer gets the sole director credit, the work that both directors put in ensures that this biopic does not bite the dust.

The screenplay by Anthony McCarten, does feel a little paint by-numbers in terms of its structure. The film spends a substantial amount of time focusing on Freddie’s relationship with Mary Austin. Which ultimately does leave certain aspects such as his relationships with men, and his battle with AIDS as something of an afterthought.  These aspects are touched upon, but it is perhaps in not the extensive detail that it maybe could have been. However, what this film does above all else, is choose to celebrate the band’s incredible music, which given how utterly amazing said music is, that’s not a bad thing at all.

The man to step into the great Freddie Mercury’s shoes was a bit uncertain for a long time. Initially it was Sacha Baron Cohen, then came Ben Whishaw, but ultimately Rami Malek was the man who stepped up to the microphone. Though it would have been interesting to see what the former could have done with the role, Malek is simply outstanding giving such an incredible performance that sees him pretty much transform into Freddie Mercury himself. Everything from the hair and make up, to the costumes is completely on point. Though Malek’s Mercury does steal pretty much every scene he’s in, the rest of the band mates are also excellent, but their development is scarce at best.

Towards the second act is where the tension is really injected into the film, but again certain aspects of Freddie’s career are only given the barest minimum of development. It is when we get to the Live Aid performance, that the film really perks right back up again. The work that is done to recreate that is just simply breath-taking, you will have a hard time not singing along. As Queen themselves sang “We Will Rock You,” Malek and co do exactly that. Killer Queen(s) indeed.

Though the screenplay could have gone into much more depth, Malek’s career-defining performance and the celebration of their stellar music ensures that this biopic hits (mostly) all the right notes.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

First Man (2018)

Image is property of Universal and Dreamworks

First Man  – Film Review

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds

Director: Damien Chazelle

Synopsis: Telling the true story of astronaut Neil Armstrong and how, through many years of intense training at NASA, he became the first man to walk on the surface of the Moon.

Review: In terms of the greatest historical moments of the 20th century, there is perhaps few that could rival the moment where for the very first time, the world watched as the human race set foot upon the surface of the moon. The man who took that very first step, and uttered the immortal line “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for Mankind,” was Neil Armstrong.  It is this man’s remarkable life and journey that incredibly hasn’t really been explored to such an extent on the big screen before, this is until Damien Chazelle came along.

After working together so successfully on La La Land, Gosling re-teams with Chazelle to play Armstrong, and Gosling once again excels. Right from when we meet him, you get the impression that this guy is focused and determined, something that has run through both of Chazelle’s last two films. He’s much more stoic here, but no less resolute in his mission, except there’s no jazz clubs involved this time. Josh Singer’s script goes into some quite personal detail that people might know about Armstrong including his family life, and the deeply personal tragedy that he goes through in the early stages, whilst also focusing on his NASA training, and all the perils that he faced on his journey to becoming the first man to walk on the moon.

Claire Foy, having donned the crown of Queen Elizabeth II, steps into a very different role as Armstrong’s wife Janet. A role that is quite clichéd for sure, yet it’s one she absolutely shines in alongside Gosling to be there as his figure of support, and at the same time, when it comes to the eve of his lunar mission, to voice her fury at the very real possibility that her husband might never see their kids again. Their relationship is the fierce beating heart of this story, and while the rest of the cast all give solid performances to complete a solid ensemble cast, no one else apart from Foy really has enough time to shine alongside Gosling.

For a director who’s only 33, he has already had a remarkable run of success with his previous two films Whiplash and La La Land, both garnering critical praise and awards aplenty, including the Best Director Oscar for Chazelle for the latter. The ambition for a film like this almost goes without saying, but Chazelle rises to the challenge and delivers another immensely well crafted film. Re-teaming with some of his frequent collaborators in the cinematography (Linus Sandgren), score (Justin Hurwitz) and editing (Tom Cross) departments, the film is crafted to perfection. The space scenes, especially the final lunar landing are so masterfully executed, it feels so real and authentic, and Hurwitz’s score is just superb.

Given the scope of this story, spanning almost over a decade into just over two hours, seems like an impossible task but Singer manages to streamline it as effectively as he can. Yet the pacing does suffer around the second act, especially when there is not a great deal happening down on Earth. However once, we gear up for the all important third act, the spectacle is turned up to ten, and never ceases for the rest of the film. For a director as young as Chazelle, to have an absolutely stellar hat-trick of films already under his belt is a remarkable accomplishment.

A remarkable and fascinating look at the mission to the moon and the man at the centre of it, with superb performances from Foy and Gosling. Another out of this world addition to the stellar filmography of Damien Chazelle.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

A Star is Born (2018)

Image is property of Warner Bros. Pictures, Live Nation Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

A Star is Born – Film Review

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

Director: Bradley Cooper

Synopsis: Renowned musician Jackson Maine (Cooper) meets and falls in love with aspiring singer Ally (Gaga). As their romance blossoms, her career starts to take off, while his is on the wane…

Review: Hollywood right now certainly isn’t shy of remaking a great many films over the years. While some remakes can completely miss the mark entirely, there are instances in which a remake can achieve something remarkable. No matter what is being remade, one has to take whatever was made previously and make it feel new something new and fresh, a story that deserves to be introduced to a whole new generation, and that is precisely what writer/director/producer/star Bradley Cooper does.

Cooper is Jackson Maine, a singer who is no doubt talented at what he does. Yet right from when we meet him, it is clear that he is battling some intense personal demons, and is in the twilight of what seemed to be a glittering career. After one gig, he find a bar where Ally is performing, and almost instantaneously he is smitten by her and her incredible voice. The two begin a romance and during one show he invites her onto the stage to perform, and as the title of the film suggests, a star is most definitely born as Ally’s career begins a stratospheric rise to the top. Yet it is not all good for Ally, as Jackson’s demons begin to take a toll on him, which threatens to tear their relationship apart.

Cooper has shown his versatility in recent years with a diverse range of characters that has seen him pick up four Oscar nominations, but his portrayal of this troubled singer is potentially some of his best ever work in the acting department. You can just feel his anger at various things that have happened to him in his life, and the intense personal battles he is currently fighting that are just wearing him down. But it is Lady Gaga who is the real acting revelation. Though she has graced the silver screen before, her performance is nothing short of astonishing. She captures that anxiety of a woman who wants to pursue her dream, but is unsure of whether she really has the ability to make a success of it.

Given their relationship is a central piece of the film, Gaga and Cooper have excellent chemistry together, Like many relationships, they endure testing times, but you really feel their love for one another, even though they both have some concerns. For Jackson, it’s the direction that Ally’s career goes in, and for Ally, it is Jackson’s battles with addiction and substance abuse. The film has quite a bit to say about the modern music industry, that seems to favour extremely well polished and aesthetically pleasing artists, over those who harbour real musical talent. While Gaga has certainly had her controversial moments in the music business thus far, her talent as a singer cannot be disputed and along with Cooper, their is a plethora of raw and heartfelt emotion behind these beautiful songs.

There is a lot happening here but the screenplay by Cooper, along with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, does a tremendous job of balancing things out as for every euphoric moment of joy, comes a moment of melancholic sadness, but the film does not allow itself to get too bogged down in either for any significant amount of time. For a directorial debut, there is a lot to admire as to what Cooper brings to the table, most notably when it comes to the live performances. The camerawork and cinematography really makes you feel like you are at these gigs watching these talented performers bring these songs to life in a superb manner.

Remakes so often can feel like there simply was not a need for them to have been made. However the sterling work of Cooper and Gaga especially ensure that although this is the fourth version of this story to be told, it feels necessary for it to be retold to a new generation. With such raw emotion packed into its story and characters, A Star is Born will almost certainly be shining very brightly when we get to the business end of awards season.

Combining beautiful music with a story that packs emotion with extremely relevant themes for 21st century audiences, along with two electric leading performances, this is how you do a successful remake.