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.

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. 

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.

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

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Image is property of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Beauty and the Beast (2017) – Film Review

Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci,

Director: Bill Condon

Synopsis: A live action retelling of the story of a young woman who becomes the prisoner of a terrifying beast in a frightening castle, who’s running out of time to lift a terrible curse placed upon him…

Review:  When as a studio you have made an extremely successful bunch of animated films, many of which truly are timeless classics, where do you go from there? The answer is simple really, bring said classics back to the big screen by retelling them via the magic of live action movie making. For Disney Studios, that certainly is the plan and they’re certainly going full steam ahead. First came Maleficent,  then CinderellaThe Jungle Book, and now the tale as old as time has received the live action treatment. Disney’s 1991 animated classic is beloved by just about everyone with a pulse (probably) so the challenge facing the filmmakers cannot have been an easy one, but it is one that they rose to in magnifique style!

Given how beloved the animated version is, there’s much here that they have wisely decided not to alter with things too much. The story is essentially the same as the beautiful Belle, who’s not much liked by the other people in her sleepy little French village, except for Gaston (Evans) of course,  who lusts after her. However Belle’s feelings for Gaston are not mutual, understandable given he’s an extremely pompous idiot. But when Belle’s father ends up imprisoned by the Beast, she offers to take his place, and of course they fall in love in true Disney fashion. The script written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos does follow its predecessor for the most part, but does make the brave but inspired choice to add some new material, which adds just that little bit more depth to the story.

Watson really fits the role of Belle perfectly, she’s sweet, beautiful and certainly isn’t afraid to speak her mind when she has to. Dan Stevens also puts in a really solid performance as the eponymous Beast. His beastly appearance is achieved via motion capture and though is a little jarring to look at first, it is overall very well done, and when he needs to be scary, he certainly is scary, which may frighten some of the younger viewers. The leading duo certainly have the chemistry that is needed to ensure that this remake didn’t end up being a monstrosity of hideous proportions. The rest of the supporting cast is impeccably cast, Evans is tremendous as Gaston, with Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts, and Ewan McGregor as the scene stealing Lumiere, and the CG for these guys is for the most part, really well done. The controversy surrounding Josh Gad’s LeFou has certainly generated a lot of attention, and though his character is obviously that way inclined, its not in-your-face in the slightest.

It wouldn’t be a Disney film without the music, and though there are a few new additions in terms of musical numbers, the standout (again) is Lumiere’s rendition of Be Our Guest. Watson too is able to hold her own on the musical side of things and though her versions of songs like Something There don’t quite match up to the versions performed in the animated predecessor, indeed all of the songs from said version are much better, but the tunes are more than pleasant to listen to. What is recaptured tremendously well is the magical nature of the story, which is no small part down to the gorgeous production design and set decoration by Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer. Jacqueline Durran’s costumes too are just beautifully recreated and extremely award worthy. Sales of yellow dresses are likely to go through the roof!

Whatever inspired Disney and their mission to recreate their animated masterpieces into live action we may never know, but what we do know is they’re pulling it out of the bag time after time. The key job of a remake is to take a story that audiences are familiar with and breathe new life into said story, and while the animated feature is and will always be an animated masterpiece, this re-imagining of the tale as old as time, is certainly worth your time.

A charming and beautifully made retelling of a true animated classic that recaptures that magical fairytale feel to it, whilst breathing new life into these characters.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

La La Land (2016)

la-la-land
Image is property of Summit Entertainment, Gilbert Films, Impostor Pictures and Marc Platt Productions

La La Land – Film Review

Cast:  Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Director: Damien Chazelle

Synopsis: An actress desperately trying to catch her big break in Hollywood meets a jazz pianist struggling to make ends meet, and the duo begin a blossoming romance.

Review: The art of cinema is one that can have great impact on the human soul whenever we sit down to watch a film for the first time. Cinema has the power to generate so many emotions among its audience, from the most euphoric moments of unrivalled joy to the dark moments of despair. Writer and director Damien Chazelle’s previous directorial outing Whiplash certainly had a mixture of those happy and sad moments, more of the latter than the former mind you. Yet for his new picture, again with a musical theme at its brimming heart, definitely has a lot more of those moments of pure unparalleled joy.

An insane but quite brilliant musical number set on an LA freeway sets you up for the kind of ride Chazelle is about to take you on, as we meet Emma Stone’s Mia, an actress who, despite audition after audition, is just not getting any rewards. By chance she runs into Ryan Gosling’s Seb an aspiring Jazz pianist who also happens to be in something of a rut, this is until he meets Mia, and the two fall head over heels for one another and begin planning a life for themselves together, with both having big aspirations and dreams. It all seems so perfect for them, until their careers threatens to pull them away from one another, and both are presented with a difficult decision. Though this is very much a musical at is heart, its packed with great humour, romance and drama all fused into one glorious picture. right from the aforementioned musical freeway scene, you’ll be hard pressed to not find yourself tapping along with the music.

la-la-land-2

With this marking their third collaboration since Crazy, Stupid Love and Gangster Squad, it’s crystal clear at this point that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have brilliant chemistry together, and it is their chemistry along with brilliant performances from them both that help elevate La La Land to a golden standard for musical cinema. As well as the electric performances, the music is also beautiful to listen to. With each note that Stone and Gosling sing, it will find its way to melt your heart and fall in love with these characters, even if a member of the audience is about as emotionless as a Cyberman from Doctor Who, it will lift your spirits and leave you floating on cloud nine. All of us undoubtedly have dreams and aspirations for want we want to do with our lives, and this film has much to say about following your dreams, that will hit home with almost everyone.

Despite those moments of sheer joy, it is not all sunshine and rainbows for our leads, as they encounter some tricky obstacles in both of their lives. Rest assured however, that no one is throwing any chairs at anyone this time, and no psycho music teachers brutally tearing people down. This is nowhere near as intense as Whiplash was, but it’s just as well written and equally tremendously acted, with a glorious cameo appearance from J.K Simmons, this time not in raging jazz teacher mode.

Chazelle, with only his third feature film, seems to have found his spark, when it comes to live action musicals, currently he is the man of the moment, and is certainly proving himself to be a formidable director and one to watch. A recording breaking Golden Globe haul accomplished, with the Oscars in sight, La La Land looks certainly set to sing and dance its way to more awards glory.

With some thumping good tunes, Stone and Gosling on electric form, and a deep, thought provoking story, this is cinema at its heart-warming and magical best.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Me Before You (2016)

me before you
Image rights belong to Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema, Sunswept Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Me Before You – Film Review

Cast: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Charles Dance, Janet McTeer, Jenna Coleman, Matthew Lewis, Brendan Coyle

Director: Thea Sharrock

Synopsis:  After losing her job, a young woman finds herself work caring for a young disabled man, and the two form an unlikely bond.

Review: The twist on the common love story, where one of two of the people involved have a tragic set of circumstances is a route that many romantic films seem to be taking these days. The likes of 2014’s The Fault in our Stars, a tale of two young people stricken by illness. In this tale crafted from the novel of the same name by JoJo Moyes, who is also on screenplay duties, one half of this unlikely pairing has his life changed forever after a tragic road accident. The other is a down on her luck woman who is employed by his parents to be a full time carer.

Full time caring is almost certainly not an easy profession in the slightest and life for plucky and chatty Louisa Clark (Clarke) is certainly that in the initial stages as her patient Will (Claflin) is cold and detached towards her. His accident has left its mark and he is bluntly unwilling to communicate with many people. Yet through her resilience and charm, she cracks that hard exterior and the two begin to build a relationship. Clarke is a bit irksome in the early stages of the film, she is certainly not the Mother of Dragons here. Having said that, overall her performance is compelling as their relationship grows. Claflin too also delivers a superb performance. Their chemistry together is believable and you will them to cherish the other’s company. The rest of the cast certainly bring their best, but it is the performances of the two leads that drive the film forwards.

me before you

The script tries to manage comedy, love and tragedy at various points, to mixed results. The dialogue is far from the atrocius levels of say Twilight, but it could certainly be improved in more than few places. There are some humorous moments of course, but ultimately the story, being centred about a man who has essentially lost control of his entire body, is a little bit sombre. Yet there are some positive and cheery messages that the viewer can cling to if they find themselves in the face of adversity or times of hardship. As one character says “You get one life, it’s your duty to life your life as fully as possible.” It can be easy to feel regret the circumstances, but above all, you must not lose heart, and cherish those closest to you.

Controversy over the film’s handling of the subject matter has surfaced, with the ending of the film being the main focus of the criticism. It is understandable criticism, but one would hope that the film’s positive messages can leave the viewer hope and encouragement when the credits begin to roll, even if the tears are flowing, which they probably might.

The performances of Claflin and Clarke are excellent, and despite the film’s sombre tone, there are plenty of positive messages for audiences to cling to.

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