Sunday 17 September 2017

Review: mother!

Year: 2017
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Synopsis is here:

So that was mother! A tumbling freefall about the creative process? An overloaded allegory about absolutely everything? Whatever you may think the film is about, the main point I seemed to take from the film is that Aronofsky is Angry with a capital A, to substitute the missing capital in the film’s title card. At the time of writing, my twitter feed has been filled with snarky cinephiles bemoaning the film’s outrageousness as well as the punishing way it tortures its lead (who the director is now dating). It’s a film where its detractors must scream from the highest mountain on how much they disliked it.

Another word beginning with A that I would describe mother! With be absurd. It’s a film which wanted to make a point about humanity’s destruction of the planet, as well as flirt with the same sort of biblical subtexts that Aronofsky has been playing with since his lo-fi indie breakthrough Pi (1998). It wants to mention commentary on celebrity culture and wishes to it do so with haunted house tropes and lingering references to Roman Polanski. The film lays its cards on the table with little disregard on whether the audience wishes to go with it or not. Its execution is set at a pitch which is so high that only dogs could hear. It’s not surprising that it’s set audiences apart. There are those who clearly have the ear for it and those wondering why the other half have tilted their heads.

Did I like it? Sure. I cackled like a schoolgirl through a lot of mother! Mostly because its high camp melodrama tickled me in the right way. I couldn’t take such an audacious film seriously and I suspect that the film and its makers know this, despite its clear Anger at the world. The only way Aronofsky could lash out at everything that pisses him off (the environment, celebrity hounding, the meaning and understanding of creation/destruction). It’s reminiscent of Polanski’s apartment trilogy and holds a similar love for finding humour in its bleakness. Its main conceit had me considering the haywire temperament of Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981) as well as Chuck Palahniuk’s fever dream of a novel Diary (2003).  It also seems to nod at the transgressional nightmares of Lars Von Trier and tries to aim for that same troublesome headspace. I must admit I’m more with Aronofsky’s style of “lulz” than Von Trier’s. I also feel that all the aforementioned examples are tighter with their focus.

My main issue with the movie is that despite its clear intention to be an ambitious piece of audacity, is that it has the same problems as Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales (2006). It wants to be all these things to its audience, but in doing so, the film becomes much of a muchness. The cast is routinely up for the absurdity even though it’s not top tier performances from any of them.  The tight claustrophobic framing, overloading of close-ups and bucking of typical structure gives the film a vision far removed from so many movies recently released. However, despite the “fun” you can have reveled in its nihilism (it’s really made for a particular sense of humour) once the film enters its extraordinary final 30 minutes, it all feels like 10 different people shouting at once, which is strange considering the film does what it can to isolate everything through the viewpoint of Jenifer Lawrence’s character.

That said, mother! is kind of the perfect type of movie for where we are as filmgoers. It’s ability to polarise audiences is heartily welcomed in the film world that seems hellbent on clogging social media streams on which bland filmmaker has been fired from whichever totally safe megafranchise. While the films detractor’s current snark levels feel somewhat insufferable, rather this than a movie that gave us no experience. To those who favour the film, it’s interesting to see what exactly they see within the hysteria. I for one enjoyed seeing a director try and reach for the sky. It’s very telling to see how many people were quick claim folly on this Icarus attempt. Each to their own. However, one hopes the conversations on mother! last for a long time. I may then be interested in rewatching it and joining in.  

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Review: Life

Year: 2017
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Screenplay:Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick 
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds. 

Synopsis is here:

Daniel Espinosa’s mainstream cinematic entries could perhaps be a good definition of what the youths call “basic”. They are films which have just enough to elevate them above mere “wallpaper” movies; films which are on in the background merely to provide environmental decoration (i.e: it’s on because it’s on). However, they do very little to become films that do anything distinctive. Espinosa’s Northern American features are good at reminding you of more insightful films with bigger impacts, but as a film of themselves, provide little more than a non-committal shrug. In watching Life, we realise that little of this has changed, but it’s the best of a middling bunch.

Life is little more than a well-financed borrowing of Alien, with a sprinkling of other recent, more effective Sci-Fi fare (Sunshine, Gravity). It pilfers and re-arranges enough to become a relatively compact and enjoyable ride, yet like many imitators, the film itself doesn’t include the ingredients that made previous films so memorable. The angst which fills Sunshine (2007) is non-existent here. The deep emotional current that runs through Gravity (2013) can’t be found in any of Life’s corners. Don’t expect the stillness and social dynamics that punctuate Alien, will not be seen. The fat is more than trimmed off the meat here. Don’t expect any extra weight. The problem is that it’s the fat, which cooks the meat and gives it flavour. Ask any cook worth their salt. What we get here is something well done.

Espinosa is all too happy to show off that all the tips and tricks we saw in other sci-fi movies are all still very fun to watch. Ogle at Seamus McGarvey’s fluid cinematography. Marvel at the fact that, for the most part, no one steps their feet on solid ground. You may have seen this elsewhere, but it’s still impressive to watch. It will no doubt be a nice screensaver for a fancy widescreen somewhere. All the while, the film is compressed into a tight package. It zips along to its most effective moments and never dilly dallies. Possibly because it knows it hasn’t got too much junk in the trunk, but hey, at least the film’s tensest moment plays out just like it did in the trailer seen in front of so many other films. 
Believe me when I say, if you’ve seen said trailer, you’ve seen the best moment of the film.

Therefore the other films I mentioned give us a little more to play with. The examples I’ve mentioned give exchanges that provide interest outside the set pieces. Such exchanges bolster the movie and provide motivations and heft to the proceedings that Life is only vaguely interested in. One character hints at a damaged life back on earth that they’d rather not go back to, but this is a transparent moment to provide a small jolt later in the screenplay. It never feels like a true revelation of character. Life is so fleeting with such aspects, it makes things tough to fully surrender to it when the proverbial poo hits the fan. 

It’s easy to be cynical about a feature that isn’t hurting anyone. While it’s a shame that Life has no jagged edges, save for a twilight zone sting at its climax, that fact that it’s a smooth ride, is actually quite nice. It rises above the likes of Espinosa’s Child 44 simply by holding a coherence which that film did not. It holds a decent amount of suspense when it’s on point and has a solid cast holding it together. It’s still a step above a wallpaper movie and despite appearing a little worn, the corners are not peeling enough for the whole thing to be torn down. 

Review: Alien Covenant

Year: 2017
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: John Logan, Dante Harper
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir.

Synopsis is here:

I didn’t hate Prometheus. I felt it’s over reaching ambition helped paper over its niggly narrative issues. It’s fun yet overdone marketing campaign only highlighted to me the importance of good film writing. If people bought into decent critical analysis as opposed to glittery, nostalgic PR campaigns, I feel there might have been a more muted response to the film as opposed to outlandish shrieking over one Damon Lindernoff.

That said, the frustrations which Prometheus brought, clearly affected the choices made in Ridley Scott’s follow prequel Alien: Covenant, an engaging piece which helps solidify some of the more slippery elements of its predecessor and effectively attempts to go back towards what made Scott’s 1979 film so gripping.

It’s hard to bottle lighting, particularly when the first time you did it was quite some time ago and because of the effects of time, it’s clear that Covenant now must really adhere to its financial paymasters. When looking back at the original Alien a couple of weeks back, I marvelled at the pace of the feature. It has the running time of many conventional features, and yet the leisurely way the film sets itself up and pulls a viewer into its nightmare is still something to admire. You forget just how long you spend living with these characters as they bicker and posture before the horror starts.
Alien: Covenant doesn’t have that sort of leeway. The cinema of the 00’s is a cinema of instant gratification. Just look at the knee jerk reactions of modern film writing. Therefore, after a brief prologue to help explain the open-ended motivations of Prometheus, motivations shouldn’t have been that questionable if you consider what we know about certain characters, we are launched into the middle of deep space and straight into a colonial spaceship plunged neutrino blast. Said blast helps push the narrative on quickly but does so at a sacrifice of the characters on the field.

The mere occurrence of Alien: Covenant starting with such bombast, is in heavy contrast to previous entries to the series, and only help highlight to this writer one of the main conflicting issues with Scott’s return and the (new) audience expectation. To comfort the nostalgic affections of the first two entries of the series, but also to try and deliver a fresh new reason to once again dip into the well. The way Covenant starts, it’s a clear need to feed into how many blockbusters work now (no action through character, merely action), but it also hinders the film’s pacing. The film starts big, it ends big and leaves an entertaining but lacking middle. The idea that we’ll see the type of tightly packed, gradually building feature

As with Prometheus, there’s a lot to enjoy if not a slave having to operate in a certain way. The grandiose pomposity of Michael Fassbender’s android; David is welcome here, not least as it amusingly plays in contrast alongside Fassbender also playing a far more grounded humanoid, who's clearly at odds with David’s godly illusions. It is easy to see frustrations with Covenant’s gesticulating about creation and purpose, yet Covenant’s pontifications, while displacing the supposed main threat and antagonist, does its best to try and give the film a certain amount of weight. There is something to be said about these space-age settlers, the material ties they hold and the threat from within looking to destroy them. Even if Scott’s execution of the material is distinctly baggy, it’s clear that he wishes to give what we’re watching a certain amount of heft and a new angle.

Does it all work? Much of it does. While Scott doesn’t truly build the world as efficiently as seen in previous entries, he does allow the treacherous vistas to have a chilly disquieting vibe. The cast is imbalanced in the case of expectations (Katherine Waterston is badly left out to dry), but are more than enjoyable enough in terms of actual performance. This is combined with Scott’s ability to still bring about an effective set piece, with the films central sequence which involves cross cutting between two infection attacks and ending with a remarkable explosion managing to give off a large amount of heart pumping exhilaration. There are also smaller chills, with Scott brings about the same amount of unease with a decapitated head as he does with another infamous face hugger sequence.

None of what is seen is “better” than the original film or its action sequel, but at this point, to look for lightning to once again be bottled is folly. Alien: Covenant succeeds for this writer for simply being a baggy, yet enjoyable thriller. One does it’s best to bring its series full circle. Like Prometheus, it will, of course, throw up more questions than it perhaps needs too, however, name me five franchises which have gone on for this long without running into continuity problems. The thing is this writer came to Covenant for the pseudo-babble and stayed for the sharp shocks. I didn’t need to ask any questions when I saw David’s face for the last time.

Review: The Mummy

Year: 2017
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Screenplay: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman,
Starring: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance and Russell Crowe.

Synopsis is here:

It's too easy to hate Tom Cruise. I've always enjoyed the man myself. Despite his rather obvious array of tics, Cruise's charm has always been my case for him rather than against him. I find that the animosity towards him often stems from folk who are my age or were just a little too young to get into the young maverick hype of the 80's. The Cruise from the turn of the millennium, the Cruise we see now is one where more attention was paid to his religion. His private life seeped into his persona more and the looming weirdness (along with one or two less than appealing movie choices) became the Cruise we recognise more. A shame. As a movie star, the man has it. Or rather had it in the case of the mummy, a rather pitiful attempt to rebrand some old gear under the new sparkly cinematic universe guise. Why? Because Disney/Marvel.

Thanks to Marvel’s ability to create an expansive universe for their media, we now have the likes of Universal trying to catch the fever. What do you do when you have all the classic monsters under your trademark? Shove them all into one great big “cinematic universe” and wait for the dollars to roll in. If you can grab a well know star whose shine is a bit scuffed. Then quids in! Who wouldn’t want to see some like Cruise rise to the occasion, despite plying his trade in the well received and successful Mission Impossible films? No pitfalls to be seen here. Mostly because the executives have huge dollar signs for eyes now.

Unfortunately, Cruise is the main component as to why this film doesn't sit right with me. It's not the weird jokes about his sexual prowess. Despite being in his mid-50's the film is quick to inform you his youthful vigour in the sack with markedly younger women. The issue is that Cruise with his demeanour and tics, never fully gels with the material. The 1999 version of The Mummy, the best-known version, has a strong sense of scale, style and wit about itself. It's location and timeline is well observed and give the film the right mood in which to absorb it. Bravo to Stephen Sommers. No seriously.

This Mummy Movie confoundingly spends its time in modern-day London with Cruise desperately trying to grasp at the fountain of youth. When we look at the silver fox actioners of Liam Neeson, we may be aware of his age, but the films often do well to at least try and cater to the situation. This had me screaming for A: Sidekick Jack Johnson to be the lead. He's more than capable. B: An actual film of the video game Uncharted which would feel far more relevant than this hasty cash in.

What we have now is a modern-day mess about an Egyptian mummy buried in Iraq (LOOK! RELEVANCE!) which spends most of its time in London, featuring a leading star who doesn’t appear to understand that his relevance has altered with his age. Cruise’s desire to perform his own stunts is as always very commendable (especially since his recent injury) and scenes show hints of what made him an interesting presence. However, this is a rather mundane blockbuster starring an A-lister who’s trying to portray a man whose twenty years younger than he is. Unlike the likes of Live, Die Repeat (2015) and the later additions of Mission Impossible franchise, in which Cruise becomes more of a vessel for those around him, Cruise spends his time looking more dead-eyed than the CGI grotesques which populate this drab affair.

To be fair, it’s not as if director Alex Kurtzman doesn’t attempt to make this summer diversion appealing. The central aircraft crashing set-piece would be more astonishing if it had not seemed so heavily borrowed from Christopher Nolan’s bag of tricks. Despite the criticism aimed towards him, the inclusion of Russell Crowe may be grown worthy in consideration of the so-called “dark universe” but comes with a scenery chewing performance which at least seems in sync with the pulpiness that made the 1999 Mummy so attractive.

Now we’re given a film which like many recent summer films of its ilk, is more interested in what happens in the next film than the present one. The Mummy finishes with a finale so anti-climactic that one may ask why they even bothered. Then again, when you’ve owned the rights something for so long as Universal has with The Mummy, you remember you don’t really need to answer that question.

Review: All Eyez on Me

Review: All Eyes on Me
Year: 2017
Director: Benny Boom
Screenplay: Jeremy Haft, Eddie Gonzalez, Steven Bagatourian
Starring: Demetrius Shipp Jr, Kat Graham, Lauren Cohan, Hill Harper, Danai Gurira

Synopsis is here:

It's been over 20 years since the shooting of Tupac Shakur left a gaping hole in hip-hop. Of all the artists that have graced the genre, it still seems that his star shines brightest. This appears to be down to his ability to be a walking contradiction. He was both saint and sinner. A brash and aggressive artist behind the mic, his vicious well-known beefs with other musical artists are juxtaposed with his sensitivity and politics. Consider his crass dismissal of the late rapper Prodigy's sickle cell anaemia on the end of Hit em Up. Then compare it to well-known song hit Changes. 2Pac had the both the ability to be the epitome of white Americas worst enemy and the modern-day poet of black Americas struggle. If he had not passed away, it is this writers opinion, that it would be Shakur that many would be looking to in the wake of the continuous police shootings of young black men.

I never truly gelled with 2Pac. I spent a few days going over his back catalogue before heading to a screening of this film, and still, I find myself leaning towards Biggie Smalls musically (as the kids say, don’t @ me). After watching All Eyez on Me, I discovered that I even enjoyed Biggie Smalls on the silver screen, over 2Pac. Notorious (2009) may be cliched and somewhat biased to its producer (one Sean “Puffy” Combs), but it was at least enjoyable where it mattered. All Eyez on Me struggles on so many levels, it’s truly disheartening. Even for a person who is not a 2Pac fan, it's hard not to admire his charisma. An animated and forthright character, his tragic story is one fit for Shakespeare. I do not say this as hyperbole. What this man did to alter the scope and range of his music is far-reaching. All Eyez on Me film doesn't even touch the lower peaks of what this man did. There was word previously that two 2Pac biopics wherein the works. If this is true, that I hope that this is not the best one.

Where can we start? Shall we talk about the rushed, glossed over details of Shakur’s life that the film places as mere footnotes as opposed to defining moments? We could perhaps mention the lacklustre concert set pieces, which capture none of the energy and vibrancy of an artist at their peak? Coachella had a far livelier hologram 5 years ago. Could we mention that a lot of this stems from a rather dead-eyed performance from Demetrius Shipp Jr, an actor who looks the part more than inhabits the role? Maybe we should start with a rather minimal amount of music used from an artist who was well-known for holding a vast back catalogue despite his young age.

The fact is, these issues combine to create a film which leans more towards a made for T.V movie than a powerful cinematic portrait. All Eyez on Me is the type of film which takes happily uses a famous relationship with Jada Pinkett Smith as an awkward narrative crutch than a serious friendship held by the characters. Nearly every key moment is observed from a distance, devoid of any real emotion. The film constantly suggests that Shakur has money woes, but does so without any key insight. The film never really gets under the hood of a performer who was both conflicting externally as an artist and internally as a man. Straight Outta Compton (2015) may have been incredibly slick, but it’s a film which frames the plight of the group against the social climate as well and the internal conflicts of the group. All Eyez on Me is so limp wristed with 2pacs strengths, it’s hard to believe in its lead character as a social leader or a flagrant womaniser. Merely draping attractive, half-naked women around hotel rooms do little to convince.

This probably won’t deter faithful 2Pac fans, who have been waiting for years to see the man’s story appear on the big screen. One thing All Eyez on Me’s flat screenplay does is highlight just how rich Shakur’s story really could be. The film’s climactic credits remind us just how much the man achieved in his short life. It’s a pity that, save for a powerfully determined performance from Danai Gurira as Tupac’s ex Blak Panther mother, that All Eyez on Me has very little to say.

Review: Dunkirk

Year: 2017
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenplay: Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy.

Synopsis is here:

Days before watching Dunkirk, I found myself irked by one or two prominent members of the film community claiming you 'must' see Dunkirk on IMAX. Like most well to do men about town (read: Goof-offs), I found myself bitching about it via social media.
Part of my anger stemmed from I was finding to be a disconnect from the so called social media group "film twitter" and those who we can call the main audience. It was something that came the night before while recording my weekly podcast Fatal Attractions, in which during a conservation about Crash, a distinction about film critics and audiences rose its head.

At this point in time, I like to try and consider myself as a film writer but also an audience participant and I find the ramblings of the film Twitterati often help bring about said disconnect. A cool club vibe that sometimes emanates from certain corners. I've perhaps not watched enough Agnes Varda.

I got praise from my brief "rant" and I was also roundly told that what was merely enthusiasm I had misconstrued as a demand. One gentleman who claimed this, I found also spoke about "credible reviews" on the film. See what I mean? The power of words. The cool club of credible reviews. As the world becomes more binary and the internet thrives more on absolutes to catch the eye, it becomes easier to be more averse to the language. This is coming from someone who really needs to lay off his own hyperbole.

Preferably the best way to watch a film is in a cinema with decent ushers and with audience members who aren't on their phones. Most other things are else optional luxuries. Much like the cinema itself. My screening of Dunkirk was in a ‘normal’ cinema rooted in the middle of my town with no extra wide screen bells and whistles. While I understand that Nolan’s use of IMAX/70mm has added to the cinematic experience. It was just more feasible for me to watch this movie like many patrons can only do.

35mm Digital and reader, I damn near married this film.

Yes, hyperbole rears its head here, but with a film such as this one, I find it difficult not to spout such inflation. I found Dunkirk to be a powerfully observed work full of evocative images and the type of immediacy that can feel lacking with other larger scale movies.

Larger formats can indeed enhance a viewing experience but they shouldn’t have to be key to immerse a viewer. Dunkirk works not just because we can now watch something like it in an upscale city cinema. It works because Nolan looks as if he’s really taken hold of elements that he has been obsessed with since first entering the scene. The Michael Mann like fascination with determined “men doing work”, the dissembling of chronological order and the slipping and shifting of time in general. All this is blended with Nolan’s familiar desire to pull at threads in which we’ve grown accustomed to viewing in a certain way. The film itself feels less like an archetypical 3 act structure blockbuster even though those elements exist within the movie. Dunkirk, much like the opening of Edgar Wright’s pop cinematic heist flick; Baby Driver (2017), holds moments of pure cinema. Exposition is extraneous (a bold contrast to Inception) and many of Dunkirk’s boldest moments work as they come across as a distillation of vision and moment. This is personal, expressionistic and yet clearly commercial filmmaking.

I’m sure the film will be considered an experiment by some. The story is read through the expressions and often wordless actions of its characters as opposed to dialogue. In fact, moments of dialogue come across more garbled than in The Dark Knight Rises (2013). Tom Hardy is again placed behind a mask and forced to act only with his eyes as they display the anxiety of the situation that is unfolding in front of him. Nolan’s willingness to believe that the audience will find clarity of story through the clarity of emotion is the type of bold decision making that has fallen down the rabbit hole of commerce when it comes to cinema of this magnitude. Like in so many of Nolan’s movies the essence of the story is simple. With Nolan’s films, they always are. Where is the issue lies is whether the filmmaker is conning the audience. In my opinion, Nolan is doing what he can to restructure how people can observe populist cinema and trying to do so without leaning on what can be viewed as crutches. With Dunkirk, he’s doing what he’s been doing since Following (1998), stretching the old fabric to find a way of making the clothes feel fresh. This doesn’t feel like a con. If one thinks so, I can only say that this output is far more satisfying than the repurposing of branding and franchise following that is being witnessed elsewhere.

Dunkirk’s intentional reduction of particular elements neatly coincides with the film’s uncomplicated take on war. Nolan; who stated in interviews for his wish to negate a more conventional style war film, delivers a text which instead takes a far more primal look at survival. Criticism toward Dunkirk has most been on the scant amount of plot and backstory towards characters. One critique stated has been the near inability to tell certain characters apart from others. This feels entirely by design, with a wish to instead focus on the pure immediacy of the situation.  It’s unsurprising that comparisons to Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1998) have been made. While Spielberg’s film is one more interested in individualistic heroism, Nolan decides on eschewing this idea which in turn gives the film a more unique and at times more believable feeling. It’s not that the film doesn’t desire to give its characters compassion, it feels that such sympathies don’t just suddenly appear in the immediacy of such an event. Even then, as it is discovered within the film, sympathy slips and shifts as quickly the threat does.

This said Dunkirk wants its visuals to inform the story as opposed to blunt exposition. The backstory of the grunts on the frontline is not known? This is not true. The simple fact that the cast is age appropriate tells us what we need to know. As does a wonderfully simple moment involving a panic-stricken Cillian Murphy and a tiny bathroom filled with life jackets. The most backstory comes from Mark Rylance’s stoic civilian-cum rescue support. A final reveal about his character not only tugs at the heart strings but is given far more potency because it is withheld. It is a detail which could easily have been given from the moment we meet the character, but it’s is given a sense of dynamism by simply waiting for a later moment.

Similar can be said for Nolan’s fascination with shifting time frames. More so than Inception, however, with less vigour than Memento. The arrangement of images by editor Lee Smith, help powerful associations which would have perhaps not made as an effective impact with constructed from a more conventional narrative standpoint. The film’s mosaic like images may feel like a challenge to some. I remember the slash filmcast, for instance, had some criticisms with Nolan’s choices on when to focus on what. However, for myself, the films blended constructions of the various time frames, never felt confusing, only more fraught. This construction of the story gives the film’s outcome a stronger element of surprise. Although if theirs is one criticism I do have, the film’s climax has a smattering of “Hovis advert” which highlights a Britain which only really appears on the big screen. This maybe just my cynicism due to the fractured feelings surrounding the U.K right now, but I feel it’s fair to say that Nolan’s film pushes buttons in such a way, that it’s unsurprising that Nigel Farage retweeted his opportunistic mug next to a poster after watching it. I do wonder what he made of the film's credits, which, to me, suggests gratitude towards the E.U in the making of this film. Strangely It’s things like this which also make Dunkirk so fascinating. Its images can scream hawkish to some, yet it’s main emphasis (for this writer), is simply one of survival. The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is sometimes so tightly composed that I found myself fighting for air. Once the film finds moments of calm with some of its more open visuals, the feeling was more of release than of political leanings. Even when the film seems to suggest them.
The criticisms towards Nolan’s editing of action again raise their head here. But the disorientation here is organised chaos and never the slap dash feel that betray other action orientated movies.

What’s really effective in the film is the action through character. As aforementioned, we understand Tom Hardy intentions so effectively by the top half of his face alone. Mark Rylance’s slow solemn decisions successfully carry a hefty load about them way before we find out why. The first moments of two young soldiers meeting each other of the beach are expressed with quiet nods and purposeful digging. The order of the images can feel askew, but the weight of them does not. The intensity of the each moment is further enhanced by the brooding score by composer Hans Zimmer.

Is Dunkirk Nolan’s best film? Such a knee-jerk question is often asked by film writers now as we look towards our recent generation of auteurs. In my screening, I found it to be his most emotive and immediate work. It’s certainly the most purposeful expression of his techniques currently. How essential the film becomes in the director’s oeuvre will matter more when time distances us away from it. Until then I will say, Dunkirk is currently the most affecting film I’ve seen this year. And I didn’t need IMAX to tell me so.

Monday 21 August 2017

Review: A Cure for Wellness

Year: 2017
Director: Gore Verbinski
Screenplay: Justin Haythe
Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth

Synopsis is here:

Subjected to understandably mixed reviews, as well as the relatively dubious release date of February, Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness may suffer from periods of stiffness, yet showcases its director as a peculiar and ambitious visual stylist who’s willingness and enjoyment in creating macabre moments often goes unpraised.

Since The Mexican (2001) Verbinski has happily suggested that his work is a little off the beaten track. A touch askew of the conventional direction. Especially in a visual sense. The prime example would be the third Pirates of the Caribbean entry, which merrily decides upon flirting with the surreal with Jack Sparrow trapped in the cheekily absurd Davey Jones Locker, after playing a losing hand with a Kraken. The strange, Burton-esque vibe pulled off by the sequence, almost feels as if someone laced parts of the fantasy swashbuckler with LSD for a laugh.

When not subverting typically standard fare like quirky rom-com The Mexican (2001), or children’s fantasies such as the Chinatown tinged Rango (2011), Verbinski clearly shows a love for all-round darkness. Mark Kermode is always quick to note the depressing tone set in Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End, where proceedings start with the hanging of an innocent child. However, in looking at most of the director’s work, it’s clear that this is a filmmaker who wishes to walk the dark path. Consider the serial killer bookend from the American remake of The Ring (2002), which was cut before theatrical release. Verbinski is nearly always looking to work a bit of edge into his features.

This brings us to A Cure for Wellness, which cheerfully smashes together elements of gothic melodrama, sci-fi and mystery and binds them with distinctly macabre visuals. It leans towards the likes of Shutter Island (2010) and Shock Corridor (1963) yet also seems to hint at the likes of The Ninth Configuration (1980). Verbinski brings out all his visual tricks here, delivering distorted horror film angles and wrapping them in in an absurd plot which plays notes on anti-capitalism, incest and new alternative medicine all the way to foreign mistrust and of course insanity. The film plays most of these parts fairly well, with many scenes giving off a disturbing sense of unease. This includes one particularly gruesome moment, in which those with a phobia of dentists should stay clear from.

Where A Cure for Wellness fails is the same thing that Verbinski often stumbles on: economics. With a hefty running time of two and a half hours, A Cure for Wellness fails where something like Crimson Peak (2016) succeeds; the usage of time. Verbinski’s storytelling always has a way of loading a running time in such a way, that could easily be an effectively lean chiller now becomes a beautiful, but ungainly distraction.  Once we get to the films slightly over-egged climax, we release that Dane DeHaan’s selfish trader protagonist was never really that compelling to really engage with. We should, however, give three cheers to Jason Issacs (Hello) however, as the film, much like Netflix’s frustratingly shallow The OA (2016), is a tremendous showcase for his continuous good work. Hoorah.

Sunday 6 August 2017

Review: It Comes at Night

Year: 2017
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Screenplay: Trey Edward Shults
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr, Riley Keough.

Synopsis is here:

It Comes at Night has been marketed as a typical horror film. I’m sure that there were a few people who saw posters and trailers and assumed that it would be the type of bland, stereotypical nonsense that leaks out into cinemas at the arse-end of January or the back end of the Netflix new release queue. Not so.

It Comes at Night found itself referenced in Steve Rose’s Guardian article which tries to make that argument that the film is part of a newly termed (by Rose himself) post-horror movement, in which films which don’t run the course of a so called conventional horror film, like say The Conjuring (2013), are slowly taking over at the multiplex. The problem with a term such as post-horror is that quite simply, it's the type of term used by people, who don’t seem to be particularly interested in the genre. At one-point Rose states as a result of successful titles such as Split (2017) and Get Out (2017) means, as a result, there’s now a market for horrors with low budget and mass appeal. Most people who enjoy horror films know that this has been the case for decades and not just now.

The same goes for the very idea of post-horror. In the documentary The American Nightmare (2000), director Adam Simon details many of the so-called aspects of post horror that Rose depicts. While true that a modern glut of films has brought around a sense of “refinement” to the ideas Rose describes. What Trey Edward Shults brings across in his second feature are the same types of concerns and societal anxieties that inhabit horror films since the likes of George A Romero appeared on the scene. Things don’t jump out at you during Romero’s Martin (1978), David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988) or Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973), but we certainly accept the existential dread that comes with them.

Much like Shults first film, Krisha (2016) It Comes at Night is a film in which the horror comes from regular people reaching deep inside them to do horrific things. It opens with a family being forced into the difficult decision to extinguish the life of an elderly member suffering from an unknown epidemic which has – from what we know – ravaged America as we know it.  Shults opens his film almost exactly like his debut feature: with an older face framed in extreme close-up. Despite looking at a stranger, Shults manages to portray familiarity, uncertainty and fear in a few short moments. He also sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

The atmosphere is one of intense grief and paranoia as we follow a family struggling to survive a contagious disease which has taken hold of the nation. Tempers flare when a second family interrupt their secluded sanctuary.

It Comes at Night feels quite plain when laid out on paper. In execution, it’s an exceptionally deft piece of work from a filmmaker who has quickly developed an authoritative vision on screen. Much like Get Out (2017) or Polanski’s apartment trilogy, Shults is an auteur that understands and utilises the idea that what can destroy us is simple mistrust. The horror that unravels within the film comes from the simple fact that with the right amount of pressure, decent people will do horrific things.
Shults mostly eschews overt violence and, like his previous feature focuses fully on mood. Save for one sequence, there are no ‘BOO’ moments, merely a steady feeling of unease that parades throughout. The camera set-ups are simple. Nothing complex. But the use of slow foreboding zooms, tight close-ups and powerful use of sound help bring around an inescapable feeling of dread. Tension builds as we quickly realise that the events that occur could be easily avoidable, yet the very real craving for self-destruction makes everything seem unavoidable. The terror stems from our wish to pick at the frayed edges of our humanity. To tongue the cut roof of the mouth. To pick at the scabs.

It Comes at Night picks an exceptionally on point cast to bring the terror home. You can feel that both Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott’s father figures are striving to make things work for their families. You can really feel that search for catharsis through Kelvin Harrison Jr’s display as Travis. Carmen Ejogo and Riley Keough are well drafted as the film’s motherly characters and each actor manages to tap into the right amount of feel to bring round the fraught and delicate bonds needed for such a story. Bonds which have their fragility heightened as uncertainty creeps in.

The beauty of the film’s ugliness lies in how well Shults navigates and toys with those processed ideas of the American family. This theme has lingered in American horror films since Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1960). It’s apparent that it is these generational and social tensions which trigger something within the filmmaker. It also highlights why the idea of “post-horror” garnered such a negative reaction. It seems to be quite clear that Shults is updating tried and tested ideas for a different generation. For this writer, It Comes at Night works exceedingly well. Understanding the pitfalls of what could be considered “lesser” horror, the film manages to destabilise and unnerve viewers without the simple need to throw guts at the screen or use flagrant jump scares to catch the attention. It Comes at Night’s fears comes from the simple fact that the darkest monsters are the ones who we instil our trust in. When we look back at so much horror through the ages, we realise that it has always been that way.

Saturday 5 August 2017

Review: The Beguiled

Year: 2017
Director: Sophia Coppola
Screenplay: Sophia Coppola
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning.

Synopsis is here:

The more I think about The Beguiled, the more I fear it might not have worked for me. While watching the movie, I enjoyed its opulence. I was occupied in that feathery, dream-like bubble that Sophia Coppola creates with her film. The Beguiled is no exception to Coppola’s ability to craft succulent images. This is southern gothic by way of Vanity Fair. It’s nigh-high impossible not to drink in the lavishness.

However, it was with a second viewing of Don Siegel’s original cinematic adaptation of The Beguiled (1971) that I found myself feeling a little duped. Thinking back to Coppola’s film, I discovered that I had found it lacking. Much was said about Coppola’s decision (and weak explanation) to “whitewash” her civil war film, by omitting the original feature’s only black character Hattie. After watching Coppola’s film, I was first of the opinion that this could have been merely the force of progressive politics imposing itself on to yet another film because it didn’t adhere itself exactly to how a particular left leaning audience would want it to. So often I often feel that we can, and will, find anything to criticise (read complain about) as it may not fit directly into our agenda. But that second viewing of Sigel’s film said even more than expected. Coppola’s film pales in contrast to it, not just because of its refusal to talk about race in a war in which race was a key part of. The Beguiled ’17 sands down more than race, but also the seedier elements which make the 71 version stand out.

Coppola is a director who knows her bread and butter and does well when she sticks to it. Here the girls of the school, like so many of Coppola’s doe-eyed, wonderfully dressed females, embrace the ritualistic elements of being in such a private school in that era, the prayers, the sewing, the music and the repression. Set it in the 70’s and we’re only a few steps away from The Virgin Suicides (1999) with the way these girls gated away from the evils of the world. That is until the devilishly handsome Colin Farrell shows up.

Where the original and remake diverge is in more than just the omittance of slave girl Hallie.  Gone is the more troublesome elements of Martha Farnsworth’s incestuous relationship with her brother which draws a cloud over so many of the women previously. Also removed is a late-night sequence involving southern state soldiers who imply their wish to explore their desires on the girls. Another element which gives more reason to view John with mistrust. The inner monologue of the female characters, illustrated via voice over, also disappears. Something which was clearly used in the original novel, where the male character does not hold a point of view. This motif only enhances and highlights the agency between the girls and their relationship to John. Who is played with a far more predatory manner by Clint Eastwood than here by Farrell, who is given far more sympathy.

Coppola’s decision to omit Hallie from this updated version of the movie is a strange one. In doing so, Coppola dismantles some of the balance and richness found in Siegel’s film and stops from ever exploring some interesting dynamics. Farrell showcases his Irishness in the film and one could only imagine the conflict that could come from a black slave and an Irish soldier fighting for the north. But also, the conflict between Hallie and Eastwood are among the more potent exchanges in the film. Why deny us this? Instead, Coppola goes down a more swooning, safer route of “white woman feminism” which, shouldn’t really be a surprise to a fan of her films such as myself, but only highlights how superficial some of the films discourse can feel. Coppola makes her version of the tale a film full of lavish costuming, pinpoint blocking and near slavish ritualism but it never wants to challenge its viewer.

This causes a conflict. The Beguiled once again shows that Coppola is an auteur of a truly singular vision, observing womanhood in a way that only she can. Her dream-like visions still provide intriguing entertainment to those who are interested. Her cast and their performances are formidable (although 1971’s list of players is more alluring) and the film never outstays its welcome.
However, The Beguiled (race elements aside) holds no controversy, and Coppola is no radical. She never really has been. What we see here is a wonderfully framed period piece, but it has none of the rough edges that the film before it holds. Coppola has fun toying with elements of the women’s repression (Kidman’s face while washing Farrell is a picture), but the playing down and removal of the aspects which made the original so remarkable softens the blow considerably making The Beguiled feel like an entertaining piece but also a missed opportunity. You get the feeling that Sophia Coppola went out and does what she does. It’s just a damn shame it feels all so safe.

Review: Baby Driver

Year: 2017
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenplay: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Jon Bernthal.

Synopsis is here:

Now that filmmaking is so invested in the digital age, from creation to distribution methods, one thing I’ve found myself noticing a lot more is long tracking shots. A very good colleague and I found ourselves labelling the technique as the film equivalent of the guitar solo. We also certainly didn’t believe that all long shots are considered equal. While technically impressive, the tracking shot can easily lead to pretension. A flashy directional flourish which only asks the audience to look at the director as opposed to what’s in the frame. Since taking up photography and watching more older films (hence the lack of blogging on here), I’ve grown to appreciate a good cut even more.
This brings us to Edgar Wright, a director I’ve greatly admired since watching the sitcom Spaced (1999) on Channel Four all those moons ago. Wright is a particularly stylistic filmmaker, who utilises visual flourishes in a way that, like say, Spielberg, makes his films as instantly recognisable to audiences. The crash zooms are nearly always a dead giveaway. Another telltale trademark of Wright's is his love for the long tracking shot. Unlike many other directors, Edgar Wright apricates, and more importantly understands, a good tracking shot.

What’s this got to do with Baby Driver? A vibrant modern take on the heist movie? Well, it’s all to do with the film’s giddily delirious introduction to its main character; Baby (Ansel Elgort). After a breathtaking opening chase sequence, perhaps Wright’s most technically proficient of his career, Baby Driver decides to give us a breather, without giving us a breather. We are given a beautifully choreographed tracking shot that introduces us not only to the character of Baby but also how he sees the world. One full of music and movement. Wright has pulled this trick on us before in Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007) but never has he done so with such joy. Like with previous sequences of Wright’s, the moment is packed with so much visual information, that it will most likely take a third viewing to pick up on everything that it’s packing. However, such a moment also builds upon its character. While it looks cool, it’s not done just because it is cool. It’s a truly harmonious blend of sight and sound. Dare I utter the words pure cinema?  I will. But perhaps only in my point of view.

The opening moments of Baby Driver are so joyous, that the film, almost never truly recovers. Nothing afterwards really tops what occurs in the beginning. Wright’s film soon becomes a more typical affair, which reminds high on fun, despite its problematic narrative. It is in here in which the argument of Wright has a director of style over substance becomes more apparent, particularly when it comes to his portrayal of women.

Much like the hyperactive Scott Pilgrim (2010), the love interests within the films universe come across more like prized trophies than characters with agency. Where Baby Driver throbs with the same kind of kinetic vivacity which made Scott Pilgrim so enjoyable, by the final act, both films feel uninterested in the plights of their female leads, this is despite their solid performances. The females in Baby Driver, as with Scott Pilgrim, feel more like extensions of the men they love and fully formed characters. This doesn’t take away from Lily James’ delicately vulnerable display, but the films development of character, or rather lack of, stunts what the films love interest could have been.

The same goes for an awkwardly placed motivation of a character during the films third act. Said character, decides on a noble act from out of nowhere which feels false and unbelievable. Annoyingly, said moment slowed the momentum and had me start of question more of the film. It rather unfairly made me wonder just how important cornetto trilogy writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are to Wright’s creative process. Said character twist was so out of the blue, I can imagine a DVD extra of the three of them explaining the screenplay moment, a la Shaun of the Dead. With Pegg and Frost missing a second-time round, one wonders what they would do if they could have had a hand in crafting the screenplay.

Such negatives do not detract from the fact that Baby Driver is a whole heap of fun. Its action sequences are key to this, running at a blistering pace, yet maintaining a solid sense of space. Baby Drivers set pieces are also wonderfully varied. A mixed blend of car chases, foot chases and shootouts. No sequence feels repetitive. Nothing outstays its welcome and everything is crafted to the rhythm of whatever is playing in Baby’s ears. Musical organised chaos.

While the basic plot doesn’t much stray from the usual “one last job” narrative of so many heist movies, the real glue that connects the wild set pieces is the cast who are more than up to the task of keeping up with the film. Ansel Elgort does more than enough to show off his star quality. Much like Scott Pilgrim, this boy with the “hum in the drum” is socially awkward but particularly skilled. Baby Driver gives Elgort a film that allows him to let him run a little wild with his charm. While the whole white slightly stunted man child isn’t in vogue in certain circles, Elgort clearly has a good time with the material and it shows. The same goes for the likes of John Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey. All solid comic performers when they want to be. It seems that all three were chomping at the bit to be let loose on a film like this. Each performer has a chance to shine and does so with the type of panache you expect from them. It’s a shame that the screenplay lets the likes of Lily James and Eiza Gonzalez, down. They do very well with what they’re given. Special credit should go to deaf actor CJ Jones who provides the film heart as Baby’s foster father.

Baby Driver is a juvenile delinquent of a film and I mean that in a somewhat good way. It shows that despite its faults, Wright’s departure from Ant-Man was probably a good thing. The fact that afterwards, he can brush off a decade's old script get it financed for less than $40 Million and make one of the more eye brow raising summer films of 2017 is quite heartening in more ways than one. It’s a film that reminded me of the same blend of chaos and crooning that made The Blues Brothers 1980’s such a delight. Times have changed, and Baby Driver isn’t as anarchic as Landis’ irreverent musical comedy. It’s clear however that its heart is in a similar place.   

Monday 29 May 2017

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2

Director: James Gunn  
Screenplay: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn, Sylvester Stallone, and Kurt Russell.

Synopsis is here:

After the first Guardians of the Galaxy, I remember being placed under interrogation for not proclaiming my undying love for the first film. To not place the film in you top ten of the year/all time, meant there was something wrong with you. I remember sitting at a BBQ and trying to explain that I found the first film to be rather forgettable. People could bend their head around it. Why wasn’t I like everyone else? Why didn’t I fall into line like a loyal foot solider?

I enter Guardians Vol 2 with a sense of optimism, despite my quiet apprehensions towards the approach towards the modern franchise. Again Guardians is quick with the gags, packed with set pieces and the characters still have a lot of colour (set aside how it leaves its female leads floundering). These come in thick and fast and yet this also does well to remind me that narratively, I found Guardians Vol 2 a haphazard affair. One pivotal point has a character ask why doesn’t (redacted Guardian name) want to be special. Said Gaudian obliges with an answer that basically suggests that he wants to conform like everyone else. This should really play in the mega-franchise world, where passive protagonists are simply issued with extraordinary powers and ushered to be “special” merely because they are. This sits uncomfortably within Guardians Vol 2. Our characters are meant to be a certain type of renegade. Why are they so down with a certain type of conformity?

Much like the first film, Guardians Vol 2 works best when it knocks out silly visual gags (the opening fight without Groot is wonderful) or when it’s more secondary characters get their time to shine (I really love Bradley Cooper’s voice work again). However, the films main plot point, which drearily comments on fatherly sins, feels dry and uninvolving. Gunn’s visuals capture of the world punctuates the bold colourful landscapes with neatly captured moments of isolation but struggles with a screenplay which does little to excite.

The whole thing does little to carry any weight. This is a creeping feeling that film writers get with a lot of modern mainstream fare, but certain features make it hard to make a fighting case against this. Guardian Vol two is not an exception. The secondary antagonists are considered so perfect genetically, that they do not go into battle, they fight via automated space drone which is controlled like a video game. It makes a cute gag but eliminates feeling even more that the CGI hordes that litter other comic book movies. A shallow criticism, but one that feels valid to a film in which it’s anti-heroes bode no real consequence. Hell, they want to be family, just like us.

This is, of course, a family who wish to kill in glorious slow motion (even the baby!) to 70’s pop classics a la Tarantino. Again, this probably wouldn’t be a bad thing if Guardian could drop its 12a rating and really let loose, but alas no. Guardians titters perilously between gleefully subversive (was that a sly S&M joke just then?) and tonally frustrating. We might be a little so happy to see Baby Groot become a killer so easily for instance. These guys are badass but bloodless. These are bandits that just need to be hugged. Amidst all this, there’s still a feeling of incompleteness about proceedings. Everything rumbles on with the knowledge that this is (again) leading up to the next episode, so there’s little time to really take on board what’s happening. In-depth analysis on if a baby plant should care about its sins maybe far-fetched, however, the film’s more prominent relationships also feel short changed. There always feels like there’s more to say about some of the dynamics at play. Every character gets their time to quip and wisecrack, and they do so with gusto. It’s just hard not to wish for a little bit more in their development. There’s little to unpeel, which something like Guardians may not really need as a summer flick, but for this writer, again, there’s no real desire to go back for a second viewing. Easter eggs are fine for the well initiated, but they may not work for everyone.  

So again, I brace myself for the BBQ inquisition. More probing about why I don’t conform and indulge in killer Baby Groot like everyone else. I’ll probably come up with a cumbersome analogy of a certain fruit-named company, which asked everyone to “think differently” before drowning the market quite considerably with its slightly varied but very similar toys. I’ll bemoan that we all think differently like everyone else. Like Guardians Vol 2, which rebels with one eye on its parents (think Disney). Then I’ll continue with my plate of special recipe wings.

Friday 31 March 2017

Review: Logan

Year: 2017
Director: James Mangold
Screenplay: James Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant, Dafne Keen.

Synopsis is here:

I cannot say I loved Logan, although I do admire it. The superhero movie that’s making grown men cry has gained many apostles, but I’m just not a devout follower. I fear part of this may be down to how I feel about The Wolverine character as a whole. There’s also the issue of how we finally got to a Wolverine film that’s actually interested in the character. If the other films had done their jobs fully, I could feel myself having more resonance with myself. For that, we could blame some poor choices on Fox’s part. Getting James Mangold to take the mantle a little earlier could have helped amongst other things.

Logan’s stripped down, 90’s road movie aesthetic is actually quite appealing after the overtly slick, all spectacle approach of X-men: Apocalypse. Marigold’s intention to make something that is clearly set within the world, yet not of the same style is the approach that has been deeply needed in the growing hemogenic realm of the “superhero movie” sub-genre. The irreverence of Deadpool and the cynical nature of Logan are steps in the right direction. Not just a refreshing change of pace but a change of focus. By sliming the stakes and adding finality to proceedings Logan doesn’t feel like yet another piece to a needlessly complicated puzzle. It finds a solid reason for a viewer to care about what’s on screen. We might not see everything reset itself two years down the line. Even though as I say this, words about the future of these characters have already been hyped.

For now, Logan appears to be a somewhat fitting conclusion to an awkward spin-off series. It plays with meta well and doesn’t feel the need to aim towards humour to keep things interesting. It’s also generally quite upsetting. Death follows our characters throughout this movie. Unlike the shallow lip service paid to the likes of Ironman 3 (2013), there’s a true feeling that regret weighs heavily on Weapon X. That everything he touches simply makes things worse. A tragic sequence during the second half of the movie is particularly despairing for this very reason. When Logan lets his guard down. There’s a good chance that innocent people could get hurt.

The film is a rather crowning achievement for its main star; Hugh Jackman. After 17 years of inhabiting this character, Jackman’s performances have always remained relatively consistent even if the film’s stories and plots have not. In Logan, Jackman infuses his character with far more bitterness and resentment than before, but also more pathos. Some of the films more compelling scenes come from the now fraught relationship that is held with Logan's former mentor; Charles Xavier (an on-form Patrick Stewart). Again, seeing the tension displayed here is as frustrating as it is entertaining. There’s a dull ache that resides in scenes in which they talk about what could have been. It’s painful not only because of the strength of the performances, but because there’s always the slight feeling that it’s a meta nod to the incoherency of the X-men film series itself.

The big question for some is whether Logan is better than The Dark Knight (2008). Not in my eyes. While it’s easier now to see flaws with Nolan’s comic book hero works, I still find The Dark Knight a better-paced blockbuster, featuring a stronger antagonist and set pieces which stick in the mind long after the film finishes. In terms of personal taste, I also found Logan’s cynicism harder to contend with. It’s a film in which death weighs heavy on the shoulders and even the outcome of secondary characters is tough going. One can’t help but think that some of the plaudits are simply because we see more bloodshed. If that is the case, it is somewhat troubling as Logan never truly feels cathartic.
Let it be said, however, that Logan is one of the more notable Superhero movies of this cycle as it dares to be different. The film’s finality is a shot in the arm for the superhero genre in general. The film’s grim tone, may not be for everyone, but this third and possibly final entry in the wolverine series does well to remind the audience that the stakes don’t always have to be saving the world. They can be about saving one soul.

Review: Kong: Skull Island

Year: 2017
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenplay: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly.

Synopsis is here:

“Everything here is something” - Marge Simpson Ep15 – Season 13 - Blame it on Lisa

King Kong has been refurbed three times before Kong: Skull Island. That’s not counting his 60’s Japanese stints. Before this iteration, audiences were given at least a 20+ year period before the great ape roared back into screens once more. The fact that Kong: Skull Island has taken 12 years to reach audiences only reminds us of just how rapid the acceleration of reimagining/rebooting/rehashing cinematic brands has become. Yes, it is still over a decade but the gap is remarkably smaller, particularly when we consider studios churning films of anything that may rouse even a passing notion of nostalgia. While I don’t wish to turn this review into a rant about “original” stories, it is important to note that the high volume of going back to the well should hopefully mean bringing a fresher angle to the material. Kong: Skull Island decides that while harking on past success is the only thing. People like giant apes. You get giant apes.

Kong: Skull Island is a far more kinetic beast than Peter Jackson’s more romanticised project. This is straight up B-Movie thrills. No dilly dallying. We get to see Kong from the get go. There’s no mystery here. Spectacle is key. This is a Kong for cinematic universe goers. We know what to expect, so it just needs to be confirmed. Does Kong go rampant? Check. Is nearly everything these poor humans touch actually a beasty designed to kill them? Check. Are the human characters not worth a dime because giant apes? Double check. Skull Island merrily fills the frame with known character actors and unceremoniously stomps them out the picture, without a care in the world. We’re here to see Kong smash and indeed he does.

There is a distinct feeling of hollowness about the whole thing. We expect a film about a gigantic ape to have a bobbins plot, but there isn’t much to really grasp on. Oddball crew find a strange island. There’s a massive monkey on it. The film hangs the Vietnam war and Nixon over itself as window dressing, but all the Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now references seem to be shallow lip service to an audience that wouldn’t be interested in Samuel L Jackson going mental over a huge ape. The films disposable cast is well picked and they’re a little more fun to watch than the dour performances that appear in the recent Godzilla (2014) remake. However, as the film isn’t really interested in their plight, it’s still hard to be really invested in anything that happens. The action is tight and well-constructed and there a general knock around fun that comes from some of the set pieces, but it is all empty calories. While it’s vaguely amusing to see people not even able to sit down on anything without said seat trying to eat them, nothing really lingers in the mind, nor feels worth watching again. Something I do get from previous incarnations.

A brief but obvious spoiler hints at a larger universe filled with ancient creatures, but I find myself asking why. The answer is as clear as day, but the films are quite weak. At least Kong: Skull Island acknowledges that it's a B-movie. It seems pointless to tie all these films up this time around, but now that the Marvel cinematic universe dictate the market trend, we now have to realise that everything here is something.

Monday 20 March 2017

Review: Moonlight

Year: 2016 (U.K Theatrical Release 2017)
Director: Barry Jenkins
Screenplay: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali.

Synopsis is here:

It’s been almost a week since I came out of a mid-afternoon screening of Barry Jenkins second feature length film Moonlight. Despite the rave reviews and its surprise Oscar win, I knew little about the film itself. As a massive fan of Jenkins quietly touching debut feature Medicine for Melancholy (2008), I kept myself away from anything that delved too much into the actual film. Now, a few hours since my viewing of the film, I can honestly say I was astonished. In the same way that many wouldn’t believe they would see a Black U.S president in their lifetime, I never would have believed that an unapologetically black art film would win Best Picture. But here we are.

Of course, we can talk about the embarrassing Oscar mix up that occurred. In which Oscar favourite; La La Land (2016) was announced as the winner of the award before notification of the mix-up was discovered. The fallout from the error once again highlighted some of the many problems that many find with the Academy. However, this doesn’t take away from what this film as achieved. When something as elliptical as Moonlight wins Best Picture, it can chip away at our expectations about the Oscars. While you can say that the film’s theme of homosexuality seems to fit into the so-called “worthy” agenda of the awards, almost everything else does not. From its near abstract structure, down to the small production company who made the film. What the win did for cynics such as myself, is suggest the alterations of academy voting members may not just change who may win what at the Oscars, it may affect artistic taste. The beauty of Moonlight is in the respect it gives its audience. It is not heavy on dialogue and its plot is streamlined, yet the execution of its story, which seems to owe more to the mood driven world cinema of the likes of Wong Kar Wai, along with the films cultural relevancy is what makes the film stand out.

In some ways, Moonlight is similar to Jenkins debut feature. As with Medicine for Melancholy, Moonlight navigates ideas of black identity and relationships and the need for connection in a world in which many elements seek to isolate. In Medicine, the conflict lies within the class struggle, gentrification and interracial dating. It debates that there is still a struggle between race and class when it comes to love and despite our wish to ignore such arguments, a division is still created from outside judgement and long-standing resentment. In Moonlight the conflict at first appears more insular. It details the interior identity crisis of a young black man at three pivotal moments of his life. Sexuality is explored, along with the complex emotions that come through with the character’s age and the fraught relationships of youth. Moonlight also factors a socio-political element which, if isolated, would seem well worn on the surface, but due to its setting and characters, brings forth a fresh angle towards its subject. A young man’s search for his sexual identity is often used subject matter in cinema and in that sense Moonlight is no different. However, the film’s predominant setting of Liberty City, Miami speaks volumes. This is a lower-class area with African-Americans making up 95% of the demographic. The waspish comments that have emitted from white commentators such as Camilla Long only help illustrate that complex queer cinema has long been a Caucasian exercise. The complicated affections that take place in the likes of Carol (2015) and Brokeback Mountain (2005) appeared to be accepted far more readily. Here with Moonlight, questions of universal appeal quickly rose their heads. Whether subconsciously or not, this does not come as a big surprise. However, much like Medicine for Melancholy, Jenkins’ main weapon in his armoury is his capability to infuse his characters with earnestness and vulnerability. There is a tenderness between these characters here that is not often seen within films that deal with Black masculinity, if at all. Apologies for being glib here, but it’s not a shock that the film's emotions may be lost on certain writers and viewers. Black masculinity has so narrowly defined for so long in cinema, you can almost forgive people for black characters for not acting in the way that they expect. For some black audience members for which this film’s warm, emotive response will connect to, we now expect this so much in our real lives, we should merely roll our eyes and move on.

The characters and dynamics at play in Moonlight defy so much of what is often suggested in other areas of black culture. In particular Rap and Hip Hop music, which has been long dominated with allegations and allegories of homophobia and toxic masculinity for nearly thirty years. The film does slightly lean towards the ghetto escapism that defined the Afro-American cinema of the 90’s, but it also toys with our expectations. For instance, Mahershala Ali portrayal of the drug dealer with the heart of gold is shifted into a new perspective when in conversation with a young 9-year-old boy about the word “faggot”. A near unrecognisable Naomi Harris takes on a role of a drug-addicted mother, delicately balancing the performance between despicableness and heart-wrenching empathy. It could have been easy to shoehorn this portrayal with previously seen roles such as Mo'nique’s villainess display in Precious (2009). But Jenkins understands that humans aren’t that straightforward. What we see throughout with every character is the knottiness that comes with their decisions and the tumultuous results which stem from their history.

Like Boyhood (2012), Moonlight notes upon the small details rather than the larger ones. We are given intimate moments which help define the young protagonist; Chiron, but the film decides against highlighting certain outcomes. Characters fade into the distance, but they’ve made their mark. This is a film of looks, not dialogue. Lines are read on the character’s faces. This is where the depth of the film is found. On the surface, we think we know the story, yet this is a tale differs from what we think we know. The moments Moonlight declines to show us, an off-screen demise, for example, doesn’t need to be shown. The audience has seen in many guises before.

The likes of Camilla Long will state that the film as a whole has been told on countless backdrops. But no. Take away the likes of Campbell X’s Stud Life (2012), the work of Charles Burnett, or at a push, Six Degrees of Seperation (1993) and the canvas is nearly always white. Often of a social class higher than seen here. It’s one imitate love scene holds a tenderness that has not been held on a mainstream screen by two Afro-American black men. It displays a tenderness with a poignancy that even Todd Haynes Carol (2015) doesn’t reach. It’s a moment which truly suggests that we now comfortable with queer sex which is not out to titillate or to shock. It is one thing to dislike a film for an honest reason but is slightly troubling to dismiss film in the way the likes of Long does, asking a mood piece to have more plot. To rebuff the film as something that doesn’t break any new ground as if films like this are a dime a dozen. How often do we see films as personal as this? With African Americans framed with such tenderness? Long’s banal comments are a smart way to try and take away a marginalised voice, but while Moonlight may not be a universal and easy expression for more conservative ears it’s certainly one that needed to be told.

It’s difficult to produce a coming of age film which is so nakedly honest. It’s harder to do so with three different actors inhabiting the same role. Even Boyhood kept hold of its child actors for all of its 12 years of production. The performances that come from the three lead roles are not only uniformly consistent but they also all highlight the fragility that can lie within black male masculinity. It’s difficult to pick out the strongest dramatic moment. It could be the subtle and heart-breaking exchange that occurs between Alex Hibbert’s 9-year-old Chiron and Mahershala Ali’s Juan. It could the soft romantic moment on the beach between a teenage Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and his childhood friend Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). One part of me believes that films final scenes between and adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) and Kevin (André Holland) are the most deserving, yet to say that seems unfair on everything that we’ve seen before it. What I can honestly say is each display is deeply compelling.

The three performances, when combined, create a complex and wrenching portrait of longing and regret I can honestly say that I have not seen in an American movie lead by people of colour before. Such a statement is hyperbolic, but one I say with a similar earnestness that this deeply expressive piece of art provides. It will not surprise me if the film’s Oscar win will disarm those who will now try and see what the fuss is about. Moonlight is a film which is not interested in easy answers and comforting closure. It’s a film which requires meditation. This is a film which is not only unapologetically black but also a film that is not universal with its emotions. Nor is it ever trying to be. It’s a film which belongs in the same realms as George Washington (2000), This is England (2006) and Ratcatcher (1999). Coming of age films from the skewed side of the tracks which still maintain the ability to sense the sweet within the sour. In a film world, which appears to be falling into the trap of homogeneity, Moonlight’s beautifully abstract and visually poetic rhythms are a timely reminder of just how bewitching the seventh art can be. I await Barry Jenkins next feature with baited breath. His Oscar win suggests I may not have to wait almost a decade for it this time.

Review: Get Out

Year: 2017
Director: Jordan Peele
Screenplay: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield and Catherine Keener

Synopsis is here:

Note: Get Out is a film that is best seen stone cold. I’ve tried not to talk too much about the plot of the film as to avoid spoilers, however, this review may have enough in it to hint at certain elements.

An ex-work colleague was once talking to a group of us about how they felt uncomfortable when travelling to Southall, a suburb of London with a high Islamic Asian demographic. They were quick to note that they had nothing against Muslims mind. They just felt uncomfortable around that suburb as that was "their neighbourhood". One must laugh when hearing things like this. When you're a POC in England, dependant on where you are, you are almost constantly surrounded by white people. You cannot say that you feel uncomfortable around them. It’s just not cricket. Although technically, going by the standards set by my colleague, I should feel uncomfortable from when I get up in the morning until I go to sleep.

This is often the underlying issue when we look and talk about race. It's Farage feeling uncomfortable about not hearing English being spoken on the tube. It's Camilla Long dictating to (mostly white) readers that Moonlight was written for especially white people to feel a certain way, despite being created from a black person's own personal experiences. It's Piers Morgan trolling on the word Nigger. Everything is always seen through the prism of whiteness, which is of course considered what you should call normal. Another example of this? A swimming teacher telling my father that my genetic make-up dictates my swimming prowess. Another would be a previous ex-girlfriends mother always skirting around what to say to me as her daughter had never brought home a black boyfriend. Often me and my friends and family nod and smile about certain "white" tics that occur around us. There's still the belief, even with the more liberal amongst us, that we are somewhat different in our makeup. An element of the exotic and otherness that compels and discomforts people. It could be Ebonics, it could be athleticism (see the shit Serena Williams deals with). There is always SOMETHING.

That something is what is what Jordan Peele candidly deals with his directorial debut Get Out, a dryly amusing and deeply disconcerting horror comedy that has been noted as an updated take on Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), in which Chris (Daniel Kaluuya); a young black photographer, visits the mysterious estate of his girlfriends (Alison Williams) family to terrifying results. Get Out gleefully riffs on Stanley Kramer’s wonderfully composed social commentary with a tongue firmly implanted in its cheek. Peele’s film grabs hold of something that I had wished the likes of Neil LaBute's remake of The Wicker Man (2006) had been more interested in. Get Out timely exploration of racial framing is not only relevant but blazingly incisive. It would be too easy to make the villains of this piece the type of overtly hostile, backwards evildoers that littered Red State (2011). With Get Out, Peele isn’t afraid to expose that not only the racial inequities that inhabit the veins of western civilisation run deep. They can also be well hidden in the blood of those that people who call themselves allies.

Get Out is not a typical horror film in that we are overload with abject viscera and telegraphed jump scares. Jordan Peele is far more interested in creating an atmosphere similar to the likes of The Twilight Zone or even Black Mirror. This is done with the adeptly crafted screenplay which utilises its main conceit with a dark wit and an affecting sense of truth. Unlike so many horror films which often deal with white suburban fear, Get Out revels in the perversity of treading lightly in white spaces while black. Not since Halloween (1978) has a horror film played so subversively with the uniformity of suburbia. It’s a film which pulls no punches with this theme starting from the first frame, which arouses the fateful tragedies of Trayvon Martin, to a subtly chilling encounter with a policeman that may feel all too familiar to a black male. Nothing is taken to chance here. When we observe the scene with the police officer, note that the actor cast holds a resemblance to ex-officer Darren Wilson. I’ve watched this sequence twice now at the time of writing. I still marvel at how tightly crafted the dynamics of power play out. Believe me when I say this. When you watch it again, you see something different a second time. Let’s just say, in situations like that, we’re often not just scared of the officer.

This is a film which indulges itself in the power plays that occur when it comes to race relations. The film is clearly satirical and makes sure we are aware of it, but it knows how to strike a nerve with the audience it’s catering to. So much of the film nods knowingly to the painful awkwardness of being the only minority in a crowded white room. From the supposed well-intentioned gestures that carry soft offences to the outright obnoxiousness that people feel that they can spout because of the colour of your skin. Peele’s film neatly taps into the fear that many people of colour hold.  That by merely existing, you stand out more. By being a minority, your feelings should come second to a white person’s desires. The master stroke of Get Out is to suggest that it’s within more liberal whites that the most insidious racism occurs. But how could that be? They’re on your side, right? What makes Get Out so engaging is how it toys with ideas of white privilege. It’s not just enough to occupy wealth and opportunity, but even if you are the white elite, it may just be easier to own the black existence, just because you like it.

To say anymore may be telling, in fact, I may have already said too much. However, it’s safe to say that Peels film plays out like a race-themed version of Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973). Its densely-packed screenplay captures the sense of paranoia and helpless that many feel when operating with certain spaces and each scene adds another layer of commentary and creepiness to proceedings. The film’s crowning achievement, a painfully awkward, remarkably on point house party sequence is one that resonates with me from a deeply personal standpoint. It’s a scene that plays out as if it knew me. Every conversation that takes place, every micro-aggression which gets thrown towards Chris (a superlative Kaluuya) feels as if it’s been lifted from situations I’ve been involved in. As exaggerated as the film is (and it is exaggerated), this one sequence, amongst others, holds a candour that’s difficult to shake off the shoulders.

Peele; an attentive sketch writer in his own right manages to balance this with a spiky sense of gallows humour. The film’s funny because it’s true. It’s also terrifying for the same reasons. It’s a film that’s clearly cine-literate. Name-checking the likes of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist 3 (1990), and Night of the Living Dead (1960) and The Stepford Wives (1975), but not letting its references get in the way of the message of benevolent racism.  It is rounded off by an expertly picked cast who are all allowed to play to their strengths. Special credit should go the likes of Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel and LaKeith Stanfield who steal scenes from under the noses of the principle cast with the type of nuance one doesn’t expect from a film which operates under B-Movie mechanics.

If there are any flaws with the movie, it would be with its final third, in which the action shifts from the wry observations of the first two acts into more notable horror film fare. While Get Out still manages to keep a couple of tricks up its sleeve, it travels down the route of many films of its type. Mostly because it’s difficult to see if it could go anywhere else with the material. This shouldn’t detract that Get Out is operating at a higher level than most horror movies. It’s a film in which it’s motifs have already appeared to have penetrated the zeitgeist. This no mean feat, but Peele’s film comes from a place well known to many who will watch it. It will not change the minds of bigots, but that’s not the point. There are moments in this film which struck a chord in me (possibly many others) in a way that other films will not. The beauty of Get Out is that finally in 2017 we get an intelligent genre piece that people of colour can really call their own. The pain of Get Out is that it’s 2017 and we still have to acknowledge it’s truisms.

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Review: T2 Trainspotting

Year: 2017
Director: Danny Boyle
Screenplay: John Hodges
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle

Synopsis is here:

The 90’s seem so very far away now. Talking to some people I know, it’s ancient history. Time makes fools of us all, and trying to explain dial up internet, Ibiza Uncovered and Gazza’s goal at Euro 96 to younger generation millennials will no doubt leave some us feeling foolish. The same could almost be said for Trainspotting. When first released in 1996, the film was a cultural phenomenon. For us Brits, it was as iconic to the 90’s as Britpop and bleached blonde hair. If you didn’t know that Irvine Welsh’s series of vignettes was a novel, you certainly knew it was a movie. Shallow Grave (1994) introduced us to Ewan McGregor and Danny Boyle, but it was Trainspotting that truly broke them out. From the thumping drum of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life which launches the film, it’s uniquely comic yet bleak portrayal of junk addiction, to the simple yet brash mugshot poster, everything about the film screamed iconic.

20 years after Boyle introduced us to “perfect day” overdoses on skag, we are reintroduced to Mark Renton and his so-called friends in a film which isn’t really aiming for the same never say die exuberance that infiltrated our hearts. Why would it? Danny Boyle, one Britain’s more idiosyncratic directorial exports, is quick to let us know that two decades have really slapped these guys in the face. So much so, that even the consideration of playing Lust of Life pains the listener. Of course, this is not about the loudness of the track, but more the memories it digs up. We re-encounter Renton hit with physical health problems, but, like all his mates, he is haunted by his moment of betrayal which in turn left his friends in the gutter.

Instead of revelling in golden-hued nostalgia, T2 works best when its characters are reminded that their past is rife with sin. Trainspotting was drenched in a youthful nihilism which motivated every character, T2 has Renton and co look deep within themselves with a deep sense of regret. The film’s poignancy lies within what the characters have thrown away in the last twenty years. There’s no doe eye back slapping at the heady days of their youth. These people hurt each other and it shows. We like to think that such deep old wounds will heal over fine. They don’t. There’s always scar tissue.
T2 is pretty much what a life of toxic masculinity can get you. Whether it’s Begbie’s resentment towards his son, despite not being in his life, to the fractious relationship between old “pals” Simon (Sick Boy) and Renton. Boyle accurately details the dissipation of youthful energy within the angry young man. Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting was originally released around the same time as Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club (now well known as a 1999 film), and both Boyle’s film and Palahniuk’s book do a remarkable job of showcasing one of the main issues of the so-called 90’s man: that they had very little to rebel against. Therefore, they turned amongst themselves. T2 has Boyle explore what would happen if these Scottish roustabouts tried to salvage some of the remnants of themselves, and each other, after the damage is done.

This is all done with the smoothness you expect from a director like Boyle, who decides early on that while he and screenwriter Hodge may be able to give us anything exemplary from a narrative perspective, he’ll certainly work hard with Anthony Dod Mantle to ensure that visually the film will retain interest. The askew compositions, metaphors and visual motifs to Irvine Welsh’s own novelistic off shoots, are never indulgent and playfully highlight the cock-eyed viewpoints of our Scottish antiheroes.

It’s little surprise however, that much like the original film, T2 is quite top heavy. While the scams that are pulled off here don’t feel as rambunctious as before, they still show that wickedness doesn’t rest easy, even as our protags stumble into middle age. Like its predecessor, T2 loses a little bit of shine as it dives into the final third. The plot descends into something rather mechanical and uninspiring, while certain character decisions feel rather unconvincing.  When T2 focuses on dubious antics, it excels. When it becomes bogged down in actual plot, it stagnates. This doesn’t stop the cast from giving it their all. Both Mcgregor and Miller slip back into the groove easily. As does Robert Carlyle whose Begbie still excites in spite of the film spending a bit too much time with him. The film’s secret weapon however, is Ewen Bremmer, who’s role as the dopey Spud fully establishes him as the film’s emotional core. Unlike the previous film, Bremmer’s role is more fleshed out, giving T2 something Trainspotting never had and was never really looking for: Heart.

That’s never been the reason to watch Trainspotting though. It’s always been the scams and shenanigans. That’s what the audience is here for. Dodgy plot be dammed. Whether it’s robbing Unionists of their credit cards, or some dubious blue pill action, the bleak lolz are there for the taking. T2 Trainspotting gleefully obliges.

Thursday 26 January 2017

Review: Jackie

Year: 2016
Director: Pablo Larraín
Screenplay: Noah Oppenheim
Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Richard E Grant

Synopsis is here:

Everything is a tad oppressive in Pablo Larraín’s Jackie. It’s all a little bit constricting. Mica Levi shrieking strings from her Under the Skin score, rear their head once more in new arrangements. The aspect ratio is smaller, tighter than what we are used to. Natalie Portman, who features in nearly every shot gives a deliberate and affected performance. One that peaks on near consistent anxiety.
If separated in some way, it probably wouldn’t have been all that effective. Of course, the point of Jackie is to bring them together in such a way, that everything bears down on the viewer, as it would its titular character. This film about the days Jackie Kennedy spent between the assassination of her husband; President Kennedy and his burial, often seems less like a biopic or insight into grief, and more like an essay of unwanted fame and survivor’s guilt. JFK is only often witnessed in brief glimpses (we even see the infamous moment in grisly detail), yet his presence looms large. Such is the way of Larraín as a formalist. Nearly every aspect of the film seems to highlight how the cloud of this man’s death weighs down heavily on his now widow.

Jackie boils throughout with a quiet intensity. Despite its delicate pacing, there’s a restlessness that burns through every scene. When a man like Kennedy dies, how do you find time to mourn? Usually, when someone dies, those close them are often consumed in the mundanity of grief. Often there’s a privacy to proceedings.  Larraín’s film considers the idea that Jackie, known during Kennedy’s presidency for her wish for privacy and image control, is torn between her own private grief and the desire in to ensure that JFK’s legacy is preserved.

We don’t just see this in the technical aspects, like where Stéphane Fontaine’s camera does all it can to isolate Portman’s Jackie any opportunity it can by either crashing it’s subject with oppressive close-ups or pushing her out into wide empty spaces. We also find it in Portman’s wonderfully conflicted performance. The forced affliction in her voice and wide-eyed apprehension would feel out of place in the hands of a lesser director. Larraín’s control of the film’s form creates a perfect fold for Portman’s anxious performance. During these final days, Jackie wanders the near endless rooms and halls of The White House, like a lost spectre. Through Jackie’s conversations with Kennedy’s remorseful brother Rob (the never bad Peter Sarsgaard), we find a woman who's not only violently displaced by tragic events, but one who has never felt she was a piece of the grand puzzle. 

Despite this, there’s no backing down. The conversations we witness in this film may or may not have happened. That’s not the point. Much like the zany Miles Davis biopic Mile’s Ahead of last year, Jackie this isn’t really about an accurate “truth”. It’s about a heightened emotional one. Jackie never panders, but it certainly does give reasons to ponder. At a time when our political spheres are losing their heads, Jackie coincidently appears at a time when many are rummaging through the dying ambers of a certain kind progressive idealism. It’s fascinating to watch the Chilean director Larraín, explore the opening cracks of where America felt these ideals first began to fray. With Jackie, the filmmaker installs a brittle and enduring resolve that quietly emerges from an individual who helps to cope with a nation's grief with a defiant poise and a steely grace.