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Showing posts from 2017

A Ghost Story

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[Yep, this is going to be another one of those reviews. One where I urge you not to see the trailer, not to read a plot synopsis. You just need to see this film, as soon as possible. Trust me.]


A Ghost Story may have been one of the riskiest films for an established director to make. David Lowery, fresh from directing last year's remake of Pete's Dragon, returned to his indie roots to make a film featuring Casey Affleck walking around under a sheet 90% of the time and Rooney Mara eating a whole pie, uninterrupted, for 5 minutes. This could have been the death knell of his career. 

It actually turns out to be the complete opposite. This may in fact be Lowery's defining work. He has crafted a film so potent, so powerful, so overwhelming that it's subheading should be Existential Crisis: The Movie. Its deep probing of mortality, humanity's response to grief and the bleakness of the human life cycle may hold similarities with much of Terrence Malick's work, particula…

Dunkirk [IMAX]

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To call Dunkirk immersive is a major understatement. The latest project from blockbuster king Christopher Nolan, who has consistently pushed the boundaries with films such as the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and Memento, tells the story of one of the defining moments of World War II in extraordinary fashion, throwing the viewer headfirst into the horrors of the conflict with every gunshot and explosion having a brutal impact. In this way it is in fact the perfect war movie, a film not so much about war but a film that literally is war. Add to this the fact that it was shot with IMAX in mind and this is truly, like Nolan described it himself, "virtual reality without the goggles." 

In terms of structure and storytelling, this is without a doubt Nolan's most barebones film to date. Divided into three intersecting parts, land, sea and air, we follow the efforts of the British soldiers, the RAF and the sailors as they struggle to evacuate the beaches of Dunkirk with the Axi…

The Big Sick

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To call the Big Sick a rom-com is to do it a huge disservice. The genre is seen in general as a low effort money machine, with only a handful of gems usually ending up lost amongst the trash. Kumail Nanjiani's film soars far above the genre, crafting the perfect balancing act between razor-sharp comedy, raw emotion and an overwhelming amount of charm. Produced by Judd Apatow, the Big Sick is smarter and funnier than any of Apatow's previous films, landing every single one of its cleverly crafted punchlines without pulling any of its punches when it comes to emotional weight.

Based on Nanjiani's own personal experience, he plays himself as a middling stand up comic in Chicago, with Bo Burnham and Aidy Bryant delivering excellent turns as his comedian buddies. Kumail meets Emily, here played by the endlessly charming Zoe Kazan (who stole the show in 2013's What If), and the connection is clear straight away. But a large barrier facing their relationship comes in the shape…

War for the Planet of the Apes

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1968's Planet of the Apes is a much revered classic that spawned multiple sequels and has lived on in popular culture ever since. Featuring a central performance from the beloved Charlton Heston and delivering one of the greatest endings of all time, it was an instant hit and is still remembered fondly today. So when the series was rebooted in 2011, there was considerable scepticism and doubts over whether such a project could succeed 40 years after the original. 

But Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a hugely deserved success and was such a hit that it spawned 2014's sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which was equally brilliant. So now we have War for the Planet of the Apes, with the return of director Matt Reeves (who previously took charge of Dawn).

The biggest difference between War and its two predecessors is how much the focus has shifted towards the apes. Rise was a largely human-led story, where we witnessed Caesar's upbringing by scientist Will Rodman (one of …

It Comes at Night (or Why Movie Marketing is Garbage and Misleading)

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If you're looking for a fun, uplifting summer movie, you may want to steer clear of It Comes at Night. A brutally tense, constantly oppressive and absolutely gripping indie project from director Trey Edward Shults, it is a fascinating exploration of the human psyche when under intense strain and in the worst of situations. Treading the line between horror, thriller and drama, Shults crafts a bleak world where man has grown increasingly paranoid and fearful. 

For films that feature such a tiny ensemble, the casting becomes an even more important factor. And here it was absolutely nailed. Joel Edgerton excels as the gruff Paul, struggling to protect his family in this barren, post-apocalyptic world. 
His constant fear and paranoia, desperately trying to maintain the security of their house amidst the thick forest is a key driving force of the film, as his reluctance to trust anyone from the outside world is increasingly strained. Carmen Ejogo as Sarah, Paul's wife, delivers a sim…

Baby Driver

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Of the most important parts of a film, the soundtrack has always been key. It conveys the whole mood of the film more effectively than almost any other technique and a well curated tracklist can only serve to maximise its success (just look at Guardians of the Galaxy). However, no film has used music in quite the same way as director Edgar Wright's new high-octane heist thriller Baby Driver. The film is literally built around the soundtrack, an energetic bag of foot-tapping, head bobbing tunes that complement the action like never before. 

Almost as impressive as the soundtrack is the star-studded cast that Wright has managed to pull together. An indicator of his increasing recognition in Hollywood (after the iconic comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and the simply flawless Scott Pilgrim vs The World), Wright pulls together a cast including Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx and Lily James, resulting in a set of stellar performances that complement each other perfectly. 
Seeing…

Gloria

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As director Sebastian Lelio explained in the q & a following the screening of his 2013 film Gloria , he aimed to create a film firmly and emphatically centered on an aging woman, a figure so often sidelined in cinema. Lelio therefore built the film around actress Paulina Garcia and upon seeing the film it is obvious why, with Garcia delivering an extraordinary performance as the complex but consistently likeable Gloria. 

Gloria is depicted as an unpredictable and compulsive character whose desire to find love and companionship results in a constant struggle with an unreliable and fragile family and a similarly unpredictable lover in Rodolfo (perfectly played in a heartbreakingly comical fashion by Sergio Hernandez). 
However, lying within Gloria is a warmth and optimism for life that makes her impossible to dislike. All these qualities are wonderfully balanced in Garcia's fantastic performance, proving once and for all that older women deserve a larger spotlight in cinema and pe…

The Red Turtle

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[NOTE: I would highly recommend avoiding the trailer for this film, as it spoils far too much]

It spoke volumes when every single member of the audience I saw the Red Turtle with remained until the end of the credits. Such was the emotional power of this co-production between Wild Bunch and Studio Ghibli about a man who is shipwrecked on a desert island. 

It is a beautifully simple premise, stunning in its innocence while at the same time possessing a depth and weight that is rare in most films.

As expected from the much loved Studio Ghibli, the 
animation is simply stunning. It is somewhat of a departure from their traditional style, with the work of Michael Dudok de Wit as director producing a wonderful mesh of hand-drawn and CGI images that create a lush, mysterious island untouched by man. The film provides an often awe-inspiring study of nature and the bases of humanity, touching on a number of heavy subjects with a wonderful subtlety and innocence. 


It is a physical film that doesn&#…

Frantz

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Within Frantz, director Francois Ozon tells the story of Anna, a young German woman who has lost her fiance, Frantz Hoffmeister, to the First World War. Her grief and emptiness is touching to witness and is made even more powerful when we see the mourning of Frantz's parents, whom she lives with.
However, the appearance of a mysterious French man, who visits Frantz's grave and appears to mourn his death, raises the suspicions of Anna, who is curious as to his connection to her fiance. The man explains he had been a friend of Frantz's back in Paris and both Anna and the Hoffmeister's find some solace in his accounts of his time with Frantz. However, the cryptic man may not be telling the whole story.

The film is driven by two fantastic lead performances from Paula Beer as Anna and Pierre Niney as the Frenchman Adrien. They both deliver raw, emotional roles, with their grief over the loss of Frantz beautifully realised. The developing connection between the two, with a con…

Alien: Covenant

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The original Alien series combined horror, sci-fi and action to create some of the most memorable monsters in cinema history and a strong female lead in Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who kept the xenomorphs at bay often single handedly. Director Ridley Scott returned to the series in 2012 with Prometheus, which sought to establish a new storyline and proved incredibly polarizing for fans of the originals. Now we have Covenant, which attempts to blend together elements old and new to please everyone. It may sound risky, but Scott somehow pulls it off in a gory, thrilling fashion. 

Covenant sets out in similar fashion to the original. A group of scientists travel to a remote planet in hopes of discovering a new habitat. Sadly for them, things do not go to plan and they find that, rather than discovering a deserted paradise, life already exists on the planet in the form of the terrifying xenomorphs, who begin to infect the scientists. 

The difference here is that their ship carries thousands …

Funny Games (1997 + 2007)

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Veteran director Michael Haneke's 1997 French language film Funny Games is far more intelligent than it's concept suggests. A brutal, bare-bones story of an innocent family engaged in a series of cruel, sadistic games by two young men, it provides little respite from its utterly depressing tone and increasingly shocking imagery. While this may be enough to put off many from ever watching it, and it was understandably controversial on its release and still is today, those who stick around will find a smart commentary on modern day perceptions of violence along with a superbly tense script and masterfully orchestrated scenes that, under any one else, could easily have been diluted into a mundane horror mess.

The key component of Haneke's film is its ability to manipulate seemingly mundane, almost darkly comic situations into downright disturbing depictions of exploitation. The two young men, Peter (Frank Giering) and Paul (Arno Frisch), initially appear a little odd and unset…

Get Out

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This much hyped directorial debut from Jordan Peele is the perfect example of a multi-talented director. Previously co-creating and starring in arguably the greatest sketch show of all time Key and Peele, Peele shifts into a more serious mode with this gripping and wonderfully inventive race-based horror-thriller that could in fact be described as the first progressive horror film. 

The film follows young couple Chris and Rose as they embark on a weekend trip to visit Rose's family. Chris' uncertainty grows as the visit takes a number of disconcerting twists and turns, with his suspicion that his African-American ethnicity is the issue for Rose's parents. Daniel Kaluuya is great as the instantly likeable Chris and Allison Williams equally as charming as girlfriend Rose, with Kaluuya, previously impressing in the Black Mirror episode "Fifteen Million Merits," also an excellent fit for the horror aspect of the film, his reactions suitably amplified for maximum effec…

Quick Flick: Elle

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To even describe the basic premise of Elle is a struggle. Part serious rape drama, part gripping revenge thriller and part sharp comedy, this latest shocker from Paul Verhoeven refuses to be confined within one particular genre, making it one of the most fascinating and gripping films of the year.
Isabelle Huppert as Elle is the absolute center of the film, a commanding force whose sheer brutality and overwhelming power is both exciting and terrifying to witness. Her constant unpredictability makes her every move uncertain and ever more intriguing. By far one of the most powerful female roles in years, she suits the tone of Verhoeven's film perfectly, sashaying between razor-sharp wit and brutal sincerity without a moment's notice. No matter how seemingly confusing or intimidating her actions, she holds the screen like no other, the icy driving force of every scene.
It is no understatement to describe Elle as the epitome of dark humour. After all, it is very surprising to find y…

Seoul Station + Train to Busan Double Bill

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Yeon Sang-ho's double bill of undead drama is simply something else. Serving as two complementary films, both combine a number of powerful social messages with plenty of staggering action set pieces that appear to have few limits and set the films from apart from the normal run-of-the-mill genre schlock. 

Starting with the prequel, Seoul Station is an animated horror flick, a very rare concept in itself. Based around a simplistic tale of a troubled young couple split apart during a zombie outbreak, the animation is surprisingly effective, helped in no part by some excellent voice acting. 

While the film takes minimal effort establishing its central characters, its focus on the gradually evolving chaos of the city and the ignorance and confusion of the government makes for an intelligent little piece that, while a fitting precursor to Train to Busan, could easily be enjoyed on its own.

The main issue with Seoul Station is its often heavy-handed delivery of its social commentary (the f…