Hereditary – Film Review

Boy was I excited to see this one.  Horror films are the greatest genre when done right, and this film has been praised almost across the board from critics.  The trailer was incredibly enticing, and I entered the cinema anxiously, worrying about how much the film would scare me.  How disappointed was I?

Toni Collette stars as Annie, a miniatures artist, whose mother has just passed away.  Her husband and two children (one a young teenager, one an old teenager) are dealing with the death in their own ways, however in their mourning something more sinister appears to be going on.

This is a classic case of great form not equating to a great film.  On a technical level this film is outstanding, with perfect cinematography, tight writing, and high class performances.  However the film struggles to find a hook or a point of interest by the time it’s done.  And this was properly disappointing because I got about two thirds of the way through and was thinking: this is good, but this is it isn’t it – nothing more is coming.  There was no ‘grab you by the throat’ plot point, and ultimately the film lacked meaning.

Focusing on the positives though, it is an expertly crafted couple of hours.  The film is beautifully shot, with Wes Anderson esque framing, and low key natural lighting.  It parallels stylistically between Annie’s miniature models and reality well, and the opening shot (an example of this) is sublime.  The acting is top draw – Collette is brutally engaging as a very emotive and often deranged mother.  There is a moment where she lists all the crazy things that have happened in her family, and is so captivating because of her delivery.  Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff are brilliant as the children; Wolff in particular is starting to impress me with his range of teenage sadness (Patriots Day).  I was also a fan of the quieter father role, played by Gabriel Byrne as he effectively becomes the only hero of the film.  These actors in the drama are what the film gets right, over the horror stuff.

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However not that all of the horror stuff doesn’t work.  In fact a lot of it is unnerving, and spooky.  One scene involving a séance was the only real scene that got me on edge, but overall the film made me uncomfortable (in a good way) throughout.  It was a little lacklustre at times that’s all, and even though the themes of the film work, (mental health issues passed down through a family like a curse), they could have been delivered with more vigour.  And they could have unpicked more things that they set up, because without spoiling anything, I got the feeling there is a much more interesting road this film could have gone down.  If you’re into slow burn horror movies, you’ll enjoy this, but you might not love it like some critics do.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes!

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Film Review

Something that Infinity War showed me was that a massive blockbuster franchise can be interesting, and can get me excited for what’s coming next.  I enjoyed The Last Jedi but it made me pretty much stop caring about what was coming next in the Star Wars universe – it made me stop caring.  There seems nowhere to go in the saga, and the spin-offs are looking backwards.  They are looking backwards at a character whose main attraction is their mystery, and seedy past.  Han Solo is one of the great movie characters, so why ruin it by explaining it all?  So it’s taken me a while to catch this, but now I have, not all of my worries came true.

One of the positives I’ve heard people say about this film is that it is fun, and I’d have to agree with that!  Yet it’s not out and out silly fun, and handles the tone well.  It’s fun where Rogue One sometimes wasn’t, and serious where sometimes The Last Jedi was too zany.  However I’m not going to only compare it to other Star Wars movies, because actually the film felt the most separate from the main saga – for the first time!  Even though it revolves around an iconic character of the franchise, the content was distant to the usual space opera affair.  It really does have a criminal and dirty aesthetic, away from the melodramatic Sci-Fi stuff which at times was bleak but I liked because it was consistent right the way through.  The film starts grey and ends grey.

All credit to Ron Howard for steering this ship into a more than competent directorial effort.  He was cited as a safe pair of hands, but the film actually has a lot of style.  The action sequences were exciting, cohesive and well put together.  I was a massive fan of how mechanical the film was; with everything having a meaning and a purpose.  Okay so the characters have got to get to a planet to get a thingy?  There’s a special route to the planet though, and we have to fix something so that we can carry the thingy.  This made the usual bore of the same plot more engaging, because it felt grounded in its problem solving.  It’s quite muted visually, which allowed the flair to come from the acting performances.  And I wasn’t expecting much.  Alden Ehrenreich was weird casting, but honestly I thought he nailed.  He’s given the odd bad line, and occasionally makes out of place decisions as Solo, however his imitation of Han is great.  Emilia Clarke on the other hand is a bit of a snooze, though her fraudulent acting doesn’t crumble the entire movie.  Paul Bettany is of course the best part of the film, with his villain being the perfect mix of polite and evil – he was probably more inspired as a baddie than Darth Vader to be honest.

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Not sure I could ask more than what the film gave me.  It’s the first modern Star Wars film that didn’t feel too long, and each set piece was a blast.  The range of minor characters were good company – Lando (Donald Glover) and Beckett (Woody Harrelson) both charming.  Unfortunately the film lacks any form of true empathy, and any emotion presented felt forced, with any quieter dialogue coming across as phony.  I’m still waiting for another “I love you.” “I know,” moment.   Despite this I’m thankful that the film didn’t bludgeon the Han Solo character, and worked as a snappy adventure film.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

I was planning on saying NO whether the film was good or not, simply because the only way to gear Disney into new characters and stories is if these back story films stop making money.

The Absent Female in Kramer vs Kramer

One thing that fascinates me about film watching is how our tastes change as we change.  The enjoyment of a film is based purely on your personality and life situation.  For example a friend recently told me he was really into old gangster films, so I asked if he meant like The Godfather (1972) and he said no, like Public Enemies (2009).  He said that he believed that it was the best gangster movie of all time, though I later found out he hadn’t even seen Goodfellas (1990) or any film of the genre before the year 2000.  However Public Enemies is the best gangster film for him because of his small research pool, and I would guess he probably wouldn’t enjoy a classic from the seventies.  The point being that what we like in a film is completely defined by who we are as a person, but also what we’ve seen in the past.  And then your tastes mature, because of the people you meet and the experiences you go through.  You ask me at sixteen whom my favourite director was and I would’ve probably said Quentin Tarrantino, in a typical teenage boy kind of way.  Go ahead four years and though his films are good, they can be slightly repugnant to me.  This is because I’ve changed, not necessarily in some gap year life affirming journey, but just in small ways.  Spending a lot of time with an intelligent and caring woman is a massive step to changing how you view films.  Suddenly those romantic films you adore seem silly because the girl you’re watching them with is telling you how inaccurate the portrayal is of the female in the relationship.  You start to notice where women are ignored or falsely portrayed for the sake of the director, because of this different perspective sat next to you.  Then your eyes are open, and they were firmly open to an absent character in the film Kramer vs Kramer (1979).

The film itself is great.  It is a simple concept (custody battle of the child of a divorced couple) told very gently, and it breezes by.  Dustin Hoffman (ugh) is fantastic as father Ted Kramer and gets wonderful treatment as a man creating a tight bond with his son, and understanding the perils of leaving your wife to become a bored housewife.  And the film pretty much focuses entirely on that – how Ted realises that he loves his son over his work and was negligent of his wife’s needs.  Yet we rarely see his wife’s point of view.  Joanna Kramer, played of course superbly by Meryl Streep, is absent for most of the movie after the first ten minutes.  She disappears and is shown to have abandoned her child.  Now she’s left for good reason, and that’s explicit, but the decision to keep her out of the frame and elevate this character arc from Ted is something I locked into.  It was under my nose because I’ve started to understand the role of the female in cinema more, because of my learning new values, following feminist writers on twitter and spending time with that female who has changed my life so much.  The idea is conceited yes, and I’m certainly no radical progressive or anything, but once you start looking for the disregarded female it’s hard not to see it.  So I’m sat there watching the film, wondering how harmful it actually is.  Yes the film ultimately has a positive message, and yes the idea is how Ted changes, not the dynamic of this new attempt at purpose from Joanna, however there’s part of me thinking the film could have benefited with more of her.  Not only thematically, but also stylistically.  The joys of the film come from Ted’s interaction with his son, any two shot of them is sublime, and Ted’s interaction with neighbour Margaret (who is also divorced).  Therefore a look at the other side with Joanna could have given the film something more?  Or perhaps it would have lessened the impact of the beautiful life transition Ted has.  There is a mark on the film, because the man wins whole heartedly, and the woman is shoved into the dark without a real chance to protest her point.  I’m not sure how big of a shame this is, because the film works, but it’s certainly a representation of how gender usually works in popular cinema.

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It is a classic film, and this criticism is probably a common one, considering it’s an Oscar winner that came out almost forty years ago.  I’m using it as an example to try and key into how I’m evolving as a person and how my film tastes are evolving.  At twenty I am always looking for a new film to get into my top ten, so that I can remove the stuff that’s been in there since I was that geeky teenage boy.  It’s cool to see how my attitude is changing, and all my favourite directors and critics are well over the age of thirty so I’ve got some way to go before I’ve reached their calibre of understanding what films really mean to me.

Love, Simon – Film Review

This film’s first trailer was appalling, and I had no desire of seeing it till a couple of weeks ago.  It’s had good things said about it, and the last trailer made it seem more appealing.  Basically it’s another teenage comedy of age movie, except here the main character Simon is gay, but hasn’t told anyone yet.  On his school’s blog that reveals ‘secrets’ about its students, an anonymous poster comes out to the world.  In an attempt to not feel so isolated Simon begins emailing this student, and suddenly his immediate life starts to change.

I think it’s important to note that this film is a proper middle to upper class painting.  The American class system is strange, but the film revolves around well off kids, whose main problems are trying to get into Ivy League schools.  Their parents are good looking, happy, liberal and successful who obviously love their kids more than anything else.  This is fine, just a little soul-sucking, because middling USA is so uninteresting.  Teenagers going to Starbucks, performing in a school play, and going to tedious parties is boring, so the films setting is a little dull.

What keeps the film from getting stuck in that setting is its main character.  Nick Robinson as Simon is great, and likeable.  He’s laid back, smart and believable.  Some of the decisions he makes to get the plot going in the middle are frustrating, and thin, but Robinson’s acting is good enough that you enjoy being in his company.  Other than that the adults are the best thing about the film, with Tony Hale and Natasha Rothwell as the teachers having the funniest moments.  Simon’s parents are also played well (Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel) and they steal the emotional scenes late on in the film.  The other kids are fine, but aren’t given anything interesting to do.

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At times the movie is fun, and moves along nicely, then all of a sudden there’s some bad dialogue that had me cringing.  This happened a lot, and has ruined any thoughts of me wanting to see it again.  The character Martin (Logan Miller) was actually intolerable, and the film sort of relies on his involvement, which is a shame.  Though despite this the film worked on an emotional level, where the message of the film lands.  It’s about a young man struggling to open up to massive part of his personality, and I think how even in a progressive society it’s still hard to come out and feel accepted by the people around you.  This is all dealt with well, and the dramatic scenes that come from it have some punch.  It is also directed with some style, having some terrific cinematography throughout.  So it is an okay film that is schmaltzy, sometimes excruciatingly cheesy and often bland but with enough sentiment to save it.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Sure, I wouldn’t be rushing out to see it though.

Ghost Stories – Film Review

I was pleasantly surprised to see that this film has a pretty big release.  A British horror, with a writer from Yorkshire, and produced by a company based in Sheffield.  It gives a different look to UK cinema on a mainstream scale, which is a good thing (probably).  The film stars Andy Nyman (who also writes and directs alongside Jeremy Dyson) as supernatural debunker Professor Phillip Goodman, who encounters three paranormal cases that may be unexplainable.  He goes through these ‘incidents’ and begins to unpick the people at the centre of them, however something is lurking on his own mind.

The way this is film is presented gives it a fluid, and loose feel.  At first it appears as a mockumentary, then it turns into a straight narrative, then soon it’s unclear who’s telling the story at all.  This worked because the film never got stuck into any of these zones, and it kept the film out of reality, which makes the supernatural elements more authentic.  These spooky events were spooky, thanks to the characters apart of them, and the way that they were shown.  Each case came with an interesting performance , the first being Paul Whitehouse as a sad working class man, then Alex Lawther as the misfit teenager, and finally Martin Freeman as the snobby high-flyer.  They all brought their own intrigue to the table, and were played superbly by the actors.  The ‘incidents’ themselves were bog-standard for a horror – some kind of attack in the dark that could possibly be put down as a mental break.  These scenes have their scary moments, but ultimately weren’t really terrifying.  They relied on quite a few jump scares, which are only annoying if that’s the only thing going on, and thankfully this film had a lot more going on.  It was the mystery of the situation, and the person, that made the cases engaging.

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As the movie proceeds, it gets more unhinged, and soon the intensity of the horror becomes something different.  This was an excellent progress of the narrative, and Andy Nyman in the central role guides this.  He’s good as the cynical psychic denier, who slowly questions himself as the film goes on.  It’s something we’ve seen before, but the payoff in this film was so satisfying for me, and it’s where the proper terror comes.  There’s a moment right at the end, where the film actually scared me, and it’s a piece of true horror.  I loved this, and enjoyed the film a great deal.  It’s well done, to a point where the narrative is perfectly paced, with a mix of credibility and mysticism.  The directing is great, from two first timers, with some brilliant lighting effects, and nice use of open cinematography.  If you are a horror fan, you can’t go wrong here, but more than that the film seemed to involve so much more than the poltergeist events, with lots of poignant subtleties (definitely a good thing).

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

YES!  This film ties in well with Journeyman (review here: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/04/04/journeyman-film-review/) because that too was a ‘Screen Yorkshire’ film that I described as possibly not the best cinema experience.  Ghost Stories is one hundred percent a top cinema experience, and a good representation for what you can do with a decent budget in the UK.

* also in the screening of this, I was sat next to three awful people who were talking and making noise all the way through it.  Almost to a point where the middle case was a slightly lacklustre because I was distracted.  This has made me want to see the film again, on my own.

Blockers – Film Review

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have a good track record as producers, and they’re the only pedigree that made me want to see Blockers.  A teen sex comedy, but with 40 year old wrestler John Cena as the lead didn’t particularly entice me.  Though after hearing some good things I decided to give it go.  At first it’s basically just Superbad, but with three girls trying to lose their virginity before they leave for college, instead of three guys.  However these three girls have protective parents (in their own particular ways) who are going try and stop this from happening.

Something to notice about most of the comedies Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are involved with, is that their heart is in the right place.  If you think about movies like The Night Before or Knocked Up, their emotional centres are good, and work in the narrative.  They are not total chaotic laughs, and usually have some form of family or friendship value to them.  This film is similar, where the love between the characters is present and it makes the film a pleasant viewing.  It’s hard not to keep a smile on your face, when it’s clear the parents love their kids, and the writings good enough that you believe all the friendships.  This comes directly from how well all the teenagers act.  Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon play the main three, and they have great chemistry.  Viswnathan is the best of them, and is charming throughout.

Unfortunately John Cena cannot act, however he is naturally funny.  And the film as a whole has a naturally funny feel.  Not all the jokes are original, smart or interesting but they come in as likeable.  It is a funny movie, and a couple of bits really got me going, from both situation and the actors.  Leslie Mann is hilarious in everything she is in, and had a fun connection with Cena.  The third parent Hunter, played by Ike Barinholtz, was actually a well rounded, engaging character who was also funny from his way of being.  I think this way of being comes from the writing, so props to Brian and Jim Kehoe, because the characters were humorous in different ways.

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Kay Cannon makes her directorial debut here, and it’s nice to have a female director with this kind of film, because we get a new perspective on the mainstream comedy (less masculine nonsense).  The directing in the end isn’t massively impressive, though the film does not look bad, and is never boring.  It did become that gross-out thing that I don’t enjoy, where Cena is put through something I wish on no-one – a scene that is dragged on for too long.  Most of the runtime is pretty funny though, and it’s a comedy so what more do you want.  It’s also just a nice film, about nice people doing stupid things, and I’m glad films like this are popular.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes!

A Quiet Place – Film Review

Some people may not be aware that John Krasinski has already directed two films, including a David Foster Wallace adaptation.  They weren’t successful, but with his third feature he seems to have found the right formula.  He stars alongside his wife Emily Blunt in this film, playing parents of three young children in a post apocalyptic world.  The rest of the human population has been pretty much wiped out by mysterious creatures that hunt down anything that makes a sound.  To survive the family has to stay absolutely silent in everything that they do: no talking, no quick movements, and certainly no loud toys.

This film is begging to be seen by an audience, and is a fantastic effort from John Krasinski.  He manages to demand silence from the audience, because the point of the movie: BEING QUIET is so well established.  Within the first few minutes you are aware of how the characters are forced to live, and the consequences if they fail in their routine.  This silence focuses your attention on the characters, and for 90 minutes you are in tune with the drama.  The building tension and fear of any sound means that the explosive parts of the movie have an incredible impact.  It is really exhilarating when the film picks up that pace, because you are on edge waiting for something to explode.  The quietness also brings your attention to the acting, where the lead pair are terrific.  Emily Blunt is the warm, loving mother who desperately loves her husband and Krasinski is the seemingly cold, protective father.  Krasinki’s character is one of the most interesting I’ve seen this year, because you can sense that the children fear him, but rely on him.  He’s tough, and just through Krasinki’s facial expressions you can see his utter determination to keep his family safe.

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The child actors do a decent job.  Sometimes they are not totally convincing and Millicent Simmonds as only daughter Regan did have the tendency to be a bit annoying.  Though the films pacing and execution meant the film didn’t dwell on the common downfalls of child actors and characters.  Krasinski and his fellow writers (Bryan Woods and Scott Beck) effectively create a series of plot devices.  This often doesn’t work but in this film they felt necessary, and it was solid world building.  Everything happened for a reason, and every step was calculated, which made the film satisfying.  It’s a mysterious thriller slash horror with plenty of answers for its questions.  And it’s directed well.  The film is nice looking, and everything in the narrative appeared at the right time.  In the middle of the film there is a firework scene that, cliché coming, took my breath away.  Does the film get a little too schmaltzy towards the end? Yes but overall it is straight to the edge thriller, that works to be exciting, sentimental and at times quite scary, with moments of fun exploitation cinema.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes!