The Mercy – Film Review

This film is one of those where it’s a true story, but sort of unknown to the average person in the modern world.  I hadn’t heard of Donald Crowhurst and his tragedy until this film started.  It’s 1968 and amateur sailor Crowhurst (Colin Firth) has decided he’s going to compete in a sailing race around the world, and he means to do it all in record time.  His wife Clare Crowhurst (Rachel Weisz) can’t quite believe he’s going to do it, but then he actually sets off.  From the very start it’s clear how unprepared he is, and how tough the journey is going to be.

There’s a sense of hopelessness in this film, and a feeling of dread from the beginning.  It’s not a spoiler to say he dies out at sea, because one it’s a true story that has been told on screen many times, and two because the film presents it as a desperate effort all the way through.  Before he leaves as an audience member you are frustrated and worried, because you can tell that it is all going to go horribly wrong.  Crowhurst gets caught up in the pressure of going because of the money he has been given by sponsors, and all the media attention on him.  This creates an unsettling viewing, but one done well by director James Marsh (The Theory of Everything).  He manages to make it still interesting to watch whilst you feel like shouting at the screen “DON’T GO!”

There are some liberties taken to get to when Crowhurst actually leaves, so the building the boat and preparation is cut through quickly.  However this lack of depth is made up for later on the film through flashbacks that mostly work.  There are a couple that are a bit sappy, and cliché British but other than that the drama landed.  I really felt like even though Crowhurst made the wrong decisions, they were understandable.  And Colin Firth is great in the film.  He really captures the shift from optimism to despair in Crowhurst, and his physical anguish as the runtime progresses is also convincing.  Weisz is stoic and so there isn’t really a massive emotional release moment for her.  Her performance of trying to hold it all together adds another level of misery to the film.  And David Thewlis playing quite a sleazy guy is entertaining to watch.

MV5BMjQxMzg1MzY3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjk5NTAyOTE@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_

Overall I thought the film was good.  The directing was neat with some moments of beauty and they handled the story with care.  It has some big screen sensibilities and Marsh is obviously talented, however I wouldn’t recommend everyone go out and see it.  It is quite a desolate experience and it lacks an engaging, or exciting edge to make it something to shout about.  One thing I would say is that it has re-told a fascinating story to a new audience, and with great respect to the real people involved.

 

Is it worth the price of the cinema ticket?

Sure, but don’t expect to feel happy during it.

 

Black Panther – Film Review

The Marvel Universe is boring in my eyes.  It has never grabbed my attention like other franchises have, so I take each one as a standalone movie.  Last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok were actually decent efforts, because they were different to the usual superhero stuff.  The same can be said about Black Panther and in short it fits in as a top-tier comic-book movie.  It’s about T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) the new king of Wakanda – an isolated African country with hidden technological abilities.  He has problems to deal with, because as the world changes Wakanda may have to change with it.  The first problem being Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), an arms dealer who has been stealing Wakanda’s powerful energy source – the metal Vibranium.  As T’Challa tracks him down more is uncovered for him to deal with.

Let’s start off by saying that this film unfortunately suffers from the same problems that all superhero movies suffer from.  Such as an uninteresting opening action scene and an explosion filled climax.  These usual suspects took away from some of the originality of the runtime, but once you’re settled in it glosses over those annoyances.  It quickly becomes a film where you care about both the quieter moments and the action packed ones.  This is thanks to a terrific cast headed by Chadwick Boseman, who is a strong leading man.  Lupita Nyong’o is brilliant and in ways the more comic-like characters aren’t.  She’s skilled but has weaknesses that are evident, and I think Nyong’o carries this well.  Serkis, Martin Freeman and Danai Guirra are fun, and Daniel Kaluuya is an engaging screen presence.  Not to mention Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s sister Shuri, who basically steals every scene she’s in and is properly funny.  The only slight hitch in the acting is that at times Michael B. Jordan is overzealous in his delivery, especially as the film goes on.

null

Mostly the action is shot well, and you can definitely see a director behind this film (Ryan Coogler) unlike a lot of other superhero films.  He’s a good director (Fruitvale Station, Creed) and there’s some exciting choices made by him.  The scene in the casino then the car chase is really well made, and I found it pretty exhilarating.  Everything felt balanced – there wasn’t too much action, too much melodrama or too little of a character.  Sure some of the jokes don’t land, and yes there’s another hero complex thing going on again but what do you expect from a comic book adaptation.  It’s an ensemble piece that is really entertaining, and I like the fact that the violence had a bite to it.  There’s stabbing, heavy aggression and some blood, which gave it a nice edge.  The biggest compliment I can give the film is that I cared about the characters, all of them, and that rarely happens to me with other marvel attempts.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes – this is completely one of those where you can’t really go wrong spending the money to go see a film on the big screen.  Forget the politics behind it, and understand that the film itself is very good.  And the film world is that bit more diverse with its existence.

Phantom Thread – Health and Eating

This film is so perfect that I cannot review it.  It’s not possible for me, and like with last year’s Dunkirk, Blade Runner 2049 and Call Me by Your Name there’s a sense that’ll I’ll ruin the experience if I review it.  There’s more to the film then just if it’s good or not, if you should go see it or not.  You should definitely go and see it, even if it’s not the usual sort of film you’d go and see.  It’s worth every penny of your cinema ticket, trust me.  Paul Thomas Anderson is a genius auteur, and with Phantom Thread he’s hit it out of the park again.  The film is doing so many things that it’s really hard to comprehend it all.  It’s a dream-like parable, a character study on a creative obsessive, a romance, a ghost story, an abstract comedy and most of all a film about health and eating.

Read Mark Kermode’s review here for some context: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/feb/04/phantom-thread-review-paul-thomas-anderson-daniel-day-lewis

anigif_sub-buzz-31286-1508793630-3

My own obsession of nutrition and dieting stems from the Joe Rogan Experience.  This terrific podcast, hosted by comedian and UFC colour commentator Joe Rogan, often has health experts on as guests.  They come on to de-bunk myths about food groups, and discuss the better ways to fuel your life.  Rogan himself is a fitness fanatic, who mostly keeps a strict Ketogenic diet and has a constant exercise routine.  The Ketogenic diet is very popular right now, and consists of a low carb high fat intake, which leads the body to naturally burn energy.  Many, including Rogan, proclaim it has improved their life drastically.  They feel less tired, less anxious and sleep better – not to mention being much fitter.  And that’s what a lot of people don’t realise about what they are eating, and how much it affects them.  It may seem silly, but if you’re particularly down, you should try and change your diet for the better because it is massively important.  The changes you make should be the correct ones though, and not the ones cycled out falsely for years.  Sugar is the worst, and saturated fat isn’t all that terrible.  The food pyramid taught in schools has in some way ruined the lives of many people who believe the wrong thing about what’s good to eat.  It’s outstanding the amount of people slowly poisoning themselves by eating loads of bread and pasta – foods our bodies just aren’t built for digesting.  The point is that what we put in our bodies has a huge affect on us, and Phantom Thread features a lot of eating – something that I think is significant in the film…

 

Breakfast

phantom-thread-daniel-day-lewis

Some of the film’s most amusing scenes occur around the breakfast table.  Woodcock’s day is ruined if he is unsettled whilst having his breakfast.  This means no confrontation, no loud buttering of toast or any form of interruption as he works.  He requires his mind to be totally on his work, and is uninterested by anything else whilst he does it.  Breakfast being the most important meal of the day is a fallacy really, but for Woodcock it is crucial.  He needs a clear mind, and doesn’t have the time for the worries of the women in his life.  This is because his dressmaking is everything, and to battle his anxiety and grief over his mother he designs constantly. He can’t tackle it any other way.  Eating can be a cure for anxiety, and often if you feel anxious, you probably just have an empty stomach.  Anderson uses breakfast, and Woodcock’s attitude towards it to show how geared he is to always be creating.  It also highlights his distain and boredom for almost anything else.  The scene in the beginning of the film where his current companion is bothering him with an argument shows how no-one comes close to his mother, or his work.  When Alma comes into his life, she too is annoying at breakfast.  Yet there is a bite to Alma, and she’s not going to be dominated by Woodcock.

Eating breakfast is usually an inconvenience for Woodcock, and he gets up to do some work first.  It’s not that he just doesn’t have time for confrontation while he draws, and picks at eggs, he doesn’t have time for the luxury of it.  The intensity in his creativity is ever-present during these scenes, and Anderson uses them as a starting point to build this strange character.  It’s the foundations of his extraordinary nature of a loveless, deeply focused man.  There also comes moments of humour from these scenes, where Alma inadvertently strikes back at Woodcock by being more annoying.  Being irritated by people’s weird little habits is a human thing, and so in a minute way we sympathise with Woodcock.  Only till we realise that all he needs is a bit of time to relax.

 

Indulgence (I love this bit of gorgeous physicality from DDL in this shot…)

giphy

Every now and then Woodcock indulges to a great degree, and for particular reasons.  It comes when the anxiety has gone, and he feels brief moments of contentment.  For example early in the film when he meets Alma, and instantly has a connection with her, he is relaxed.  He’s in the country away from his work and he engages with someone who completely captures his attention.  And so he orders this extremely extravagant breakfast that seems to never end.  It’s interesting because often we indulge when we feel down, or are feeling lazy.  Woodcock indulges when he is on top of the world.  This is because he’s not fighting anything or chasing that desire to re-create the wedding dress he made for his mother.  He’s at ease, and so goes to the extreme when he’s eating.  There’s madness to this, because the meal he orders seems too big for anyone to eat.  Surely he would feel sick after all that food?  This indicates the dream-like nature of the film, and Anderson’s choice to use motifs to tell a story, rather than reality.

Woodcock only indulges on his own terms, and when Alma attempts to spoil him by evacuating the busy house and cooking him dinner – he’s not amused.  His controlling attitude and his need for everything to be precise come out in this part of the film.  It’s the first indicator of Alma losing faith in him and shows a broken dynamic between them.  There’s hopelessness to her admiration for him, and so it churns a cycle of events that lead her to take more drastic actions to get his full attention.

 

MAJOR SPOILERS…

 

Poison

4A6A8193.CR2

The third act revelation in this film is an interesting one, because it subverts our expectations to some degree.  Woodcock is built as the villain, and the one capable of malice.  Alma’s use of the poisonous mushroom to weaken Woodcock so that he becomes malleable and caring is not a plot twist but advancement in character.  It’s the use of a plot device to have character development instead of a narrative move.  Anderson uses as almost a point of romance, something the film is full of.  The outstanding soundtrack from Jonny Greenwood has lush romantic tones that sweep the film along.  And the relationship between Woodcock and Alma is gentle and loving at times.  The poisoning brings a new level of caring however, and removes the toxicity between them.  Woodcock’s health on the demise shadows thoughts about the care-system in general.  It’s the kind of thing where injured soldiers fall in love with their nurses.  Suddenly Alma is all he needs to survive.

Without our full health we become different people, and unable to fulfil our potential.  Woodcock’s revelation and subsequent submission indicates a massive change in his character.  Suddenly he is content, and changes his life to revolve around Alma, instead of the work.  This is because he has finally finished grieving for his mother and can move on.  He doesn’t have to seek perfection in his dresses, searching for the stitch that will bring the feeling of his mother back.  The right stitch has come in the form of this unbalanced and physically unhealthy relationship with Alma.  It’s a strange connection they have, but no doubt one full of actual love.

giphy (1)

This is a remarkable film.  It could be Anderson’s most accessible at the surface level, but still with a thick subtext.  Daniel Day-Lewis’ Woodcock is assured, though soft and idiosyncratic against Vicky Krieps’ insecure but charismatic Alma.  Their binding together is shown as a to and fro as they eat and live together.  Woodcock’s sister (Lesley Manville) intervenes, appearing to be the master of her own health and not the one bit unstable.  The instability creates the drama and the teetering edge that the film sits on.  At any moment the film could explode with anguish and take you away as the viewer.  In the end consumption and production drive the film, taking plenty of turns as it goes.  When something goes in, a change must occur, and I think Anderson stunningly shows that here.  There’s a mirror to the way the characters engulf and the way they act.  It works on every level, which creates a nuanced and utterly captivating experience.  There are layers, and what I’ve discussed is only one of them.  I cannot wait to see it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I, Tonya – Film Review

Figure skating isn’t really at the front of mainstream culture anymore, and so many will only know bits and pieces about Tonya Harding.  This film, directed by Craig Gillespie (Million Dollar Arm), is a biopic of sorts – charting Tonya’s journey to the top of the figure skating game and her fall from grace from it.  It involves her relationship with her mother (Allison Janney) and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) as they dip in and out of her life.  The film is told through re-enacted interviews played by the actors and is occasionally structured in a non-linear fashion.

One thing to instantly like about the film is its attitude towards true stories.  It quickly admits the fact that events change depending on who you speak to, thanks to foggy memories and selfish perspectives.  This means that often what the film shows may not be factual, but are truths of some sort – a theme the film delves more into at the very end.  I liked this, because it made the film more in touch with reality.  The film is also portrayed mostly in a farcical, comedic fashion, almost like a Scorsese picture.  Similar in the way that The Wolf of Wall Street poked fun at its outrageously true events, I, Tonya kept a mocking – mostly light tone throughout.  This worked because the narrative fitted, and even though the comedic elements didn’t always land, I think for the most part they felt suitable.

Margot Robbie is electrifying in this film and really drives it.  It’s a true performance, where she captures every element of the character.  She gets her like-ability, but also Harding’s tendency to be brash and aggressive.  I loved watching Robbie in this film, and honestly she’s my choice for the Oscar.  It was nice to see Sebastian Stan in a different role than his marvel universe turn, and he does well in a difficult screen presence.  Allison Janney is essentially a caricature of the horrid mother and she does this superbly.  There is no redemption for her character and Janney plays her disdain for her daughter with such evil eyed skill.  Also Paul Walter Hauser gets a mention as Shawn, Harding’s bodyguard, because he’s hilarious.

Margot-Robbie-I-Tonya-trailer-920x584

This film is very entertaining, and very well put-together.  The editor Tatiana S. Riegel masterfully crafts the fast moving plot-lines, to make them nuanced and inter-connected.  Its cuts back and forth between little moments seamlessly, which leads the film to be totally engrossing.  When the film ended I was upset that there wasn’t more, though it fulfilled everything it had to say.  This is one I’d recommend to anyone, and the odd problems it has (some of the skating scenes were shot better than others) are glossed over by a ridiculous story and a rousing central performance from Robbie.  Craig Gillespie is one to watch in the next few years.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes.

The Shape of Water – Film Review

This film has garnered the most nominations at this year’s Oscars, and it about deserves all the recognition.  Directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro it tells the tale of the mute Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) who is a cleaner at an Area – 51 style government research facility in a sub-realistic 1960s.  One day the scientists roll in a lizard like creature that Elisa quickly builds a bond with.  Learning that the creature may soon be destroyed by the scientists and US government goon Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), she decides to try and break it out.

Del Toro does a masterful job at presenting this idiosyncratic Hollywood world for his characters to live in.  It’s wonderfully shot and the set designs are gorgeous.  The colours and techniques del Toro uses are balanced well and it’s a real pleasure to be in the company of this film.  It also has one of the best ensemble performances I’ve ever seen.  Each character is given time and space to do interesting things.  Sally Hawkins it at the centre and does a good job at portraying emotion without speaking.  The supporting cast is where the film shines though with Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer and Michael Stuhlbarg all being terrific.  Shannon is of course perfect for the evil, creepy baddie willing to go to the extreme to get what he wants.  Spencer is a delight, doing the talking for Hawkins character – adding relief to the film.  Stuhlbarg is a bigger part than I was expecting, and he manages to capture the attention of a different story to the larger narrative.  Jenkins however, is the standout to me as the neighbour and side-kick to Hawkins’ character.  He’s charming, funny and heart-breaking as the ageing man looking back on his regrets and his melancholic loneliness.  It really was a joy watching these characters interact in the stunning world del Toro had built for them.

file-20180129-100896-7tork7

The film is a hard 15 certificate, meaning that del Toro pushes it about as far as it can go.  This is why he’s a great director, because he’s fearless.  There’s intense violence, and sexual scenes in the film that for the most part land well.  A couple of times I wondered if it was all necessary, but I’m grateful that they didn’t shy away from anything.  The biggest criticism that I can give the film is that it’s a little uninteresting.  It’s an already told story and there are better films out there about US race relations in the middle of the century, and about the cold war.  The relationship between the creature and Elisa is a bit mawkish at times, and I can tell I’ve got everything out of it after one viewing.  It’s not a great just yet, but it’s really well made and I wouldn’t mind it picking up a few academy awards.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes.

5 Reasons Why Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is Not a Good Film

Few things first – this film is not terrible, it has some great things about it and if you want to read my initial thoughts here’s my review: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/01/14/three-billboards-outside-ebbing-missouri-film-review/.  I’m not writing this to hate on the film, but rather to try and understand why I didn’t like it and so many others did.  Martin McDonagh is a good director and In Bruges is one of my favourite movies of all time so this is not an attempt to slate him or the cast involved, because they are clearly very talented. The film just didn’t click for me, and here are five reasons why…

 

  1. Comedy Set – Up

This is something I discussed in my short review, because it’s probably the thing that stands out the most.  I saw the film with a big crowd, so when everyone laughed it was loud in the cinema.  There was also the sheep affect where if one person laughs, everyone else does.  From the very beginning the film is set up as a comedy with its staging, writing and character design etc so the audience was instantly laughing.  This meant that when it got to a less funny moment they were still giggling, because the film had settled them in to that kind of movie.  Consequently I stopped caring about everything that was happening, because the situations were comedic rather than dramatic.  I don’t think it’s particularly groundbreaking to make light out of serious situations or make a film that is laugh out loud funny (this film often is) that touches on deeper themes – Mcdonagh did it perfectly with In Bruges.  This film doesn’t work like that, as the situations are too outrageously portrayed.  It is made like a comedy, therefore everything out of that genre didn’t land and overall made the film uninteresting.

 

  1. Sam Rockwell’s Character

Rockwell is one of the most underrated working actors, and has loads of great roles behind him.  He’s great in this film as the twisted cop Dixon, but the character isn’t.  Similar to my first point he’s set up as a joke, to a point where he’s almost a Blazing Saddles character.  In the first half of the movie he’s a complete spoof of a racist, stupid, violent police officer.  So why should I care? He’s not written as a real person, and only becomes intriguing in the second half of the film.

Three-Billboards-Outside-Ebbing-Missouri-8-Sam-Rockwell-and-Sandy-Martin

 

  1. Pointless Characters

This is the one that I find the most offensive, and it’s not really an offensive film.  It’s that the choices made by McDonagh on some of his characters are really strange.  Why is Willoughby’s (Woody Harrelson – the highlight of the movie) wife 20 years younger than him and Australian?  There seems no explanation to this in the film, and it adds nothing to Harrelson’s character.  Everything in a film has to be there for a reason, but there’s no reason to write her as that?  Maybe it’s a weird artistic choice or maybe it’s because filmmakers have this perverse problem of casting younger women to be wives of their male actors.  Another character that is pointless and just played to poke fun at is Mildred ex-husbands new girlfriend.  She is shown as a complete idiot, who has no function at all other than to say something daft for laughs.  Ha ha ha! Do you get it?  The husbands ran off with a younger better looking girl! But she’s fucking tool! Isn’t that hilarious?  They’ve simply aimed for the lowest common denominator here, and for me made a really ugly decision.  Why does she have to be really dumb?  Is the film not funny enough already?  They could have made her a normal human, the ex-husband character is a horrible person already – him having a girlfriend with no brain cells doesn’t make him any worse.  Just because you have a female lead, doesn’t mean you can disregard every other female character as a puppet.  Also Peter Dinklage is totally unutilised in the film, and references to his height became too frequent and dull.

 

  1. Boring Direction

This film has one great piece of direction in it, and that’s about it.  The rest of it is shot very ordinary, and at times is quite disjointed.  For dialogue he just cuts quickly between each character, making every conversation lose weight and not once did I feel McDonagh try to say something with his camera.  As well as this he occasionally makes weird jumps to action that leave you feeling a bit bemused.  There’s a bit with a knife that is so out of character and out of place that I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  It must have been another joke.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI

 

  1. The Deer

I despise it when a director has a random bit of CGI in to break the drama.  In one scene Frances McDormand talks to a deer (that looks like a cartoon) to tell her everything that she’s feeling.  AGAIN, did we need that? It pulls you completely out of the film, and it is so cringey.  After that I gave up on it all.

 

 

Like I said in my review if you go into this film thinking it as a strange comedy parable, you’ll probably enjoy it.  However the poor choices McDonagh made lead it to be nothing more than that.  It is not a good film.

The Commuter – Film Review

Liam Neeson is 65 years old.  Can you believe that?  And he’s still just about making action movies.  This one is a mix of thriller slash mystery slash punching people in the face and directed by Neeson’s most recent common collaborator Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop, Run all Night).  Neeson plays insurance salesman and ex-cop Michael MacCauley who commutes to work every day via a metro train.  On his way home from just being fired he is confronted by a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) who offers him a challenge for cash.  All he has to is find the person who doesn’t belong on the train, but soon it gets way more intense than that.

The first thing you will notice about the film is how dark it is visually.  It’s so dark that at times it’s hard to understand what’s going on and it’s a strange choice by the director.  The first half of the movie is set in the day, but looks as though they shot it at night.  Perhaps it’s to do with an attempt to hide the needed CGI in this film, because it only had a budget of $30 million.  Either way it distracted me throughout, and made most of the action scenes unclear.  The action is shot decently, if a bit messy, and there’s one particular moment involving a guitar that is actually pretty fun.  I wouldn’t say the action scenes are well choreographed or full of peril, but at times they were outlandishly entertaining.

Neeson is good enough at carrying the physicality of the film, however it’s clear how limited his abilities are now at his age.  He’s become an action icon in the last 10 years and that has diminished some of his acting talent.  In this film he’s given some shocking lines, and overall it makes his performance quite wooden.  Collet-Serra is obviously not an actor’s director because I felt that way about the rest of the cast.  There was no sense of space for them to do anything, which is a shame because it left the film empty.  And when the action isn’t really that compelling, it leaves the film nothing to really fall back on.  It tries to fall back on a convoluted plot that has too many moving parts.  The film really overcomplicates itself and with no real focus I found myself losing interest as it got towards the end.

There are moments of excitement and intrigue in this film, but once it got going I knew exactly what I was going to get out of it.  Which wasn’t much, because the film isn’t made with any grace.  The writing lacked any sort of style and seemed to constantly go for the common denominator.  It was enjoyable enough in the cinema, and honestly if they had turned the brightness up a bit I would have liked it a lot more.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

No.