Us – Is Being Less Scary, and More Funny, a Bad Thing?

The short answer is no, of course not, and the short take on Us is that it is great – an accomplished piece of work and a crowd pleaser. Jordan Peele has proven himself to be a skilled director, but the man just can’t help but be funny. He’s got joke blood running through his veins, that is transforming into his screenplays, except that Us is certainly funnier than Get Out, so it must be a conscious decision on some level. The real question is how detrimental is this to the drama, or the emotional engagement of the film.

Lupita Nyong’o stars as Adelaide Wilson, a member of constantly bickering but functional family, and someone burdened with childhood drama. She’s married to Gabe, the walking talking version of a dad joke, and is the mother of two idiosyncratic children. Whilst returning to the location where her trauma took place, she begins to relive her troubles, until her worst nightmare comes true when a doppelganger family appears to torment them.

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The film on a base level is terrific. It is a well-made, well-performed addition to the horror cannon and thoroughly entertaining. From the outset Peele replicates the energy from Get Out with fluid and rhythmic filmmaking, there is even a moment where Adelaide shows her son how to get in beat with a song, and as an audience you match that too. The film takes its time to get to the crux of the story, but it is not a slow build, thanks to some clever writing and interesting shot choices – Peele is putting things into place for later, such as Adelaide switching on the lights to cut to the room being flipped around. And when the plot gets going, we have spent enough time with the main family to care when their lives are in danger. The relationship dynamic between Adelaide and Gabe is a strange one, however possibly explainable. Gabe is wonderfully played by Winston Duke, and making his third only big-screen appearance he is the perfect nerdy dad. He’s cringe-worthy to his children, annoying to his wife, but likeable and endearing. His character as a whole though is basically a joke and around for much of the humour, even poking fun at Adelaide when she explains her trauma to him. They seem like a mismatched couple, because Adelaide is cool and reserved, while Gabe is a massive dork, and I know – opposite’s attract right? I was just thinking why on earth she would go for this guy. An answer could be that her lack of social skills goes well with is outgoing, loser attitude, but I think it’s valid to wonder if the intensity of the film is blunter because of their lack of a connection.
What the film manages to do is dodge the Gabe character being pointless, by making him genuinely hilarious. I’ve tried to tackle comedy before, and it’s tough, because how do you describe funny? Duke’s timing works, Peele’s a comic genius, and above all else people that are likeable and silly are funny. There you go. He’s not the only source of humour though, there are plenty of physical and musical gags as well, and these moments got the whole cinema laughing, so much so that there was an overlap to where they were still giggling when something more horror-fuelled was going on. Is that a bad thing? If you would have asked me that question after I saw Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri, I would have said yes, totally the jokes take away from the emotion of that film. However with Us I didn’t feel that way at all, and I know why, it’s because of how funny the comedy is, and the competence of the directing. I don’t want to dog on Three Billboards too much, I’ve done that several times before, but the directing in that film is dull, and Peele’s directing in Us is precise and interesting. Even something as simple as the family walking to the beach was shot with style, choosing to take the camera in a god’s eye view position. The film is lit superbly, with the night time horror scenes not being so dark that we couldn’t get a good look at the action, and the editing really astounded me – the climactic fight was remarkable in the way that it was cut together. So my take is that when you have such expert film-making on the go, you can blend humour, and horror, and drama altogether, you’ve earned the right to do so. And when you have an actor at the top of the game like Elizabeth Moss in there as well, you’re really onto a winner.

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I think that overall the film is an entertaining thriller that has contradicted some of my criticism that you can’t put comedy and character drama together. The film doesn’t have any real scares, and it’s exciting rather than spooky, also Peele was skimping a bit on the gore. It’s gruesome enough but a couple of times he shied away from the violence, and it didn’t add anything, which made my sick side wish that I got to see the throat being cut open. I don’t come from a position where I can accurately pick apart the films underlying race themes, or its attempt to present the United States as a whole. What I can say is that the way it presented trauma through the Adelaide character worked for me, thanks to a pretty amazing performance from Lupita Nyong’o. She is a screen grabbing actor, almost ethereal and mystifying, in both of the roles she is playing in this film. Peele hasn’t created a ground-breaking movie that perhaps he did with Get Out, because everything is a little vague and the plot runs away with itself at the end. Get Out was more purposeful and despite my enjoyment of Us, some of the horrors were lost at the expense of humour, but the impression I got is that Peele was going for that. Instead of something profound he’s gone for something more genre specific, and punched himself into horror history.

Under The Silver Lake – Film Review

If there was a single, simple question that has been asked on this blog, it would probably be: how do people differently read movies? I have written several times before about how an individual’s enjoyment of a film is dictated by their own experiences, or what they had to eat on the morning they went to the cinema.  Mark Kermode is a legend of film criticism, and even though his views are becoming old, he is still of significant importance in the movie discourse in Britain.  I am writing this review as almost a reaction to his BBC Radio 5 Live one, which you can watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pcl3GAOyJSk

Under The Silver Lake is the third feature from American director David Robert Mitchell, his previous being It Follows (2014), a highly acclaimed pseudo-horror movie that earned him a bigger budget this time, and the ability to attract big star Andrew Garfield.  He stars as layabout Sam, who is first introduced as a peeping tom, spying on his attractive new neighbour (Riley Keough).  Inexplicably (though a key thing to remember is how good looking Garfield is), they quickly start a relationship, but she disappears the day after, which causes Sam to search for her, almost in sexual frustration at first.  The more he looks around, the more he gets lost in a strange series of events in the underbelly of Los Angeles.  And if you haven’t seen the film, trust me, you don’t want to know any more than that.

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To put it crudely, much as the film does, there are two lanes that you can go down with this one.  One takes the Mark Kermode road where the film is utter sexist nonsense, and the other takes you on a road of weird sub-reality paranoia.  I took the second road, and with trepidation, as the film takes a little while to settle you in because some of it is properly bonkers.  In an early scene Sam is confronted by a dead rodent that seems to be trying to communicate with him, and from there I was asking myself, how much of this is actually grounded in reality?  There are definite dream sequences, where Mitchell flexes his horror muscles, and it’s unclear when these sequences end.  It would be wrong to say that the entirety of the film is fantasy, because it’s more dreamlike filmmaking, in the same vein of a David Lynch production, and the Lynchian references are frequent.  Often the film has call-backs to Lynch’s style, and themes, in a kind of a mix between Blue Velvet (1986) (Sam’s wandering suburban investigating) and Mulholland Drive (2001) (the false hopes of an eerie Hollywood setting).  Patrick Fischler even makes an appearance as a complete crackpot, his eyes the same wideness they are in the diner scene from Mulholland Drive.  Lynch is not the only reference Mitchell uses, the film is cluttered with pop culture, and technically the film resembles a Hitchcock piece, we’re talking Vertigo car follows and Rear Window long shots, and the female characters have the overtly sexual, mostly blonde look from Hitchcock movies as well.

The women in the film have been a talking point because they are solely presented as objects of desire, ignorant and all willing to have sex with Sam.  However the world is viewed through the eyes of Sam, who is a leering, undesirable pervert, and Garfield plays that well – his dorky run in particular is hilarious.  The only issue that comes with this, is that Garfield is a handsome chap, and has a good physique that can’t be hidden, despite their attempts to give him a bit of beer belly.  For the most part, this doesn’t deter from the female characters being projections by Sam, we see the film through his eyes, not the directors and it’s clear from the outset that he’s not a good guy.  An unsympathetic protagonist is totally captivating to me, and I think it would be easy to dismiss the film because it is not straight down the line with its political standpoint.  A lot of the film is played for laughs, and though the screen I saw it in stayed pretty quiet, there are plenty of moments when I was thinking, should I be laughing at this?  Mitchell is unapologetic and self-referential, with the autobiographic nature of the film painted right there for you to see, so the increasing ridiculousness of the story turns somewhat endearing.  Sam’s postmodern poking at the culture beast, finding meaning in randomness, going on a never-ending adventure into the Illuminati void is both sickening, and understandable, Mitchell mocking this pursuit whilst creating an absurd romanticism around it.

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Subtleness is tossed out of the window here, and the film is obvious and open in its message, or the distraction of the message.  Much of the plot is delivered aggressively through Sam talking to himself, or news programmes on the TV in the background, and this can be off-putting.  You just have to go with it, and take the road that Mark Kermode avoided, understand that the film is about Sam’s inadequacies and the fallacies of conspiracy hunting, mainstream media shunning and boredom of the modern white man.  Is it toxic masculinity, white privilege or the capabilities of an intelligent loser with a lot of time on his hands?  Or all three?  What it certainly isn’t, is boring.  David Jenkins, the editor of Little White Lies, wrote in his review that as much as you might be outraged by the film, you can’t help but admire Mitchell’s ability to get this story funded, and have the bravery to go through with complete conviction in his vision, and I agree with that.  As a film lover, you must be happy for this film’s existence, where we live in a cycle of dull Hollywood biopics, endless superhero movies, and remakes, Mitchell has created something that is reflective of RIGHT NOW, as putrid as that is.  And whilst I’m trying not to spoil anything, my instant take away is that for the majority of the 139 minute runtime, Sam might just be masturbating, deluded in his quest to save womankind from the patriarchal movie industry, worried about being forgotten in a new ambivalent, melancholic and distant society that is STILL obsessed with pop music and being the brightest star in the room.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes, but go in as blind as you can, and enjoy the ride without other thinking it too much.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @insiderobbie

If Beale Street Could Talk – Methodical and Melancholic

In an interview for Little White Lies, film-maker Barry Jenkins said that in his early 20’s an ex-girlfriend gave him Giovanni’s Room (1956) to read after they broke up, as she hoped it would help him to mature as a person. I saw this, and ordered the acclaimed novel of Amazon straight away, not really in an attempt to grow up (though perhaps I need it), but more as an attempt to match my intake of art with one of the great working artists. For those that don’t know, Giovanni’s Room is a novel written by James Baldwin about a man living in Paris, who has an incredibly sensual affair with a barman called Giovanni whilst he is waiting for his girlfriend to return from Spain. The book covers the burning passion of the encounters, and the subsequent guilt afterwards, along with the trials of the heart the characters put upon each-other. It is a remarkable experience to read Giovanni’s Room, and at 150 pages long, it only takes a few sittings to get through it, however the journey is so exquisite that you wish that it was longer. Like any piece of fiction that touches on love, I was entranced by it, holding onto every word, every sentence and every segment of dialogue. It is beautiful literature, that works as a narrator recollecting memories, reaching for emotions over specific events, and Barry Jenkins reproduces this style in If Beale Street Could Talk. The film is an adaptation of one of Baldwin’s later works, that I haven’t read yet (it’s in the post), however you can see Baldwin’s prose breathing through Jenkins’ directing.

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Barry Jenkins’ previous film Moonlight (2016) won ‘best picture’ at the Oscars, so you could say there was a fair deal of pressure on him for his next attempt, especially since many critics have cited that film as a masterpiece. Moonlight is an art-house film, that I enjoyed but didn’t love, because I think that it has more flaws than people care to point out, however I appreciate its importance and its technical mastery. Beale Street is a triumph, and a true adaptation of the feelings that Baldwin evokes in his writing, with my main point being that Jenkins has transformed a novel to a film, and not simply wrote a movie script from a book that he’s a fan of. It’s essentially a love story, about two young people who have grown up in the same neighbourhood together – Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James). They are torn apart when Fonny is falsely accused of rape, and sent to jail, only learning that Tish is pregnant with his child once he is inside. Jenkins weaves the plot around this event, by showing the relationship beforehand and the attempts after by Tish’s family to free Fonny by clearing his name. The film has a rhythmic and lyrical sensibility to it, where scenes flow together smoothly, with the camera moving like a floating poltergeist watching down on their surviving family. It is soft and florid at times, creating a weightless and dreamy look to the flashback scenes of Tish and Fonny, but that doesn’t mean it is not vibrant, or lifeless. The colours are warm and hue-y, with Jenkins pushing in and out from the characters as though we are focusing in on their thoughts. A stunning score by Nicholas Britell is placed over the top of all this, and the music is where the film begins to strangle you, leading you to be lost in the world of the film. The track titled ‘Agape’ is the one that will break you. This melancholia is constantly present in Baldwin’s writing, as is an honest respect for romance, and lust, which Jenkins threads throughout the runtime.

Jenkins has made few films, and people have only been properly aware of him since Moonlight, but he already has his own style and signature moves. The most obvious example of this would be the way that he makes his actors stare directly at the camera, but much has been wrote about that, by far more qualified people than me. What I enjoy about his film-making, is his compassion and his lack of cynicism when it comes to romantic and poetic moments. He treats these moments with a tactile advance, and in Beale Street, you can’t help feel full of love and joy during these scenes. Whether its Tish’s sister telling her to un-bow her head, or a wonderful scene between Fonny and his old friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry), where Daniel tells him of the trouble he faced in prison. It’s a great scene not only because of the content of the discussion, but Jenkins positions it perfectly, where the camera slowly drifts from Fonny to Daniel as they speak and the performances the two actors give are completely captivating. The sex scene is endearing, where Jenkins elongates the build up in silence, until Fonny reminds her that she is safe, and that he would never hurt her. Jenkins fills the screen with their bodies, and we can see the sweat pouring off them, as they tentatively come closer together, framing them with no perversion, relying on their acute chemistry. Baldwin’s sex in Giovanni’s Room is much of the same, where it is formulaic to a point of mechanical physical contact, and people are attracted to one another so they do something about it, in an essence of sweetness and raw human nature.

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Another aspect of Baldwin’s writing that Jenkins manages to capture is the story playing out like the narrator is recollecting memories. Tish is guiding us through the events with her voice, remembering details of how she feels physically, staying distant from what is actually happening. This makes the experience emotionally investing, because you are keying in and out of moments as Tish remembers them. Jenkins structures the film very precisely, where the time frame is very loose, cutting back and forth between before Fonny was imprisoned, to after, whilst making it unclear and unimportant how much time has passed. The film has an easy pace at the beginning, then suddenly we are introduced to the crux of the story (Fonny being falsely accused of rape), where the pace becomes quicker and sharper, and then Jenkins mixes the plot engrossment with more abstract notes of cinematography. It is less kinetic and more large brush strokes crossing across several canvases. The end painting is a lush one where the melancholia is obvious, yet it is the methodical way in which Jenkins situates the scenes of the film that make it powerful. It’s an editing feat by Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders, where they allow Jenkins to pragmatically flick back and forth through the story, to envision a climatic message that you’ve been lost in for two hours. More directly, the film is that gorgeous balance between wandering artistry and scientific story-telling, similar to how Fonny feels about his own work – he is an artisan, not an artist.

This isn’t a review of the film, but I haven’t even mentioned how alive the performances are, from all the cast. Many have pointed out Regina King’s matriarchal force, but I would look to the two leads, and Kiki Layne as Tish in particular because she is the real soul of the movie. Basically I was in love with this film as soon as it begun, and in awe, but also sadness by the end. It is ultimately a heartbreaking tale of systematic and societal racism crushing down on an innocent and affectionate relationship, and by staying close to a love story, Jenkins is uncovering more wider issues, something that James Baldwin did all the way through his career. He was a key cultural civil rights activist, something that Jenkins claims not to be, but of course he is inadvertently achieving that anyway through mirroring Baldwin’s behaviour. I don’t know why love and romance affects me so much, but Giovanni’s Room got me, as did If Beale Street Could Talk, and as have countless other tales of amorous sentiment.

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People can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.” – James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room.

 

GO AND WATCH THIS FILM. IT IS BETTER THAN ANYTHING YOU WOULD OTHERWISE SEE.

The Favourite – Film Review

Yorgos Lanthimos is a unique film-maker, with a unique style that is sometimes tricky to get on with. His characters usually have a strange, disconnected dialogue, and they are alienated from any kind of real world, which means that they all seem like the same person. The experience is one of mild amusement, that is boosted by Yorgos’ fantastic eye for detail, and composition, however his films always feel as though they are missing something. I think he has discovered that something with The Favourite.

Set in early 18th century England, a weak Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) lays in bed, whilst members of parliament come and go to advise her on the war against France. Sometimes when they visit, she is too frail to see them, so her close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) governs in her place. Sarah has to deal with the bickering between the Prime Minister Godolphin (James Smith) and leader of the opposition Harley (Nicholas Hoult). Quickly we see Sarah’s resilience and strength against them, with Weisz fierce biting tone. During these discussions on which tax to raise so that they can afford to keep fighting against the French, a new servant arrives – a young woman who has ‘fallen from grace’ after her father went mad, and burnt down their manor with his family still in it. Abigail (Emma Stone) rises through the ranks, and soon is promoted form servant to Sarah’s maid, where she can begin to closely interact with the Queen. They build a relationship that is different to the one Anne has with Sarah, and so jealously, and scheming starts to strife between the three of them.

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The triangle is where the film is, and where Yorgos’ comes alive as a film-maker. He has loosened his grip on his style to allow the characters and actors to breathe. Each of them feels alive with their own strengths, weakness, desires and needs. Lady Sarah is controlling, and sharp – she understands the needs of the country, whilst worrying about her own husband (Mark Gatiss) going to war. Her relationship with Anne is loving, and their history is clear, but Sarah is often cruel to the Queen, being the only one not scared to put her down. Anne doesn’t need putting down any further, as she has an eating disorder, stuffing her face when she’s sad, and she’s in constant pain thanks to a serious gout infection. She relies on Sarah, but gets upset when Sarah is mean to her, consequently Abigail is a breath of fresh air for the Queen, and tells her exactly what she wants to hear, that she is still beautiful and respected. Stone’s character is someone who has had to learn how to survive, and there is an unmatched tenacious, persistent attitude to her. The way the three actors play them is superb, and their chemistries are strong but different. Colman and Stone coming together is about excitement, and fun, where Weisz coming together with Anne is about affection, and honesty. Yorgos frames them without showing off, and allows them to move, and act. He lets them act! Colman’s performance at first is almost a Sophie from Peep Show level of absolute disgust, then we learn that there is a deep sadness to her, and a particular scene with her and Stone in the middle of the film is totally heartbreaking. Weisz is tougher, and scarier, especially late on where her physical appearance changes, and her aggressiveness is personified. The standout is Stone, because she goes through so many different levels of emotion, and it’s not fully transparent how much of her is simple manipulation to get what she wants. She is transfixing when she is on the screen.

All of that lovely character stuff aside, the film is of course very funny. Yorgos has never had any trouble with humour, his 2015 film The Lobster wins you over because of the strange laughs. In this film, the script has more heart to it, and thus the humour is more joyous, and quotable. There is a scene where young suitor Masham (Joe Alwyn) is chasing Abigail around a woods, that is genuinely hilarious, but there are little lines throughout that will get you. A lot of this comes from the male characters in the film, because they are quite farcical. Nicholas Hoult is terrific as a golden scumbag, James Smith as the Prime Minister who is obsessed with his racing duck is amazing, if you are a fan of his portrayal of Glenn Cullen in the BBC comedy The Thick of It (his character in the film is great any way), and any Joe Alwyn – Emma Stone interaction was loads of fun.

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The film in the end becomes less of a silly period comedy, and more compelling as view of where the characters are situated, sort of in the air of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975) . There is a certain change in the scenery, and set up of power around the Queen by the final scene, and the gear down to this in the penultimate moments is completely engrossing. Even in the very last shot, where Yorgos is suddenly portraying a different message to the one pushed during the majority of the film, it is still very moving. The balance of comedy and drama is the line to sell when describing the success of the film, and you can’t argue with that. This is an accomplished piece of work, that will reap the rewards of time and repeat viewings.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes! The film is split into sections, or chapters and it is worth going to see just for the one titled ‘What an outfit!’

My Top Ten Films of 2018

Here we go again.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading other peoples (real actual critics) top tens of the year, and I finally feel ready to do mine.  It’s depressing to think that I’ve seen 70 films that have come out this year (in the UK), and I paid to see every single one of them (cinema or streaming).  Personally, I think it’s been a great year for film, especially for UK releases, because there’s films like The Shape of Water and Coco that haven’t even made the top 20.  Now, like with all these lists, you have to take them with a pinch of salt.  It is not a definite top ten best films of 2018 list, not at all, and is simply my favourite ten as of right now.  The chances of it changing, as I watch things for a second time, is very high, but the list is still fun to do anyway.  And it’s a chance for you to get some recommendations…

 

10.  Avengers: Infinity War

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I’m not a huge fan of superhero movies, and I’m really passive on the whole Marvel story.  Going into the cinema, I hadn’t seen the trailer, and I was expecting to not enjoy it.  Then it blew me away, because it’s a phenomenal movie.  The action is ingeniously put together, the plot is exciting and daring, and it has a good bad guy.  All of this is executed well, and it hits the perfect superhero formula.  Okay, on second viewings, some of it is contrived and Mark Ruffalo looks like he doesn’t want to be there, but it is still a thoroughly exciting film, and one that will be remembered as a blockbuster classic in the future.

 

9.  Shoplifters

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Hirokazu Kore-eda is a Japanese director who I need to catch up on, because this film is superb.   The connection with the characters is strong throughout the film, and there is a beautiful sentiment in their relationships with each other.  This endearing movie about a disjointed family, will totally reel you in, then break you heart.

 

8.  Isle of Dogs

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This film is stunning, and I’m worried it’s going to get forgotten because of the plethora of great films this year, and due to the silly cultural appropriation/racism claims.  It’s a love letter to Japanese culture, and a truly joyous experience.  Wes Anderson is a master of animation directing, and the artistry of this film is remarkable.  Full review here: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/02/23/isle-of-dogs-film-review/

 

7.  First Man

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I’m a Damien Chazelle fanboy, so I definitely enjoyed this film more than the majority of critics.  The premise that the only way an emotionally isolated man can get over a trauma is by literally leaving the planet is expertly presented, being both hopeful and melancholic.  The music is astounding, and Gosling’s performance worked with the character.  His distance and shallowness is the point! Claire Foy is also terrific.

 

6.  Cold War

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I only saw this film recently, and its beauty crept up on me. I would describe the film as totally European, in its form and its content.  The love story is incredibly passionate, volatile and believable.  At first I thought it was just going to be another romance between an old guy and a young girl, then the story develops and takes unexpected turns.  The cinematography is measured and gorgeous as well.

 

5.  Phantom Thread

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What more can I say about this?  It is a perfect movie, from Paul Thomas Anderson, who is the greatest director working.  It features a triumphant final performance from legendary Daniel Day Lewis, who is fiercely matched with newcomer Vicky Krieps in a romantic and sadistic tale.  I wrote about the film’s themes of health and eating here:  https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/02/13/phantom-thread-health-and-eating/

 

4.  First Reformed

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This is an emotionally complex, and theologically deep film.  Ethan Hawke give his best performance (and the best performance of the year) to convey such astounding drama.  Its message is poignant and for me this is a must watch for EVERYONE.  I wrote about faith and silliness in the film here: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/07/24/first-reformed-religion-faith-and-silliness/

 

3.  The Old Man & The Gun

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Most of this list is intense dramas, and masterclasses in thematic story telling.  This is different, this is a delightful film about touching characters, and subtle moments of human happiness.  Robert Redford and Casey Affleck are splendid in a simple film, without pointless conflict, and I adored it as soon as it begun.  I wrote about how much it affected me here: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/12/15/the-old-man-and-the-gun-roma-smiling-through-tears/

 

2.  Roma

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Alfonso Cuaron is another master, and this could be a masterpiece.  His use of the frame is mesmerising, where there is a never-ending depth of field.  It’s so rich with life, and has moments of actual amazement.  I wrote about how much it affected me here: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2018/12/15/the-old-man-and-the-gun-roma-smiling-through-tears/

 

1.  McQueen

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I have never had a cinematic experience like this.  I was wrecked by this unbelievable documentary.  Being ignorant to the work of Alexander McQueen, seeing his brilliance inspired me.  The filmmakers choices of how to present his life were impact full, and it’s the most exciting film of the year, with it’s unmatched energy from scene to scene.  It’s a travesty that this hasn’t even been shortlisted for best documentary at the Oscars.

 

… here are 11-20:

11.  Wildlife

12.  You Were Never Really Here

13.  The Wife

14.  Ghost Stories

15.  I, Tonya

16.  A Star is Born

17.  A Quiet Place

18.  Hostiles

19.  Annihilation

20.  Lady Bird

 

… and here’s 66 -70 (the bottom five):

 

66.  Mary Magdalene

67.  All the Money in the World

68.  The Commuter

69.  The Cloverfield Paradox

70.  The Predator

 

🙂  my twitter: @insiderobbie

The Old Man and The Gun & Roma – Smiling Through Tears

Sometimes you fall in love with a film so much, that you simply want to say thank you to the film-makers. Thank you David Lowery, and thank you Alfonso Cuaron, you are two of my favourite directors working and your efforts this year are beautiful. I have been seduced by their latest films The Old Man and The Gun and Roma, swept off my feet, blushing red in my cheeks as I accept their proposal. It’s a proposal to feel something, two very different, but often similar feelings. Lowery with pure happiness and Cuaron with pure despair. Films are my passion because they effect me in a profound way, and perhaps it’s because I can’t get a grasp on true reality, as I’m always the weakest in the cinema, or in the case of Roma, the weakest in my bedroom. I cry at any slight emotion in a moving image, and when a film reaches peak form, my body shudders. I’m touched like an ecstasy high, near death, new years kiss force of nature, and I’m thankful to the film-makers for when that happens.

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If you are not familiar with David Lowery, you will be soon. He’s only 37 and got a few lovely films behind him, including one transcendent experience: A Ghost Story. A film about loss, grief, relationships and death, it’s a haunting piece of work, where it takes only a still from the movie to shatter me. This is where Lowery reached peak artistry, and so will forever be a great auteur in my eyes, but his latest film has touched a new nerve. The Old Man and The Gun stars Robert Redford, in reportedly his final film, as career criminal Forrest Tucker – a man who can’t help but rob banks, where ‘it’s not making a living, it’s just living’. He does it in the most charming way, where he dresses smart, walks casually up to the teller, smiles, and says that he has a gun and to put the money into a bag, then he walks out. Gentle police detective John Hunt, Casey Affleck, begins to notice Tucker’s antics as he goes from town to town, so he makes it his mission to catch him. I had a big grin on my face from start to finish during this film. Redford, of course, is the perfect screen presence, with his wry smile and the twinkle in his voice. His performance is joyous, whether this is his last film or not, but knowing that gives his character a melancholic edge. In the opening moments he meets Jewel, a widower played by Sissy Spacek, and their connection remains sweet throughout the film. Their relationship is endearing, tentative, and wonderfully hopeful. Lowery deals with this with such softness, and understands the language of an instant, easy friendship. The camera stays close and the shots cut are together delicately, with the sense that you could be sat at the table with the characters, but they wouldn’t notice that you was there.

I’m a Casey Affleck fan, he’s repented for his sins and his acting mesmerises me. When he is introduced into the film, his face is overflowing with a strange bored sadness, and the amount of empathy he is showing is endless. We are quickly friends with him, just as we are with the Redford character. When the two of them clash during the film, all I wanted was the two of them to become friends, and actually they don’t really clash. That is where film becomes completely likeable, because there is no unneeded conflict, no pointless obstacle to get over (even when someone gets shot, it’s brushed passed and solved quickly). Redford’s character is happy-go-lucky and geared totally in the present, and hopeful of the future. Affleck’s character is determined, but aware that once he has caught Forrest Tucker, he will be without a purpose once again. It’s sublime film-making, capturing instances of thrills and human connection, using absorbing actors to keep your attention. Late on in the film, it goes through Tucker’s several successful escape attempts from prison, and Lowery cheekily uses a shot of Redford from an earlier film. It was incredibly moving, seeing a younger version of him, and with his back catalogue including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, there is an added weight to the film. Lowery’s respect for story and characters made it a great film, and his compassion within the frames caused me to adore every second of it.

ROMA

SPOILERS! And it matters, it really matters…

Happiness over, now onto despair, with Roma. However despair does not sit alone in the film, and it is not a depressing runtime, as mixed with it is humour and affection, pulled together with astonishing technique. Cuaron, at this point, is a master of his craft. Y Tu Mama Tambien is amorous, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the best franchise movie ever made and Children of Men sits on a pedestal of modern cinema. With Roma he is returning to his roots, almost literally, telling the tale of a middle class Mexican family in the early 1970’s, as they go through a family change. In the middle is their maid Cleo, Yalitza Aparicio, who is going through her own troubles, whilst looking after the house and the children. To say I was excited to see this film would be an understatement, I feel like I’ve been waiting for years to see this film, and despite all the controversy over a cinema versus Netflix release, I would have watched it on my phone if I had to. In the end, I watched the film on my laptop, but the visuals still impressed me. And oh my gosh are the visuals impressing – every scene is packed with life, real life moving along behind the main characters. The choice to shoot the film in black and white leads to engrossing imagery, that is both gorgeous and impactful, due to its starkness. There is a Fellini 8 ½ kind of depth to the shots, where the field of view is never ending but it definitely has Cuaron’s languid, lucid stamp on it too. He stunningly positions each moment in a dream state, whilst completely grounding the content with tangible meaning. This tangibility comes from the sound design, which is remarkable, even little noises like the folding of clothes gets you right in the soul.

The film is slow paced and building, and this is where Cuaron shines. He deceives us for most of the film with this portrait of privileged Mexican life, where the setting is an ambient bystander. Through these subtleties, and tentative interactions we are fooled by, and embraced by the world Cuaron presents, then he amazes us. There is a scene in the film where Cleo is taken to a furniture store by the family Grandmother to pick out a cot for the baby she’s expecting. A student riot is happening outside, and from the window of the store we see it explode, occurring in real time. It’s an unbelievable shot, that emits intense panic and fear because of the monotonous that has come before. I felt my bones shake, my heart stop, my blood curdle, and tears ran down my face. I’m probably a bit pathetic but I was floored by Cuaron’s skill and the emotion he cut out of this scene. And it doesn’t stop there, because this is when the despair comes in. This event, and what follows, results in Cleo losing her baby. It’s born dead, and that is an inherently sad thing, but the way Cuaron presents it makes it much harsher. He does not shy away from anything, and we see a frontally deceased baby, and that created honest despair inside me. My tears were suddenly not from raw, powerful film-making, and were from absolute anguish.

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I’m still not sure how interesting gushing about clearly brilliant films is. I’m trying to get people to see these films, and have a similar reaction to them. One of the downsides of having such visceral connections to film is that it can often be a lonely thing, where I’m wiping away my tears surrounded by blank faces, so it’s nice when I can share the feeling with someone. I’m looking forward to watching The Old Man and The Gun with my parents, especially my dad, because it’s a film almost from an earlier generation, that can bring joy to anyone. Unfortunately Roma is a tougher sell – foreign language, black and white, meandering pace, but everyone should give it a go, and be patient with it. It’s on Netflix so there’s nothing stopping you!

 

(Quick note: Roma could be a masterpiece, and much more could be written on it)

Suspiria – Film Review

The 1977 original Suspiria is hailed as a horror classic.  I think it’s outdated, disengaging and dull, however I was very keen to see the new reimagining of the story, for three reasons.  The first being because it’s directed by Luca Guadagnino, who due to his last film Call Me by Your Name, is now one of my favourite people working.  The second reason being Dakota Johnson, who is stunning in everything she pops up in, and deserves more credit on screen.  And the third reason being that the film has been marketed incredibly well, and since the first trailer I’ve been excited for its release.  The film on a basic level is about Susie Bannion (Johnson), an American who travels to Berlin to audition for an esteemed contemporary dance troop.  She gets in, because it’s clear that she’s a bit of a prodigy, and quickly she becomes the centre of the school, a school that is run by witches.   

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Where to even begin with this?  Actor, comedian and now podcaster (Films to be Buried With) Brett Goldstein tweeted after seeing the film that he found it strange that reviewers were giving it three stars.  He said that by the films design you could only give it a one, or a five, you either were amazed or repulsed.  As much as I like Brett, he’s wrong, the film is very meh, but I’m not sure it would even reach three stars for me.  Let’s start positively though, well to an extent anyway.  The film is very long, about 2 and a half hours, so it could probably lose a few scenes, but what I will say is that I was never bored.  Similar to the original, there’s a sense that something horrid is around the corner and it’s edging towards it.  It’s a slow advance, yet the story is intriguing enough to keep your attention.  What the film lacks however, is direction.  I’m still not sure what Guadagnino is trying to say with it all, and the only real (and thin) takeaway is that those responsible for the Holocaust should feel guilt, and those who weren’t shouldn’t?  This underlying theme isn’t fed badly into the film, and I disagree with the critics who say that it is, but it wasn’t effective.  Perhaps this was because the choices from the main character were so obtuse, and misdirecting.  Dakota Johnson plays her well, being both soft and intimidating in her face, and tough to decipher, which I liked, yet ultimately her character became pointless whilst being the main point of the film.  I’m aware that doesn’t make much sense, but this review may end up a bigger question mark than the movie.  And not an interesting question mark, more like watching my cat torture a mouse in front of me then him waiting to be applauded when the mouse is finally dead. 

Stylistically, the film is pretty dry.  Guadagnino has ditched the painted, florid beauty of Call Me by Your Name for a washed out, grim palette of greys and browns.  The original was all about striking imagery, and pop colours, whereas the new one is about the sadness of blandness.  There is some exceptions – the dance scenes were lovely to look at, and the highlight of the film, the gore and violence were beautifully putrid, and in the second to final act Guadagnino dives head first into some devilish imagery, which was entertaining.  That climatic satanic scene was actually really funny, and when I watch this film again in the comfort of my home, I won’t be afraid to laugh more at some of the ridiculous things that happen.  A strange stylistic choice was to cast Tilda Swinton in ‘at least’ two roles, one being an old German bloke in coats of make-up.  It’s obvious from the start that it’s a young actor in the role, but I had no idea that it was Swinton until my friend told me after the film, and it’s another ‘???’ moment.  I mean obviously Swinton is fucking great in the film, and the character was quite sympathetic to follow round, but Swinton playing the role added nothing, and meant nothing.  Her other character’s (Madame Blanc) relationship with Susie was a solid part of the film, so having her as the other part was unneeded.   

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The friend I went to see the film with said that he’s starting to like the film more, now he’s thought about it and read a bit on it.  I have no desire to think about it, because I don’t think the film is profound in any way, however I do want to watch it again, as it may be one of those where it takes repeat viewings to appreciate it.  And I do hope that I grow to enjoy it more, because the intentions of the filmmakers seem admirable.  It was just a bit empty, and lacking something.  Maybe if Thom Yorke had made a better soundtrack (other than one song) the spaces in between the film would have been better.  His efforts were totally disappointing, and so was the film.   

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket? 

This is a tricky one, because you definitely get your money’s worth.  What I would say is that the film is hard, and gruesome, so general audiences might want to stay away, because nothing of substance comes from that unpleasantness.