You Were Never Really Here – Film Review

Lynne Ramsay is an out and out auteur.  Her latest effort You Were Never Really Here has been hyped for its major release since its success at festivals last year.  It’s about mysterious anti-hero Joe, played by Joaquin Phoenix, as he attempts to rescue a senators daughter who has been captured by child sex traffickers in New York City.  Joe is tackling a tough past, and the weight of looking after his mother whilst he violently delves deeper into a dark, dark world.

Phoenix is one of the great actors working right now, and he is this film.  He swallows up this performance, and throws it up all over the table.  It’s heartbreaking, hopeless and uncomfortable to watch him battle his way through the villains of the film.  The villains being his abusive past, and his PTSD, not just the goons trying to kill him.  Every step of the movie he has to remind himself where he is and what he’s doing, as he gets lost in his head.  It’s a fantastic use of a protagonist, because he’s unpredictable.  This leads the whole movie to be loose cannon that feels like it could end at any second.  And when it does end your left wondering if you enjoyed the experience or not.

Ramsay is a phenomenal director because of these things.  With each choice of camera angle or edit she’s trying to unnerve you, and trip you up.  I’m not sure whether I liked all the choices she made.  For example the film is brutal, though often doesn’t show the explicit violence, which is really interesting.  I loved her trying new ways to tell this intense story, such as the CCTV shots, but at the same time my movie brain would have been excited to see all the action in full.  The way the narrative stops and starts is also interesting, like a car going up in gears then stalling and spurting oil all over the road.  There are changes of pace constantly, where you go from meandering intrigues to heart-pumping aggressiveness.  It’s less of a lightning paced thriller, and more of a film that interconnects its main characters movements with their emotions.  Everything Joe is thinking, or feeling is splashed onto the screen with jarring, though precise consequences.


It’s an unforgiving 90 minutes, with a remarkable Jonny Greenwood score behind it.  His work on Phantom Thread should have earned him a best score win at the Oscars, and his efforts here are equally as brilliant.  It’s a diverse soundtrack that expertly shifts the films message for each particular scene it’s playing over.  The friend I saw the film with said the music was the best bit, and I’d have to agree with him.  For all the sensory overload and agitated execution the music was at the foundations keeping it from falling apart.  Like Annihilation it’s still stuck in my mind, and sits in the category of hesitant fondness, which usually is an indicator of a classic film.


Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes definitely worth going to a smaller cinema to check it out.  Only 90 minutes!

Annihilation – Film Review

Alex Garland is a creator who means a lot to me.  His first novel The Beach is probably my favourite of all time, and since then he’s wrote loads more things that I love, such as the screenplays for 28 Days Later and Sunshine. In 2014 he made his directorial debut with Ex Machina, and it was terrific, so I’ve been excited for his latest film since then.  However the news that it was only getting a Netflix release in the UK disappointed me, because I’m someone who likes the cinema experience.  There are pros and cons to both sides of the Netflix argument, so I’ll leave that for a different piece, and try to focus on the film itself.

Natalie Portman stars as biologist Lena, who is currently working as a professor but is ex-military.  Her husband is also military and he has been missing, assumed dead, for over 12 months.  Through a series of events that I won’t reveal, Lena discovers that her husband was sent into an area of land sectioned off by the US government.  To further investigate the area Lena and a team of four others head into this strange zone, knowing that they may not return.

This film works as a plot if you watch it right through to the end.  There is a payoff to the narrative as it draws to a close, so bear with it if you find the beginning slightly arduous.  It just takes a while to settle in, but once it gets going the film holds you tightly.  The content of the movie is quite horrifying, and uncomfortable.  It’ll make your skin crawl, and give you a fright or two.  Garland directs this well, because it’s not always easy to frame your main set pieces around CGI.  The effects are good in the film, if a little bleak.  A lot of the film is a little bleak, though purposefully so.  It’s lit in a way to never lift your spirits and it keeps you in a mode of utter terror.  I cannot emphasize enough that the second half is where the greatness of the film is, after a brilliant moment of sheer dread that changes the narrative completely.

Portman is the best thing about the film, and I’ve not always been a massive fan of hers.  She’s broken, and sunken in this role.  Her look and physicality is perfect for this character, and I found her really engaging.  The rest of her team are a less watchable, but mostly fine.  I think the film is about her character and the relationship with her husband over anything else.  Portman’s excellent performance drives this in the film, and the breaks to flashbacks to that relationship then back to the action gel together superbly.  For all the talk of this film being a mind-fuck, or difficult to understand, it’s pretty simple in its execution of its ideas.  This ‘zone’, the life-forms and the characters interactions with them are interesting.  All the way through I wanted to work out the mystery, and by the climax the film reveals enough for you to get a handle of it.


It’s both a beautiful and ugly film that I wish I got chance to see on the big screen.  At times the aesthetics suffered because of my small laptop screen and dodgy internet.  Yet Garland’s impeccable tonal writing, Portman’s acting and its distressing plot pull it through.  Did I enjoy it?  I’m not entirely sure, but I’m glad that I’ve seen it, and I’ll be checking it out again sooner rather than later.


Is it worth your time on Netflix?

100%.  Two words to describe this film: worth watching.

Game Night – Film Review

This film won me over in the first five minutes, and from there it was terrific company.  Its introduction sets up its two main characters perfectly – a couple obsessed with games, and winning.   Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman star as said couple, and every week they invite their friends round for a ‘game night’, however they have to hide it from their creepy policeman neighbour Gary (Jesse Plemons).  Max (Bateman) has a mysteriously successful brother (Kyle Chandler), and when he’s in town he gets the gang round for a much more intense series of games.

To call this a breath of fresh air for mainstream comedies would probably be an exaggeration, but the film really understood what’s funny.  It’s a good premise, with lots of avenues to go down that are instantly connectable.  The characters are likeable, played well and never take themselves too seriously.  It’s a pretty bonkers plot at times, but it always felt grounded.  The charm of the film comes from the fact that the characters were more convincing as real people than in your bog standard drama.  They all had great chemistry together, especially McAdams and Bateman.  And there are moments that are really funny!  It’s not a laugh a second kind of film, but there are enough odd hilarious bits to keep it going.  A highlight would be a scene involving an attempt to extract a bullet from an arm, because it’s as gruesome as it is humorous.

More to like about this film is that it has style, and rarely is a comedy shot with such flair.  The use of the camera, editing and colour scheme all added to my enjoyment of the film.  Every other scene had an intuitive camera movement, or a catchy transition.  The opening is beautifully edited together, and then it carries the same on for the rest of the film.  It surprised me how well the action is choreographed and shot, being more cohesive and exciting then The Commuter (an actual action movie).  There’s a fight scene near the beginning in a kitchen which is as thrilling as a John Wick bout.  And then throughout the film the small set pieces and car chases are crafted with enough inventiveness to make them engaging.


Not every joke lands, and there’s several moments of cringe where the humour is a bit misjudged.  There are a few liberties taken with the narrative and an attempt to bring in a moral to the story that doesn’t really work.  Yet apart from that it is wonderfully done for a pop movie, and I couldn’t recommend it enough.  It’s made with care and artistic value, whilst also being absorbing and amusing.


Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?


Red Sparrow – Film Review

Is Jennifer Lawrence the most annoying person in Hollywood?  This film isn’t the answer to that question because if anything it makes you admire her acting chops.  She stars as Russian Ballerina Dominika Egorova, however she is quickly out of that esteemed position when something ‘dramatic’ (would be spoilers to say) happens to her.  From there she finds herself with no way to afford to live, or care for her extremely ill mother.  So she goes to her creepy uncle Vanya, who is the deputy director of a Russian intelligence organisation, for some help.  He gives her (though she’s essentially forced to) the option to train as a ‘Red Sparrow’, where she will learn the art of seduction to get information from enemy targets.

There is surprisingly a lot to like about this film.  First being that it’s not the film you will be expecting.  It’s not a female spy-action movie where a famous actress gallivants around Europe shooting people like I’d thought it would be.  The film is more of a slow, erotic, mystery thriller about double-crossing top level agents, with only a couple of action scenes to speak of.  I liked this, and director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend & three of the Hunger Games) shoots it stylishly.  There’s tension where there has to be, and a sense of romantic flair that you get similarly with a James Bond movie.  More to like about the film is that it doesn’t hold back with its graphic content.  It’s an extremely hard 15, with intense gore detail in the violence and full nudity several times throughout the film.  Not only that the film features heavy amounts of sexual, and physical abuse, mostly to its lead actor.  These scenes are weird, and uncomfortable, but worked with the narrative.  My advice would be don’t go and see this with your mum, because it’s really not a popcorn thriller.  It’s harsh, daring and I’m glad it tried to break the mould a little here.


Despite all of that there is unsurprisingly a lot to dislike about the film.  Such as the terrible Russian accents, especially from Jeremy Irons (General Korchnoi) and Charlotte Rampling (Matron).  Any scene with Irons in was really hard to watch, and I switched off whenever he began speaking.  That’s probably why Joel Edgerton (Nate Nash) adds such a relief to the film, because he’s speaking in a nice normal American accent, thank god.  You can get past the accents eventually though, and then find yourself confused with the plot.  Some of the ‘who’s side is she on’ stuff worked but by the end it was so contrived and poorly executed that you lose sight of the point of it all.  There seems to be no real purpose to the plot, and so the last 20 minutes are really dull.  It’s a fine movie, with a good central performance from Lawrence, and probably quite a brave one (she does get a hammering) but ultimately it’s dry of any interesting objectives.


Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes, I enjoyed it.  It’s probably worth going to see because it’s a pretty mainstream movie that cuts it right to sharpest of edges.

Lady Bird – Film Review

This is the last of the big awards season films to come out in the UK, and I’ve been looking forward to it for ages.  It is Greta Gerwig’s first directorial effort, and she also wrote the screenplay.  The film is a coming of age drama/comedy charting Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson’s (Saoirse Ronan) last year at high school in Sacramento before leaving for college.  She’s desperate to leave the area, despite the wills of her mother (Laurie Metcalf).  In this year she falls in love, out of love, tackles the tough relationship with her mother and begins to wonder what she really wants.

One thing to note about this film is how much audience participation it invoked.  There were gasps, yells, noises of disgust, loud laughs and cries whilst this movie played.  It indicates a film where people care, and that’s important.  Right from the very beginning we understand the most important relationship of the film: the mother daughter one and the incidents that come from their time together are really moving.  There is cause to make a noise during the shocking or upsetting moments, because the characters are so well presented.  It also happens to be very well acted across the board.  Soairse Ronan is honest and convincing in the lead, because she seems so natural to the role.  Every decision she made felt believable, which is thanks to some good writing, but I think mostly down to Ronan’s ability to clearly care about the person she’s playing.   Laurie Metcalf against her is beautifully ignorant, though also heartbreaking and the two of them have a terrific chemistry.  Their scenes together can be amusing or despairing.  And the rest of the cast do well, especially Lucas Hedges’ Danny who shows a great range and Beanie Feldstein’s Julie, who is most likeable character you’ll ever see.  I can’t forget to mention legendary Tracy Letts as the father, because his melancholic nature brings out some of the most sincere pieces of storytelling.


In short the film is very good, and satisfying.  Gerwig obviously has filmmaking skill, and it’s a very pretty watch.  To look at the film deeper there are some issues I have with it, that aren’t too major.  It kinds of falls into recycled high school drama now and then and there are moments of blandness.  The film never the reaches the heights of being an amazing piece of work, because a lot of its moving parts didn’t astound me.  When the film is brilliant, it’s highlighting on home, unmet expectations, depression and parental connections.  It’s less brilliant during the high school tropes, and I think my cynical British mind is making me view it this way.  Our high school experiences are much different to US’s, so there are moments when I’m like: “yeah okay, I get it, please move on”.  However the film is excellent as a whole because it’s really funny, it’s well shot, has good characters and there are fantastic odd moments that’ll definitely make you smile.


Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes! This film doesn’t have a massive release so it’s definitely worth going to a smaller independent cinema to go see it!

Mute – Film Review

When Duncan Jones started making films he was like an exciting young footballer with loads of potential.  Moon is a good first effort, and Source Code is an excellently crafted thriller showing signs that Jones can tackle any genre.  Warcraft wasn’t a step backwards, nor was it a step forward, so his latest film has been eagerly anticipated.  Jones has been teasing this film for years now, however when it was announced it would be only published on Netflix, it lost some steam.  Simply because there has been several Netflix misfires, and a sense of over-saturation of middling products on there.  After watching the film I can say it’s the first film of the year where I can’t quite work out whether I like it or not.

It’s Berlin forty years into the future.  The mute bartender Leo (Alexander Skarsgard) is in love with mysterious waitress Naadirah (Seyned Saleh).  When she goes missing Leo delves into the criminal underbelly of the city to try and find her.  What he encounters is a series of interesting characters in a cycle of strange nothingness.

The concept of this film is an interesting one, and when writer/director Duncan Jones began talking about it, it appeared to be some sort of future noir thriller.  However the film is little like that.  It’s less of a journey, or an investigation by a hero character and more of an entanglement of bad people.  At first this subversion of plot is disappointing, because the cool sci-fi detective story is lost, but after a while you settle in to what the film really is.  And what the film really is, is incredibly flawed.  Jones does his best to bypass the Netflix original look of B-rate TV show, where it looks drab and constructed without care.  Actually the visuals of the movie are quite nice, and the world building is solid.  All the effects and neon colours do make it seem like it’s in the future, and Jones does enough with the camera to make it engaging.  Though at times it does have that look of a low-budget attempt, without much cinematic flair.

Leo as the lead character is fine, though his technophobe nature and past are a bit hammy.  The whole film has this off-colour thing about it, where the writing and delivery fail constantly.  Scenes appear out of place, and characters appear uncomfortably on the screen when they talk.  Elements of the narrative repeat themselves, and the writing gets itself in a knot thanks to a story that is actually very dull compared to its initial concept.  Most of the film is weird, and jarring, which at least made it entertaining.  Justin Theroux’s character in particular (Duck) is an outlandish one and he brings the best things out of the film.  It’s a fun performance in a troublesome character and more watchable than the rest of the runtime.  Paul Rudd as Cactus Bill has some enjoyable moments, yet overall felt overly unpredictable.


This review is a tough one, because I’m having trouble criticising the film despite it being pretty bad.  I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it again, because the end product of the scenes, characters, and plots are utterly lacklustre.  The film has something to it, a curiosity that actually makes you want to keep watching.  If anything it made me realise how much I’d love creative directors like Jones to get cinema releases, so that they can get big budgets, and big screen sensibilities.  Looking back on the film I will see it as a missed opportunity, but it’s not nearly as bad as all the reviewers are saying.


Is it worth your time on Netflix?

Sure because for all its annoyances, and flaws, I never wanted to be doing something else whilst it was on.

Isle of Dogs – Film Review

Wes Anderson is a weird filmmaker in that his latest film is his best one.  The Grand Budapest Hotel is an accomplished piece of work, and will be still loved fifty years from now.  Before that his films have been too quirky and plastic for their own good (doesn’t mean they’re not brilliant), and so going into Isle of Dogs I didn’t know what to expect.  I saw the film at the Glasgow Film Festival for its UK premiere, and the producer Jeremy Dawson introduced it.  There then followed a little funny video message from Wes Anderson and a few members of the cast.  Without it even starting, it was clear the creation of this film had been a labour of love.

The narrative at its core is very simple.  It’s Japan and dogs are banished for various reasons.  They are ditched on ‘Trash Island’ where they struggle to survive.  One of the dogs left there is owned by Atari, a young boy who decides to travel to the Island to find his lost friend.

This film is beautiful and there is no other way to describe it (but I’ll try to anyway).  The visuals and art direction are utterly sensational, and Anderson has really outdone his perfectionism.  Each gorgeous shot is layered with the right colour balance and framing.  With each moment he and the animators are being aesthetically intuitive.  It’s unbelievable how well crafted the animation works with the designed sets, and the movement of characters and camera flow incredibly smoothly.  Anderson appears to have mastered the stop-motion animation with such detailed beauty.  The grandeur scenes in the Japan city are spectacular, and I would happily put each wide shot on my wall.  We expect this visual flair from Anderson, but there’s something special about this films presentation, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it is.

Like the rest of Anderson’s work this film is very funny.  The humour is dark, but also cute at times with the classic mixture of deadpan dialogue, unreal characters and cinematic comedy.  As I’ve said it’s a visual treat, and no less in the way it makes you laugh through the way it looks.  Oracle the Pug (Tilda Swinton) is a particularly hilarious character, with her design and her visions.  And the rest of the cast bring something to the expertly tuned dialogue.  Bryan Cranston is wonderfully gristly in his dark horse (but dog – Chief) role, Ed Norton is optimistic and adorably naive as the master-loving Rex, and Jeff Goldblum and Bill Murray are wry but still hopeful as their sidekicks Boss and Duke.  There’s also a nice outburst of life and emotion injected in a human role from Greta Gerwig as Tracy, as well as a determined turn from young Koyu Rankin as the hero Atari.  I could go on and on about the cast because they are all superb but special mention goes to Scarlett Johansson as Nutmeg, who is always her best when we can only hear her voice.


From my first viewing, I can’t find a scratch or fault with this film.  It is of course about much more than a boy searching for his dog.   However there is a blissful honesty with that central tale, and splendid likeability of the characters motives.  The film has a slight morbidity to it, though I never found it miserable. I loved every second, and I cannot wait to see it when it comes out in full release at the end of March.  It has the same sort of completion and joy that Grand Budapest has, with a sense that Wes Anderson now has a god-like control over his unique style.


Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes it is worth several of them.