Film Reviews: Happy Death Day & The Florida Project

These two films are vastly different to one another, but I’m putting them together because they highlight two sides of the film taste spectrum.  Hopefully these short reviews will give you an indicator whether they are the sort of films you’d like to see.

 

Happy Death Day

Jessica Rothe

This movie tells the tale of Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe)  – a classic sorority college girl who is caught in a loop of being murdered then waking up to relive the day again.  The concept of this film is not original, but certainly an interesting spin on Groundhog Day.  Going in, I was expecting a horror or slasher experience, however it ended up being more of a Mean Girls – esque college movie with a murder plot added on.  There was little to no scares and certainly no tension in the murder scenes.  The violence was pretty weak and take a few things out of this film and it probably could have passed for a 12A.  Despite this the murder moments weren’t totally boring thanks to some obvious humour and nods to comic cinema.  The plot moves quickly and overall the runtime went by fairly quickly, with maybe a few minutes in the middle feeling like excess material.  A lot of the film is cliché and obvious, though Rothe does well in the lead to keep you engaged.  The rest of the cast are fine, though not all that interesting.  There are mostly cheap thrills here and the ending left me sort of disappointed.  It felt as though they missed out on a chance to do something intriguing with the concept, and in the end they played it very safe.  Not a terrible 96 minutes, but definitely not something I’ll be rushing to see again.  It’s perhaps good for a date movie, or a group of friends?  If you’re expecting horror though or weird existential themes I wouldn’t bother.

Presentation (look of the movie – cinematography, mise-en-scene etc): 2/3

Performances (the acting): 1.5/3

Narrative (plot & story points): 1.5/3

Effect (Did this film impact me in any way?): 0/1

Final score: 5/10

 

The Florida Project

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Set at a low rent motel in the shadows of Disney-Land, this film follows a troubled young mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) as they live recklessly and struggle to get by.  Let me first start of by saying that American poverty fascinates me.  There is something so unsettling and sickly about it.  This film is unsettling in that way, but also has a lot of heart.  On the basic level it reminds me of last year’s American Honey, yet it is far more focused and far more connectable.  The film is gorgeously shot and meanders a long keeping track of a group of young kids just aimlessly having fun in and around the motel.  It spends time with the struggling parents, who are certainly not instantly likeable.  The film bounces around from moment to moment with no real rules about time or scenes.  Director Sean Baker stays on things when he wants to and this gives the film a natural feel.  At its foundations though it has a solid performance from Willem Dafoe, who plays the manager of the motel.  He figuratively and literally pulls the film together to keep it tangent and watchable.  There is no hero in the film, but he has heroic moments, and I think without him the film would drift away into the abstract.  Alongside him is a mesmerising, and often very funny, performance by Brooklynn Prince who is just 7.  She has more personality than your average adult and is the star of the film.  Her mother is a desperate character and you have to realise that there is little redemption for her, so Bria Vinaite does well in a tricky role.  Everything that happens in the film is totally believable, and every scene feels necessary.  It certainly has its moments of boredom like any independent drama and the ending will certainly leave a few people a bit confused.  The film touches on poverty, and capitalist abandonment, yet it is mostly a human film.  It has more love than tragedy and I would recommend this film to anyone who can stand looking at those in society that America has forgotten about.

Presentation: 3/3

Performances: 3/3

Narrative: 2/3

Effect: 1/1

Final score: 9/10

 

Are both films worth your ticket price? The Florida Project – 100%.  Happy Death Day – maybe if it’s a cheaper ticket.

Blade Runner 2049: I don’t want to die

“What’s your biggest fear?” – Should have a qualifier to it.  It should be: “What’s your biggest fear, apart from dying?”.  Everyone’s biggest fear is death, and it has been since the start of time.  Religion was founded upon that fear and then moulded by psychedelic drug use.  Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner is all about that inevitable clock waiting to grasp us all.  Sure it’s a fantastic Sci-Fi thriller but most of all it’s a story about a desperate attempt to stay alive.  Our villainous replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) says: “All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain” to round off a classic story and film.  Yet Blade Runner lives on, some 35 years later to fall in to the depths of mortality once again.

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Denis Villeneuve is the greatest director on the planet.  He has a run of form that would compete with a 70’s Coppola or a whole career of Scorsese.  His directorial style can be drab yes, but also pristine.  Each one of his scenes are crafted to perfection – there are no holes of error.  Like the modern greats (Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson) he moulds the narrative in his own way and builds his films with multiple layers.  Luckily for our eyes he is a frequent collaborator with the greatest cinematographer on the planet – Roger Deakins.  The Deak has shot some of the best looking films of the last 20 years and in recent history he has been at the top of his game.  We’re talking Hail Cesar, Sicario, Prisoners, Skyfall, True Grit, A Serious Man and No Country for Old Men – all stunning mainstream movies.  With Villeneuve he has made the most gorgeous 163 minutes I have ever witnessed.  Blade Runner 2049 is a marvel of visual cinema.  The lighting is balanced so well between the dreariness of the sunken future world and the brightness of a hollow landscape.  It is equally colourful as it is solemn and more than anything the actors are placed accordingly.  There are moments during this film where I could not believe what I was seeing.  How did they shoot that? I was gasping and I was enthralled.  If cinema is a visual art-form then this could be one of the great works of art.  The 1982 film has this quality also, though I do not think it is quite as awe-inspiring.  Just a simple shot of Mackenzie Davis walking through a crowded street blew my mind.  For this the film gets a glowing recommendation to anyone, however this of course does not mean it’s a perfect film.

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The film is slow, gracefully slow, but still slow.  It’s paced much like a character or a mood piece rather than a Sci-Fi romp.  There is very little ‘blade-running’ going on and only a couple of real action scenes to speak about.  As a fan of a slow burn I was fine with this, and the more time spent with scenes the better.  Villeneuve and the writers were in no rush to portray a plot or elements of a narrative; rather were happy to let moments unfold in an immersive world they had built.  The engine for the film comes from the mystery of it all, and a constant questioning of our own interpretations of the Blade Runner tale.  It’s fuelled by some lovely performances by side characters; particularly Ana De Armas as Ryan Gosling’s virtual girlfriend Joi.  She is both sexy and innocent – being the intrigue of the first half of the film.  Her chemistry with Gosling is naturally disjointed and their relationship is built upon a synthetic desire.  There scenes together really are highlights of the film, and dealt with excellently within the context of the whole narrative.  Gosling does well as blade runner Kay – being likeable in a tricky role that is almost sidelined by the enormity of situations as the film progresses.  Through his character Villeneuve and Deakins present a left-field version of Blade Runner with a runtime of sublime and gripping pieces of film-making.  They throw plot out the window and tackle themes instead; themes of humanity and sacrifice.  Death is at the heart of the film again, but there is more beauty than sorrows this time around.

[Spoilers ahead – watch both films]

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There were three times in this film where the film emotionally got me.  Now on several occasions I felt like my eyes were going to fall out of my head because of how unbelievably beautiful it looked, but it was on three occasions where a little tear may have trickled out.  Firstly when Joi died I was heartbroken as the bond she had with Kay felt genuine.  Ana De Armas was fantastic in the role and the character was completely loveable.  It shows that being human is about connections with others and her death was tearing a connection apart.  What the film does well is sub verse your expectations and when Kay comes across an advert for a model of Joi this happens.  Suddenly he is empty of grief and this spurs him on to realise his destiny and save Deckard (Harrison Ford).  So maybe all this robot love is phoney?  I believe that being human is about that unpredictability and phoney love feels real at the time.  The second time I was emotionally jarred was when Kay died.  His elegant collapse on the snow steps is dazzling and represents a sacrifice.  Kay, to feel human, is doing something that is the most human of all – dying.  This is where the beauty of death comes in, because he is dying for a cause; dying for a hope.  Death was empty and hopeless in the 1982 film and in 2049 it is heroic and peaceful.  Kay gives his life so that the real Blade Runner centrepiece Deckard can meet his daughter.  This meeting was the third time I was emotion struck.  It was a denouement I wasn’t expecting; an ending to a weird and complex story.  There are still questions to be answered but the notions of death and humanity were identified well by Villeneuve.  I don’t want to die because I’m enjoying myself too much.  I’m enjoying these great films too much.  In time Blade Runner 2049 may be tore apart by critics or seen as a masterpiece like the original.  All I want to do is write about it and right now I am engorging on its existence.

Wind River – Film Review

Geographically winter mornings are more pleasant than summer ones.  The skies are empty and a lovely shade of blue.  It’s quiet, it’s crisp and it’s calm.  There is a stiff breeze in your face though – a stiff breeze that is beginning to hurt your nose.  Your fingers are slowly losing their feeling and shoving them in your pockets is only a small rest bite.  The chance to wear a combination of your favourite jumpers has arisen, but the coat on top is uncomfortable.  Getting inside is a dream, and removing all the layers a chore.  Yet the beauty of the morning has not changed, and will never change.  Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River is a winter morning; a gorgeous, solemn and extremely cold morning.  It’s a morning to revisit and cherish – with only the slight sense of a looming sadness beneath.

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Jeremy Renner is Cory Lambert – an experienced tracker whose job is to mostly hunt down and kill predators that are terrorizing livestock on a snowy Indian reservation in Wyoming.  Whilst hunting down a group of mountain lions he comes across the body of a teenage girl who has been raped and killed.  Then FBI agent Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen arrives.  She is clearly canny, but ill-equipped so asks Lambert to help her find the killer.

This film opens with our protagonist Lambert shooting and killing a wolf that is surrounding a herd of sheep.  A sign of things to come this symbolises the films relentless and unforgiving nature.  Renner is playing a grizzled peak of masculinity here.  He’s patient, but tough and has more baggage than a central cities airport.  At first he appears as the distant divorced dad, sharing custody of a young child.  It soon becomes clear that he is woven into this strange community, and relied on – the community and setting itself being the real main character of the story.  It’s a place of sheer survival – the harsh weather and snow storms testing everyone that resides there.  The reservation is described as ‘the only thing we have left’.  It offers little excitement or prosperity for the young people of the area, a theme that is a driving force of the movie.  For some it’s all about getting out of there, for others – like Lambert – it’s about becoming one with the environment.  It’s this connection he has with the setting that makes him such an interesting character and the master in every scene he’s in.  Renner plays him well in a simple performance where emotion only breaks through when it has too.  He has to be strong when others are weak, making his rare weaker moments all the more heart wrenching.

Alongside him is Olsen; in a real coming of age performance.  Thankfully Sheridan didn’t write her as a hapless FBI detective out of her depth.  She is from the very start in control of the investigation and not unwilling to receive help from the experts of the area.  Her bravery shines through and Olsen does well in portraying someone terrified but pushing herself to do the right thing.  The situation is draining on her and you can see it in her eyes, though not once does she let anyone take advantage of that.  At one point she makes reference to the police chief that she’s all that they’ve got.  This is when one of the joys of the film comes along: her interplay with Lambert – the sharing of the knowledge of the wilderness, and the sadness in his past.  A sadness that is dripped through the film, never becoming cliché or tired.  It is a marvel of the film – the ability to convey emotions that we have seen a hundred times before, but still make it moving and interesting.

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Sheridan has obviously learned a great deal from the last two directors he has worked with.  He’s off the back of writing two of the best American thrillers of the last few years – Sicario and Hell or High Water.  From Sicario director Denis Villeneuve (possibly the most on form director on the planet right now) he has learnt about tension and framing.  Wind River is full of suspense and atmosphere, a sense of constant dread that is building and building.  It means that each scene is exciting to watch, and there is a never a moment of boredom or anxiety.  From Hell or High Water director David Mackenzie he has learnt about the quieter moments, about keeping them simple and sharp.  The moments of pause are a chance to examine the characters carefully, not to force it or drag it out.  We come out of Wind River with enough revelations about the characters that we can be satisfied.  Thanks to working with these two great directors Sheridan appears like a seasoned pro, despite this being his first real feature debut.  Everything is executed perfectly, and framed with clarity.  The scenes are open and inclusive, with the wide’s giving Sheridan a lot to play with.  All the foreboding comes from this stunning camerawork but also a haunting soundtrack.  It chimes slowly, and is ever present throughout most of the film.  There are possible times when it could have been distracting, but the grace of the film-making made it bond well with the content of the film.  It gives the film a chilling edge, which kept me completely riveted.

I can safely say that Taylor Sheridan is now the king of the simple, but always brooding drama.  He is telling this tale with confidence and conviction.  The subject matter is based on true events, and it’s tough.  Some of the scenes are not easy to watch, but Sheridan handles them well – with little remorse.  The film is equally beautiful as it is plain and a lot of the films greatness comes from that simplicity.  There is enough of a film-making edge to keep it fresh (a bit of chorological hopping) and I’m eager to see what I make of it a second time around.  The best way to go into this film (like many films) is too know as little as possible.  There is a scene towards the end of the film that surprised and charmed me, that I think works perfectly to tie all the film together.  Overall it is a perfectly crafted work of art after one viewing.  The cast are solid, the pace is always up, and the story is told creatively.  I am hoping this is the start of a run of brilliance for Taylor Sheridan as a director.

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Baby Driver – Film Review

Dripping sweat, aching feet and a gasp for breath.  A camera pummelling through a shopping centre.  Sounds of the pop waves around.  Tension and excitement.  Joy and desperation.  With these words I’m trying to portray the brilliance of Baby Driver.  The ebb and flow, and the pace of the film are a spectacle.  To write a review to replicate is not going to be easy because it’s difficult to describe a film that is so skin-wrenchingly entertaining, without getting too superlative.

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Atlanta, present day.  Ansel Elgort plays Baby: a young, talented getaway driver with a troubled past.  From this troubled past he carries tinnitus, and plays music continually through earphones to drone it out.  This gives him a natural beat to his life, but soon he realises there is no escape from this criminal world as crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) draws him in.

To discuss this film there has to be an acknowledgement of what makes it original, and standout.  This is of course the constant soundtrack that backs every scene, and the motion it creates with the camera.  Every moment has a carefully picked song to go with it, and they move intertwined together.  This gives the film its natural fast pace, and almost musical like timing.  The actors move with the music, and so does the action.  Baby, in particular, is stuck with the tune throughout and has a real kinetic energy with it.  The action also mirrors the music, as director Edgar Wright choreographs each shot to blend with the note behind it.  To say it is a effectively a two hour music video, would underplay the strengths of the film, however it is a major element of the runtime.  It creates segments of real exhilaration, yet also deeper feelings of anger and pain.  Wright does a wonderful job of using songs that piece scenes together, and power home certain junctures, whilst also allowing the film to play out.

Narrative wise, the plot uses the music to move along quickly.  The slower parts feel pushed by the soundtrack, and this makes them engaging without lulling on them for too long.  It has this scene hopping style, which means the story arcs are quick and seamlessly never ending.  From this, the film evolves an end for itself, an end that is inevitable.  The film shocks at times, and the last 45 minutes or so played out in a way that I wasn’t expecting.  Wright’s dialogue writing is poignantly like his previous work, but there’s an added sense of impetus when the longer monologues come.  He keeps with his similar quick, straight to the point style, and this can sometimes make the romantic moments too punchy.  Despite this, it works with the tone of the film and there’s a nuance between that poppy writing style and interesting conversations about love, escapism and hidden demons.  The hardened criminals in the film deliver these lines the best, and Wright gives them plenty of space to express their characters intentions.

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These hardened criminals are beautifully played by a host of scene stealing actors.  There is, early on, a deeply enraged Jon Bernthal, who gives us the first indication of what kind of world our protagonist is a part of.  Eiza Gonzales’ Darling is vivacious and worryingly terrifying.  Her relationship with Jon Hamm’s Buddy is as disturbing as it is likeable, and Hamm does a good job of holding together a tricky role as a damaged baddie as the film progresses.  Jamie Foxx as Bats is probably the highlight, as the disgruntled and clearly mentally deranged antagonist for Baby.  Wright gifts him the best lines, and he walks down the road of brutally horrifying and gripping to watch on screen.  These characters are reined in by Kevin Spacey’s Doc who controls most scenes by being strong in his tone and aggressive with his beliefs.  Together they form an excellent support to Baby’s story, as both guiders and obstacles.  They steal scenes from the young actor by being outlandish, which creates serious humour and threatening situations.

At the heart of the film, there is Lily James as diner waitress Debora, who catches the eye of our hero Baby.  She does a convincing job in probably the toughest role in the film.  Tough because she is a character who is there as a driving force for Baby.  Their relationship at first is cute, and timid, before developing quickly into a strange back and forth romance.  This bounce of lightning quick chemistry moulds well into the film, and though it’s a rushed love story, it didn’t feel added on.  Elgort is great at holding the camera, smouldering and delivering killer lines.  He has movie star written all over him, and he does well to keep the character present even when he is silent.  His contact with the music really is something to marvel at, as he has this ability to focus in on the little subtleties of each song.  Another character in this film has a massive impact, and it really surprised me, so I’m not going to mention them in this review and let you be surprised (and gut wrenched) too.

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Where this film shines as a great, is its connection with the audience through each scene.  Wright directs in a way that is fast and flashy, but has matured in this film as visionary kind of artist.  He is showcasing with every shot and with cinematographer Bill Pope, he manages to be creative with every movement.  The film has this super contemporary look to it, which is full of colour.  There are holding close-ups, and quick cuts, as well drawn out wide’s that allow you to soak in the action.  Wright stops at certain moments to allow revelling at the beauty of the scene and then suddenly throws you right back into it.  The editing is tightly done, and this brings the connection, as you feel a part of every scene.  Nothing feels too distant from you, with the relationship between the camera, the music and action being extremely close.  There is a foot chase in the film that is nothing short of breathtaking, and needs to be witnessed.

Overall, I can’t wait to see this film again.  I want to see the mix of the cinematography again, and enjoy the company of some truly memorable characters.  The film is a fiercely fun ride, but has real filmmaking clarity in what it is trying to achieve.  Edgar Wright has peaked here in a perfect execution of storytelling.  It feels like he has complete control of what he was trying to build here, and I cannot recommend it enough to anyone.  Wright, with this film, is a member of this new wave of exciting cinema, in the same vein as Jeremy Saulnier with Green Room and Ben Wheatley with Free Free.  Cool cinema that can be universally enjoyed but still break new ground.  They don’t have to be ultimately thoughtful; however they can be courageous and forge that wonderful emotion of being one with the film.  Baby Driver is a film that actualises visceral sensitivities in me, and that is a sign of a film that I will continue to love.

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Free Fire: Film Review

There is a two problems that come when you are excited to see a film.  The first being that it will never live up to your expectations, and the second being that it can make you ignorant to the films faults.  Ben Wheatley’s new film Free Fire is my most anticipated film so far this year, and so these problems do arise.  This review is an attempt to move past those problems and mark the film on its own merit.

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The set up is simple, it’s Boston in 1978 and the IRA are in town to buy some guns.  They meet, via a couple of middlemen, a dealer and his goons in an abandoned warehouse. Through some coincidences and ambiguous antics the nights before, tensions arise and quickly a 60 minute shootout begins.

Now Wheatley is directly playing with genre conventions here.  He is taking a small piece of action movies and stretching it out to cover almost all of the run time.  There is an element of picking and choosing genre devices to use as plot points.  For example, it’s a period piece, yet set in the middle of nowhere.  This means he can use 1978 by having the IRA at the centre, and abandon any use of mobile phones.  Consequently the plot becomes isolated and grounded around one premise.  The premise – build up doesn’t last that long either, and the opening has enough time to establish all of the players.  Without much time passing, we are familiar with traits of each character.  Then, as the film plays out, these traits are fleshed out in correlation with the characters actions.  What I’m trying to say is that the premise and genre selections allowed the shootout to make sense on a narrative level.  The writing of the plot allows the deus ex machina’s to be sidelined by a coherent purpose.  This is all minor stuff if you put it against the film as a whole, but I think it’s brilliantly done, because without it there would be no weight to all the shooting.

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When the shooting comes, it is cartoonish, yet it was more visceral than I was expecting. The film definitely has moments of Kill List (Wheatley’s first feature), as the violence is graphic and at times quite sadistic.  This worked for me and sat side by side in the grounded nature of the plot and characters.  Bullets are flying everywhere and it’s shot in a style where it is not completely clear who is shooting who.  There are quick cuts and shaky footage as concrete blocks ricochet, which at times makes the film quite disorientating.  I think perhaps this might unsettle some viewers, though I feel there is enough gravity to each bullet fired to make it an entertaining performance.  There was a real impact every time someone got hit or injured, often by their own failings.  A lot of this comes down to technical design, and the team behind the sound and the set deserve the credit for this.  Every character is crawling in pain for at least half of the film and the moments of quietness are what make the louder moments so enthralling.

The films shines as just a piece of sheer enjoyment.  Sharlto Copley is fantastic as arms dealer Vernon, who manages to be hilarious with every line of dialogue, and Armie Hammer is unbelievably charming and nuanced as the main middle man Ord.  These two characters alone are why the film is such a pleasure to watch.  However there is also a feeling of heroism in the film, with Cillian Murphys IRA buyer Chris taking on a role that you can root for.  He even has a budding romance with Brie Larson’s Justine, who is in some of the trickiest scenes of the film. All of these personalities jell together and the art of dialogue flow is incredibly well done between them.  Wheatley has crafted a room full of psychopaths trying to kill each other, whilst also inviting them to be likeable and cared about.  The film certainly has a lighthearted tone because of this, but does dip into somewhere dark every now and then.

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It is safe to say I have gushed about this film too much, though like Green Room last year, it is a film almost made directly for me.  A film with interesting characters, that never dwells on the drama nor looks past it.  A film with a limited amount of ways to breathe, that keeps a focus throughout.  The tone of the film leads it to be desperately fun from the opening credits, and the execution is just as remarkable as the idea of a feature long shootout.  Must watch.

The Lost City of Z – Film Review

An exploration adventure flick is what I was hoping for, and I got something a lot different. I am aiming to explain why I still enjoyed the film despite some fatal flaws.

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This is the true-life story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), a solider and explorer in the early 20th century, tasked with charting parts of South America.  Alongside companion Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson), he soon discovers the traces of an Ancient city.  From this we get a tale of an abandoned family back home and a real desire to embark upon something special.

In the film it’s pronounced ‘zed’, though it might as well have not been pronounced at all, because the picture definitely exceeds its grasp.  Telling a true to life tale can always be tentative, but perhaps director James Gray was too careful when approaching this.  The story itself is an interesting one.  It’s a story about great exploration and conflict, one of a broken family and loss.  Yet despite this, it never really comes together like that.  What ends up happening is that we get a competent drama that involves some of those things.  The narrative has this awkward pace that leaves gaps in these stories, and they never connect to one another.  Just as we settle into one scenario we are onto the next in quick succession.  On some level this works, because I wasn’t bored during the film, but the emptiness left me disappointed.

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Unfortunately the film is plagued by an awful Charlie Hunnam performance in the lead and it pretty much scars the entire film as he’s in almost every scene.  He is extremely blank in this role and often just feels present as an actor, rather than the character.  I don’t want to assassinate the guy but in this film he has the charisma of a paper bag.  He spews line after line with such wooden and dull delivery.  The material isn’t great and a lot of the dialogue is incongruous, which doesn’t leave him much to work with.  However the writing can’t be blamed for his ability to literally take all the energy out of a scene.  This film could have easily been boosted to a higher standard with a different actor in the role, and that’s such a shame.

There are some positives to the movie (quite a lot of them actually).  First of, the supporting cast is excellent.  I found myself wanting more Robert Pattinson, because he appeared to have an actual character and moulded into the role far more Hunnam did.  There is a quietness to him, which allow there to be a mystery with his character and this in turn makes him incredibly watchable.  Sienna Miller is the heart of the film as the left behind spouse of Percy, and thankfully takes control of some of the scenes she shares with Hunnam.  She is a complex character; torn between wanting her own adventure and letting her husband have his.  Miller balances it well and I was relieved when ever it cut back to her in England.  The other parts where the film shines is during its moments of action.  Now not all of it is executed perfectly, due to the weird gaps I was talking about, however for the most part these scenes are tense enough.  The conflicts with the native tribes are shot nicely and this adds some much needed excitement into the film.  And overall the film is shot well.  I enjoyed the colour palette of the rich greens and it works effectively as a period piece.  It becomes more vibrant aesthetically, and also narratively in its final third; I think thanks to a solid Tom Holland role as Percy’s son. His character joins up late to the film and is able to give the film a sense of purpose finally.

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To conclude this film is not bad at all, and I definitely settled into it as it went on.  It’s tarnished by a flat central performance and the directors constant habit eradicating intriguing story arcs. My hopes of a colourful adventure were distinguished early on, and the thing that replaced that didn’t make it up to my imaginations high standards.  It’s a watchable movie and is dense enough to be worth your ticket price; I just hope James Gray has more control of his material, and hires a better actor for his protagonist in his next project.

 

Side-note:  I missed the first five minutes of the film as I was hopping from screen to screen trying to find the right one.

Manchester by the Sea – Film Review

This film is brilliant.  I could end it there and be completely satisfied with myself, because rarely does a film come across and do all the talking itself.  This film does exactly that, though I came away from it with one image in my mind.  And that, strangely, is Casey Affleck’s attire in the film.  His character Lee Chandler wears some of the coolest things I have seen on screen.  It’s completely superficial but his look in film really made me adore his character, proving that every little bit of a film is important.  I mean there is so much more to the film but I wanted to mention that quickly because it really has stuck in my brain.  And I want to also say that this is not just an Oscar-like production, it is far more entertaining than that.

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The premise for this film is simple and can be really numbed down to tragedy, loss and hope. Lee is disenfranchised from the world and a past life, until his brother dies and he is forced to return home to take care of his nephew.  From this the content of the film may seem obvious, though I feel like the plot unwinds into a far larger story.  What is interesting about the film is that it can be played as character study of Lee.  A man so isolated and broken, giving up completely on life, going day by day feeling nothing.  Yet the film involves so much more than that as it goes on.  It’s less about him and more about the person before, it’s about his relationship with his nephew Patrick, who is wonderfully played by Lucas Hedges in his first major role.  Than it becomes about Patrick, about his self-centred teenage life, and how similar he is to his uncle.  There is a web of characters who revolve around Lee that the film reflects on, though the location comes into play as a vital part of the film as well.

It’s beautifully shot around Manchester and the gorgeous wide shots give each frame life, as the setting becomes more important.  Lee is placed in this world that he once knew, and there is a great deal of nostalgia that comes with that.  The films colours are endlessly nice to look at, with deep browns and blues on sparse landscapes.  I could have watched Lee struggle to live in this place all day and director Kenneth Lonergan does well to keep the film open.  By this I’m trying to say that the film doesn’t bog down on the heartbreak or the characters and allows the film to be about a place as well as the people in it.  Time after time there is these foreboding shots of the town, and the water surrounding it, that really had me fixated on the scenery.  It is such a carefully made film, and cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes does well to add to the drama and performances.

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Of course Affleck is the force of the film, subtly crushing you in every scene and I was desperately empathetic with him as soon as the film began.  He has this brooding rage in him that is present every time he is on screen.  There is a weight to his performance and he was utterly convincing, ultimately making the film as strong as it is.  Those opening moments really are some of the highlights of the film, and Affleck carries it through the rest of the picture.  He’s excellent in the trickier moments where he is alongside Michelle Williams, who plays his ex-wife Randi, and the pair are compelling together as they deal with little dialogue. A lot can be said about a moody Oscar-bait performance, but honestly I was took away by Affleck in this film, as well as the rest of the cast.

I think what I admire most about this film, is how imperfect it is.  There feels like unfinished business in the film and the troubling moments often felt underplayed.  I liked that, and despite some parts in the film where the music felt out of place, I was overall engaged by the film. It’s over 2 hours long, but it flew by and there is never a dull sequence of events.  The entire run-time is full of anguish but I found that it was more a pleasant viewing.  At no point was I depressed or angry, I was relaxed.  The film masterfully puts you into a story that is so human, and so real, rather than attempting to force tears out of you.  It’s full of the awkwardness of life, and when the credits rolled I felt nothing but respect and joy for the film.

 

Side-note:  The second image on this review is probably my favourite part of the entire movie. It is a beautiful moment and such a lovely piece of cinematic creation.