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.

Thank god ‘The Snowman’ is rubbish

Imagine a world of film where there aren’t scenes of Val Kilmer grunting in the snow?  That world would be extremely dull.  The Snowman is properly rubbish; to a point where it’s hard to comprehend just how rubbish it is.  After about the first minute it was evident that something went badly wrong during the production of this film.  Another 30 minutes passes and I’m now thinking is it all a massive joke?  Are the film-makers pulling one over us?  Otherwise it could be the worst film I have ever seen in the cinema.  And I’m quite relieved about this because quite frankly there is too much good stuff out there.  It’s really hard to make a good film, yet there have been plenty of them this year.  So thank god for The Snowman and its ability to make me laugh at its flaws.

To dissect the comedy of the film we’ll start with plot.  There is kind of a lot going on and then at the same time nothing that matters?  It is never clear what the main plotline is or what the point is.  The narrative bounces around with little connections between.  To be honest the plot of the film is the least funny part of it because it makes absolute no sense.  By the end of the film the thread of the weak murder mystery is pulled together but without any pay off.  The killer comes out of the blue (though I guessed him half way through) to give a final ten minutes that is completely baffling.  Up to this point the film had been a series of edits rather than scenes, with some characters having no ties to the main story.  There are other weird detectives other than Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) who are present in a different city because why?  I honestly couldn’t tell you.  There is a side-plot of a sexually abusive business mogul that has no relevance to anything, that comes with an added on J.K Simmons role.  Most of all the film is one big long continuation of exposition and ex machina’s.  Every piece of information is thrown in your face and made obvious by either a weird cut or music queue.  The plot devices are numerous – including a square portable computer that the detectives have to use.  Why?  Are we in a different universe to our own? Do phones, computers, iPad’s not exist?  Nope just so we can get one shot of the bad guy deleting some files.  Preposterous.

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There is a screaming in your face problem in this film that is clear from the very start.  The editing.  It’s interesting to note that this film has two editing credits, and I assume they’re both children.  It’s edited like about thirty different people have had a go at it.  Within the first minute there must have been fifty different cuts.  It was like they shot the whole movie then realised the record button wasn’t on at the end of filming, and consequently had to cut every three seconds to make a cohesive runtime.  The film would cut to close-up and I would laugh, then suddenly it would cut to somewhere completely different and I was simply bewildered by it.  Timing in editing is massive, and this felt really off – to where dramatic moments would become comedic ones.  I cannot tell you how funny the actual snowmen in the film were, and when it cut to them I could not hold the laughter in.  The director must have been distant during this part of production as there was certainly no vision in this aspect of the process.  There are actual scenes (not really scenes) in this film where all the action is skipped through via the edit and if you manage to make it to the end you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, J.K Simmons and Toby Jones are all in this film.  These are four massive and talented performers.  Fassbender is so absent throughout and combine this with his paper thin character you get a leading role that’s impossible to care about.  Ferguson has the only slightly intriguing role but never given enough chance to be engaging.  J.K Simmons is miscast and a pointless distraction.  And Toby Jones is wasted for one scene of exposition.  However none of them have anything on the totally unfathomable Val Kilmer appearance.  I have run out of words to describe his disjointed, mumbling uncomfortable attempt at whatever he is attempting.  His scenes are separate from the rest of the narrative, and I can’t for the life of me work out why he was cast.  He is clearly insane.  Which is a shame because Val Kilmer was once a great actor, and has a great Twitter – where he comes across as quite normal.  In The Snowman though he is a struggle to watch, like a cat slowly dying after it has been hit by a car.

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Go and see this film if you get the chance because it is definitely an experience.  I have so many questions for the people that made it, and I can’t even imagine the atmosphere at the premiere.  It is something I have not quite witnessed before – A film based on a popular series of books, with a famous cast and skilled director that fails on every level.  Usually bad films have one or two things wrong with them, and sometimes these bad films become more appreciated as time goes on.  The Snowman gets it wrong on pretty much every film-making basis and cannot be appreciated in any way.  Thankfully so, because the world is way more colourful when these horrid outliers occur.

 

(The actual editors of the film were not children; in fact one of them is Thelma Schoonmaker who is probably the greatest working editor.  Something dark happened to the people who made this film.)

(Also, I’m aware Val Kilmer has throat cancer, which could explain his peculiarity, but why cast him?)

 

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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My Mid-Year Top 10 Films (2017)

Listing is something that I have always enjoyed, and my Top 10 films of the year ones have been a constant over my 400 different film blogs.  What’s interesting about them is how they change and how much I’m disgusted by them when I look back.  Honestly I look back at my 2016 list and feel sick at myself for liking certain films as much as I did.  So, in attempt to sort of breakdown the whole year, I’m doing one now at the half way point. Then, at the end of the year I can see how many in this list didn’t make the final cut.  As always with these things, I haven’t seen all the films that have come out in the UK this year, so when I do eventually get round to seeing them they may make the final list at the end of the year.

What I’ve also done for the this is bring back an old scoring system I’ve used in the past. Ratings of films has fascinated recently so I thought it’d be interesting to see where these film ranks in my own particular system, seen as they’re my favourite films of the year. It’s pretty basic really, where I split the film into four categories: Presentation (effectively mise-en-scene & cinematography), Performances, Narrative, and effect.  The first three being marked out of three, and the last 1, though it never gets that full 1 point unless I have seen the film more than once.  It’s a methodical way of looking at films, but it gives a final score out of 10 which I think is a simple way of gauging how good the film is without revealing how much I enjoyed it personally.

On with the list…

 

10.  La La Land (January)

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The beauty of this film is obvious, yet I don’t think it is as special as perhaps it’s marked down to be.  In fact I think that opening scene everyone talks about is really dull. Of course director Damien Chazelles artful presence is clear but I found that he linked music and film tighter in his previous film Whiplash.  The plot is rocky at times and I found Gosling and Stone just okay in the leads.  Despite all of this it makes it into my top 10 because of the simple pleasures of it.  It is a really happy film to watch and I can universally recommend it.  There are some magical moments that will capture the imagination of anyone, and in the end it’s a positive for Hollywood cinema.

Presentation: 3/3

Performances: 2/3

Narrative: 1.5/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score: 7/10

 

9. Okja (June)

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This is an odd one because I’m not entirely sure how much I enjoyed the film.  Joon-ho Bong is a director that I admire, and so I was looking forward to it.  I didn’t get to see it in the cinema and had to make do with the Netflix version, though I still found it a very attractive.  It’s shot well, like all of his previous films, and has a lighter edge to some of the look of the framing.  Tonally it has some zanier moments as well, which I welcomed but overall ended on a pit of the stomach lull with some of the subject matter. This gave the film meaning, and it was never too much in your face.  The performances were each individually different and the actors brought a lot of life to the story.  Actaully looking back at the film I can say that I firmly did enjoy it.

Presentation: 2.5/3

Performances: 3/3

Narrative: 2.5/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once0

Final Score: 8.5/10

 

8.  John Wick: Chapter 2 (February)

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The first John Wick was a real fun movie, that I thought dropped off towards the end. This sequel is very similar, but replace the fun with intense thrills and the dropped off to picked up.  Unlike the first film it escalates rather than falls away and so the action is outstanding from start to finish.  It is expertly choreographed and has a more vicious look this time.  There are scenes in this movie that shocked me completely and I was really blown away.  It’s a genre of film that always pulls me to the cinema and I’m looking forward to the next one, because surely they can’t top it?

Presentation: 3/3

Performance: 2.5/3

Narrative: 2/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score 8/10

 

7.  Silence (January)

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Silence is a tough film, a long, slow process of torture basically.  Yet I feel like it is so beautifully done.  Scorsese deals with each scene with such care and nuance, with the cinematography being really gorgeous and complex.  The narrative is dark and at times lead Andrew Garfield loses his footing, but overall its another Scorsese triumph.  I’m not sure I could recommend this film to anyone and I’m in no rush to watch it again simply due to the subject matter.  Scorsese just manages to win me over with experience, and I think a really compelling story.

Presentation: 3/3

Performance: 2/3

Narrative: 2.5/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score: 8/10

 

6.  T2: Trainspotting (January)

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It was sort of inevitable how much I would like this film, because of how much I love the original novel and film.  What the sequel brought was actually much more than I was expecting.  It was funny, tragic and had some great film making quirks like the original. All the cast were on top form and Danny Boyle certainly hasn’t lost it.  My original review: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/t2-trainspotting-film-review/

Presentation: 2.5/3

Performance: 2.5/3

Narrative: 2.5/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score: 8/10

 

5. Logan (March)

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I had a real gun-wrenching reaction to this film.  Wolverine is a character that I’m fond of and he is portrayed perfectly in this film.  It’s a dark tale, full of tragedy and violence. The reaction I had to the film made me write this: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/logan-the-use-of-visceral-cinema/.  I would suggest reading that to see my full thoughts on the film, but to shorten it, I believe the film is a fantastic right to the bone visceral experience.

Presentation: 3/3

Performance: 3/3

Narrative: 2.5/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score: 9/10

 

4. Manchester by the Sea (January)

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You know what, I adore this film.  The more I think about it the more I want it to be number 1 on my list, showing the strength of the top 3.  It is stunning on a visual level and a dramatic one.  Every single moment is perfect executed by director Ken Lonergan and everyone present on screen does a wonderful job.  It is a masterstroke performance from Casey Affleck in a story that will tear you down, but remind you of the simplicity of life and loss.  My original review: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/manchester-by-the-sea-film-review/

Presentation: 3/3

Performance: 3/3

Narrative: 3/3

Effect: 1/1

Final Score: 10/10

 

3. Baby Driver (June)

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This is a film that I really cannot wait to see again.  It is bold and exciting but most importantly it is a brilliant cinema experience.  Right from the start of the film I was hooked in with the soundtrack effect and it never lets up.  It is showcase of what music can do when it blends with film, and a showcase of Edgar Wright at his best.  He crafts together this heist romp that has an edge thanks to his auteur sensibilities.  And it is another film that I can universally recommend.  My original review: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/baby-driver-film-review/

Presentation: 3/3

Performance: 3/3

Narrative: 2.5/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score: 9/10

 

2. Free Fire (March)

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I was almost certain after seeing this film it would be my number 1 for the year, because it was so much fun to watch in the cinema.  Ben Wheatley is an interesting filmmaker and he continues to be with this film.  It fits into my favourite film category: small premise with interesting characters.  A 90 minute shootout is what it says on the tin, but the chaos that actually occurs is much more than that.  It’s a stunning take on violence and conflict that I have never seen before.  Each character has their own traits and beliefs meaning that there interactions are not only full of peril but are also full of humour.  I think its a real achievement and will go down as a classic in my books.  My original review: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/free-fire-film-review/

Presentation: 3/3

Performance: 3/3

Narrative: 3/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score: 9.5/10

 

1. Dunkirk (July)

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There is a lot I could say about this film and I’ve been really battling with myself whether to review it or not.  I could talk about the subject matter being really meaningful to me as a British person and the care Christopher Nolan takes with it.  I could talk about the groundbreaking film making techniques he employs, or the breathtaking cinematography.  I could talk about the edge Nolan puts on it by playing with the time of the plots.  All in all, it has to be experienced, and in the best way possible.  I saw it in 70mm iMAX and it utterly shattered me.  My bones creaked and my blood swirled through each masterfully crafted scene.  It’s a must watch, and once you’ve scene it, I’m pretty sure it’ll be near the top of your list too.

Presentation: 3/3

Performance: 3/3

Narrative: 3/3

Effect: 0.5/1 (only seen once)

Final Score: 9.5/10

 

There are 7 other films that I’ve seen in this first half of the year, so I’ve ranked from 11-17 below…

11. Moonlight – P: 3/3, P: 3/3, N: 2/3, E: 0/1, F.S: 8/10

12. The Lost City of Z – P: 2.5/3, P: 1.5/3, N: 3/3, E: 0.5/1, FS: 7.5/10

13. Hidden Figures – P: 2/3, P: 3/3, N: 2.5/3, E: 0.5/1, FS: 8/10

14. Guardians of the Galaxy – P: 3/3, P: 2.5/3, N: 1.5/3, E: 0/1, FS:  7/10

15. War for the Planet of the Apes – P: 3/3, P: 2.5/3, N: 1/3, E: 0/1, FS: 6.5/10

16. Get Out – P: 2.5/3, P: 3/3, N: 1.5/3, E: 0/1, FS: 7/10

17. Alien Covenant – P: 2/3, P: 2/3, N: 1/3, FS: 5/10

 

Why ‘The Prisoner of Azkaban’ is So Remarkable – Part 2/2: Performance & Narrative

First part (direction): https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/10/why-the-prisoner-of-azkaban-is-so-remarkable-part-12-direction/

In the first part I discussed Alfonso Cuaron’s vision and his stamp on the film.  I think ultimately he is the reason the film is so brilliant; however there are other cogs in the wheel.  These other cogs, in a broad sense, are performance and narrative – two things that are arguably the most important in deeming a film a success.  A poor narrative leads a film to be boring and poor performances lead a film to be unwatchable.  Azkaban has both a strong narrative and strong performances, so mix that in with some arty Cuaron-ness and it adds up to a remarkable movie.

J.K Rowling is extremely precious about her work, and fairly so.  Instead of being discarded when the rights were bought for her books, she was brought into the fold.  It’s clear she backed away through most of the films creation but certainly didn’t let them get away with anything that wasn’t a part of her imagination.  The third book in her series, and for me one of the weakest, was published in 1999 two years before the first film even came out.  It’s a strange thing because I view all the potter books very differently.  After re-reading them, I see them more and more as children’s books.  The dialogue is a little scratchy and some of the story telling is painfully basic.  Yet they are still clearly well written and I would say The Order of the Phoenix and The Deathly Hallows are extraordinary pieces of work.  Azkaban however is just a little too infantile at times for me, and obviously is going to be different re-reading it as a 19 year old and being plagued by a love for the movie.  The book almost has the exact same beats as the film, as it’s the last of the shorter novels.  Therefore Rowling’s mind is definitely on top form, despite some dull writing, as the plot is complex and meaningful.

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Narrative

It’s hard to congratulate a particular person on good narrative pacing, as a massive budget film usually has about thirty people behind it.  The writer credited is Steve Kloves, who adapted all the Potters apart from Order.  He is clearly a talented guy, because he manages to slim away any shaky dialogue and keep a quick movement by movement plot in all of the films.  Azkaban is a particular feat because there is so much plot going on.  Right from the start it is very different from the first two films and getting to Hogwarts is a Potter cliché and the first two films set that in stone.  This then leads to the typical Potter narrative, which goes as follows: arrive at Hogwarts in a funky way, listen to some kind of warning that’s going on in the school, go to classes and do wizardry stuff, discover something about the warning, develop a plan, more school wizardry stuff (Quidditch perhaps), then a final climatic battle or problem to overcome (wizards chess and the snake etc).  As the films go on this gets cloudier, especially in Goblet because the Tri-Wizard cup brings in a whole new narrative structure.  Consequently when Azkaban sub verses this, it’s very refreshing.  First off, because getting to Hogwarts is put into jeopardy straight away, because Harry has to get there himself.  It’s then a beautifully choreographed and funny travel set piece with the night bus.  Then even before the obligatory train ride, we have moments of calm outside of Hogwarts, where Harry gets that warning that’s going on this year (Sirius Black).  And even then, on the train, it is grounded to a halt by the baddies and we are introduced to a beloved character (the Dementors & Lupin).  I hope you get what I’m trying to say at this point, which is that Azkaban dismisses and plays with that classical Potter structure.  It toys with the source material, holding on drama and expressing it in a new way.

Moving on towards the ending as it of course has two of them.  The time turner, the most plot device written plot device in history, but so wonderfully done.  I still remember being shocked that there was another 20 minutes left in the film because they have to go back in time.  My small brain couldn’t quite fathom that they were going to answer some of the questions that had been built up.  It is mesmerising, it really is, that we get to relive a plot that has already gripped us.  From a different angle we see the story unfold, and so much more depth is added.  The characters (Harry & Hermione) begin to understand what actually is going on, and just how special Harry is in this world.  Cuaron has already masterfully balanced key scenes, and now the plot pulls it along to an exciting resolution.  The narrative in this film is exciting, and somewhat original, meaning that on a story basis it leaves most other blockbuster films behind.

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Performance

In this narrative, you have diverse characters played by diverse actors.  It’s a constant in Potter films, great Rowling creations played by a host of British actors.  This film in particular boasts an outrageously good cast with Gary Oldman, David Thewlis, Timothy Spall, Emma Thompson and Michael Gamdon coming into the series.  Oldman especially sits at the top of the helm in a challenging role.  He is conflicted, going quickly from bad to good and is very much a mentor to Daniel Radcliffe.  Radcliffe himself has stated how after working with Oldman he decided to pursue acting properly.  Sirius Black is the drive of the film and the emotional draw, so a legend had to be brought in and he did a perfect job of it.  David Thewlis comes in to play probably his now most infamous role, another conflicted character in Professor Lupin – a man shrouded in guilt but full of care and hope.  He plays him in a messy, rugged look; he’s imperfect but pragmatic.  Thewlis makes him likeable due to his soft nature yet a lean to the anti-hero because of his aggression and obvious darker side.  These two characters together have unbelievable chemistry and give a great sense of the friendship before with Harry’s parents.  It’s these top level actors that create such clarity in the story and allow the younger cast to develop their skills.

Like I said, Oldman was deeply influential on Radcliffe and I believe he still is today.  Harry has to be far more mature in this film and Radcliffe handles it well, cautiously not overacting in dramatic moments.  For example he is quiet when Oldman is present, allowing him to lead the scenes.  And when he has to be centre stage, he controls it well, such as when he reveals to Ron & Hermione that Sirius was one of his parent’s friends.  In my mind this is when Radcliffe becomes the proper leading man of the series and appears as a competent actor.  He is given pretty tough material and not once does he seem out of his depth.  His co stars improve on themselves as well, with Rupert Grint nailing his comedic timing and Emma Watson becoming much fiercer.  She is no longer the annoying know-it-all but a force to be reckoned with, and spars well with Radcliffe in the more intense scenes.  What is remarkable about the three’s performances is how real and convincing it is, combining well with the existing world building Cuaron has put into place.  The director got very close to the actors on this film and suggested they really get to know their characters inside out; it shows.

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In conclusion, the acting in the film ties well with the solid narrative.  It is an intriguing plot that requires some tricky portrayals, but all is dealt with well.  With this set of actors comes a fantastic chemistry that is carried throughout the rest of the series.  It is at this point that the franchise takes a turn south to become the breathtaking story that it is.  Daniel Radcliffe has since played some incredible roles and Cuaron has since made some incredible movies.  Their connection in this film makes it remarkable alone.  I think in these two short completely un-researched essays I have touched the surface on the magic of this film, maybe one day I’ll write a book about it, giving me chance to scour all corners of its genius.

 

War for the Planet of the Boring and the Stupid (Apes)

This is a series of films that sticks in my mind, which means that I have a lot to say about them!  When I first saw the Tim Burton Planet of the Apes it horrified me; mostly because Burton is a psychopath but also because thematically it’s pretty scary.  The idea of an Ape uprising is frightening stuff, and what the original films did well was bring in other interesting themes alongside that – about humanity, discrimination and arrogance.  So, there’s always an uneasy thought when you begin to think about these films narratively.  And with the first of the reboots Rise that uneasiness is definitely there.  It’s a solid movie that is really rough around the edges but is incredibly touching, especially if there is someone in your life suffering from Dementia.  The film sets up this idea of a greater Ape intelligence convincingly and there is an emotional connection with the characters.  Then along comes the sequel, which I think is probably the strongest of the three.  It opens up the conflict between the Apes and the humans and how they cannot coexist.  It boasts a series of exciting set pieces and those human issues are relevant within the Gary Oldman character.  Unfortunately all three of the films fall to many Hollywood clichés but none more than the latest and final film of the reboot.

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The War for the Planet of the Apes is 90% nonsensical from the start and a bitter disappointment.  I follow plenty of film critics on Twitter and they unanimously praised the film as a top rate blockbuster.  Mark Kermode, who I greatly admire, liked the film and didn’t really bring up the issues I have with it.  It’s almost as though they are watching a different film to me.  Now, I’m not saying it’s a bad film, it’s a good one.  It should be praised for its achievement in its special effects and composition of its Ape characters.  Andy Serkis is of course remarkable as Caesar and completely dominates the scenes he’s in.  And the majority of the action is wonderfully put together, especially in a horse chase scene through some snowy mountains.  Though I would say it never reaches the cinematography heights of the second film Dawn, which is absolutely gorgeous.  The problems I have with the film are a hold-up on the plot and some of the decision making in the film.  I’m not going to dissect every scene and pull it apart because I often feel like you have to sacrifice some clarity to make it entertaining; go to yourmoviesucks.org’s y YouTube channel for that.  Nevertheless there were some key elements that annoyed me throughout the run time.

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PLOT SPOILERS

To start with the film is certainly not a War between Apes and humans.  It is on a much smaller scale than that, which is fine but I think the marketing is slightly misleading in this.  I was expecting a climactic battle on an epic level and instead I got a kind of revenge film?  A revenge film that is set up because of a coincidence?  It is a coincidence that the Colonel can suddenly sneak into the Ape encampment deep in the woods and execute Caesars family and a coincidence that Caesar sees him do it.  Thus, he goes for revenge and with his pals he stumbles across Joshua from Friends who idiotically gets himself killed, leaving his daughter for Maurice to fend for.  And this character is one of the massive flaws of the film because she is mostly pointless.  I get that she is there to show the good of humanity and that it isn’t Ape versus Human, it’s Good versus Bad.  Yet this introduces one of the problems I have with all the Ape films, I’m a human!  I relate with the human characters far more than the Ape ones and will follow them blindly despite their evil tendencies.  There is a lot of this film where humans are non-existent or completely lost of likeability, meaning we’re stuck rooting for Ape characters we can’t really relate to.  There is only Caesar that appears well rounded; even Maurice is a little too good to be true.  But, back to the little girl, who has the same expression on her face all the way through and manages to add zero substance in any scene.  Probably the most ridiculous part of the film is when the Gorilla gives her the flower out of nowhere then of course dies in the next scene.  It scream forced, and like most of the film is pushing for an emotional release that isn’t there.

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Next is more stuff that is irritating but passable, such as the ‘Bad Ape’ character who I thought was going to bring other Apes into the mix, but no why make it interesting when it can be formulaic!  The film turns into an escape thriller of sorts that is fully based upon plot devices and clichés.  And I have questions more than answers.  How did the soldiers manage to capture all of the Apes so quickly?  Why do all these soldiers blindly follow the Colonel?  Woody Harrelson is charismatic enough but he’s clearly insane and the crossbow guy who we’re meant to sympathise for at the beginning loses all human traits and ignorantly abides the Colonels orders.  The Colonel himself is full of contradictions, like being totally ruthless let willing to let Caesar live, for what reason?  He’s a tactical genius who has managed to gain the following of a small army but can’t work out that he needs to feed his slaves so that they can work?  Also, he lets a little girl walk straight through the gates, and subsequently poison him, as well as barricading on top of a series of convenient escape tunnels?  The whole escape series of events are ludicrous and just thinking about them triggers me.  We then get a ending that is fine, though killing Caesar and whole load of humans we don’t know felt like a rushed resolution so that there’s no possibility of a fourth film.  Like I said I’m not going to go through the entire plot, but the narrative appeared narrow and dull where it could have been so much more.

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I think the thing that most disappointed me about the film was how dragged out and boring it was.  After the excitement of the previous film and the possibility of some interesting directions it could go in, it really let me down.  There are segments of this film that rely on Caesar carrying the weight of the drama, so when he’s absent or the plot is silly it doesn’t work on any level.  Tonally the film is incredibly dark, and to be honest I was a bit disturbed it’s only a 12A.  If there was a ‘fuck’ in there it would be a 15 but because it was just mass murder, loss, fascism, slave labour and the apocalypse anyone of any age can see it!  And when a film is that dark, it has to have a level of drama that you can connect to but they went so far off with the narrative that I didn’t care at all.  The excitement came in bursts and in between there was a whole load of emptiness.  Overall, I would recommend this film to someone who enjoyed the previous ones and if you can handle some really peril fuelled cinema.  It is breathtaking on a visual level and occasionally entertaining (thanks to some obvious nods to Apocalypse Now that at times is very close to the nose!).  However it never took off in the way that it could, or showcased an ability to surpass the original films.  My main question after all of this, after all the misdirection and flat story-telling, is: where on earth is James Franco?

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