Friday, 11 August 2017

Catfight - Dir. Onur Tukel

Possibly more readily known as ‘That film where Sandra Oh and Anne Heche beat each other up’, Onur Tukel’s Catfight has plenty to offer beyond that initial premise, offering up a near farcical satirical look at the lives of pent-up New Yorkers.

Whilst attending a birthday party that doubles as a celebration for her husband’s latest contract for the military, Veronica (Oh) bumps into former college friend Ashley (Heche), an artist serving drinks to pay her way. The exchange of pleasantries quickly passes by and their conversation re-opens some old wounds; moments later, some fresh wounds are opened too after an accidental collision leads to a bout of fisticuffs and some severe consequences.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Get Out - Dir. Jordan Peele

Not so much a review, but some thoughts on Jordan Peele's 'Get Out'.

Major spoilers lie ahead for both 'Get Out' and Edgar Wright's 'The World's End', you have been warned.

Jordan Peele's debut is ultimately let down by a finale that's nowhere near as bold and fearless as the blistering hour or so that precedes it.
The opening scene establishes the tone of the film brilliantly but also puts the audience slightly ahead of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya). That's fine at the outset, but it's about an hour later before Chris finds out and we are explicitly told what had been building up gradually since that opening.
That build up is terrific but results in the film having to race towards its end just as it reaches the major turning point; the Armitage family no longer need to mask their true intentions for the first time in the film, but 3 of them are dispatched very quickly with no further interactions or conversations with Chris.

The finale, which can be boiled down to 6 words: Chris escapes and kills the family, is effectively handled by Peele but feels ordinary in a film that was anything but for so much of its running time.
Structurally, Get Out operates in a manner similar to Edgar Wright's The World's End. In both the character/characters experience a particular feeling connected to the situation that they have been placed into. That feeling is explored in the subtext of a story that utilises a classic genre and an outlandish twist.

The World’s End is about the dangers of trying to relive past glories when the people and places involved have changed, presented through a story where the townsfolk have literally been changed, from humans to blue-blooded (it’s more like ink) robots. In Get Out, liberal racism is presented through a story where middle-class white people are chumming up to a black man to figure out if they’d like to have their brain transplanted into his body.
And yet in The World’s End, the main turning point is somewhere closer to the middle of the film, leaving more time for the story to explore the new situation. This is particularly evident in the trailer for Get Out, which has to feature so much of the final 20 minutes of the film to suggest how the story will escalate but also leaves the film with too few surprises (of similar impact of those earlier in the film) to deliver that final knockout blow.
Perhaps it won’t matter as much on repeat viewings, but for now it’s a quibble that I can’t get out of my mind.

Get Out is out on Blu-Ray, DVD and VOD now.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

After the Storm - Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda

If someone were to ask me what Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest film is about, I could accurately, and most unhelpfully, say ‘Life’, which could make the film sound morosely ponderous when it isn’t in any way.

Whilst the characters occasionally flirt with philosophical notions of what the meaning of life is, much to their own amusement and amazement, Kore-eda is much more interested in letting his characters participate in the life they’ve been dealt and to navigate a way through the joys and disappointments along the way.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Adult Life Skills - Dir. Rachel Tunnard

A little quirk can go a long way on screen and thankfully Rachel Tunnard, who writes, directs and edits this feature length adaptation of her BAFTA nominated short Emotional Fusebox, balances the idiosyncrasies of her characters with an affecting story of grief and the difficulties in overcoming it.

On the cusp of her 30th birthday, Anna (Jodie Whittaker) spends her days and nights tucked away in her mum’s shed at the bottom of the garden. She has yet to come to terms with the death of her twin brother, but is forced into confronting her future when she has to look out for eight-year-old neighbour Clint (Ozzy Myers).

There have been plenty of films with characters clinging on to their teenage years as the realities of proper adulthood rapidly approach, but Adult Life Skills posses an overwhelming sincerity that treats Anna’s troubles with the respect they deserve; there’s never the sense that she should just simply get over it. People react to tragedies in different ways and the intricacies of Anna’s life and character (such as her enthusiasm for making videos starring faces drawn on her thumbs) lend the somewhat familiar narrative framework a uniqueness that may be described as twee, but is distinctly human.

The overriding honesty of the film is exemplified in Jodie Whittaker’s engaging performance. You feel the frustration of Anna’s mother and grandmother (Lorraine Ashbourne and Eileen Davies) as they try to help her but also understand why she is reluctant to move on. A tad more urgency during the early stages of the film might not have gone amiss, but Tunnard makes powerful use of imagery to keep the story flowing; the sight of young Clint shaving his head is more moving than any words could be.

Adult Life Skills is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Neruda - Dir. Pablo Larraín

The biopic has been a mainstay in cinema for as long as filmmakers have been looking for stories to tell, offering actors the challenge and responsibility of bringing a real person to the big screen. It is a genre unto itself with its own trappings and clichés, which have been effectively parodied in the likes of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Pablo Larraín’s latest film is, in strictest terms, a biopic of Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda, but that description belies the film and its approach to capturing a person’s life on film. Larraín has enjoyed a steady rise to prominence and acclaim across the world and with Neruda he has developed his capabilities even further to deliver an enigmatic and at times breathtaking challenge to the conventional biopic.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Free Fire - Dir. Ben Wheatley

Beards, bullets and bloody-minded idiots collide in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire: a lean, rollicking cinematic jolt to the senses.

An abandoned Boston warehouse is the meeting point for an arms deal between Irishman Chris (Cillian Murphy) and cocksure South African Verne (Sharlto Copley); each accompanied by a band of merry henchmen and mediators to ensure the deal goes smoothly. After rumblings of deceit and unsavoury transgressions emerge, the palpable tension is broken by gunfire and a chaotic fracas in the rubble ensues.

Friday, 3 March 2017

The Good, The Bad and The Box Office

26 films that collectively took less money at the U.S. box office than Suicide Squad did in just 3 days.

A majority of box-office headlines each week focuses on the big hitters, the franchise entries and sequels whose performance in the opening weekend is often taken as an indication of long-term financial success. Will film X surpass film Y? Will film X cross $1 billion gross worldwide? Has film X met box-office expectations?

Discussion of box office figures has gradually found its way into more and more online discussions, with larger box office takings often used as inherently flawed evidence to claim one film is better than another.

Away from the big franchises, there isn’t the same level of discussion. The reporting on smaller films is available if you want to read it but there’s less understanding as to what those figures mean. Is a $5 million opening weekend a good result? Will the film make back its budget? Does that matter?

In short, how much money do smaller releases take compared to the multi-million dollar blockbusters? In particular, I decided to see how these smaller releases compared to Suicide Squad, which was not only one of the year’s highest grossing releases, but was generally received poorly by critics (it holds a score of just 26% on Rotten Tomatoes).

Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad.

Certain Women - Dir. Kelly Reichardt

Following the intense dam-busting thriller Night Moves, Kelly Reichardt returns with her sixth feature, Certain Women, her fourth in a notably prolific last decade. Based on a number of short stories by Maile Meloy, Certain Women tells loosely connected stories of three women living in weathered small town Montana.

Laura (Laura Dern) is a lawyer with an unsatisfied client, Gina is a wife and mother looking to bring her family closer together in their new home and a lonely horse rancher (Lily Gladstone) stumbles into a night class on the intricacies of school law.