The Lost City of Z (2017) – Teaser

Outlook: Possibly a classic

Adapted from the non-fiction book of the same name, The Lost City of Z revolves around Col. Percival Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) and his obsession to find a lost civilisation shrouded within the Amazon.

The plot, set in 1920’s, interspersed with Fawcett’s family life and trauma from the First World War, is invocative of the beginning wave of criticism towards Colonialism, at least in the West. The scenes within the trailer, from the small piles of human skills alongside the rivershore, to the explorers fleeing from attacking tribes and their barrages of arrows, invokes the spirit of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

The cast is stellar for this film, sporting Tom Holland of Spider-Man fame, Sienna Miller, and Robert Pattinson. Pattinson is almost unrecognisable in the trailer when he quietly questions Col. Percival Fawcett. Having lost weight and gained a thick beard for the role, Pattinson appears like a gaunt shell of a man, struggling on the edge of survival. I have a lot of respect for Pattinson as an actor, his roles since Twilight have shown that he is more than a teenage heart-throb. I hope that this role grants him the recognition he deserves.

James Gray, who is probably known for his film The immigrant, has directed the film. Gray and the author of The Lost City of Z, David Grann, have co-written the screenplay.

The Lost City of Z reminds me of Jauja, an underrated film starring Viggo Mortensen as a Danish man in Patagonia in the late 1800’s. Both films deal with men in strange foreign lands, driven onwards by a compulsion to find answers.

Personally, from the trailer alone, I think The Lost City of Z may be a classic.

Please do watch Jauja. It is an extremely underappreciated film with an interesting plot and great performances.Every scene in Jauja has the rich beauty of a Monet painting, except with more clarity. Ironically, I watched Jauja, which roughly means ‘ never never land’ in a small independent cinema in France called El Dorado. I was still swept away by the film, even though it was in Spanish and Danish, with French subtitles.

I guess that many people end up chasing after lost places or lost people.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer for both The Lost City of Z and Jauja, see below:

The Lost City of Z trailer

 

 

Jauja trailer:

 

Alien Covenant (2017) – Teaser

Outlook: Promising 

My apologies for not reviewing Alien Covenant’s trailer sooner. The trailer, like the series’ titular monster, appeared innocuously over the Christmas break, only to emerge from hiding when it is far too late.

The dictionary defines a covenant as ‘a promise’. The word itself brings forth biblical connotations of both God’s promise to protect the Israelites if they were faithful to him, and God’s promise to Noah to no longer harm human life once the flood subsided.

Ridley Scott’s choice of Alien Covenant instead of Prometheus 2 must have been deliberate, especially as Prometheus is the titular myth where an act of theft creates humanity. Scott’s sci-fi works explore the relationship between creator and created. They challenge the belief that humanity has value over other life because we were purposefully created. In Scott’s Prometheus,  humanity is created by another race, but never clarifies why we were created. It only reveals that our creators decided to destroy us.

Hopefully, Alien Covenant will reveal why the ‘Gods’ from Prometheus created humanity. It would be interesting if the choice of ‘covenant’ does relate back to God’s promise to Noah, to learn why our creators reneged on their attempt to destroy us. Hopefully, Scott will depict humanity as an experiment gone awry that spread like a virus, just like the alien.

The new trailer for Alien Covenant mixes together Prometheus and Alien but adds new elements too. The space crew panic through dimly lit and claustrophobic corridors, just like the crew of the Nostromo. The rejected pleas of one crewmember to be released from a medical room was reminiscent of Ripley’s refusal in Alien to let the scouting team back aboard the Nostromo. The crew encounter both the parasite virus from Prometheus, and the iconic facehugger from Alien. What a great combination.

Fassbender returns from Prometheus, but he is not the same David android. His hair is brown not blone, indicating that he is a newer model. Curiously, the new David android seems to be in a similar room to where Peter Weyland, who financed the Prometheus mission, recorded a message for the Prometheus crew. Covenant ties to Prometheus in less obvious ways. Katherine Waterston’s character finds what is probably Elizabeth Shaw’s dog-tag in a ruined alien spacecraft. The armed and cloaked figure at 1.31 is either Shaw, or the older David model, having somehow crafted a new body.

Danny McBride has been one of my favourite actors since Easbound and Down. I am looking forward to seeing him perform in a more serious film, and go beyond comedic relief. Katherine Waterson will hopefully veer away from the type of helpless damsel she has played in both Inherent Vice and Fantastic beasts and where to find them. Hopefully, working with Ridley Scott has realised Waterson’s potential, which I have witnessed in brief flashes in other films. Fassbender was great as the android in Prometheus. I expect he will deliver another great performance in this role.

I do have some gripes with the amount of plot that the trailer revealed. Especially in terms of Danny McBride’s death by the alien and the infection of one other crewmember by the virus which appeared in Prometheus.

Finally, I would love it if the original David android, has lured the crew in Alien: Covenant to this new planet. David’s motive would be to send the alien to earth, thereby enacting revenge on humanity, which David laments created him for no reason in Prometheus.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) – Teaser

star-wars-the-last-jedi

On January 23, 2017, almost a month after Disney’s release of Rogue One, the studio released the title of its next Star Wars film: Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Once again LucasFilm and Disney decide to keep in line with The Force Awakens and drop the episode connotation from the title.

We here at Title Roll Reviews are nervously excited about the new title. We hope that “The Last Jedi” refers to both Rey and Old Man Skywalker surviving the film since Jedi is both the plural and singular form of a lightside-warrior.

Rian Johnson (Looper) helms the film as both writer and director. Looking at the IMDB page for the movie humorously Tom Hardy is supposedly going to be a “Stormtrooper.” While we would dig this outcome, we doubt that Johnson will pull another major-Daniel Craig type cameo.

We are both looking forward to seeing Benicio Del Toro’s role in the movie, especially since the Star Wars films tend to get darker in their respective second chapters.

It will be exciting to see how The Last Jedi answers the questions raised in The Force Awakens about Snoke, the end of Luke’s revived Jedi academy, who the Knights of Ren are and where Rey comes from.

In order to succeed, The Last Jedi must overcome J.J. Abrams’ legacy of liberally borrowing elements of A New Hope‘s plot for The Force Awakens. By doing so, Abrams has set the new trilogy upon the same arc as the original films. The Jedi, once again, have been betrayed and destroyed. One Jedi remains that we know about (Obi-Wan), and a young person of unknown origin (Luke) wishes to become a Jedi. The Last Jedi  must steer away from The Force Awakens’ reliance on nostalgia and deliver a new tale. Failure to do so will render the new films so similar to their predecessors, that they will effectively be reboots.

Mr. Johnson’s first film, Looper, is a flawed but underappreciated film that deserves a second viewing by most people. The film revealed Johnson’s talent as writer and director through the movie’s reinvigoration of the concept of time travel with new ideas. At times, Johnson’s attempts in Looper did falter, but five years have passed since Looper’s release, giving Johnson time to hone his craft.

We are both confident that Johnson will deliver a bold departure for the Star Wars series due to his competency as sci-fi writer and director who creates plots replete with unorthodox concepts. After three prequels, a spin-off and a soft reboot, Star Wars needs to take a risk.

Disney will likely soon release a trailer for the movie in the coming weeks so check back here for that and may the Force be with you.

Moonlight

Moonlight follows the life of Chiron, a boy raised in a volatile household and drug-ridden neighborhood, from childhood to manhood. Director Barry Jenkins divides the movie into three sections: LittleChiron, and Black. Each part corresponds to a different stage of Chiron’s life: elementary school, high school, and life as a young adult. Jenkins delivers a heartfelt story that provokes audiences to the point of almost being infuriating. At each stage of his life, Chiron navigates different ordeals: living with a drug-addict mother, discovering his sexuality in a non-accepting environment, and finding his path in life. Moonlight is only Jenkins’ second full-length feature film and it is distributed by the burgeoning film company, A24.

Film Score: Five out of Five  (Classic) 

Everyone needs to see this movie, but not everyone will enjoy it. On its surface, Moonlight appears to be another Boyhood due to their similar plots about following a boy through pivotal moments in his life. Moonlight, however, is about much more than just a boy growing up. Instead, it expertly questions a wide variety of things: the ethics of drug-dealing, masculinity, teenage love, and self-identity.

Moonlight excels in dealing with each conundrum Chiron faces, but the movie’s strongest moment comes in its third act, Black. Here, Chiron is a young man, dealing drugs in Atlanta to make a living. One day, a high school friend/lover, Kevin, phones Chiron to tell him he’s been on his mind. After the call, Chiron goes to visit Kevin in Miami and arrives in a pimped-out Cadillac, wearing a gold grill, and playing a throbbing hip-hop song that exclaims “Ya’ll fucking with the wrong muthafucka.” With each of these facets of his appearance Chiron attempts to exude a tough facade and hide his true nature and homosexuality.

I highlight this act because Jenkins beautifully sets up a realistic persona for Chiron, then just as realistically tears it down. Despite his macho demeanor and muscled up form, the audience can tell Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) is still struggling with his identity. This is not because Rhodes overacts or Jenkins overtly tells the audience that Chiron is struggling. Instead, the audience learns of Chiron’s inner-struggle due to his awkward stuttering and inability to maintain eye contact with Kevin after seeing him for the first time in a decade. A teenage girl might say “Awwww that’s so cute that he’s so awkward.” It is not cute. What it is, is a mastery of acting and storytelling. Chiron’s facade, the act he’s been hiding behind and polishing since he went to juvy, falls apart after Kevin admonishes him for dealing drugs and living this false life. The penultimate moment happens when Kevin goes over to his cafe’s jukebox and puts on Barbara Lewis’s “Hello Stranger.” The song fits the scene perfectly and forces the two men to share their first real moment of the night. Both of their adult-selves disappear, and they become two teenagers, again, in love.

While Moonlight, like Fences, challenges stereotypes of masculinity, this movie is at times the complete opposite of Fences . Where Fences is garrulous and often quite loud, Moonlight utilizes silences. For instance, in the above scene, it is in the quiet moments between Kevin and Chiron that the audience sees Chiron’s love for Kevin. In Fences, Troy (Denzel Washington) would have expounded his love loudly and with as many words as possible. Fences had a warm, softly-yellow visual style creating an aged look, while Moonlight utilized such cinematography for stressful nighttime scenes. For example where Chiron’s mother calls him a faggot, or where Kevin confronts him about why he drove all the way to Miami to see him. In other nighttime scenes, Jenkins switches to a stark style that is more alike to what our eyes perceive in real life. During these scenes, good things happen: Chiron finds love on a beach and Chiron is reunited with Kevin in the cafe.

Please, please, please go see this movie. I deem it a new classic. It grapples with so many issues that I do not have the space nor the wisdom to do them justice. Not to mention the supporting cast is phenomenal. Mahershala Ali, Naomi Harris, and Janelle Monae excel in their respective roles of drug dealer/mentor, mother/drug addict, and girlfriend/mother-figure.   

As always, we welcome your comments.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

 

 

 

 

Logan (2017) – Teaser

Logan opens on March 3, 2017. This movie is supposedly Hugh Jackman’s last time portraying Logan a.k.a. Wolverine. It is a role Mr. Jackman has held for the past 17 years. Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, and the Donners’ Company are producing it with 20th Century Fox handling distribution.

Honestly, Logan‘s second trailer let me down. Its first trailer was much more enthralling, sucking me in with the opening chords of Johnny Cash’s power ballad, “Hurt.” The trailer had minimal dialogue and consisted of stunning, western landscapes reminiscent of my recent favorites Sicario and Hell or High Water. The added electronic buildup to “Hurt’s” climax made my heart-rate jump up a 100 BPM. Most importantly, I felt it gave me enough of the plot to be intrigued, but not enough to spoil any major plot points.

While this trailer contained impressive violence, I felt that the snippets the trailer reveals of the girl’s power diminished her overall aura and mystery. Admittedly, I enjoyed seeing her fighting skills, however this trailer lacked the emotion and grip of the first trailer and left me feeling more disheartened than energized about Logan.

Additionally, I did some research about the film and discovered that shooting only began in May of 2016 and wrapped in early August. Three months is about normal for principal photography, but I hope its early spring release won’t hinder its post-production because a movie of this stature needs excellent special effects. Maybe studios spoil us now  with insane post-production schedules and budgets like Star Wars: Episode VIII‘s, which ended its principal photography in July, just one month before Logan. However, Disney won’t release it till December of this year, which means it’ll have 8 months more post-production time than Logan.

One good bit of news is that Stephen Merchant is starring in Logan. This was previously unbeknownst to me and I’m excited to see how the gangly-ginger-goon fits in.

**Quick aside: didn’t Professor X die in X-Men: The Last Stand? Marvel & Fox need to get their timelines straight.

La La Land

La La Land is a joyous movie, brimming with energy, music, and life. The movie follows, both separately and jointly, the lives of ambitious jazz-man Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), and hopeful starlet Mia (Emma Stone). After a meet-cute worthy of a good chuckle and several “chance” encounters, Sebastian and Mia start dating, but as their respective careers take off, their relationship deteriorates. This is writer/director Damien Chazelle’s third feature film and his first after 2014’s tremendous Whiplash.

Hagood’s review

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

I’m a fan of Damien Chazelle. When I heard that he was making a movie with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, I was overjoyed. After seeing Whiplash, I knew he was going to be one of the best directors of my lifetime with his very grounded and certain vision. Watching  La La Land has cemented my admiration for Mr. Chazelle. He has taken his passion for jazz and flawlessly weaved it into two extremely different genre movies, Whiplash and La La Land. The former, a serious drama, and the latter, a lighthearted, musical love story. Despite differences in tone, both films revolve around the world of jazz. While I maintain that Whiplash was the better of the two, mainly for J .K. Simmon’s insane performance as Miles Teller’s band conductor and its triumphant drum-solo-fuck-you climax, La La Land is only slightly less impressive.

La La‘s music is its foundation, which makes sense since it is a musical. However, I hold that it is the music that is this movie’s most impressive attribute. Whether it was the uplifting opening number, “Another Day of Sun” or  the song “Someone in the Crowd” and it’s accompanying pool-party scene, both had me crying with happiness.  My hat is off to composer Justin Hurwitz. In “Someone in the Crowd,” “Another Day of Sun,” and John Legend’s “Start a Fire,” Hurwitz’s music soars, driving the plot along with glee, then with “Mia and Sebastian’s Theme,” “Planetarium,” and “City of Stars,” he slows the music’s momentum but impressively manages to keep all the emotion of the high energy songs.

The most remarkable element of the music is that it’s all original, yet somehow by the end of the movie, I felt that I had known these songs for years. I am no musician so please forgive me if I butcher anything in the coming sentences. Each song is very different in pace and emotion. Some are instrumentals and some are lyrical. Hurwitz mixes the score with a free-form jazz number then goes straight to Legend’s pop-ballad. Yet they all form a cohesive whole and a great album that I’ve listened to several times through over the past two weeks.

I think meshing different styles, whether musical or cinematic, is Chazelle’s strength. With two excellent films under his belt, I am now looking forward to his upcoming movies with the same verve I do of a Christopher Nolan, a David Fincher, or a Ridley Scott film.

Target Audience: Older teenagers, adults

By Hagood Grantham

 

Saul’s review

Film Score: 4 out of 5

Every Sunday growing up, the drive home would be filled with musical numbers from Elaine Paige’s radio show. Each time Elaine’s voice materialised through the speaker, I fought the urge to open the car door, and roll onto the M62.

I have never, nor will I ever, like musicals.

La La Land immediately bursts onto the screen with a dance number of bright colours and happy people spanning the length of a gridlocked highway bridge, to the shimmering mirage of downtown Los Angeles. Watching La La Land begin its ode to the Golden Age of Hollywood and musicals, I felt the same childhood urge of nostalgia to flee.

Though the compulsion to escape quickly passed because La La Land is about two creative people grappling with self doubt, and is an excellent story regardless of the musical pieces. Although, I do admit “City of Stars” has been playing on a loop the last few days. Mia is an actress who feels overlooked by an industry indifferent to her efforts. Sebastian is a jazz musician fixated on saving jazz music, but lives in a world where his art form is outdated and under-appreciated. Through their union, Mia and Seb relent to their fears. Seb accepts a steady income and popularity over his ideal that jazz should remain pure. Mia loses faith in her ability to act, deciding she should return to a more normal life. Both characters blame each other for the collapse of their dreams, splitting the pair.

La La Land shares the same themes as Paterson but reaches a different conclusion. A quaint New Jersey town in summertime is replaced by the nostalgia, glitter and facade of Los Angeles. Paterson and Laura overcome their internal obstacles to succeed together.  Mia and Seb splinter apart, as their relationship is not a nurturing pairing, but a test as to whether they are committed to their respective goals. Personally, I think that both couples in Paterson and La La Land are personas of their directors, in one long dialogue about their own trials.

The visual direction of La La Land melds the styles of  Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell. A glowing ember of nostalgia, for both Hollywood and America in the 1950’s pervades the film; from the primary colours of cocktail dresses, to the pastel blue sky trimmed by palm trees, to the broad shots of Art Deco architecture. La La Land’s cinematography exudes the warmth of west coast sunshine, leaving me happier for the experience.

 La La Land is at its most compelling when Seb or Mia are pitted against an indifferent crowd. In Seb’s performance at the diner and Mia’s exit from her first audition, no words are uttered but we share in their struggle to be recognised. The camera focuses upon Seb and Mia pouring out their hearts, only to reveal that the crowds around them, both diner and studio corridor, do not care. I have to praise cinematographer Linus Sandgren and director Damien Chazelle, for using crowds to great effect, especially in the final scene where Mia and Seb are the only ones aware that the song playing is their theme. There was a quiet intimacy in their secret understanding of the song’s meaning, which was especially moving.

However, La La Land drags at the end. The ten minutes where we witness how Mia’s and Seb’s lives would have been together, felt unwarranted. Watching the pair react in turn to Seb playing their song, City of Stars, amidst the silent audience of Seb’s jazzclub, would have been enough. Stone is not a good singer and when she did sing, it was somewhere between talking and humming. It detracted from many of the songs, although her acting and charm made up for it.

Target Audience: People who do not like musicals, but want to watch a film as relaxing as yoga.

By Saul Shimmin

 

Fences

Fences concerns the loquacious, loud, proud and complex man, Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) and his struggles with his subservient family. Fences is based on August Wilson’s play of the same name. Wilson adapted his play for the screen before his death in 2005, on the condition that an African American would direct the film. 11 years later Fences arrived on the silver screen. Denzel Washington took up the mantel of director, and he has delivered a masterful product.

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Troy Maxson is an incredibly complex character that could have easily come off as an annoying asshole if a less capable actor had taken the reigns. Instead,  Washington perfectly embodies Troy being all at once believably angry, vulnerable, happy, and, most importantly, real. I was left breathless several times during the movie as  Washington ran the gambit of emotions in under a minute with ease.

Troy’s character reminds me of Washington’s multi-faceted character in Training Day, Detective Alonzo Harris. Washington delivers another layered performance as Troy, seemlessly revealing different aspects of his character. Washington may add a third academy award to his cabinet this year.

However, Washington wasn’t the only star in this film. Viola Davis played Rose, Troy’s wife. Halfway through the movie, Rose stands up to the intimidating Troy after hearing some tumultuous news and steals the spotlight. You can see the moment at the end of the trailer below. I could rewatch that scene over and over. It’s raw emotion. It doesn’t get any better.

Every character shares the screen with Troy, but he dominates and in the movie’s denouement Troy’s youngest son, Cory (brilliant newcomer, Jovan Adepo) reflects on his father’s pervasive character. Some people might grumble about this movie being too speech heavy, but it’s needed. Troy purposely fills the film to the brim through word count, volume, and screen time.

Troy harks back to a type of man who is difficult to find today. He is a tough father who believes his duty is to provide and protect, nothing more. His love is apparent in his deeds and he uses force to enforce his will and makes sure his family obeys. My grandfather was like this. Many men who lived through World War II became these types of fathers. Though, times have changed. Men and fathers are now more open about their emotions and open to changing their roles as the patriarchs of families. Whether this is a good or bad thing is unclear, but I think it’d be healthy for people to remember the type of family that once was. I know it made me more thankful for my parents.

The only thing keeping this movie from achieving a perfect 5 out of 5 movie score is that it was quite long and during the beginning I got bored. It lacked conflict and while it was necessary for achieving backstory and setting the mood. I believe Washington could have executed this more succinctly. Otherwise, it’s a tough but finely acted and directed story.

Target Audience: older crowds (21+) and serious movie and drama buffs.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

 

Silence

Film Score: No Score-sese

I mean it, this film is getting nothing.

Silence is The Revenant with all the joy sucked out. It was directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield as Padre Garupe and Padre Rodrigues, 17th Century Jesuits on a quest to find their mentor, Padre Ferreira, in feudal Japan. They should have stayed in their monastery, for my sake.

I can stand a bad film like most people stomach a busy commuter train. It is an uncomfortable experience, but you try to zone out, checking your phone for notifications from friends you don’t have, and pray that things don’t get worse. Silence falls into the precipice where only terrible films dwell, taking sheer will and a firm grip on the armchair to not leave in disgust. Other people left quicker than Garfield’s tears from his eyes, leaving the cinema screen’s population to dwindle from a healthy 6 to half with another 50 minutes to go.

Ignoring the poorly feigned Portuguese accents of Driver and Garfield, we see the Jesuits, in search of their lost teacher, arrive in feudal Japan. This early scene, with mist swirling round a ramshackle village and dangerous cliffs, swallowing up the missionaries as the land ashore, invoked the land to be alien and hostile, reminiscent of Apocalypse Now. Instead of Driver and Garfield pressing on to find their Colonel Kurtz, fallen priest Ferreira, they become a bumbling pair of wrecks. Silence had potential in this one scene, but is a worse film because it falls below the expectations it creates and what is expected from Scorsese.

The plot followed an arc of crying, hiding, foetal positions, torture and more crying. Beginning slowly, the pace grinds to a tortuous trickling chain of conversations nestled between walking scenes in the Japanese countryside which were better suited to a See Japan video. I bore little sympathy for the Jesuits, or the Japanese, both were arrogant zealots in their own way, willing to shed innocent blood for their own cause. At least the Japanese nobles were far more honest, and did not shed tears. The conclusion was needless exposition lasting twenty draining minutes. Scorsese should have left that section on the cutting room floor. The film is supposed to be about the Christian meaning of finding faith through suffering.  The only people who suffer in Silence are the audience, and my faith in Scorcese was shaken.

Driver does a good job in a bad role. Watching Driver alongside Garfield, the film would have fared better if they had switched the two. Silence’s third act was a dull ribbon of montages between events and Garfield’s tears which snuffs out any remaining sympathy for the character. Neeson reprises Qui-Gon Jinn, with Jar Jar’s presence being replaced by actual torture.

Rogerebert.com and The Guardian have given Silence more favourable reviews, with Rogerebert.com lauding Silence as ‘a monumental work, and a punshing one’. Film, like literature, has to have a story. It may be an artistic triumph which punishes the audience, but if it fails to deliver a good story, it is still a failure. Reading reviews for Silence reminds me why I wanted to set up this blog. There is a disconnect between the wants of the film critic and the audience. Critics scour for originality and value ambition, while the audience just want a good story. If ordinary viewers wanted anything else, half of my fellow audience would not have left Silence.

Plot is my main focus in my reviews, because in the end, if you are not some art or film graduate, you are not going to the hottest avant-garde opus.

Target audience: 17th century Jesuits planning a visit to Japan and no-one else.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below: