Girls Trip

Film Score: 3.5 out of 5 (Highly enjoyable)

Synopsis: A group of four college friends, known as the Flossy Posse, decide to have a reunion weekend at EssenceFest in New Orleans after the festival chooses the group’s de facto leader, Ryan Pierce (Regina Hall), to be its keynote speaker. Since college, the four friends have grown apart. Ryan has achieved celebrity status due to the success of New York Times Best Selling books while her former best friend, Sasha Franklin (Queen Latifah), runs a gossip blog, a point of contention between the two. During their getaway weekend, the other two friends, Lisa Cooper (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish), try to keep the two alpha-females happy as the reunion devolves into a party-fest filled with celebrity cameos, drama, and impressively good dancing.

Let me begin this review by stating that I had no idea what Girls Trip‘s plot was about going into the theater. My friend, Ben, demanded that we forgo It and Mother! (my two suggestions for our man-date), leaving Girls Trip as the only other well-reviewed movie out that neither of us had seen. Despite my reservations that Girls Trip would turn out to be another Bridesmaids (which didn’t connect with me despite winning over many critics), I am overjoyed we saw this film. It turned out to be a female version of The Hangover, but with a more grounded plot and acted with greater energy.

Girls Trip’s highlight was definitely Tiffany Haddish (center, below) and her character Dina. Dina, described as “the Wild One,” provided the spark to much of the movie’s humor. Her unpredictable nature caused me to follow her whenever she was onscreen. Her flawless comedic timing had me doubled over laughing for most of the movie. Thanks to Dina, I will now always chuckle to myself whenever I lay eyes on a grapefruit.

The other women took turns being the “straight” character to Dina’s craziness, which at times made them a little dull, but overall, each one had an interesting background that provided a wealth of material for the writers to pull from when they needed a motive for a scene.

589a0896e3bb564bbcad01e2_o_u_v1

The writers, Tracy Oliver and Kenya Barris, both deserve props as much as the actresses in the movie. While they formed their story around the simple plot of divisive friendships resolved through a moment of clarity, their script was sharp, especially dropping subtle hints throughout the movie of a possible pregnancy that made Lisa’s failing relationship with her husband (Mike Colter) that much more damaging when his girlfriend informs Lisa she’s pregnant.

I removed one and a half points from Girl Trip‘s film score for two reasons. The half point comes from the ease with which the four friends forgave each other, which made their forgiveness appear false despite Lisa’s long voice-over in the ending montage proclaiming that they Flossy Posse had put aside their differences. This might seem petty on my behalf, but when a writer bases his/her movie around the idea of friendship, a simple “I’m sorry” wouldn’t heal the deep scars that existed between Lisa and Sasha. I also deducted a full point because so much of the humor came from the unexpected madness that poured from Dina’s mouth and putting four middle-age women in scenarios way out of their element. I do not expect to receive the same amount of joy from a second viewing. Call it the diminishing marginal utility of most comedic thrills, if you will.

However, don’t let my deductions stop you from seeing this movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m just trying to manage expectations. If you DO NOT have a problem with lewd and overly sexual humor, please go see Girls Trip.

For the trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Advertisements

A Ghost Story

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Synopsis:  Haunting and harrowing, A Ghost Story confronts the truism that in a dark and cold universe our lives and legacies are inconsequential mayflies, leaving only the churning shadow of mortality. Couple C (Casey Affleck), a musician, and his wife M (Rooney Mara) are suddenly and tragically torn apart when C dies in a car accident in front of their quiet home. In C’s return as a ghost and haunting of his former home, writer and director David Lowery searches for a spiritual answer to death.

Visually, A Ghost Story is closer to a long piece of video art more comfortable in the quiet white walls of a modern museum. Sparse with dialogue and even motion, the film often becomes a beautiful slideshow of still images, framed through doorways and windows as the ghost perceives life coldly from the outside. There is almost a Vermeeresque knack to how Lowery composes these images. Through Lowery’s eyes, ordinary structures and objects bleed into one flowing image while audio samples of the world outside, or Daniel Heart’s score ebb and flow across it. C’s presence, returning as a simple white sheet with black eye holes, has an unsettling simplicity. Given the aspect ratio of the film and the ghost’s faceless presences, shots felt like uncovered old photos of seances, with C poised to lunge at the unaware people caught in the frame. C’s own disconnect with the world is poignantly conveyed by motion. The world seems deathly still even before C’s death. The inhabitants of C’s home move on and as C persists, the camera begins to spin between rooms while C shifts his gaze while days become months at a dizzying pace.

2016_Ghost_Day_6_040.0

(Affleck as C’s ghost along with director David Lowery)

Affleck and Mara perform well in their roles as props for Lowery’s vision and Daniel Heart’s soundtrack when either actor appears on the screen. Heart cannot be praised enough for his work on A Ghost Story. C’s ghost could have been a difficult character to connect with, but through Heart’s soundtrack the ghost becomes a canvas onto which each new song projects a different emotion. Heart’s work really conveys the ghost’s mounting anger and frustration, along with Lowery’s focus on the ghost’s expressionless face as lights flicker in response to his rage. The ghost’s maligned presence in various frames at times emanates menace or isolation.

A Ghost Story’s experimental reliance upon image and sound will cause many people to justifiably leave the cinema in the first twenty minutes. Although beautiful, the film is peppered with moments of dead time where nothing happens. In one particular scene Rooney Mara, grief stricken, makes a meal out of a pie.  The camera, without music or words, unflinchingly records Mara breakdown as she shovels the pie and crust until running away to vomit. These moments, like the one-man pie contest, are a struggle which only ardent art house cinema fans will persist through. Yet A Ghost Story is a rewarding experience with themes that few directors or film studios are willing to explore. The house and C’s return represent our shared fear of oblivion, to see whether the world remembers us. The world will likely not remember us and the only thing to do is leave little notes like M does, and let go.

After immediate viewing, A Ghost Story was going to receive three stars but in the passing week I have found myself revisiting the film, its ideas, and its haunting musical score. In retrospect the film is a struggle to watch, but many will appreciate it more in the days afterwards. Thanks to A24 for backing such a refreshingly unusual film.

For trailer, see below.

By Saul Shimmin

Trailer Roundup: September

Following this summer’s box office slump, here a few films to look forward to!

Hostiles

Release date: Currently travelling between film festivals, no set date for the cinema release

The Work

Release date:  Out now in the U.K.


Arriving from nowhere, a trailer for The Work suddenly appeared two weeks ago at my local independent cinema and fortunately it is available in the U.K since Friday 8 September.

Focusing upon a group therapy session over four days between Folsom Prison inmates and outsiders, the trailer alone bristles with intensity and is definitely not a documentary to miss. Hopefully there will be more throat signing in the actual film, which I have reviewed here.

Brawl in Cell Block 99

Release date: 6 October 2017 in the U.S.

Directed and written by S. Craig Zahler who directed Bone Tomahawk which Hagood reviewed and enjoyed here. 

Vince Vaughn made a good anti-hero in the glimpses I caught of HBO’s True Detective‘s second season. Vaughn’s new role in Brawl in Cell Block 99 as boxer-turned-drug dealer Bradley Thomas follows that anti-hero thread. Unlike True Detective, Zahler has really used Vaughn’s natural physicality. Ignoring the bald head and crucifix tattoo combo Vaughn is rocking, he is naturally quite a scary guy, especially when practising his boxing on an innocent Suburu as shown in the trailer.

I cannot wait to see this film, in part due to how well the music choice fits the trailer, which is always a good sign.

Shot Caller

Release date: 18 August 2017 in the U.S. (out now)

There is definitely an unintentional prison theme going on in this article.

Nikoloaj Coster-Waldau plays Jacob Harlon, a respectable family man, who after a car accident, winds up in a maximum security prison where he slowly and tragically becomes ensconced in prison life. Alongside Nikolaj is Lake Bell, Jon Bernthal, recently in Baby Driverand Jeffrey Donovan.

For a film with a respectable cast, Shot Caller has received almost nought attention from the media and little exposure in cinemas. Unfortunately, Shot Caller is not the only film this year that has been forgotten by the film industry as I stated in my piece about Netflix here.

The main star is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, better known for his role as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones. Alongside Netflix original Small Crimes in which Nikolaj plays a Jamie-esque character minus the incest, there seems to be a trickling current to propel the actor as a veritable film star. Shot Caller might not get Nikolaj public recognition, but it will hopefully get filmmakers interested in him.

Lady Bird

Release Date: November 10

What’s a trailer round up without an A24 film? Released a week ago, this trailer shows what appears to be a semi-light hearted coming of age movie in a similar vein to last year’s Age of Seventeen. The film stars Brooklyn and Hana actress Saoirse Ronan and Manchester By The Sea standout, Lucas Hedges.

Here at Title Roll, we’re huge fans of A24’s mission and work to bring smaller, indie films to the large screen. While sometimes coming of age films fall flat, Lady Bird seems to have struck a nice quirky tone with its main character, “Lady Bird” who is a strong willed, Catholic high schooler. She wants to rebel against everyone including her similarly stubborn mother (Laura Metcalf) and it is in such familial struggles where often great movies are separated from mediocre films.

We shall see if first time director Greta Gerwig (who also wrote the script) can strike this delicate balance between angsty (but sometimes funny) teenager outbursts and serious, family drama. We’re hopeful she will.

The Valley of Shadows

Release date: 20 October 2017 in Norway, elsewhere not confirmed

I thought I should add this as a final choice. The beautifully stark Norweigan background which becomes hauntingly ethereal as the trailer unfolds makes the film feel like a cross between Pan’s Labyrinth and Let The Right One In .

The plot revolves around Alask, a young boy living in a rural Norweigan town who believes a werewolf is stalking the land. While The Valley of Shadows may not be released in the Anglophone world anytime soon, it is one to look out for.

By Saul Shimmin and Hagood Grantham

Baby Driver

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Synopsis: Amid a summer of flops, director Edgar Wright delivers a chop shop delight in the form of Baby Driver. Brimming with upbeat tones from a brilliant playlist of songs the film cheekily nods to the car films to which it pays homage, while never falling into the trap of self-seriousness.

Admittedly, Baby Driver did not begin well for me. The opening scene felt like Drive had mutated into a musical and I am not a fan of musicals as revealed in my review of  La La Land. Instead of Ryan Gosling broodingly awaiting robbers in midnight Los Angeles, Baby (Ansel Elgort) mimes songs in downtown Atlanta while his crew robs a bank in broad daylight. Once the film began in earnest however, my fears about the film receded as Baby Driver is about escapism, symbolised by the music and cars and encapsulated by love interest Deborah’s desire to head West in a car and just listen to music.

For me Shaun of the Dead is still Edgar Wright’s best film, but Baby Driver is Wright at his directorial best. Wright’s film-making has always brimmed with subversiveness. Rather than hoodwinking you into disbelief, Wright’s work is all too aware that it is just a story and revels in its own artifice, creating knowingly surreal scenes from ordinary moments such as Hot Fuzz’s sea mine scene. Boasting a bigger budget than Wright’s last film At World’s End, Baby Driver could be a comic book. Whole segments are awash with primary colours and both characters and cars are choreographed step by step while the camera rotates round. The music is the final touch which turns Baby Driver into an exquisite dance. Baby’s playlist perforates every part of the film. His music protects him from the real world. He synchronises events and actions in time with his songs, projecting a sense of control over what happens around him. Once the story unfolds and things sour, the real world bleeds over into Baby’s songs as he loses any semblance of control. This shift is done to great effect, especially in one later gunfight orchestrated to Focus’ Hocus Pocus with shots ringing in time with the guitar riff.

The cast is a mix of predictable and surprising choices. Jon Berthanal and Kevin Spacey play bagman, Griff, and criminal mastermind, Doc, respectively. Both roles fit each actor’s portrayal of bad guys in the past. Gruff is physically menacing, reminiscent of Berthanal’s character Shane from The Walking Dead, while Doc is a diluted and more comedic Frank Underwood from House of Cards. The more surprising choices were Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx. Foxx is truly volatile as bank robber, Bats, his bloodlust and unpredictability to fellow heist members and innocent bystanders becomes clear very quickly. Completely sociopathic and unashamedly greedy, Bat’s recital that the money belongs to him before every heist chillingly shows how cold-blooded he is. Hamm, even as robber Buddy,  is charming. Drawing on his work playing Don Draper in Mad Men, Hamm humanizes this unlikeable character through Buddy’s fondness for Baby.

Ansel Elgort seemed to jar with the film in the initial trailers, but casting him as the titular Baby fits the lighter tone of the story’s first half. Instead of following the trope in car films to have a tough guy like Ryan Gosling as the driver, Elgort, both youthful and gangly, fits the baby-like qualities of his character. Elgort is also capable of smoothly switching to a more serious tone when the film becomes darker. Lily James is good as love interest Deborah and curiously Red Hot Chili Pepper member Flea has a brief cameo as Bat’s crew member Eddie No-Nose.

Ultimately, what shines through in Baby Driver is Wright’s love for car films. The car chases nod towards the various films that Wright was inspired by, from Bullitt to The Blues Brothers. Wright readily admits how the car scenes pay tribute to his favourite drive films in an article for Sight and Sound. Beyond drive films, Baby Driver indirectly owes a debt to Michael Mann’s heist films. Baby’s inner turmoil over his life mimics James Cann’s character in Thief, while a frantic escape scene through downtown Atlanta bore a resemblance to the Heat’s downtown shootout.

Baby Driver is a great film which is still showing at odd times in U.K. cinemas and is well worth seeing before it comes to DVD this autumn.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

For the Love of Cinemas

As  Saul discussed in his “Netflix & Nolan” piece, Netflix is attempting to usurp Cinema with its original films that it releases directly to its website instead of opening them in theaters as Amazon has chosen to do with its slate of releases. I vehemently oppose Netflix’s actions, not because I dislike the films it produces and releases, but for several other, possibly harmful reasons for Cinema.

The first is what Saul discussed in “Netflix & Nolan.” Giving small, indie flicks screen time at the cinema gives them the spotlight they need to ensure their survival. Hushing them in the carousel of options listed under “Movies,” “Dramas,” or “Because you watched [fill in the blank]” will give Netflix a poor return on their investments in these films, and it will likewise discourage directors, actors, and screenwriters from partnering with Netflix because they might feel the company does not support their art.

My second reason for opposing Netflix’s attack on Cinema is based on my love for actual theaters. When I was completing my undergraduate degree at Davidson College, the theater was my weekend escape. Almost every Saturday, I trekked to the nearest cinema in Huntersville, NC to catch the latest releases. During my four years at Davidson, I saw many of my favorite films at this theater including FuryNightcrawlerGone GirlGuardians of the GalaxyRoom, and Deadpool. I loved going to the theater because the journey provided (and still provides me) with a separation from the stresses of the real world and Davidson, whether it was an impending paper deadline, an upcoming midterm, or three unread books. If I had tried to pirate one of the aforementioned films as many of my peers chose to do, or selected a film on Netflix, I would not have enjoyed it to the extent that I did seeing it in the theater. The theater, with its flashing marquee and overpriced concessions, helped ensure my suspension of disbelief as gateway between my troubles and the happy times I spent inside its interior.

regal birkdale

While I love a well made blockbuster (not you DC comics or most monster movies), I also enjoy watching more heady, smaller budget films like HerEx-Machina, and Prisoners in theaters. This past year I missed The Lost City of Z, almost ignored Paterson, and never even heard of The Handmaiden till Saul reviewed it here. I love to strike a balance between the bombast of blockbusters and the small glances that move mountains in indie and arthouse films. For my sake, I hope Amazon continues its plan of continuing to release its films in theaters.

Finally, I love the cinema for watching movies with others. Never does this aspect of the theater play a bigger role in my life than when Disney releases another Star Wars entry. Seeing these stories unfold and secrets unravel with people who care for the characters just as much as I do is hair-raising magic. It is an experience that neither Netflix nor I could recreate in my dorm room at school or living room at home. Being around devoted fans transports me further into a galaxy far, far away.

Please let us know your feelings below. We welcome a dialogue on this subject.

By Hagood Grantham

Detroit

Film Score: 3 out of 5 (Good)

Synopsis: Detroit’s harrowing depiction of brutality and oppression opened my eyes to the banality of racism and why minorities remain distrustful of the police. It will garner oscar nominations. Despite Bigelow’s visual style and bold performances from Will Poulter and John Boyega, Detroit overextends itself into a third act. The film sadly becomes a diluted true crime documentary whose content belongs in the end credits. Once the plot unravels, Detroit groans under its 2 and a half hour run time with characters that are either underdeveloped or extras overstaying their welcome. Fortunately the film’s earlier acts save it from joining this summer’s flops.

Only a war film director of Kathryn Bigelow’s stature could have made Detroit. Once the race riots began in 1967 Detroit, like Charlottesville today, symbolised America tearing itself apart. The film focuses on a few square miles of the city, but an apocalyptic sense of the country’s own struggles with race is ever present, acting as a stark reminder of what happens when oppression boils over. Bigelow’s intensely intimate documentary style quietly builds up the fraught atmosphere by grounding the story at the human level, as the rising tensions overwhelm the everyday lives of African Americans across Detroit. Once the riots spill over Detroit descends into a war zone where Bigelow’s previous work in Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker come into the fore. When the camera returns to the wreckage wrought by  the riots, citizens eye you suspiciously behind rubble or stand armed in alcoves. One scene could be a convoy in Iraq or Afghanistan as a police cruiser rolls quietly through a street in the dead of night while shop fronts engulfed by flame light its way, causing the children stood nearby to look like silhouettes. Against this maelstrom Detroit switches focus to the Algiers motel, a sea of calm where Detroit sheds its docudrama skin and becomes a horror film.

Believing that the Algiers hotel is hiding a sniper, both the Detroit police and national guard arrive, headed by policeman Phillip Krauss (Will Poulter) and his fellow patrolmen. Indifferent to the young boys and men around them, the patrolmen see the African Americans cowering before them as criminals who have yet to confess or subhumans who they can pin their heinous acts on. The horror is the indifference the white authorities show. Both the military and state troopers leave the Detroit Police Department to torture the unfortunate people within the motel annex. Will Poulter’s baby face combined with his seriousness brings a callous naïvity to his actions, making him all the more monstrous as he tortures and bungles and tortures some more. Krauss’ opposite is Melvin Desmukes (John Boyega), a black security guard whose sense of duty, however misplaced, leads him to the motel to look for the sniper.

Initially Krauss and Melvin are polar opposites as shown by the trailer. Krauss is ruthless and obsessed with finding the sniper while Melvin is torn between appeasing the police officers and saving the young men and women trapped in the motel. Instead Krauss and his fellow patrolmen envelope the motel scenes.Their desperation to find the sniper feeds their sadism, plunging the viewer into a stupor of howling intensity as tragedy slowly arrives. Bigelow so gleefully documents Krauss and company’s misconduct that Melvin becomes a noisy neighbour who slinks away when it all becomes too much hassle. It is unfortunate that Melvin is pushed aside in the motel scenes as Boyega brings a realism to the character, portraying him in earlier moments as a hardworking level headed mean trying to do right for those around him.

Melvin’s scattered arc, which pings around like a misfired pinball after the standoff at the Algiers motel, is not the only character who falls short. Julie Ann (Hannah Murray) and Karen (Kaitlyn Dever) are two white girls hanging out with friends at the Algiers motel. Caught in the wrong place by the police patrolmen, both characters are subject to patronising lectures and increasingly sexualised interrogations. Both characters are extras there to show how debauched the policemen are. Hannah Murray, famous for her role as Gilly in Game of Thrones, plays Gilly again but set in the 1960’s instead of Westeros, her face switching between outrage or surprise. Finally, the casting at times did not fit. The young men who have the cap gun in the Algiers motel were a lot younger in real life than the actors depicting them. Consequently their antics leading to the standoff in the motel appear idiotic, rather than it simply being young frustrated men acting out.

Detroit’s excesses show in the third act by going beyond its natural end after the motel is left behind. Bigelow does enjoy creating a epilogue for her films, with The Hurt Locker showing a few scenes of life back home. In Bigow’s fixation to document the whole affair at the Algiers Motel, Detroit becomes a tedious true crime come court room drama which should have been a separate film. The additional 40 minutes were a unnecessary additional bid for oscar nominations which tries to build outrage in viewers left numb by the motel scenes. Characters suffer as their arc become convoluted, especially Melvin who is placed in one horrible situation only to appear in another with no explanation.

Detroit is worth the price of a ticket because John Boeyga and Will Poulter hoist the film up. Yet like Okja and The Neon Demon, its meandering tale shows that Bigelow was given a bit too much money and independence when filming. Detroit should have been two separate films, one film focusing on institutionalised racism and a companion film dissecting the violence racism brings. This is a bold suggestion, but one which would have saved the story from being two halves of a separate whole.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

Wind River

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Writer/Director: Taylor Sheridan

Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Gil Birmingham, Jon Bernthal, Graham Greene, James Jordan, & Hugh Dillon

Synopsis: In the opening minutes of Wind River, U. S. Fish and Wildlife agent, Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), discovers the body of young girl on the Wyoming Native American reservation, Wind River, while tracking a mountain lion. The reservation police report the girl’s death, and as a possible homicide, the FBI send Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate. Realizing she’s out of her depth showing up to the sub-zero Wyoming spring in a windbreaker, Banner enlists the help of Lambert to help her navigate the frigid territory and the reservations unwelcoming citizens. Lambert and Banner’s investigation not only uncovers a terrible trail of crimes, but more importantly, it reveals to the audience the struggles Native Americans still endure today after whites forcibly removed them from their lands in the 1800s.

One of the standout aspects of the movie that came in haunting waves like the ever-present Wyoming blizzards was Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s score. It never materialized into actual music like the stuff that made Cave famous. Instead, it turned out to be haunting strings mixed with a Native American chant that often set my nerves on edge. Even more important was the restraint Cave and Ellis showed. Many scenes were accompanied by utter silence, which is a factor horror fans know can heighten the drama on screen more than any Rocky soundtrack ever could.

Wind River‘s acting was just as strong as its score. In the lead role, Jeremy Renner flexed his acting chops for the first time since The Town. I had almost forgotten he wasn’t just The Avengers‘ Hawkeye. His character, Cory Lambert, is a father in mourning after a mystery man killed his daughter four years prior and is also suffering through a divorce. While helping out the FBI and Reservation police with the homicide, Renner never lets the weight of his offscreen hardships escape the audience’s eye. The key is he does not ell us his anguish (except once when we learn about his daughter’s death), but we see it in his eyes when he consoles his friend, Martin (Gil Birmingham), after he tells him his daughter was raped and killed.

Gil Birmingham and Jeremy Renner in Wind River (2017) CR

Cory Lambert (Renner) and Martin (Gil Birmingham) suffering in silence.

Birmingham is another winner in this stellar thriller. Even though his role is smaller compared to others, it’s a pivotal turn that lets the audience witness some of the repressed anguish that the citizens of Wind River have endured. After Lambert tells Martin of his daughter’s death, the camera moves away from the two men who step outside  to focus on Olsen’s and Greene’s characters. There is no score (well chosen, Cave and Ellis). However, instead of silence, we hear Martin howl and sob in pain. Hearing Martin’s guttural cries, that he hides from the white FBI agent (Olsen), reveals that there is more at play in this film than just a murder. However, this grief is something that Wind River‘s predominately white audience will most likely never know or feel. I’m glad Sheridan chose to open this small window into Native America’s world.

And it’s Sheridan who deserves the film’s real credit. While Wind Rivers‘s plot lacked the narrative complexity of Sicario and Hell or High Water, this man is a great creator. In each of his screenplays, he masterfully develops intimate settings that drip with authenticity. Despite all his screenplays containing western settings, each one grapples with vastly different subject matter: Sicario (Drug wars along the Mexican border), Hell or Water (bank robberies and Texas Rangers), and Wind River (Native American anguish and hunting). Besides his deep knowledge, I admire Sheridan for his ability to reveal humanity’s innate primality that we often tend to ignore and refuse in our day-to-day lives as we read newspapers, go to college,  and sip coffee on our way to our white collar job. Yet humans always come back to it. Whether it’s sex in musical lyrics, war in Afghanistan, or opiods that plague our nation right this minute, humans always hunger after our most base desires. Sheridan excels at finding frighteningly fascinating and believable ways to place his characters in scenarios where those desires are laid bare.

Go see this movie,  you won’t regret it.

Target audience: 21+ adults. People between 20 and younger either shouldn’t see it due to its graphic violence or will be too young to appreciate some of the film’s quieter but more poignant moments.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

 

Netflix & Nolan

During a recent interview with Indie Wire, champion of traditional cinema and auteur of our age Christopher Nolan attacked streaming giant Netflix and its approach towards the traditional theatrical distribution of films. Netflix is meeting opposition from the film establishment, shown by the negative reaction and booing that flagship film Okja received at Cannes.  Nolan’s words could be dismissed as part of this knee-jerk reaction from the cinematic old guard loathsome towards change.

In reality, Nolan is right to call Netflix’s strategy to disrupt traditional cinema absurd’. Nolan may not realise it in his interview, but he touches upon some deeper issues with both Netflix and the film industry today.

Fighting a content war

In Nolan’s own words, Netflix’s extensive investment in original content, along with liberal control afforded to writers and directors;’would be more admirable if it weren’t being used as some kind of bizarre leverage against shutting down theaters’. Netflix, successful in revolutionising television, perceives cinema as an extension of that industry, and the company says as much in its quarterly shareholder letter this July . Cinema and television are similar but distinct visual arts that need different approaches to conquer. Netflix won over television so quickly because an episode of an original series is far shorter than a feature length film. People are more willing to gamble twenty to fifty minutes on a show recommended by a friend than sit down and dedicate up to two hours to an unknown film which has few reviews from critics or approvals on Netflix.

christopher-nolan-the-dark-knight-rises

An early rise has become mandatory for my summer job. In the mornings before I tackle the commute I watch the business reports while sipping coffee and pretending to be a grownup. Last week CNBC Europe’s Squawk Box had a heated discussion about booming tech shares. One of the presenters quipped that both Amazon and Netflix are locked in a content bidding war. I nodded along with the other hosts in approval.

Threatened by Amazon, Netflix has turned to cinema to retain existing subscribers and grab new ones from abroad. It is not suprising that after expanding into South East Asia last year, Netflix heavily invested into Okja, a Korean- American film directed by Bong Joon- ho, a South Korean directot with a strong appeal in the West and in the South East.

Unlike Amazon, Netflix sees cinema as a territory to be conquered for spoils, rather than an ally. Cinema and Netflix could certainly prosper together. For far too long cinema has been constrained by the ball and chain of the blockbuster and its inevitable franchise, leading to a torrid cycle of hollow superhero sagas, action flicks and CGI puppet shows of monsters and robots. Netflix is an outsider to the film industry, its independence and cash could have freed up film from some of the commercial demands placed upon it. Amazon Studios, as Nolan points out in his interview has taken a more tactful course, debuting films in cinemas before releasing them to its Amazon Prime subscribers 90 days later. Through this, Amazon Studios loses nothing and gains everything, it keeps cinema and critics happy, while generating revenue from film viewers and subscribers.

Where is Buster’s Mal Heart?

Over the last year there have been more films that I have wanted to see than films I have seen, not due to bad luck or poor time management, but because many of the films I anticipated never appeared. From the Lost City of Z to Song to Song and Buster’s Mal Heart, there have been a slew of films which I have highly anticipated, only for them to have minimal runs at local cinemas or no screenings at all.

Cinema is art and art always needs to be championed. Making cinema or any other form of art more accessible or available does not equate to a larger audience for that art, after all people need to know about a museum before they will ever visit. Netflix has assumed that once it makes its original films available, subscribers will flock to them but the opposite reaction is more probable.  Okja was lavished with media attention and an advertising campaign, but so far I have found the smaller independent films created by Netflix to be far more enjoyable. Okja often felt like the director was trying to spend the leftovers of his enormous budget. Whole scenes in Okja were unnecessary and some of the major actors in the film, especially Giancarlo Esposito of Gustavo Fring fame, had minimal roles which would not have been missed. Opposite to Okja have been Win It All and Shimmer Lake, small independent films with a few substantial stars which shine with fantastic plots and performances. Both of these films have been starved of attention from critics and Netflix alike, but overshadow Okja with their ingenuity and realism.

The current situation with on-demand screening of films is exactly the same as how Nolan depicts the horror in the 1990’s of your film winding up with a direct to video release. Deprived of the fanfare of a theatrical release, a film would be at the mercy of luck to find an audience strong enough to champion that film until it became a success. Direct to video and on-demand release have the veneer of choice and accessibility, but viewers will not choose a film which they have heard nothing about, especially as a non theatrical release remains a sign of poor quality.

Buster'sMalHeart_Hero_980x652

The strongest example of on-demand screening’s shortfalls are independent films like Buster’s Mal Heart. Shining with originality and starring Raimi Malek, Buster’s Mal Heart seemed filled with the soul wrenching eeriness of a Cormac McCarthy novel. I had been anticipating the film for months until I recently checked for screenings and found none. Buster’s Mal Heart received a brief, flickering presence on U.K. cinema screens before disappearing onto the internet. I am hoping to watch the film through You Tube Movies this week and a review will be linked here. While the internet seems to provide salvation to the overlooked and underappreciated films out there, I am someone who loves cinema and will seek out films that interest me. I am an exception amid the general audience. Unless a film is placed on the big screen either at the local art house cinema or multiplex, most people will not look for them. Even my local art house cinema in Manchester has reduced the availability of independent films in favour of commercial blockbusters. Song to Song, a Terence Malick film, only received a week slot before being removed. I do not know why cinemas both big and small, seem to be showing fewer films for less time. Part of me believes its a rationalisation that if the audience misses one film, they can catch it online.

Art needs to be championed, it needs to be given attention and granted the venue where it can best appreciated. Cinemas are and will continue to be the exhibition halls of film. While online streaming  has a place in film, it would rob the art of its vibrancy if it supplanted cinemas outright.

By Saul Shimmin

 

The Beguiled

Film Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Director: Sofia Coppola

Cast: Colin Farrel, Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning.

A dark Southern Gothic tale set in the American Civil War, The Beguiled oozes with sexual tension through suggestion and dry humour. Sofia Coppola delights in stripping away the propriety of the women and young girls at Farnsworth School like a chafing corset once wounded Union soldier Corporal James McBurney (Colin Farrel) arrives. Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of this subtle work that lingers on your brain long after viewing.

The Beguiled is a remake of the 1971 original that starred Clint Eastwood. Speaking on BBC 4’s Front Row, Sofia Coppola stated she was initially reluctant to remake the film, but after watching the original, she was motivated to re-adapt the novel of the same name.

Sofia Coppola has created a remake from the women’s perspective but The Beguiled is not bridled by a burning feminist agenda. Instead, the film speaks about desperate people trapped in a world that is ending around them. Farnsworth School, created to train young girls into Southern Belles, is now faced by the American Civil War, a conflict destroying the way of life the school upholds. The signs of collapse are everywhere; the garden quietly rots away while cannon fire roars from the battlefield, marching ever closer towards the school’s garden walls. The school’s interior has the air of a cold mortuary devoid of light or vibrancy, the indoor scenes are swathed in sombre colours and what little light there is splutters in from the windows.

Corporal James McBurney and the women see each other as their own escape from this desperate situation. To the women, James McBurney is the outside world they long for while for McBurney, the women, and the school are a sanctuary from the war he deserted.  Each side realise that the other is not the escape they hoped for making them all the more desperate and unpredictable.

At its heart, The Beguiled is a dark inverted version of the Adam and Eve story. The arrival of a man to the struggling community of women draws out their desires and passions. Snippets of conversations reference the Adam and Eve story,  while visually particular shots framed through the wrought iron entrance divide the garden from the outside world. Ultimately, it is those passions that McBurney stirs in the women that cause events to unfold and McBurney to be cast out of the garden.

There is not a weak performance from the cast. Nicole Kidman adds a subdued hysteria to her role as headmistress, Miss Martha Farnsworth, often projecting a wide eyed stare reminiscent of an irate Margaret Thatcher. Miss Farnsworth is similar to Kidman’s earlier role as Evelyn Stoker in Stoker, but Kidman excels regardless. The best performance is a tie between Kirsten Dunst as teacher, Edwina Morrow, and the young actresses playing the other students.  Edwina truly seems like an innocent women who falls for McBurney, perceiving him as an escape from the grip of Miss Farnsworth and her school.  The young actresses playing Jane, Emily, Amy, and Marie bring both comedy and tragedy to The Beguiled as they fail to hide their affection for McBurney before their innocence is crushed by what unfolds.

Visually, Sofia uses the environment alone to convey the meaning of the film. The empty halls and bare rooms add the sense of decay and abandonment, while the young children indirectly act as narrators, closing each act by scanning the horizon for troop movements in the dusk. Sofia Coppola’s spartan direction proves that she is at the peak of her powers. Other reviews have criticised The Beguiled as meandering and half formed but it is a film that expects and rewards attentive viewers.

For a story that unfolds in Virginia, The Beguiled‘s filming location of Georgia betrays it immediately in the opening scenes. The tropical foliage of the Georgia climes are the polar opposite of the milder Virginia landscape and will tear down the suspension of disbelief for some viewers who know the South.

Dunkirk is a revelatory experience of both history and cinema, but The Beguiled is a masterful story full of great performances and sparse up close visuals which draws from Stoker. In my opinion, both Dunkirk and The Beguiled are the films to watch this summer, despite what other critics say about both.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below.

 

Atomic Blonde

Movie Score3 out of 5 (Good)

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, Roland Møller, Sofia Boutella, & Bill Skarsgård

Director: David Leitch

Synopsis: Atomic Blonde tells a story of espionage and carnage during the final weeks of the Cold War. Set in Berlin 10 days before the fall of the wall, MI6 and the CIA have recently lost a list naming all of their undercover agents within the U.S.S.R. Both Western and Eastern spy services are scrambling to recover the list, which they believe is in the hands of a mercenary who is willing to sell it to the highest bidder. MI6 and the CIA are also looking for a double agent, known only as Satchel. MI6 sends their best agent, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron), to recover the list and eliminate the traitor, Satchel. Once she arrives in Berlin, she must work with fellow agent, David Percival (James McAvoy), who has gone “native” during his time undercover in Germany. Soon the Russians show up and thrilling action ensues up till the credits roll.

The biggest let down of the movie was that I felt it was trying to emulate John Wick. It is easy compare the two films: both have beautifully choreographed fights, neon cinematography, and badass protagonists who have a penchant for double-tap head shots. Also, Atomic‘s director, David Leitch, produced John Wick and was the executive producer for John Wick 2.

Atomic Blonde‘s action, while very impressive, especially one sequence that was 7-8 minutes in length and shot in one take, could not match either of the Wick‘s bloody and often humorous fights.  The hand-to-hand combat of Atomic Blonde was entertaining, but the movie relied too heavily on it. The realistic and breathless fighting style that Atomic Blonde relies was forged by Bourne Identityhoned in Casino Royale, and taken to its peak by John Wick 2It is getting tougher and tougher for directors and choreographers to one-up previous movies. Notice how with each of these movies the fights have grown in length with fewer cuts which adds to more impressive battles. Atomic succeeds with the sequence I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph in increasing fight length while having no cuts. Yet in other sequences, Atomic Blonde lacked the umph of its predecessors. Also, there is a ceiling for how much awe a fight scene can inspire. I think, sadly, Atomic Blonde has hit that limit.

One thing I must note that I admired about Atomic‘s fights is that they showed the toll such extreme fighting takes on characters. During each sequence, we see the characters get winded and move slower as their injuries accumulate. This was a fresh idea in the genre and it made some of Lorraine’s moves more potent to viewers as she knocks out enemies while sporting visible bruises. However, I still prefer the tireless fighting that Bond or Wick exudes.

Overall, Atomic Blonde’s fight scenes were superb and fun to watch. Leitch also employed something similar to what Edgar Wright used in Baby Driver: sequencing action on the screen to music. He did not execute this to the extreme that Wright did, but there were well-timed shifts in the tone of songs or cutting off of music. My favorite happened with a flick of a lighter.

Atomic‘s soundtrack was another jewel of the film. Most of it was German or Eastern European sounding club music that complemented the pink-neon washed club scenes and gritty, lime street scenes.

ne3q1vhaboen68_3_a

atomic-blonde-mcavoy-1

The beautiful neon scenes from Atomic Blonde

One of the movie’s premises was the search for the identity of the double-agent, Satchel. While this guessing game was fun for me during the movie, it quickly became a side note in the plot. The chief of MI6 (Toby Jones) hates Satchel. He orders Lorraine to bring back Satchel dead or alive in order to bring justice to this traitor. However, the movie never tells or shows the audience what Satchel did beyond being a double agent. Did he or she give up fellow agents to the KGB? Provide the Russians with enriched uranium? Help terrorists escape the clutches of MI6? Without any real development of this hidden enemy, the revelation of Satchel’s identity bears little impact. Leitch or his writer, Kurt Johnstad, should have increased Satchel’s villainy or good deeds (suffering to win valuable information for God and Country) to increase audience buy in.

Atomic Blonde is a fun, (fairly) mindless action flick whose lead (Theron) smolders in her smokey eye makeup and tears up the screen with her fighting skills. McAvoy’s Percival was a lot of fun to watch as he bumbles and connives his way around West and East Berlin. The acting in this movie was spot on. Kudos to these women and men.

Target Audience: Older teens and young adult males.

For the trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

Two movie buffs readying to conquer the world.