Tag Archives: Film

Mother! Review

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (good)

Synopsis: Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and him, a famous poet (Javier Bardem) live in seclusion at their country home until a stranger, simply called man (Ed Harris) arrives. Mother! twists biblical allegories into a horrifying condemnation of religion and humanity.

Mother! is an ordeal to watch. Following a viewing of the film last week, I remained slumped in my seat once the credits began, drained and disgusted by what had unfolded. The closest work to Mother! that I have experienced is F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Reaching the novel’s conclusion, I felt so enraged at the characters that I began to hate the story itself, and that was the point. Fitzgerald wanted the reader to hate the people and the system that Great Gatsby focused upon. Mother! like The Great Gatsby, is a statement spread through shock. Mother! evokes such a visceral emotional reaction that the disgust it gleefully creates reflects towards the film itself. A week after viewing, I am not eager to ever see Mother! again.

Director and writer Darren Aronofsky’s surrealist style takes a harrowingly Hitchcockian turn in Mother!  When the film begins, the world of Mother! is two steps away from reality. An appearance of normalcy exists but a strangeness is always present. The house appears modern but every implement from the refrigerator to mother’s medication are approaching one hundred years old. Before the walls begin to bleed, Aronofsky flags that nothing is right in Mother! The camera nauseatingly spins between rooms and strangers gaze at mother like fixated alligators sizing up their prey. A menace looms over mother but it is never quantified, letting imagination shape the abstract threat and causing Mother! to become deeply terrifying. Nearing the film’s final act I averted my gaze when mother was alone in a room and slices of white noise began to play.

The dutiful and besotted mother rebuilds the house and tends to her husband, him played by Javier Bardem, an actor known for playing villains since his role as Chigurh in No Country For Old Men. Although not a traditional villain, ‘him’ is Bardem at his most unsettling. Complacent towards his wife, he deflects mother’s questions about the strangers arriving at their home. Bardem reveals no emotions despite mother’s despair, suggesting that he has orchestrated these events while Aronofsky’s focus on Bardem in these scenes morphs him into a devilish figure.

Jennifer Lawrence is commendable as mother but the role stops being a performance and becomes a feat of endurance in the second act. Similar to Leonardo Dicaprio’s role as Hugh Glass in The Revenant, character development is replaced by a series of ordeals which mother goes through. Personally, the real star of Mother! was Michelle Pfeiffer as the ‘woman’, wife of man played by Ed Harris. Appearing unexpectedly, Pfeiffer relishes in woman’s Eve-esque demeanour of temptation and manipulation as she toys with mother through feigned warmth and outright prying. Domhnall Gleeson alongside his brother Brian Gleeson both have a brief but memorable role as the two sons of man. Domhnall dominates the screen during his appearance as the black sheep of the family, incarnating the biblical character his role is based on.

Mother! is an ordeal to watch, and that is both its strength and weakness. Over halfway into the film my tolerance was completely spent. Persistence and my wristwatch is what got me through the remaining fifty minutes while others in the screen quietly departed. Cinema can and should push viewers, but personally Aronofsky overran my limit in terms of length, not content. Enough had happened by over halfway that I was ready for the ending to arrive. Mother! shares the same problem as A Ghost Story albeit more pronounced. Both films, ensconced by the themes they pursue, are addled with moments of dead time where little, if anything, makes sense. Mother! is more afflicted by this problem, at times feeling like a student theatre play plugging holes in the plot with provocation.

Mother! will be picked apart in the ensuing decades by film student and film critic alike, it is a rewarding film but often not an enjoyable one.

If I had to recommend one film in cinemas currently, it would still be Blade Runner 2049.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

 

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Blade Runner 2049

Film Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Synopsis: This review deliberately omits any real details of the plot, because Blade Runner 2049 is best enjoyed with all its twists unknown, just like the journey Ridley Scott first offered to viewers thirty five years ago.

Watching Blade Runner’s final cut at the B.F.I. two years ago was the closest I have come to having a religious experience. I still remember digging my fingers into the armchair as the camera swooped down onto the rooftop of the L.A.P.D. building while Vangelis’ haunting synthetic score rose to a crescendo. Blade Runner 2049 begins with a literal eye opening once more that surveys the surreal landscape of a future Los Angeles, born from Phillip. K. Dick’s Cold War vision and Ridley Scott’s direction. Once more the same euphoria washed over me as a car fluttered across the screen and pushed back the horizon’s edge. All my scepticism for Blade Runner 2049 was unwarranted.

Neither a sequel nor a spiritual successor, Blade Runner 2049 is a chapter in the exquisite world first witnessed over thirty years ago, created by people who both understand and love the original. Passing the mantle from Blade Runner’s director Ridley Scott to Denis Villeneuve was the correct decision. Scott remains a great director but the taste he has developed for C.G.I over practical effects in recent years has betrayed the grounded future of Alien in both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Scott would have likely had the same effect on Blade Runner 2049. Villeneuve has kept Blade Runner’s engrossing visual realism alive by intermingling leftover concepts from the original with his own ideas. The Los Angeles from Blade Runner’s 2019 remains but is peppered with additions made by a predicted future grounded in the modern day. Blade Runner 2049 visits the world outside L.A. that Ridley Scott always wanted to include in the original. The film starts in a midwestern dust bowl swirling across bone-white synthetic farms in an environmentally exhausted world. A farmer emerges from a hydroponic tunnel of protein vats draped in a hazmat suit, covered in tubes and plastic. The farmer, the farm, and the world beyond, adorned by minute details, transcend the screen and become tangible.

A sense of reincarnation permeates Blade Runner 2049, concluding that the struggle between replicants and humans will perennially repeat itself. Echoes of the people and places from 2019 peel throughout the film like the old bones of Las Vegas which peek through the new structures above. The unbridled anger of replicant Luv (Slyvia Hoeks) is reminiscent of replicant leader Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and his childlike fury at an indifferent universe. Deckard’s own mention of Treasure Island is a reference to fellow Blade Runner Dave Holden, who reveals that the novel is his favourite book during a deleted scene in Blade Runner

Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Rodger Deakins have created their finest work in Blade Runner 2049. Deakins conveys the dichotomy of the alien and the familiar in Blade Runner 2049’s world. He superimposes the structure of future L.A. over the individual characters while recognisable words and brands from English to Urdu spread across the cityscape. The depth of field in these scenes, especially when focusing on Blade Runner K (Ryan Gosling), reinforces how tiny and equally inconsequential humans and replicants are in this strange new metropolis. Deakin’s masterful manipulation of colour segments the world. The smoggy grey and matte black of Los Angeles contrast with the rusted browns of the San Diego junkyards. Las Vegas stands derelict, swathed in a thick sodium orange soup as the desert swirls in silence. Deakins deserves every award he is nominated for this year.

Blade Runner 2049‘s visual opulence is matched by its bravery to broach the philosophical themes established in Blade Runner. The replicants in Blade Runner denote the arbitrary divides in human societies as I said in my 4th Wall piece here. Blade Runner 2049 returns to this central idea and offers a unique conclusion. The world of Blade Runner 2049 quickly reveals the schisms between humans themselves when K encounters fagin-esque orphanage manager Mister Cotton (Lennie James) in the bowels of the San Diego junkyards.

Beyond effects and cinematography, Blade Runner felt real because of its characters which were living and believable beings. At every rung of society which Blade Runner 2049 visits, the characters are alive and belong in this universe; from megalomaniac industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) to toughly pragmatic L.A.P.D. chief Madam (Robin Wright). The personalities and motivations of the people K crosses propel the world around him. Unlike other modern blockbusters, Blade Runner 2049 is willing to financially invest in its characters by casting major stars like Jared Leto to convincingly depict supporting roles.

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Jared Leto as Niander Wallace

K was written for Ryan Gosling and no other modern actor excels at being a sympathetic vessel of violence. Watching Gosling in Drive, he effortlessly switches between tranquillity and rage while menace always smolders in his eyes. Contrasted to the silent Driver from DriveBlade Runner 2049’s refreshingly gentle pace lets the humanity and complexity of K seep out from his tough exterior. Harrison Ford gives his best performance since Blade Runner in his return to the role of Blade Runner Deckard, a man changed in the thirty years since the original. Wiser and warier, Ford’s performance is more emotionally charged than the hero he depicted in 1982, reflecting the price Deckard has paid to remain free.

The score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch mesmerisingly emulates the classic soundtrack for the original Blade Runner by Vangelis. The noises of the world enmesh into the pulsating songs by Zimmer and Wallfish, perfecting the sound and vision of Blade Runner 2049.

Fans of Blade Runner have received a sequel they never deserved. Blade Runner 2049 is the best film of 2017.

By Saul Shimmin


My god. This film rocked me to my core with its sweeping opening of dust-ridden California as Zimmer and Wallfisch’s harsh, post-industrial score trumpeted over the speakers. If the Academy fails to nominate this film for every category (everything from Makeup & Hairstyling to Film Editing to Best Picture) it will be the greatest tragedy since Shakespeare in Love stole Best Picture from Saving Private Ryan in 1999.

Like Saul, I do not want to ruin any plot points, but I am dying to sing this movie’s praises.

The best part of the Blade Runner 2049 was its plot themes. They attacked issues that are just arising today, but will vastly affect our lives in the near future. I’m talking about Artificial Intelligence or AI and questions like makes something “alive.” Is it soul? Is it the ability to feel pain? Is it having the capability to reason? These are matters that may seem ridiculous to consider especially as Siri or Cortana struggles to understand your command to call your mom. But in due time, these will become problems that our generation will have to solve especially with the pace Apple, Google, Amazon, and other tech giants are pouring money into developing AI. Blade Runner 2049 expanded on themes raised in movies like Her, Ex Machina, and, of course, the original Blade Runner.

Raising such social questions and projecting the technology of the future used to be what science fiction did best. With recent rubbish films like Flatliners, Transcendence, and Ghost in the Shell, it was refreshing to let this movie challenge my mind and open it to the possibility of crazy technology that could soon be in my living room.  

The next best facet of the film was its settings and set designs. The post-apocalyptic world (society hadn’t been extinct, but the world had survived some nuclear blasts and mass plant extinction) was unsettling. The fact that some characters had never seen trees and that one city spanned the horizon like the mega cities in Dredd struck me at how fragile our planet is and how sad our existence would be without nature. However, it was not just the emotions that the sets sparked that made me love them. It was also their detail. Alessandra Querzola, the film’s set decorator, made sure to film them with junk, giving Blade Runner 2049 the used world aesthetic that George Lucas first introduced to the sci-fi world with Star Wars. Because of all the little things like exposed pipes, Coca-Cola ads, and all the curious trinkets in Doc Badger’s (Barkhad Abdi) shop, the movie’s realism was superb and provided it with a certain horror that such a dead world could be ours.

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Post-apocalyptic Los Angeles

Finally, apart from Denis Villeneuve, who has entered my Directors Hall of Fame that includes Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, and Danny Boyle, the movie’s actors were the icing on Blade Runner 2049. The greatest surprise was Villeneuve’s casting of Dave Bautista as the replicant, Sapper Morton. Bautista has slowly been climbing into the A-list ranks from his WWE origins and, I would argue, doing a better job than Dwayne Johnson. Despite his hulking figure (I think he slimmed down for this role) his movements were precise, his words exquisitely spoken, and his emotions, raw. It was a drastic reversal from the loud and humorous role of Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, which reveals Bautista’s acting range is quite diverse. However, Bautista was not alone in acting excellence. Each actor/actress in the film similarly excelled in each of their roles. There was not one scene that was over or under-acted.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to dislike seeing movies twice, especially while they’re still in theaters. I normally get bored on second viewings after knowing the twists and turns of a plot. Blade Runner 2049, however, is a film I am dying to see again. And soon. I recommend you go enjoy this movie as soon as possible.

By Hagood Grantham

For the trailer, see below;

The Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Film Score: 2.5 out of 5 (Average)

Synopsis: Eggsy (Taron Edgerton), codenamed Galahad, is now in a relationship with the Swedish princess, Tilde (Hanna Alstrom), who he saved through the backdoor in The Kingsman: The Secret Service. However, a former Kingsman recruit, Charlie (Edward Holcroft), quickly upsets the status quo on the behalf of the secretive drug cartel, the Golden Circle. Charlie hacks into the Kingsman database and accesses the locations of all the Kingsman agents for his boss, the mysterious Poppy (Julianne Moore), who executes a series of surgical missile strikes that eliminate all Kingsman agents except Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong). Alone and without a base the two agents travel to their American counterpart, the Statesmen, for help in their mission to avenge their fallen comrades and save millions from the poisonous drugs Poppy has distributed across the globe.

When I read on Rotten Tomatoes that The KingsmanThe Golden Circle received the literally middling score of 50%, I expected to be thoroughly let down by the sequel to a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. While The Golden Circle failed to live up to its predecessor’s action, humor, and subversive elements, I still had a good time watching it. I’ve thought long and hard about why The Golden Circle did not recapture The Secret Service‘s magic. I believe the biggest reason for the disparity between the two films was the first was so unexpected with its John Wick-like bloody and excellently choreographed fight scenes alongside its lewd humor. Once the audience comes to expect such elements, it is difficult for a writer/director, in this case Matthew Vaughn, to one up himself on these accounts.

Vaughn tried to escalate his actions scenes with the heavy use of CGI, but this effort failed to boost them. Instead, these moments felt fake through the obvious presence of CGI. Also, the amount of cuts in camera angles distracted me and detracted from the intensity of the fights. The movie still delivered some great action pieces, but they were fewer in number than in The Secret Service. 

The humor survived into the second film, especially with its Glastonbury contest between Eggsy and the Statesman agent, Whiskey (Pedro Pascal), to plant a tracking device in a mucus membrane of a target. However, like the action scenes, comedic scenes were also fewer than in The Secret Service. I would’ve enjoyed a few more ridiculous moments, like the ending scene of The Secret Service that I hyperlinked above. It was in such moments when The Secret Service subverted its James Bond origins where it excelled. The Golden Circle did not do this enough.

The Golden Circle‘s greatest strength is its characters. I greatly enjoyed their interactions, especially the ones between Eggsy and Merlin. Mark Strong’s handle on Merlin’s character is deft and he adds a lot of emotion to the plot despite receiving little screen time. Vaughn also wisely and believably brought Colin Firth’s Harry Hart back into the picture after being brutally executed in The Secret Service. Having Harry/Agent Galahad back from the dead added a double element of uncertainty to a seemingly straight forward plot both with the device they used to resuscitate him and the side-effects of such a procedure.

I hope Vaughn is just encountering a case of sequel-itis like the Oceanmovies suffered with Oceans Twelve and can fully recapture his mojo in the third film (if Fox chooses to make a third installment). But if you’re in need of a (fairly) lighthearted flick and don’t mind some exploding heads and gross humor in the context of a secret spy world then go see it and enjoy.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

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.

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(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

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.

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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

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.

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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

 

Dunkirk- Review

Movie Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Cast: Fion Whitehead, Damien Bonnard, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, Barry Keoghan, Tom Glynn-Carney, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, & Cillian Murhpy

Director: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: In May and June of 1941, the Nazis had surrounded the Allied forces and were pushing them into the sea near the French city of Dunkirk. The only escape for the Allied troops was for the British to shuttle them with a combination of Naval and civilian vessels across the English Channel. However, Nazi Stukas and Messerschmitts thwarted their escape, bombing and gunning down British and French soldiers on the beach and harrying the vessels ferrying them to safety. The movie follows three timelines: 1. The Mole, 2. The Sea, 3. The Air. The segments interweave throughout the movie and provide different perspectives on the Allied retreat. The Mole follows the British troops on the beaches of Dunkirk who are trying to survive the Nazi air attacks long enough to board a ship for home. The Sea tells the story of a father (Mark Rylance), his son, and his son’s friend who take their boat to help rescue the stranded soldiers. The Air runs faster than the previous two segments because its length is one hour, as opposed to 1 week for the Mole and 1 day for the Sea. The Air follows three Spitfire pilots, the main character being Farrier (Tom Hardy) whose mission it is is to protect the Allied troops from the Nazi air attacks.

While I must admit that Dunkirk failed to move me to the extreme it did Saul, I did enjoy Christopher Nolan’s tenth full-length film. With Dunkirk, Nolan, once again, impressively turned conventional storytelling on its head as he did with Memento and The Prestige. Instead of opting to show the film in a linear fashion, Nolan broke the movie into three segments that follow three different groups of characters that all span varying time lengths. One lasted a week, another one day, and, the final one, one hour. Most writers and directors would have dropped the ball trying to work such a convoluted plot into a meaningful and intense story. Yet Nolan does so seamlessly, tying all the groups together into several rewarding climaxes.

Nolan is undeniably an untouchable master of cinema, but I believe the real hero of Dunkirk to be Hans Zimmer. His score kept me on edge throughout the film, even while soldiers just waited for boats to ferry them across the English Channel. Through long pulls on stringed instruments, Zimmer constantly reminded the audience that death lurked just outside the frame, and that Time, constantly present with the ever-ticking clock sound in the background, was scarce as the enemy slowly but continuously tightened the noose around the Allied soldiers. I did not expect Dunkirk‘s score to be one of my favorite parts of the film, yet it was.

Another surprise was Harry Styles. The former One Direction singer played Alex, who despite limited screen time proved to be one of my favorite characters. This surprised me because he shared time with some of my favorite actors: Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Mark Rylance and more than held his own. The scene that comes to mind is when a group of British soldiers are trapped in a beached fishing boat that the Nazis are using for target practice. As the tide starts to come in, the ship begins to take on water through the bullet holes in its hull. Believing that they needed to lose weight, Alex accuses the quiet solider, played by Damien Bonnard, of being a German spy. I thought this accusation to be true due to man’s failure to talk up to the point in the film.  Alex verbally attacks the man with the scary conviction of a cornered beast.

It was perilous moments like this, heightened by Zimmer’s score, where I thought the movie shone. Nolan made Dunkirk two things: a war film and a survival film. Its war aspect was what I came for (besides the fact that it is a Nolan film with excellent actors), but it was the survival element that made Dunkirk excellent. All the horrors that befell the Allied troops were believable as were their reactions to death and its ever-impending peril. Whether it was Alex threatening to throw the quiet solider overboard to the Nazis or Cillian Murphy’s shell-shocked violent outburst at the prospect of returning to Dunkirk, these actors’ talent combined with Nolan’s camera work and Zimmer’s score made me share these characters’ fear.

Please go see this in IMAX. The sound quality alone is worth the extra five bucks. I felt that the Nazis were bombing my theater.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

 

Dunkirk

Leaving the cinema after watching Dunkirk, I was compelled to write this piece; to write about the importance of what Christopher Nolan has created.

To know Europe, you must understand The Second World War. My parents grew up in the 1960’s playing in bombsites: open wounds across Liverpool even 20 years on. Joy Division and New Order took their names from Nazi projects. My father sometimes recalls neighbours who were veterans of the World Wars, men who left legs behind on a beach during D-Day and others whose minds cracked like china under the strain of trench warfare in France and Belgium. Travelling across Europe for the first time at 19, the Nazis haunted every nation I visited, from Anne Frank’s safe-house in Amsterdam to the crumbling ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto. The First World War razed the old Europe, but the pain of the Second World War forged the new.

Since the Ancient Greeks first told myths, the past has been the anchor which moors identity in a sea of clashing collectives. Across Europe, our anchor is weakening as the Second World War ebbs away from living memory onto the shores of textbooks and academia. The train from Birmingham back home stops at a particular station.  Built into the station wall is a memorial to the men from the Railway line who fought and died in both World Wars. The names of the dead stack up to the ceiling, but no one stops to read them.

Dunkirk is a gift to the future, a grain of bottled time giving meaning back to the marble names that dwell in railway stations, parks, monuments, and statues across Europe. When watching Dunkirk we can live in that unfiltered speck of memory. We can experience a time of survival where there is no good or evil, only the enemy who is everywhere yet nowhere, toying with the British as they scrabble for their lives while bombs fall, snipers fire, and submarines sink hospital boats. When death comes, there is no quiet reflection or glory, it is quick and uncaring. Pilots simply disappear and soldiers, flung into the air by Stukha bombers, with their Jericho horns deafening all,  never return to ground. The characters utter little dialogue as few words are needed: the story speaks through Hans Zimmer’s score and Nolan’s vision.  The tale of Dunkirk told in words of sight and sound, is hope in the face of horror. It is the ringing notes of stoicism, the images of heroism, of ships silently sailing to shore and pilots sacrificing themselves which kindled hope for the men trapped ashore, caught between the ocean and the German tide. Hope saved our men, hope saved us.

When the civilian boats quietly prevail and reach Dunkirk’s shores, Zimmer’s rendition of Elgar blares as red sails flutter in the cold Atlantic wind. I was moved. I felt proud  of my country. In a present where Britain seems lost inside itself, we needed the pride Dunkirk brings to remind ourselves of a moment when we stood alone, and vowed to return to our European brothers once more.

Hopefully we will return to Europe again one day.

Hagood’s review of the Dunkirk is here.

By Saul Shimmin

 

 

Bone Tomahawk

Movie Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, Matthew Fox, & David Arquette.

Director: S. Craig Zahler

Synopsis: A stranger wanders into a small, western town. His suspicious actions draw the attention of  the town sheriff, Hunt (Kurt Russell), who wounds the man when he tries to run away from an interrogation. That night, Samantha (Lili Simmons), the town’s stand-in doctor, tends to the man’s injury at the jail as Hunt’s deputy stands guard. The next morning, a townsman alerts Hunt that savages kidnapped Samantha, the deputy, and the stranger, which prompts a rescue mission. A four-man search party forms and they set-out after the savages. A lot of fun, death, and fear ensues.

I realize my synopsis might make Bone Tomahawk sound like a rip-off of John Wayne’s 1956 classic, The Searchers, but trusts me, Bone Tomahawk surpasses its predecessor. I think my favorite part of the film is its realness. The movie’s actors skillfully embody the frailty of human life on the west. When the savages attack the town, none of the townspeople run scared or act crazy. Through their actions, the audience can see that such awful occurrences are not uncommon. Also, none of the characters are normal western “heroes” who can shoot from the hip and hit a running man at 100 yards. Each man shoots how a normal, somewhat-skilled cowboy would shoot.

Bone Tomahawk‘s greatest deviation from The Searchers though is its gradual descent from a western film into a horror one.  One of the first indications of such a transition begins with the Zahler’s decision to limit his shots to medium and close-up shots of the search party. At first, this limitation annoyed me because I wanted to see the grand landscapes that often paint western films. However, as Zahler restricts his shots, the audience loses more and more knowledge of what actions occurred outside of the frame, creating a sense of unease. Zahler compounds this feeling by electing not to add a score or soundtrack to the film. Breathing, crickets, and the wind are the only sounds the audience hears, which increased my fear because I felt so alone and lost while watching this movie. Normally, a movie’s score indicates when something is about to happen. Most horror movies have a soundtrack and when it stops, it is hinting that something is about to occur. Bone Tomahawk provided no such signposts leaving me on edge for most of the film.

Zahler also wrote the film and followed a tried and true formula. Place your characters in a bad situation and then make it worse. He did a fantastic job executing this strategy because with each passing moment, the search party fell into deeper and deeper peril. The reason I enjoyed this facet of the movie is because Zahler created believable reasons for each calamity to occur. My favorite was a brief moment of anger from Samantha’s husband, Arthur (Patrick Wilson), one of the four members of the search party. Mr. Brooder, another searcher, made a quip about Samantha that related to an earlier scene. Arthur responds negatively to the joke, punching Brooder. While his punch landed solidly on Brooder’s jaw, Arthur’s broke leg, in splints, lands unevenly on a rock causing the bone to break the skin. This injury forces Arthur to stay behind as the rest of the party carry’s on with its search.

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Despite all these great facets, the moment that pushed Bone Tomahawk from an excellent film to a classic occurred later in the film when the savages overpower the search party and take them captive. The savages, who are also cannibals, lock the survivors into a cage and take out the previously captured deputy. Up to this point in the film, most violence acts were not shown but only heard. In what was the most grisly scene I’ve ever seen in my life, the savages take the deputy out of his cage, scalp him, shove his scalp in his mouth, take a tomahawk to his genitals, and then devour him. Zahler’s relative restraint in violence up to that point, combined with the high morality of the sheriff and his cohort (except for Brooder at times), the scene was unsettling to the extreme and made hope unreachable for the heroes.

Target Audience: Adults only.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

The Red Turtle

Movie Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Director: Michaël Dudok de Wit

Synopsis: An allegory of family, nature, innocence and more, The Red Turtle revolves around an unnamed man who becomes stranded on island which refuses to let him go.

The Red Turtle’s plays on the saying ‘no man is an island’. Life, its value and its purpose, stem from our connections with the world, and our loved ones. The life and identity of the unnamed man before being cast away are never revealed. At The Red Turtle’s beginning, he bursts from the water amid a dark storm. Devoid of anything, the man’s arrival on the island is his rebirth, from which he begins to adapt to the island, until one scene where he falls asleep, slowly forming the shape of the mountain which peaks the island.

The man becomes part of the island, and the island becomes the world. The Red Turtle lets us witness the cycle of life with an intimacy of a documentary, as scenes focus upon the rainfall in a monsoon, birds flying in the dusk, or the havoc of a storm. The island’s wildlife being to react to the man, adopting the air of children. The wildlife and its behaviour endears us the island providing levity, but also emotional impact, when the harshness of life bears down.

Director de Wit years of effort to create The Red Turtle has forged a masterpiece which requires little dialogue to connect us with the unnamed man’s trials and tribulations. Instead, de Wit uses the island itself as a series of props to convey emotions and ideas to us, alongside eerie dream sequences and the haunting lullaby soundtrack. De Wit’s spartan art style, blending Asiatic economy with a European colour palette, renders the vibrant island alive.

The Red Turtle, which was eventually backed by Studio Ghibli, epitomises the power of animated film. The genre is as profound and provocative as other forms of cinema and can be appreciated by adult audiences. This is a beautiful film which will stay in your eyes and your mind long after viewing as you ponder of its meaning. That being said, The Red Turtle is not a film for children. At times my attention wavered, and when viewing it at the Southbank in London, the bulk of the audience were in their 30’s or older. For parents looking for a good animated film for children below 14, I recommend Belleville Rendez-vous, which is below and a favourite of mine.

I have said little about the film’s plot for fearing of spoiling the story.  The trailer for The Red Turtle is below, but I would strongly advise you to not watch it before viewing the film. Having only watched the trailer after viewing the film, it is a better experience The Red Turtle blind, allowing the twists and turns to have their full weight.

Do watch de Wit’s earlier short film, Father and Daughter, before viewing The Red Turtle. It is linked below the review and acts as an indirect and helpful prelude to ideas and themes in The Red Turtle.

By Saul Shimmin

The Red Turtle Trailer

Father and Daughter (full-film)

 

Belleville Rendez-Vous trailer