Tag Archives: Review

Good Time

Rating: 5 out 5 (Classic)

Director: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie

Cast: Benny Safdie, Robert Pattinson, Taliah Webster, Barkhad Abdi, Jennifer Lason Leigh, Buddy Duress

Synopsis: Following a bank heist gone awry Connie (Robert Pattinson) resolves to free his disabled brother Nick (Benny Safdie). From dodgy bail bondsmen to ex-cons and drug dealers, Connie traverses New York’s forgotten underbelly in a frantic spiral to bail out Nick.

Devoid of division between title and opening, Good Time pans across New York before swooping down onto Nick and his psychiatrist Peter (Peter Verby). The opening scene is a deceiving moment of calm, with the pulsating soundtrack by Oneohtrix Point Never foreshadowing events. Soaked in the grainy noise and neon colours of New York, Good Time engulfs the viewer as Connie commits a mesmerising display of self- destruction not seen since Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. Connie does both the imaginable and the unthinkable as he bungles his way towards Nick, yet Pattinson humanises Connie. Bearing a tangible desperation in his eyes, Connie is detestable but understandable and even charming when his oddball personality shows. Pattinson again proves what is witnessed in The Rover and The Lost City of Z, that he is a great actor.

Amid Connie’s frantic spiral springs a manic strain of humour from both Connie and the rest of the cast, depicted by upcoming and untrained actors.A standout performance comes from Buddy Durress as Ray, a freshly released ex-convict who becomes Connie’s accomplice. Ray’s confusion when Connie finds him and later attempts to befriend Connie adds emotion and humour into the plot. Equally facing lengthy prison time if caught, Ray’s recollected 24 hours since leaving prison unveils a parallel life to Connie. A cautionary tale of mixing brandy and Xanax, Ray’s story before crossing Connie is the perfect prelude to Good Time’s tense final act.

Sporting a substantial budget of two million dollars compared to their earlier work, the Safdie brothers mingle their hallmark guerrilla style with sleek longer shots and intimate close ups. The use of lighting is one of Good Time’s visual strengths, with ambient sources leaving characters in a darkened haze or a neon glow, pervading the film with a documentary feel. Beyond visuals, Good Time mirrors The Florida Project in having a great story alongside untrained actors. The combination transforms Good Time from being another cathartic dip through a city’s underworld into a believable tale beyond society’s safety net.

In film there are moments of convergence. Works from different artists unconsciously overlap into an undercurrent like rivers meeting at the ocean, crystallising the hopes and fears of our society. In The Florida Project, Good Time and Buster’s Mal Heart which I aim to review soon, we see the ignored parts of America, desperate and angry. Interspersed between the bank heist and the mad turmoil of Connie’s spree are still moments focused upon Nick. Emanating a vulnerable loneliness, Nick’s frustration spews forth, revealing his and Connie’s troubled childhood and that the heist was Connie’s plan to give them a new life. During these scenes Good Time resembles Matthieu Kassowitz’s La Haine, depicting the lives of people trapped outside the middle-class bubble. Beginning and concluding with Nick being comforted by his psychiatrist Peter (Peter Verby) a fatalistic tragedy looms over the brothers. Peter later consoles Nick, saying;

‘Nick, you are where you are supposed to be, and Connie is where he is supposed to be’.

Peter’s words are an unwitting admission that Nick and Connie were bound to remain in the mad world which Good Time depicts, where people deal, scheme and scam to get by. Despite all that unfolds, Good Time concludes with a moving end as Iggy Pop rasps about love while Nick begins to open up to others. The contrasting narrative between Nick and Connie emphasises the very human urge to protect loved ones which compels Connie, shifting Good Time beyond a simple crime thriller.

Having waited three months for Good Time to release in the U.K. since its distribution in America, the film was worth the delay. Good Time has sadly received a limited release across Britain. I thank Home Manchester for actually showing Good Time. For those yet to see the film, a DVD or streaming platform might be the only option.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

Advertisements

Small Crimes: Review

Film Score: 3 out of 5 (Good)

Synopsis: Along the spectrum of small town crime thrillers, Small Crimes lays nestled between Blue Velvet and Blue Ruin. Disgraced ex-cop, Joe (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), returns to his hometown of Bradley County where only Joe himself is deluded by his gimmick of reformation. Joe’s past actions cause his present to become a litany of dire situations from which he tries to escape.

The name Small Crimes alludes to Joe’s delusion about what he really is. From the film’s beginning, Joe’s reformed persona is a facade as he brazenly displays his sobriety chip to the prison pastor. Despite returning to a town where he is reviled, Joe desperately clings to his act, scrambling to prepare excuses for family and victims alike.

Joe’s conflict with his duality, between the man he is and the man he claims to be, personifies Bradley County. Symbolised by the division of the local newspaper’s front page between the upcoming pumpkin festival and Joe’s release, Bradley is torn between its idealised image and its reality of vice and crime, as seen below. Every citizen in Bradley except Joe’s parents pretend to be someone else; from the reservist Scotty (Macon Blair) who spends his downtime in the local bar still dressed in his army uniform to the morally righteous D.A., Phil Coakley (Michael Kinney). The only person at ease with their duality is the ironically named Lieutenant Pleasant, Joe’s former partner who remains in the pay of the local crime family. Pleasant is played by Gary Cole with a refined humour oscillating between the dark and the mildly obscene that adds to his menace.

Fullscreen capture 09102017 211718.bmp

The Newspaper of Bradley, caught between pumpkins and corrupt cops

Small Crimes’s exploration of the reality behind the American icon of the rural small town is a well tread trope beginning with Blue Velvet. The film’s uniqueness stems from its protagonist being a reluctant villain instead of a hero tackling the darkness within the town. Macon Blair, George Cole, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau imbibe Small Crimes with enough dark humour that the film never gags on its own tension.

Director Evan Katz has delivered a visually solid film with glitters of brilliance. Brief cuts to townsfolk, from a taxi driver’s glare or the librarian’s following eyes subtly denote Joe’s infamy. Little details are repeatedly focused upon like the blood stains on the pickup truck borrowed from Joe’s father. This consistently adds an observantly dark humour through image alone, similar to Blue Ruin and Green Room. The overlap between these two films is unsurprising given that Macon Blair who plays Scotty, and co-adapted Small Crimes from David Zeltserman’s novel, also starred in Blue Ruin and Green Room. The plot falls into an expected spiral but has enough originality and twists in Joe’s descent to be refreshing.

Fullscreen capture 09102017 205036.bmp

Hatred, condensed into one look

The acting in Small Crimes is excellent. Similarities appear between Joe and Jaime Lannister, the role in Game of Thrones that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is famous for. Both characters involve an unhealthy degree of narcissism. However Jaime Lannister is a morally ambiguous anti-hero while Joe is a desperate man in denial about who he is. Despite Joe’s acts both past and present, he remained an understandable soul which is to the credit of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Molly Parker, of House of Cards fame, is Joe’s love interest, Charlotte. Parker depicts someone who is loving but through her dialogue and physical demeanour, Charlotte enigmatically infers that her past is equally as dark as Joe’s. I am excited to see Molly Parker’s performance in Netflix’s latest Stephen King adaptation, 1922

The true star of Small Crimes is Robert Forster as Joe Sr, a man whose rounded shoulders show the guilt he bears for what his son has become. Robert Forster breathes life into this honourable working class man trying to maintain peace between Joe Jr and Joe’s mother Irma (Jacki Weaver) who is fervently distrustful of her son. At a time where Al Pacino and Robert De Niro find themselves in comedic bits, it is good to see older stars receive genuine roles because acting is a skill that never stops maturing.

Small Crimes, currently available on Netflix, is a good independent film with solid performances and plenty of dark humour. I would recommend it to Cohen brothers fans and those looking for a decent Sunday film.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

 

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.

maxresdefault

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.

blade-runner-20491

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;

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:

 

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.

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Behind the Scenes Trailer]

Today, July 15, in its measured roll-out in anticipation of The Last Jedi‘s December release, Disney delivered its second “trailer” for the film. While it is not a real trailer, the short video reveals just under three minutes of riveting tid-bits. We’ll discuss some key aspects of it below, but first, here is the trailer:

Key aspects:

  1. During their interviews, Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill hint that The Last Jedi will depart from the Star Wars norm. I, and I’m sure many other fans, would welcome such a departure after The Force Awakens highly derivative plot.
  2. In a brief clip, Kylo Ren appears in front of an elevator and walkway that looks incredibly similar to The Emperor’s throne room in Return of the Jedi. Maybe we will meet Snoke here, face-to-face. But once again, I hope this does not indicated that Rian Johnson is ripping off the earlier films like J. J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan did with Awakens.
  3. Who are the Stormtroopers with the black, First Order emblem emblazoned on their arms and wielding weird claw weapons?
  4. This video is laden with intriguing creatures and characters. I hope they mean that multiple, rich and well-thought out planets will fill The Last Jedi, unlike the two, rather boring planets from The Force Awakens.
  5. I’m extremely excited to meet Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro’s characters who we see for a few seconds in the trailer. The only thing I know about del Toro’s character is that people call him DJ. I also know he was a bad ass in Sicario so hopefully his savageness will carry over.
  6. We see Finn exiting his bacta tank so he is obviously alive and Kylo doesn’t appear too badly injured from the slash Rey dealt him at the end of Awakens. Also, who are the two young gentle sparring with him? Possibly, Luke’s padawans that Kylo and the Knights of Ren massacred? Rey seems to also have some sword fighting ahead.

Sorry if I criticiseThe Force Awakens too much here, but after each viewing, I dislike it more and more. Its dialogue failed to fit into the Star Wars universe, its world building seemed lazy, and, as I mentioned earlier, its plot relied way too heavily on A New Hope‘s.

I have high hopes for this installment, in no small part to Rian Johnson.I hope his skill at film making remains iconic and deft in this endeavor into the Star Wars universe.

Alien: Covenant

Movie Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Cast: Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Michael Fassbender

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: The Covenant and its crew are carrying 2,000 colonists towards a new life deep into unknown space. Just like the original Alien, the crew stumble across a distress signal from an unexplored planet. The covenant follows the signal and horror ensues.

Halfway through Alien: Covenant one of the characters declares that ‘if one note is off, the whole symphony fails’. His words are prophetic for the film itself.

Alien: Covenant is an enjoyable film with scares equalling the terrifying Alien.  Unfortunately, Alien: Covenant shares the same problems as Prometheus. It self-proclaims its own profoundness and complexity but buckles under this ambition, resulting in occasionally poor dialogue and plot omissions. Only Scott’s renewed focus upon the monsters distracts you from Covenant’s flaws until the film ends.

The film evades any of the questions raised by Prometheus, concluding without any finality to the Alien arc. The cliff hanger ending was well-delivered, but exposes the whole film to be mere kindling for another sequel. Nor does Alien: Covenant provide an explanation of past events for new viewers.  I found the film engrossing, but Alien: Covenant will confuse the uninitiated, and disappoint fans expecting answers to Prometheus.

Alien: Covenant does have many merits. Scott has repeated the pragmatically futuristic design from Alien, coupled with CGI, to create a grounded and believable world. Alien: Covenant is genuinely terrifying, with Scott returning to the slasher-esque feel of the original as the crew scramble to fight or flee from the monsters. The monsters themselves do fall flat  in earlier scenes where they are clearly computer generated, but their menace grows, especially when they appear in glimmers before snatching their prey.

Scott, when interviewed in a Q and A about Alien, said that if you cast properly for a film you have done half of the work. For Alien: Covenant, Scott stuck to his maxim. The cast is a solid roster who convincingly portray the Covenant’s crew. Danny McBride (Tennessee) and Katherine Waterston (Daniels) stand out from the cast. In the past Waterston has stuck to roles portraying damsels in distress. At Alien: Covenant’s beginning, it seemed that Waterston would repeat that role, but she transforms into the pragmatic leader of the survivors. Danny McBride, known for comedic roles, suits the slightly more serious character in Alien: Covenant. It would be great to see him in similar roles soon.

One of the best aspects of the film is the power play within the Covenant’s crew. Certain characters, as tragedies unfold, either break or harden, letting us witness a power shift between the crew from Alien: Covenant’s beginning to end.

Michael Fassbender, as identical androids David and Walter, delivers a great performance once more. Both characters are mirror opposites of each other, developing a twisted father-son relationship, repeating David’s own relationship with Peter Weyland, the androids’ creator.

Other characters may seem underdeveloped, but Alien: Covenant is a monster film, with a vast cast to boot. Given the circumstances, it would be difficult for many of the characters to be well-developed before they die off. However, the lack of expostion for David causes his surrounding air of mystery to dwindle, transforming him into a vaudeville villain.

David’s character underlines what might be the central flaw of Alien: Covenant and Prometheus. Both films require a near complete focus and prior viewing of Scott’s earlier sci-fi films, to understand and appreciate their stories and themes. Personally, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, through their focus on artificial intelligence and conflicts between the creator and the created, are spiritual successors to Blade Runner.

For the every-man, Alien: Covenant will likely disappoint and confuse as much as it may entertain.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

It Comes At Night -Teaser

Outlook: Spine chillingly good

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Riley Keough, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr.

In the wake of The VVitch and The Blackcoat’s Daughter, A24 has been developing a fine pedigree in the horror genre. It Comes At Night looks to be the darkest horror film produced by A24 so far.

The film’s premise is that two families, escaping an unknown menace ravaging America, find refuge together in an isolated hut. Yet the threat outside their shelter is quickly overshadowed by the enmity and paranoia which develops between them all.

It Comes At Night is directed and written by Trey Edward Shults, a rising director who gained critical acclaim for his debut film Krisha, about an estranged woman trying to reconnect with her family. Brandishing a larger budget for his second film, Shults has crafted a post-apocalyptic horror which borrows heavily from The Road, which is one of my favourite films. From the teaser trailer alone, both films explore the themes of family, love, and survival in a brooding and eerie post-apocalyptic setting where danger is everywhere. One scene in the teaser trailer, where the camera silently pans down a dimly corridor adorned by family photos, is reminiscent of the cannibal’s house in The Road.

Unlike The Road, where the apocalypse is caused by an unknown cataclysm, It Comes At Night suggests an unknown, but palpable force is sweeping across the world. Horror films have been using the trope of an unseen menace since The Blair Witch Project,  to create the monster in the audience’s own imagination.

Horror based on suggestion is effective but also destructive. The trope creates a subjective expectation of what the menace is, which often surpasses the final reveal and renders a film anti-climatic. The better horror films which rely on suggestion conclude without any revelation. Paranormal Activity did an excellent job in crafting the house’s dark presence without divulging anything at the film’s end.

It Comes At Night bears the challenge of delivering upon the threat outside, without the revelation being disappointing or jarring with plot’s slow-paced tension. Regardless, I am excited to see this film on release, and from the trailer alone, Trey Edward Shults has the potential to be a great director.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

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

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Remember those secret Death Star plans R2 carried throughout the original Star WarsRogue One: A Star Wars Story is about the Rebels who stole them from the Empire during the darkest of times when the Empire was at its mightiest. The plot sets off with the Rebel Alliance rescuing  Jyn Erso, portrayed by the beautiful and talented Felicity Jones, from an Empire work prison to help contact her father, Galen Erso, played by veteran actor Mads Mikkelsen. Galen is one of the architects who designed the Death Star. The plot rockets away from this moment merrily easing to lightspeed as the movie progresses. Rogue One is directed by Gareth Edwards and was written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy.

Film Score: 4.5 out of 5 (nigh perfect)

Hagood’s Review (Spoilers ahead)

Thanks to Rogue One I now (happily) have a new order to my favorite Star Wars movies: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars, Rogue OneThe Force AwakensReturn of the JediRevenge of the SithClones, Phantom. I found few things wrong with it and a galaxy and a half that I like about it.

I’ll start with my criticisms: not enough character development, especially with Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus. I loved them and hurt when they died, but a few minutes more about their backstory would’ve been welcome so the audience could learn why they were kyber crystal guardians and how they came to know one another. Same goes for Cassian and his wonderful sidekick, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). Also, more screen time for the Imperial defector, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). Why did he defect? How close was he with Galen? How did he escape his post? I realize Mr. Edwards, Mr. Weitz, and Mr. Gilroy had to efficiently tell this story and they did a fantastic job of pacing Rogue‘s plot. I’m just being greedy here and wanting another layer to this rich movie.

To discuss my the parts I enjoyed, I’d like to begin by responding to Joe Morgenstern’s review of the movie in The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Morgenstern harshly criticized Rogue One stating that the movie’s connections to A New Hope and Revenge of the Sith and its “epic echoes are just about all this production has going for it.” He also called the movie’s action “chaotic” and believed the plot and its characters are all too dour. His critiques are all unfounded. The references to the other movies and Rogue‘s cameos were fun Easter eggs, not its basis. The movie’s character’s, plot, and action all stood on their own. If the Rebels were stealing plans to the design of Darth Vader’s Bacta tank in his Mustafar lair instead of the plans to the Death Star, I would’ve been just as intrigued and entertained. The build up to the movie’s climax and its climax were all well written and executed. Also, Mr. Edwards purposefully harried its action. The Rebels designed their attack to distract the Empire’s security and buy Cassian & Jyn time, not to make a sensical, thought-out attack, and their stern expressions and attitudes were a reflection of their lives under the cruel rule of the galactic Empire. As Cassian told Jyn, he’d been fighting for the Alliance since he was six and he’d done terrible things for the Cause. Jyn had been fending for herself with the crazed Saw since roughly the same age. What does Mr. Morgernstern expect of Jyn and Cassian? A god awful scene of frolicking shenanigans like Anakin and Padme on that field on Naboo? Mr. Edward’s tone for the film was right. It’s a war movie with intense sacrifices. Rogue‘s grimness was a welcome change, especially after Finn’s stupid, way-too-modern humor in The Force Awakens. In fact, the no-man-left-alive was one of my favorite facets about the movie. It revealed Disney is still open to taking risks and not making the family-friendly movie people have come to expect of the company with their live-action remakes and comedic and upbeat Marvel characters. I hope Rian Johnson takes Episode VIII in the same direction.

Please, go see this movie. It’s well worth your time if you are above the age of 10.

Recommended Audience: anyone above the age of ten (if you didn’t read the review, its a darker movie than most Star Wars movies).

Saul’s Review (Spoilers too)

I am glad to add Rogue One to Green Room and Paterson as the few exceptions to a disappointing year for Cinema.

Rogue One is the ideal movie for Star Wars fans who loathed the prequels, but found The Force Awakens to be a little underwhelming.

My expectations for Rogue One were fairly low when I bought my ticket. Following the rushed job that Disney had done slotting Doctor Strange into the Marvel Universe. I was worried that Rogue One would simply be a cash-in to tide audiences over until Episode VIII. Felicity Jones, who portrays Rogue One protagonist Jyn Erso, also starred last year in Inferno where Jones’s character and acting stood out as poor. Despite all this, Rogue One is the only major blockbuster I have seen this year that did not disappoint.

Whether by design or coincidence, Rogue One is reminiscent of La Bataille D’Alger, the 1966 film about the Algerian War of Independence from France. The rebels, just like the Algerian freedom fighters, are fighting a superior enemy and take extreme measures to survive. Edwards depicts the Rebellion as a clandestine organisation, willing to kill civilians and its own members if they stray too far. The Empire equalled the rebels with its own infighting, operating like an old European royal court with high ranking officers clambering over one another to seek the Emperor’s ear. During the immediate viewing of the film, I was swept away by Rogue One’s plot. Since then, what has impressed me the most was how the Empire and the Rebellion both internally mirrored and differed from each other.

The rebels constantly felt at a disadvantage throughout Rogue One due to the excellent battle sequences. In every skirmish, the Empire had a clear superiority, with the Rebels clutching at guerrilla tactics and improvisation to stave the Empire off.

Rogue One’s enthusiasm to present the Rebellion in a darker light through Captain Cassian quickly peters out once he is alongside Jyn, with no real explanation why. This is Rogue One‘s sole failing but with such a great plot and cast, it is quickly forgotten.

Finally I remember being terrified of Darth Vader as a child, fast forwarding my VHS tape of A New Hope whenever he appeared. The final scene where Vader storms through the Rebel ship, massacring all within the gloomy corridor, gave me the same sense of dread. I hope Disney makes a Vader spin-off too.

Recommended audience: Die-hard Star Wars fans and anyone who wants to watch a decent blockbuster.

For the trailer see below: