Mother!, 2017

Directed by: Darren Aronofski

Starring: Jeniffer Lawrence, Javier Bardem

Mother! is not what the trailer depicts in the slightest. I liked it anyway.
That said, it’s an incredibly difficult movie to talk about without spoiling, so I actually have no hard feelings about the marketing. I have no idea how else they could do it without spoiling the entire experience. So if it sounds like I’m tripping over eggshells in this review, that is why.

The director, Darren Aronofski, is most famous for the excellent Black Swan. Mother! and Black Swan are similar in that they use a great number of figurative elements, having the on-screen actions as acting as completely non-literal metaphors or allegories.
The difference? Black Swan has elements of both the literal and the figurative. Mother! is, from start to finish, all metaphor. It’s honestly pretty shocking to see what effectively constitutes an art film nabbing such a high marketing budget and Jennifer Lawrence, but that is certainly what it is.

So. A metaphor for what? I won’t say. The absolute best part of the film for me was when I figured it out, but that only happened after about 90% of the runtime, and for the friend I saw it with, after the credits started rolling. For this reason, you might not enjoy the film – it’s hard work. I spent most of the film with a furrowed brow, just trying my best to figure out what the hell was going on. Once it hit me though… I can honestly say I haven’t enjoyed rethinking and reinterpreting a movie so much in years. But then, I’m a film nerd. So take that with a pinch of salt.

Jennifer Lawrence did a great job. Not only her performance, but the way that the camerawork and writing constantly kept her as the central focus of the film, and as the audience surrogate as she seems to be the only character at all who acts with any level of rationality. Despite her strange purity, her character is very relatable in that if all this crazy shit were happening to you, you’d be just as confused and upset. If I have one complaint about her performance, is that I still can’t detach the actress from the role, and even though I think she acted better than in any other film I’ve seen her in, I think the role would be better suited to a lesser known actress.

I liked the way the film constantly fed subtle clues as to what it’s all about, but never enough to fully explain itself until you connect two key dots, and then it all unravels. The film is pretty damn cynical, which I feel some may interpret as pretentious, but I personally did not.

If your idea of a good time at the movies is to sit back and relax I’d avoid Mother!, as it’s quite hard work. But if you don’t mind having to think when going to the cinema, then I recommend it! I think you’ll get a lot out of it, both during the film and after the credits roll and you’re discussing with whoever you saw it with.

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My Cousin Rachel, 2017

Directed by: Roger Michell

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin

IMDb

Can a film be compelling if none of its core cast of characters are likeable? My Cousin Rachel attempts to prove that they can, and unfortunately falls short, resulting in a fairly dull time.

The story opens sloppily with heavy exposition, what I can only assume originated as a chunk of the book of the same name left out of the film, explaining that Philip’s (Sam Claflin) cousin/father figure got ill and had to move to Florence to stay with his cousin, a girl named Rachel (Rachel Weisz), who he promptly falls in love with and marries. A single letter comes back to Philip, completely contrary to his prior praise of her, claiming she is slowly killing him in an attempt to acquire his fortunes, but unfortunately he dies before Philip can reach him again. When the widow comes to visit her husband’s home, Philip finds that she wasn’t quite what he expected.

Characterisation wise, Philip is an entitled prick, an idiot, completely irresponsible and overall quite unlikeable. This is a bold move for a film, a medium obsessed with self-insert blank slates and generic good-guy-with-flaws types. Other films that attempt this kind of thing, however, have other characters to root for, and therefore can hold the viewer’s attention more aptly. The entire driving force for this film, however, is the back and forth of the audience’s opinion on Rachel. It’s very hard to root for her when half the time we’re supposed to think she’s a horrendous human being. To the film’s credit, its best aspect is its ability to have the audience constantly shifting its opinion as more information is revealed. It’s a good mystery. I really liked the payoff, and overall found the ending to be the best part of the film.

Both leads do a good job, especially Weisz, who’s performance I found to be pretty nuanced, given the mystery, but my above criticism still applies. Knowing the ending, I might have appreciated her more, but with neither lead being compelling, I had to fight the urge to check my phone.

Pretty much everything else, I found to be average to fine for a Victorian style period piece. There was the occasional unconvincing accent, some really shoddy CGI of Florence, and some awkward editing decisions at times. But in equal measure there was effort put into cinematography to convey symbolism, for better or for worse (one shot was about 80% obscured by an out of focus table).

While I haven’t and don’t intend to read the 1951 novel of the same name from which the film is adapted, I would recommend you read that over seeing this. Alternatively, the 1952 film I’ve read is also superior. The mystery is good, but not worth it in my opinion.

Colossal, 2016

Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis
Colossal came right out of nowhere and really surprised me. Before last week I hadn’t even heard of it, but after seeing it, I think it’s disappointing that it’s gone so under the radar.
 
To those that don’t know, the premise is that a failing alcoholic writer (Anne Hathaway) returns to her small home town after her boyfriend kicks her out. At the same time, a giant monster appears out of nowhere and starts attacking Seoul. After noticing a pattern, she realises she was the monster all along.
Not metaphorically, she is literally the monster. It’s weird, hard to describe, and super original.
 
I have to applaud the movie for its originality, it’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, plot-wise, which is so rare in hollywood. It also falls into a sub-genre of film which I have a particular affection for: Films with a sci-fi/fantasy element, but are ultimately very human stories set in a real-world environment. Stories that focus on the human condition through the lens of the fantastical element. Notable examples of such films include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind, Inception, Chronicle and Swiss Army Man. (Almost all of these are among my all time favourite movies btw)
 
Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis both give great performances as the leads, and not to spoil the plot, they develop a very interesting dynamic.
 
The film gives a really satisfying blend of tones, balancing funny, charming, intense and honestly kind of horrifying at points. Not to say it’s without flaws: I didn’t love the side characters, Dan Stevens plays Hathaway’s boyfriend and he’s a bit of a typical controlling, untrusting boyfriend. Also, there were a few points that the film was trying portray horrifying situations, but they came off a bit silly and hard to take seriously. They, however, were only small blemishes on an overall really good product.
 
 
Anyway, if you can catch it before it fades into obscurity, I definitely recommend you go watch it!

Logan, 2017

Directed by: James Mangold 

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen

IMDb

Logan was fucking fantastic. Emphasis on the word fuck, the film certainly loves to use it.

And there really is a certain catharsis to finally see the character actually acting the way you imagine he would, no longer bound to a single ‘fuck’ per film, to conform to the American Rating system’s version of ‘M for mature audiences’ (PG-13). I’ve been hoping to see a no-holds-barred Wolverine movie for years, and now in a post-Deadpool world, Fox finally has the guts to pull it off. If you’ve ever wished to see Wolverine drunkenly slash someone’s head in half, this movie was made for you.

Beyond the rating, the film does a good job of sticking to the grim, personal tone and themes presented to us in the trailer. Barring a few clichés, this is a very different comic book movie, and in contrast to last year’s very derivative X-Men Apocalypse, I found that very refreshing. Even Deadpool thrived on the very tropes that it incessantly mocked, so I applaud the producers for allowing this movie to happen.

The story is good, the new characters are memorable, and the cinematography did it’s job more than adequately. The best aspects of Logan, however, were Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and the action scenes. These actors own their characters, and have done for the last 17 years. I have little more to say than they totally nailed it. The action really steals the show though, it’s what fans of the character have been waiting years for. It’s unapologetically brutal, well shot and doesn’t feel choreographed, it feels raw. It’s awesome.

I’m slightly hesitant to call this the best X-Men film. It’s so distinct from the rest of the franchise in its themes and characters. It is, however, probably the best film in the franchise.

It’s a little long, at 2 hours 21 minutes, but I don’t really see that as too bad of a criticism as I loved every second. I know I tend to go nuts over comic book/ superhero flicks, so if you feel like taking this all with a grain of salt, feel free, but this is definitely one of the better ones out there. Go see it.

Split, 2016

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson

IMDb

Split was pretty damn entertaining. I quite liked the idea of the premise and despite the occasional M Night Shyamalism, I think it was pretty well executed.

Credit must be given to James McAvoy’s performance, which he just nails, playing a man with a Dissociative Identity Disorder (sort of) and thus has to perform as many diverse characters, sometimes interacting with one another. He nails it. Once you’re familiar with the characters he plays you can tell which one he is usually just from body language alone.

Anya Taylor-Joy, as the protagonist, also does quite a good job, I certainly enjoyed the exploration of her character and spending time with her. The other two leads, however, were actually quite crap. Fortunately we don’t see too much of them.

Anyone familiar with Shyamalan’s work will know that the vast majority of his recent films have ranged from bad to terrible, so it was encouraging to see some clever and competent film making here. However there are still issues. The one that stood out to me was tonal dissonance. Clearly the film was trying to be taken quite seriously and to keep the audience quite tense. Despite this, the film kept throwing funny moments in there. Totally ruins the tone, but makes the film all the more entertaining.

Something that should be addressed is that the film doesn’t even attempt to portray DID as a realistic disorder. I know absolutely nothing about the matter, but early on it becomes pretty clear that the film isn’t trying to do so anyway, so I just rolled with it and enjoyed the ridiculous spectacle presented to me. Trust me, I got some pretty good laughs in the climax of the film as a result. I think it’d be pretty interesting to see a film tackle the topic in a more serious manner one day though, as it is pretty intriguing and I think it has a lot of potential in the medium.

If you’re at all interested by the trailer then check it out, I think you’ll enjoy it.

P.S. it’s not scary at all. The trailer kind of implies that it is, but this simply isn’t the case.

La La Land – Part 2, 2016

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Starring:  Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt

IMDb

Read Part 1 here.

So I saw La La Land again and I’ve been inspired to go a little more in depth and analyse it a bit. If you haven’t seen the movie yet (fix that), you probably shouldn’t read this, as I’m going to be going in-depth on specific scenes and songs. You’ve been warned.

In my review I called the film ‘a love letter to all performing arts, encouraging the love of music and art and leading a life worth living’. I’d like to amend that slightly, to ‘a love letter to those passionate enough to follow their dreams and pursue the performing arts’. I make the distinction because while the film certainly adores the performing arts, it makes a point of spotlighting the artists who make it all happen. In essence, the art forms are entirely reliant on people passionate enough to put everything on the line to bring them to life.

This shoutout to the passionate is most clearly depicted in the song ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’; Mia’s audition at the end of the film, where she tells the story of her aunt who jumped in to the freezing river in Paris just for the thrill of it.

“She smiled,

Leapt, without looking

And She tumbled into the Seine!

The water was freezing

she spent a month sneezing

but said she would do it, again.”

The act of jumping into the river can be seen as an allegory for artists putting everything on the line for pursuing the risky world of the arts, and doing it with a genuine joy without regrets. The song goes on to encourage this with its chorus:

“Here’s to the ones who dream

Foolish, as they may seem

Here’s to the hearts that ache

Here’s to the mess we make”.

The idea of risks associated with an artist’s life is pretty perfectly encapsulated in a tiny scene where Mia is on the phone to her mother, Seb casually listening in another room. My memory isn’t good enough to quote the scene exactly, but she says things to the effect of “It’s a one-woman-show…… no, I’m paying to do it” and “He’s great, he’s going to start his own club. No he hasn’t opened it yet. He’s saving, I think.” The whole film up to this point has been very romantic and idealistic about pursuing the arts, not showing the realistic financial hazards, so relatively subtle shifts in dialogue and expression in Gosling’s performance indicate to the audience his second thoughts about blindly following his dreams, setting in motion his career in John Legend’s band. (by the way, I appreciate the sparing use of John Legend, any more of him and his lack of acting experience would really begin to show). It was a simple scene, but I appreciated the subtlety and visuality of how this shift was portrayed.

Diverting from strict analysis for a second, something the film did really excellent was visual storytelling. The film has a lot of time skips, and following each the film is able to communicate exactly what changes the characters have gone through without a single line of exposition. The best example of this is at the end of the film. [[[MAJOR SPOILERS]]] by the way; don’t read this bit until you’ve seen the movie. [[[The first thing we see is a recreation of an earlier scene where a big celebrity orders coffee at the WB lot, only Mia is now ordering. Immediately we know that she’s made it as an actress in a way that’s super satisfying for the audience, having seen her so close to giving up just a few scenes earlier. We then see her walk into a big house with a fancy breakfast finished, but not cleaned up on the table, a card on a shelf with ‘congratulations’ written on it and flowers. From this mise en scene we can understand just how successful she’s become instantly, yet how humble she has remained. There are tonnes of similar examples through the rest of the film.]]]

At this point I could continue to give examples that prove what I think the film is really about, but the more I write the more I want to just gush about the bits that I really like. The way I look at it, this piece is much more for me than it is for anyone else, so fuck it, I say!

I ADORE the first two numbers. If any of the musical numbers could be considered gratuitous, ‘Another Day of Sun’ would be the most obvious candidate, not featuring any characters from the film nor progressing the story. What it does, however, is establish the films narrative tone and basic themes:

“Summer Sunday nights

We’d sink into our seats

Right as they dimmed out all the lights

A Technicolor world made out of music and machine

It called me to be on that screen

And live inside each scene”

Despite not being sung by her, this could easily be seen as Mia’s backstory. I’m not sure if that was the intention, but I buy it. It certainly features the same attitude that she does. Anyhow, that’s not really the reason I like the scene. I like it because it’s fun, catchy, and a god damn spectacle. The choreography, colour, movement and camerawork in this number are all absolutely phenomenal and hook you straight into the film from the word go with its infectious energy. I simply can’t believe the amount of tremendous coordination that number must have taken to put together, and it absolutely pays off.

‘Someone in the Crowd’ functions similarly to ‘Another Day of Sun’ in terms of establishing the tone of the film only this time, inserting Mia and her story to the mix. It starts fun and exciting, representing how it is to be in LA and reaching for her dreams. The number includes very extravagant imagery, including a champagne glass overflowing, evoking the hedonistic ‘roaring 20s’. It then drops into silence and focuses on her loneliness in a sea of people, seeing that she is indeed struggling with the whole experience, only to end in fireworks, also evoking the 20s, symbolising her world’s indifference to her. Again, the colour, blocking and camerawork all give this number a great infectious energy and it’s just fun. No way around it.

Something I didn’t notice the first time I saw the film is that every number is appear to be one take, or actually is done one take. I feel this is important for two reasons. 1. It evokes the feeling of a stage musical, and takes advantage of their quality of sweeping you off your feet and keeping you there. 2. It only adds to the spectacle. It simply makes the numbers much more impressive and enjoyable to experience.

The third big number ‘A Lovely Night’ is 100% an allusion to Broadway musicals of the early 20th century. The LA sunset backdrop evokes heavily the kind of set that might be set up for that type of production, right down to the placement of a bench, to do sitting tap on. Not to mention the full blown Gene Kelly style tap number. I don’t have tonnes to say about this one, I just really enjoyed it. This is the number that really nails the chemistry between Seb and Mia, which maintains excellence through the film.

Speaking of evoking a different medium, the entire sequence inside the planetarium was very clearly meant to evoke silent cinema right from its music and visual style to the fact that they don’t speak for the entire sequence. Here are my favourite little allusions to early cinema in that scene. 1. The whole situation: breaking into somewhere you shouldn’t be for a private romantic moment is such a classic romantic trope in terms of early cinema. 2. The moment where Seb polishes the handle before Mia pulls it: this was the moment where I properly realised what the film was doing, such a typical little moment that you could absolutely see Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton doing. 3. The moment when they are dancing through the stars. In my review I mentioned the film incorporating a fusion of modern film-making and classic forms of performance art. This is the moment I was referring to. It’s absolutely stunning and I think it looks phenomenal. It’s one of those film moments that you just wish you could live, it’s really beautiful. 4. The big finish on them kissing (for the first time in the film, it having been teased multiple times) with the “that’s all folks” circle closing in on them (I have no idea what that technique is called). Classic early cinema. I love that it almost convinces you that the film is over just on that scene.

A scene I want to draw attention to is where Seb and Mia fight. I just want to point out that it’s probably the most believable fight I’ve ever seen in a film. It builds really slowly, every point brought up is completely in character and the performances are pitch perfect. Gosling and Stone really are excellent choices and are both phenomenal actors. I don’t have anything else to say about it, but I thought it was really great. Another aspect of the film I really appreciated was the lighting. The whole endeavour was done flawlessly, especially in the one-take numbers, but the points I appreciated most were the moments of spotlight. Not only do they look fantastic, but each characters’ spotlights are distinct from one another. Mia’s spotlights envelop her body and leave her glowing, while the rest of her surroundings are completely shrouded in darkness, much like the effect that is aimed for in theatre, as she is an actress. Seb’s spotlights have a visible cone of light surrounding him from the source to the ground, much like any musician on stage would receive. It’s a small detail, but I think it adds a lot of personality and depth to the film.

More Spoilers: [[[The final sequence was one of my favourite in the whole movie. Damien Chazelle clearly knows how to end a movie, as Whiplash’s ending was also really excellent. I interpret the whole sequence as two things. 1. It was a representation of what Mia and Seb’s relationship/lives could have been in a more romantic and idealistic world, clearly what they’re both imagining. And 2. How the film may have played in early romance cinema. It’s jam packed with tropes and techniques classic to early film (silhouette, overemphasised performance, literally filming a globe with a plane over it to convey travel, painted sets and backdrops and one part literally has them on an old projector playing out the birth of their child). The thing that really hits me hard about the end of the movie is how bittersweet it is. Both Seb and Mia achieved their dreams, the main theme of the entire film, but both reminisce on what could have been, the lack of the final note in the music symbolising the unsatisfying ending to their relationship. The moment right before Seb starts playing the piano tears me to shreds. The emotion pouring out of both protagonists as they see each other for the first time in five years is overwhelming and when you see Seb hovering over the piano you know exactly what he’s going to play, and it’s just heartbreaking. The whole film uses this musical motif to remind the audience of the various points of emotion prior where it was played and holy hell did it work, if simply anticipating its being played set off the waterworks.]]]

At approximately 2000 words, I think I’ve run out of things I want to say about La La Land right now. Like I said about half way through, this was mainly for me. I need to express myself about this movie, it really breathed life into me. If anyone actually makes it all the way through, let me know what you think of my opinions and start a discussion in the comments, I could talk about this movie for days, it truly blew me away.

La La Land – Part 1, 2016

Directed by: Damien Chazelle

Starring:  Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt

IMDb

Read Part 2 here.

La La Land may just be my favourite film of all time. No jokes, no sarcasm, this movie rocked me to my core.

La La Land is a musical directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash) and starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, telling a love story about following your dreams set in the modern world but in the partial style of Broadway in the 30’s and 40’s. I say partial because it has far far more to offer; a more accurate way of describing it would be to say that it’s a love letter to all performing arts, encouraging the love of music and art and leading a life worth living. It does this by fusing the old-fashioned styles of song and dance with the endless possibilities of modern film-making, making for absolutely fantastic musical numbers. They will sweep you off your feet. The original music is all great, it’s fun, it’s moving, and Chazelle knows exactly how to hook you into the story with just a melody. All his films incorporate music in some regard, so it was a natural progression that he did a musical. It just so happens he made the best ever movie-musical in doing so.

Beyond the musical numbers, the whole film is solid in its beautiful cinematography, constantly making allusions to classic cinema, while maintaining its own distinct style. There are a lot of long running shots and the smooth movement of the camera through the action is just breathtaking really, and puts on display the talent being thrown around by the performers. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling both melt into their characters and give great performances, and their on screen chemistry is phenomenal. Their singing voices are both good, but not great. This is intentional and never distracting, as it actually has the effect of making them and their performances seem more real, they’re not distractingly perfect (if that makes sense). Gosling also had to learn piano for this role, and he did a fantastic job of being convincing as a music lover.

I want to gush and gush about La La Land and I might even one day write a more in depth analysis, but I think it’s more important to just get the message out for everyone to please see this movie. I saw it in an advance screening, but its full release is on Boxing Day. I cannot recommend it highly enough, I’ve had a smile on my face ever since I left the theatre.

I don’t normally do ratings, but La La Land is a 10/10 for sure.

Arrival, 2016

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

IMDb

Arrival stars Amy Adams as a linguist who must come in contact with extraterrestrial visitors to earth and interpret the reason for their ‘arrival.’ I’m super late to the game on this one, it came out while I was in exams and I just never ended up getting around to it ’till now, but I can’t say I regret it. Arrival was great.

The biggest criticism I had heard of the film going in is that it’s slow, which irks me slightly, yet I completely understand. Almost every shot seems to linger, a technique I’ve criticised before in films such as Hunger Games: Mockingjay. The difference is that there is a rhythm to the cinematography of Arrival; each shot seems exactly as long as it should be, and the camera was quite dynamic so every second gave something to the audience that the previous didn’t. Additionally, the camerawork was quite beautifully done, so it didn’t bother me at all. I do understand, however, that most mainstream movies don’t do this anymore, favouring very quick editing, so a typical moviegoing audience may not be used to it. I think, however, if you know that going in, you’ll be able to appreciate just how well done it was.

The premise was really excellent, definitely something I haven’t quite seen before and the plot was more than satisfying. The thing I actually wish to praise the film the most for is unfortunately a spoiler, so I won’t be explicitly stating it here, but I will say that the story went in a particular direction that I wasn’t expecting, and that I thought was really clever. It was really fantastic and creative storytelling. I also really liked the subtleness of how the film conveyed the world falling apart due to this event.

I’m running late to go see Rogue One, so I’m going to cut this slightly short, but I really liked Arrival, I don’t have any major criticisms, and if you’re a Sci-Fi fan or a fan of good cinema, you’re bound to enjoy it!