The Killing of a Sacred Deer, 2017

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan

IMDb

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a tough watch, but I for one really liked it.

Much like Yorgos Lathimos’ most recent film ‘The Lobster’, the film takes place in a slight dystopia where everyone talks and acts in an emotionally muted and hyper-literal fashion. The rules of our society do not apply and it leaves you with a very unsettling feeling.

The setup for the setting pretty well encapsulates the films intended effect: extremely unsettling and non-conforming to the rules. The rules of standard hollywood story structure, that is.
It’s an extremely well made film, and Colin Farrell gave an excellent performance, but it’s not necessarily meant to be enjoyed by all. I liked it, but to you guys I say: go see it if you don’t mind being weirded the fuck out.

If you liked Mother! you may dig it. If you liked The Lobster, you’ll almost definitely dig it.

It’s very good, and it will keep me thinking for a long time. But then I’m a film nerd. I’m keen to hear what anyone who did see it thought.

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Blade Runner 2049, 2017

Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford

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I’m not really the biggest fan of Blade Runner (yes I watched the director’s cut). I’ve watched the film twice and failed pretty hard to really connect with it either time. I get the impression that maybe if I saw it in a cinema for my first viewing I would have liked it more, but even then apparently the theatrical version is vastly inferior. So yeah, not exactly sure why, but it never really resonated with me.

Blade Runner 2049 is a different story. I fucking loved it.

I’m going to be tripping over my toes for spoilers here, but if you want to go in knowing actually nothing, the mini-review is just to go see it ASAP. It’s really good.

First off, Ryan Gosling was fantastic. He was very well suited to his character, but I still managed to disassociate the actor from the role, which is difficult with such a big name. I’m also glad that he was truly the central focus of the film, as the character was really interesting; I was constantly in a state of wanting to know more about him. The performance was pretty spot on as well. Top notch effort. Harrison Ford, by comparison, was far less interesting, but in a good way. I feared going in that he would be playing a similar role as Han Solo in The Force Awakens, a pretty ‘done’ mentor trope, and was glad to see him take a back seat. His inclusion only benefited the story, which is pretty much the opposite of what I expected.

The story is simply captivating. It’s slow and complex, but it sticks out in my mind as special, as it created a genuine mystery. Every time I thought I knew exactly where the story was going, I was wrong, but that never comes from cheap tactics such as characters lying or some bullshit like that. It was consistently because the film anticipated what kinds of assumptions I would be making. It’s very smart. Its slowness, by the way, may disappoint some, but I felt it only added to the film’s rich atmosphere.

Speaking of atmosphere, holy crap the visuals and audio. The film looks and sounds gorgeous. The filmmakers have created/updated a truly interesting and fleshed out world, and the sound design enhances the experience by somehow adding to your understanding of what living in it is like. It’s kind of hard to explain, but the way the film is scored works incredibly well to further immerse you in the film without compromising its melodic nature. Where most films would typically have a track end at the same time as its corresponding scene, here it may even crescendo into the transition and continue into the next sequence, greatly aiding the flow of the story. This is a long movie and I never got bored, I never even had proper opportunity to check my watch, and I think the audio and visuals had something to do with that. I’d also like to add that the audio mixing was done with a bit of flare that I rarely see (hear). Every film that comes out of hollywood will be made with a surround sound setup in mind, but I very rarely notice, barring gimmicks. Here is was just done really well, added another layer of cool.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any major flaws. If I were to grasp at straws, I would say some character motivations were kind of confusing at times, but I’m pretty well convinced that they were explained and I just missed it. Similar to how I must have missed something in the first movie, because I really want to watch it again with this new viewpoint. The CGI was fantastic overall, but had two blunders for me. First was a bug, which was more or less excusable, and the other was a fully rendered character. While better than Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher in Rogue One, the technology still isn’t quite there yet. Please stop.

Blade Runner 2049 is a fantastic film, and I highly recommend going to see it in cinemas while it’s still out. Be warned, it is long and slow, but I didn’t see those as bad things at all. One of the best of the year.

IT, 2017

Directed by: Andy Muschietti

Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis

IMDb

I saw IT, a horror movie outside of October, at an 8:45pm Monday night showing. The theatre was packed to the brim. So the question is: Why is IT so popular?

It really shouldn’t be. The 1990 version is pretty bad. Not only was it bad, but it was long, boring and had a disappointing payoff. Its only real saving grace was Tim Curry as Pennywise, who appears to be having an absolute riot at any given moment, as to be expected of Tim Curry. My answer really must come down to the iconography and meme-ification of Pennywise, the continuing prevalence of the fear of clowns, misplaced nostalgia and some pretty great marketing. Regardless of WHY it’s so damn popular, my recommendation is to take advantage of the popularity and see it in a big audience. The audience will scream, laugh and overall have a great time. IT is a literal crowdpleaser.

IT, however, is not without flaws. The biggest of which is its story. Excluding the prologue, the plot only really starts after a full hour, with that first hour being used for world-building and establishing the (rather large) list of main characters. And even then, some of the characters feel really underdeveloped, to the point where their inclusion more seems to be out of fear of backlash at their removal than an actual desire to utilise the character. Once the plot gets going, it still doesn’t deliver anything stellar. I liked the themes of grief and abuse specifically, but I don’t think anything else was really worth even bringing up.

Somehow, though, the film still remains highly entertaining all the way through. Performances were mostly great. All of the kids (especially Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard (Mike from Stranger Things) and Sophia Lillis) were very well played, except for the Stanley character, who stuck out like a sore thumb to me. This film made the excellent decision to cut the entire adult plot from the original and just focus on the kids, who were much more interesting and fun to spend time with. It was especially cathartic to see kids with realistic conversational language. The simple fact that I can’t recall another movie where I heard a kid make a ‘your mum’ joke made it funny. And this is a funny, funny movie. I also appreciated the 80’s aesthetic, this particular story would only be more dated by trying to modernise it. Plus it’s 2017, it’s only natural for me, being born in 1996, to be nostalgic for 1987 right?

Bill Skarsgard did a fantastic job as Pennywise. I personally prefer Tim Curry’s “I don’t give a shit” attitude, but this new Pennywise has just enough new to keep it fresh and just enough kept to keep it being the same character. Good adaptation. One nitpick I have is that they use this weird shaking effect whenever he’s running at someone (you can see it in the trailers) which I found really obnoxious, and I wish there was less of it.

Ultimately, IT was a good time and I recommend IT. I guarantee that IT will be a good time if you see it in a large group or in a big crowd. IT was a surprisingly good movie.

Death Note, 2017

Directed by: Adam Wingard

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Lakeith Stanfield, and no one else worthwhile

IMDb

I normally don’t like to give movies a rating. I feel like it oversimplifies my thoughts on the matter to the audience. A single digit becomes the focal point for the entire review, and unfair comparisons between the films I review result.
I think, however, it’s appropriate to use one in the case of Death Note (2017). My scale is 0 is unwatchable, 10 is among the best films I’ve ever seen and 5 is mediocre.

4/10.

Far from unwatchable, but not good either.

I commend the film as an adaptation for following common sense (surprisingly rare for adaptations) of not at all trying to follow the same plot as its source material, as Death Note is a pretty convoluted story. Unfortunately, the one they left in wasn’t very interesting.

Taking the film at face value, not comparing it to the anime or the manga (which I haven’t read), the whole thing feels somehow uneventful, the kind of movie that I’ll forget about within a week. I didn’t form a connection to any of the main characters, I didn’t feel any impact when major plot points occurred. It sometimes had interesting cinematography, but it felt like all of those shots were handled by a seperate team, as the film is riddled with the typical shot – reverse shot with standard camera angles. If you had never heard of Death Note, maybe the premise would be good enough to pull you through, but to those people I say: Go watch the anime instead.

As I mentioned above, the film makes little effort to directly translate the source material, and most characters are significantly different. Light turner, for instance, doesn’t even slightly resemble Light Yagami. Light Yagami is outwardly very calm, in control, never giving even an inflection that would give him away and only from his inner monologue do we get any clue of how on edge he is. He’s a master manipulator, and when you truly get to understand him, he’s quite scary. Light Turner is an angsty teenager that will comically flip out over the slightest thing that doesn’t go his way, and we’re told he has a god complex, but he never really shows it. Light Yagami is interesting, Light Turner is not.

The ‘Misa’ equivalent, Mia, is also uninteresting, being demoted from pop-star to cheerleader, and being played by a Kristen Stewart wannabe who never once shows an actual emotion that I bought. The relationship between the two similarly doesn’t really resemble the source material at all, which I want to stress isn’t an inherently bad thing, but it wasn’t interesting.

L and Ryuk, however, were actually translated quite well. Ryuk doesn’t really change at all, but his performance by Willem Dafoe was great. L goes through a bunch of changes, both in the way that he acts and his overall aesthetic and backstory, but keeps enough characteristics that make him true to his original character. Unlike pretty much everyone else in this movie, he is actually interesting.

Strangely enough, I’m going to recommend that only fans of Death Note see this movie. It’s actually pretty fun to see what a poor representation its main characters are, and to laugh at the americanisation of what was a very Japanese thing. For everyone else, I recommend the anime. It’s very interesting and really gripping.

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.

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!

The Girl on The Train, 2016

Directed by: Tate Taylor

Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson

IMDb

The Girl on the Train was something few mainstream films are anymore: unpredictable. I honestly had no clue where it was going to go for most of the runtime, which I feel was a successful attempt to get the audience identify with the protagonist, who spends most of her time simply trying to interpret what the hell is going on. The unpredictable storytelling is the film’s greatest accomplishment. However, I can’t think of anything else that really stood out to me as amazing or unforgettable, but I can’t think of any real weaknesses either. It drags slightly in the middle but that section was ultimately quite brief. Overall I really liked it.

I’m aware that everyone makes this comparison, but it really does remind me of Gone Girl, at least in tone, theme and some story elements. That said, Gone Girl was a better movie overall.

So yeah, I recommend The Girl on the Train to anyone who enjoyed Gone Girl.

10 Cloverfield Lane, 2016

Directed by: Dan Trachtenberg

Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.

IMDb

Really enjoyed it. The most stand out feature was the performances, particularly John Goodman’s (not to discredit Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who was also excellent). His performance and the way the film was directed and edited brought a fantastic level of intensity. The writing was also excellent, it had me constantly going back and forth on whether I thought Goodman’s character was telling the truth or not, and didn’t really figure it out until it was revealed, which was refreshing for a hollywood film.

My only criticism is in a CGI effect which is so ridiculously out of place in this highly realistic film that it’s almost laughable. This doesn’t spoil the film as a whole though, and I highly recommend you check it out.