Hereditary review

Hereditary, Director Ari Aster’s bold directorial debut, has achieved global word of mouth. Following its midnight screening at Sundance word quickly spread about the scale of real horror on offer here; a genre triumph that echoed The Exorcist. Buzz about a film doesn’t always serve it well though, particularly when it sets expectations sky high. So while Hereditary doesn’t quite serve up a complete slice of sinister cinematic horror, it does triumph as an indie film that has garnered the uninterrupted attention of mainstream audiences.

The narrative is open to interpretation but its central themes are that of grief, family torment and an underlying unease that centres around distrust. The real horror moments come in seeing Collette’s Annie break down following a tragic accident, her son’s fear of being guilty and unloved, and of not having control of that which is determined to unfold.

Director Aster takes a slow-burn approach, allowing events to unfold at a frustratingly slow pace. Had the flick been sold as a tense thriller rather than a psychological horror, the jump scares, clever camera tricks and  haunting set pieces would deliver a fuller effect. But these moments are fleeting, and they don’t achieve the impact they would were they unexpected, and you’re ultimately left wanting events to shuffle on faster.

Toni Collette and Gabriel Byrne support newcomers Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro, but Byrne isn’t given nearly enough screen time. Collette is, as always, a gem. Channeling raw emotion as a grieving mother, her role as Annie is demanding – and perhaps the most terrifying element of the whole feature – but she never falters.

The final twenty minutes delivers a series of eye-covering moments which ultimately descends into a strange and slightly disappointing finale. Genre cliches continually threaten to creep in, but they never overwhelm the power of the bleak aesthetic or the goosebump-inducing score – this isn’t any old horror fare, Aster leans more towards art house tropes and directs with confidence.

A lot of comparisons have been drawn with The Babadook, another horror centred around grief but one that masters the slow-building dread effect with more force. Despite the perceived flaws there’s no denying that Aster has achieved a lot with this daring debut; if only in drawing mass audiences to an indie film, thus supporting the industry. The writing is pretty spectacular too, human emotion is captured quite perfectly, and Collette leads the film into outstanding territory performance-wise.

It won’t scare you like you might want it too, but it’s certainly an impressive debut from a director who is no doubt now in high demand.

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1001 Movies: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

In Ang Lee’s visual masterpiece famed warrior Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) is charged with finding the Green Destiny; a treasured sword which has been stolen by his nemesis Jade Fox.

Released in 2001, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a success both at the Box Office and with critics. Ang Lee directed a foreign language film that appealed to mainstream western audiences; a true triumph in itself. It also launched the Hollywood career of Zhang Ziyi; an actress who’s captivating performance as Jen cemented her as one of the finest talents seen in years.

While every film included in 1001 Movies was carefully selected, the inclusion of Crouching Tiger is one that doesn’t need deliberating. Culturally important (one article on the film boldly, and rightly, declares ‘America had never seen anything like this before’) and sublimely shot and choreographed, Lee’s delicate film balances moments of spectacular violence with quiet, pensive romance. Indeed, a film for everyone – which is rarely the case with world cinema – the feature is a how-to in enticing audiences to see something new.

Essentially an action film, there are plenty of awe-inspiring martial arts moments that are both superbly choreographed and genuinely flawless. There are three stand-out scenes in a film which is, of course, entirely unforgettable, all featuring Ziyi as a master martial artist, including a stunning fight which includes ‘flying’ across a forest of bamboo. It’s breathtaking, and wholly original.

Crouching Tiger successfully shakes up perceived gender roles too; both Ziyi and Michelle Yeoh play talented martial artists and are often superior to their male peers, this in itself is an important aspect of a multi-layered movie which goes against convention to deliver an astounding cinematic experience.

The film also serves as a contemporary introduction to world cinema alongside the likes of Hero, House of Flying Daggers and A Bittersweet Life (none of which are included in 1001 Movies but deserve mentions here). While Ang Lee’s epic covers all bases – romance, history, action – it’s most important feat was in introducing new audiences to a genre of incredible filmmaking they hadn’t previously been privy to.

Accessible, visually-clever, and simply a whole lot of fun, Crouching Tiger is a must-see.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

For my 24th birthday I was gifted 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die; a comprehensive guide to the best motion pictures ever made. Essentially a mammoth collection of blockbusters, art house cinema, independent gems, animated delights and everything in between, the book is every film fan’s must-read.

Perusing the list I realised two things: one) I must see more movies, and two) not one of my carefully selected eight favourite films are included. My initial conclusion was one of dismay, for did this mean my taste in cinema sucked? Am I a terrible student of film? Hell no. What it does mean is this; there is a whole world of great films awaiting me, and film is all about taste. General Editor Steven Jay Schneider perfectly pinpoints the true delight of film, suggesting it simply boils down to individual opinion, for one person’s cinematic perfection is another person’s idea of trash.

So, in my 24th year I aim to watch as many new films as possible, included in this epic guide to great motion pictures, and expect to see my top eight evolve as I go along. I’ll share my thoughts on each film in a 250-500 word write-up, and if you’ve seen these films too, let me know what you think.

I’ll begin my 1001 series with write-ups on some of the films included that I have seen, beginning with Ang Lee’s triumphant Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; a flick that managed to bring world cinema to the mainstream, and rather brilliantly too.

New on Netflix: God’s Own Country

Netflix is upping its array of indie delights and its most recent addition – God’s Own Country – is not to be missed. Released in October 2017, Francis Lee’s debut follows the relationship between two men. Quietly tender and arrestingly urgent, this moving story will have you bleary-eyed and seeking out more indie gems on the platform.

A great example of what people mean when they say ‘Very British Cinema’, God’s Own Country is set on a Yorkshire farm during a cold, dirt-strewn spring. Director Lee celebrates the beauty of this county while showcasing the inherent loneliness of farm life, while the central theme of the film focuses on the relationship between farmer Johnny Saxby (a fantastic Josh O’Connor who you’ll know from ITV’s lavish period dramedy The Durrells) and migrant worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu). The success of Lee’s film can’t just be seen in the silently arresting performances of these two actors, but also in the way it tackles two vital themes: masculinity and Britishness. And more specifically, the pressure of upholding a family tradition that is founded on very British values.

Alec Secareanu and Josh O’Connor in God’s Own Country

We aren’t exactly a nation known for wearing our hearts on our sleeve, irritatingly stoic when it comes to talking about our feelings, the struggle to say how we feel is explored throughout the 105 minute run-time, and predominantly through silence. Director Lee masterfully tells the story of Johnny and how he breaks free of his own emotional prison with the tender, sentimental support of Gheorghe in a story that transcends the specifics of gender. Centrally about loneliness, rumination and how, without real, meaningful relationships, men can and will break down, the tale is refreshingly honest, and quite bittersweet too.

From start to finish the flick runs with little dialogue or music, placing us in the literal and metaphorical silence that Johnny lives with. What begins as a seemingly bleak British farm drama evolves into a hopeful story of love and friendship, responsibility and hardship, and the ability to begin again. God’s Own Country isn’t only a great film, it’s thematically relevant and undeniably important.

Next time you turn to Netflix, take a trip to God’s Own Country.

Jessica Jones season two: Krysten Ritter’s titular anti-hero returns

Season two of Jessica Jones was long-awaited and highly-anticipated because series one wasn’t only a masterclass in how to make good TV, it introduced us to a new, undeniably likeable superhero. An anti-hero of sorts. Jessica Jones; a PI with a past, superhuman strength and a penchant for whisky. Jess is smart, witty, stubborn and vulnerable and although incredibly special, she was also introduced to us as exceptionally relatable. We got to know Jess over 13 carefully crafted episodes of Netflix genius, and she quickly became a bona fide small-screen favourite. While season two has been met with just a smattering of the same acclaim its predecessor received, our hero is still back, and the importance of the show shouldn’t escape our notice.

Without too much analysis, Jess is just a totally likeable, completely bad ass protagonist. Her apparent unwillingness to be a textbook hero is what endears us to her more. Delving in deeper, Jess is a brilliantly written example of a contemporary feminist whose narrative background – and genre in which she’s placed – allows women and men to enjoy the series without feeling alienated by in-your-face feminism. This is in itself is a true triumph of the series.

The joy in watching Jessica Jones is in the character Krysten Ritter has created. Jones might just be the best new TV lead we’ve seen in some time and Ritter shows herself as not only a tremendous talent, but as an important part in the evolution of female roles found on the big and small screen (another recent example being Gal Gadot’s fantastic Wonder Woman). Whether or not season two lived up to our high expectations, Jessica Jones is an incredibly important character during a time of vital change in the entertainment industry. Jess is an unconventional – but key – advocate for the importance of strong women being highlighted, celebrated and not defeated by their (usually) male foes. Strong, troubled women have been seen on screen since the dawn of cinema but never quite like this. Often shown to need rescuing by others, female roles were initially one-dimensional but are now multi-faceted. Here, Jones rescues herself with her own unique strength (and not just the physical kind).

So, let’s not all jump at once to point out the apparent lack of brilliance season two of Jessica Jones brought. Instead, lets praise the exceptional writing, the inimitable performance of Ritter (an entirely underrated actress), and the team of talented women behind the lens. By the time series three comes around, I suspect many more female heroes will be given the praise they most definitely deserve.

Lady Bird review

In Lady Bird we meet Christine, a 17 year old high school senior frustrated with adolescent life and bored of her Sacramento upbringing. We follow Christine, who now demands to be called Lady Bird, during her senior year of school as she embarks on first relationships, applies to colleges and discovers the importance of true friendship. The central theme of the film is Lady Bird‘s relationship with her mum, played beautifully by Laurie Metcalf. It’s a seemingly simple story of every day life that brims with heart.

Greta Gerwig’s first feature length film has had critics and audiences raving. It even holds the highest rating to ever have been handed out by Rotten Tomatoes, certifying it as one of the most applauded releases of the year. Gerwig handles every relationship Lady Bird experiences with a unique realism that is often missing in coming-of-age films and entries into the genre are usually quirky indie films with small budgets but big ambitions. Recent notable examples are The Perks of Being a Wallflower and James Pondsolt’s exceptional The Spectacular Now. Greta Gerwig explores similar themes to those films but here focuses in on the tumultuous love shared between a mother and her daughter, and it’s told with an inimitable caring eye and loving touch, one that hasn’t been seen on film in a long while. Seemingly throwaway moments, like when Lady Bird turns 18 and buys a pack of camels, a scratch card and Playgirl – just to celebrate the freedom of her new age – perfectly showcases how it feels to be on the cusp of adulthood.

Saoirse Ronan plays Lady Bird with ease, channeling the complexity of being 17 with such severe talent. Metcalf is similarly fantastic, and it’s astonishing that these women, and this film, didn’t clean up at the awards. But it doesn’t matter, not really. Everyone who has seen Lady Bird knows just how remarkable it is, a once-every-few-years gem. It’s a feature that reminds you why film is important. It’s a film that lifts you up, and makes life feel better. It’s a film that celebrates our idiosyncrasies. And most importantly, it’s a film that joyously revels in not fitting in, and embracing your quirky, eccentric, individual self.

Gerwig’s main focus is on Lady Bird‘s relationship with her mum, and there are several notable scenes that give this film real heart. Metcalf’s turn as Marion is a stunning performance, incredibly dynamic yet understated and drawn from life. There’s no unnecessary dramatics here just simple, effective storytelling, with characters played by some of Hollywood’s most talented. Lucas Hedges also gives a moving performance, leading a sub-plot that is achingly poignant.

Lady Bird is a fiercly unique character who, at times, is desperate to fit in and experience as much as possible. As an audience, we’ve all been there and it’s the relatability of this narrative aspect that gives the film its universal appeal.The soundtrack is a nostalgic dream too, and the 2002 setting is equally enjoyable. Special mention must go to April Napier’s costume design; there’s a lot of humour in seeing certain fashions come full circle.

Lady Bird is so supremely special. Greta Gerwig has created something that brims with warmth and wit, that at its core runs on an emotional depth that will seep into your soul and refuse to let go. I left the cinema with joy, smiling at the story I’d just seen, feeling as though I was now part of a secret club that got to see this mega piece of cinema. But, of course, it’s not a secret club, because Lady Bird has received worldwide recognition. I reveled in every second of pleasure the film offers, and I can’t wait to show this film to every person I love, so they can fall for it just as I have.

Peaky Blinders series four review

Ladies and gentlemen, by order of the Peaky Blinders, I give you Thomas Shelby OBE and Labour MP for Birmingham.

In episode one of series four of Steven Knight’s mega-hit Peaky Blinders we learned that gangster Tommy Shelby had been made an OBE. In episode six we learned he had become a Labour MP. In between we witnessed bloody violence, gin distilling and a sad departure of a key family member.

There’s no denying that Peaky Blinders is completely bonkers, but the eccentricities of the series are what make it such an entrancing watch. The thrilling nature of this BBC Two gem is what enthralls audiences from around the globe, making it possibly the best gangster drama to ever come out of Britain.

As always, the series played out over just six episodes. Perhaps not enough, the series saw the Shelby family back on home turf in Small Heath and seemingly out of their depth for the first time. Adrien Brody joined the ensemble as Luca Changretta; the family’s most dangerous foe yet and Aiden Gillen stepped in as Aberama Gold; a new ally with a penchant for killing people.

Peaky Blinders doesn’t need Hollywood talent to attract viewers or make its mark, but the writers and creators utilise these big names well. Tom Hardy returned for the final time as Alfie Solomons and proved – once again – he’s not a friend to Tommy and co’. While there is joy in seeing such big names play exciting roles it’s Cillian Murphy, Paul Anderson and Helen McCrory who we come to see. Anderson was particularly outstanding in this series, proving what a stellar talent he is as he embodies Arthur; the oldest and most troubled brother.

Series four played around with various themes, namely guilt and grief. With the loss of John and the arrival of Changretta – the son of an Italian gangster Arthur murdered in series two – the whole Peaky crew were on high alert and questioning their morals, or lack of. Polly claimed her experience with the noose had irrevocably changed her, while Arthur came face to face with the mother of the teenage boy he killed in the boxing ring in series one. This is perhaps the first time one season has crammed in so many different past plot threads but it worked well, and directly addressing past sins of the family added a touch of realism.

Knight takes a lot of time examining Tommy‘s face in series four, for it’s not what Tommy says, it’s how he reacts. The deliberate choice to give Murphy – an actor at the top of his craft – little lines in the final episode served the tense, moody finale well. Series four felt big on production values too, and the stylistic choices – from dark, low-key lighting to the hallmark slow-mo walk of the Peaky clan – came thick and fast.

With more guns, bigger set pieces, and lavish costume design, the aesthetic of the show continues to be something to marvel at. Alongside the impressive visage, brooding indie rock and sultry folk from the likes of Nick Cave, Iggy Pop and Laura Marling aid the emotional narrative and support the moody tone of the series well.

As Peaky Blinders continues its fascination with Tommy Shelby OBE, series five can’t come quick enough, which teases to feature a journey across the pond to visit Mr Alphonse Capone.