Filmfookingcrazy

A film-focused blog critiquing classic and contemporary cinema

Recently Watched: Movie Roundup

From cult cinema to black comedy, this is a roundup of my most recently watched. Just incase you thought this might be a guide to new releases, I should probably point out it’s not. Instead, it’s a look at recent titles that have graced my small screen from various decades and directors – not new, but usually great.

The Neon Demon (2016, Dir. Nicholas Winding Refn)

Synopsis: Jesse, a young model with big dreams, moves to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the fashion industry but soon realises all is not well in the world of modelling.

Verdict: Here’s where my main issue with The Neon Demon begins: with Refn. Oh, Refn. You directed Drive, it was incomparable. You followed it up with Only God Forgives, which was moderate at best. And now this? I went into the film with limited expectations, knowing critical opinion had been mixed and aware of my own response to the director’s most recent works. I was so unengaged with the whole thing that I turned it off about 30 minutes from the final scene. This is rare. Let me explain why.

Elle Fanning in The Neon Demon

Visually, The Neon Demon is somewhat of a triumph. The L.A. setting is really quite clever too. The idea of perfection and the want to attain it is a theme throughout and the startling aesthetic does well to create a brooding tone but, beyond this, there’s little else to explore. The two characters that are semi-interesting (played by Fanning and Glusman) are lost amongst the bizarre plot changes that develop over the near two-hour runtime so we’re left with this small ensemble of actors – who are by all means incredibly talented – playing roles that we don’t care about. This is, you could argue, Refn’s intention, but it affects the film in a largely negative way.

Refn doesn’t utilise his cast correctly, either. Reeves is barely there and when he is, he’s stilted by a dry script, while Glusman is shoved out too early on. Stand-out performances do come from Fanning and Jena Malone, the latter of whom is entirely comfortable in alien stories such as these, but the plot falters and it can’t seem to be saved. It leads towards a visually repulsing finale that, if you’re still watching, feels pointless, while the barely there screenplay is average at best.

Get Out (2017, Dir. Jordan Peele)

Synopsis: In Get Out, Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, meets his girlfriend’s parents at their remote countryside home as cracks begin to show amongst this seemingly ‘normal’ family.

Verdict: Get Out blew a lot of minds upon its release, not only because it was a fresh take on the formulaic horror genre, but because it actively addressed racial tensions in America in a mainstream film. Director Jordan Peele is bold in his ideas, ideas which he successfully executes throughout the flick.

The originality of the film begins with the narrative. On paper it sounds straightforward, on-screen it plays out via scene after scene of enigma inducing dialogue and slow-creeping tension that lends to an ominous atmosphere and sense of impending dread. And the brilliance of it all is that, despite the dark themes, it’s also incredibly funny. Penned by Peele, the script is very, very witty in all of the right moments. At times you’re terrified and confused, in others laughing along with the films own self-awareness.

Peele’s flick isn’t just funny and scary, though. It’s socially relevant and intelligently written. Critics have agreed that it’s the lingering impact of the narrative that is the obvious victory, for small complexities are unearthed after viewing that have you thinking long into the night. Potentially Oscar-worthy, and I expect, just a small glimpse of the greatness still to come from its director.

Sam Neill and Julian Dennison in Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016, Dir. Taika Waititi)

Synopsis: Ricky Baker, a young boy who is frequently removed from his foster homes, goes on an unexpected adventure when he is placed with a loving couple in the New Zealand bush.

Verdict: The brilliance of Taika Waititi’s coming-of-age comedy drama can be witnessed at every turn and in each scene. Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a genuine slice of cinematic brilliance and indie filmmaking at its beautiful best. At times a stripped-back character study, in others an adventure movie that keeps you on your toes; there’s so much depth to this oddball story, lifted by performances from Sam Neill and Julian Dennison.

The narrative is wonderfully sentimental but not emotionally manipulative, instead director Waititi takes a witty look inside the world of troubled teenager Ricky as he finds happiness in the strangest of situations. Sam Neill demonstrates how diverse he is as an actor, with years of experience under his belt this might just be his best performance yet. The whole picture is a treat, charming and enigmatic, with strange and beguiling characters that propel the story into great depths of movie magic.

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Control – Ten Years On

Anton Corbijn’s Control is now ten years old. Despite its age, its subject matter is as relevant now as it was in 2007. Based on Touching from a Distance (Deborah Curtis’ memoir), Control explores the complex character of Ian Curtis and the formation of Joy Division. Today, Joy Division has attained a cult status, but in the late 1970’s they were another new band coming out of Macclesfield. The film watches more like an elongated music video than an average biopic, but its stylised aesthetic and black and white visuals lend to a tone and a personality – that of Curtis’ vast intellect and undeniable virtuosity.

Control is inherently British, capturing the essence of a country engulfed in an anarchic new music scene. Corbijn’s decision to shoot in black and white transports its viewer to another time, one of legend. The aesthetic also adds an appropriate melancholy to what is a dark and – by the very end – genuinely heartbreaking tale. Ian Curtis’ depression is presented not in a brash and forceful way but as a slow, creeping illness that takes hold abruptly. Scenes of the band playing small live shows are interspersed among tender moments between Curtis, his wife Debbie and his relationship with Annik Honore.

Control‘s relevance is in its portrayal of a young, troubled man who is so struck down by life he decides to take his own. The exploration, however minimal, of this in Corbijn’s biopic is somewhat harrowing and in 2017 we see the effects of depression more than ever as society finally stands up to speak. In amongst moments of poetic narration from Sam Riley’s Curtis and vignettes of his isolation we see a group of young lads trying to make their musical dreams come true. We laugh at adolescent mischief and smile at the development of young love. Corbijn is eager to represent that it wasn’t all awful for Ian and Joy Division, as is so often the case in any life. Mostly, it’s in what isn’t said than what is. The bleak effects of Ian’s behaviour on his wife Debbie are put to us in unflinching ways and Samantha Morton plays the role in a painfully realistic fashion. Sam Riley embodies Ian through his mannerisms both on and off-stage, but is careful never to present him as heroic, but rather as young man burdened by the difficulties of his situation.

There isn’t any telling if Joy Division would have risen to the level of stardom they attained had Ian not taken his own life in 1980. Similarly, Nirvana have become legend because of Kurt Cobain. These musicians spark something within people, whether it be their music or their troubled lives, and filmmakers such as Corbijn explore them in cinema that is often exceptional. The intrigue and excellence are perhaps predominantly down to the subjects themselves, but the artistry attached to the world they created for themselves captivates directors and audiences alike.

Sam Riley in Control

Corbijn’s background as a music video director and photographer both aid and stilt him. There are an array of important details not fully explored, from the deterioration of Ian’s mental health to his relationship with his wife, and especially the journey Joy Division shared. For a music biopic there isn’t enough emphasis placed on the formation of the band and it suddenly skips from day one to the recording of an album. The confusing chronology and short, snappy scenes add rather than detract from the narrative, but at times creates a disinterest within its viewer.

Control is a visually compelling piece of cinema that chronicles the birth of Joy Division and the last years of Ian Curtis’ life in a biopic that is unflinching and both exceptional and ordinary. Ordinary, because what we see is the basic beginnings of an exciting new band in a town in Cheshire. Exceptional, because Anton Corbijn directs with such vivid artistry, representing a brewing depression through a skillfully crafted visual that engulfs its viewer. You’ll finish the film with a broken heart and a need to listen to Closer, having learned more about how a man whose short but important life, and the music he created, still strikes a chord with many.

Big Little Lies – television at its very best

If you haven’t watched Big Little Lies already you probably should. No, seriously. Stop reading this now and watch it. Now. Do it right now.

Big Little Lies‘ perfection begins with Jean-Marc Vallée. The director, celebrated for Dallas Byers Club and Wild, creates moving pictures that are rich in emotional depth and thematically brave. This television mini-series, adapted from Liane Moriarty’s novel of the same name, boasts a phenomenal a-list ensemble and welcomes fresh young talent too. It’s a collaborative masterpiece that reads more as a feature-length film than usual series fare, a trait that works in its favour.

Essentially a series of conversations and betrayals amongst a group of women in the picturesque coastal town of Monterey, California, Big Little Lies seats us in a serene paradise that juxtaposes the actions of its people. The lives of five woman unfold over seven episodes as their first-grader children embark on their first year of school. Bullying, domestic abuse, marriage and friendship are all presented to us in brave and bold new ways with an explorative eye and level of intricacy perhaps unseen before.

Whether it’s in the knowing looks shared between two friends, or the layered and fragmented relationships seen between four married couples, writer David E. Kelley and his director Vallée explore the exasperation and tribulations these mothers feel and the secret brutality of their apparently perfect world as it crumbles around them. Much of the narrative focuses on Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Perry ( Alexander Skarsgård). At first this pair seem blissfully – and passionately – happy in their million-dollar home by the sea with two cute-as-a-button boys. This facade is quickly shattered by the realisation that they share a dark secret; Perry is a violent and psychotic husband who frequently beats Celeste, repenting with flowers and expensive jewellery. The abuse escalates as the series goes on and these scenes, directed with an uncomfortably intimate lens, depict domestic abuse in an unnerving and realistic plot-thread that works to remind us that this is a deadly serious (and often silent) issue in society.

The total isolation of Kidman’s Celeste is portrayed in aching moments of sadness in a doctor’s office and her inability to acknowledge the depth of her martial situation effectively points to the stigma surrounding physical abuse behind closed doors. Celeste isn’t weak, in fact she’s an accomplished lawyer, loving mother, and friend-to-all who is slowly losing sight of her self as her controlling husband tightens his psychological grip. Kidman and Skarsgård are both revelations here, particularly the latter, as he showcases what broad talent he really does have under his fluffy cinematic roles, while fearlessly embodying Perry and his brewing malevolence. The scenes shared between the two aren’t an easy watch but this serves a bruising, thought-provoking purpose.

Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies.

While the series is an ensemble piece, Reese Witherspoon often takes lead. The Oscar-winning actress is a sensation as Madeleine; intelligent, cutting, sharp, self-aware and, actually, a champion of what it means to be a mother and a woman. She is flawed and imperfect, while from the outside perspective of fellow parents she appears to define what it is to be an upper class woman in contemporary America, she’s perhaps the most complex character in the story we see. Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern also star, each battling their own demons in the confines of Monterey. The location becomes a character too which, despite its aesthetic beauty, is rammed with ugly secrets.

The seven episodes are accompanied by an emotive soundtrack which includes Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young and Leon Bridges that serves the narrative so well, it’s a treat on the ears while the show itself is often tremendously tough on the eyes. Each episode escalates in its many engimas while questions are slowly answered and secrets unveiled, before the final You Get What You Need ties up loose ends. This cathartic episode represents the unbreakfable bond between women and their utterly inimitable strength too.

Big Littles Lies is an incredible landmark in contemporary television. I would say it’s a rare example of what the small screen can achieve, but I hope it will be one of many sharp, witty and significant pieces of art to come that shouldn’t – and surely won’t – be forgotten. This is flawless drama at its honest best.

The Nice Guys Review

In The Nice Guys Private Investigator Holland March and tough guy for hire Jackson Healy must work together to find missing woman Amelia. Violence and hilarity ensue as Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe showcase their comedy smarts in Shane Black’s 1970’s set romp.

Black’s feature, which is an ode to buddy films of the past, is in some part a tribute to the culture of 1970’s America. Set in Los Angeles, smog and killer bees and are on the brain along with porn stars and escalating crime. Holland March (Gosling), a PI with a drinking habit and single father to Holly (Angourie Rice), is charged with finding adult actress Misty Mountains but instead ends up trailing activist and runaway Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley). Crowe’s Healy is drawn into the mix and begrudgingly hires Holland for his services; together the two men embark on a wild goose trace to track down their target, finding themselves involved in the case of numerous murders within the adult film world.

The Nice Guys successfully transports its audience to 1977, capturing the era well with a scorching soundtrack made up of Earth, Wind & Fire, Kool & The Gang and The Temptations, and vibrant costume design from Kym Barrett. Black’s screenplay is genuinely hilarious and his two protagonists have fun flexing their comedic muscles in amongst ludicrous set pieces and many an injury. Almost dream-like in narrative (spot President Nixon), there’s an emotional core which grounds the flick and keeps it from descending into complete meaningless madness. Rice as Holly is an absolute star and she should have a promising career ahead of her, while Kim Basinger and Yaya DaCosta confidently support our two male leads. The whole cast thrives here and we have just as much fun watching the narrative unfold as they seem to acting it out.

Gosling, Rice and Crowe in The Nice Guys

While Black’s nostalgia-fuelled feature made little at the Box Office it’s been a hit amongst critics and is a total triumph that is very nearly flawless. It perhaps might be a little too violent for some and the action sequences come thick and fast, but these don’t completely consume the story and there is plenty of room left for sharp wit and moments of dialogue that boasts some of the best writing in comedy filmmaking we’ve seen in a long while.

The movie is also touchingly sentimental when appropriate as Holly, her father and his new friend form a bond that speaks more of family than friendship and the plot comes full circle, never relying on its violent asides to keep the audience entertained. While there are moments of shocking spectacle these are counterbalanced by farce-like comedy that intelligently steers away from the film becoming darkly serious.

The Nice Guys takes its audience on a wacky, fun-fuelled journey back in time while Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe have immense fun as two pals up against a whole mob of Hollywood bad guys. A total riot.

Recently Watched: Movie Roundup

From genre-bending horror to indie drama, this is a quick roundup of the films that have recently graced my small screen.

Copenhagen

Mark Raso’s independent flick brings audiences to the stunning streets of Denmark’s capital as two people, brought together by chance, embark on a journey of self-discovery in this quietly touching coming of age drama.

Raso is unafraid to explore the complicated relationship that unravels between Effy (Frederikke Dahl Hansen) and William (Gethen Anthony) as she assists him in finding his grandfather in a city unfamiliar to him. The pair cycle through the sun-strewn streets of Copenhagen while connecting on an emotional level that captures its audience well. The cycling isn’t only a brilliant thematic metaphor for the journey in which our protagonists embark on, but the cinematography in these vignettes display well the beauty of the city and you could be forgiven for seeing Raso’s movie as a love-letter to Denmark’s vibrant capital.

Verdict: charming, genteel indie fare that’s a must for any fan of quaint romance and unforgettable scenery.

The Final Girls

An ode to B movies of the 1980’s, director Todd Strauss-Schulson has created a horror movie with style that pays tribute to the likes of Friday the 13th while openly acknowledging the much-lauded tropes of teen slashers.

Taissa Farmiga leads a small ensemble cast including Nina Dobrev and Alexander Ludwig in Schulson’s movie within a film (not as confusing as it sounds) as a group of school friends take a trip down the rabbit hole into the setting of fictional cult 80’s horror Camp Bloodbath. It’s ludicrous to its core and feels similar to recent comedy-horrors such  as The Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, although The Final Girls comes packed with a surprising emotional depth that helps counter-balance moments of crude humour (courtesy of Adam Devine) that would otherwise consume the plot.

Verdict: it might be a little daft but in general, The Final Girls is a funny, fun – and occasionally touching – comedy that allows its young cast to shine.

Blair Witch

When Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch begins you can’t help but (mistakenly) think ‘here lies cinematic potential’. The narrative starts strong, as six young adults venture into those same haunted woods that frightened a generation of movie-goers in 1996. But, ultimately, the film is flawed and too familiar to standout as an original entry into the found-footage sub-genre.

This sequel (which reads more like an adaptation) does something to remind its viewer that the impact, and terror, of The Blair Witch Project was a one-off, one that can’t seem to be reimagined effectively. The original had a hazy aesthetic and most of the fear was in the fact you couldn’t really see what was going on at all, this new instalment is just too glossy to pass of as ‘found’ footage – and with not one likeable character, you’re having to pretend to care come the final, re-hashed moments.

Verdict: Adam Wingard certainly tries, but fails, to recreate the thrills and fear of the 1996 original that captured the imaginations of millions of movie fans. Here, he captures very little.

Everybody Wants Some!!

Everybody Wants Some!! (those exclamation points are just representative of my enthusiasm) follows a baseball team at a Texan university in the three days before term begins; friendships are made, romance blossoms and rivalry between men brews.

The ‘spiritual sequel’ to Richard Linklater’s hit coming-of-age Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! is set over three days and consists mostly of men sat around drinking beer, smoking weed, talking about woman and sport. Not exactly a feminist dream. If you look deeper, there’s a whole lot more to the director’s newest feature though and the importance of that short time at university before lectures begin is pinpointed so perfectly here, as are the unique friendships that thrive in this environment. Blake Jenner leads a stand out cast and Wyatt Russell is particularly memorable as stoner Charlie. When together, the ensemble come to life and you feel as though you could be one of the gang as Linklater follows the team with a prying lens.

Verdict: This character-led feature is 116 minutes of pure joyous cinema that will evoke nostalgia in its older viewers and bestow excitement in its younger watchers. Glorious to watch and a joy on the ears thanks to a killer score, Everybody Wants Some!! is smile-inducing cinema.

 

Review: A Bigger Splash

A Bigger Splash is acted to perfection. Luca Guadagnino’s sexually charged flick is visually stunning and its script – penned by David Kajganich, based on a story by Alain Page – escapes clichés and reflects a wonderful originality. Despite the genuinely brilliant nature of this critically acclaimed drama there’s something amiss, and it’s incredibly hard to put a finger on what that might be.

Tilda Swinton (one of the best actresses of her generation) stars as rock star Marianne Lane. Vacationing in Sicily with troubled boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts), they are joined by the outrageous Harry (Ralph Fiennes clearly had an absolute ball in this role) and promiscuous daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). The small ensemble is phenomenal but Schoenaerts struggles alongside Fiennes in a subdued role that doesn’t allow him to shine amongst a cast of acting heavyweights. Johnson is an unexpected star, showing herself to be a young actress of such sheer talent that she will surely go on to bigger and better things than the truly absurd Fifty Shades of Grey franchise.

Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash

Dakota Johnson in A Bigger Splash

Guadagnino directs with a sharp eye, demonstrating his artistry early on through snappy camera direction and set pieces reminiscent of Woody Allen. The film is sexy and boisterous with a sun-drenched visage that masterfully deceives its audience, resulting in a finale that is tinged in unexpected darkness. Its cinematography is a triumph and Yorick Le Saux’s photography truly rouses the senses while the enviable costume design further propels the film into stunning territory.

A Bigger Splash questions the price of fame while exploring the boundaries (and burdens) that come with intimate relationships, whether that be father/daughter or boyfriend/girlfriend and this it does truly successfully. Cracks in the plot begin with the unlikeable characterisation of the majority of those seen on-screen. Yes, Marianne is a tour-de-force of a protagonist and Swinton is a gem as always, but Schoenaerts’ Paul is weak and easily forgettable while Harry‘s overbearing nature loses effect early on and the escalation of his behaviour becomes meaningless. Each character holds secrets and these are much beyond having slept with each other. Alcoholism, drug addiction, underage sex, suicide; Alain Page’s story unabashedly explores these themes but they are thrown at the audience with such an eager force that the twists and turns of the plot lose effect.

It’s certainly flawed but A Bigger Splash is lavish filmmaking with a stellar ensemble that boasts some of the best the big screen has to offer. Sophisticated and gorgeous to look at, Guadagnino’s layered flick is a treat on the eyes despite never fully delivering an engaging premise.

Sing Street Review

John Carney has shown himself to be a director of sheer, charismatic artistry. Creating feel-good comedy dramas that feature relatable characters and charming narratives, Sing Street is just the latest in a string of unmissable stories from Carney.

Reminiscent of The Commitments – and starring Maria Doyle Kennedy from Alan Parker’s cult hit – Sing Street is the lively, yet gently sentimental, story of Cosmo and his pals who put together a band to emulate their favourite 1980’s artists in order to escape the every day struggles of a Dublin in the grasp of economic strife. Queue fantastic musical elements, inspirational train rides and slow-mo walks – for the expected genre conventions are all present -, but with a sprinkling of originality.

Sing Street hits you in the face with witty comedy and heartfelt emotion, you’ll laugh and cry, and you’ll relish in the representation of adolescent relationships, from brotherhood to romance. John Carney directs with a whimsical eye, taking his viewers on a fun-fueled adventure through finding your feet in the tricky landscape of high school. His layered screenplay is lifted further by an ensemble cast of exceptional young actors, supported by some of the countries most-loved talent including Aidan Gillen, Don Wycherley, Lucy Boynton and Jack Reynor.

Walsh-Peelo and Boynton in Sing Street

Walsh-Peelo and Boynton in Sing Street

Ferdida Walsh-Peelo is brilliantly complex in the lead role as young musician Cosmo, falling in love with Boynton’s Raphina in a beautifully innocent plot thread that very nearly steals the whole film. Reynor is similarly outstanding as Cosmo‘s brother Brandon, a young adult who has lost his way in life. The relationship the two brothers share lends to several memorable moments in which Sing Street stands out as not just another teen drama, but an innovative story of navigating life with the support of those around you. All of this is wrapped in an Irish wit that is amiss in many similar titles, and features a number of toe-tapping original songs that capture the spirit of the time well.

A tale of the tribulations of family and friendship, a celebration of the bonkers style and diverse music of the 1980’s, and a sheer riot to watch, Sing Street is very simply unmissable cinema.