Sunday, 14 January 2018

#7 COCO


Featuring the vocal talents of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée VictorAna Ofelia Murguía and Edward James Olmos. Written by Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich. Directed by Lee Unkrich. It seems churlish to list all the voice actors for this film when the true stars are the hundreds of artists, animators, computer programmers and backroom Joes and Joannes who've laboured long and hard to make this exceptional movie! Budget $175-200 million. Running time 109 minutes.

Miguel (Anthony Gonzales) is a young boy, the son of a family of shoe makers who dreams of pursing his love of music thanks to the memory of his long-dead musical hero - Ernesto (Benjamin Bratt). However, thanks to his dead-beat Great great Grandfather he is strictly forbidden from playing any form of music. Determined to show his family his musical skills at a Day of the Dead talent show he steals Ernesto's guitar and finds himself transported to the Land of the Dead and now has until dawn to get back to Earth or risk joining the ancestors!

I have always been in awe of the greatness of Pixar, naturally the Toy Story trilogy is superb but my personal favourite has always been The Incredibles. That said, Wall-E was so good it actually made me angry and cry in amazement, how could anything be that staggering!? 

Coco
didn't make me angry, it made me fall in love. It is a tour-de-force, it is a simply superb film. At turns breathtakingly beautiful, technically stunning and emotionally moving and as such I loved each and every second of its 109 minute running time. The animation is staggering, the character design, the colours the designs, every single goddam thing about this film is an utter delight, a joyous, beautiful, moving and staggering experience. I was moved to tears by it. I loved every single second, the songs, the ideas, the poetry of it. I just loved it.


Go and see it, even if you don't have children. This film deserves to be seen on a big screen and prepare to love and every second of it! It is an joy beyond imagining.

10/10

#6 DARKEST HOUR


Starring Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup and Ben Mendelsohn. Written by Anthony McCarten. Directed by Joe Wright. Budget $30 million. Running time 125 minutes. Cert PG.

Forewarned is four-armed as my old nana used to say. Although why anyone would want four arms is beyond me. Anyway, the warning. This film ISN'T about Churchill that wonderful nodding dog of the Churchill insurance ads who says 'Oh yes.' alot, but rather that famous fat politician with a passion for sticking his two fingers up and smoking great big cigars. He's the one who made that speech about fighting Germans on the beaches, probably over them leaving their towels on deck chairs or something I'm guessing.

It's 1940, Nazi Germany is sweeping across Europe, invading Belgium and the Netherlands and France hangs in the balance. In response to overwhelming pressure Nevill Chamberlain resigns as Prime Minister and Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) is chosen as his successor, although apparently the Tory hierarchy would have preferred Lord Halifax since he championed trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution with Heir Hitler rather than the war option that Churchill wanted. The film follows the first month of Churchill's reign as he struggles to unite parliament behind his rule, secure the rescue of the 300,000 British soldiers trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk and rally the nation behind him. The film follows Churchill, his new young sectary Elizabeth Layton (Lily James) and his wife Clemitine (Kristen Scott Thomas) as this larger than life figure struggles to juggle the many problems of this premiership but also the terrible pressures of the war.

As a film this is dry stuff, with little room for extra drama or excitement as it follows the well documented events of May 1940. Indeed the only truly made up scene, near the end of the movie, is the only bum note as it rings so utterly untrue and yet it's obvious that it's there to give Churchill the visual inspiration he needs to make his legendary 'Fight them on the Beaches' speech.

It's been three years since Joe Wright's last movie Pan – a critically panned and over-egged mistep – and this feels like a welcome return to form for Wright who has an impressive back catalogue including Atonement and Hanna. This film features several visually stunning shots, such as one which sees a  long tracking shot across a cratered battlefields that slowly morphs into a closeup of a dead-man's face lying on the same battlefield. And there are also several shots where he isolates Churchill in a box framed in a jet-black background to emphasis his isolation. The decision to film in real locations in turn provides genuine background sounds, like creaking floorboards, that all help to create a sense of reality.

This is a film that sinks or swims on the performances of its talented cast and everybody involved from Ben Mendelsohn as King George, to Kristen Scott Thompson as Churchill's adoring wife and Lily James as his young new secretary who we meet on her first day on the job is excellent. Although it's Gary Oldman who shines and proves in this single performance to be the best actor of his generation! Oldman is just staggering losing himself almost entirely in role to such an extent that for long portions of the film you simply forget you're watching Oldman and just assume you're watching Churchill in a film-on-the-wall documentary. A huge contributing factor for this success is the make-up, which is the work of pure genius and literally seamless.

Sadly, the film itself is, truth be told, a tad bland and oddly flat. Athough that's hardly surprising since the plot is propelled by political machinations, intellectual conversations and well-written dialogue rather than action or overt drama. In fact, my favourite line is said in response to a question asking what Churchill has done? "He's mobilised the English language." This is also one of those rare films which doesn't have a three-act structure and as such leaves you unable to work out how much longer the film is on for, so when the end arrives it comes unannounced and somewhat surprisingly, and leaves you wondering how the war will turn out. Perhaps they're saving that for the sequel?

Worth seeing for Oldman alone, his performance is fantastic, but stay for the history lesson, which never loses its power to fascinate.

8/10

Friday, 12 January 2018

#5 BRAD'S STATUS


Starring Ben Stiller, Austin Abrams, Jenna Fischer, Luke Wilson, Michael Sheen and Jermaine Clement. Written and directed by Mike White. Budget n/a. Running time 101 minutes long.

A friend of mine recently urged me to consider that no filmmaker ever sets out to make a bad movie and on consideration I tend to believe this. I know I strive to make the best artifact I can, so perhaps I should accept the notion that every filmmaker sets out with a similar ambition and in the end creates the best thing they can.  So congratulations to Mike White for trying his best! Well done, and remember it’s the taking part that’s important and that everyone is a winner! You’re a star, Mike!

In Ben Stiller’s latest movie – Ben’s Status (which, Mike White not only directed, wrote but also stars in) – Ben plays the Ben of title – a white, middle-aged man, married father of one teenage boy who runs a not-for profit organization that raises funds for charities (ah, what a nice man!). Naturally because this is a middle-aged Ben Stiller movie he’s suffering from a double dose of minor midlife crisis and ‘The Grass is Always Greener” syndrome. Although it should be pointed out that the Ben of the film and the Ben of real life are in no way similar! Ben of the movie is a good five years younger than Ben of real life. And of course this isn’t a fly on the wall documentary but a ‘comedy drama’. So go in expecting comedy and drama, I know I did.

The movie starts with, Ben lying in bed unable to sleep fantasizing about his in-laws dying so he can get his hands on their money. Ben is having trouble sleeping, he’s racked with anxiety and angst. His life has seemingly stalled and he’s frankly jealous that his four college friends have all sold out and go on to have glittering careers while he stuck to his principles and achieved seemingly nothing, except for a house, a loving wife, a career and son. Michael Sheen, on the other hand, is a successful political TV pundit, who lectures at Harvard, is the author of several books and has a powerful wife. Luke Wilson runs his own hedge fund, owns a private jet and is married to a beautiful trophy wife. Mike White is a newly happily-married, internationally renowned, gay architect and Jermaine Clements is a retired dot.com millionaire living on a tropical island with two beautiful 20-year old babes in bikinis. All poor old Ben has is a safe, bland, supportive and stable wife, Jenna Fischer, who’s just happy with her lot.

To make matters worse (I know, how could it get any worse?) his own son, his own flesh and blood, is a gifted musical ‘genius’ looks like he might be going to Harvard, while poor old Ben had to make to with some other piddling 2nd tier college. Oh boo-hoo, poor old Ben, your privileged, white, first-world-problem life is terrible! Now to make matters worse for sad sac Ben, he has to take his son on a four-day road-trip of colleges he’s thinking of applying to. The journey gets off to a bad start when ‘down on his luck’ Ben can’t decide on which credit card to pay for his $1800 two plane tickets upgrade, although hilariously he and his son, Troy (who the fuck names their son, ‘Troy’? Oh, white middle class, 1st World Problem suffering assholes, that’s who.) are forced to sit in ‘coach’ when Ben learns his heavily discounted tickets can’t be upgraded. See! This is a comedy.

Then, poor old Ben finds out his Silver loyalty card doesn’t even allow him to jump to the head of the queue for the plane! Jeez, his life is terrible. Oh poor old Ben. (Actually I think that would have been a better title for this film: ‘POOR OLD BEN.’ ) Finally, Ben and Troy get to Harvard only to discover Troy is a day late for his interview. See, and there’s the drama. Luckily Ben’s old friend, Michael Sheen, who he’s not spoken to in years just so happens to lecture at Harvard so Ben rings him up and swings an interview for Troy with the Dean of admissions and also a meeting for Troy with one of his heroes, a Professor at Harvard!

That evening Ben goes out with Troy and Troy’s female friend and her friend. Sad sac Ben horribly tries to impress Troy’s friend and is smitten. Later that night he sneaks out of his and Troy’s shared hotel room to go out for a late night drink with said girl where he spends the whole night telling her what a sad life he’s had and how life’s not fair. To his astonishment, she’s less than impressed and tells him he has 1st world problems and to, basically man up (although in our household we like to call it ‘VAG’ up). Bewildered poor old Ben visits his old uni and discovers his favourite college lecturer recently died and even worse! (Cos it’s all about him) he wasn’t even invited to the memorial service! Not only that, but his four old best friends were! AND one of them even spoke at the service, despite Ben being the dead tutor’s favourite student! And then to cap it all, as if poor old Ben hasn’t suffered enough, he discovers while having dinner in a fancy restaurant with Sheen that he also wasn’t even invited to the wedding of one of his old friends (the architect if you’re interested). Oh, Ben’s terrible life! However, just when Ben thinks his life couldn’t get any more terrible he discovers, to his delight, that all of his friend’s wonderful lives are actually terrible! Sheen’s got a reputation for being a bit needy and creepy, Luke’s daughter needs spine surgery, is being investigated for fraud and doesn’t even own the jet (or does he?), Mike is too OTT gay and Jermaine is a drug addict and alcoholic and at long last Ben is at last happy! Happy that his friend’s seemingly wonderful lives are actually terrible. And finally good old Ben can sleep!

I do so love a film with a happy ending.

Right, that’s the mother-fucking plot. Sorry if I spoiled the ending, but it’s the journey, that’s important right, not the destination?

So, what of the film?

My mum says, “That if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” And so in light of that I present the words of another friend whom I saw this film with, the wonderful Ali who had this to say about the film: “It had a narrative arc and the film making was professional – it featured some good performances.” I think we can all agree she nailed it with that single line. Thanks Ali!

I on the other hand found it inane, pretentious and painfully superficial. In short a typical Ben Stiller ego-wank-fest, and yet another example of his apparent obsession with exploring that rarely tapped vein of white, middle-class-in-crisis, middle-aged, over-privileged male angst. It’s also one of the biggest dollops of self-indulgent, twaddle I’ve seen in a very long time. And that’s thanks to the script by Mike White, which is clichéd and hollow. All poor old Stiller did was clog up every scene with his whiny, nasally voice, his bow-legged gait, his stupid jacket and his mopey, hang-dog expression so he can’t take sole responsibility for the failures of this film.

Actually all that said, this is one of those films that ultimately manages to become moderately funny cos it’s so bad, but not in a good way. And the final scene had almost the whole of the practically empty auditorium gasp and groan in indignant disbelief! And my wife to cry out, "you're kidding! That's it?"

Seriously give it a miss and go and see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri instead, it’s fantastic!

3/10 for the efforts of the rest of the cast and some nice scenery.

P.S. Just in case you're worrying I realise this film is actually called Brad’s Status.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

#4 ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD


Starring Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer and Romain Duris. Written by David Scarpa, based on the book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty by John Pearson. Directed by Ridley Scott. Budget $50 million. Running time 133 minutes. Certificate 133 minutes.

The fictionalised account of the 1973 kidnapping of J. P. 'Paul' Getty III (Charlie Plummer), the grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer) the richest man in the world and the desperate battle by the boy's mother Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) to get her ex-father-in-law to pay the ransom of $17 million. Getty who took the concept of being a miser to staggering lengths refused to pay, claiming if he did then his other 13 grandchildren would soon be kidnapped too. Instead the tight-fighted old bastard sent his best negotiator, ex-CIA operative Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) off to Rome to help track down his grandson with explicit instructions to resolve the situation by spending the least amount of money possible. Together Chase and Harris team up as the kidnapping becomes protracted and both sides resort to desperate measures to get their hands on the money. For the kidnappers this means selling their prisoner to the Mafia who promptly send JP's ear to the media and threatening to send more if the money isn't paid and for Getty it means blackmailing his ex-daughter in-law for custody of his grandchildren and securing the ransom money as a tax write off and loan.

This film is now more famous for who's not in it, rather than who's in it. Initially filmed with disgraced Kevin Spacey in the role of Getty, Ridley Scott at the 11th hour elected to reshot all of Spacey's scenes with Christopher Plummer instead due to allegations of Spacey's various sexual assaults on underage boys. Original rumours from the set claimed that Spacey turned in a stella performance, although all that remains of that is the brief first trailer. It's true to say that this film arrives with a lot of emotional baggage and many people will be going to see it not because of who's in it, rather who isn't. Indeed, some critics have reviewed this film not on the performances on offer but rather that one performance missing, which I think is a tad dis-ingenious.

This is a very well directed and mounted period drama that catches the details of the time, the early 1970s with great aplomb. The performances are all very strong, with Michelle Williams just clinching it, although Plummer 22 scenes are still very good. That said, you do sort of wish the film had been more about him, the sight of the greed and avarice of the man is simply breathtaking and you realise that a film about the Getty dynasty would make a fascinating 10 part Netflix series.

Ridley Scott can make this sort of film in his sleep, he seems to have two distinct styles of direction, one is his art-directed heavy style with fantastic use of special effects and art design but lacking in coherent story (Alien Covenant and Prometheus) and there's his pared down style as witnessed by this and films like Matchstick Men, American Gangster and The Counsellor. He's always seemed like a director more interested in the visual look of his films rather than the plot and so it's refreshing to see that in All The Money in the World, Scott has for the most part just let the true story unfold. It's an engrossing and gripping tale, which gets stronger the longer it progresses and offers some interesting glimpses of the banality of evil and also the corrupting evil of utter greed.

Most satisfying and worth a watch. 8/10

Thursday, 4 January 2018

#3 MOLLY'S GAME


Starring Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, Michael Cera, Jeremy Strong, Chris O'Dowd and Bill Camp. Written and directed Aaron Sorkin, based on the book Molly's Game by Molly Bloom. Budget $30 million. Running time 140 minutes. Certificate 15.

The rise and fall and rise and fall 'true story' of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), the one-time Olympic free-style skier who, following one accident too many, gave up her olympic ambitions and dreams of becoming a lawyer to run a fantastically successful high-stakes poker game, first in Hollywood and then in New York City. The film follows Molly as she prepares her defence case with idealogical defence lawyer Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba) against federal charges.

Told exclusively from Molly's point of view and no-one else's, the film charts her life from young teenage precocious skiing protege to a pill-popping poker queen desperately trying to protect the true identities of her clients and her links to the Russian Mafia.

Kuddos must go to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who progresses to director for the first time. The film looks extremely good, is well directed and well acted, particularly from Jessica Chastain who single-handedly dominates every scene she's in from start to finish, she is the voice of the film and focus. However, there in lies the rub, because for a woman who ran a multi-million dollar poker game she seems just a little too nice and honest. And at the end you can't help but feel the film is a little one sided in its portrayal of a young woman apparently utterly oblivious to the fact much of the money she was coining it came from organised crime or the pockets of desperate gambling addicts (even if she is taking them to one side after they've lost millions and offering them paid for counselling. She's presented as almost a saint in her decency and it begins to sound too fake, like the old Hollywood bio pics of the 1930s, but this time with more buxom, bulging bosom. What made Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas so compelling was that he didn't try to white wash it's main character Henry Hill, presenting him warts and all, which had the effect of humanising him to a degree. In this film, Chastain's portrayal of Bloom presents us with a character seemingly more intelligent than everyone and that becomes quite annoying causing us to ultimately dislike her. And by the end of it you realise that rather than applaud her decision to plead guilty rather than accept the FBI deal to walk free with $5 million in exchange for just releasing her computer files, you should be booing her.     

When this film focuses on the mechanics of poker and the setting up of the gambling clubs it is a fascinating and rather interesting film that grips, less successful is the mechanics of the legal battle, which since it is played for real becomes somewhat dull and tedious.

Likewise her relationship with her father, played as always brilliantly by Kevin Costner, feels a little too fake particularly in the 'three years of therapy in three minutes' sequence late in the third act.

Aaron Sorkin directs the poker scenes with real aplomb and manages to create a gripping and exciting series of action sequences and its great to see another strong female lead who's not a victim.

Ultimately an interesting and well directed film diminished by a character who refuses to reveal any vulnerability, even when she's beaten up by a Mafia heavy, and becomes just too damn unlikable, unlike Henry Hill who despite his many violent foibles became strangely likeable. 8/10

#2: THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI


Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges and Peter Dinklage. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Budget $12 million. Running time 115 minutes. Certificate 15.

An ink-black comedy from playwright, writer, director and producer Martin McDonagh who previously wrote and directed the simply superb In Bruges and the not so superb and over-egged Seven Psychopaths. This, the third film directed by McDonagh is, in a word, superb.

The story sees grief-stricken Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) buy advertising space on three dilapidated billboards on the outskirts of the small midwest town of Ebbing. The posters verbally attack the much loved Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for not solving the rape and murder of her teenage daughter, which happened eight months previously. However with no arrests, no leads, no suspects and no hope of ever being solved, Willoughby has done just about everything he can do to solve the crime and is as frustrated as Hayes at the lack of results. The posters stir up much feeling in the close-knit community and Mildred, her family and her friends soon finds herself under attack from the inhabitants and police force of Ebbing, and in particular Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a racist homophobic, not-too-bright officer with serious anger management issues and a chip on his shoulder the size of Missouri.

This is a dark, powerful film, which manages to perfectly balance the black-humour with the pathos, making you laugh one scene and then break your heart in the next. The humour is delivered perfectly by the three main leads, McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell and where it is clear that this is McDormand's film, whose performance is simply staggering, that's not to take anything away from the other leads, who are equally as compelling and together all three deliver  performances worthy of Oscar consideration. There's a staggering scene between McDormand and Harrelson in an interrogation suite that is just heartbreaking, as is a terrible flashback that will resonate with each and every parent. We spend time with the friends and families of each of the three main characters, which all contributes to create a truly nuanced and layered film with a genuine emotional heart.

The trailer would lead you to believe that this is the story of one woman's fight for justice, but it's not. It's the story about how a closely knit community, deal with a terrible crime and its aftermath. Honestly, this was a superb film, perfectly balanced, brilliantly directed, beautifully photographed and deeply, deeply moving. I loved its languid pace and most of all its characters, I wanted to spend more time with them and stay in Ebbing for a little longer. This is that sort of film where you know each and every person involved has given it their all.

It's not perfect, with so many characters, some momentum is lost, and there is there's also the odd introduction of a new character late in the proceedings who might offer a conclusion that's frankly not really needed, especially since this is the sort of story where the journey is far more interesting than the destination.

Overall, this is a profoundly moving, extremely funny, and immensely satisfying movie and I think one of the films of the year, and it's only the 2nd of January. 9/10

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

#1 STAR WARS VIII: THE LAST JEDI (A REVISIT)


 Decided to go and see this again, with a friend on New Year's Day making it the first film for me of 2018. I have to say it still held up on the entertainment front, although now I began to notice some of the flaws, the niggling plot holes and the, at times, uneven tone. That said it was very entertaining and for the life of me I can't see what's bugging the fans so much. As far as I'm concerned it's worth seeing just for the Rey/Ren/Snoke, and the Luke Skywalker showdown story line. Featuring fabulous effects, great battles and some good solid action. It's still let down by a slightly unnecessary side mission to a casino planet for some clunking dialogue about the true cost of warfare - IE the greed of becoming fantastically wealthy from the selling of weapons, which is ironic considering Disney spent 4.5 billion dollars acquiring the Star Wars universe and have no intention of ever letting that particular war end.

But still, this is a great, action-packed and thrilling adventure which points to an exciting future for the main Star Wars franchise.

8/10

For a fuller review why not check out this link to my previous review.

http://seeingfilmssoyoudonthavetoo.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/97-star-wars-episode-viii-last-jedi.html