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Amazing Grace (2018)
Right from the first few seconds of the new film, Amazing Grace, we are given some astounding and fascinating tidbits of news about how the whole concert came to be and why up until now it has never been seen by viewers except for those who were actually in attendance at the church where it was filmed. Award winning director, Sidney Pollack was hired by Warner Brothers to film a live concert recording of then well known and very popular soul singer, Aretha Franklin as she performs at a California Baptist Church and sings the songs that she grew up with and learned herself having gone to church and having sung these gospel songs since she was a child. Whilst filming, the performance went on for two nights in a row with Aretha on vocals accompanied by the reverend on piano and a host of backup singers doing backup vocals and harmony. We are told several times that during the taping and filming of this concert which was originally meant to be aired on television, that there were so many technical difficulties amongst other problems that the filming crew ran into (some of which we witness whilst watching the film) and the film we see today before us has only been moderately restored and some of the technical glitches such as with editing and pacing remain intact, but this does not hamper, or detract from the film in any way, but instead makes the whole thing more of a historic relic from almost 50 years ago now and what an absolute treat it is for us viewers to see it for the first time after all these years and even with not the best editing, or camera work, the real reason we are all here is to hear Aretha sing these songs and this is fully and completely accomplished with this film and it is a film that truly moved me personally as not all, but enough of these very songs are songs and hymns that I also learned in the church as a child and some that we still sing regularly during morning and evening services on a Sunday. While the opening credits were rolling, I saw the logo for Spike Lee's production company, 40 Acres and a Mule which I later found out helped fund this rerelease and also that Spike himself was one of the producers on the film. Being a Christian, I found the music to be very moving as well as inspiring throughout the course of the film. Whether this would have the same type of effect on viewers who maybe have never been to church, or perhaps don't consider themselves to be Christians, I do not know. The audience in which I saw the film was completely packed and with those of whom I talked with after the film, all seemed to have really enjoyed it. Some of the attention to detail even with the technical difficulties still shines through as often we see the sweat and perspiration on Aretha and the other singers and players throughout the recording. It was currently January in California, but it must have been a stifling heat and perhaps the church back in 1972 didn't have the same type of air conditioning luxuries that we have today. Nevertheless this just goes on to show that Aretha and company are truly singing from the bottom of their hearts and all their hard work definitely does pay off. This particular recording we are told when on to become the best selling gospel album of all time and it most likely still carries that honour with it today. This is the type of film that is refreshing to see in a day and age of wars, political tension, scandals and violence all around us. This is a film the encourages us by the very persuasive style of music and ultimately lets us know that someone who can do something with all the trials and tribulations we face today can see what we as a people are going through and they also have the ability to help us and they will. This is a film that shows how music as a medium is so powerful as is the message it is getting across as well. With the recent passing of both Sidney Pollack and Aretha Franklin, this is a wonderful send off for both icons and a film that will continue to leave it's powerful influence on generations to come. What a wonder that this was finally released and at just the right time too.
Zimna wojna (2018)
In a lot of arguments against modern films, or I guess the case could be made for older films as well, it seems as if audiences in general want all the easy answers and don't necessarily want to have to think for themselves or ponder a film and it's meaning after they have watched it. Cold War is a film that I think many would argue has not enough character development and a lot of viewers would be left scratching their heads as to why the characters in this film do what they do and why the relationship depicted in the film often feels strained and more like a love/hate relationship than one that is based out of love. I think here as with any number of art house, or films that would leave more up to the audience's interpretation as an emotional means, but also to have a lingering if not haunting effect upon the viewers after the film is over. There is I would argue a fair bit of character study on display here and what is not shown, or maybe instead is implied to the viewers, I would still say speaks volumes about the character's tendencies, personalities and overall motives as to how they live their lives and what is the logic or reasoning behind a lot of their decisions. The two main characters are often seen fighting either verbally, or a few times physically and there seems to be a general sense of tension and hostility between them. At other times we seen them in the throws of passion and as if they would never leave each other and like they mean the absolute world to one another. And yet these characters go years and sometimes close to decades without seeing each other and forming other relationships and commitments with their lives, but there still seems to be a yearning and a tiny if yet large fire blazing inside them whenever they do reunite whether it be for a brief, or lengthy period of time. One could argue that these two lovers are often very cold both emotionally and on a romantic level with one another, but I think for both of them that it is only a part of the attraction to one another and while they have tried (how hard is up to interpretation) to live apart, we somehow know and feel that in a sense despite the peculiarities within the relationship and the lack of emotion or depth still lingers a love that will ultimately conquer the contradictory forces both in their home lives as well as the country's backdrop as to where they are living as well. This is a film that is certainly a fine example of stage and spectacle and some of the song and dance numbers whether it be a more folksy traditional number on stage, or to the smoky and yet ambiance filled scenes set in Paris clubs that feels both cool and classy at the same time. This is a film that is heavy on mood and atmosphere and some of these scenes are amongst the finest I have seen in any film of last year, or in recent memory. The cinematography here is also amazing with any number of single shots, or frames that could easily be put on display in an art gallery with how much it says in each shot as well as the beauty captured in and around the events in and out of focus. The black and white photography is probably the best looking I have seen recently and the film's cinematography nomination at the Oscars was more than well deserved. Joanna Kulig who plays the lead character, plays her with a lot of intense emotion and feeling and yet can be quiet and vulnerable at times when the role requires it as well. It is one of the most impassioned and yet heartfelt and longing performances in recent memory and she could have easily won any number of acting awards for this spot on and powerful portrayal. The film looks great and sounds great and is certainly a sight to behold and I am pleased to say that it gives it's viewers a lot to think about and does not gives us a cheap way out, but instead allows us to linger on it's beauty and it's ugliness and the film is all the more resonant and powerful for having done so. One of 2018's best films and one of the most stirring and accomplished films in recent memory.
Neil Jordan's Greta
Anyone who has even the tiniest bit of familiarity with Isabelle Huppert's body of work could easily tell you that she can very easily and effectively play someone who is diabolically evil, or has just plain gone insane. Take for example Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher, which Huppert won a Best Actress Award at The Cannes Film Festival. It is a very hard film to sit through because of how increasingly uncomfortable the film makes you feel and this is all due to Haneke's usual brilliance of how to disturb and make an audience squirm, but also due to Huppert's performance which is at times subtle and then as the film moves along we see her character and how truly depraved she is and the film further captures this by her spot on performance. While I do own the film in a Michael Haneke DVD collection from Kino Lorber, I certainly have no desire to revisit it any time soon, or perhaps ever again because of the general feeling of queasiness and dread that the film and performance left me feeling. She can certainly play a character who is certainly out of their mind, but in that crazed state can resort to any number of evil, violent, or perverse acts. What a suitable role then is the new film by Neil Jordan, where she stars as the title character, Greta. Again here we deal with a character who is deeply complicated on any number of different levels. The main one here seeming to be loneliness, or at least that is what her character claims, but I think codependency issues as well as a sense of dominance and masochism also comes into play here. It is a fascinating character to watch unravel because when we are first introduced to her she certainly seems harmless enough, but as time goes by we see how truly bent she is and that she will stop at nothing to achieve her goal of dominance in a relationship and simply having any kind, or form of relationship at all. The victim in this case is played by Chloe Grace Moretz, who comes across as sweet and innocent and perhaps that is what draws Huppert's character to obsess about her. This is certainly a case where a cat and mouse game is being played and it will take more than mere cunning and survival tactics in order to win this game. This is a film that in many ways is like most stalker films in the thriller genre and there was a fair bit within the film that did feel familiar and even a bit clichéd off of similar types of films. There did, especially in the second half of the film, prove to be a lot of surprises that I personally did not see coming and ultimately while the film is no near masterpiece, it is elevated above any mediocre levels due to the two main performances which really hold up the film and should seeing as this is a character driven film. Both performances are great and capture our interest and leave us wanting more. The film is scarce on jump scares and excessive violence which I could appreciate and although the story seems like a B movie at times, it is also very much fun and entertainment as the best B movies usually are. The film is a lot better due to these performances and Jordan who almost never fails to impress is good at a story like this and allows us to squirm in our seats and have fun all at the same time. I hope this means more releases to come from Jordan as well as more plum rules for Huppert and Moretz as they carry a mediocre film, or would have been otherwise and turn it into something near greatness and also a lot of campy fun.
Manbiki kazoku (2018)
Maybe because I work in a retail store, I perhaps have a bit of a one sided, or jaded approach to theft, or shoplifting seeing as the store where I work deals with it on an almost every day basis. This ranges from people peeling off stickers on items and replacing them with lower ones to get away with paying less, or sometimes it's just a simple matter of people stuffing items into their purse, backpack, or pockets to get certain items. I tend to be a bit more lenient when it concerns this as opposed to some of my coworkers and superiors who would probably prefer me to be as tough as nails on the issue. While I am totally and completely against all forms of theft and robbery, I still can't help, but think that maybe there are some underlying issues here that should be paid attention to. Are these people doing it because they are kleptomaniacs and get a thrill from each item they steal, or is it more than that such as people who are hurting financially and could really use a break? The store where I work is a charitable organization, so we do have programs and services set up to help the less fortunate and if one of them came to us with a letter, or voucher from a shelter, or government sponsor, we would certainly and have given out free clothing and supplies. Is it really necessary for people to steal, or are some doing out of absolute desperate means? This new film, Shoplifters asks a very important question with this as we see this group of people who engage in stealing and otherwise dishonest means in order to support themselves. We see the kind of place where they live and how rundown it is and how most things people here in America consider everyday life these people would consider an absolute luxury. Is it necessary for them to carry on this lifestyle and what example is it setting for the children and could it possibly later corrupt them? The film places no judgments upon them by either saying they are good, or bad people, but instead shows us a different kind of lifestyle and one that is perhaps unknown to most of us, but probably should be known. We worry about the influence of these people and how long they can get away with what they are doing as well as when trouble does finally come, what will be the outcome? We see that this group of people do generally have the best interests of one another and they seem to have a bond that even when it is tested seems to be something that can't be separated. The film presents an interesting topic and suggests that maybe there is more services and programs necessary for people like this and as viewers we are not to turn a blind eye against the poor and needy, but to help out in whatever capacity available. The performances are all very natural and genuine and henceforth more believable and emits more empathy from the viewers. This is a film with something important to say and yet it doesn't judge, or condemn, but instead leaves us with a lingering problem that suggest that as a people and society we have a lot of work to do. A moving film that is a masterpiece in and of itself and one of 2018's finest achievements.
The Old Man & the Gun (2018)
David Lowery's The Old Man and the Gun
Amidst all the scandals coming out of Hollywood in the last number of years, including the controversy at the Academy Awards for not being diverse enough with their selection of nominees to the also very recent sexual abuse scandals that have taken down some pretty powerful players within the movie system, one thing that tinsel town and it's new films are generally trying to get right is that it is including people from all different background and walks of life to make sure no one is left out and therefore no further scandals or backlash. Whilst this is good in a lot of ways to promote different types of stories and people who maybe normally would not have been recognized within a Hollywood film, one thing they still seem to neglect is how to make a mainstream film that features elderly, or seasoned performers and make it appeal to a younger and again more mainstream audience. Often when we do get films of this kind they tend to be independent features and some of our legendary actors and actresses of yesteryears are being forgotten simply because the studio system does not know how to use them in a story that will appeal to the masses. I am quite thankful then for a film like The Old Man and the Gun, which brings to the screen both Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek, both who are truly great performers, but who we have seen less of over the years because of a lack of stories that could use them. Robert Redford over the years has seemed to almost get more accolades from his directing and involvement with The Sundance Film Festival as opposed to his acting performances. But let us not forget just a handful of years ago when he was the sole actor in the film, All Is Lost, where he received some of the best reviews of his career. With this new film, Redford has been a little bit mischievous and playful much like the character he portrays in the film in response to whether this will be his last acting role or not. In some interviews he said that this very well could be his last acting performance while in others he tended to give more of an unambiguous answer and still left the door open to future projects. Either way it was great to see him and Sissy Spacek back on the big screen again and we got some wonderful supporting performances from others like Danny Glover and musician/actor Tom Waits. Casey Affleck plays the detective in this film who is investigating the robberies that Redford's character is pulling off and all do a very good job. The film claims to mostly be based upon a true story where Redford's character who is a man in his 70's has over the years robbed a number of banks and most of the time being able to escape arrest and even when he is finally caught at one point, he manages to even escape from prison. As we study Redford's character as he pulls off each heist, we see that he wears little to no disguise or make up as he is doing this and he never fires a gun, or uses any violence or force against the bank tellers. He even manages to do all this with a huge smile on his face and not forgetting his please and thank yous. He is a very charismatic man and one who is often polite and charming and seems to win over everybody he comes into contact with. We never see that his character is financially hurting or in dire straits as to why he would pull off all these robberies, but I personally think it was the sheer excitement of the whole thing and seeing whether or not he could pull it off without being caught. I guess we all have our hobbies and interests and for him it was robbing banks. The film has a lovely side story featuring a potential romance between Redford and Spacek and it is often beautiful and sensitive to watch. The film has it's own pace which never bores, but does it's storytelling in a more gentle and even laidback kind of way that I for one found to be refreshing. There is nothing overly offensive in the film and this is a movie that I think rarely gets made nowadays, so I am so glad that we had a movie like this come out that not only has heart and charm, but is endlessly entertaining as well. Whether this will be Redford, or Spacek's last film I do not know for sure, but if it is it's a wonderful way to end already legendary careers and another winning film for their already impressive body of work.
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
If Beale Street Could Talk
Occasionally before seeing a new film at the theatre, I will peruse the user and critics reviews for said film, both on this site and a few others as well. When it came to the reactions from certified critics, it was pretty much unanimous across the board that If Beale Street Could Talk was a general hit amongst critics with some calling it among the best films of last year. When, I looked at the user reviews for the film from just regular viewers who had happened to see the film and comment on it, I got almost the exact opposite response than what the critics were saying. Some people had a few pleasant things to say about it such as the acting, music, or cinematography being well done, but generally the comments that I kept seeing over and over again was that the film was slow (or many derivatives of the word such as "boring" and others to indicate that it would put you to sleep) and they also seemed to say that it was an uninteresting film and just plainly that not a lot happened during the course of the film to warrant any interest, or capture the audience's attention. Having just got home from a screening of the film I can assuredly say that I happen to be in the majority and with the critics regarding my overall feelings for the film and as to the naysayers, I will gradually try to break down their criticisms and show why I felt the exact opposite to their response. As for the film being slow, that is something that I would say is true, simply because it tends to focus on details, emotions and lets us as a viewer to savour and get totally drawn into the charactes and their given situations in the film. It is not particularly fast paced and if in all honesty, I would have to say that this is probably what would turn your average viewer off the most because it usually has long takes, or certain scenes where there can just be moments of dialogue between any number of characters, or other scenes where there is just absolute quiet and stillness with nothing being said, or done except for maybe some background music for ambiance and effect. This was appropriate I felt in order to create a mood and a general atmosphere of the film, but to also have a lingering effect upon the viewer. At times some of these moments enhanced feelings of sadness, or desperation on behalf of the characters and at other times there would be close up shots of the two main characters for example who could be seen simply holding on to each other in a long embrace to simply show the love and the unbreakable bond between them even in the midst of adversity. This also allowed us to slowly yet gradually get to know the different characters we are introduced to during the film. It is like a slow burn that starts off meagre and takes awhile to grasp, or truly take hold, but once it does it not only captures your interest, but also your empathy and emotions as well. As for those who said that not a lot actually happens during the course of this film, I would instead argue that quite a lot does indeed go on yet at a pace and style that most traditional filmmakers would avoid. As we go through this film we are dealing with characters who have struggled some for years and others through the course of their lives. They haven't always had the right ingredients for a great beginning, or a successful life in the eyes of some, but one thing that does remain constant is the general support for one another even when others turn a blind eye and everything seems hopeless. These are all people regardless of their circumstances who all seem to yearn for a better and more productive future not only for themselves, but also for the ones they love. They are held back often by things such as oppression, or hatred, or sometimes a lack of education, or financial resources and they sometimes have to rely on what talents and skills they have been given in order to forge ahead and make any kind of a life for themselves. We see their obstacles, we feel their pain and we know that things might not get better in a hurry, or possibly ever, but they still grasp at any chance of hope that they can get. This is a film that captures a certain family and characters based on a fictional novel of the 1970's, but when you look at the events and how they are played out, sadly most if not all of it could be played out the same way almost fifty years later. This is a film that truly has great care for these characters, but does not sugarcoat, or give us an unrealistic ending that makes everything better in a heartbeat, but instead shows that sometimes we have to truly hang in there no matter what we may be facing. Sometimes even for the long haul. If it had made everything better and sugarcoated it, the film would have felt false and would in a lot of ways been telling a big lie, but here it is honest yet remaining somewhat hopeful for these characters. The film is often moving and tragic at equal opportunities and it is captured by subtle yet powerful performances and a script and direction that handles with care and great empathy. This may not be a watch for everyone as the user reviews reflected, but if anything I just wrote had any kind of effect, or curiousity stirred within you, then you may want to give it a try and as it stands If Beale Street Could Talk is one of the best films of 2018 and I can guarantee that it will most likely appreciate and get better also upon repeat viewings.
Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
Mary Poppins Returns
I haven't seen the original 1960's film version of Mary Poppins since I was a child, but I look back fondly on a lot of those Walt Disney films that I discovered as a youngster. I am not sure if they still do this or not, but back when I was growing up, our Canadian Broadcasting Company (also known as CBC), would have a program every Sunday night called The Wonderful World of Disney, where in the space of about two hours, they would either show a Disney movie whether it be live action or animated as well as shorter cartoons and specials as well. Back then this was something to look forward to at the end of the weekend because we all knew that school and work was ahead of us the next day, but it was a wonderful way to unwind before that and it would also be something where the whole family could sit around together and watch some quality and wholesome entertainment. I would imagine that perhaps that is where I saw the original Mary Poppins film as well as so many other Disney films. Now normally I am not in favour, or in the habit of liking, or endorsing any kind of sequels, or remakes, but having now seen the sequel simply titled, Mary Poppins Returns, I can take a step back and acknowledge the fact that even I can make mistakes and this is one sequel that is just as good as the original and even more than 50 years since we last saw the character of Mary Poppins, I am pleased to say that it is a much welcomed return. I was so impressed for one how filmmaker Rob Marshall and his crew managed to capture the style, the mood, the look and even the joy of the original film of the 60's. Yes it does have new actors in the starring roles, but everyone here from Emily Blunt as Mary to a wonderful cast of supporting characters are all superb here from the adults to the children actors. Julie Andrews who played Mary in the original film left some big shoes to fill, but Emily Blunt was willing to take on that challenge and succeeds in every single way from her mannerisms to her wonderful singing voice to the simple joy and magic that emanates out of every moment we spend with this character. It is a wonderfully joyous and fun character that is also played to perfection by Blunt and any awards accolades she receives for it would be well due. The film is a musical just like the original and I found often the songs were cheerful and fun whilst rounding out a very entertaining and overall enjoyable times out at the cinema. One concern I have with modern films is that they tend to go too much in favour of CGI and special effects, but thankfully the filmmakers here tried to make the film look and feel like the original and they accomplished this fantastically. We have sequences of live action and even animation where the cartoonists even happen to capture what made the animated characters in the original and other Disney films so much fun. And, I am happy to report that I did not detect any 3D animation in sight, but back to good old hand drawn animation. The film is over two hours long, but do not let that detract you away from seeing it because I did not feel that there was a single wasted moment in it's entire running time and the editing as well as quick witted and often humorous as well as whimsical script and performances keep everything very lively and the film could have been even longer and I still would have loved every minute of it. The costumes to the sets and backdrops are all so well done here as is the overall joy that one gets from watching the film. It surely planted a smile upon my face that began within the opening credits and stayed long after the film was done. This is an example of a piece of filmmaking where everyone knows exactly what they are doing and instead of copying, or trying to improve upon the original they instead make a worthy follow up to it that I think if Walt Disney himself were alive today that he would give the film his total blessings. This is a film that will appeal both to viewers young and old, which you certainly can not say for all family films in this day and time and this is certainly an experience to be treasured as well as watched with friends and family just as those childhood days in front of the television on Sunday nights. This is one of Disney's best outings in a long time as well as surprising me myself by my personal accolade of calling it one of 2018's best films which it certainly is in every and any category.
Adam McKay's Vice
Adam McKay's follow up to his Academy Award winning, The Big Short is just as good, or maybe even better in my opinion that it's predecessor and again in sharp and attacking form with a good dose of comedy as well as material that will make you think and even unsettle you, it definitely is a film that is bound to be debated, discussed and the topic of water cooler conversations for anyone living in America, or who has even the tiniest bit of interest in political activities. Last time, McKay tackled the crash of the stock market along with the housing bubble and decline that is just over ten years ago that these events happened and with The Big Short, McKay took a subject matter that to many people would work better than a warm glass of milk at bedtime to put you asleep and instead totally energized the topic by making it understandable as well as also funny and entertaining in what was a marvellously edited and written film that made for good comedy as well as giving insight to one of the most polarizing news items of the last couple of decades. Here again, McKay takes on another topic and figure in American news that is at times funny, full of great editing, but also to anyone not normally engaged into the poltical world, he takes the persona of Vice President Dick Cheney and gives what is anything, but typical biography as well as doing it's own finger wagging at some of the morals and ethics behind some of his biggest decisions while in power. It could very well be argued as the film satirizes during it's closing credits that this is a film because of it's look into the subject as well as often scrutininizing and shaming some of the events of Cheney's life, that this is merely a liberal's point of view on the subject matter and therefore that this film is biased in it's approach. If you look on a conservative news site such as Breitbart News, the reviewer for this film (who's name at the moment, unfortunately escapes me) alluded to as much and more or less said that the number of Golden Globe nominations this film received, which was more than any other nominee this year, was because of the liberal Hollywood bias and because the film is shaming and calling out the Bush presidency as well as particularly Cheney himself in a not so flattering light, that Hollwood liberals would eat the film up and nominate it for whatever they could. It raises a valid argument because as much as I personally loved the film, there were many critics both liberal and not who were mostly lukewarm with the overall reception of the film. Review aggregate websites mostly had this film in the mid to high 60 percent range which is perhaps not good enough to warrant a nominee let alone be the sole recipient of the most nominees of said year. However the same case could be made for the other recent film, Bohemian Rhapsody, which had lukewarm to mediocre reviews from critics and yet audiences say it is one of the best films of the year and it even garnered some Golden Globe nominations too. Having seen my fair share of liberal and conservative news, I would say that this film does fall into the former category which will tend to perhaps turn off conservative viewers, or fans of Cheney, but I think going into this film I was prepared to take what they gave me not only with just a dose of salt, but also the whole shaker full of it. It is so common these days to have views done in a liberal, or politically correct way that perhaps sadly I have just become more accustomed to it even if I don't always necessarily agree with it. Still, I would consider this among the year's best for not just the brilliant acting, writing and editing (which in my opinion is all awards worthy), but also because no matter how you feel about this subject, or person, there is a lot that is brought up here that should offend people with the sense of morals and decency and the basic principle of right and wrong. Probably a lot of what Cheney did was ruthless and going behind the rules and laws that would have prevented such things. This is a film that as I mentioned earlier does give one a lot of food for thought and it can be a very aggressive film at times and can really hammer home it's message till it's litterally beating you over the head with it, but this is an opinion and a journey I was pleased to take to hear another side of the story, to think about it and be swept in at the great talent that was unfolding before me. This may not be for all tastes, but for those who want to think and savour what they have just watched you could do far worse than what proves to be one of this year's best films.
At Eternity's Gate (2018)
Julian Schnabel's At Eternity's Gate
Who better to tell the story of a famous painter than an artist himself? At Eternity's Gate filmmaker Julian Schnabel was a well known artist and painter himself and still has exhibits and public showings of his work as well as dabbling in the world of filmmaking. His first feature back in the 90's was a portrait of the 80's street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and he's experimented with other genres of film including biographies such as Before Night Falls and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, as well as a filming of Lou Reed's conceptual album, Berlin. Schnabel takes upon himself and his crew a bit of a different angle on how to tell about Vincent Van Gogh, and in many ways it is not a strictly by the books account, but is often more abstract than that and also helps us to get as best we can into the troubled and conflicted mind of Van Gogh, in what would be the last months of his life where he was battling with poverty as well as mental health issues that many today would diagnose as schizophrenia, or perhaps other ailments as well. The film is shot with a hand held camera in many instances which does occasionally feature some frames that seem out of focus, or like the cinematographer is in bad need of a tripod in order to keep the camera steady, but much to my surprise, I found that I really liked this look and approach and to me it is truly one of the most visually stunning films to look at this year, or in any number of years. Scenes showing Van Gogh frolicking, or sometimes wandering aimlessly throughout fields and pastures to other shots showcasing the poverty and squalor in which he is living in is all vividly captured by colours both bright and grim and the attention to details are what really enhance and get the mood and feelings across. Much of the film can be given the classification of being a very meditative film that is often peaceful and could easily fall into the filmmaking style of minimalism, but then at other times the filmmaking takes a bit of a different leap and approach and throughout the course of the film we truly do have to marvel at the way the camera techniques and the filmmakers are getting this story across to us. How much of the conversations and actual events depicted in the film actually happened, I personally are unaware of, but much still rings true from the little I do know about Van Gogh from art documentaries and even films such as Robert Altman's Vince and Theo. Willem Dafoe, who not only portrays Van Gogh in the film, but also does his own painting for the role (as does Schnabel), gives another amazing performance in what is already a legendary and much honoured career. Here in this film we see how tormented Van Gogh is from his auditory and visual hallucinations to causing himself and sometimes those around him to be in harm's way to the simple fact that he in a lot of ways is not safe nor sufficient on his own to care for himself. The miraculous thing is though that through all of this, Van Gogh painted very many works and was quite prolific within a very short period of time and while he never, or hardly ever sold a painting while he was alive, he has gone down in infamy with his works and is now considered one of the world's best painters. Dafoe's performance is one that is always fascinating to watch from his mumbling and talking to himself to his scenes of crying out and truly wandering around amidst the nature and confused bystanders around him, this is also clearly a film about his mental health issues which is often not covered, or talked about in as much details in some of the other accounts of his life. It's a very convincing performance from Dafoe from his gaunt and starved looking face to his often ratty clothes and dirty appearance. It is truly one of the best performances of this year and I hope it doesn't go unnoticed from awards voters. The film is just as artistic as it's subject himself and at times it may take a little patience for it's rather unconventional means of getting this story and vision across, but for more adventurous and patient filmgoers, you will discover that this was truly a labour of love from all involved in what is one of this year's truly great achievements and also one of the best films of the last decade or so. Amazing and worth any and all acclaim and awards it picks up and be sure to see this if it is playing anywhere nearby and certainly do not wait for rental or streaming because the theatre is the best place to see a film of this scope and quality.
Beautiful Boy (2018)
Beautiful Boy, which is based on a true story of the relationship between a father and son, where the son is going through a serious drug addiction is a film that at times is frustrating, exasperating and even maddening, but in all honesty, I would not expect a realistically done film about drug addiction to be anything else. The film gives us no easy answers and I appreciated that because with a sickness, or addiction like this, there is no truly easy answers for it. People could argue till the cows come home about why this son who seemed to have a promising future and a loving family would turn to a life of narcotics, but again maybe it was no one single thing that triggered this and nobody, or nothing is to blame in this instance, or even outside of the film as well. It could be argued that people do it out of desperation because of something missing in their life, whether it be due to stress, trauma, loneliness, or many other issues, but at the same time there are also millions of people who have stressful, or intimidating lives at home and at work who are not addicts and would never consider doing so, so henceforth I think there is no concrete answer to how this kind of a situation starts and I think we would all love a simple explanation, so the type of tragedies with this type of addiction as we see displayed in the film could be prevented, but in a lot of ways it is truly out of our hands and even with the best parenting and teachers, unfortunately there will always be a few who will slip through the cracks and become an addict of one kind or another. The frustration I mentioned earlier comes about as we witness the downward spiral this character goes through and how reluctant at times he often is to both admit that he has a problem and also be willing to accept responsibility for it and further do things to help himself. In this case the character in question truly does have a loving and caring family and perhaps in a lot of ways he would have been worse off without that type of support and when the film becomes maddening, albeit in a good and effective way is when this character seems to be doing well and making progress in his recovery only to later suffer relapse after relapse and the problem becomes even more deadly and serious. At one point the character's father is told that battling a crystal meth addiction is very tough and often the success rate can be in the single digits percentage wise. The portrayal of the son played by Timothee Chalamet is a very on spot performance showing the literal ups and downs of this character both while he is on substances, when he is in withdrawal from them and even during the peaks and more successful stages of his sobriety. The performance must have been draining to play and here Chalamet portrays a character that at times we have genuine sympathy and compassion for and at other times we are so frustrated by his lack of success at other times and repeatedly falling into the same traps over and over again. It's a powerful performance as also is Steve Carell as the father who is very devoted and loving to his son and wants to do anything within his power to help him, but at other times he realizes the extent of the addiction and that if there is ever going to be a breakthrough he will have to show some tough love and make hard decisions as well as not giving in to every whim and need of his son. We see in this film how drug addiction can truly tear a family apart and hurt not just the addict, but others who love them as well. Overall this is a film about finding that strength both in yourself as well as having a supportive group of people who will help you to overcome and ultimately achieve your best. Sometimes a success like this can take years even decades and it truly is a tormenting battle for everyone to go through, but as the film suggests there is hope out there and also various means of support and places people can go to who are suffering similar things. This is a powerful film that is one of the most realistic about this type of issue to come along in a while, as well as showing a family bond and showing that perhaps love can conquer all. The eclectic musical score was appropriate and perfect for the type of emotions for each scene and Carell and Chalamet deliver wonderfully genuine and affecting performances in a film that can be a draining watch, but also well worth it.
Green Book (2018)
Peter Farrelly's Green Book
I love it when filmmakers who are usually classified, or tend to stick within one genre, or type of film only and then they eventually break that cycle and area of familiarity and do something radically different. In recent years I have cited examples such as Adam McKay who got away from his Will Ferrell films to do The Big Short, and not only was it the best reviewed film of his career, but it also won him a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Something that most likely would not have happened if he had just stuck to his usual fare of manic if not sometimes annoying comedies. Also please take Todd Phillips who is also known for often raunchy teen oriented comedies such as The Hangover trilogy and others that pretty much fall into the same category. He branched out and tried a mix between comedy and drama in War Dogs, and whilst the film got mixed reviews generally, I would personally say that it was the best accomplishment of his career and further reaching out for new goals, he was also the producer of this year's version of A Star is Born which has been a big hit with audiences, critics and at the box office. Some say that it still has a very good chance to nab several Oscars, possibly even Best Picture. Now in this case with Green Book, we have writer/director Peter Farrelly who is again known for mostly doing gross out, or raunchy and immature comedies such as the Dumb and Dumber films and various others. I have liked some of his and his brother Bobby's work in the past, especially something like There's Something About Mary, but more often than not, their particular brand of humour was often far different than my own personal taste. This time around, Peter takes a true story and helps write the screenplay and directs, but here he chooses a film that has just as much if not more laughs than the films he would normally do, but also at the same time he gives the film a timely message of friendship and acceptance and I think anyone who is not deeply moved by the film on some level probably saw a different film than I did. It is full of rich humour and some of the best work from dependable actors Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. The film is all the more timely because as we all know the problem with racism in our world is still running rampant and how refreshing it is to see two men from completely different backgrounds and are more or less worlds apart from one another and how they form a bond and connection that will lead to a lasting friendship and a road trip across the Southern United States that I doubt either man would ever forget. Viggo's character is a bouncer in several nightclubs in the Bronx area of New York. He has a large appetite, uses coarse language on a regular basis and is a little rough around the edges and tends to have a habit of either winning people over with his schemes and dubious personality, or at the same time completely offending, or turning people off as in the case of Mahershala Ali's character. Ali's character is a concert pianist with many degrees and doctorates and is very well spoken and educated. He couldn't be more different than Viggo's character if he tried. And there is also the cultural differences such as Viggo's Italian background and Ali's character being of African American descent. This looks like it would be the worst possible match in history and yet Viggo drives Ali's character across the United States for about two months to get him to his various different concert performances. The two will occasionally bicker with more often than not, Ali's character being completely exasperated and often offended and turned off by Viggo's character's more street type talk and peronality. However, as time goes by the two do form a common bond with one another and actually start to become friends. As well as on several occasions while in the deep Southern states that Viggo will come to Ali's rescue and one humourous instance where Ali uses a powerful ally to bail them out of a tough spot. This is a film about putting any and all prejudices aside and seeing goodness within your fellow man and learning to appreciate that. This road trip truly shapes these two characters in marvellous ways and we see that deep down under a rough exterior that Viggo's character has a huge heart and that Ali deep down is dealing with loneliness and his own trials and tribulations, but is further helped by Viggo's friendship and way, or should I say lack of way with words and handling people. This is an absolutely wonderful film that made me laugh more than any other film this year and at the same time it warmed my heart and moved me and helped me to appreciate the racist attitudes of the 60's when the film takes place and again show how we still need to further move ahead as a society. The performances by the two leads are I think the two best male performances I have seen this year and the characters are so wonderfully vibrant and full of emotions, personality and life all thanks to a meticulously researched and well scripted story for our actors and characters.
A film of this type of quality does not come along too often, so I suggest you see it while you can and do not be surprised to see various Oscar nominations and even potential wins. One of the best films of this year.
A Star Is Born (2018)
Bradley Cooper's A Star is Born
As it is plainly visible from the homepage on this site for the new film, A Star is Born, there are so many user and critic's reviews for this new movie, that I can safely say that I can't say anything that hasn't already been said, or written about it, but in my effort to try and review most of the new films I see at the theatre, I will certainly try my best to do a worthwhile review, even if the majority of the people who usually read these reviews have had enough reviews of this new film already. As, I think it is also pretty clear, this new version of this story is nothing new as it has been made already three times and I also have to be honest and admit that I have never to this day seen any of the other versions, so how closely this new film follows them, or if they have a certain sequence, or story arc between them I do not know, but from what I understand, writer/director Bradley Cooper borrows a little bit from all versions, but also certainly makes this film his own with his own unique stamp on it and also a very unique and worthwhile debut as a writer and director as well also in this case as a singer and songwriter as well. I think over the years having seen many films about showbusiness and the lives of either actors, singers, or people in the entertainment industry in general we as an audience have come to expect certain things from these movies. Usually they feature a celebrity of some kind who can not deal with the various pressures from being famous and this causes them often to go off the deep end with either alcohol, or some kind of substance abuse, or abuse of their bodies in some excessive way. I think it would be something new and even perhaps refreshing to have a story about a celebrity who avoids these pitfalls and basically can hold their own both while performing and keeping a handle on their personal life, but perhaps I am being the naive one here and the many deaths of musicians and people in the entertainment industry just goes to show that success and fame truly can be a hard act to juggle and maybe more credit, or understanding is due to those who in some ways we know very little about outside their public persona. The substance abuse issues are certainly on display in this new version as well and jealously, power hungry managers and agents and the various pressures that stem out of and because of this is all here. It is handled in an interesting if not altogether entertaining version and the performances can be very powerful here even if at times it does border a little bit on melodrama. I think a lot of questions people had about this film include how is Cooper as a writer/director/singer and how is Lady Gaga in her first starring role for the big screen? I can safely and assuredly tell you that Cooper directs and writes like he has been doing it for ages and he truly is a wizard behind the camera and his writing as well as singing is all well done also. For his performance I can also say that I think it is the strongest as well as the best performance of his career thus far and I think choosing to write and direct films and to only direct films he has written himself is a wonderful career move and gives hope to Hollywood as we have another true auteur in the making and a good one at that. Lady Gaga who I know has appeared on American Horror Story, which I have never delved into, but here for her big screen debut she is certainly very impressive not only with her singing and songwriting, but also a emotional performance and a moving one at that. I think it is pretty much guaranteed that both Cooper and Gaga will be up for acting Oscars as well also with Sam Elliott in a wonderful supporting performance. The songs where Cooper and Gaga accompany each other are well done and should also be up for nominations as well as writing, directing and even Best Picture. The film is certainly not my favourite film that I have seen this year, but that is not to say it isn't worth seeing because it certainly is and I was impressed at how many people at my theatre came out to see this film in it's second week and overhearing how much they loved it. For a mainstream outing it is as good as it can get in a time of remakes and cliches being done countless times, but I look forward to seeing more from Cooper and Gaga and what they have left us with is certainly impressive and worth the time out at the theatre.
As I age, I find myself having to get used to and adjust to the new norms and ways of filmmaking that are being introduced to us as viewers and critics alike. I had heard great things about this new film, Searching, but as I was watching it and discovered that most if not all of the film was told using various means of social media such as Face Time, YouCast, or various other methods of calling, texting and communicating over the world wide web. To some this probably seemed like an interesting way of telling a story in a radical and brand new way, but to me, I found myself getting a little agitated and also losing interest as I really have no desire to watch, or engage with someone using these various means of communication and nor do I use any of those services myself. I thought the overall film would be lost on me, but I stayed with it and mustered all the patience I had with it and I am glad to say that my perserverance paid off and I started to like this film a lot more and I then started to see that a truly mesmerizing story was taking place in front of me and because of the zeitgeist and times of our day, perhaps this new approach of telling the story was not so useless after all and maybe I was just being too old fashioned and I am glad that I soon found much interest in the story, the film and yes, even the technological approach it took to telling this tale. Searching is not just your run of the mill mystery, or thriller film because I think it is a lot better than that. It takes a story that very easily could have become cliched, or formula ridden and instead gives us something new to look at whilst all the while keeping us the viewers in complete suspense and not only capturing our interest, but truly keeping us guessing as to what and how this mystery would end and I for one could not see the various twists and turns in the film coming and I would go as far as to say they were a very pleasant surprise as well as turning what could have been a mediocre film into a true masterwork. The film knows how to tell a good story and certainly keep everyone guessing as to how it will turn out as well as capturing your interest and holding it throughout the film, but I would also say that this film is a bit of a commentary on several bigger issues that I am very glad were explored through the course of the film. One such issue is again as I have gone on about in various other reviews is the danger of technology and how young people of this generation are getting more and more familiar with it and also at the same time how they seem to be getting less careful with it by exposing much critical and personal information online that could ultimately cause them harm not just to their computer, or online status, but to their personal safety as well. There are a lot of good things to say about computers, the internet and technology, but we can also say that it has taken away communication and has made life in a sense too easy and caused us all to become a lot lazier. I would hate to see how people would communicate and function in society in a generation, or so to come when this will be an even more widespread problem. The other issue that is a key note to this film is the topic of parenting, especially in a day and time where we are too wrapped up with our own lives to truly care about what our children are doing and also just not spending time, or taking an interest in their activities. Parents seem to be reaching out more to their kids in social media platforms, but I would still venture a guess and say that good old fashioned one on one talking is what is needed here and actually taking an interest and being a part of your children's lives is so important and perhaps less tragedies such as the one depicted in this film will soon fade away if we could simply just take the time. Finally in a smaller, but still impactful way, the film shows how the media also has truly taken over and glamorized tragedies and sorrows of other people and how nothing is essentially private anymore, but all made tailor ready for one's viewing pleasure. It's hard not to think that maybe there is a lot of fake news going on and maybe a lot of what they are covering is not nescessarily the truth, but a well written story as well. The acting is very good here particularly by leads John Cho and Debra Messing and I give kudos to the amazingly suspenseful script which uses no violence, or profane material to tell this story and they don't need it either and they provide a film that is not only enthralling, but told in a unique and original way with also a lot to say. I am glad I stuck through the film and it turned out to be one of this year's best achievements and times out at the movies. Highly recommended.
Spike Lee has not had a commercial, or critical hit since 2006's Inside Man, and after that he would often attempt to get bigger films off the ground such as Miracle at St. Anna, or his remake of Oldboy, a few years ago, but both films were neither received well, nor did they have the box office receipts to prove they were hits, in fact the complete opposite. Lee, who I have always admired as a filmmaker, did get other projects going since and during that time, but mostly they were smaller films that would only play in the very biggest of cities meaning that if you lived anywhere else you would either have to rent, buy, or stream the films in order to keep up to date with his body of work. Lee needed a film that was both going to be a critical success, but also one that would attract audiences and actually make some money as well. When his new film, Blackkklansman premiered at Cannes, I am certainly not sure what audiences, or critics were expecting, but the result turned out to be Lee's best reviewed film in probably longer than a decade as well as winning some of the top prizes at Cannes, which in my mind because of their very particular, yet often right on the money judgements, this meant that Lee's new film was great, but how would audiences fare and let alone the movie when it had a theatrical release date right in the middle of summer which we often know can be very difficult for smaller and more intelligent films? Blackkklansman continued to earn rave reviews as more critics were able to see it and the film was even given a wide release by it's distributor and the film was made for roughly 15 million dollars and after not even a month of release it has already doubled that amount in box office returns and has many saying that it is certainly a contender for Best Picture at next year's Oscars and in my mind, I wouldn't be surprised if the film, or Lee himself were standing on that stage next year picking up their awards. Having now seen the film myself, I will have to be honest and say that the style and tone of the film was a bit of a surprise to me because I was not expecting it to be so comedic and yet I found it often worked by also dealing with pretty upsetting subject matter and allowing us a chance to breathe and also to get immersed within the film and have a good chuckle as well as getting some hard hitting material as well, so I felt the balance which at first may have taken a little bit to get used to, ended up working beautifully. The story in itself is one of this year, or any recent year's most interesting plots around and the fact that it is all based upon a true story further adds fascination and a great emotional impact at the end of the film. The performances both by the leading cast as well as supporting were all fantastic and some of the best of the year. The script which Lee had a hand in writing is often smart, funny, intriguing and like any of Lee's best films, it also hits home and gets a point across that will certainly leave you shaken and stunned by the time you have walked out of the theatre. Lee has always been known for being angry at the world's injustices especially regarding race and this new film is no different. I appreciated that the violence in the film was toned down and realistically there was very little of it, so I think it would also bring more viewers in that way. The racial hatred, bigotry and language of which the film has lots, can be offensive and almost sickening at times, but we know why Lee went for this and he certainly gets his point across and then some. This is a film that is fascinating entertainment and also entertainment that will make you think about what you have just seen and may even change the way you look at current events and American history itself. The all too true aspect that is most disturbing is that this kind of hatred and acts of violence still exist and there are too many of these type of stories in the news today which makes the message of this film all the more timely and prevalent. This is one of the year's best films if not the best film of the year so far.
Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot
In telling the true story of cartoonist, John Callahan, the new film, Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot, is not a conventional biopic in the sense that it follows a simple formula from beginning, middle and end, but here director Gus Van Sant cleverly uses segments from Callahan's past and the current time when the film is taking place and often it is out of sequence with how things actually happened, but it is still marvellously coherent and it makes for not only one of the most entertaining films of this year, but also one of the most thoughtful and moving as well. I think where the film primarily puts it's focus is Callahan's goal of becoming clean and sober after years of alcohol dependency. We see other aspects of his life as well, but the extraordinary thing about it is that how his life really did not start to come together till he realized he had a problem and sought help for it. Callahan is assisted on his troubling journey by a compassionate and yet honest group leader for a local Alcoholics Anonymous group and while going through this group he has to confront and come to terms with aspects of his life that he probably wishes he could leave behind, but with encouragement and following the steps of the program we see how Callahan now only discovers the strength inside himself, but also learns to have forgiveness for himself and the mistakes he has made in the past. He needs to seek forgiveness for the people he has wronged and most importantly also learn to forgive himself for what has caused him to become a quadriplegic and bound to a wheelchair and also how unwillingly his alcoholism spun out of control. Callahan never unfortunately develops a higher power in the sense that I was personally hoping for him, but at the same time I think he does develop a different way of looking at life and instead of hating his past and the things that at one point he blames for his decision to start drinking, he stops making excuses and blaming everyone and thing for how life turned out and instead starts to realize that maybe everything that has happened in his life was not an accident at all, but instead to cause growth not only as a person, but in maturity as well and help him to become the person he would later become and not only escape the tight grasp of alcohol abuse, but also to become one who would later speak and write this book about his own battles which has helped many a person who has suffered from the same troubles as himself. We see his growth and how he not only reaches out to people, but also becomes more aware of himself, his feelings and others as well. We see him develop relationships and also discover a hidden talent in cartooning and whilst his cartoons were quite controversial and brought in the same amount of praise and criticism, it gave him an outlet for expressing himself and also finding a way to support himself to not have to rely on welfare payments alone. This is a story that is brought to life with tremendous Oscar worthy performances, especially from the multi talented Joaquin Phoenix as John Callahan and also Jonah Hill, who has certainly come a long way from his crude comedy days and here delivers a subtle and yet nuanced performance as John's sponsor and leader of the Alcoholics Anonymous group who we later learn has had his own share of troubles in life and yet how he used his goal of helping others because of a will inside of him, but at the same time having the incomparable joy of helping others and seeing people overcome their goals whilst helping them even in the midst of your own troubles. Joaquin delivers an impassioned performance that is at times full of humour and at other times where your eyes well up with tears because of the great emotion and empathy we develop for Callahan who at first is not so likable, but later becomes someone we are truly hoping to achieve and conquer the goals he has set forth. This is a film that is moving for anyone trying to overcome any number of addictions, or illnesses and it proves that with the right mindset and people to help you along your journey that you are never helpless and that somehow even our darkest moments can be used for good not only in our lives, but also that of others as well. This film truly has a zest for life and living and it's positive spirit is certainly contagious and even the darker moments also ring true with authenticity and a mood that will certainly stimulate your emotions and deeply move you. This is not only a film for great entertainment, but also a film that shows that you can overcome your obstacles no matter how great they may seem and offer a little encouragement as well as top notch entertainment along the way. One of the year's best films.
Eighth Grade (2018)
As I write this review, for me personally, it has been almost 20 years since I was both in and graduated from my eighth grade class. In seeing a movie about what the eighth grade is like in 2018 as opposed to 1999 and 2000, it really is quite amazing at both the similarities of when I was there and also things, particularly involving technological advancements that now play a large role both in the lives of the students, but also in their education as well. This film is different in the aspect that in the classroom, hallways, cafeteria and pretty much anywhere they can, their iPhones are accessible and there seems almost to be a lack of communication verbally between students and their peers and most of the conversation is written down via text messages being sent not just periodically, but frequently throughout the day. I did not have that when I was in the eighth grade and when you look at cell phones from back in that time period, they were big clunky things and only a select number of people had them and it was not at all in pretty much the normal way of things as this current culture and generation has made of it. Facebook was also not invented till I finished college and I have had many opportunities to use it, but still to this day I choose not to and with the recent information that users of Facebook have pretty much had their identities sold for a profit to other companies, I am glad I took the stance I did and continue to not use it. Nevermind the fact that I still believe that a lot of this technology has taken away what used to be a simple everyday thing of actually talking and engaging with one another in conversations. Now it seems like a fine art and even when I see people both at my workplace, or in the local shopping mall, most people tend to have their head bent over and engaging in who knows what on their cellular phone. The main character of this film is also constantly on her phone checking videos, posting videos and basically liking all the new posts, videos and pictures that become available. I am not in school now and nor do I plan to be again, but I can certainly sense that all this liking and disliking and trying to meet your peers approval over social media must be an extremely vexing if not downright depressing thing. Also look over the years at all the bullying that has also been done with this so called great technology. It has lead to embarassment, being ostracized and sometimes even sadly suicide of people who were so young that they barely even had a taste of what their future had in store for them. The whole technological advancement is certainly a big change and I would personally hope that within the school system that there is more done to keep it under control and that people do actually engage in conversations and extra curricular activites because if not we are a society that will not only get dumber, but more and more socially awkward and this is not something that I think anyone would agree is a good thing. Many things after all these years do still stay the same within the middle school and high school years as well and these include such things such as trying to fit in, personal insecurity, bullying, making friends as well as a little thing called hormones which is about to really come into play about that grade. Our main character here is pretty much an ordinary girl going through ordinary situations and emotions and yet because I have been in her shoes so to speak, there were times during the film that I just wanted to give her a hug and let her know that it would all be okay and that those few years we spend in school will not dictate the rest of our lives, but even if I was to say that to my teenage self all those years ago, would it have helped, or would I have believed it? I know of more and more people now who have decided to home school their children and for probably some very good reasons as well as some negative including my fear that it may isolate the children too much and may become a detriment to their social skills as they get older, but I think that most people would agree that there are problems with the current system. Eighth Grade does not try to answer any of these dilemmas and quite frankly sometimes I got downright uncomfortable watching this young girl go from one difficult situation to another, but at the same time it was refreshing in the sense that this isn't new just for this generation, but from mine too and the one before and also the next. This is a film that deals with this subject with great honesty and also has a deep sense of humanity and empathy for our characters. It shows that if we stick it out it may, or may not get better, but things will eventually hopefully come our way and school is such a short part of our lives even though it is so influential in good ways and bad. This is a marvellously astute film that has one of the best scripts in quite some time and the acting is so natural and honest that it ranks with some of the year's best performances. Whatever age you are, you should see this film if you are a student, or parent and it should be a jolt to your senses and may hopefully invoke changes within the schools and more ways to help our youngsters. One of the year's best films.
American Animals (2018)
American Animals, falls into a select group of films through no fault of the film itself, has been reduced to a pretty bare bones and very limited release just playing in a handful of theatres across North America. Having just seen the film last night, I was wondering as I was watching it why the film's distributor didn't choose to be a bit more adventurous and give the film a wide release. Was it because the distributor only has certain amount of seats allotted to them, or was it not a finanically viable option? Either way, I think that even if the film's current distribution company couldn't for whatever reason give it a wide theatrical release that any number of big players could very easily have done so and I could almost guarantee that with the right marketing and with the positive reviews and word of mouth that the film already has going for it, that it could become quite a hit and the reason that it hasn't already done so is because for most people it is not playing in theatres that are anywhere close to where they live, so henceforth leaving the option of either driving a long distance to see it, or catch it when it becomes available on streaming. I think more major studios need to take bigger risks by releasing films like this because I think they would score more with audiences than they think they would. Anyone now can tell you that their basic movie multiplex is full of all the lastest Marvel, Star Wars and superhero films which do seem to take in a large amount of the money that the box office brings in, but I would encourage these major theatre chains as well to also cater to a smaller demographic and bring in films that maybe an older audience, or an audience who has far outgrown your usual Summer movie fare has to offer because for myself I find that within the last little while my theatre trips are becoming less and less frequent for the simple reason that there is nothing worthwhile playing and I am so very fortunate when a film like American Animals does come along to have a much needed break from the normal fare that is out at this time of year. The film is based on a true story and combining aspects of a documentary as well as the film being a fully realized and played out drama, it becomes one of the most fascinating as well as entertaining films of this year and what the cinema has had to offer lately. I was quite impressed by the film's overall style with it's mix of 60's and 70's musical tunes as well as flashing between the past and to the present where we see the real life perpetrators of the crime depicted in the film in reality and get to see their thoughts and opinions about what made them decide to do what they did and also giving us a look at basically these characters had for the most part everything going right for them in an academic, or career oriented way and just out of sheer boredom, or really having nothing else to do, came this not very well thought out idea of pulling off a heist at their local university library. Whether the following events were true, or not, either way the film makes for some of the most thrilling times you are bound to see in a theatre thus far this year and it has a great mix of comedic scenes, drama as well as a good sense of suspense and timing when the said heist is actually attempted. The young actors here who I am mostly unfamiliar with all do a very commendable job of showing you what drives them to do this event all at the same time showing that we can not always figure out the reason they did it. The parents don't seem to be overly involved in the film, but whether that was factual, or just an aspect they didn't seem to show I don't know. One of the main characters we see his parents living in a very strained and dysfunctional relationship that later leads to divorce and you can't help but wonder if that had any effect on the decisions that this character would later make in the film. Otherwise these characters seemed to be bored and had little else going on in life and as we hear from their very own mouths, we see that they regret the decision to ever get involved in these events and if they had sitten down and thought rationally, or talked to an older, or more mature person, these events most likely would not have been carried out. It is a fascinating yet disturibing look at society and what makes and triggers people to do the things that so often destroy not only ourselves but those and our society around us. American Animals doesn't try by answering any of these questions, but instead takes us on a thrilling ride that is just as much for contemplation as it is for entertainment and with that perfect balance it becomes one of this year's must see films.
You Were Never Really Here (2017)
You Were Never Really Here
I definitely need to get caught up with Lynne Ramsay's body of work. I saw her first film, Ratcatcher back when they played it at my local university film series back in 2000 and even though it has been close to twenty years since I saw it, I still remember the film and the impact it had on me. The film was done in Scotland, but within the first few minutes you will notice that there are English subtitles throughout the film and you might be wondering why as I did myself at the time mainly thinking that a film spoken in the English language would have no need whatsoever for subtitles that would also be in English. Within a short while within the film you will see that the dialect and accents of the characters are so thick and they will often use some slang, which I guess is more familiar to the residents there than it was to my Canadian ears. The film also showcased and brought to attention the sometimes downright grimy and filthy conditions that the characters were living in as well as the poverty that went with it. In many ways, Ratcatcher was an eye opening film because of it's frank and sometimes startling look at these all young characters who are living in slum like conditions and trying to make something of themselves and I remember being slightly disturbed while watching it and yet at the same time I could not keep my eyes away from it and even at the most uncomfortable, or disturbing scenes, I still found it to be a rewarding experience and a film that I will probably always remember even if I do not ever have the chance of giving it a repeat viewing. Ramsay has done only a handful of films since this marevellous breakthrough motion picture and I hate to say it, but the only one I have seen since is this new film, You Were Never Really Here, which certainly has a lot going for it as well, so if and when I get the chance, or find how available her other work is, I will for sure have to pursue it because she is certainly a gifted filmmaker whose talent has not worn off from her initial first outing of Ratcatcher, just shy of twenty years ago. You Were Never Really Here, is a different film altogether and comparing this to Ratcatcher, would be the equivalent of comparing water and oil, but the one thing that is consistent is the style of both films and what Ramsay does as a director which certainly takes a story that could very easily have gone wrong had this project ended up in the wrong hands and she gives us a film that is not just a film to see and forget, but more than anything else it is an experience and one that will touch you on several different levels and the professionalism of Ramsay and how she accomplishes this is truly nothing short of amazing for the previous film and this one too. This is a film very much in key with how to make a film that certainly will target not only your senses, but your emotions as well. Whether it be to the opening few minutes with it's powerful and hypnotic music score to the dark night street scenes that evoke a sense of unease and yet mystery and intrigue all the same. This is a wonderful example of a film that has a lot of style and yet does not lose it's substance in the process. It has a lot to offer as a visual experience as well as giving your brain a good work out and leaving you with plenty to chew on after the film is over. The storytelling style steers away from anything remotely conventional which to me was a refreshingly different take, while others will definitely lose patience and most likely interest in the whole thing, but your filmgoing audience who is after something more substantial and a break from your usual Summer fare will be much rewarded for sticking with a film like this. The style of storytelling certainly is unique and at the same time it never gives us easy answers for what we are seeing and there are times when what we are seeing we are not sure are real, or not, or possibly just an illusion, or hallucination. I commend the film for giving us something to contemplate and reflect upon rather than being a sell out and trying to downplay everything to appeal to a wider audience. Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the lead character is in my opinion one of the best working actors today and his performance here is often quiet with few words spoken, but what he converys by body language and behaviour is so expressive and we can tell that this is a character with much pain and torment inside him and he is truly fascinating not only to watch, but to study as well. The cinematography is beautifully captured by giving us shots of sometimes brutal, or unpleasant things to look at, but it was truly one of this year's best shot and looking films which also goes to the overall style of the film that comes across right away. This is an unconventional film that certainly has a lot to offer from a very gifted filmmaker whose other work I need to get caught up on and a cast and crew who truly do their very best and the result is pure movie magic.
The fact that the new film, Unsane was shot completely using an Iphone may be something that would turn many a number of potential viewers away from seeing this film, but actually having now seen it, I can safely say that the camera work for this film is far and above the main reason to see it above anything else that it offers. Initially the idea turned me off as well as I was worried that it was going to be a handheld experience much like The Blair Witch Project, which I remember seeing in theatres back in 1999 having no idea of the handheld camera cinematography and the fact that the camera was seldom one steady clean shot, but instead was moving around all over the place and henceforth even after a brisk 90 minute running time I felt nauseated and sick for the rest of the afternoon and thankfully Unsane did not bring about the same type of experience because for me once was definitely enough for that. The cinematography here often feels focused and yet what it is able to capture often shows the drab and grungy conditions of the mental institution where the film takes place. Instead of just looking like a cheaply made film, I would argue that this only heightens the paranoia and unsettled feeling that the film is trying to convey because often we have great shots of these actors faces often with little to no makeup, or costumes, or anything glamorous and we can truly see their facial expressions from scene to scene and it is here captured better than I think it could have been with just a normal digital camera. Soderbergh our film's director also has his camera person do some interesting effects with this new type of filming including giving us some beautiful shots at nighttime as well as again heightening the paranoia of the film by allowing us to not only feel ourselves in the same mindset as the characters, but also giving the film a closer and more intimate feeling which I think makes the film all the more unsettling and further gives the effect of intensity as well as fear. Unfortuntately the film probably has no chance whatsoever for being nominated anywhere for it's truly genius camerawork, but instead it takes a film that is still a pretty good film on it's own merits and really does something a lot more interesting with it and truly elevates it to a film where you feel the fear, dread and the unsettled paranoia feeling that the main character is going through also. The film on it's own beside the fantastic camerawork is still a good film on it's own even though at times I would have to say that certain parts felt a bit uneven and some scenes played out longer than perhaps they should have been able to and there are some characters, or scenes that have been integrated into the movie and at times even with a short 98 minute running time they feel unnecessary and some scenes just make the film feel a little unbalanced and that it technically could have been a little bit shorter than it was, but as a whole the experience for Unsane was an interesting one and at first I wasn't so sure of the direction in which it was going and even as we the viewers slowly start to see what is going on, the film still has plenty of surprises to offer and it is the furthest thing from boredom that you can possibly imagine and some of the scenes of suspense it crafts here are actually pretty well done and quite effective and it certainly leaves one feeling unsettled and even a little shook up after walking out when it's over. Claire Foy who portrays the main characters does a very admirable job and even if at times we don't like her character because of her irritability, or arrogance we still find an attachment to her and can certainly feel her grief and frustration at the turn of events going on in front of her. It is a very passionate performance and I think that she nails it perfectly. The supporting performances are interesting as well even though some of the characters only appear for a short time and didn't always feel like they should have been there in the first place, but perhaps a slight script overhaul could have helped that, but basically the film runs and has a good pace even if slightly uneven at times. The look of the film is I think supposed to feel and embody a type of B movie thriller perhaps from the 1970's or around that time and the film succeeds with that on every level. I prefer a Steven Soderbergh film like this as opposed to say the Ocean's trilogy, or films like that because with this he is definitely taking more of a risk and it feels all the more original and worth our money for the admission. This is not a perfect film by any means, but it is still one of the most interesting ones I have seen as of late and for being bold and trying new things I would still definitely recommend it and commend this filmmaker to continue to prove that he is not just a predictable filmmaker, but has many a trick up his sleeve as does the film itself.
Phantom Thread (2017)
Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread
Phantom Thread, is an absolutely wonderfully detailed and observed film that I feel is an important film and even a very relevant film in today's world of Hollywood scandals of sexual harassment and abuse. What I am getting at here, or suggesting is not because of any physical, or sexual violence in this new film because there is none, but what I could keenly observe was a man's overbearing and dominant relationship (if one could call it that) over a woman, and again while there may be no physical, or sexual violence, there is still the damage of hurt feelings as well as countless other forms of damaged emotions and inner hurt that as we all know is still a form of abuse and is still painful and terribly damaging. One looks at Daniel-Day Lewis's character here, who is a man who seems very almost obsessive compulsive and routine to the point of almost being fanatical about how he lives his life. Everything has to be according to his schedule, or timing and if the tiniest thing even slightly irritates him, or takes away his focus from his work, or whatever it might be that he is doing, he either becomes cold to the point of being distant and almost getting pleasure out of seeing the other party be witness to his terrible bouts of mood swings and his ever changing mood which here seems to change as often as the weather. He is in many ways a quiet man and may even be classified as a genius in his line of work, but at the same time he is a control freak when it comes to his work and the events going on in his life and this also comes into effect here when a new relationship is brought into his life. Pretty much from his first couple of encounters with this new girl named Alma, Lewis's character Reynolds, seems to want to mold, or even conform her to a certain image that is not what the world, or society deems women to be, but instead how he things they should act, speak and behave and again because he has to have everything so rigid and to a very fine routine, this means that he not only more or less has a dominating role over Alma, but she has very little freedom to behave, or just be herself and instead must adapt to Reynolds every and any whim, or personal standard of status that he believes she should have. The sad thing is that at first, Alma completely goes along with this. Maybe because deep down she is a lonely and damaged person herself and maybe this is the only kind of acceptance she has ever received. Maybe she is afraid of losing the only relationship that up to now she has ever had. The dominance of Reynolds is equally fascinating and disturbing to watch and it immediately made me reflect on today's abuse of women in Hollywood which is in the media almost daily with new accusations of sexual assault against people pretty much weekly. This is a problem that I fear has been not only in Hollywood and the film industry for a long time, but also just in society in general where women are often under valued and even still today treated as sexual objects. The interesting thing about Phantom Thread, is that Alma doesn't put up with this attitude for too long and instead she starts to play Reynold's game right back at him and in a sense there is almost a feeling of trying to play games with each other till eventually both parties will be dominant, or acceptable to one another. It certainly is a fascinating character study and one well worth observing and I fear that not only in the period piece setting of this film, but even today, that unhealthy and destructive relationships like this still exist and how they are completely damaging and ruining people's lives because one member, or the other is too timid, or afraid to speak out against it. Paul Thomas Anderson has always proven how wonderful at bringing to the screen unique and well developed characters he is and this may be one of his most interesting and best to date. Day-Lewis, who says that he is retiring from acting after this role, gives what I think is one of the best performances of his already legendary career. With Reynold's observances of life and his tics, mannerisms and body language, Day-Lewis makes this a character that we both loathe and yet can not take our eyes off at the same time. It is truly this year's most well written and fascinating character and I would also call Lewis's performance as the best male performance of the year. The supporting performances by Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville are also fantastic as is the writing, direction and attention to detail. This is a film for serious film goers who love to study and observe people, places and situations and if you are a lover of character studies and deeply involving films, then you could not have a better film you could ask for and Day-Lewis ends his career with another honourable and wonderful performance that continues to prove he is one of our best living actors. One of 2017's best films.
The Florida Project (2017)
Sean Baker's The Florida Project
Sean Baker's The Florida Project is an absolutely perfect if not maybe too painfully astute look at what is currently wrong with America today and what seems to have been a problem for far too long and yet little to nothing seems to have been done about it. And no, I am not talking about President Trump, or how he is residing over the country, or giving an overall favourable, or negative opinion on his presidency because that is neither here nor there and does not effect the purpose, or intent of this review one iota. I will just say that after this weekend's faux pas over things said in a meeting that were overheard and made public and these were not exactly words, or language that depict, or show the president in the best kind of light, but all I will add here is that if he wants to remain president and seek a second term, he will really have to be careful about the words that come out of his mouth, whether they be in public, or behind closed doors and that also includes being cautious and considerate about how you use and what you write on certain forms of social media, in this case the one with the cute little bird. There enough said and done. As for The Florida Project, it addresses the long standing issue of poverty in America, and shows an unflinchingly realistic portrayal of the lives of several people, particularly in focus being a young mother named Halley and herv daughter Mooney. People watching this film can come away with many different opinions, or theories based upon what they have just watched. I am personally of the opinion that Baker here is neither glorifying these people and how they live, or personally finding fault, or blaming them either. Maybe there stems a much deeper problem and issue here than what lies on the surface. There are examples of how the motel they live and can hardly pay rent for is one thing, but also how they have no real sense of how to spend, earn, or even save money. If money is so tight do you really need to go out and buy all those cigarettes you are seen smoking, because I do not know about America, but here in Canada they are heavily taxed and if you are anything even close to a chain smoker you probably blow a large part of your monthly income on the deadly and yet very stupid things. You can also look at Halley and her friends and instantly notice that they are covered from head to toe in elaborate tattoos that encompass their entire body. There is more of their body that is covered in ink than that is not. Again tattoos depending on the size and the elaborateness to them are not inexpensive either and again you are not really investing your money here in the best way. Halley also seems to be a person who unfortunately is her own worst enemy by having an extremely rebellious attitude towards any kind of authority, or just basically people in general. While Halley tries to scrape together some kind of income to afford the small room her daughter and her call home, Mooney is meanwhile out with her friends getting into all kinds of mischief just for the sake of doing it, including such things as vandalism, arson and even begging other people for money. Halley you can tell as much as is possible for her, truly loves Mooney and yet she is setting an absolutely terrible example for her by the way she lives her life on a day to day basis and when Mooney is reprimanded by the kindly yet firm manager of the motel named Bobby, Halley just shrugs it off and then seems to forget about it until more problems ensue and what begins as just harmless pranks become more and more harmful and Halley herself also seems to be spiralling out of control with both her temper, her wild lifestyle and just having no sense of self control, or knowing when to call quits on this destructive lifestyle that is not only damaging her, but also her daughter's image of a mother and role model is in very sore and sordid shape. One can argue that perhaps if Halley had continued on with her education, or perhaps done some volunteer work, or gotten involved in some extra curricular activities she would be a lot further ahead than she is right now, but the film asks the question of who is really to blame here. Is it always a government's responsibility to play nanny to it's citizens, or should the powers that be offer more in ways of incentives and encouragement and maybe even social programs to help out, so that these kind of problems don't risk the tipping point. Maybe also the individual needs to be a bit responsible for themselves and try to put their best foot forward in life and not be afraid to try new things to better one's self. There are no easy answers to these questions and yet poverty and the type of behaviour I have mentioned is still on the rise and it is definitely something that needs to be addressed one way, or another. The Florida Project is not always the most easiest film to sit through because of the very disturbing self destructive behaviour that is on screen in front of us. And yet, I was glad the film gave us a no holes barred look at the problem and allows us to think, pray and grasp about the problem at hand. This is a powerful film that should definitely be a wake up call to any and all people in government as well as to educators and parents as well. The performances here are the best of any film this year from mostly a crowd of new faces, but they all do such a fantastic job here and Willem Dafoe as Bobby, is one of my favourite, if not absolute favourite performance I have seen him in. A tender man with a good heart who also knows how to be firm and authoritative when he needs to be and yet he knows the trouble of those around him. This is a powerful film that will hit you hard whether you want that, or not, but there is no denying it's impact and the questions that arise from it. One of 2017's best films.
Darkest Hour (2017)
In reviewing Darkest Hour, I find it extremely difficult to write this review without making comparisons to this year's other film about Winston Churchill, simply titled, Churchill, starring Brian Cox in the leading role. The two different films have areas where sometimes they compliment each other and at other times it is as if they could not be any further distant, or opposite from one another. This same thing happened when back in 2005 you had Bennett Miller's film version of Capote come out telling the true story of writer and social figure, Truman Capote as he researches and writes his most famous book, In Cold Blood. The film was a smash with critics and was nominated for several Academy Awards including winning the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman the Best Actor Award for his uncanny and terrifically spot on portrayal of Capote. About a year, or possibly even less than that you had Infamous come out which starred Toby Jones as Truman Capote this time and yet still was about him conducting the interviews and even befriending one of the inmates on death role for the crime he committed which would later result in Capote's best selling book, In Cold Blood. I never saw the version with Toby Jones entitled, Infamous, but I remember one critic on television saying that of the two versions, Infamous was the one he preferred even though it got neither the awards, or media coverage that the earlier Seymour Hoffman film did. Is this always nescessary to have two films about a certain event, or person coming out in such short time apart from one another? And yet as I saw Churchill back in the Summer, and am now have seen Darkest Hour, in the days following Christmas, I have to make a distinction about which film is the better of the two and also which one I liked better in my opinion and I will go against popular opinion here and say that I actually preferred the Brian Cox film better for reasons which I will now elaborate on. The Brian Cox version of Churchill, I found to be not as technically polished, or shall I say that it did not come near as having the same financial backing, or behind the scenes talent that Darkest Hour did. You can tell right away that Churchill was more of an independent production whereas Darkest Hour probably cost a fair bit to make and of the two, Darkest Hour trumps it in terms of visual flare having what I consider to be some of the best cinematography, lighting and period piece attention to detail of any film I have seen this year. How the crew of Darkest Hour can set a tone and a mood just simply by it's lighting, or use of objects whether numerous, or few in a room was quite respectably and admirably done. The film was gorgeous to look at even though at times some of the scenes it was capturing were bleak, or the furthest thing you can think of away from the word 'gorgeous'. Also of the two performances, both were good, but Gary Oldman as Churchill in Darkest Hour, wins the prize here just as he most likely will on Oscar night as well. Everything from the miraculous make up and hair transformation of Gary Oldman into Churchill to his ravenous and empowered performance is the stuff that Oscar voters go for and truth be told it was an excellent performance. Brian Cox's performance used little to no makeup and yet while still a good performance on it's own merits, Gary Oldman's will be the one that is remembered. In terms of film structure and composition, Darkest Hour also overtakes the earlier film and you can tell that a much more experienced team worked behind it and they achieved what they set out to do and then some. So if Darkest Hour is visually a better film as well as technically structured better and has a better performance, why do I go with what is obviously the underdog between the two? I think more than anything it comes down to the fact that I overall found Churchill more of a pleasurable viewing experience and I was not only engrossed, but also fascinated by it's subject matter and for a fan of history as well as politics it was a satisfying night out at the movies. Darkest Hour on the other hand often to me felt very dry and at times it bordered on even being a bit slow, or dare I use the word 'boring'? It wasn't nearly as exciting, or as engrossing as the earlier film and I felt it also lacked emotion whereas it looked great, but there seemed lack of empathy at times and I do not think we got to know Churchill as well as we did in the earlier film where it often focused on his deteriorating health and on the rocks marriage as well. Darkest Hour feels more like a history lesson out of a really academic text book which is informative, but makes for a dull and dreary study session. Still both films have their merits, but of the two I have made my choice which I prefer and I am sticking by it. I am probably in the minority with my opinion kind of like that sole reviewer who preferred Infamous, to it's more awarded and decorated Capote, but in this case sometimes smaller is better and more effective.
When, I first read that Alexander Payne, a filmmaker I have come to really admire and also enjoy the films of over the years was going to make a film about shrinking people and putting them into miniature societies, the whole thing sounded off to me and like it could not be any farther than his usual fare which for the most part is expertly done satires, or great characterizations about human beings in general to what can make them great, but mostly I think Payne likes to portray them more in a realistic light showcasing their warts and all and totally not shying away with showing the things that are downright unlikable, or even loathsome about them. Downsizing sounded to me more like an idea of a television sitcom that I would never even want to bother to sit through for 22 minutes plus commercials and the fact that the reviews coming out of various film festivals were for the most part pretty negative even more soured my opinion of the film and I more or less just thought that I would skip it when it came to my local multiplex theatre and maybe not even bother with it when it came to streaming. As the release date of the film came closer and closer, the reviews in a strong majority were mostly negative and I would have gone with my initial impulse to skip the film entirely, but then I read in a small blurb where Jonathan Rosenbaum (one of my most admired and also most influential film reviewers in my opinion) had posted earlier reviews of Alexander Payne films that he had seen and for the most part would give them a mediocre, or even a scathing review when it came to something like Payne's first film Citizen Ruth, as well as Sideways, which was a film I could not warm up to when I first saw it and although subsequent viewings have enhanced my overall opinion of the film, I would still consider Election, About Schmidt and Nebraska to have been his best work to date and his film, The Descendants, was to me a very immature and at times ridiculous film that I would consider his weakest, if not worst film to date and please keep in mind that I have never seen Citizen Ruth, in it's entirety, but I know Rosenbaum found it to be overly cynical and was overall offended by the film and it's crass depiction of subject matter considering whether to be pro choice, or pro life when it comes to a woman's pregnancy. Rosenbaum said in a quick little blurb that as of now, he considered Downsizing to be Payne's best work to date and as I usually agree and respect his opinion very much I overall gave in and decided to give Downsizing a chance even though I expected it to be more or less a sellout picture by Payne by giving in to Hollywood demands and standards and yet pleasantly I could not have enjoyed the picture more, or have been more wrong about it. The plotline about shrinking human beings and placing them into small communities just seemed to be a basic outline of the film that I would say does not even cover about fifty, or more percent of the film's plot, or running time. Instead we are given a film that gives us a lot to think about, be in some ways encouraged by and also a film that is as far from a commerical film that you could want and thankfully steers away from any and all sitcom like material. The film asks big questions about one's own meaning in life and what our actual purpose here is on this earth. Payne presents us with a character who has lost a lot in the process of becoming small, but at the same time by helping others by donating not just his time, but putting others instead of himself and overall showing great acts of love and charity, he not only discovers how good it makes him feel inside, but perhaps he has a bigger purpose in life than just looking after his own needs, but instead helping out those less fortunate than himself and this is what will truly anchor him in life and give him happiness. The film at times has some good laughs, but really it is more of a thinking person's drama which addresses the issues I mentioned above about own's own destiny and self worth, but it also takes a look at the environment and just how as a human race we truly do in a lot of ways need to focus less on ourselves and more not just on other people, but also where we live, breathe and call home as well. This is a film that tackles a lot of big questions and does it's best job to answer them, but in the end I found myself deeply moved by what I saw as well as thinking that although this is not marketed as a Christmas film, it perfectly fits the bill of a film dealing with one who gives selflessly and to help others and also just a celebration of who we are as human beings and the overall message to love and how giving is so much better than receiving. If you look at the real meaning of Christmas this is what it is all about and I don't know what Payne personally believes faith wise, but he has constructed a thinking man's film that as well as giving you much to reflect upon will also touch your heart and may just inspire you to do more with your life as well. I was so glad this film was entirely different from the trailers I saw and I hope people will give it a chance and see where this film will take them.
Lady Bird (2017)
Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig has more than earned her fair share of praise for her writing, such as scripts with Noah Baumbach like Frances Ha and Mistress America, and I find her a very warm and welcome presence in any, or pretty much all films that I see her in as an actress. She has a fine range of showing great humour and delivers and writes comedy and comedic moments very well, but she also has something about her and the films that she writes, or stars in that allows us to connect with her and just almost in a sense be around her and spending two hours, or an hour an a half with her is never boring, or a waste of time, but always these are very fulfilling and rewarding movie experiences and sometimes they can bring about great joy, or even cause you to reminisce about yourself and what certain situations were like for you that present themselves in her movies and often they can cause you to laugh, cry and even reflect, or look deep in yourself and for someone who looks for a little something more when I go to the theatre, I find these particular qualities worth very much and can instantly make a film a masterpiece in my mind. Having now just seen her directorial debut, Lady Bird, I am glad to say that everything I had just written above about her performances and her other writing credits can all safely be said for this new piece of work as well. Gerwig does not herself star in this new film and yet it is embodied with her charm and sense of self discovery and worth that most of her work brings about. Saoirse Ronan, who is a very great actress on her own, gives what I would consider to be the best performance of her very short, but what is sure to be a very lengthy career because how not just with this role, but previous ones as well, where she can totally immerse herself into any kind of character, or genre, so flawlessly and each time deliver a performance that can be subtle yet very powerful and here I think she gives a screen presence that shows just as Gerwig can deliver comedy, or comedic scenes, so can Ronan, and yet this is also a performance and film of great emotional depth and a film that requires much soul searching not just for the actors, but for us watching as well. Ronan captures what can be one of the hardest roles to nail down perfectly and that is playing a teenager and young adult who are trying to forge their way ahead in life and meeting any and all obstacles on the way. We see how at many times and stages of her life that she just wants to be noticed and accepted by those around her, from her peers to even winning the approval of her mother, who may seem distant and uncaring and yet loves her unconditionally, even if she has a difficult time showing it. We see how things for Ronan's character 'Lady Bird' as she calls herself is not always the most easy at home as her father who is a warm and deeply caring man is dealing with unemployment and because of this and other issues, has been dealing with depression issues for years. The household income is also a problem causing them to be extremely careful with their expenses and having the mother working at any and all hours and sometimes even double shifts to help care for her family. Lady Bird goes to a catholic school and yet seems to have no real exploration of faith, or any sense of a higher power, or belief system which is something that seems to change as she gets a bit older and also question the bigger and more important issues in life. There are the added pressures of fitting in at school, dating, sex and just trying to carve out her way and have a prosperous and rewarding future. Lady Bird has done many acts of rebellion and makes a lot of mistakes on the way, but this is also a sense of growing and yet after each fall she seems to pick herself up and eventually develops the emotional maturity and outlook that will get her not only through high school, but into the tricky stage of being an adult. Ronan's character brings about much joy and laughter and yet there are also times where we come close to tears and can identify with this character in more ways than one. The supporting performances by Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts, are moving and essential to this film. There were a couple of scenes with Metcalf, where her performance is so true and yet moving, I could feel tears building in my eyes, especially in a couple of select and yet beautifully moving scenes. Gerwig proves that she not only has the capability to act and write, but also to direct and put together a film that any young, or older person can identify with in some way shape, or form and is not only an enjoyable ride, but an enlightening and moving one that makes this film one that will linger long after you have watched it and is powerful enough to make you look at life and things a little differently. For this great sense of the human spirit and how great Gerwig masters writing what it means to be human, this makes the film a grand achievement that I think will only improve after repeat viewings. This is already an awards darling and expect it to continue to dominate any and all awards for very good reasons.
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, is unfortunately a prime example of a case where you have a film dealing with real people and events that in the right and most capable of hands could potentially have turned into a riveting and overall fantastic movie given the fact that the overall subject matter and the real events and surroundings are fascinating in their own right and yet unfortunately the crew behind this film turn what could have been a truly mesmerizing film into a dull and ultimately lifeless piece of film. The film if you do not already know, is based upon the famous whistle blower who helped convict and later turned in secret evidence concerning then President Richard Nixon's association with the Watergate Scandal and how that ended his second term as President of the United States with him resigning as commander and chief which was probably a smart move because otherwise he would have been impeached. As anyone who is familiar with my reviews knows that I have a deep and passionate interest in politics and not just in my home country of Canada, but overall across the globe. I was not even born yet when Nixon was in office, or this whole scandal occurred, but I was nonetheless very familiar with it from my childhood days of reading old Doonesbury comic strips amongst the countless films and pieces of media that have been made upon the subject. The story and subject matter in itself is a fascinating one and was even made into the award winning, All the President's Men back in the 70's. And yet here the cast and crew do not seem to know how to approach this material and one of their biggest faults is turning what could have been an endlessly fascinating film into one of the most dull and I will say boring films of this, or any number of recent years. The film has a screenplay that seems to suffer from lack of ambition on all and every account. The film takes Mark Felt and makes him dull, boring and not a character who captures, or maintains the least amount of interest among the viewers. Neither do the side characters as well, they all feel very uninspired and in search of a better film to have been made about them. Most people probably know most if not all of the things that lead up to Nixon's resignation as well as the Watergate Scandal itself and this film manages to tell it in a way that seems to be flailing all over the place with no true direction, or end in sight. It takes what should be a simple and straightforward story and makes it jumbled and confusing which doesn't add much to the fact that the film is an outright bore in every other area. Even some subplots including Felt's missing daughter have no emotional impact, or any lasting interest upon the viewers because the characters have not been developed well enough for us to be invested in them, or care really one iota about what is going on when in fact in reality these were fascinating things and yet everything this film touches seems to be made wooden, lifeless and in bad need of resuscitation. I also can not give any accolades to the acting because it also is all over the place with some of the actors going too over the top with their performances, some who look like they are sleepwalking throughout the course of the film and others whose performances are so hammy that the Golden Raspberry Awards do not have to look far for some of it's worst performance of the year awards. One of the film's major problems is it's screenplay because it simply does not seem to know how to tell this story, to deliver a simple and yet effective plot line without making it all confusing and muddled and these characters all seem so one dimensional and we neither care about them, or what is happening to them and this is a film that is less than two hours in length and yet because it is so meandering and meaningless the film seems like it is coasting on autopilot for eternity leaving us sleeping in the backseat. This is a film that could have been potentially great in the right hands and yet as it stands it will remain a film that will not rouse even the least bit of interest and feels amateurishly done in the worst way possible. In other words, avoid like the plague.