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victoria-1The one-take gimmick is nothing new in cinema. Hitchcock gave it a shot back in 1948 with Rope, while most recently we have had Birdman employ camera trickery to imply an effect of one seamless take. It is often a joy to behold such a technique employed, be it for the course of the whole film or a sustained moment within. It is worth noting that Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria is a film which unravels all within one continuous shot, as if you didn’t know it may be difficult to actually notice. Victoria does incredibly well to avoid shots in which it is obvious where a cut takes place, leading to one of the more seamless examples of continuous editing that certainly I have ever seen. A gimmick is just that though if it doesn’t have a greater meaning for either the narrative or the characters within the piece. Thankfully, Victoria has plenty of character and narrative surprise to stand as more than just a cinematic gimmick, proving to be a thrilling and pure experience.

Ever had one of those nights that just runs away with you? Victoria (Laia Costa) is about to have one such night. The young Spaniard, who is now living in Berlin, stumbles upon the company of a group of four local guys whilst out clubbing, all of whom take a shine to her, particularly the charismatic Sonnie (Frederick Lau). Willing to see where the night takes her and eager to embark on a more genuine experience of life in Berlin, Victoria soon sees her night turned upside down when the group asks her to assist them with a highly volatile task.Victoria-2

The nature in which the narrative unfolds across Victoria’s never-testing 138 minute run-time leaves one in a constant state of heightened tension. As we move from the club setting, to hanging out on a roof-top, to the cafe where Victoria works, we are led to believe that perhaps this is the sort of film in which we are witnessing a love story form over the course of one evening. Yet throughout, even during the more intimate moments (a scene in which Victoria demonstrates her piano skills is heart-achingly beautiful) there is a sense of unease, like a Molotov cocktail being held  by an individual desperately rummaging for a lighter.

The use of the long take is a large factor as to why we feel so uneasy over the course of the proceedings, seamlessly following our players up ladders and in-and-out of cars in incredibly controlled fashion. When the second act truly kicks into gear and the stakes become feverishly high, the amount of preparation and the impeccable direction truly come to the fore, as the perfectly placed beats of action turn this character driven piece in to a finely crafted thriller of nerve-shredding tension.Victoria-3

Victoria was shot over the course of one evening, from about 4:30am to 7am, accomplished reportedly in three attempts, and that is something truly incredible when you consider what occurs during the final act (I shan’t spoil anything here, much of the joy of the film is seeing it all unfold). With only a 12 page script, the actors improvised most of the dialogue, leading to very naturalistic performances, with the beautiful Costa and the rogue-ish Lau particularly impressing with a very convincing chemistry that fuels the proceedings even as the situation escalates to boiling point.

It is rather telling that the cinematographer, Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, is credited before the director once the end titles begin, as his work is nothing short of exceptional. Despite having to keep up with the action, action which becomes more and more complicated as we proceed, Grøvlen maintains a keen sense of composition and framing, never failing to ensure that the image remains sharp and occasionally very poetic.Victoria-4

Victoria succeeds as both a delicate character piece and a highly palpable drama that deserves a great deal of praise for its incredibly smooth mechanics, but also for its attention to characters, especially in regards to a central duo who we care for an incredible amount, an essential component once we enter a perilous third act. It is a film which rewards patience and remains on a knife’s edge throughout, resulting in the most unpredictable film thus far this year. If you can, I urge you to seek it out as soon as humanely possible, strap in and join Victoria in a night you both won’t forget in a hurry.

5/5- A poetic and thrilling experience that manages to effectively wrap character and drama within a startling exercise of technical daredevilry. Intoxicating stuff. 

BVS-1It is no secret that I am not a fan of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel, the first in Warner Bros. attempt at a DC Cinematic Universe (or the DC Extended Universe, as they appear to be calling it). It was a glum, poorly written, pretentious, and dumb attempt at dragging the icon of Superman into the 21st Century. It fared relatively well at the box-office but both fan and critical reception was divisive to say the least. It is for that reason that this ‘sequel’ to Man of Steel comes with a little added Caped Crusader. The decision to reboot Batman in only the second film of the Extended Universe must have been driven by the desire to reach bigger box-office numbers, and perhaps more favour with fans. Some may say that they were setting themselves up to fail, what with the widely beloved Nolan Trilogy still incredibly fresh in collective memory. As a result, the film hasn’t stormed the box-office as desired, what with a barrage of scathing reviews. Batman v Superman is as inelegant as blockbusters come, perhaps even more so than Man of Steel. But, to say it isn’t fun is to ignore aspects of what is possibly the strangest comic book movie to arrive in recent years.

With the arrival of Superman (Henry Cavill), the world has had to face up to the fact that mankind is not alone in the universe, and must also address who Superman is, what he stands for, and if he can be trusted. In the wake of the destruction in Metropolis caused by Superman’s battle with Zod, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who also practices vigilantism as the Batman in Gotham City, doesn’t believe the Son of Krypton can be left unchecked. With Batman keen to find a way to put the Man of Steel in his place, eccentric entrepreneur Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) sees an opportunity to pit the two together in order to rid the world of Superman for good (or something like that).BVS-2

BvS is a fundamentally flawed film, and that is largely down to a screenplay that fails to carve clear paths of motivations for its various characters found within (and boy, are there a lot of characters). It is an un-structured, cluttered, often aimless, loud, obnoxious mess. It is a collection of set-pieces, dream-sequences, Senate meetings and email correspondences that all amount in a film that while often difficult to follow, is not unlike reading a DC comic-book. Calling upon imagery from The Dark Knight Returns, the art of Alex Cross, story arcs of Dan Jurgens and further Frank Miller texts, this feels a great deal more like a comic book movie than Man of Steel, and in a way more so than The Dark Knight trilogy. It doesn’t entirely forgive it for its sloppy story-telling, but it gives it a relentless sense of pace and means that it is not afraid to get weird. And boy, does it get weird.

Much of the strangeness comes courtesy of Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. His performance belongs in an entirely different film, something that wouldn’t be amiss in a Joel Schumacher Bat-flick. His twitches and eccentricities cloud his agenda, but do make him a credible threat, as it is often hard to predict exactly what he’s going to do next. His motivation is murky as hell, and he is too far removed from Luthor in both the pages of the comics and previous screen incarnations, but he feels dangerous enough to pose a threat, and to push our heroes buttons to get them to rumble in the concrete jungle.

The two heroes themselves are something of a mixed bag. Let’s start with the good. Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman is a strong contender for being the best screen incarnation we have seen thus far. What about Bale, I hear you cry. Bale’s Wayne was infinitely more successful than his oft parodied Batman, complete with gruff growl, this Bat is made of much meaner stuff, and cuts a far more imposing figure than Bale ever did. The writing does let Affleck down, but he imbues both his Wayne and his Bat with a heap of regret that perhaps only a man with Affleck’s past could. The choreography attributed to this Bat is also a wonder to behold, as his brawler styling truly characterises him as one pissed-off vigilante who is way beyond the point of giving a shit about the lives of the scum of Gotham City. It is a controversial decision, but provides enough weight to suggest that this Batman is one with a history, and not a particularly colourful one. BVS-3

Superman is another matter. Cavill is once again given very little to do in a film which should have been his sequel. This is a Superman who seems to blatantly refuse to state his position in the world, for no good reason other than he’s a bit moody. One of the the biggest fundamental mistakes of this film is having both Batman and Superman as two characters who seem at odds with the world, and whose tactics at deploying justice are not too dissimilar, despite what the film may want you to think (they both kill people for chrissakes). The main reason these characters work well in a universe together is that their approaches to justice are so different, so when you have both of them being depressed individuals, the dynamic simply doesn’t work. This Superman becomes so passive through the course of this film that it is truly hard to invest in him as either a hero or a dubious figure. The actual bout between the two DC titans is well choreographed, but ultimately fails to work emotionally, as the motivations are unclear, with the factor that puts a stop to the fight coming across as hilarious rather an smart.

What truly hampers the film is its attempts to address the criticisms of Man of Steel and in its world-building, namely with attempting to draw threads for next year’s Justice League. The main criticisms of Man of Steel that it aims to address concern the amount of destruction and sheer number of civilian causalities that seemed to be entirely disregarded by the writers (and therefore by Superman). Its constant asides to acknowledge that a certain area is clear are often unintentionally hilarious, and in the end rather pointless as the final act simply descends into the same moronic, button-bashing action stylings that coloured most of Man of Steel. 

The Justice League set up is where the film is at its most lazy and its most laughable. While Wonder Woman, in the form of the beautiful but rather bland Gal Gadot, is present (complete with a rollicking theme), she is disappointingly very inconsequential to the proceedings, seemingly only present so that Bruce Wayne can send her an email containing video clips of other future Justice League members. What Marvel took their time to do over the course of five films, BvS attempts in an email, and it is just as lazy, dumb and uninspired as that sounds. BVS-4

BvS does seem to have weakened the DC Extended Universe more than it has strengthened it. While I enjoyed myself a darn sight more than I did in Man of Steel, there is no escaping that Snyder and co. still get a hell of a lot wrong. Snyder remains a strong visualist, but one who has a poor sense of judgement when it comes to character, while my hatred for David S. Goyer requires another post entirely. What we have here is a strange and disparate movie, one akin to dumping a bucket load of bouncy balls on a table top n the hope that some stay on the surface. It remains to be seen how DC’s future will pan out, and for the sake of the characters (most of whom I have a great deal of affection for), I hope this extended universe can be both critically and commercially successful. Guess we’re just going to have to be patient.

2/5- BvS is Blockbuster Cinema at its most unsophisticated, resulting in an un-intentionally hilarious, only occasionally inspired, yet never dull take on two pop culture icons. 

 

 

 

Clover-1In January of this year, a trailer dropped seemingly out of nowhere bearing the name 10 Cloverfield Lane. A Bad Robot Production with a title bearing the moniker ‘Cloverfield’ was something to take note of, as after years of speculation it seemed we were going to receive something akin to a Cloverfield sequel. Hiding behind a certain Star Wars, J.J. Abrams managed to shepherd this project in plain sight, and was quick to establish that this was not a straight sequel, more a spiritual sequel that would keep the Cloverfield brand alive through an anthology series. It is an inspired idea, allow a certain brand awareness to create Science Fiction projects that allow promising new talents a shot at something well within the public’s attention. Hopefully it is the start of many similar projects, as 10 Cloverfield Lane declares itself to be a thrilling début for its young director, Dan Trachtenberg.

After a fight with her fiancée, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaves her home in New Orleans, very much aiming to get as far away from her problems as possible. However, as she is driving through rural Louisiana, she is involved in a car crash and wakes up to find herself in an underground bunker. She is approached by a man called Howard (John Goodman) who informs her that there has been an attack of unknown origin on the surface, rendering the outside world as a dangerous, poisonous landscape. With seemingly no choice but to stay in the bunker, along with another inhabitant Emmett (John Clover-2Gallagher, Jr.), Michelle has to decide whether Howard is worth trusting, if something more sinister is at play, and find out whether or not something has actually happened on the surface.

It is best for one to know straight off that this Cloverfield has nothing to do with Matt Reeves’ found-footage monster movie from 2008. While this film does deal with the idea of monsters, it is not quite in the literal sense as Reeves’ 9/11 paranoia driven monster movie, rather more about what monstrous acts can be capable of. It retains a certain sense of paranoia, but in a more pared-down thriller scenario,set predominantly in one location with only three characters involved in the proceedings. It allows for 10 Cloverfield Lane to be a more character driven piece, enabling Trachtenberg to demonstrate strength in crafting tension and with working with actors.

The three players involved all turn in well judged performances, never being too overtly dramatic and grounding the proceedings very well. Gallagher Jr provides a refreshing levity, but the film belongs to both John Good man and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Winstead is our guide throughout most of the proceedings, and she is put through the Clover-3wringer on many occasions, and she does well to earn our sympathy and empathy as a young woman thrown into many an unpredictable and volatile situation. Goodman is the best he has been in years, evoking both sympathy and menace often at the same time to provide a character who remains mysterious and treacherous throughout.

Much of 10 Cloverfield Lane rides on Trachtenberg’s skill at handling a chamber piece, aided by a screenplay which places character over spectacle, for the most part anyway. The final act requires something of a leap of faith, and while it proves to be quite cathartic in the grand scheme of the narrative, it ultimately isn’t as controlled or as sophisticated as what has come before. It segues into another genre not quite as smoothly as it would like, leading to a pay-off that feels strangely uninspired when compared to the superior and tightly wound proceedings of the first two thirds. Clover-4

Dan Trachtenberg, a man who only really had a strong Portal inspired short film under his belt, uses this opportunity to truly showcase his confidence as a film-maker, and particularly a strength with actors as well as high concepts. Even if the more grandiose finale is the weak-point of the proceedings, he still demonstrates a strong handling of visuals and character focus. Whatever he decides to do in the future, it will undoubtedly be a point of interest for myself and many others, as he exhibits traits that could well mark him as, dare I say it, the next Abrams.

4/5- This spiritual sequel carves out its own identity as a taut exercise in suspense and character, marking Trachtenberg as a talent to watch. 

Zootropolis-1Arguably, the output from Disney Animation Studios of late has been better than that of Pixar Animation Studios, not that the two are competing. Since 2010, Disney Animation (with John Lasseter as its head of production) has released Tangled, Wreck it Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, and now Zootropolis, all of which were graced with strong to exceptional box-office numbers and equal critical acclaim. Pixar, while capable of still producing both critical and box-office darlings like Toy Story 3 and Inside Out, have seemed to lack a certain spark or depended upon hits of yesteryear (continuing to do so this year with Finding Dory). Disney themselves are once again leading the pack when it comes to mainstream animation, and in Zootropolis they have cemented what we were already beginning to suspect; Disney are in something of a resurgence period, one to match the second Golden Age of the 90’s. And this time, it’s political.

In  a world populated by animals of an anthropomorphic nature, whom all co-exist peacefully, young rabbit Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has just become Zootropolis’ first rabbit police officer. While often being faced with a certain degree of prejudice due to her size Zootropolis-2and species, Judy none the less is keen to make an impression and prove she’s more than capable to tackle the serious cases often handed out to her colleagues. The opportunity soon arises when she is tasked with a missing animal case, one of many in the city. Teaming up with street-wise con-fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), Judy soon uncovers a conspiracy that could upset the peaceful balance held in the city of Zootropolis

Zootropolis is the type of animation that offers plenty for more adult viewers, despite the fact that it is a feature populated by talking animals walking on their hind legs. It is an incredibly timely tale that deals with various degrees of prejudice, holding a mirror up to American society, both its past and unfortunately its present. It tackles these mature themes through sophisticated allegory, all the while remaining a cute and engaging caper allowing for plenty of fun to be had throughout. Disney has often been very deft at such a balance, but rarely has it felt this timely.

Zootropolis-3Along with this potent allegory, Zootropolis also has a team of animators working at the top of their game. The level of detail in the design of the numerous districts of the city of Zootropolis and its suburbs is phenomenal, with many scenes littered with intrinsic features and visual gags. This is the sort of film which will appreciate home viewing experience so one can pause a frame and pick out all the wonderfully imaginative details that can be found within a chosen scene. The character designs as well hark back to Disney of old, with the 1973 Robin Hood particularly coming to mind through numerous characters.

The general plotting of Zootropolis is perhaps the weakest point of the film. While it does have some smartly applied allegory, it does take a while to get to the truly meatier aspects of its politically tinged plot developments. For the most part, the proceedings take on a noir-ish element, and it is not always all that successful, particularly when it feels the need to reference both films within that genre and popular culture which don’t particularly share any DNA with the proceedings. It means a few of the gags do fall flat, but for the most part the script remains largely witty, if a touch too obviously self-referential in regards to Disney’s history (and future).

Zootropolis does a great deal beneath the surface of being a seemingly traditional Disney animation. It has an incredibly well written central female role, as well as populating the rest of the cast with characters who feel well crafted and well defined, even if this still suffers from the prevalent issue of Disney movies of Zootropolis-4late struggling to deliver a truly memorable antagonist. The voice-cast across all the characters, no matter how small their part, all do excellent work, particularly Goodwin and Bateman, who strike a strong chord as the two leads whose dynamic is incredibly refreshing, proving to be excellent company across the neatly paced run-time.

It shall be interesting to see how long this strong streak lasts for Disney, as they will more than likely succumb to the call of sequelizing their recently popular titles (Frozen 2 is happening, a decision which is surely more financially motivated than it is creative). For now, though, they can revel in what is proving to be a resurgence in which both the studio and the audience benefit, providing films that offer excellent entertainment and important moral lessons for all ages. A shining new era is tip-toeing nearer.

4/5- Textured, progressive and incredibly timely, Zootropolis can easily class itself as an instant Disney classic. 

 

Eddie-1Let me provide you with some context so that you can understand the mind-set that led to me enjoying Eddie the Eagle as much as I did. The day prior to seeing Dexter Fletcher’s latest film, I saw both Anomalisa and The Witch within an hour of each other. That was an ill-judged double-bill, as it left me in something of a funk, as neither film is exactly a bundle of joy. I needed a lift, I needed something to raise my spirits, something so unashamedly joyous to remind me that there are films which are designed to simply provide happiness. The story of Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards is one such tale, and a very welcome one at that.

The year is 1988. Ever since he was a small boy, Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) has had the dream of becoming an Olympic Athlete, despite not being all that gifted in the realm of sport. When it seems as though Eddie has exhausted all possible options in the sporting world, he stumbles across ski jumping, a sport that has had no British representative in six decades. Taking himself off to Germany to learn the sport, Eddie is initially met with ridicule, before being taken under the wing of disgraced ski jumper Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman). Together, Eddie and Bronson aim for the 1988 Winter Olympics, an event where Eddie sets out to make British history, provided he doesn’t break his neck first.EddieAct2

This account of Edwards is largely a work of fiction, namely due to the fact that its main focus is on Edwards relationship with a mentor, a mentor who did not exist. It is an approach which allows the film to have a lighter, more whimsical spirit that marks Edwards story as one fit for an inspiring sports movie. Once upon a time this was set to be a Steve Coogan comedy, which probably would’ve treated Eddie more as a joke rather than a figure of inspiration. Which would have been a shame, because there is definitely something to admire in the determination that Eddie showed in the face of a wave of naysayers, persevering despite never being what one would call naturally talented at sport. It is an underdog story that is easy to fall for.

One of the main reasons we find Eddie easy to fall for is Taron Egerton. The rising star absolutely shines in the role, his first true lead performance, radiating a charisma that often over-shadows his co-star, who is none other than Hugh Jackman. The two clearly enjoy each other’s company, but the movie entirely belongs to Egerton, turning in a well-Eddie-3judged portrayal of Eddie, one that is very sympathetic towards its subject and as energetic as a dewy-eyed puppy.

Dexter Fletcher is a director whose two previous films, the refreshingly upbeat crime caper Wild Bill and the tad-too-saccharine Sunshine on Leith, have been films that have aimed to give one a sense that happiness is something that is attainable for any one of any background, as long as their spirits remain high. Eddie the Eagle is a perfect fit for his sensibilities, and he does well to construct a classically structured tale of a sporting underdog. It is a film that very much wears its influences on its sleeve, be it Cool Runnings (it takes place in the same Winter Olympics that saw the Jamaican Bob-sleigh team compete), Rocky or Billy Elliott, it is a tale that feels decidedly wholesome in a very British way. Eddie-4

Much of the narrative of Eddie the Eagle is driven by Eddie’s determination to master his chosen sport under Jackman’s wing. It allows for a series of highly energetic training montages set to a gloriously poppy 80’s soundtrack (Hall & Oates! Van Halen! Human League!), which does mean that there aren’t too many surprises, and much of the conflict that arises throughout feels somewhat forced; conflict for the sake of having conflict. Yet, it does not rob from the fact that the film effortlessly makes you fall in love with the underdog spirit of Eddie Edwards, ensuring that you remain enticed right until the final jump, even if you know the outcome.

4/5- sporting punchline is turned into a supremely charming underdog story, one with a soaring spirit that proves hard to refuse. Inspiring and incredibly good-natured. 

 

 

Witch-1Witches are hard to make scary. They are a prevalent figure throughout folklore, and have been for hundreds of years, be it in cautionary children’s tales, or more macabre tales of straight-up horror. When such a character, style or figure such as this feels sapped of originality, it is often a wise decision to take the figure in question back to its roots. Director/writer Robert Eggers has done just that with The Witch, a film which aims to drag Witches off of their broomsticks, throw them in a 17th Century folk-tale, roll them about in the mud, and send them back out with dirt underneath their nails, ready to creep back into the nightmares of unsuspecting viewers.

Set in 17th Century New England, a Puritan family led by patriarch William (Ralph Enison) is excommunicated from his village – along with his family comprising of wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), teenage daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) and twins Mercy & Jonas (Ellie Grainger & Lucas Dawson) – due to a crime of conceit. Setting up a farm within a large forest, it is not long until the family is plagued by a series of mysterious, possibly supernatural, occurrences all of which slowly, but surely, tear the family apart.Witch-2

Eggers commitment to the period setting imbues the film with an edge that may make it difficult for some viewers to truly become engage with, but it undoubtedly marks the film as something truly unique. With most of the dialogue lifted directly from 17th Century transcripts, the film creates a similar atmosphere to that of last year’s Macbeth; an atmosphere that is at once intoxicating, uneasy, occasionally frustrating, but oddly spellbinding. The dialogue presents something of a challenge to the actors of the piece, as they must form speech-patterns from streams of dialogue taken from centuries old text. While all the main players provide strong work, it is the work of the younger members of the cast which does the most to sell the setting and its authenticity.

Eggers owes a great debt to his casting director, as the child actors within his cast are what truly sell the moments of terror that befall the banished family of Puritans. Be it through Thomasin’s growing instinct to rebel, Caleb’s sexual awakening or the Twins inclination to cause mischief, we believe them all to be squabbling siblings suddenly faced with accusations of Satanic worship. When the terror begins, it is often that we look to the children to know how to react, as well as look upon in fear as their respective innocent souls are made a target by either the ominous Witch in the woods, or the growing paranoia of their aggressively religious parents. Taylor-Joy, in particular, as Thomasin does tremendous work in a role which certainly puts her through the emotional wringer, while Scrimshaw as Caleb stands out in one particular sequence which truly turns your blood cold.

Witch-3When it comes to the actual horror, most of what is at play here stems from a more psychological breed of fright, meaning that gore-hounds should perhaps look for their thrills elsewhere. Religion is a theme which drives most of the horror, leading to a great deal of threat driven by religious paranoia, as we experience a period in time where life was dictated by ones servitude to the Lord, with the threat of damnation being paramount among the concerns of everyday life.

The paranoia befitting of the time fuels much of the horror, but so does the titular Witch, as it is made abundantly clear to us from the start that the family are indeed being targeted by something within the woods. Eggers shows a great deal of skill in presenting an ominous atmosphere, as scenes of slow-burning tension are stretched out to unbearable lengths, to then suddenly be concluded with a cut to reveal a scene of a horrific nature. It is a very sharp and reserved way in which to stage scares, scares which punctuate scenes with startling images that are hard to forget. It is a patient yet disturbing style of horror which greatly recalls the work of William Friedkin. Witch-4

While the film is often very capable of providing scenes which are unsettling, many of the more overtly supernatural scenes (namely involving the family goat Black Philip) tend to come across as a tad too ridiculous when delivered within an otherwise very authentic setting. This is particularly an issue with the final act of the film, which fully commits to more traditional expectations of Satanic worshipping and Witchcraft. It feels at odds with the carefully crafted authenticity given to re-creating a 17th Century setting, and leads to a pay-off which is predictable and not entirely satisfying. For the most part, however, The Witch stands as one of the most sophisticatedly crafted horror films of recent memory, one that is capable of sending shivers down your spine with images that have proven hard to forget.

4/5- Attention to period detail and exceptional performances from its young cast enable The Witch to succeed as an atmospheric, and occasionally very startling, horror exercise. 

ANOMALISA

Charlie Kaufman is an acquired taste. He is undoubtedly brilliant, but his work often doesn’t operate too well with those not prepared to view the world through his off-kilter gaze. His world view has provided some terrific screenplays, namely in his collaborations with Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation) and Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and he proved himself to be an quality potent director with Synecdoche, New York. You have to be prepared for his style, his approach, otherwise it can send you on a ride that you may not particularly stay on board with throughout its course. That may well be what happened to me as I sat down to take in Anomalisa. My expectations were set more to receive something with a but more Jonze-esque whimsy injected into it; what I got was full blown Kaufman, and that sometimes isn’t the easiest of pills to swallow.

Set in 2005, the film follows self-help author Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis). Michael, despite having a family and great success as a supposed problem-solver, is in something of a depressive spiral, one which has manifested itself in an usual way; everyone he encounters has the same voice and very little to distinguish them as individual personalities. While travelling for a convention, Michael believes he may have found a glimmer of hope in the form of the timid yet enthusiastic Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who has come to attend Michael’s conference.Anomalisa-2

This film, it must be noted, is not entirely a Kaufman joint. It is based on a play of the same name written by Kaufman, but it is co-directed by Duke Johnson. Johnson, the man behind Community’s stop-motion Christmas episode, is clearly a key contributor in being the puppet characters of Anomalisa to uncanny life. Anomalisa undoubtedly represents Kaufman at his most technically accomplished, although it could well be that Johnson deserves most of the credit for the simply stunning puppetry on display, considering it is very much his field of work. None the less, the look and movement of the puppets enable Kaufman’s thematic concerns to illustrate themselves through various means, be it plainly seeing the lines in which the face masks are attached, or removing a face altogether. It is an expertly crafted film, one which makes this a far more interesting endeavour than if it had just been live-action.

There are a number of beautiful and very witty moments in Kaufman’s script, one which explores the human condition in an original fashion, but one which ends up being a little too cynical to handle. Kaufman chooses to focus on the psychological effect of an individual who has become incredibly self-absorbed, no longer concerned with forming or maintaining relationships in his life (the hotel Michael stays at is called The Fregoli, also a name of a mental disorder in which an individual holds a delusional belief that everyone is the same person). This characterisation Anom immediately makes Michael an unlike-able protagonist. The choice of Thewlis for the voice of Michael is both inspired and creepy, as we witness this man attempt to find hope, but ultimately squander it, a man who is perhaps beyond help. It makes the proceedings decidedly bleak to experience, with many moments of the final third spiralling out of control along with Michael, resulting in a denouement that ends up being somewhat grating to watch.

What is impressive about Anomalisa is its smaller details. The conversations that Michael has with complete strangers are often very well observed, as is normally the case with Kaufman. The whole design of the world is also very sophisticated in its sparse and authentic arrangement. Much has also been made regarding the love scene within the film, and it is one that is much more genuine than one would find in most live-action pictures, with it and other scenes (namely Jason Leigh’s rendition of ‘Girl’s Just Want to Have Fun’) conveying a raw emotionality that is often lacking from more straight-forward dramas.Anomalisa-4

Anomalisa has frustrated me since I saw it last month. I desperately wanted to love it and embrace it, but just when I thought I was about to, it stretched out its arms and kept me away from truly forming something meaningful for myself. Its view of the world is not one that inspires much hope, and while I respect that that is somewhat the point, it nonetheless dampened my experience and left me in one hell of a funk when leaving the cinema. This has much to do with its draining final third, as much of what comes before it is simply beautiful. As a whole, it is a film unlike any other even in regards to Kaufman. It may frustrate, but there is something very human at play here, and something definitely worth exploring. Just be prepared.

3/5– While masterfully crafted and often very well observed, Anomalisa unfortunately leaves one with a hard, bitter taste, making it difficult to embrace.

 

 

HailCaesar-1The Coen Brothers have now ascended to that special realm of film royalty for film buffs everywhere. It is a realm which grants their work a certain level of excitement, with many of us simple followers looking on at their next film as another potential masterpiece. It is a realm which now grants them a certain level of safety from critics, as the thought of the Brothers making a bad film is something that is inconceivable to many. It makes going in to Hail, Caesar! an interesting experience; I had probably subconsciously already decided I liked this film even before going in. And I do, it offers the Brothers at their campiest and produces both a hilarious satire and a touching homage to Golden Age Hollywood (I’m a sucker for anything set in the Hollywood of old). Yet while it is enjoyable, it probably should serve as a reminder that not everything the Coens touch turns to gold.

The year is 1951. Josh Brolin stars as Eddie Mannix, head of physical production at Capitol Pictures (the same fictional studio in Barton Fink). Not only must he deal with a number of large scale pictures at once, he must also wrangle the big personalities found amongst the cast and crew. While he contemplates a job offer at a sensible airline company, Mannix must also seek to find movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) who has been kidnapped from the set of his latest prestige picture, biblical epic Hail, Caesar!, by a group known only as ‘The Future.’  HailCaesar-2

The plot is one that is made up of many character threads intertwining all around the focus point of Brolin’s Mannix. Hail, Caesar! sees the Coens once again work with an ensemble cast populated by some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Throughout the film, we have turns from the likes of Scarlett Johansson as an actress pregnant out of wed-lock, Channing Tatum as a Gene Kelly-esque musical star, and Ralph Fiennes as a well-mannered high-class English director. Everyone on board the cast clearly had a wonderful time in less exposed roles, allowing them to forge memorable moments throughout without having to carry the weight of the narrative on their shoulders.

Much of the weight of the narrative falls to Brolin, whose Mannix must deal with a number of situations at the studio, with Whitlock’s kidnapping being simply another thorn in his side. It provides Brolin with a character that allows him to display his strengths as a performer, as he is a man capable of providing charm, intimidation and confidence. Even if the character himself is a bit bland, it is a terrific performance. Clooney once again plays a Coen nitwit after turns in the likes of O Brother and Burn After Reading, as his movie star spends company in the time of ‘The Future’, who may or may not have a Communist Agenda. The HailCaesar-3highlights of a cast which also includes fleeting appearances from Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jonah Hill, are Fiennes in an excellent comedic turn and bright new star Alden Ehrenreich as a fresh faced cowboy actor forced to star in pictures out of his comfort zone (the scene between Fiennes and Ehrenreich is likely to go down as the funniest of the year).

The narrative of Hail, Caesar! is by far its weakest point, as the proceedings are very loosely sketched together in-between extended moments of homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood. It would be a problem, if it were not for the pitch-perfect casting and the impeccable means in which Joel and Ethan have re-created filmic styles of the post-war Hollywood period. The film at its centre, the epic Hail, Caesat! is a wonderful pastel-hued riff on Christ pictures such as Ben-Hur (but more notably Richard Burton’s The Robe), while we are also treated to extended scenes of Ehrenrich in a cowboy picture complete with drunken prospector, a Busby Berkeley-esque aquatic dance number with Johanssen as a Mermaid, and an outstanding musical number with a tap-dancing Tatum. It is in moments like this that the film truly thrives and exhibits the best work from regular Coen collaborators, particularly Roger Deakins’ cinematography and Carter Burwell’s period perfect score.  HailCaesar-4

Hail, Caesar! quite possibly represents the Coen Brother’s finest technical achievement, but there is ultimately no way of shaking off the knowledge that this film is something of a release for them, the light comedic affair they make to blow off steam in-between more dramatic pictures. The truth remains, however, that the Coens blowing off steam is often better than what most directors put out when they are on their A-game. Hail, Caesar! is campy, airy, inconsequential, beautiful, and uproariously entertaining. If it won’t be remembered all too highly in the pantheon of the Coen’s, it will at the very least stand as one of their more proficient homages to the film-making styles  of old.

4/5- The Coens head to Old Hollywood and bring an outstanding ensemble cast with them, delivering their campiest, most technically assured feature yet.

 

Catch-Up Reel.

Greetings all! I have been somewhat lax of late with my publishing, and I aim to rectify that with this mini-review article being the first in what I hope will be more productive, regular business. I have seen plenty over the course of these past three months of 2016, so I figured the best way to catch up and start afresh is to give a quick two-cents and rating of the films which have populated the early months of 2016. They have all left their mark, for better and for worse. 

Deadpool (Dir: Tim Miller) 

The latest addition to 20th Century Fox and Marvel’s X-Men franchise sees the two companies finally realising one of their shared characters in a faithful fashion that we have never quite seen in the franchise thus far. Deadpool is a character who has been wronged by the studio in the past, making this victory lap all the more sweeter. Deadpool is a character coloured by his potty-mouth, fourth-wall breaking, general irreverent Deadpool-2behaviour, and that has all made it to the screen in all its gloriously smutty possibilities. The glee of Ryan Reynolds performance fuels the, at times, formulaic plotting (the weight of the ink of Studio Execs script notes can certainly be felt in the final act). But the humour remains sharp, with the R-rated touches feeling fresh and essential to a character and a movie that does well to run apart from the crowded superhero pack. 4/5 

Goosebumps (Dir: Rob Letterman) 

R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps series is one that I and many of my friends have a great affection for, having grown up with both the numerous books and the insanely fun Fox TV series. A film adaptation seemed inevitable, and while it may seem to be arriving at a time when Goosebumps-fever is probably at a low point, what has been delivered is a fun 90’s throwback that owes much to the Jumanji-playbook. There is a certain wit and subversive Goosebumpsbent to the proceedings, as Jack Black plays a version of Stein, whosecreations are brought to life, leading to our young heroes heading out to save the day, Monster Squad style. It is a plot device which allows many favourite monsters from the books to come to life, but unfortunately the CGI is often not up to scratch, one of the many elements which colour this interpretation as an adventure movie strictly aimed at young kids. Nothing is going to frighten young viewers in quite the same capacity as the TV show was often capable of, leaving this adaptation as a fun, light adventure,  but one lacking in fright. 3/5

Grimsby (Dir: Louis Leterrier) 

If Deadpool was smut, then Grimsby demands a new adjective. The latest character to stew from the mind of Sacha Baron Cohen has all you would expect from the artist formerly known as Borat; in that you are set to be repulsed, offended, shocked, and left absolutely dying from laughter. Grimsby, with its initially fairly bland conceit of a Bond-spoof, with Mark Strong’s secret agent begrudgingly re-touching with his football hooligan brother (Cohen), is revealed to be one of the ultimate Grimsbytests of bad taste that one may ever embark upon at the cinema. With Leterrier’s action chops adding gloss, and Cohen determined to test your bar, Grimsby comes away as a wholly surprising and ballsy exercise in the profane. You will look away in horror, all the while losing all control of your funny bone as the film sets-up scenarios which end up diving to depths that you could never predict. A testing, sinful film that leaves you feeling in need of a shower, if only due to how bad you feel for enjoying yourself so damn much. 3/5  

The Hateful Eight (Dir: Quentin Tarantino) 

Tarantino’s latest felt a very essential cinematic endeavour this year, due to it reviving the ‘Roadshow’ exhibtion style of Hollywood-old, in which the film was introduced with an overture, with an intermission half way through, and a lovely little photo accompaniment to take home. Seeing The Hateful Eight in 70mm felt like a very special, and rare, experience, which makes it all that more disappointing to say that the film itself is Tarantino’s most frustrating movie since Death Proof. There’s a great deal of strength on
display here. The cinematography is absolutely amazing, finding use for the 70mm format in a surprising fashion. Ennio Morricone’s original score is one of his finest. The cast are all on especially fine form. Why, then, does it all somewhat fall apart? The film is very much made up of HatefulEighttwo halves; the talky slow-burn first half, and the chaotic bloody second. Both have their issues, and both display the worst of the director’s vices; cartoonish violence and over-indulgent streams of un-involving dialogue. Tarantino is a fine writer, but he often doesn’t know what needs to be cut, leaving the film feeling very laborious to begin with, and then too violent the next. The second half is perhaps more entertaining and does make great use of the long set up we endure (the first half does arguably present Tarantino at his most politically astute), but ultimately The Hateful Eight is far too inconsistent to be considered one of Tarantino’s greatest hits. 3/5   

The Iron Giant: Signature Edition (Dir: Brad Bird) 

A delightful surprise announcement came last month, with the news that the new Signature Edition of Brad Bird’s 90’s animated classic (the last great 2-D animation?) would be screened across Cineworld Cinemas in the UK for one week. Seeing as this is a childhood favourite that escaped me during its original run in 1999, there was no way I was going to miss the chance to see this beautiful film on the big screen. The story of Hogarth Hughes and his giant metal friend is one that is seeped in 1950s culture and design, and one whose charm comes from great attention to character and simply stunning hand-IronGiantdrawn animation. It was a lack of interest on Warner Bros. part that saw Bird’s film fail to ignite the box-office, but audiences that did embrace it continue to fervently, and it is one that has a secured legacy, highlighted by such a re-release which sees additional scenes animated afresh especially for this release (the scenes are made up of a flirateous moment between Dean and Hogarth’s mother and a dream sequence for the Giant). The new scenes ultimately don’t add much to the experience, but it is an excuse to sit down with this movie once again, especially with the opportunity to see it in all its splendour on the big screen for the first time. 5/5   

Point Break (Dir: Ericson Core) 

So yes kids, we live in a timeline where studio executives think its a good idea to remake a film like Point Break. The Keanu Reeves-Patrick Swayze thriller directed by Kathryn Bigelow is by no means a terrible film, it is just very much of its period (the early 90s) and is not something that particularly needs improving upon. Yet, here we are, with a charisma-less cast leading us through various extreme sports in a loose update of the story of an FBI Agent going undercover with a group of extreme sport hippies, only to start to align PointBreakhimself with their ideology. Everything here, bar the occasional exciting practical stunt, is so laborious, so sapped of life, so bereaved of purpose, that it will make you look at the original with the same reverence as fellow 90’s cops and robbers flick Heat. The plotting is routine, inconsequential, with every character underwritten (the female lead may as well be a figment of New Utah’s imagination), Point Break 2.0 forgets the fundamental reason as to why Bigelow’s flick worked so well back in 1991; it was fun. 1/5  

Pride + Prejudice + Zombies (Dir: Burr Steers) 

The adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s genre-blending re-working of Jane Austn’s classic romantic novel which sees the period setting invaded by a hoard of the un-dead is one that has been in the works for a long time, and we do unfortunately seem to have ended up with the least tantalising version (remember when Natalie Portman and David O’Russell were teed to take a shot?). Nonetheless, what Burr Steers has delivered is an albeit tacky yet surprisingly entertaining and well-judged adaptation. What is surprising about the proceedings is how much the film reflects a fairly straight adaptation of Austen, with the un-dead simply shuffling through at I opportune times to accentuate Liz Bennett’s struggle to go against the grain of tradition. The cast are all on fine form, with a particularly hammy MattP+P+Z Smith getting all the best laughs. The action itself is what leaves much to be desired, with the zombies often being too easily dispensed in a world where this threat is nothing new. What is worse though is the muddy cinematography and editing, all seemingly designed to make seeing anything as difficult as possible. This is a film that owes a great deal to its cast and script, as there is very little in the way of sophisticated film-making on display. 3/5 

Triple 9 (Dir: John Hillcoat) 

John Hillcoat is a director who has given us films of great moral complexity, tales which depict the more savage element of man’s nature, constructing moments of startlingly violence throughout, as seen in the likes of The Road and The PropositionTriple 9 sees him play in a more conventional sandbox, one which sees him work in his first contemporary setting following thieves and cops in the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. It is frustrating, then, that this strong talent has made a film that feels far too routine when taken in regards to the potential of both filmmaker and cast. The main issue with Triple 9 is that it includes far too many characters, leading to a lack of focus which dilutes the effect of many of the twists and turns of the narrative. You’re likely to come away from this barely knowing a character, with your reference point probably only amassing to be the name of the actor Triple9playing them. It is to the benefit of the film that it is populated with actors who are extremely capable of doing a lot with a little. We have Chiwetal Ejiofor playing a hard man as the leader among the professional thieves, who have been put to work by an over-indulgent Kate Winslet (doing her best Chekov impression). The individuals who come away as the more memorable performances are a conflicted Anthony Mackie and stoner detective Woody Harrelson. As it stands, Triple 9 is an over-stuffed film, one which is capable of delivering sharp set pieces but is left gasping for breath in its final act. 3/5

Trumbo (Dir: Jay Roach)

Trumbo tells the story of black-listed Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a man whos political beliefs saw him imprisoned and shunned by the Hollywood community during McCarthy’s Witch-hunts in the 1950s. Never one to let anyone else have the last laugh, Trumbo devised a way to keep writing in secret, leading to fake credits on a number of very popular films. It is a story pulsing with political intrigue taking place in a confused and irrational time in America’s history. The film which depicts the tale of this man does often flirt with the idea of making a political statement, but does often retract in favour of Hollywood gloss. However, what we do get is an utterly transformative and commanding turn from Bryan Cranston as Trumbo himself. Many scenes are often quickly ticked off by both director and writers, leaving little time for rumination, but due to the highly emotive turn from Crnaston, even smaller scenes have an impact that you suspect would not have Trumbohad if any one but Cranston was delivering the performance. The focus on his family home, an environment which literally became a Script Sweatshop allows strong connections to the individual himself if not quite offering an in-depth examination of the damaging nature of the Witch-hunts of the 1950s. The film is close in spirit to Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin; a little gaze at the Hollywood of old, one perhaps a bit too airy to carry much weight, but one elevated by one hell of a leading performance. 4/5

Zoolander 2 (Dir: Ben Stiller)

If there was any demand for a Zoolander 2, then it would have been a good 10 years ago. Now, turning up late to its own party, Ben Stiller’s long-gestating sequel just feels desperate, fatigued and wildly misjudged. The sequel sees Derek Zoolander (Stiller) come out of self-imposed exile to reconnect with his son, and all the while stop another terrorist plot set within the world of high fashion. The film plays to a similar beat of the first one, but piles it all on like an over-indulgent sundae, overflowing with gratuitous Zoolander2cameos in the hope of tickling a cheap laugh from a now-too-wise-for-this-shit audience. There is pleasure in seeing Stiller and Owen Wilson as Zoolander and Hansel, but
that quickly fades as it becomes clear that the writing is a little more cynical this time around. Stiller is a director who has proven to be a capable visionary, and has often proved to be very funny, but everything about this belated sequel reeks of development hell; with jokes that would have been dated in 2010, being delivered to an audience who simply does not care anymore. 2/5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With most of the major Awards ceremonies out of the way, it would be fair to say that the Best Picture Oscar race has been boiled down to three films; The Revenant, The Big Short and Spotlight. As they stand, The Revenant is the favourite for glory on Oscar night, what with numerous Best Director awards and the Globe and BAFTA for Best Picture under its fur coat. Yet, one cannot over-rule the possibility of either Spotlight or The Big Short coming out on top, what with the films sharing screenplay awards on both sides of the pond (Spotlight for Original, Big Short for Adapted), and Spotlight winning the SAG Award and The Big Short claiming that all important Producer’s Guild of America Award for Best Picture along the way. With the competition at boiling point, now is as good as any to share with you my thoughts on the three films as I once again attempt to catch up with my frivolous viewing. 

RevenantThe Revenant (Dir: Alejandro G. Inarritu)  

Say what you want about the films of Alejandro G. Inarritu, you cannot deny his immeasurable work ethic. The Revenant arrives exactly a year after his previous Best Picture winner Birdman, and it is nothing short of amazing to see what he has managed to produce within that short turn around. Shooting entirely on location, with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki once again only using natural lighting, The Revenant is a beautiful film in a very pure and primal manner, a film which drags you through the mud, makes you feel the cold, as well as sends you reeling in the face of an attack from one pissed off Grizzly Bear.

Frontiersman Hugo Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is leading a group of hunters through uncharted and dangerous territory in 1823, when he is attacked by a Grizzly Bear and left with terrible injuries. When placed in the care of John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Glass witnesses the murder of his son at the hands of unhinged Fitzgerald, who proceeds to bury Glass alive, leaving him for dead. However, there is still life in the resourceful frontiersman, as he claws his way out of his untimely grave and sets on a path of survival and revenge.

The Revenant is very much a Western, despite begin shrouded in ice and snow, as well as taking place mainly on what is the East coast of the United States. Its placement within Anerican history and the conflict with the Natives very much colours it as a Western, but it is very much concerned with operating on a different, more mythical level for the frontiersman of American history. Hugo Glass is a figure who has slipped into folklore and legend, with Inarittu establishing and maintaining a very ethereal atmosphere as we witness Glass’ mission of revenge. The vistas look stunning, and Inarittu is constantly capable of producing startling imagery, giving an account that feels both very real and fantastical.

While nothing occurs in a great hurry, emphasising the perseverance of Glass’ struggle,Revenant-2 much of what captivates ones gaze is the commitment of not only DiCaprio , but of all involved both in front of and behind the camera. The elements are as much a character,
offering Glass safety and challenges, in much the same dynamic as one can imagine the crew faced on set. It is the commitment by all that truly leaves a mark, rather than the admittedly thematically thin plot.

The Revenant‘s languishing pace and lack of speechifying classes it as perhaps the strangest Best Picture front-runner for quite some time. It is a primal film determined to brace the wind and lay down an American myth in a manner as uncompromising as the elements faced by those that made it. It may prove difficult for some to embrace, but what has been delivered is a unique sensory experience, if nothing much more. 4/5 

BigShortThe Big Short (Dir: Adam McKay)

Adam McKay has always been a director that has shown the potential to be more than just an individual who pumps out Will Ferrell comedy vehicles. Each of his films has always been shot with a clear and crisp eye, while he has also demonstrated a brilliant hand with actors and multiple big name stars. The film which demonstrated most of this potential is arguably The Other Guys, a film which operates as both a very funny Ferrell comedy and an energetic action movie. What makes it more interesting though is how it operates as a pre-cursor to The Big Short, McKay’s first ‘serious’ picture, as one may remember, The Other Guys delivered well explained material concerning embezzlement and the banking crisis only two years after the 2008 Crash. With The Big Short, McKay has a bigger canvas in which to express his concerns and anger with the banking system, adapting Michael Lewis’ text of the same name, and he delivers an accessible, riotous depiction of the events leading to the Crash in an attempt to unravel what the fuck happened.

McKay and Charles Randolph’s script focuses on three different individuals/groups of men who first discovered that something was amiss within the U.S. housing market. The first to discover a fishy smell; Michael Burry (Christian Bale) an eccentric hedge fund manger who chose to bet against the housing market as early as 2005, despite protestations from his fellow shareholders. His discovery soon worked its way down the line, with Trader Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) validating Burry’s predictions concerning a collapse in the U.S. Housing Market. Once Vennett lets Hedge Fund manager Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and his team in on the secret, it soon becomes clear that it is not just the U.S. housing market that is extremely unstable, but the entire world economy.

The Big Short is at its best when it operates as almost a docu-drama, as we follow different strands of individuals involved in unravelling the shit-storm that sent the world economy reeling in 2008. We are led through the film predominantly  by Gosling’s Vennett (Gosling essentially playing Jordan Belfort) in a somewhat inconsistent voice-over. None the less, the presence of Gosling’s voice-over and breaks in the fourth wall (stylised with  numerous cut-aways populated with celebrity cameos to explain terms such as Collaterized Debt Obligations) firmly position the viewer as the most important character in the proceedings, as the film aims to achieve an understanding for all of us that have been affected by the crash yet may not fully understand exactly what happened. It makes the film a kinetic affair, one that delivers exposition in more refreshing ways than most films, while still maintaining a strong sense of momentum.

What The Big Short struggles to shake off is a sense of smugness. McKay’s stylings do certainly provide the film with numerous moments of hilarity, but the cut-away’s do, at times, grate, particularly when certain concepts have been explained  coherently enough without the use of a celebrity cameo and/or extended metaphor. The elements which both provide the film with great moments of humour and show a certain measured level of design also threaten to feel condescending rather than informativeBigShort1.

The film also asks a lot from its audience in terms of empathy, as we are expected to engage with individuals who figured out what was happening to the Global Economy yet set out to save their own backs, rather than sound the alarm bells. McKay seems aware of this, and particularly addresses his concern through Carell as Mark Baum. Carell is on particularly fine form here, standing as the man who is most at odds with the weight of the information he holds. Yet, divergences in to his personal life and unresolved family traumas feel far too at odds with the self-aware stylings that mostly colour the picture , meaning many of Carell’s scenes simply do not feel cohesive  with the rest of the film.

Ultimately, what The Big Short is more successful at is in delivering the facts of the economic situation which led to the crash of 2008 in a fashion that will make it clearer for many of those in the dark. Its satirical approach makes that bitter pill a little easier to swallow, yet keeps the severity and destructive nature of the greed of  bankers very much at its forefront, leaving a very cold yet important message with its audience once the credits begin to roll; Bankers are Dicks. 3/5 

Spotlight

Spotlight (Dir: Tom McCarthy)

One of the more mature pictures amongst this year’s nominees has come from an unlikely individual, namely the director of Adam Sandler’s The Cobbler. Taking a focus on the team of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe who exposed numerous cases of child molestation committed by a number of Priests, McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer throw us into the world of investigative journalism like no other film before it. Yes, even All the President’s Men. 

Spotlight is a film of incredible restraint as it aims to depict the unravelling of the controversy at its centre in a very realistic and by-the-facts fashion. It colours the proceedings as very procedural, and for the first half hour or so, this is a little grating. But it is all for a purpose. Once the weight of the situation begins to bare upon the characters involved, we ourselves realise how implicit we have become in the investigation and how much we ourselves also feel a sense of responsibility for the events that have unfolded.

The players of Spotlight are demonstrated as folks eager to see important news delivered in the most detailed and astute way possible, but once more and more details become unveiled to us, it soon becomes clear that no one here is entirely without blame. Moments of the past have passed these reporters by, moments which provided opportunities in which they could have uncovered such a scandal earlier. This feels like the real world, one where everyone is guilty of something, despite their best intentions.

Spotlight arguably lauds the best cast of this awards season (hence why it will more than likely be getting a lot of the Academy Actor’s votes) and McCarthy has made sure he has populated his film with character actors who are incredibly dependable and believable in such a real world dramatisation. Michael Keaton follows his incendiary performance in Birdman with a tun that is poised and driven, as well as sporting a well tuned Boston accent. Rachel McAdams is given a strong and layered character, one who is often under-served in a film lacking in much focus on female roles.Spotlight1

Much of the weight of the material falls with Mark Ruffalo, who provides the most ‘Oscar-baiting’ performance of the cast. He is at turns naturalistic, showcasing a range of character ticks that help form a truce account of his character, yet he is also given the more dramatic monologues, which often feel at odds with the more sombre and reserved tone that it mostly exudes.

Spotlight stands as the film that I perceive has the most chance of snapping up Best Picture in the face of The Revenant‘s momentum. It is simply the sort of film the Academy seems to enjoy; a sort-of but not too timely topic, a respected cast, mature sensibilities, and little in the way of fast edited action. It is a fine drama and an excellent demonstration of a script and a director working with an amazing amount of patience and restraint. 4/5