Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Shape of Water

If you’re lucky, you’ll come across a handful of films over your lifetime that redefine the way you look at movies in general. Yes, in some cases, this could be a bad thing – take 2003’s infamous Gigli as an example – a film that proved that there were new depths to the lows that a film can reach. In the case of cinematic visionary Guillermo del Toro’s latest masterpiece, Shape of Water, the ability to surprise and astonish an audience is however a really, really good thing.

Without giving anything away that you can’t already deduce from a trailer (warning, minor plot spoiler referenced throughout this review), Shape of Water tells the extremely odd, but oddly charming tale of love between a woman and an underwater humanoid-like beast. Yes, you read right: Shape of Water is a dark romantic comedy about forbidden love and its sometimes humorous, awkward and even dreadful implications.

At the surface, you can easily mistake Shape of Water for a rather whimsical and quintessentially French-inspired film with deliberate sprinkles of quaintness scattered throughout. But every time the audience is tempted to get lulled into the film’s sweetly sentimental lullaby (supported by an amazing score), del Toro provides a paradoxically melancholic staccato. Sometimes, these expertly crafted little moments of contrast are small and barely noticeable, but in other instances, they manifest as noticeably dark and even discerning plot devices. This constant shift between ‘cute’ and ‘not so cute’ teases the audience intellectually throughout the film and it’s clear that del Toro took a lot of care in delicately decorating his cinematic tapestry.

"But every time the audience is tempted to get lulled into the film’s sweetly sentimental lullaby, del Toro provides a paradoxically melancholic staccato..."

As with all great films, the director’s great ambitions are supported by a stellar cast, with Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Happy-go-lucky) leading the helm as the film’s highly intriguing protagonist. The greatest compliment I can give Hawkins is that it’s hard to imagine anyone else fulfilling this role – it really feels like the role was meant to played by Hawkins and anyone else would have done it a disservice. There’s an unbashful sincerity to Hawkin’s portrayal of the mute Eliza Esposito that is nothing short but mesmerising.

The rest of the cast is also fantastic and it would be insulting not to mention Michael Shannon’s (Nocturnal Animals) role as Strickland, one of the most infuriatingly fascinating antagonists you’ll come across. Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg and Richard Jenkins fill out the rest of the key supporting roles in expert fashion, resulting in an acting tour de force that will likely stay with you for weeks after you’ve watched the film.

The broader cast does an amazing job in fleshing out the film’s secondary themes and motives, some of which are as intriguing as the main love story that it all revolves around. And even though some of the film’s traditional character archetypes and sub-plots feel awkwardly outdated for a 2018 film (e.g. the suppression of women in the workplace, sexual discrimination), it soon becomes clear that del Toro intended for this to be the case. Del Toro is perhaps trying to remind his modern day audience (that have been desensitised to these matters) that they are still very relevant issues in today’s modern society.

Enjoying lunch and a song with a new friend.
It would also be a shame not to mention the film’s stunning visual style. When you consider that del Toro was the man responsible for the visually assaulting Pan’s Labyrinth, then it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Shape of Water is yet another visual feast for the eyes. This time around, Del Toro juxtaposes his knack for visceral visual horror with a world that feels like something taken straight out of the pages of a Disney fairy tale. This results in a hauntingly beautiful cinematic painting that is hard to compare with anything that has come before it.

To simply sum up Shape of Water as a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for modern adult audiences, is in my opinion, underestimating its brilliance. There is a layered complexity to this enthrallingly strange film that makes it transcend anything that it might resemble on a surface level. What makes the film a true masterpiece is that it can appeal to different audiences at the same, without alienating the rest: whether you are looking for a sentimental, but slightly quirky romantic drama; or rather, a highly artistic and dark cinematic excursion, Shape of Water will take you on a journey you are unlikely to forget. 

Highlight: Any scene with Hawkins in it – take your pick. 


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Thinking back to the very first Star Wars film (1977), who could have imagined that the best thing for this legendary franchise was to have the director of the original films changed. George Lucas’ Episode I, II & III was a bitter pill to swallow for long time fans. Although the films were undoubtedly quintessential Star Wars films at heart, they were severely lacking in various departments. And although fans remained hopeful that the latest trilogy would redeem the franchise, the world couldn’t help but be optimistically sceptical about the future of the world’s most renowned sci-fi film franchise.

Back in 2015, the world experienced a massive sigh of relief though, when JJ Abrams reintroduced the world to Star Wars in spectacular fashion with Episode VII. Abrams did an amazing job bringing the franchise to a new generation, whilst still managing not to alienate longstanding fans of the franchise. Thanks to the massive box office success and critical acclaim of Episode VII, the sense of hype around the next instalment of the franchise was at an all-time high. But the big question on everyone’s lips: Was Abrams’ Episode VII a mere fluke and would Episode VIII falter, especially considering another change in director?

The good news is that the force is stronger than ever in the latest instalment. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is not just another amazing entry into the series, but one that in my opinion, improves on Episode VII in almost every way.

Whereas Episode VII had the relatively laborious and challenging task of re-contextualising the Star Wars world from a chronological perspective (without disrespecting the rich plot legacy), The Last Jedi was not constrained by the same responsibility – and it really does show in the end product. Seeing as most of the new generation Star Wars protagonists and antagonists were already ‘coloured in’ during the previous film, The Last Jedi could jump right into the thick of things, allowing for an intensely thrilling and exciting sci-fi action adventure that doesn’t get bogged down in extended characterisation work.

We see a more determined and confident side to Finn this time around. 
This is not however to say that there isn’t some great and meaningful character development in this entry of the franchise. All of central cast members are allowed ample screen time to illustrate how they have grown and matured since the previous entry, leading to a slightly darker and more serious Star Wars film. Without giving anything meaningful away, let’s just say that the Resistance is on the proverbial back foot in this instalment and director Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) does a commendable job in maintaining a sense of tension and vulnerability amongst the cast – there is a constant feeling that the ‘good guys’ are hanging by a thread and Johnson masterfully utilises this as a tension and thrill multiplier throughout the film. Daisy Ridley returns as a slightly more mature and confident Rey, masterfully commanding the screen in each and every scene she is a part of. Here’s an actress with an acting capability far beyond her years and an amazing range for believably portraying various emotional states.

The great thing however is that this same sense of vulnerability is also reflected in the opposing force: Although Kylo Ren and his lackeys clearly outnumber the Resistance in terms of sheer numbers and firepower, they are not as mentally stable and unified as one would imagine. To this respect, Adam Driver does another amazing job as the film’s main villain, as he constantly struggles to battle the Resistance as well as his own inner demons. There is once again a beautiful intensity and visceral aspect to Driver’s performance, as he takes us deeper into the psyche of a very troubled man. This is not to say that Driver’s character is portrayed as a complete madman – some of the film’s most intense moments comes from when Driver speaks with complete calmness about his undeniably coherent resolve.

..."some of the film’s most intense moments comes from when Driver speaks with complete calmness about his undeniably coherent resolve."

It’s via this mechanism that director Johnson does a fantastic job in illustrating one of the main themes of the Star Wars franchise: the balance between good and evil is a constantly shifting one, allowing for many grey areas between heroes and villains.

The rest of the cast are all really good too, with special mentions going to Benicio Del Toro as a charismatic and shady coder; Domhall Gleeson as the desperate General Hux; Mark Hamill in the best portrayal of Luke Skywalker ever; John Boyega as a more confident ex-storm trooper and Laura Dern, who plays a surprise role as the highly resolute and no nonsense Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo.

Kylo Ren is once again one of the highlights of the film.
And 700 words into this review, I haven’t even gotten to my favourite part of the film yet. To be honest, I’ve never been a massive fan of the space battles of the Star Wars franchise, feeling as if they always seem to come out lacking, ever so slightly. I have to admit though, The Last Jedi’s ample sprinkling of galactic space action completely took my breath away. Never before have I enjoyed these scenes as much and found them as exciting. Better yet, they don’t just feel like mindless space aerobatics – thanks to some surprising plot twists and unconventional tactical decisions (brought on by the Resistance’s desperate situation), these scenes are all enthralling and grippingly intense. This is not to stay that the franchise signature hand-to-hand combat scenes are not also captivating (especially when referring to a fight scene in Supreme Leader Snoke’s inner sanctum), it’s simply that the space fighting scenes outshine all others action scenes this time around.

Finally, it’s also important to mention that one of the best aspects of The Last Jedi is the fast moving plot, serving up numerous surprising plot twists that will keep the audience guessing up until the last scene of the film. This might sound like one of the smaller praises, but considering how easy it is for sci-fi films to fall into genre conventions, this really is a stellar achievement by Rian Johnson, who is not just responsible for directing this instant sci-fi classic, but also for writing the exceptional screenplay.

The Last Jedi is my favourite Star Wars film to date and arguably, also one of the best films in the entire franchise from a technical perspective. Every Star Wars fan or fan of sci-fi films needs to see this movie. Thanks to The Last Jedi, the case for investing the time into watching each and every Star Wars film is stronger than ever – even if it’s purely for the reason of seeing how much this legendary franchise has evolved since 1977.

Highlight: The climax of a fight in Supreme Leader Snoke’s inner sanctum and a space battle where Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo takes very desperate measures to save the Resistance. 


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok

If you’ve been following the reviews of Marvel’s latest superhero movie, then you’ve probably heard people describe Thor: Ragnarok as a whole lot of fun. Although this only starts to describe what you can expect from a viewing of the God of Thunder’s most recent outing, the word ‘fun’ does manage to effectively encapsulate all that’s right about this film, easily one of the best Marvel films to date.

For those who have been following the Thor franchise itself, it’s safe to say that it hasn’t been one of the most successful separate story arcs of the modern Marvel universe – until now, that is. All the things that just wasn’t working with the previous entries have been flipped on its head by New Zealand director Taika Waititi, resulting in an extremely enjoyable and hilarious superhero romp that doesn’t fall into the trap of taking itself too seriously.

From the very beginning of the film, Thor sets the scene for what one can expect from Ragnarok, as he starts to sarcastically belittle the film’s biggest and most powerful villain. And best of all, it seems like the villain is in on the joke as well, as the CGI beast plays along with Thor’s little jabs at him quite riotously. You see, where previous Thor films tried to portray the God of Thunder as the mythological and unstoppable force that he rightfully is, Raganarok decides to rather present our protagonist as a quite awkward and not-so-almighty, but still highly egotistical blondie with serious daddy issues. And to everyone’s enjoyment, Chris Hemsworth does an amazing job with the new brief he has been given, allowing him to imbue most of his scenes with infectious hilarity. Believe it or not, but some of the film’s best scenes seems to be Chris having a go at some impromptu work.
"Chris Hemsworth does an amazing job with the new brief he has been given, allowing him to imbue most of his scenes with infectious hilarity."
He is also supported by a stellar ensemble cast, whom all do an amazing job at making Ragnarok an extremely enjoyable adventure. It’s almost impossible to single out one specific performance: Cate Blanchett is the ultimate bitch of the superhero universe as the vivacious ‘Hela’; Jeff Goldblum plays the highly eccentric ‘Grandmaster’ with a knack for laugh-out-loud one-liners; Mark Ruffalo is the funniest and most relatable ‘Hulk’ he has ever been and Tessa Thompson is a no-nonsense ex-Valkyrie that doesn’t have time for anyone’s bullshit. Heck, even director Waititi serves up some great giggles through his portrayal of ‘Korg’ – oh, and don’t forget Tom Hiddleston, returning as Thor’s ever mischievous and self-interested half-brother.

Thor and Hulk's complicated bromance is a lot of fun to see unfold. 
To sweeten the deal even further, Ragnarok is a jaw-droppingly beautiful film. The splendorous fantasy world of Asgard is finally explored in more detail, whilst we also get introduced to a completely new world, which seems to be a retro take on a semi-apocalyptic junkyard. It finally feels like the film team have taken full advantage of the out-of-this world quality that the expanded Thor universe provides. The actions scenes are also a joy to witness: from Hella’s visceral mass-scale slaughterings of Asgard’s crown guard to Thor and Hulk’s highly entertaining coliseum-style altercation.

All in all, Thor: Ragnarok is a shining example of what can be achieved when a superhero film fully commits to a specific tone and style. Whereas the Avengers films tries to be both profound and funny at the same (and fails a bit at both), Ragnarok doesn’t hide the fact that it’s an over-the-top Hollywood cash cow that’s only goal is to make its audience laugh and go ‘Fuck, that was awesome!’. Here’s hoping Thor: Ragnarok becomes the new standard (and not the refreshing exception) of the Marvel movie franchise. 

Highlight: When Blanchett tries to explain to Karl Urban the intricacies tied to the job title of ‘Executioner’.


Sunday, September 3, 2017

Baby Driver

I’ll forgive you if the name, ‘Edgar Wright’ does not immediately conjure up any specific movies (it didn’t for me either). Let me help a bro out – Edgar Wright is the director of films such as ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’, ‘Hot Fuzz’ and ‘Tintin’. I’m actually a little bit sad that I didn’t know this before I went to watch Wright’s latest film, as I think it would have had an overall positive impact on my perception of the film. Nevertheless, I am happy to declare that Baby Driver is a marvellous outing, which will delight due its quirky strangeness and simultaneously exhilarate thanks to its constant intensity.  

If I had to identify a standout aspect of the film, it would have to be the film’s addictive sense of cool: There’s a highly engaging ebb and flow to Baby Driver that is a joy to experience and Wright takes his time to develop a sweet rhythm that will make it difficult not to fall in love with this film. An interesting use of a hip and funky soundtrack is partly to blame for Baby Driver’s infectious sense of coolness, as you’re likely to have your head bopping subconsciously at least halfway through the film.

"There’s a highly engaging ebb and flow to Baby Driver that is a joy to experience." 

But, at heart of Baby Driver’s enthralling nature lies stellar performances by an amazing ensemble cast: But else would you expect with a cast such as Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Kevin Spacey? The show is however stolen by the title character, played by Ansel Elgort in a role that seems like it was made for him. Elgort is probably best known for his role in ‘Fault in our Stars’ and here, Elgort once again proves that he has a great knack for playing slightly awkward, but intriguing characters. For most of the film, you’ll find yourself with an awkward grin on your face, as you try to understand and process Elgort’s arb and sometimes uncomfortable behaviour. But, for every moment of awkwardness, there is a complementary moment of ‘Oh Snap!’, as Elgort flawlessly and constantly shifts between downright oddness and enticing suaveness.   

You don't want to get on the wrong side of this weirdo, believe me. 
Elgort’s constant shifts in demeanour are furthermore complemented by the overall film’s very own masterful shift between seriousness and goofiness. It’s in this quality that you’re most likely to recognise a resemblance to some of Elgort’s other standout films – Elgort once again shows off his knack for creating hybrid films that are as tense as they are hilarious. In Baby Driver, you are treated to both gorgeous looking action sequences and laugh-out-loud moments of intelligent dialogue – what more can a film junkie ask for?

Baby Driver is one of those almost perfect films that will provide any type of film goer with something to appreciate and hopefully, even love. Don’t be fooled by Baby Driver’s happy-go-lucky exterior (as presented by the trailers) though – there’s a lot of layers to peel off here and the process results in an exhilarating journey that you’re unlikely to forget anytime soon.  

Highlight: Basically any scene where Elgort is lip-syncing. 


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Wonder Woman

Before I start, let me just get this disclaimer out: No, I’m not a women’s rights activist and no, I don’t see a bit of myself in Wonder Woman (that would be awkward).  The reason why I simply adored this film was purely because it was a really fantastic one.

As we all know, Warner Bros. has not seen the greatest of successes from their last string of DC superhero instalments, with both the last Superman film and Suicide Squad scoring lower than intended with both box office fans and critics alike. Worse even, Warner Bros. can’t even use the excuse that grittier superhero movies are an impossible ask, as Marvel’s Logan took a very dark, dread-laden approach that paid off in spades. The DC movie universe needed a life line and I think even Warner Bros. themselves were surprised as to how well Wonder Women would be received.

The chemistry between Gadot and Pine is one of the movie's greatest assets.

Whilst I was watching Wonder Woman, I couldn’t help but recall fond memories of watching the Captain America films – both Captain America and Wonder Woman take a refreshingly understated approach to the superhero formula. Whilst both of the protagonists master noticeable powers that classify them as superheroes, they are far from being invincible, both from a physical and mental perspective. In the case of Wonder Woman, we are presented to a relatively naive character, with an almost unfaltering belief in the goodness of man. This naivety is both Wonder Woman’s greatest asset and curse, as it provides her with a solid drive for her actions, whilst simultaneously blinding her to the inherent darkness that lies within mankind.

In the hands of a less skilled actress, Wonder Women’s predisposition for hopefulness could have easily sunk the entire movie. Thank goodness for us, Gal Gadot imbues her character with the perfect balance of empathy and conviction, treating us to a superhero that is both believably human and mesmerizingly commanding on screen. It’s worth mentioning that Chris Pine’ also shines as the male lead, as he guides Gadot through a turbulent and emotional journey of self-discovery.


"...Gal Gadot imbues her character with the perfect balance of empathy and conviction, treating us to a superhero that is both believably human and mesmerizingly commanding on screen."


But if the only reason you want to watch Wonder Women is for amazing action sequences, then don’t fret, your prayers have definitely not gone unanswered. Due to amazing cinematography, a captivating score and spectacular special effects, virtually every action sequence of the film is an exhilarating experience, standing tall against some of the best the superhero film franchise has to offer.


Wonder Woman’s less dark and more cheerful demeanour stands in stark contrast to other recent DC superhero films and I’m very curious to see how its success will shape and inform the future of DC superhero films. Here’s hoping director Patty Jenkins has inspired Warner Bros. to revaluate their approach to the DC universe for the better. 

Highlight: Wonder Woman's very first fight during WW1 is simply breathtaking. 



Sunday, May 7, 2017

John Wick: Chapter 2

I must admit that I wasn’t expecting much from John Wick 1, which is why I was preparing myself for a run-of-the-mill popcorn-friendly action romp. But what I got, was so much more, as John Wick 1 turned out to be a completely ridiculous, intensely visceral, but extremely entertaining action adventure that left its mark on me.

So when I heard that John Wick was returning for a second outing, I was understandably excited by the potential for yet another ridiculous, but undeniably entertaining cinematic bloodbath. What I didn’t however expect was an evolution of the John Wick formula of outrageousness into something more considered and even more enticing.

John Wick 2 shows a more sophisticated side of our bloody hero.

In a nutshell, John Wick Chapter 2 brings yet more of the same over-the-top violent action that made its predecessor an instant classic, but this time around, adds an inspired degree of desperation to the mix, resulting in an extremely tense and thrilling action fiasco. Think ‘James Bond on drugs’.

Of course, Keanu Reeves returns as the silent, but undeniably violent protagonist that is on a mission to kill a few dozen baddies – and this time around, the stakes are even higher, as Wick loses more than just a dog this time. Because of these higher stakes, Wick’s approach to his task is noticeably more considered than it was previously. Wick also feels much less invincible than he was in the first movie, resulting in a much tenser and nerve-wracking experience for film goers. Dare I say it, the film even presents a thought-provoking look at the life of a hired gun.

"Wick also feels much less invincible than he was in the first movie, resulting in a much tenser and nerve-wracking experience for film goers."


The film’s action sequences also benefit from the same sense of evolution, with each scene thankfully not coming across as a mere copy-and-paste of the previous. There is a slickness and brilliant sense of movement to the film’s energetic action sequences that fans of action films are likely to appreciate.

If you’re a fan of over-the-top action films and don’t mind a generous side serving of style, then John Wick: Chapter 2 is a film you cannot miss. 

Highlight: A castle infiltration scene is as slick as it is intense.  




Monday, April 10, 2017

Logan

The X-Men movie franchise has had its fair share of ups and downs. And even as a die-hard X-Men fan, I have to admit that many of the franchise installments have been clear misses. Take one of the more recent X-Men films as an example – Apocalypse: a spectacular CGI experience but one noticeably devoid of true soul and character, making it hard to care for the plight of the mutants that drives its story. This seems to have been one of the most obvious shortcomings of the franchise, i.e. the creation of a world with characters that you truly learn to love, hate and ultimately care for.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel, as Logan, the latest X-Men movie doesn’t only manage to be a runway success, but goes a step further by completely re-establishing the franchise’s standing in the superhero cinematic universe. But who would have guessed that the franchise’s redemption would end up coming from one of the franchise’s ‘spin-offs’, especially if one considers how average all the previous Wolverine stand-alone films have been.

One the other side, one can argue that since Hugh Jackman has been fulfilling the role of Wolverine since the film franchise’s inception he has had ample time to sink his claws into one of the most iconic characters in comic book history. But ironically enough, it’s a radical departure from Hugh Jackman’s original take on the Wolverine that makes this movie so profound.

Wolverine has seen better days, but so has all of us...
But none of that would have been of course possible without the vision and guidance of director James Mangold, who treats fans to a very different version of the X-Men world that we have grown accustom to. If the prequel X-Men films deal with the group’s struggles in finding a place in society and the X-Men films set in the present day deals with their struggles in maintaining that position, then Logan very much represents the end of the line for the X-Men. In this not-so-distant future, the mutant race is virtually extinct and those that have survived have been ostracised by humankind. It’s a terribly bleak and dread-filled context, but one that feels completely logical and plausible, which is part of the reason why the film hits one so hard.

In a world where the X-Men have no more purpose, there is very little to do but to wait out the days until there is no more waiting to be done. This setting provides Wolverine and Profession Xavier (Patrick Stewart) with a highly volatile and engaging platform for a superhero film that breaks most of the genre’s stereotypes. If Wolverine represents the process of coming to terms with the mutant race’s inevitable fate, then Xavier represents the last strand of hope that a future for mutants might still exist somewhere. It’s this contrast in worldviews that drives the film’s most moving and powerful moments and thanks to gritty performances by both actors, makes for a mesmerising movie experience.

"It’s this contrast in worldviews that drives the film’s most moving and powerful moments and thanks to gritty performances by both actors, makes for a mesmerising movie experience."


Let’s of course not forget that Logan is still very much an action film and for this reason, you can expect some spectacular action sequences. Be warned though, these are not the action sequences that you have come to expect from an X-Men film. As the R rating suggests, Logan is loaded with unfiltered and extremely violent moments, some of which might be hard to stomach for the average X-Men fan. But as the film develops, you start to appreciate their role in highlighting the desperation of the film’s characters within the context of a world that they are clearly unwelcome in, but still desperately try to cling onto.

Be warned, Logan might test your limits and is definitely a clear departure from previous X-Men films. But it’s in the context of this risky departure from the series’ roots that the film’s success is so much sweeter. Logan is that rare superhero movie that cannot be compared to anything that has come before it and will take you on a cinematic adventure that is likely to leave you in awe. 

Highlight: A moving conversation between Xavier and Wolverine during one of the quieter moments of the film.


Monday, March 6, 2017

Manchester by the Sea

My favourite film of 2016 is relatively low key, to be honest. Manchester by the Sea tells the story of an uncle (played by Casey Affleck) who learns that his brother who has passed away has made him the sole guardian of his nephew (played Lucas Hedges). This forces Affleck to return to the town where he was born and raised, as he attempts to come to terms with the terrible events that transpire there and the life and people he lost.

Let’s not beat around the bush – I can’t recall any film where the performance of a single actor has left me as affected. In my humble opinion, Casey Affleck’s role as Lee Chandler is simply put, one of the best on-screen performances that I have had the privilege of experiencing. My appreciation for the authenticity by which Affleck portrays the extremely traumatising experiences of his emotionally blunted character is something that is difficult to put into words, but let me have bash at it anyways.

It's the film's smaller moments that shine the brightest.

Although Affleck delivers poignant moments during the film’s more emotionally laden scenes, It’s not only in the moments of sheer heartache and dread that Affleck’s portrayal of Chandler shines. Some of the film’s best moments come from Affleck’s masterfully sincere depiction of his broken characters’ reaction to every day life in everyday situations. Due to Affleck’s highly nuanced and considered performance, the impact of Chandler’s tragic past becomes apparent in every word, every facial expression that he utters. Throughout the film, Chandler is desperately trying to keep his dangerously thin emotional veneer from cracking in order to stay strong for those who need him. Affleck does an exceptional job at showcasing the effort and toll that this takes on his character and there’s a sincerity and realism here that attests of an acting capacity way beyond Affleck’s years.

"Due to Affleck’s highly nuanced and considered performance, the impact of Chandler’s tragic past becomes apparent in every word, every facial expression that he utters."


But there’s more to Manchester by the Sea than Casey Affleck’s performance itself. Kenneth Lonergan does a spectacular job at getting sincere and honest moments out of the entirety of this cast, resulting in a film where the characters feel painfully familiar and real. Special nod to Michelle Williams as Affleck’s former wife and Lucas Hedges as Affleck’s nephew. The film’s engrossing sense of familiarity is further amplified by a noticeably simple filming style and minimalist score. All of these elements work together to create an understated and highly authentic cinematic experience.

There’s a lot more I can say about this masterpiece of a film, but at the end of the day, all you really need to know is that this is a film that everyone needs to see. Whether you’re a fan of intensely moving dramas or not, this is the type of film that is most likely to give you a new sense of appreciation for the craft of acting and film making in general. And even if you’ve been fortunate enough not to yet have experienced a similar degree of heartache as the film’s damaged protagonist, watching this film will give you a revealing an authentic glimpse into the pain that comes with the most sour of lemons life can possibly throw at you. 

Highlight: When Affleck is confronted with the reality of what happened to his children. 


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Moonlight

Without even watching a trailer or reading a synopsis of what Moonlight was about before I eventually saw it, I had the advantage of going into the film with little pretense of what to expect. Looking back at this now, I am so relieved that I decided not to read up on the film much before, as it allowed the film to completely take me by surprise, resulting in one of the most poignant and moving film experiences I’ve had to date.

Over the years I have come to understand that I have an obvious propensity for films with raw, real and moving performances. It’s no wonder then that I regard the intense and brilliant performances by Moonlight’s actors as the crowning achievement of this film. I can count at least 3 scenes in Moonlight where I was so engrossed in the on-screen interactions that I momentarily forgot that I was in a movie theatre. To try and describe these scenes in individual detail will not however do anyone any good – you simply need to experience them for yourself.

Every scene is deeply meaningful and moving, without exception.

Except for the jaw-dropping performances from Moonlight’s stellar ensemble cast, it’s also important to highlight the film’s beautiful cinematography and genius pacing. The combination of these two elements results in a gorgeously patient film that tells an agonising life story spanning across 3 different points in time. In the hands of a less skilled director, such a fragmented chronology would have been the demise of the film, but Barry Jenkins manages to weave together these individual strands into a rich cinematic tapestry that leaves one deeply affected.

"In the hands of a less skilled director, such a fragmented chronology would have been the demise of the film, but Barry Jenkins manages to weave together these individual strands into a rich cinematic tapestry that leaves one deeply affected."


This is not even to mention how important and daring of a film Moonlight is and I praise it for its considered, but raw approach to highlighting the untold plight that many racial and sexual minorities still face today. Even though we live in a time where these minority groups enjoy the highest degree of freedom ever, the deeply-rooted stereotypes and conventions of society still prevent many from living their lives to their full potential.

The film highlights an important, but unsettling problem that not everyone might be ready to face, but Jenkins and his cast highlights it in such a deeply authentic and moving way, that it’s impossible to claim ignorance any longer. A film with a powerful story, told in a heart-rending, but beautifully respectful way – truly, film making at its best. 

Highlight: The film's emotionally poignant final scene still haunts my memories, months after I saw it. 


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Arrival

Although one can argue that the advancement of modern CGI and film technology in general has enabled sci-fi film creators to bring to life their ideas much more effectively than ever before, one can also point out that the same advancements have made the industry over-reliant on these mechanisms. It’s easy to fall into the alluring trap of an excessive dependence on the visual aspect of a sci-fi film, which frequently leads to sci-fi romps that are more style than substance.

I’m happy to however report that Arrival masterfully sidesteps this trap, treating its audience to a refreshingly surprising sci-fi adventure that is equal parts thrilling and thought provoking. But please don’t misconstrue this observation as inferring that Arrival isn’t also a great looking sci-fi film: Arrival is exceptionally polished and although its CGI is not as indulgent as what we have come to expect from the genre, the film uses just the right sprinkle of CGI trickery needed to draw you into its enticingly strange, but at the same time, deliberately familiar world.


"...the film uses just the right sprinkle of CGI trickery needed to draw you into its enticingly strange, but at the same time, deliberately familiar world."


If there’s one standout quality of this film that differentiates it from the rest of its genre then it has to be its distinctly measured pace. In Arrival, humankind decides to take a refreshingly diplomatic approach to the potential alien threat, rather opting to try and understand the reason behind the alien race’s arrival before deciding on appropriate action.  Whilst this in itself might not sound like the most exciting cinematic plot for an alien invasion movie, it comes over as a much more plausible real world 2016 eventuality, resulting in a film that feels even more realistic and therefore, also involving.

Teaching someone else a new language, whilst simultaneously learning a new one yourself, is definitely PhD level affairs.
The film’s protagonist is also not your typical gun-blazing patriot who enjoys spewing out cheesy action lines before dishing out a can of proverbial whoop-ass on the alien race. Enter Dr Louise Banks, an accomplished and determined linguistics professor who specialises in translation work, tasked to lead a team aiming to decipher the alien race’s highly advanced language system. Amy Adams is simply put, amazing in this role and I’m confident in declaring it as one of her most commanding on-screen performances to date. Dr Banks is as professional and contained as one would expect a high-profile academic to be, but as the film progresses, she finds it harder and harder to hide the cracks in her elaborately woven emotional armour. Adams does a fantastic job at transitioning between her character’s various emotional states, the result of a complex combination of her troubled past, the immense pressure of her present situation and even, her future to be. The last time I recall a sci-fi film taking this much care in the development of its lead was back in 1997, with Jodie Foster in Contact.

Adams also becomes the main vehicle for how director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) develops the film’s most enthralling and thought provoking themes. Although there are potentially endless thematic layers to Arrival (such as the intricacies of global politics, the fragility of human connections etc.) that one can delve into here, I myself was most intrigued by the film’s commentary on the role that language plays in shaping the reality of one’s world. The film’s argument for the benefits of learning a new language was so poignant to me, that it has actually motivated me to take up another language in the near future. I mention this to illustrate how involving and satisfying Arrival as a film experience was for me. There definitely hasn’t been another film this year that has left me with this much to think about and this is why I’m happy to announce it as my favourite film of 2016.

If you make the right choice (that is, to go and see this film of course), you’ll be treated to a refreshingly intelligent, but also non-pretentious sci-fi masterpiece that forces its audience to readjust their assumptions of what a sci-fi film should and shouldn’t be. And if you’re lucky, Arrival might even treat you to an experience that leads to a shift in the way you see the world. Either way, it’s easily one of the best ways to spend 2 hours this year.   

Highlight: The film's climactic ending is highly satisfying and expertly brings this great film full circle.