You Were Never Really Here (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman, Judith Roberts
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 90 mins

You Were Never Really Here is a rather frustrating experience, especially given the long wait for director Lynne Ramsay to pick a new project, having last made We Need To Talk About Kevin in 2011. Although her latest feature is certainly frequently disorienting and atmospheric, it is completely empty of any character empathy or development and strips back on narrative. This is a conscious choice made by Ramsay, instead deciding to focus on sound and images rather than get bogged down in a narrative.

Whilst this technique worked for her previous films, there just isn’t much meat on the bone of this film to gnaw on which makes the film rather anti-climatic. Ramsay’s second feature, Morvern Callar is also a problematic film but at least the characterisations were convincing, regardless of the strange decisions they made. Joaquin Phoenix is a strong actor, so perhaps he just didn’t really understand his character here either. I just couldn’t connect with him whatsoever.

Perhaps You Were Never Really Here is a film that simply requires multiple rewatches to truly unpack what Ramsay is trying to aim for here. Tonally, the film is very bleak and has several memorable images. There are some strong, creative moments here particularly in the depiction of violence, particularly what is shown on-screen and off-screen. The score by Jonny Greenwood is also quite interesting, with hints of indie rock, electronic and classical cues that make for an eclectic mix.  I just couldn’t become engrossed in the way Ramsay interweaves these textual elements together, which perhaps a rewatch might help with.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

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Red Sparrow (Review)

Red-Sparrow

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciaran Hinds, Joely Richardson, Bill Camp, Thekla Reuten, Jeremy Irons
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 140 mins

Red Sparrow is the latest in Jennifer Lawrence’s post-Hunger Games career, who consistently proves to pick courageous yet controversial projects. Recently, Lawrence starred in Passengers, a film that many reacted badly too due to a central element in the plot which I managed to get on board with. More obviously controversial was Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, a film designed to shock which also recieved a mixed response. For Lawrence to pick a project filled with sexual and bloody violence is certainly brave. Lawrence reunites with her Hunger Games director, Francis Lawrence, in this spy thriller about a girl who is entrapped by her Uncle to work as a ‘Sparrow’ for the Russian government. Her mission is to uncover the identity of a Russian mole working for the Americans. The spy / action thriller genre has been at a high recently and particularly pertinent following hot off the heels from Atomic Blonde with a female lead character.

Red Sparrow is a slow-burn which might infuriate viewers but I found it to be consistently entertaining if not a little meandering both in narrative and in pace. It boasts some intelligent twists up its sleeve but they are a little late in the game. The film has a lengthy 140 minute run time and whilst it is atmospheric in parts, it also trudges through some of its narrative and isn’t consistently gripping.

The cast are all sound here but like with a lot of Russian spy films, there are some wonky accents on display here. Lawrence fares well, proving yet again to be a charismatic lead who is empathetic. Schoenaerts makes for a very sinister yet calm and calculated character, proving again why he is a top talent. Whilst Joel Edgerton is one of the finest actors (and director) we have, his character is a little underwritten but he does the best with what he has. As fine actors as Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling are, their accents are all over the place and seem to only be in this for the cheque.

The film is very grim for a 15 rating, with some particularly disturbing and nasty sequences of violence, torture and sexual violence. The film pulls no punches and I was surprised for a 15 just how much it pushed the boundary. This is a good thing and puts a different spin on the spy thriller genre and all of this violence has meaning to elevate the plot.

Red Sparrow isn’t quite the knockout it should be, considering the talent on-board but it is consistently entertaining and does pull some unexpected punches up its sleeve. For a mainstream film, it is very daring in its violence which is a good thing but for those watching simply as fans of Jennifer Lawrence, the film will definitely be a surprise. With a tighter plot and pacing, Red Sparrow has all the ingredients of a great film but is ultimately flawed.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Game Night (Review)

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⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, Jesse Plemons, Danny Huston, Michael C. Hall, Kyle Chandler 

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 100 mins

Game Night is the sophomore effort from directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein after directing the horrible Vacation and most recently writing Spider-Man: Homecoming, a pretty spotty record in all. They have also been tapped to direct the DCEU Flashpoint film, so a lot rides on this film to display their talent. Game Night certainly boasts a fresh premise – a comedy that follows some friends who often hold game nights where they play board games competitively. Board games have united Max and Anna, who are married and often host these nights with their friends. When Max’s brother, Brooks, comes to visit, he tries to one-up the couple whose game night turns into a very real murder mystery.  Game Night has an impressive cast, featurng Jason Bateman, (playing to type) and Rachel McAdams (playing against type) as the central character, with Kyle Chandler and Jesse Plemons also in the film.

Game Night often strikes an awkward and obnoxious tone and ultimately, consistently misses its humour.  I laughed perhaps four or five times, but it’s not enough when a film is supposed to be a comedy and most of the jokes don’t land. That said, the film does get certain elements right with its central premise and Daley and Golstein do have the right idea here with this film, as it is well directed but it’s a real shame that it cannot deliver on the comedy front. The narrative is also a complete and utter mess. Fairly quickly into the film, the mystery the characters find themselves in is utterly ludicrous and there are some late twists that make the film needlessly convoluted.

The cast are sound and admirable, but Jesse Plemons really shines here as Max and Anna’s next door neighbour, who has stopped being invited to their game nights. Plemons has consistently proved himself in his career, with excellent performances particularly in Black Mass, The Program and Hostiles, but here he proves a talent for comedy. Despite Game Night not being a particularly great film, if there’s one thing it can leave in its legacy is further audience recognition of this endlessly versatile actor.

Daley and Goldstein prove themselves in their direction as they try to do the best with the material. They clearly know how to shoot an action sequence and coupled with Barry Peterson’s cinematography, makes for some exciting set pieces. There is one moment in particular which is shot in one take which is utterly seamless. There are also repeated animations and images of the suburban street Max and Anna live in, which almost makes the street look like a board game, with characters seemingly moving spaces, further enhanced by Cliff Martinez’ tension-filled score.

Game Night is unfortuantely a disappointment and I don’t really understand the positive reviews as it mostly fails to conjure laughs and has a convoluted and unfocussed narrative. That said, it is mostly an exercise for Daley and Goldstein to prove their talent. If they can be as playful with the material and execution when it comes to a Flashpoint film, like they have displayed here, they would certainly be a good fit. They just need a solid script which scores with the humour, which this film consistently fails to do.

⭐⭐ (Poor)

 

I, Tonya (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Bobby Cannavale 

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 119 mins

I, Tonya makes for a opportunistic vehicle for some great performances across the board but as a film, it has some major structural problems. The film tells the true story of figure skater, Tonya Harding and the famous scandal she was involved in in the run up to the Olympics, perhaps one of the biggest in sports history. The film virtually screams as an Awards bid for star Margot Robbie, who also produces this film, eager to overturn the quality of her films after the disappointing Suicide Squad and The Legend of Tarzan. Director Craig Gillespie has opted to tell this story through the use of unreliable narrators, various characters in the film reveal their ‘truth’ in this contradictory narrative, regularly breaking the fourth wall.

Unfortunately,  Gillespie doesn’t display as much confidence as director Martin Scorsese who used this technique in The Wolf of Wall Street (which Robbie also starred in) and instead, the film feels a little obnoxious in its storytelling. The film is also too theatrical and the visual effects in the skating sequences are unconvincing.

Of the perforances, Allison Janney is the standout here, deserving of her Academy Awards success for her role here as Tonya’s mother, a cold and calculated figure whose upbringing of her daughter is particularly unconventional and scheming. I was also pleasantly surprised by Sebastian Stan, who I’ve found quite wooden as an actor in the past, but his husband for Tonya is a multi-layered character who is particularly unhinged.

The music choices that permeate the film are also problematic. Whilst Peter Nashel’s score works well, it is only used rarely and instead painfully obvious music choices are implored instead, which got to the point of grating.

Overall, I Tonya isn’t quite the success that was to be expected and walks an awkard line between restrained and obnoxious in tone, director Craig Gillespie not really sure what works and what doesn’t. It’s a good thing the performances are as good as they are because if they weren’t, the film would crumble.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Black Panther (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Ryan Coogler
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 134 mins

Black Panther is the first feature film based on the Wakandan King superhero introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War. Like Wonder Woman last year, Black Panther is an important event in the superhero genre’s history, as it is the first one to feature predominantly black characters. Furthermore, within its own canon, Black Panther is also important as it is the final film before Avengers: Infinity War arrives at the end of April which all of the MCU films have been building up to. After impressing with Fruitvale Station and Creed, Ryan Coogler is on director duties and based on the strength of those two films, he is definitely a good choice.

The film picks up shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War where the recently crowned King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) heads back to his home country of Wakanda. Wakanda is a technologically advanced nation and hidden to the rest of the world, famous for its fictional vibranium, a wonder metal that is exceptionally strong, is lightweight and vibration-absorbent. They have made the difficult decision not to share this with the rest of the world and instead, convincingly pose as a Third World country. In the film, T’Challa finds his kingship challenged and is plummeted into a conflict with potential global consequences.

Although Black Panther definitely has some great moments, it is unfortunately very inconsistent, awkwardly paced and overly familiar. It’s not quite the fresh, subversive experience that was promised. The biggest problem is the narrative, which is all over the place and Coogler seems to grapple with how best to pace the film. It’s a film that consistently seems to chop and change in its tone, from moments of wonder in the Afrofuturistic Wakanda to scenes of poverty and hardship in deprived areas. Coogler’s juxtaposition of the two extremes is obvious in the film’s narrative but it just doesn’t gel together and then when a third act storyline kicks in of feudal relations, it’s too little too late. Coogler has clearly been influenced from films such as The Lion King and the James Bond series of which there are odes to in the film, but Black Panther feels like its treading water between them.

Within this narrative, Coogler also frustratingly fails to develop what are some really interesting ideas, such as themes of Afrofuturism, world aid and family. This is particularly true of Michael B. Jordan’s villain, whom many have taken to, considering him to be a multi-layered villain compared to the vast majority of antagonists in the other films. I found the development of this character in particular, problematic. Whilst he is multi-layered and there is an interesting back story to the character, Coogler’s development is very shallow and I didn’t really care about the character. He doesn’t really show up until the film’s second half with perhaps one scene at the beginning and he is then off-screen for about an hour. I forgot he existed in the film and when his storyline does kick in, he makes a poor decision in my opinion and before Coogler can properly explore his character, the film descends into typical, mind-numbing third act action.

At least Coogler gets most of the characters right. Chadwick Boseman as the titular hero is great and it’s refreshing to see a solemn and sincere superhero for a change rather than one who constantly makes wisecracking jokes. Letitia Wright is perhaps the standout of the film as Black Panther’s sister, a little like James Bond’s Q but with more heart. It’s refreshing to see the female characters in this film take centre stage, with Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong’o also contributing strong performances, as well as Wright. Of the rest of the cast, Andy Serkis clearly seems to be having fun and it’s good to see Daniel Kaluuya in a small role, fresh off his Oscar nomination for Get Out. The cast generally have great chemistry with each other and despite Coogler’s spotty tendency of lack of character development in this film, I would happily watch another film with these characters in it.

However, as well as Michael B. Jordan’s villain, the treatment of Martin Freeman’s CIA agent, Everett Ross, is problematic. He is a character who Coogler treats with zero dignity and some of the situations and lines he is given border on the embarassing.

Unlike Creed, the action sequences in the film aren’t particularly great and the film’s climactic fight succumbs to all the usual problems that plague many superhero films. There are a few moments which are so obviously green-screened, most notably in a recurring ritual setting where we see an audience of characters watching on. It’s surprising and given the fact that most Marvel films are visually stunning, it’s a little baffling why Black Panther isn’t. A big part of the problem is down to the cinematography. The film is shot by Rachel Morrison, who recently created history by being the first female DP ever to be nominated for an Oscar for her work on Mudbound. There are so many cuts in the action, to the point where it is actually hard to see what is going on and there is no sense of pacing in the choreography. This problem is then magnified in the big, overlong climactic battle at the end which I found boring and frustrating because it was so poorly shot.

That’s not to say the film is bad though, not at all. The first half fares quite well and is at times, gripping, particularly a sequence in a casino. Additionally, Coogler’s world building of Wakanda is good and I liked how it was established and developed as a setting. Most of the characters share good chemistry and Ludwig Göransson’s score is quite interesting, infusing traditional African sounds with more contemporary pieces.

Ultimately, Black Panther is a mixed bag and has some severe structural problems that really hinder the film. Coogler fails to develop, what are some really interesting ideas and the action sequences are surprisingly poor. That said, it is mostly entertaining and on the strength of some of the characters, with a firmer grasp of the material, there is potential for the future. At least Coogler has created a film that is very standalone in the canon. Black Panther isn’t concerned with setting up future sequels or constantly referencing other films, which is a good thing as there have been some installments that have fallen down this rabbit hole. That said, I really don’t understand why this film is being heralded as one of the best superhero films of all time. Far from it, in fact and even within its own cinematic universe, it ranks towards the lower end of the scale.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Lady Bird (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Timothée Chalamet, Beanie Feldstein, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Lois Smith 

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 94 mins

Lady Bird, the directorial debut of actress / writer Greta Gerwig, is a beautifully humane coming-of-age story of a teenager whose strong personality conflicts with her mothers equally volatile temper. It makes for a fascinating character study, containing plenty of scenarios and vignettes that run true to many home experiences of growing up. Gerwig’s script is particularly polished, mostly avoiding cliche, which keeps the story fresh and makes for a deeply personal insight into the film’s setting of Sacramento, where Gerwig herself grew up.

The performances in the film further bring to life the excellent characters that have been crafted on the page. Saorise Ronan gives a career-best performance as the titular character, Christine ‘Lady Bird’ MacPherson, a teenager who is in her final year of high school and is applying for colleges and universities next year. Laurie Metcalf, as her psychologist mother, Marion, makes for a challenging and often, fiery counterpart but ultimately a mother who deeply cares about her daughter and just wants the best for her. Both actresses are fully deserving of all the Awards attention they have recieved.

Perhaps rather underappreciated is Tracy Letts as Christine’s father, who is facing his own personal demons. Letts is wonderfully subdued as a man who is struggling as he grows older, but he is so convincingly warm and admiring of his daughter and acts as the bridge between Christine and her mother. formances brilliant.

The film is not without flaws though and there are a handful of decisions that Gerwig takes in her narrative that felt a little off, but otherwise the film is excellent. It’s hard to stand up against similar films that have released recently, the minor-key realism of Manchester By The Sea perhaps the best result, but Lady Bird is a film fully deserving of its praise and is definitely an experience that will harken back to one’s adolescent memories. I would have happily spent another hour and a half with these characters as I was so invested in them and the thought of Gerwig recently announcing she wanted to tell other stories based from her experiences in Sacramento can surely be the sign of great things to come.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Shape of Water (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 123 mins

The Shape of Water is the latest film by director Guillermo Del Toro, whose films at worst, are ambitious and thoughtful and at best, masterpieces. Del Toro is one of the most visionary directors working today, who consistently explores the supernatural and his films are full of beautifully realised monsters. Pan’s Labyrinth is his magnum-opus, a Spanish adult fairy tale set to the backdrop of the Spanish civil war and The Devil’s Backbone is not too far behind. I really liked his work on both Hellboy films, particularly the second which is a brilliant alternative superhero film and I’ve got a soft spot for Crimson Peak, which recieved a very mixed reception on its release. Naturally, I was very excited for The Shape of Water, particularly considering the Awards attention that it has recieved for a filmmaker who is often, sadly underappreciated.

The Shape of Water tells the story of a mute cleaner, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who works at a top security government facility who falls in love with a mysterious amphibian-like creature with human qualities. This is set to the backdrop of the Cold War which means there are uneasy relations within this facility between its staff and some are suspicious that there could be spies working there.

The Shape of Water is a beautiful triumph from Del Toro, who once again successfully interweaves and juxtaposes the supernatural to reality. Del Toro has clearly been inspired from The Creature from the Black Lagoon, a film that he wanted to remake from a female perspective but wasn’t allowed. As well as this inspiration, Del Toro’s film is a love letter to early cinema which it borrows in some of its tropes and plot points, infused with his darker work on Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. I was hooked by the film throughout and it has a lot hidden up its sleeve and like his other films, it earns its adult rating with its sex and grotesque violence.

The performances in the film are all top-notch. Sally Hawkins is wonderful as Elisa, who manages to convey all of her emotions through her physicality in the role and her relationship with the creature is very convincing. Richard Jenkins is great as her homosexual illustrator neighbour, an individual who shares a strong bond with Hawkins. There is a brilliant sequence mid-way through the film where Jenkins’ character tries to introduce himself to someone who he admires, which Del Toro cleverly interweaves the historical context of the time. Octavia Spencer is also ever-likeable as Hawkins’ work colleague, who effectively does the talking for the both of them.

All three of these actors have been nominated for their performances in this film but I think the standouts are actually Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg and Doug Jones. Michael Shannon is superb as the antagonistic Colonel, who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, a character who is icily cold and brutal. Stuhlbarg has a particularly meaty role as a Doctor, which he is very convincing as a scientist investigating the creature. Doug Jones as the creature is brilliant, again a character that relies on physicality with Jones having to spend long bouts in a full prosthetic body suit. In combination with Andy Serkis in his motion capture roles, it’s high time that roles and performances such as Jones’ recieve recognition.

Alexandre Desplat’s score is beautiful and hypnotic, really complimenting the film well. Desplat balances his score with endlessly memorable cues, as well as being a nostalgia trip into early cinema and music. Dan Laustsen’s cinematography is excellent too and the film is a visual treat to behold, Doug Jones’ creature in particular painstakingly wonderfully realised.

The film isn’t quite perfect though. The relationship between Elisa and the creature feels a little rushed and I think the film would have been slightly better if it had taken its time a little more in the beginning to fully set the scene. There is also a sex scene between two characters mid-way in the film that is a little silly and unbelievable, but is important to the film’s narrative. Finally, I don’t think Del Toro has quite managed to weave in the film’s Cold War backdrop as assuredly as he did with the Spanish Civil War in Pan’s Labyrinth. It wasn’t evident at the beginning of the film that this is what he was trying to do and I think a little more development there would have helped.

These are all minor points in what is otherwise a wonderful film and The Shape of Water is certainly Del Toro’s best English-language film, closely followed by Crimson Peak. The Shape of Water is an engrossing and enrapturing experience, that shouldn’t be missed on the big screen and fully deserves all the Awards praise it is getting.The only downside, not of the film but of this Awards attention, is that the other half of the cast should have been nominated for their performances, not Richard Jenkins. Despite this, The Shape of Water is a masterful exercise in visual and narrative storytelling and is a film that on further viewing, will reveal itself even more with regards to a couple of plot points.  I cannot wait to watch it again.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Last Flag Flying (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Steve Carrell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 124 mins

Director Richard Linklater never seems to make the same kind of film twice, always choosing very interesting projects on varying degrees of subject matter. He’s consistently proven himself as a director from films like School of Rock to the Before trilogy to his magnum opus, Boyhood. Last Flag Flying is an unofficial sequel to a 1973 film called The Last Detail, starring Jack Nicholson. Both are based on novels penned by Darryl Ponicsan, only Linklater has opted to change the names of some of the characters in this film.  The film follows three Vietnam war veterans who reunite after Larry ‘Doc’ Sheppard’s (Steve Carrell) son is killed in action. Doc finds and reunites with Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) and asks them to accompany him to retrieve his son’s body and bury him.

Last Flag Flying really knocked me back. Linklater has crafted a bittersweet and warm tale of friendship and coming to terms with loss that is very mature. Yet, the film also has bite in its conflicted commentary of military service and patriotism. The performances by the entirety of the cast are superb and of course, the trio of Carrell, Cranston and Fishburne have such good chemistry together.

All of the characters are so well developed that when the film finished, I could have easily watched another two hours of these characters interacting with each other. They are all morally flawed individuals, who have all made mistakes in the past but they all have good intentions. Linklater documents their change from the past beautifully. Carrell continues to prove that he is not a comedic actor and gives a very mournful performance as a broken man struggling to come to terms with the loss of his son and before, his wife. Doc only has himself and doesn’t know what to do with himself, but he appreciates the time he had with his family. Cranston’s performance as Sal, is also brilliant. Sal now runs a bar and is a no-nonsense figure who always wants the right thing for his friends. There’s an excellent sequence where he openly disagrees and challenges a Colonel, choosing to find the truth rather than respecting a higher rank military official. Fishburne might even give a career-best performance here as Richard Mueller. He is no longer the brutal, sweary Marine he was in the war and has now turned to the path of religion, becoming a pastor in his town.

Whilst this may sound like a depressing watch, and it can be quite heartbreaking at times, it also balances comedic moments very well. There’s a brilliant sequence in which the characters discover and buy mobile phones to keep in touch with each other and an equally funny recounting of experiences in the war. This film isn’t billed as a comedy, but I laughed far more in it than some recent comedy releases.

The film also looks and sounds beautiful. Shane F. Kelly’s cinematography chooses to focus on the urban areas, grey and gritty images interrogating the decay of America and the cold country that has failed these characters. Graham Reynold’s score proves a warm, yet non-obtrusive accompaniment that is used sparingly.

Last Flag Flying is ultimately a transformative and emotionally moving exercise in filmmaking. Linklater perfectly balances the tone, with just the right measure of sadness and warmth, peppered with humour. The characters are so brilliantly written and realised on the page and all of the actors are a perfect match for the material. I’d need to see it a few more times to see how it lives up to repeat viewing but it might even be one of Linklater’s best works. Last Flag Flying will be a tricky film to find in its very limited release but its simultaneous internet release means that is easily accessible at the click of a button. It’s a brilliant film and one that I highly recommend seeking.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The 15:17 To Paris (Review)

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⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone, Judy Greer, Jenna Fischer, Ray Corasani 

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 94 mins

The 15:17 To Paris is the latest by Clint Eastwood, who continues to churn out film after film despite being almost ninety. Will Eastwood ever take a break? For the most part, Eastwood’s films have been great and he has proven to be just as capable behind the camera as he is in front of it. I really enjoyed Eastwood’s last two directorial efforts – American Sniper and Sully, both making it into my Top Twenty list of their respective years. The 15:17 To Paris is a retelling of the 2015 Thalys train attack, in which a handful of brave men took on a gunman, who had plans of killing everyone on-board but due to these men’s bravery, just four people were injured. What allows Eastwood’s latest to stand out is his decision to have the three men (Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone) play themselves, not be played by famous actors. This is a risky decision and the first of its kind – a lot hinges on a good performance from these men because if they’re not convincing, the credibility of the film will be lost.

Whilst Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone’s performances are serviceable, The 15:17 To Paris is a major disappointment and low point in Eastwood’s career. Unlike Sully where Eastwood managed to craft a riveting film out of a single event, other than the main event of the terrorist attack, the rest of the film is just needless and aimless padding. The film doesn’t do itself any favours by being saddled with a terrible script by Dorothy Blyskal. The script lacks direction and largely fails to develop the characters of these three men. There are even some moments that are just cringeworthy to watch – an early scene in the film as we watch the childhoods of these boys is downright painful to watch. A schoolteacher unprofessionally and dimissively diagnoses two of the boys with a disability to two single mothers.

There is a section of the film which is solely concerned with the men travelling around Europe which is almost equally misjudged – constantly taking selfies and behaving like stereotypical, annoying tourists. This goes on for a good half an hour or so, which is a fair amount of the 94 minute run time. Whilst it is perhaps important to portray how these men got on the ill-fated train, this sequence does nothing to advance the narrative and has no depth or gravitas. When the actual event itself arrives, Eastwood does a serviceable job in portraying the horror on-board but the film never earned this sequence as I wasn’t emotionally invested in it.

Surprisingly, the three men do have good chemistry together and whilst there isn’t all that much depth to their characters, they are serviceable. This is the same of the rest of the cast, although Judy Greer sticks out like a sore thumb in a terribly over-the-top performance as Spencer’s mother.

Unfortunately, The 15:17 To Paris is a rare unsatisfactory work by Clint Eastwood and never compelling when it should be. These normally talented filmmakers have failed to crack a gripping narrative that the event is interwoven into. Eastwood has demonstrated multiple times he can do this – just look at Sully for example. It’s a real shame this film hasn’t worked out and I really hope that this film doesn’t lessen or cheapen the heroic nature of these three men, when the film shouldn’t do this. People should look back to this event and appreciate the courage of these three men, not look back at a dramatisation. Perhaps the film would have worked better as a documentary?

⭐⭐ (Poor)

Phantom Thread (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 130 mins

Phantom Thread is the latest film by director Paul Thomas Anderson and supposedly Daniel Day-Lewis’ final performance before he retires. Whether or not this actually happens or not, we shall have to see. But if it is, Phantom Thread is a fantastic note to end on.

Phantom Thread, for the majority of its run time, is engrossing and a masterclass in filmmaking. It is a fascinating character study of fictional fashion designer, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), who lives with his influential sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), and he creates dresses for higher society members. Reynolds develops an interest in a countryside hotel waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps) and they soon begin a relationship but Reynolds’ domineering personality begins and persists to clash with Alma’s.

Just like Anderson’s other films such as There Will Be Blood and The Master, Phantom Thread is thematically rich, interrogating themes of duality and what it means to be in a relationship. It manages to balance its realism with fantasy and the film at times, evokes a Brothers Grimm tale. On one side of the spectrum, there are equisiste scenes of women being dressed up to impress their Princes and on the other, seemingly innocent women mushroom-picking in the forest. This Brothers Grimm quality to the film is juxtaposed by a Hitchockian / Kubrickian tone of voyeurism, mystery and intrigue.

The duality of every character makes Anderson’s film all the more satisfying and engaging. I sympathised and loathed them at the same time and that is testament to the quality of the writing and the performances. Day-Lewis is sensational and surprisingly funny at times with the witty, sharp script he has to work with. Manville has, as well as Day-Lewis, been Oscar-nominated for her performance here and the chemistry she shares with him is perfect and I really bought them as on-screen siblings.

It is Vicky Krieps however, who perhaps impresses the most – Alma is a character who is effectively the audience gateway into the House of Woodcock, someone who is initially naive and shy but then develops. She is in many respects, the audience’s eyes into this rich world underpinned by a duality.

The film is shot beautifully. Phantom Thread doesn’t have a designated DP, many have speculated Anderson has shot the film. There are multiple breathtaking shots, my favourite a recurring riff of Reynolds driving his vintage car around the country, in which the way it it is shot echoes an Alfred Hitchock film. The score by Jonny Greenwood is rather frenetic but it has its moments.

Unfortunately, I didn’t buy the film’s final act. It would be a spoiler to disclose what happens but the film’s narrative heads in a particular direction that I couldn’t really get on board with and I began to feel a little uncomfortable at where the film was going.

Overall, Phantom Thread is one of the strongest entries in this years Best Picture line-up. It represents yet another high for director Paul Thomas Anderson and is a fantastic note for Daniel Day-Lewis to go out on, should this in fact be his swansong. It makes for a masterful character study and a real treat for cinephiles. I’m just a little unsure on the direction the film heads in its final act, as it doesn’t quite conform to the neatness the first two have. I suspect on further rewatching, this film will continue to unpack itself and there is a lot more to gain from it.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)