Directed By: Aaron Sorkin Written By: Aaron Sorkin (based on the memoir Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker by Molly Bloom)… More
Directed By: Guillermo del Toro
Written By: Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg
The fact that The Shape of Water is so difficult to pin down is the first suggestion of its enormous, captivating power. Overviewing the plot is the easy part, a kind-of Beauty and the Beast for adults in which the most unlikely of romances flourishes between a mute female janitor working at a government laboratory (Elisa, played by Sally Hawkins), and the half man, half fish, possible deity that is being studied there (Doug Jones)— dredged from the Amazon by the U.S military in the hope that it/he might prove an “asset” in the escalating Cold War conflict with Russia. It’s a creature to whom Elisa is firstly sympathetic, and then enamoured of.
Inspecting the style with which director Guillermo del Toro embraces this Continue reading “The Shape of Water”
Directed By: Joe Wright
Written By: Anthony McCarten
Starring: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristen Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn, Ronald Pickup
I came across a peculiar statistic recently: nearly a quarter of all Britons believe Winston Churchill— former Prime Minister and poster-boy for the world’s resistance to the Nazis— to be a fictional character. In a sense, I suppose it’s almost understandable. It’s easy to forget that Churchill, given the enormity of his character and the historical standing to which he has laid claim, was made of the same stuff—skin, bone, muscle— as the rest of us.
Take a look at his perceived personality, a crude amalgamation of a gruff, belligerent grandfather likely to hog the couch at Christmas, and Superman. It’s one that appears purpose-built for pop media in its eccentricity and bombast, reflected in Churchill’s finding a de-facto home on Continue reading “Darkest Hour”
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Written By: Liz Hannah and Josh Singer
Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Paulson
If awards were given on pedigree alone, The Post would be the winningest film of this millennium. The story attacks with a two-pronged socio-political blitzkrieg, on one hand polemicizing governmental censorship of the press, and on the other hand defying the alleged inability of women to hold power in the workplace. It’s a narrative based on fact too, a recounting of how The Washington Post sought to deliver the most veiled of truths to the American public, and how the government scrambled to preserve that veil—a narrative that is uncanny in its timeliness, seemingly a gift from the gods in this maligned period of fake news and alternative facts (the production was in fact streamlined to cash in on the story’s Continue reading “The Post”
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Written By: David Scarpa (based on the book Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty by John Pearson)
Starring: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer, Romain Duris
It’s become impossible to divorce the onscreen story of All the Money in the World, from the offscreen story which has since enveloped it. With production complete and a release-date sweat inducingly imminent, director Ridley Scott played cattle wrangler and impossibly lassoed his crew back together for extensive reshoots. Swivelling on a three-week dime, Scott somehow purged his film of the disgraced Kevin Spacey, and in the eleventh-hour, subbed in Christopher Plummer to assimilate one of the film’s most substantial roles. Then came the editing process, and the unenviable task of transposing new footage into an Continue reading “All the Money in the World”
Directed By: Martin McDonagh
Written By: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Francis McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges
There’s a scene in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in which, without revealing specifics, two characters on a knife’s edge completely invert their personalities. Mildred Hayes (Francis McDormand) is couped up in a police interview room where she is subject to harsh, if not entirely unearned antagonism, courtesy of the town Sheriff (Bill Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson). She’s there, technically, because she drilled a hole in the thumb of her dentist, but in actuality it’s because of an audacious, ongoing publicity stunt in which she has rented three derelict billboards along a seldom travelled road, and plastered on them, with the most menacing of presentations (bold, black text stamped on a crimson Continue reading “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Directed By: Luca Guadagnino
Written By: James Ivory (based on the novel Call Me by Your Name by Andre Aciman)
Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar
Few films have ever taken their time as effectively as Call Me by Your Name, the latest from Italian director Luca Guadagnino– a masterwork guaranteed to enrapture audiences in fits of seduction and intimacy, before leaving them crumpled on the floor,enlightened, but aching.
In it, Timothee Chalamet plays a soon to be lovelorn seventeen-year-old named Elio Perlman, a precocious, confident, intellectual (occasionally smart-ass) type with a prodigious talent for music and who seems to know a great deal about a great many things, except himself.
Elio spends his summers in Northern Italy with his parents, doing what he can to keep busy— Continue reading “Call Me by Your Name”
Directed By: Sean Baker
Written By: Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch
Starring: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe, Valeria Cotto, Mela Murder
Verisimilitude has fast become Sean Baker’s stock-in-trade. A crusader of the socioeconomically marginalised, Baker’s filmmaking has immediacy, realism, and is marked by an eagerness to completely lose itself in whatever portion of the world it’s depicting.
2015’s Tangerine, for example, although teeming with cinematic flair and flamboyance, signals a miraculous deep-dive into one of LA’s sketchiest corners, and a single day in the lives of two transgender prostitutes who work on it. It’s a film Baker famously shot entirely on iPhone 5 cameras, as a means of achieving heightened propinquity.
Take-Out took us inside the world of an illegal Chinese immigrant, who rallies to muster funds for a loan Continue reading “The Florida Project”
Directed By: Paul King
Written By: Paul King and Simon Farnaby (based on Paddington Bear created by Michael Bond)
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Hugh Grant
Rare is the film that has viewers genuinely leave the cinema a better, happier person than they were going in. Rarer still is the sequel that achieves those same giddy, jump-for-joy heights. All things considered, Paddington 2 must be one of the best sequels of this millennium, and perhaps one of the best of the family genre in all, giving even Pixar’s instant classic Toy Story 2 a run for its money.
Writer/director Paul King’s second encounter with Michael Bond’s long cherished Peruvian-turned-British anthropomorphic bear is every part the rousing, surprising success of the first, with King once again blending kinetic, whip-crack comedy with an irresistible goodwill Continue reading “Paddington 2”
Directed By: Lee Unkrich
Written By: Adrian Molina, Matthew Aldrich
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach
Coco could not have come at a better time for Pixar. It’s been something of a turbulent passage for what is arguably Hollywood’s most beloved animation studio; off camera, figurehead John Lasseter is away on a six-month sabbatical, his sudden absence spawned from “missteps” pertaining to female co-workers. It’s unfortunate news that’s been only stressed by its coinciding with the departure of Rashida Jones from the still-in-production Toy Story 4; Jones citing a suppressive work culture for minorities as the cause.
Meanwhile, on-camera, the studio has fallen into playing the creative get out of jail card that more and more productions seem to be tending towards in contemporary Hollywood: in the absence of originality, make a sequel. Until now, 4 of Pixar’s last seven features have derived from previous works, with their next two scheduled to follow suit.
It’s enough to shake even the most optimistic moviegoer’s confidence in the animation powerhouse; or perhaps might have been if it weren’t for the welcome interlude supplied by Coco, the latest from Pixar which storms the stage and announces itself as the glowing, poignant return to form we’ve long been awaiting from Hollywood’s most accomplished animators— a timely, effervescent reminder of Pixar’s singular ambition, visual wonder, and proclivity for playing heart strings like the film’s hero would the strings on a guitar.
Coco sees one of Pixar’s most trusted storytellers return to the helm, Lee Unkrich (directing credits on Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3 and Finding Nemo) who with great delicacy and attention to detail transports us to contemporary Mexico and journeys inside the world of 12-year-old Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), a classic Disney youth whose dreams strain against his familial culture. Miguel’s heart leads him down the same path as that of his Great, Great Grandfather before him, dreaming of a life in music and daring to fill the void long-left by Mexico’s greatest ever musician (and Miguel’s idol) Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt).
It’s a longing which Miguel is forced to conceal from his disapproving family, a clan of successful shoemakers who long ago denounced all music; a stunning opening prologue in which animated papel picado banners inform why (celebratory streamers which line the Mexican streets during the annual Day of the Dead celebrations, during which Coco is set). It’s a disdain which has been inherited down through generations, beginning with Miguel’s Great, Great Grandmother who was left betrayed by her husband when he abandoned his family in favour of music, and subsists in Miguel’s own parents today.
Family is a thematic hub for Adrian Molina’s and Matthew Aldrich’s screenplay—its significance as an agent in moulding identity, the ways in which we are both obligated to and dependant upon it—notions encapsulated by the frequented site of the Rivera ofrenda, a lavish altar which displays the photos of ancestors passed. Tellingly, the film’s namesake is not of its protagonist, but of Miguel’s Great Grandmother, the weary, seemingly comatose matriarch who slowly develops into the film’s emotional centrepiece, a familial beacon who embodies the full bearing one’s antecedents have on their growth.
Equally rich and full is Coco’s depiction of Mexicana, Unkrich hurling himself into the cultural specifics of his setting with equal parts affection and knowingness. It’s in transporting us to distinct worlds, both familiar and otherwise, in which Coco allows its creators to visually stand tall—their constructions at once beautifully textured and rich in imagination. When Miguel breaks into de la Cruz’s mausoleum and steals his guitar, hoping to use it in the Day of the Dead talent show, our hero is whipped to the Land of the Dead, a dimension in which the macabre and fanciful meet and where the deceased (taking the form of sentient skeletons,) walk undetectably among the living; it’s a land offering its own unique tapestry of soft neons; bustling, Disneyworld inflected cityscapes; and golden, autumnal glows, lending the visual palate a dreamy, ethereal coating.
There are also a lot of rules to this unworldly dimension. The dead can only visit the living as part of the holiday festivities. Miguel, having joined the dead, is not officially one of them, but rather cursed for stealing from the deceased on a day in which the living are supposed to offer gifts to those passed. As such, Miguel must return to the realm of the living before sunset, or be trapped amongst the departed forever, all of which our hero learns with the help of his ancestors, headed by the aforementioned Great, Great Grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach). To make that return trip, Miguel requires a blessing from one of his deceased relatives, but unwilling to subscribe to the conditions laid out by Imelda (namely that of abandoning his musical dream), Miguel instead journeys to find Cruz, believing he and Mexico’s most famous mariachi are connected by more than a shared passion for musical performance, and paving the way for an adventure in strange lands fable that has become something of a Pixar specialty.
There’s more. For the dead to be able to visit the Land of the Living, they must have their photograph displayed on an ofrenda—memories of the dead must be preserved by those who succeed them in the waking world, for if the dead are forgotten, they disappear completely. It’s a caveat which makes for great tension, particularly in the form of Gael Garcia Bernal’s Hector, a down-on-his-luck trickster with a heart of gold who strikes a deal with Miguel—he’ll lead Miguel to Cruz, if Miguel promises to display Hector’s photo and thus preserve his afterlife.
It’s an audacious and fearlessly complicated system delicately mapped out by Unkrich and his team, one that calls to mind Pixar’s most recent masterpiece Inside Out in its structural complexities, knitting together fragments from the revered likes of Studio Ghibli’s Spiritied Away, Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future, Disney’s own Alice in Wonderland, and imbuing it all with that trademark Pixar penchant for an emotional haymaker.
There are glaring derivations certainly. Seasoned Disney goers will know the ticks in the narrative all too well, Coco borrowing liberally from its own antecedents—from certain twists in characterisation, to the goofy animal sidekick that has accompanied so many Disney heroes on their misadventures. There are thematic familiarities too, the follow your dreams/importance of family theses are as stale as such timeless moral stalwarts can be—a shadow of the sophisticated insights Inside Out dared to dish out.
But what defines Coco’s heart is not its moral intricacy, but the thoughtfulness with which it meets its those morals, honing them with a comprehensiveness reserved for only the most contemplative works. Coco doesn’t merely refer to its well-worn ideas as some cursory dramatic exercise, but it delves into them earnestly, truthfully, fully, Coco championing its notions of family and daring to dream with an invisible tear in its eye, and its heart on its sleeve, wringing from them a level of pathos and affect that’ll leave viewers first flawed, then exhausted, and finally fulfilled. The sure-fire awards contender “Remember Me”, the film’s signature song, packs an especially audacious emotional punch.
It’s the formula for a film that stands comfortably among Pixar’s strongest, even if it doesn’t quite excel to the heights of the canon’s elite (Coco fits snuggly between the likes of Ratatouille and The Incredibles, and the likes of the Toy Story trilogy, Up, and the aforementioned Inside Out)—not only an enthralling animated film, but a tender and insightful adventure saga. If nothing else, it’s a sparkling return to form for its beloved creators.
Directed By: Rian Johnson
Written By: Rian Johnson (based on characters created by George Lucas)
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac
The galaxy is once again on the precipice of total ruin. Supreme Leader Snoke’s (motion capture maestro Andy Serkis, this time under the guise of a black-clad, omnipotent leper) evil First Order is twisting its knife in the stomach of the freedom fighting Rebellion. Princess-turned-General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) rallies her troops and battles to keep the belligerents at arm’s length, but her forces are tiring. The Rebel wagon is thus hitched to prodigious warrior Rey (Daisy Ridley) and her quest to tempt Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) back into battle, journeying cross galaxy to a remote, overcast planet in search of the once great, and now last, Jedi master.
If JJ Abrams’ 7th episode in the Continue reading “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”