The Big Sick

Directed By: Michael Showalter
Written By: Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher

The Big Sick, without TBS_onesheet_Quotes_NZ_LRconjecture, is a critical juggernaut. Acquiring its first batch of lovers at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Judd Apatow’s (producer of the film) latest has snaffled imaginations with its accessible, luminous personality, and has since only grown in stature. After Sundance there was South by South West where awards followed, then a limited release, and now the film is viewable in cinemas broadly, where the adoration persists.

It’s not hard to see why The Big Sick has registered like it has. It’s a film endeavouring to march to the beat of its own drum whilst pinpointing that ever-palatable tone Continue reading “The Big Sick”

Atomic Blonde

Directed By: David Leitch
Written By: Kurt Johnstad (based on the graphic novel the The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart)
Starring: Charlize Theron, Jameatomic-blonde-posters McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella

“On November 9 1989 the Berlin Wall fell” we are informed by Atomic Blonde’s opening onscreen text. “This is not that story” we are next told—it certainly isn’t, indeed oftentimes Atomic Blonde is barely a story at all. The film, helmed by David Leitch in his first solo directorial effort, has a plot like a jack-in-the-box—built on a spring base that swirls and loops and relentlessly doubles-back on itself before ultimately popping and catching you off guard. It makes for a fun little espionage guessing game of who is really who and what side is which, even if the twists get too cute for their own good in the final stanzas. This plot however isn’t particularly salient, it’s more just something needed to contextualise the most possible ass-kicking on behalf of our protagonist, the blonde in question, Charlize Theron’s MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton.

When we first meet Lorraine she’s in an ice bath in Berlin, battered and bruised from head to toe with blood caught in one of her eyes. Something has obviously gone awry. We are then whipped to England where Lorraine is in an interview room, relaying the events of her presumably botched assignment to an MI6 superior, played by Toby Jones, and his CIA counterpart, played by John Goodman.

Lorraine was dispatched to Berlin just days before the falling of the Wall to both recover a microfilm containing the names of every active Soviet spy, and along the way unearth and terminate a protruding thorn in the British side, a double agent known only as “Satchel”. She was to rendezvous with David Percival (James McAvoy, high-energy and buckets of charisma on show), a fellow agent who has caught a case of the Colonel Kurtzs— “gone native” as one character puts it, enamoured of the pending nihilistic dystopia that East Berlin has become, rendering him a highly volatile figure in the equation. Mere minutes into her mission however Lorraine is forced to use her own high heel as a baton in an effort to combat KGB abductors, before she’s mangled in intersecting webs of falsehoods, double crosses and cut-throat ideologies. This, in turn, necessitates she kill many, many people.

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Suffice to say that Atomic Blonde is a clear-cut case of style over substance. There is little in the way of character or subtext, gesture towards questions of morality and identity fluidity as Kurt Johnstad’s screenplay (based on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s graphic novel The Coldest City) might. It’s a notable cavity at the centre of the story, one that mars Atomic Blonde, without, thankfully, defining it. With so much aesthetic to tap into and so much punch to pack, one would be hard pressed not to askew towards style. What director David Leitch posits is a bone-crunching action romp content to only look skin deep, a film that plunges itself head first into a dirty but cool 1980s Berlin—shot through an electric blue filter, driven by a quintessentially 80s soundtrack (Bowie to Nena and everything in between), and drawing from a neon-noir, bustling disco sensibility —Atomic Blonde doesn’t so much as lean on its superficial strengths, as it does champion them.

Leitch is something of an aficionado of high-end B-movie action. At first a prolific stuntman, then an uncredited co-director on 2014’s action thriller and high-volume corpse amasser John Wick, Leitch has an apparent affection for the genre, an admiration for its physicality and balletic potential that carries over into his own filmmaking. There is something morbidly elegant about the way that Leitch presents Blonde’s action sequences, allowing them to play out with elongated takes and dialled down editorial intrusion wherein it is the choreography, chiefly performed by the magnetic Theron with a rigid grace, that serves as the action’s heartbeat. Leitch observes the violence with a certain matter-of-fact chill, tracking the action unblinkingly and liberating himself in the process from the confines of genre standard visual cacophony.

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The touchstone of this approach is a sprawling sequence which begins as a fight in a stairwell, which then shifts into a hotel room, which then drifts into a car chase, all of which is miraculously depicted with the illusion of a single take, allowing us to hang on every moment of contact, every combination of strikes. It’s an emphasis on the performers and their movements, movements which Leitch permits us to truly see, that allows for a heightened sting to the violence, an added punch and heft that instils in the chaos real physical consequence. We see the violence clearly and frankly, we see Lorraine and her male foes pay for their participation in it as their skin tears and discolours, we’re allowed to admire the gritty slickness and precision of their motions.

It’s this, that stiff and stylish blend of bruising calamity, that serves as Atomic Blonde’s bedrock. So good, ultimately, are Leitch’s action sequences, that not only do they compensate for the film’s deficiencies, but they allow one to completely forget about them. Atomic Blonde transcends its lack of substance by sheer force of bold, battering, bravura action-fuelled will. This is a muscular film, one designed purely for the eye and bypassing the brain altogether. Is this a problem? To an extent, but the fact of the matter is not every film can be of real-world consequence and insight. The triumph of Atomic Blonde is it reminds us that not every film should.

Rating:

3.25/4

A Ghost Story

Directed By: David Lowery
Written By: David Lowery
Starring: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara

The first pleasure of David a-ghost-storyLowery’s A Ghost Story is its singularity. To use a cliché, this is a film which defies description. It’s certainly not a horror, despite the very occasional jump scare and whatever macabre thoughts the title might conjure. It’s not a comedy, nor a romance, nor a drama, at least it’s none of these things in the ways that we have come to expect them. The best way I can think to whittle A Ghost Story down to a succinct snapshot of tone and style is to suggest it’s a cross between something from the mind of Tim Burton, with its quirky, gothic sensibility, and something from the mind of Jim Jarmusch, with its odd enchantment and unexpectedly warm embrace.

I’m reluctant to reveal much Continue reading “A Ghost Story”

War for the Planet of the Apes

Directed By: Matt Reeves
Written By: Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback (inspired by the novel Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle and characters created by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver) 
Starring: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn, Karin Konoval, Amiah Millerapesposter

War for the Planet of the Apes is defiant in its refusal to conflate its simian characters and its humans. Even in the film’s most explosive, calamity filled set-pieces, writer director Matt Reeves keeps his eye fixed on character, fixed on maintaining the two sides of the coin as distinct. No character becomes faceless in light of the action, particularly impressive when one considers how easy that might have been given that War is the finale in this Apes reboot trilogy—in Rise the pieces were assembled, in Dawn the pieces were arranged, the next logical step would be for the pieces to collide. How easy to misplace politics and morality and personality on the backburner for just a passage or two in order to Continue reading “War for the Planet of the Apes”

Dunkirk

Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Written By: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy

Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s dunkirk-posterlatest subversive blockbuster, opens with a collection of British soldiers strolling, with quiet trepidation, through an eerily desolate town. Above them, flyers drift from the sky like snowflakes, bearing a message from the Germans. The Brits are cornered, and the clock is against them. One boyish ally (Fionn Whitehead) plucks a flyer from the air, takes it in and moves on, before the quiet of the town is ruptured by crackling gunfire. It’s from here, after but one eye-catching visual, that writer/director Nolan puts his foot to the pedal, seizing us with a vice-like grip inside merely a handful of frames, and refusing to relinquish his stranglehold for the duration of his film. Continue reading “Dunkirk”

It Comes at Night

Directed By: Trey Edward Shultz
Written By: Trey Edward Shultz
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough

What distinguishes It Comes at j6Fujy7Night from ostensibly similar thrillers is not plot. In respect to story, the film has a rather run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic set-up: a family of three barricade themselves in their home following the outbreak of a hugely potent disease, weary of outsiders who may try to take their space. What writer/director Trey Edward Shultz, in his sophomore picture following Krisha, does in an effort to define his humble psycho-horror, is reject any easy means of courting a reaction. A concerted effort is employed to evade jump scares and shock cuts, perhaps a surprise given the title alone conjures images of one being suddenly ambushed in the dark—indeed, this misguided expectation has led to certain audiences feeling cold towards the film, and not in the intended way. It’s important to note that It Comes at Night is not a populist horror, it’s tension is founded more on atmosphere and a deep-seated dread, activated through a patient slow-burn build, rather than viscera or “action.”

Joel Edgerton plays Paul, the patriarch in said family of three, living in self-enforced captivity alongside wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and 17 year old son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) Paul champions discipline and regiment as the keys to outlasting the disease which has claimed so much of the world. Exactly how much of the world we never learn. If one is to leave the house, it must be in a pair. Meals will be eaten twice daily, together. Night time excursions must be avoided if possible. When one begins to exhibit symptoms of the disease, they are to be promptly put down like a dog, then burnt, as seen in the film’s opening where Paul must dispose of his own father-in-law.  Gas masks and gloves are common outfit. The chief separator between Paul’s family and the contaminated outside world is a red door, eerie in its betrayal of the film’s otherwise relentlessly drab palette, never to be opened unless required.

This strictly preserved routine is upended by the arrival of Will (Christopher Abbott), himself the father in a family of three, attempting to break into Paul’s house to find refuge. Upon earning Paul’s trust, the two families determine to pull their resources together. Will’s family moves in, and for a time there is normality, even laughter, before the union grows toxic.

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Given the economical nature of Shultz’s direction, so much of It Comes at Night’s visceral energy stems from the performances. Joel Edgerton is, as he has so often been, powerful in his minimalism, never overstating his emotions, lending the film a real-world clout in the process. Edgerton is emblematic of one of the film’s major accomplishments, it’s veracity, despite its dealing in extraordinary circumstances. Shultz’s portrait of a near-dystopia is rooted in reality. There are no contrivances here, no forfeiture of rationality in favour of easy scares, so often a pit trap in horror. These are characters who are justified in their actions, regardless of their seeming heinousness. The realism of the film’s circumstance is further affirmed by its present day parallels. It Comes at Night is an examination of humanity at the end of its rope, of people who are trigger happy with their demonisations of their fellow man in times of fear, a notion of great sociopolitical currency.

Despite Edgerton’s top billing, It is Harrison Jr. who is tasked with the chief heavy lifting of the narrative, Travis serving as the film’s emotional centrepiece. With Paul occupied by preserving regiment and discipline, it becomes Travis through whom Shultz filters the emotional devastation of the predicament. Travis’ youth dictates he possess a more romantic, optimistic disposition, not yet ready to consign to the reigning cut-throat law of the land. But this purity is in the process of being spoiled. With each passing day Travis must not only front devastating atrocities, but he must grapple with their validity in a time and place where all social contracts have expired.

It’s from the mere verbal v1.bjsxNjU0Nzc3O2o7MTc0MzQ7MTIwMDsyMDgwOzE1NjAinterplay of these characters that much of the subtle tension rises; a rare horror in which the action is interaction. An apparent contradiction regarding one character’s family make-up puts an arch in the brow for only a moment, before Shultz leaves the confusion in the air unresolved, as if to vaporise it for unconscious assimilation, taken in through our breathing and rooting itself in our unknowing bodies. It’s that brand of entrenched, perpetual uncertainty, so abundant in In Comes at Night, that allows the film to so easily creep in under the skin; it’s subtle, but in the long term it’s just as terrorising as any chainsaw wielding psychopath. There is something admirable in the way the film is able to cultivate such a lingering discomfort from what appear to be throwaway moments.

The disease itself is non-specific. What we know is that it scabs the skin, causes one to puke blood, is impossibly contagious, and even more lethal. The disease is but one in a long line of non-specifics in It Comes at Night. This a film with no affinity for answers, merely in raising questions, perhaps because with answers, irrespective of what they affirm, comes a comfort, a resolve. It Comes at Night opts to keep its viewer, much like the central house itself, in the dark, with mystery constantly stirring.

Said house harbors an acute sense of claustrophobia, with long blackened hallways and a stairway that seems to plunge into an abyss. Brian McOmber’s score adds further texture to Shultz’s brand of unrelenting disquiet. McOmber’s whiny, string heavy compositions evoke Mica Levi’s work in Jackie, employing that same ghostly moan quality that has a proclivity for tunnelling into the pit of one’s stomach.

Perhaps the greatest testament to It Comes at Night’s power is my intuitive reaction as the lights came on following its screening. For the briefest second I found myself looking at my fellow moviegoers with disgust, for the briefest second I saw them as savages who would do anything to keep their necks safe. So immersive was the film, so fully realised was its world and characters, that I was still locked into its mentality even after it had finished. It’s nothing fresh, but Trey Edward Shultz’s second feature has a unique ability to get inside the mind.

Rating:

3.25/4

 

 

Baby Driver

Directed By: Edgar Wright
Written By: Edgar Wright
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm

Few filmmakers demonstrate baby-driver-postersuch a command of the cinematic artform as Edgar Wright does with Baby Driver, a wondrous symphony of romance, violence, vitality, funk, comedy and untethered imagination. Wright, a cinephile of Scoresesian proportions, grants every tool of the medium its own time to shine: the wowing stunt work seen in the film’s many car chases, the endlessly creative application of music (not just background noise, the music maps the action), the director’s trademark sudden burst editing, smooth and seamless photography (the film’s opening credits are accompanied by a herculean long take that would make Robert Altman’s eyebrows raise), a brand of dialogue which finds Continue reading “Baby Driver”

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Directed By: Jon Watts
Written By: Jon Watts, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei

Watching Spider-Man: 20170706091137!Spider-Man_Homecoming_posterHomecoming, I found myself resigning to the fact that when it comes to comic-book blockbusters, derivative, overblown action sequences are a strict inevitability; something this type of film must feature if it is to fulfil its spectacle, popcorn friendly mandate. Upon reflection however, this isn’t so. Consider Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and the first mono-e-mono showdown between Batman and Bane—the scene is stripped bare; there are no explosions, no swirling camera movements, no thunderous score. The scene is quiet, visually legible, still. There’s an intimacy there. By honing in more on the participants in the action rather than the rubble they’re Continue reading “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Okja

Directed By: Bong Joon-ho
Written By: Bong Joon-ho and Jon Ronson
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ahn Seo-hyun, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Giancarlo Esposito

The opening scene of Bong Joon-hokja-postero’s Okja sees a slideshow performed by Lucy Mirando, head of the agrochemical Mirando corporation (played by Tilda Swinton), in which she details her company’s plan to grow and develop, via all-natural means, the world’s first batch of super pigs. There are 26 super pigs, each will be assigned to a farm inhabited by a different culture for a period of 10 years, with the healthiest and most handsome super pig being paraded and showcased before it’s eventually dissected and fed to the world’s starving masses. The scheme is an attempt to recoup Mirando’s image which has been tarnished through a non-specific history of cruelty during the tenures of Lucy’s father and sister. The “all-natural” part is a lie, and the presentation Continue reading “Okja”

Kedi

Directed By: Ceyda Torun
Cinematography By: Alp Korfali and Charlie Wuppermann
Starring: Sari, Gamsiz, Psikopat, Deniz, Bengu, Aslan Parcasi, Duman 

There are two key successes to kedi-film-poser+2Ceyda Torun’s Kedi (English translation Cat). The first is its endlessly rich sense of time and place. I have never been to Istanbul, but after seeing Kedi, I might have. The film is a documentary which takes place in the aforementioned city, a dockland area rife with cafés and delis and industrial districts. There is a faint air of melancholy in Torun’s love letter to her home, gesturing that Istanbul’s unique magic will soon be eschewed for a denser metropolis, but never is Torun cynical or bitter. Rather, its affection that soaks the director’s vision. There’s pride in the way she swoons through Istanbul’s bustling cityscape, homing in on the everyday folk Continue reading “Kedi”