The Disaster Artist

Directed By: James Franco
Written By: Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (based on the The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Film Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco,Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Josh Hutcherson

Oh hai readers. How to hGN8Jpfdescribe a man like Tommy Wiseau. There are still so many fundamental answers which elude us when considering cinema’s most misguided forayer, a man with an untraceable European accent, unaccounted for buckets of wealth, and an age destined to remain unknown. He wears at least two waist belts at all times, with one often resting below his buttocks, has long, stringy, jet black hair—dyed— and a towering, unearthly presence which appears to have derived from the mind of Bram Stoker and then been crossed with the appearance of a pirate. Tommy is the ultimate enigma, a man who will forever remain impossible to place, but what is known beyond doubt is that he possesses not a skerrick Continue reading “The Disaster Artist”

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Only the Brave

Directed By: Joseph Kosinski
Written By: Ken Nolwan and Eric Warren Singer (based on the GQ article by Sean Flynn)
Starring: Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Jeff Bridges, Taylor Kitsch, Jennifer Connelly

There are two undeniable OnlyTheBravetruths which Joseph Kosinski’s biographical drama Only the Brave captures: one being just how terrifying and devastating wildfires are, the other, following rather logically, being the immense courage required from those who must front those fires. Those two notions may seem painfully self-evident, but cinema, with its unique capacity for visceral evocation and worldbuilding, can illustrate those ideas with a fullness which eludes so many other artforms. What Kosinski’s film lacks in finer textures of character, it makes up for in that respect.

Only the Brave tells the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite twenty-man crew based in Arizona, dedicated to battling wildfires via teamwork and ruthless work-ethic. It traces their growth as a team; their back-slapping, bro-mancing banter; their rigorous training and dedication; their sporadic passages of introspection; all culminating in an ill-fated fight against the Yarnell Hill Fire in June of 2013.

The hotshots are a kind of special forces equivalent for their field, delving into the heart of the threat and literally fighting fire with fire: constructing a line of burnt off flora that a blaze can’t cross— an unenviable task founded upon courage, met by the men in question with an almost crazed enthusiasm and barefaced pride.

In bringing the Granite Mountain Hotshots to the screen, and celebrating their bravery, Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer’s screenplay can’t help but refer to archetypes. Josh Brolin plays the leader, Eric “Supe” Marsh, the brilliant, no-nonsense, married-to-his-job-type, hellbent on whipping his team into the first municipal crew to achieve hotshot status; inevitably, he does. Under his wing Supe takes in Brendan “Donut” McDonough (Miles Teller), a dead-beat stoner with a heart of gold, searching for redemption following the birth of his first child. Taylor Kitsch plays the group’s head jock, Chris MacKenzie, initial bully to outsider Brendan, but one quick to let go of his scepticism when he takes the time to properly know him. Jeff Bridges plays Duane, a grizzled veteran of the job who serves as something of an uncle figure to Supe. Jennifer Connelly is straddled with the obligatory, worried-wife-stuck-at-home role, finding herself consigned to largely waiting anxiously by the phone as her husband (Supe), embarks upon the film’s real narrative—an unfortunate role which has befallen the talented likes of Kate Hudson in Deepwater Horizon, Laura Linney in Sully, and Keira Knightely in Everest in recent times.

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To Kosinski’s credit, we spend more time with Only the Brave’s characters than we have might have expected from this type of movie: the biographical action drama which has become a signature of Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg also in recent times.

Where Peter Berg’s hit-the-ground-running freneticism can occasionally undermine his narrative’s humanity however, Kosinski permits his subjects more breathing space, allowing his film time to slowly chip away at Brolin’s stolid veneer, allowing Brendan’s irrepressible goodness to materialise, allowing Chris and Brendan’s arising friendship to achieve authenticity, allowing the underlining theme of parenthood to take root. Brolin and Connelly’s relationship is granted a healthy amount of screen time too, before the latter slips into her reduced role—although Kosinski and co do little more to render the affection between the two than have them kiss and say I love you on a loop.

What humanity Only the Brave bears is imbued upon the film chiefly by its able cast, Josh Brolin and Miles Teller leading the charge with their stubborn, hard-as-nails fatherliness, and vulnerable, shaggy dog sympathy respectively. Such performances can only elevate the characterisation so far however, grounding the narrative without mustering the soul-punching affect the film’s real-life subjects deserve when tragedy eventually strikes, nor the affect Kosinski so clearly craves.

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But the truths which don’t elude Only the Brave’s grasp are more fundamental and sweeping, the film ultimately serving as a sincere, touching ode to the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ collective bravery, rather than an ode of a more intimate kind.

As an action drama, designed to bring us into the literal line of fire and lend perspective to the bravura of these men, Only the Brave charges forth with a no-fuss, steely-eyed pragmatism befitting of its characters.

It’s in building intensity, and bringing the terrifying threats faced by the crew to life, in which Kosinski is most at home, offering a visceral, immersive experience which whips this whirlwind world into sharp focus. Similarly, Nolan and Singer’s screenplay is most at home when it too is focussed on the firefighting, fastidiously detailing the tasks and minutia of the hotshot practise. It’s a quality demonstrative of the film’s noble intentions: Only the Brave isn’t interested in cheap tugs of the heartstrings, but rather in offering a snapshot of what these men did, how they did it, and what they selflessly risked along the way– an often captivating snapshot, but one acquired at the expense of fully rendered characters.

Tasteful, thoughtfully crafted, and undeniably powerful in passages, Only the Brave serves as an honorable tribute to its real-life subjects, even if it doesn’t fully realise their humanity.     

Rating:

3/4

 

 

Mudbound

Directed By: Dee Rees
Written By: Dee Ree and Virgil Williams (based on the novel Mudbound by Hillary Jordan)
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blighe

Mudbound is a film about the mudboundwdfways which we as people divert and converge; the ways in which individuals can be brought together by fundamental human longings and aspirations, yet remain divided by things decidedly more arbitrary and uncontrolled—in this case, race.

The McAllans—headed by the stern Henry and heart-of-gold Laura, a couple married more out of pragmatism than romance (Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan respectively)—and the Jacksons, headed by loving, no-fuss proletarians Hap and Florence (Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blighe) Continue reading “Mudbound”

Wonder

Directed By: Stephen Chbosky
Written By: Stephen Chbosky, Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne (based on the novel Wonder by R.J Palacio)
Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic, Mandy Patinkin

In Wonder, based upon the wonderbest-selling novel by R.J Palacio, a ten year-old-Star Wars fanatic born with severe facial abnormalities, named Auggie Pullman, removes the toy space helmet he has long been using to shield his features from the outside world, leaves behind his mother’s home-schooling, and enters the public education domain for the first time. Auggie’s ears are fleshy bulbs, his chin is retracted, his cheeks are coated in scar tissue, he looks “different” to use his words— physical differences which land him at the centre of both hideous bullying (kids liken him to Freddie Krueger, and fear they’ll contract the plague merely by touching him), and, more powerfully, brimming affection. Many motivational speeches follow, many lessons too, many tears, many laughs, more Continue reading “Wonder”

Justice League

Directed By: Zack Snyder
Written By: Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon (based on the Justice League comics conceived by Gardner Fox)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher

Justice League smacks of untappejOQdneopl0W6iJVpvnlDcwd potential, which is both its curse and flickering upside. It’s a great frustration that on one hand the movie can’t help but subject itself to the most cliched pit-traps of its genre— unfocussed storytelling, bouts of CGI laden cacophony (to both ear and eye), shallow characterisations, all symptoms of the film’s excessive breathlessness.

It’s a great disappointment too, given the film was surely conceived as DC’s crown jewel. Finally DC’s most cherished creations would share a live-action screen: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman, Cyborg. To see these characters at long last lassoed together should provide a sure-fire sentimental thrill, even for those indifferent to the comics, such is Continue reading “Justice League”

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Directed By: Yorgos Lanthimos
Written By: Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou
Starring: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic

If one is unsure if the latest from KSD_1Sheet_Alt_Curzon_HRthe macabre, unworldly, swirling blackhole that is the imagination of Yorgos Lanthimos is for them, they’ll know for certain within a single frame. The Killing of a Sacred Deer opens with a lingering shot of a still beating human heart amidst surgery, Lanthimos hovering his camera over the sight long enough for its most minute features to set up permanent residence in our minds. It’s a thoroughly crude ingratiation into the world of Lanthimos, and a distinctly Lanthimos thing to do—viewer baptism by fire, presenting our eyes with a most jarring, arrestingly grotesque visual; as unflinching and matter-of-fact in its delivery as a schoolteacher is in taking attendance.

Immediately afterwards, we are treated to more Lanthimos hallmarks. The doctor who has just performed that surgery, Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell), walks alongside his colleague, the two discussing each other’s watches and their respective preference for leather or metal wrist straps. It’s an uncannily rigid conversation, the words spoken with a mechanical, unfeeling precision befitting of the topic at hand. Perhaps on paper the words would appear acceptable by typical social standards, but in their off-kilter, something’s-not-quite-right register, they adopt an almost alien quality. Watching The Killing of a Sacred Deer, it often feels as though we’ve stepped into a parallel universe in which everybody has been half-lobotomised.

The accumulative effect of these scenes is oddly comedic in its overtly stilted, impossibly deadpan, unnatural demeanour, and oddly perturbing for those same reasons. Such is the power of Lanthimos, a filmmaker distinct in his ability to be riotous and unnerving in the same breath—both by means entirely his own. Consider the scene where Stephen fruitlessly attempts to jam a donut down his son’s throat. Upon failing, Stephen demands of his son that when he return the whole box of donuts be gone, like a parent who forces their child to smoke an entire packet of cigarettes when they’ve been caught in the act smoking one. Or consider when Stephen suspects that that same child is putting on an act in the hope of garnering attention, and threatens him with shaving his head and force-feeding him his own hair. There’s something disquieting about these scenes, sad even—a desperate father, scared, at the end of his rope, and willing to say or do anything. There is also something irrepressibly comical about the absurdity of it all. That those two juxtaposing affects never undermine each other is something of a miracle. That in fact they enhance one another, is the calling card of an auteur who has successfully demarcated himself from the pack.

There are traces of outside directorial influence in Lanthimos’s work—Stanley Kubrick with that prowling, sweeping camera work; David Lynch with that fearless, “screw-you” fusion of the surreal and seemingly natural—but a Yorgos Lanthimos movie is ultimately its own, gloriously deformed beast; in that irreverent originality, there is a great cinematic thrill.

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That originality leads Lanthimos down the alley of icy psychological horror this time around, a genre engaged in previous works, but never pursued as centrally as it is here. The story of The Killing of a Sacred Deer sees a Greek myth transposed into contemporary American suburbia, where a materially perfect family— consisting of Stephen; his beautiful, sexually complaint ophthalmologist wife Anna (played by Nicole Kidman; Anna and Stephen partake in ritualised love making in which Anna plays the role of an anaesthetised body); and their two well-to-do children, 15-year-old Kim (Raffey Cassidy), and 12-year-old Bob (Sunny Suljic)— find themselves at the mercy of a mystical, life threatening force.

Exact details of the plot aren’t to be revealed here, discovering them for oneself, jaw agape and mind bewildered, is one of the film’s key allures— in a joy too often deprived of movie-goers, the things that transpire in Sacred Deer are totally unforeseeable. What’s apparent is that this mystical force somehow traces back to Martin (Barry Keoghan), a 16-year-old boy whom Stephen is apparently obliged, treating him to gifts and frequent rendezvouses in which the two walk along the waterfront and meet in a diner.

Ostensibly, Martin is a charming young man, as stilted and stoic as any other character in Lanthimos world, yet bearing no malice in his demeanour. But as the film’s discordant, string-heavy score attests long before Lanthimos’ and co-writer Efthymis Filippou’s screenplay, Martin is the classic wolf in sheep’s clothing, weaving his way into the Murphys’ good graces before growing, almost imperceptibly, vicious. Soon Martin’s requests for Stephen’s company transfigure into demands, his gormless expressions morphing from comedic to chilling, ushering with his change in person a transition from abyss-black humour to increasingly surreal revenge saga, one which burrows under the skin and into the pit of the stomach with parasitic efficiency.

“Revenge saga” hardly screams unique, but as per Ebert’s law, a film isn’t about what it’s about, but rather it’s about how it’s about it. And Lanthimos’ approach to revenge is so arch; so bold in its unwavering stoicism; in its pummelling, classical soundtrack; in its spattering of jet-black comedy; in its ability to ride mundane topics of conversation, such as preference of watch strap, into alarming, uncanny exchanges; that the film ultimately achieves a kind of enigmatic menace. It makes for a singularly unmooring viewing experience.

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The performances are to be thanked in large part. Where many might have slipped into banality operating along such deliberately robotic lines, Farrell, Kidman and Keoghan remain compulsively watchable. Keoghan is startling in his ability to wring dread from such an innocent, youthful veneer, while Ms. Kidman deftly concocts maternal warmth and quiet despair. It is Lanthimos alumni Farrell who lays at the centre of the film however, evoking his performance in The Lobster with his repeated mastery of blank-faced humour underpinned with the faint air of tragedy.

What Sacred Deer preserves from Lanthimos’s previous work in Farrell however, it fails to recreate in levity. While The Lobster offset its tragedy with a heftier dose of humour and bouts of genuine romance, Sacred Deer doubles down on the austere and idiosyncratic, an exercise so devoid of recognisable humanity that it becomes as cold as it is fascinating.

The question then, is if that fascination is worth such a deliberately alienating eventuality. I believe it is. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is so unique, so unlike anything else, that it’s worth seeing simply for the ambition. That the film is utterly hypnotic and impossible to take one’s eye off along the way, is a bonus.

Rating:

3/4

 

Detroit

Directed By: Kathryn Bigelow
Written By: Mark Boal
Starring: John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Anthony Mackie, John Krasinski

Detroit opens with a series of detroit-jpganimated Jacob Lawrence paintings, used to escort an abridged history lesson in African-American tribulation. Accompanying text tells of the post-World War African-American migration from the south of the U.S to the north, the job discrimination and residential segregation that followed, the prejudices which tainted legal discourse for black folk living in areas of white law enforcement. The sequence establishes the U.S, Detroit specifically, as a racial pressure cooker by the 1960s, its eventual eruption to be the focus of the film’s forthcoming action. That same sequence also closes with the posing of a question which will loom over the picture for its duration, providing a constant tap into viewer terror Continue reading “Detroit”

Murder on the Orient Express

Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Written By: Michael Green
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer

“There is something about a tangle Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-poster-1of strangers pressed together for days with nothing in common but the need to go from one place to another” remarks the director of the ornate passenger train the Orient Express. Similarly, there is something about a tangle of mega big-name stars, pressed together on a set and sporting variously exotic accents as they find themselves enraptured in one of the world’s most famous whodunits.

True, Murder on the Orient Express doesn’t “press” its stars together as much it could (it is unadvisedly, by its conclusion, rather a one man show) but this is an epic tangle, one which in its mere assembling provides an inherent cinematic thrill. For what purpose would one Continue reading “Murder on the Orient Express”

Thor: Ragnarok

Directed By: Taika Waititi
Written By: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Kyle (based on the Thor comic books by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo

It’s long been a distinguishing thor_ragnarok_posterfeature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that comedic flair which underpins those lavish, CG fuelled action set-pieces and stirring melodrama. Ever since the effortlessly charismatic, incessantly zany, and quick-with-a-quip Robert Downey Jr. first donned the Iron Man suit in 2008, and with it fostered the rise of an entire studio and 16 resulting films, Marvel has long hung their hat on their ability to deftly blend tones of light and dark. Even when the Universe’s hottest commodities squared off in a calamitous brawl with mass political ramifications and which, somehow, along the way conjured near-tear jerking affect (2016’s Civil War), Marvel and their team of passionate writers and enthused Continue reading “Thor: Ragnarok”

The Snowman

Directed By: Tomas Alfredson
Written By: Hossein Amini, Peter Straughan and Soren Sveistrup (based on the novel The Snowman by Jo Nesbo)
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, J.K. Simmons

Perhaps The Snowman was always IjMDP4adestined to disappoint given the talent involved. In front of the camera: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones, Charlotte Gaunsbourg. Behind it: Tomas Alfredson (a proven hand at wrestling thrills out of complex subject matter, hence Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), the legendary Martin Scorsese as producer, Scorsese’s long-time cohort Thelma Schoonmaker editing, and a source material with a mountain of big screen prospects to match its popularity, the Norwegian crime/thriller novel of the same name by Jo Nesbo. But The Snowman doesn’t just disappoint by the high expectations it invites, it disappoints by any standard— a confused, tensionless mess that never hangs together Continue reading “The Snowman”