Thursday, 27 October 2016

Queen of Katwe (2016) (Review)


Disney have been hitting some real highs at the box office this year - Captain America: Civil War, Finding Dory, Zootropolis, The Jungle Book and Pete's Dragon have all been part of the plethora of riches 2016 has offered and Queen of Katwe is no exception. It's smaller, quieter and less showy than the rest of the year's slate, and not what we have come to expect from them, but it is filled with equal heart, warmth and charm of their biggest smash hits, despite the smaller budget and restrictions.

10 year-old Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) lives with her family in the slum of Katwe, Uganda. When she meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), a missionary program leader, she becomes fascinated by the game of chess and quickly begins to shine. Considering this as her opportunity to escape a life of poverty for herself, her mother (Lupita Nyong'o) and her siblings, she takes part in various competitions and tournaments in the hope of becoming a top player. With various obstacles in the way - including her education, personal identity and the increasing stress of the competitions and strain it is putting on her family - Phiona hopes to defy the odds and find her own square in the world.

Queen of Katwe excels because of how achingly humane it begins, continues and ends, with large thanks to the stunning portrayals of the three lead characters; Madina Nalwanga offers a thoughtfully crafted performance as the determined Phiona who wishes to grow from the hand-to-mouth existence she knows. She has some beautiful character beats and developmental arc, most of which are complimented and reflected through her relationship with her mother, played superbly by Lupita Nyong'o. Coming into her own with a powerful performance in the film's third and final act and carrying a lot of the emotional weight and heft, Nyong'o is vital in conveying some of the film's most prominent themes, while Oyelowo beautifully sets the tone with some surprisingly hilarious moments. Not forgetting the supporting cast of children either, who all add to the community that is presented with such detail, diversity and vibrance by Mira Nair's direction and Sean Bobbitt's cinematography.

Thematically the film soars with its portrayal of some quintessentially Disney themes and ideas and it never feels any less than human, warm and profoundly inspiration. Family, love, identity, perseverance and strength conjure up a truly moving picture packed with emotion and conviction, allowing audiences to feel invested in the character's lives and root for Phiona as she strives to achieve her dream, despite her troubling circumstances which make it almost impossible. It's as uplifting as you would expect a Disney film to be, but it also goes further tonally, offering a number of humourous moments that elevate the picture remarkably, while remaining totally authentic; everything feels natural, likely down to the committed performances from the cast and on-location filming. Surprisingly, much like January's Joy, Katwe also manages to ring a lot of intensity from its seemingly uninspired central elements - a chess championship - which helps sustain most of its two hour and four minute runtime.

In most cases, the formula of the Disney feel-good film and the cliches of the 'underdog' genre sail past without much reminder because of the outstanding performances and general engagement in the story, even though some of these tropes are more prominent than one would like; when returning back to the in media res that was teased in the film's opening sequence, the eventual outcome plays out as nothing more than a courteous, to bring the story full circle. The decision to open with this flash forward, and then return to the beginning to have it play out over a number of years instead, does perhaps jeopardise some of the set pieces and championships leading up to this moment as, in the back of your head, you know the story does not conclude just yet and the ending is not yet in sight. Another slight weakness of the film is its inflated runtime which does not always race by with the enthusiasm you wish it did, and know it can, as demonstrated in some of the quicker moments.

That said, with just a few minor flaws, Queen of Katwe is an inspirational, touching and memorable Disney film that champions a diverse cast and location with a great sense of gravitas from the three stirring, superb leads. It remains the type of film we all say we want to see: original content without the 'blockbuster' template, that champions its performances and story over its effects and production values. It's exactly what you hope and expect of a Disney film, both heartwarming and influential, and will be sure to inspire many who leave the theatre. It makes you laugh and then it makes you cry just moments later, crafted by people with powerful messages to tell and convey with a deep sincerity for its subject manner, reinforced by the film's credits revealing where these people are in their lives, stood next to the actors and actresses that bought them to screen - a touching moment that perfectly epitomises the care this film has for its characters and story.

(8/10)

Summary: Queen of Katwe is another gem in Disney's crown, with a beautifully-told story supported by a wonderful cast that fills a gap otherwise missing in cinemas and celebrates diversity and perseverance.

Highlight: The end montage updating us where these people are in their lives, stood next to the actors and actresses that bought their characters to the screen. 


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016) (Review)


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is the next big family-friend adventure fantasy film from the visionary director Tim Burton. Based on the best-selling novel by Ransom Riggs, it features an ensemble cast consisting of Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Ella Purnell, Judi Dench, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris O'Dowd, Allison Jannery, Judi Dench, Terence Stamp and Rupert Everett. With what many consider an artistic stump for Burton as of late - arguably since the release of Alice in Wonderland back in 2010 - is Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children enough to enlighten the imaginative director's success in providing characteristically darker and off-beat material?

After a family tragedy, Jake Portman (Butterfield) follows clues left by his grandfather to an Island in Wales that houses 'Peculiars' - a group of people who possess special and unique abilities, hidden from a world that won't accept them. To stay safe, they are secured in a time loop on September 3rd 1943 by Miss Peregrine (Green), but Wights and Hallows begin entering time-loops to feed off the Peculiars and recover their human form. Each of the Peculiars have their own unique ability - from invisibility to shapeshifting, to turning objects to stone to floating on air - but how well is this realised, and more importantly, is the film any good?

Solid performances are given all-round, with Asa Butterfield continuing to demonstrate his talent, with the hope of some more substantial roles around the corner. Within the ensemble, there features some solid turns from the likes of the ever-incredible Judi Dench, Terence Stamp in an underused but sustaining role and Ella Purnell, who shows so much promise early on into her career, but the film truly belongs to Eva Green. Playing the titular Miss Peregrine, her quirkiness and eccentricities are rather enchanting - helping the film find its own individuality and peculiarity - and allowing it to stand out when its narrative tries to stick to well-troden tropes of the fantasy adventure genre. Green, while slightly underused for a portion of the film, commands a strong presence and gives the film an energy to play off that instills the film with an excitement whenever she is near. In fact, it is when the film suffers the most that she is missing, which says a lot about the impact she has in this film.

Thematically, the film delves into some big ideas about loneliness and bravery which, while typical of the 'chosen one' sub-genre, are undeniable well-considered and touching. All of this is emphasised by Burton's direction which, although seemingly derivative, taken from his 'greatest hits' album, is a perfect suit for the unusual world presented in the books. It's a solid translations to the big screen, with Burton realising a number of sequences with spectacular fashion and style, including the time-loop and underwater scenes. If anyone can understand and develop the whimsical world of Peculiar Children, Burton can and he does, supplying the escapism films like this strive to achieve. It's certainly fantastical in its tone and genre, but not fantastic all the time...

Peculiar Children's biggest downfall is its narrative, which is overcomplicated, overcooked and overstuffed. In an attempt to pack in as much as possible - narrative, imagery, set pieces and cast and characters - the film becomes too convoluted and resorts to applying only basic levels of development to its characters. The story is overstuffed to the point that resolving the entire thing leads to a messy third act that races to tie everything up, while leaving just enough open to justify a sequel or franchise. It feels like it adheres too similarly to templates of many other Young Adult adaptations of recent, but it's the twisted darkness that prevents it from feeling like an exact carbon copy. And while his legacy is enough to ignore this performance, Samuel L Jackson simply does not sell his role as the Barron convincingly, creating a foolishly annoying villain that adds very little to the story. It's a film that lacks an understanding of restriction and the knowledge that sometimes less is indeed more. These are flaws that could be easily rectified to create a more successful film, but that somehow makes the flaws all the more glaring and frustrating.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is an entertaining film only let down by an overcomplicated and overstuffed narrative. It is otherwise bolstered by impressive performances and visuals, with just a hint at some of the themes that could really prove Peculiar Children as the next big fantasy franchise. For all its flaws, enjoyment can still be found within Peculiar Children and while the premise's potential may not have been perfectly executed this time round, I wouldn't turn down a second opportunity to see the world created by both Riggs and Burton, especially if we get more of the same from Eva Green.

(7/10)

Summary: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children may be overcooked on the narrative front, but it otherwise excels because of Tim Burton's arresting visual direction and the solid performances, most notably from Eva Green in the titular role.

Highlight: The first introduction to the Peculiars is full with a lot of charm that I just wish was sustained for longer. 

Monday, 17 October 2016

Inferno (2016) (Review)


Despite proclaiming that I am an avid film fan, I must admit to have never watching either The Da Vinci Code and Angel and Demons, the two films of which Inferno acts as a sequel to and thus, I went in completely blind. Adapted from Dan Brown's novel of the same name and featuring Tom Hanks reprising his role and Ron Howard taking directorial reigns once more, the third instalment in Brown's film adaptation adds Felicity Jones as the leading lady. It has slowly opened across the world in the lead up to its release in the US at the end of the month and scored rather negative reviews; but what is the film like for someone unfamiliar with its predecessors? Something a little more mixed.

Plagued with visions of Hell and with little memory of the events from the previous 48 hours, Professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) awakens in a hospital room in Florence with a head injury; Doctor Sienna Brooks (Jones) treats him before fleeing with him when open gunfire begins. When a projection of Dante's Inferno ends up in the Professor's possession, and a price on his head, he must work out what his visions mean before they begin to wreak havoc in the real world, as the threat of a virus set to be unleashed on the world would begin to cull the population. Borrowing elements from art and religion to fuel its narrative, it focuses on the Seven Steps of Hell and how to escape Earth's spiralling overpopulation. What should be a rather engaging piece of film-making with a mix of the thriller, mystery, drama and fantasy genres accidentally becomes something unintentionally absurd and silly rather quickly, although if you can find try hard enough, it is just about substantial enough.

Hanks and Jones each provide solid and convincing performances in a script that otherwise leaves them fighting ludicrous and nonsensical material. Whether it's a lack of character understanding on my behalf given my ignorance to its previous instalments, or a lack of will on the film's behalf to continue developing its central character, Langdon seems rather insubstantial and underdeveloped despite Hanks' best efforts to give him some depth throughout the film. Jones, always a delight, thankfully has a more detailed character arc, with at least some backstory that unravels slowly and steadily, keeping one hooked long enough. Despite fears that the age gap would prevent it, they share a strong chemistry and prove to be a well-matched pairing, as the dynamic between them changes as the film progresses towards its conclusion. Some minor characters provide substantial performance, most notably, Ben Foster's Bertrand Zobrist, who acts as a gateway into providing the film's compelling and thought-provoking central ideas to consider, fuelling some of the main narrative beats, even if his character in particular relies a little too heavily on exposition.

Aesthetically, the film forms its own identity and looks visually unlike any other comparable thing; Howard manages to craft a strong vision for the film, thanks in part to its diverse and unusual setting - Italy is a captivating setting that oozes so much beauty but is rarely captured on film. By having Inferno play out in Florence and Venice - tonally feeding into the religious and artistic themes - Howard keeps audiences distracted with the visuals and setting when the narrative wavers, desperately attempting to paper over some of the cracks left by a weary story, as well as tying in historical and cultural imagery well. The use of flashbacks - characteristically blurry and unclear to reflect the mentally-impaired lead- unfolding gradually over the course of the film generally works, even when it feels more providential than one would appreciate. Hans Zimmer also returns into the fold, scoring the film well by adding some intensity to a number of sequences, even if his work is not as remarkable as some of his bigger hits.

Where Inferno really stumbles is striking a consistent tone and creating a rousing energy that causes the film to drag its heels on more than a couple of occasions. It's unfortunate that it lacks the vigour and spark that would elevate the picture into a more satisfying thriller, with at least some energy looking to offset the ridiculousness of the plot. It races from set piece to set piece with little time to consider anything in detail, burning through its own source material at such pace and cramming as many plot points and minor characters in its runtime as possible. It's overstuffed but lacks depth in a narrative capacity, offering the worst of both worlds in some respects. On the surface level, the narrative holds on long enough to be entertaining, but consider it any deeper and the plot holes are glaringly obvious and frustrating, resulting in something quite boring and superficial on the whole, despite how much is packed in. Brown's novels have also evaded me but one can see that this is a little butchered in its structure.

Inferno succeeds only because of the strong vision from Howard (and from the beautiful setting and location), as well as the solid performances and chemistry from both Hanks and Jones in the two lead roles. It's entertaining enough but never as smart as it believes itself to be, even with the talk of religion and art. It mainly comes undone through the jumbled, jam-packed narrative that focuses too much on surface level detail than any of the depth, that could elevate this film to being an intelligent thriller, as well as simply how ludicrous the entire thing is. It's a shame to see Hanks and Jones power through with such middling, average material when they really give their best effort with what they are given, with thinly-sketched minor characters failing to help them either. On the whole, its watchable but rather uninspiring, and I'm unsure whether a second view is warranted. Perhaps when I check out The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons my thoughts may change - for better or for worse, I'll let you know.


(REVISED - 5.5/10)
(ORIGINAL - 6/10)

Summary: Inferno's strong cast, beautiful location and solid direction manages to distract long enough from a jumbled and unclear story, thinly-written characters and surface level detail that disappoints when you consider the talent involved.

Highlight: Hanks and Jones are magnetic in their lead roles with a surprisingly solid chemistry.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Girl on The Train (2016) (Review)


Sometimes, anticipation for a film can set expectations too high that anything less than 'brilliant' is firmly disappointing; on other occasions, poor reviews and buzz from critics can discourage your interest and send expectations crashing through the floor. I experienced both in the lead up to The Girl on The Train, the adaptation of Paula Hawkins' novel that shocked the world last year upon release. An influx of mixed to negative reviews in the lead up to the film's release certainly dampened by spirits, as it was indeed one of my most anticipated releases of the year - however, after catching the film, I am pleased to report that the film was a thrilling ride that only disappoints when compared with similar genre entries, instead of being judged as its free-standing self. Despite owning the book for about a year now, I purposely decided to avoid delving into it, so the film would shock and surprise at every turn. I'm rather glad I did, as this psychological thriller works all the better because of that decision.

Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), a divorced alcoholic, rides the train to work every day, thinking about the occupants of the houses she passes, fantasising about their perfect lives during her commute. When she sees something from the train window, and a missing persons case is launched, she becomes all too absorbed in their world, and as the mystery unfolds, begins to question her own involvement in the possible murder case. Blunt takes the lead role, along with features from Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Therouz, Luke Evans, Allison Jannery, Edgar Ramirez and Lisa Kudrow, all under Tate Taylor's direction.

Emily Blunt is the film's magnetic core, delivering a genuinely moving and constantly engaging performance of an unpredictable narrator; from one moment we go from sympathetically caring and worrying about her state of mind to detesting her and questioning her true motives and involvement - a real sign of the power of her performance as Rachel - as the audience ebb and flow between trusting and distrusting her. While convinced she will be overlooked, this is an award-winning performance, from her glossy eyes and woozy looks to visible, yet subtle shakes caused by her alcoholism, Blunt carries the film marvellously and continues her incredible character-driven and layered work from last year's Sicario. In fact, the cast as a whole is solid, and while almost always overshadowed by Blunt, all perform well in a piece where almost no one can be trusted. Particularly impressive is Bennett as Megan, whose performance makes the central mystery all the more absorbing and gripping.

Structurally, the film may be considered confusing, but works on a deeper level by reflecting the uneven mindset of Rachel; continually switching from the present to variously situated flashbacks, it slowly unfolds and delivers new information which ensures it remains continually taut and tense, highlighted by the genuinely shocking twists at every turn. Tate Taylor's direction is strong, including a number of instances in which the camera becomes oh so subtly shaky, cleverly used to indicate Rachel's alcoholism taking over her conscience. He also makes wonderful use of the unreliable nature of the film's protagonists and her condition, demonstrating wholly different versions of scenes that encourage audience's to question characters they think they understand, only to slow undo that as scenes intercut. Matched with some impressive cinematography, the film is drenched in a rather dull colour palette - blacks, greys and greens - manifesting into Rachel's own personal darkness which is both atmospheric and tonally gritty, suiting the thematic content of the film perfectly.

While managing to remain tense on the whole journey, the film very occasionally loses momentum, particularly at the beginning of the third act, where it appears to retread the same ground through different eyes which, under better control, would work better than it does. Without spoiling too much, a pivotal moment at the end of the first act becomes confusing as to who is where and what is happening, which is entirely down to the visual similarity of the two female supporting characters. It's not for a few minutes that this confusion is cleared up, losing a little investment and focus in the immediate scenes that follow it. Some minor characters need a little more fleshing, including one that simply appears towards the end to reveal something that allows the climax to take place. The majority of these are minor grumbles and can be overlooked as it is an otherwise solid, entertaining drama-thriller.

Upon the novel's release, The Girl on the Train was dubbed 'the next Gone Girl' - a film and novel I loved with all my heart, and perhaps the film suffers because of the comparison to what I see as the pinnacle of the psychological thriller. Having such a critically acclaimed 'stablemate' seems to affect everyone's judgement of the individual product, with the most vehement seemingly coming from lovers of the source material, meaning I feel encouraged that I elected to watch it before I read it. Even with its flaws, The Girl on The Train remains a thoroughly engaging, well-acted and tense film that is superior still if you judge the final product on its own, free from comparisons. It may be a little bumpy in places but for the majority, the ride is one you need a ticket for. I do hope that future viewing treats it kinder than its harshest critics.

(8.5/10)

Summary: The Girl on The Train's journey is thrilling, captivating and continually suspenseful, with a sensational and complex performance from Emily Blunt. The next best 'adult thriller' is rolling into cinemas now and Blunt's performance, and the central mystery, are worth the ticket alone.

Highlight: Emily Blunt's performance is the central core of this film and I do hope the awards are kind to her as its one of the strongest of the year as we head into Oscar territory.

Friday, 7 October 2016

The Neon Demon (2016) (Review)



Never has a film got under my skin as quickly and as unapologetically as Nicolas Winding Refn's arthouse horror The Neon Demon - a film so bizarre that the entire cinematic experience contained in the 117 minute runtime is simultaneously exhaustive and exhilarating. Fuelled by so much style that substance is simply a secondary thought, the characters sketched are paper-thin, the plot is next to non-existent but the visuals are abundantly vivid and vivacious, along with the plethora of symbolism and imagery lusciously laced throughout the film. Quite frankly, this is a film I should hate but instead I rather loved. It's also one that is almost impossible to write about and communicating the strengths and weaknesses of this film is very difficult to pinpoint, so do bear with.

The naturally-beautiful 16-year old Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to L.A. in the hope of forging a modelling career and very quickly begins to outshine her counterparts, which makes a very harsh world all the more merciless. It offers a startling dissection on the meaning and value of natural beauty, as well as a savage depiction of the industry as a whole. All of this is presented in an avant-garde, neon-haze from Nicholas Winding Refn's mind, known for pushing the boundaries with the likes of previous offerings Drive and Only God Forgives, neither of which struck a cord, personally.

Stylistically, this is one of the most blistering, breathtaking and elusively experimental films in memory - every single shot is rich with colour and tone, vividly conveying the world of modelling in such a provocative fashion. Superficiality oozes from the picture, reflecting the industry which unwittingly satirises itself through its lingering shots of models, somewhat looking for the most beautiful thing in the room, much like the women subjected in the film. In one instance, Elle and her almost-boyfriend Dean (Karl Glusman) are seen driving; its an obviously green-screened landscape and backdrop - something I would criticise in most films - but it actually works incredibly well by demonstrating the fine like between real and fake, and particularly how blurry these lines are in the depicted industry. Whether intentional or not, its masterfully executed to reinforce the messages in more subtle ways than the film's ending pieces of symbolism, imagery which become all the more brash and brazen as the audience heads for the conclusion.

Simple dialogue and relatively understated performances only work in emphasising the film's aesthetic beauty versus the simplicity of the premise. Elle Fanning's Jesse is continually cool and composed despite the fragility and innocence of her image, reflecting a perfect piece of casting by the filmmakers. Jena Malone is another piece of excellent casting, offering a confident performance of a character so unsure of her identity that she begins to crack under the pressures of L.A.'s modelling circuit. Further hooking and underscoring the horrific imagery and tales of the industry is Cliff Martinez's terrific score, combining throbbing, pulsating sounds in a hypnotic, trance-like manner, highlighting the ever-evolving tone of each individual scene. A profusion of horror sequences serve shock value perpetually and whilst I will avoid spoilers as much as possible, the impact of the first scene is startling, with a lifeless body dripping with blood surrounded by such grandeur and opulence setting the tone for the symbolism and thematic metaphors to come

While The Neon Demon is masterful in its visual, the underdeveloped plot can be rather frustrating but requires the understanding that it is simply a vehicle for the visual mind of Refn to work, producing a seductive and stylish presentation. The problem is more in terms of how it is structured and, after a well-paced first and second act, the third act stumbles after losing a central element that leaves the picture feeling stranded and slightly directionless, only compounded by how solid and determined the previous two acts are. Built on striking an element of discomfort through the disconcerting industry it presents, the final scene manages to make very little sense in terms of what it wants to say and what it wants us to leave thinking; for many, that may feed into the wonderful abstract nature of the film, but to me it simply left the film on a rather uncertain note that slightly tingles the otherwise masterful first half.

 Either vociferous criticised or endlessly celebrated, The Neon Demon has been one of the most divisive films released this year and I entirely understand why; it epitomises the phrase 'style over substance' that is continually thrown around in cinemas but is worth a look simply for the outstanding aesthetics which remains stylistically blistering throughout, even if the other elements (plot and structure, most noticeably) do not follow suit. The cast are excellent - especially Fanning and Malone - and the horror sequence are particularly well handled and striking. It won't be everyones cup of tea but it is abstract and niche enough to find its audience eventually - and they will be impressed by this package dressed as beauty but is in fact a beast.

(8/10)

Summary: The Neon Demon is a stylistic masterpiece from the mind of Nicolas Winding Refn and while other elements are severely lacking, it is certainly one of the most memorable cinematic experiences of the year.

Highlight: The aesthetics - so striking and vivid.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Gone Girl (2014) (Review)


Gone Girl gripped the world like very few adult-skewing books have ever done before. Gillian Flynn's thriller became a spectacular critical and commerical success and before it had left the number one position on the New York Times Best Seller List (eight weeks!), had already been greenlit for a film adaptation. Flynn's screenplay enticed celebrated director David Fincher to the project, along with Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in the leading roles. On October 3rd 2014, the film opened and again experienced immense success in almost every sense of the world. Exactly two years later and just days before the Gone Girl-inspired 'The Girl on the Train' hits cinemas, I take a look back at why the film has, and always will be, one of my favourite films ever made.

Following Amy Dunne's (Pike) disappearance, Nick Dunne (Affleck) has the world looking at him and he very quickly becomes the primary suspect in the case of his missing wife. Concerning itself with themes of twisted media coverage, dishonest and disloyalty, feminism and misogynistic tendencies, societal expectations and roles by building itself on a web of lies and unreliable narrators - twists and turns - Gone Girl cooked itself up to be a thrilling psychological thriller mystery and delivered on every single level.

As a narrative, Gone Girl is a consistently strong and engaging story that centres two well-crafted characters; but what really allows it to excel is the complex themes interwoven throughout the narrative, that ensures audiences are continually on their toes, unsure who to trust, how deep the lies have been spinning and, of course, the central mystery - what happened to Amy Elliot Dunne? Unfurling at a steady rate that keeps audience's guessing, the deliberately slower pace births one of the biggest cinematic twists in years. However, even after this reveal, it continues to successfully blur the lines between cold reality and lucid illusions, creating a genuine sense of unpredictability and the audience rarely know where the story is going. Many films tear through their source material in a sprint for the end goal, but Gone Girl takes it time to craft an absorbing and enthralling 149 minute run and that plays as one of the film's biggest strengths.

This engrossing story is further carried by the excellent cast, both of whom are excellently played by Pike and Affleck. The former plays 'Amazing Amy' with such conviction and certitude, offering a restricted performance when needed to demonstrate the icy villanelle beneath Amy's warmer exterior.  In a career-defining performance, she delivers some of the films standout moments and monologues and captures Amy's complex mindframe pitch perfectly, and more than easily justifies her Oscar nominee two ceremonies ago. Affleck is solid as well, but mainly works to serve Pike turn as Amy; still, he captures the downfall of a man in the media spotlight well and creates an uneasy sense of trust as required for the central premise. Another importance player is, of course, director David Fincher, whose stylish direction brings depth and beauty to the horrid perception of American life and society that the film paints for us, demonstrating his talent, skill and precision as a director in crafting a dark, yet stunning aesthetic in his best film to date. Some of the moment, if handled by other directors, could fail the landing, but Fincher's lingering camera notions, close-up reaction shots and ability to make the film come full circle, makes him the best man for the complex job.

Further encapsulating the darkness of the picture, it is all tied together fantastically by the astounding soundtrack score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, which adds to the uneasy tone of Gone Girl, manipulating scenes just as Amy does throughout the novel and film. Coupled with sharp and witty dialogue from Flynn, who returns as screenwriter and adapting her own material, that allows the film to unpack gradually, making genuinely thought-provoking and divisive material that captures audiences' hearts and minds; its exactly what this past summer needed - smart, intelligence, adult-skewing drama with equal thrills, visuals and method behind the madness. Maybe that will change when The Girl on the Train pulls into theatres in a few days time (although a little too late for the summer season has passed). Gone Girl is a film I truly struggle to criticise the film and to do so, I have to truly nitpick through the layers that are otherwise crafted to perfection: but my one and only issue is how quickly the film plays its hand, with it being possible to keep both audiences and key players in the dark for longer. This, however, is incredibly minor and is an otherwise perfectly-paced film that is really worth your time.

Gone Girl, even after multiple views, is a film that continues to surprise, whether through the detail employed by Fincher, the sensational performances from the two leads or the underlying tones beneath the surface level of the film. Years after its release, it continues to strike a chord with audiences due to the thought-provoking content and multitude of themes to be discovered in Fincher's masterclass. It has the ability to make audiences laugh, cry, wince and gasp - sometimes in the space of one minute. Dark, subverting, stylish, deceitful, thrilling and brutally captivating, Gone Girl remains one of the best films of the 21st century.

(10/10)

Summary: Gone Girl is a masterclass in making smart and compelling entertainment, with an incredible cast, stylish direction and a narrative that engages from the first shot to the final one. Dark, suspenseful and thought-provoking, this deeply-affecting film is a difficult one to shake off.

Highlight: Cannot pinpoint. I just love this film.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Deepwater Horizon (2016) (Review)


Documenting the cataclysmic explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the tragic Deepwater Horizon events of April 2010, in which the BP-owned oil rig exploded and killed 11 people, causing the pouring of millions of gallons of oil into the sea, is the latest to receive the big screen treatment. Subjects, as well as the 'disaster' genre, can be rather hit or miss; some handle the matter with the upmost respect to those involved, the lives lost and the heroism displayed, while others translate the events purely for entertainment, failing to capture the human effects of the disaster. Thankfully, Deepwater Horizon falls into the former, although it isn't quite the success it should be.

After multiple warnings and subsequent dismissals from the company's superiors, an explosion and oil spill on the Deepwater Horizon leaves hundreds of men and women struggling to escape the fire. Michael Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and Caleb Holloway (Dylan O'Brien) desperately attempt to save the lives of the crew onboard, including Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) and Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), while the family at home begin to comprehend the news of the US' biggest oil spill disaster and largest environmental disaster in history. Based on the events, as well as the book Deepwater Horizon's Final Hours, the film is directed by Peter Berg and produced by Lionsgate.

Blockbuster in design and scale but offset from the summer release window to forgo Oscar-bait autumn territory, Deepwater Horizon manages to balance the exceedingly impressive visual of a typical summer release and the emotional turmoil associated with the award season. Worthy of seeing on the biggest screen possible, the film manages to remain surprisingly realistic in its action, with an element of verisimilitude crafted through the decision to remain as CGI-free as possible. From the fire-filled frames that engulf the rig to the sweeping shot of the technology, Berg manages to create both amazement and devastation that highlights the scale of both the mission and disaster, while refusing the lionise the characters beyond their basic human instincts and reaction. Its a surprisingly restricted film with a very clear focus to the story it wants to tell and the themes it wants to explore. It's both a spectacle and outstanding tribute to the victims on the Deepwater Horizon, including the deeply moving final sequence which commemorates the fallen beautifully.

Talking of the characters, the ensemble cast are unwaveringly solid with character intentions and traits known and understood, if not as detailed as one would hope and expect. Wahlberg's Williams is captivating and his drive to saving as many people as possibly is inspiring. He shares one of the films most tender moments with Rodriguez's Fleytas in the film's climax, demonstrating both the fear and bravery faced in the life-changing moments. Dylan O'Brien is a solid addition to the cast, surprising in one of his more serious roles and Kurt Russell succeeds in offering a nuanced performance once again. These characters help craft and build the tension that is sustained throughout the film, particularly through the third act and climax as the crew do their best to escape the burning rig, as well as explore the touching themes of humanity and selflessness profoundly, ensuring it impacts audiences in the most inspiring way.

While the cast give it their all and the subject matter is well-handled, the film isn't always executed as well as it should be. On a number of occasions, the shaky camera aesthetic makes it very difficult to track and follow the characters and action, forfeiting clarity for the effect of being caught in the whirlwind of action: at one stage, a character is killed and the audience remains unsure on who it is; this furious and frenzied editing is detrimental to the understanding of the film. Furthermore, the structure holds the film back; when the team head out to sea, a 20 minute period feels like its bridging the gap between acts and whilst in theory it is used for character building, it feels over cooked, disrupting the tension that begins building so early on. Earlier, I commented on how restricted the film feels and while that can be celebrated, I also think it holds back the film in another sense, failing to consider environmental cost and co-orporation villainy on home soil. These opportunities feel greatly missed and prevent the film from excelling towards a more enlightening and insightful film.

Deepwater Horizon thrives because of the tension, crafted through the impressive ensemble cast and the realistic action, stunts and effects. It has a number of flaws though, which prevents it from excelling and becoming a memorable picture, although the spectacle will tide you over long enough to enjoy and appreciate this disaster flick. It is impressive and it is immortalising for those killed in the disaster, but it doesn't fully embrace the scope of the disaster as much as one wants it too. As I previously mentioned with this summer's Nerve, Lionsgate continue to craft a post-Hunger Games slate and while this is a critical success so far, I'm still unsure they have crafted a model that will have them in line with their competitors. It's expense may be its letdown but I do believe its a story that needs to be heard (and seen - on a big screen!).

(7/10)

Summary: Deepwater Horizon benefits from a strong cast and impressively tense action effects, even though its frustrating flaws, including irritating shaky camera aesthetics, threaten to sink the film.

Highlight: A shot of two protagonist jumping through the air from the burning rig into the water is a breathtaking shot that demonstrates the film's mammoth budget.