Lion (2016)

I’m still playing major catch up from January because I have been busy as all hell, so it has been a while since I saw this.

Watching the trailer I thought it looked like soppy oscar bait and not much more but this film startled me.Telling the story of a boy who gets separated from his family in India and his journey to being adopted and then tracking down his family with google maps, this is not only a true story but a total tear jerker. I was crying for the majority of this film which is fairly unusual for me (although its happening more often recently), this was such a deeply affecting film held together by some great performances. Sunny Pawar as the young Saroo may have been the sweetest child ever put on film with the talent to back it up, Dev Patel does a really good job as the older Saroo, Nicole Kidman is also as usual fantastic and Rooney Mara gives a nice turn in a role that doesn’t have much meat but she does a great job with it and its nice to see her play a character who’s more light than usual. In general the casting was fantastic, I cant think of a single weak performance in this film, even the small actors and it was nice to see some Indian talent which I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to.

The formal elements of the film (ie, cinematography, costume design, editing, sound etc) didn’t stand out to me in any way as particularly special but I don’t think they needed to. The film told an incredibly emotional story well and it wasn’t about the visual aural aspects which could have been distracting.

 

Sorry that this is so rushed and undetailed, its been a few weeks since I watched this and I have watched a lot of other stuff in that time, either way, I loved this film and it made me cry a lot and I’d highly recommend it.

Pressure (1976)

This film, directed by Horace Ové is, if I’m correct, one of the first feature length black rights films to be made in Britain so the context of production is really important when talking about this film. The story follows Tony, a young man born in Britain to a Trinidadian family as he tries to find a job but ends up getting involved in the black rights movement he was previously disinterested in. The film tackles a lot of really interesting issues including diasporic identity, institutionalised racism, internalised racism, the generational gap and a lot more, however I found the issues to be dealt with incredibly heavy handedly with no hint of subtlety but I do think that is probably the only way to spread this message at the time of release.

Having been born in England, Tony doesn’t feel connected to the black rights cause much to the dismay of his brother Colin, to whom it is very important. Whilst black identity is incredibly important to Colin who says such things as ‘black people should eat black food’, Tony just wants to eat fish and chips and hang out with his white mates. However just as he’s not really Trinidadian due to being raised British, he’s not really British either due to his roots as well as his skin colour. We are told that Tony was the cleverest kid in his class at school however, unlike his white peers, he is unable to get a job due to his race, this leads to an increasing frustration and a lack of money which leads to petty crime. Throughout the film, as Tony experiences more and more racism he becomes more attuned to the black rights cause as he is more familiarised with the racism he faces every day. The film does a good job to not make the film about black people vs white people, tony has many, accepting white friends, and the black rights campaigners who promote equality as opposed to any form of superiority, they’re not fighting against white people per say, but just for their own rights.

From the beginning of the film Tony’s mother keeps telling him ‘we moved here for you, so you could have a better life’, a common theme in films dealing with immigrant families in western countries. However, Pressure puts an interesting spin on this towards the end of the film, in one of the better scenes of the film, where Tony and his parent’s argue leading to his father revealing the truth. The truth being that they moved because the mother was obsessed with being more white, more English as that was what is seen as the paradigm of civilised culture,  however no matter how hard they try they can never be white and English. The dream of England as a land of opportunity is just a dream, especially for black people in the face of overwhelming racism which pervades even their own culture, in fact Tony’s father feels that they are much worse off having moved.

There are a few scenes, such as the one I just mentioned that are really fantastic but unfortunately the film is a victim of its production context. There was never going to be much funding for such a politically charged film which criticises the racist institutions of England, so being a low budget film from the 70s means it has not aged well at all. A lot of the actors in the film were not actors at all but ordinary people bought in, perhaps for budgetary reasons, perhaps for the sake of authenticity, but there’s a reason people train in acting and its very clear that the majority of the actors here have had no training. One particular example is Tony’s mother who has a lot of potentially fantastic material to work with but ends up just shouting badly for the majority of the film which doesn’t help with the heavy handed dealing of the issues at play. I will say that Sheila Scott-Wilkinson really stood out as one of the key members of the black rights campaign, sister Louise, who was also a fantastic character acting as a mouthpiece for a whole lot of ideologies. One thing I felt to be a real missed opportunity was the music, at one point sister Louise even says that music is ‘one of the most important parts of the black man’s heritage’, however the music is very sparse and when there is music it really lacks in character and doesn’t reflect this at all.

The film is probably worth watching if you’re interested in the history of black rights in England or black cinema, however it really is heavy handed with its themes. Those themes really are incredibly interesting though, so it could be a great film to educate yourself on these topics, however if I were to recommend a film about racial tension and identity I would recommend Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing over this any day.

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Much like La La Land, I have been excited for this film since the casting was announced, Michelle Williams is one of my favourite actors ever, I think her performance in Blue Valentine sis one of the best I have seen on screen. Casey Affleck is an actor who I’ve loved ever since The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and I love Kenneth Lonergan’s writing style with This is Our Youth being one of my favourite plays. Needless to say, there was a lot for me to look forward to, however, as a preface, I’m gonna start by saying that this was a victim of overhyping for me, I expected it to blow my mind and break my heart which is never gonna happen if you expect it to. I think this is a film I’ll appreciate much more on a second viewing at home, not that I didn’t appreciate a lot at the time though.

Lonergan’s script was probably one of the most noticeably fantastic scripts in a film that I’ve seen for a while now. Despite the tragic backbone of the story Lonergan keeps it humourous without letting it veer out of naturalism or letting it overshadow the emotions at play. The naturalistic style of the script is boosted by frankly impeccable casting, every single actor was entirely believable and not one scene was over played. Whilst talking about the acting it would only be natural to talk about the leads, Casey Affleck I think is entirely deserving of the acclaim and awards being heaped upon him. What I love so much about him as an actor is that he always creates entirely believable characters and never overplays any emotions which seems to be the popular way to do things at the moment. He’s totally un-selfconscious and lacks any of the vanity that holds so many actors back, I think this leads to some people thinking he’s a bit boring because hes not screaming or shouting but acting like normal people do. His performance in this is the best I’ve seen of him, its an incredibly internalised performance but you can always sense everything bubbling underneath the surface and there are a few scenes where you can really see him struggling to keep it in and it’s truly magnificent. Michelle Williams has a lot less time on screen than the marketing might make you think and she is great, as you’d expect from her, but for some reason that I can’t quite articulate, something was ever so slightly missing and it just wasn’t the best I feel I’ve seen her. Lucas Hedges as the second lead does a really great job, especially for someone without a huge amount of screen experience. I did expect a little more from him not just because his dad had died and he didn’t seem all that phased for the most part ( I understand theres the whole aspect of it being inevitable so slightly less hard to deal with and either way its the screenplay and direction dictating the emotional shifts) but also because of how much he was touted as a revelation. He was very good but not the revelation he was sold to be, not that its a comparison because they’re different films entirely but I only wish Antoine Olivier Pilon had got the same acclaim for his performance in Mommy, but thats a moot point.

The only concrete faults I could really pick in the film are the editing which at points was very sloppy, cutting in mid sentence or sound effect at points which was really jarring. One other moment of unnecessary editing was in the flashback (SPOILERS) to the death of Casey Affleck’s kids, the scene kept flipping back to the present despite being part of one continuous flashback which didn’t add anything as we were already aware of the fact it was a flashback and that he was in the legal office. That sequence and the funeral sequence bring me onto my other main fault which was the music, in both these scenes there is a lack of dialogue, but instead they were filled with Lesley Barber’s oeratic scoring. The score was very elegiac and choral but I personally felt it was far too much and just generally overwrought and detracted a lot from two scenes that could have been much more powerful if not for the intrusive score that didn’t feel as though it really fitted the tone of the film but rather was desperately trying to make you feel sad.

As I said, this is a film I’m eager to watch again and I assume I’ll enjoy it a lot more the second time, I think I was both expecting too much and in slightly too cynical a mood to really let it take me on the journey of the characters. Either way its an impeccably written film with some fantastic performances that are worth watching the film for alone.

Great Expectations (1946)

I am very behind on writing up things I’ve watched, I think I saw 6 movies last week and have only written up two of them so I’m laying a bit of catch up at the moment which also means i might not remember some of them perfectly.

This adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations by David Lean is the most iconic telling of the story outside of it’s book form. I will admit that I didn’t finish reading the book, but what I did read I actually really loved, the prose has so much character as does the narration. This is obviously something that can’t really be carried over in the film form and for me, that was where this adaptation faltered. I felt as though it tried to be too literal of a transposition in a lot of ways, the most notable example being the scene where Pip steals the food and tools from his sister and Joe. In the book, due to Pip’s guilty conscience, every sound from floorboards or every look from a cow feels as though they were speaking directly to him. I think it says something along the lines of ‘the floorboards creaked as if they were shouting’ (obviously terribly paraphrased but hey, the important thing is that it’s just a suggestion, not literal voices. The film version gives the floorboards, the food and the cows actual, individual voices, turning the scene into a humourous moment, at least for a modern audience. This is just one example of what I think to be a bigger issue in the film, which is that it doesn’t utilise the modes of expression exclusive to film because it tries too hard to be loyal to the novel.

There was some clever framing in shots throughout the film and Lean does a good job of telling the story in a coherent and accessible way without losing too much.

Somewhere (2010)

Somewhere is an exercise in taking Sofia Coppola’s trademark vacuousness and amping it up to the max for an examination of Hollywood life and postmodern city life. It’s not an immediately, or perhaps at all, engaging film with the first dialogue only coming after 15 minutes and remaining sparse throughout since it is about a character who is totally detached, reflected by the film at many points.

Stephen Dorff, who I’d never heard of before, is fantastic and understated as Johnny Marco, a famous actor, left unsatisfied despite his success and struggling to find meaning or pleasure in life. A combination of the sparse script and Dorff’s subtle and internalised performance means that he’s not a particularly likable character per se, neither is he unlikable, he feels like a thoroughly realistic character with his guard kept incredibly high. Critics often say that film is unable to communicate the interiority and motivations of a character to the audience as well as a novel, I think this film is one of countless good examples to add a separate view to this discussion. Whilst in this film we don’t get any concrete insight into Marco’s mind, I would argue that is part of what makes the character so interesting, his behaviour leads the audience to really think about and consider his motivations for themselves as that’s the only way we get explanation. He’s a fascinating character too, a man who has been absorbed by Hollywood and as a result lost his identity, brilliantly symbolised in a scene where he get a full face mould, the camera is trained on this image of his image totally obscured by plaster, isolated in a room. Marco lives a life with no centre, he seemingly has no permanent home, instead living his life out of hotels he doesn’t leave unless necessarily, even in Italy, he spends the entire time, not including an award show, in the hotel. The closest thing he has to a home is his black Ferrari , much like Repo Man, cars are central to the film, both taking place city of LA where car transport is a necessity. In fact we never see a character walking to a new location in this film (spoilers) until the end where Marco drives into the countryside, leaves his car and walks aimlessly away, to anywhere else, shedding his identity to create his own (spoilers end). Marco isn’t particularly comfortable in his own skin and he’s definitely not comfortable with his celebrity and hence he isolates himself so as to avoid interaction (one scene features a nice cameo from Alden Ehrenreich). It feels like an odd thing to praise or mention at all, but Dorff’s body is a direct reflection of his life, he is clearly very muscular for his action roles as he has huge biceps and a very defined adonis belt amongst other muscles. However this isn’t really who he is, his stomach is sustended, pushing his abs against the skin of his bulging stomach, the muscles are the means to an end as a blockbuster actor but its not his wn decision as he doesn’t maintain that figure unless necesarry.

Marco’s life is peppered with occasional visits from his daughter Cleo, played by the remarkably accomplished, and deservedly so, Elle Fanning. Marco doesn’t know how to properly connect with his daughter, resorting to play video games with her, even then these games are Guitar Hero and Wii Sport, games based on activities the characters could actually do. Cleo is resilient and independent, often cooking not only for herself but also for her father, with considerable skill as well, contrasting with Marco who seems has no idea about portion control with even simple meals. Cleo is clearly left alone fairly often and sure enough the main narrative drive comes from Cleo’s mother going AWOL leaving Johnny to look after Cleo having to find a way to fit her into his life. From spending all that time wth her father, Cleo starts to met his cold exterior and makes him feel confident, enough so that eventually he is comfortable swimming and sunbathing amidst the public. The pain of his distance is still real though and there isn’t an easy fix.

The film is filled with scenes just of driving, demonstrating the postmodern commercialism and fragmentedness of the world the characters inhabit. One particular shot stands out as the main focus in the frame is a huge billboard advertising ‘Tom Ford for Men’. One of the most accepted theories of the postmodern, posited by Jameson is that of intertextuality replacing depth, with postmodern art being fundamentally shallow and surface level which is perfect for a film about Hollywood. One scene which stands out, in general as well as in theoretical terms is when Marco and his co-star played by Michelle Monaghan pose for a photo shoot promoting their new action film. The characters seamlessly alternate between smiling for the camera and belittling each other, and after the shoot is over, the camera cuts to reveal that Marco has been standing on a wooden block to create the illusion of height. The hotels Marco stays in are a fantastic example of postmodern theory at work as they serve to create their own centre as locations that cater to every need, particularly the Italian hotel which latches on to the modernised notion of commercialised historicity in its decor. The Marmont hotel has a life of its own, there are constant gathering of people in the halls, as well as being a place where sexual appetites are served accordingly. Marco goes through a serious of meaningless sexual encounters (including a surprise Eliza Coupe cameo which is always a treat), where he never knows the names of the women he is with, and even falls asleep whilst performing cunnilingus.

As mentioned earlier, the film isn’t the most engaging film, but it has some fantastic scenes and some fun cameos (Michelle Monaghan, Benicio Del Toro, Eliza Coupe, Ellie Kemper and Alden Ehrenreich). Unlike the world that Coppola presents, this film is thematically rich with a lot of potential unpacking if wanted.

La La Land (2016)

If any film ever had the danger of collapsing under its hype for me, it was this one, I have been excited for this from the second I read ‘Ryan Gosling and Emma stone to star in musical’. Then you add in the heaps of praise and critical acclaim I thought there was no way this could live up to the hype but, as I sit hear listening to the soundtrack for the 4th time today, I can happily say it lives up to every bit of the hype. I don’t think theres even much I can say about it to be honest, its just so fantastic, but I’ll give it a go, just be prepared for some intensely sycophantic writing.

Emma Stone has long been one of my favourite actresses and she is beyond stunning in this, and it really is her film. Whilst her voice isn’t particularly strong, its lovely but it lacks any oomph, and her dancing isn’t quite as good as Gosling, she acts the hell out of every second in this film and thats what its all about really. Chazelle allows the camera to linger on her face in Bergman-esque close ups which allows Stone to show how fantastic she is, you can see every single thought going through her mind at any time with subtle transitions between emotions and responses to what’s going on. She is so intensely present in her character and the story, aided by her huge, and hugely expressive eyes, you believe every single second of her story and empathise so strongly with her struggle. And whilst I said she isn’t the strongest singer or dancer, she brings such a vivacious energy to her dancing that you hardly notice and as mentioned the songs are acting exercises above all else. (spoilers) Towards the end when Mia has achieved fame, Emma Stone carries the effects of fame on her character in her posture and voice with a fantastic subtlety whilst maintaining a clear transformation (Spoilers). Then theres her chemistry with the wonderful Ryan Gosling, one of my favourite actors and long time idols. These two have proven time and time again that they have the most electric chemistry and it is never stronger than here. Gosling is a real jack of all trades and this is a great showcase for him as he moves fantastically and as we know from ‘Dead Man’s Bones’ he can sing and as evidenced in plenty of films he is a fantastic and versatile actor although his role perhaps has less meat than Stone.

I admittedly have still yet to see Whiplash although it is at the top of my Netflix queue, but I was so impressed by Damien Chazelle’s direction and writing. The camerawork throughout was energetic and fluid, never cutting unless it really needed to allowing us fantastic long takes, and he’s not afraid to linger on quiet moments. The scene where the hold hands in the movie theatre may be the most exhilarating moment put on film in all of 2016 and then it lead into that magnificent Planetarium sequence which was pure film magic. The cinematography was also just beautiful, the way the street art was incoporated into shots and the frequent sunsets along with the beautiful colour grading made LA look like a wonderland. The costumes were also stunning throughout, particularly for Emma Stone.

I feel like I can’t actually continue writing about this right now, I cannot capture how I felt about this, being extemely hyperbolic, it feels like everything I’ve ever wanted in a film. A bittersweet love story between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone with fantastic direction, singing, jazz old hollywood nostalgia and a big dose of melancholy, its like Damien Chazelle looked into my brain and plucked out my favourite film.

Sorry this is such a shit blogpost, might try and touch it up later

Mr Robot – Season 2 (2016)

This has been my only series over the Christmas break, university and having to worry about internships sucks cause it really takes your time away from whats important, being television. This may be a little sporadic and not very in depth at all since I watched this series over 3 weeks with some big gaps here and there for various reasons. Oh also spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen it, I’ll try to mark them but just be careful.

I loved season 1 when I watched it but for some reason I wasn’t particularly excited to watch this but I’m really glad I did. Narratively I can understand criticism levelled towards this season but I feel that watching it as a binge can help to brush past those concerns. (Spoilers ahead) I did feel that Elliot was slightly wasted as a character this season, I felt like he had very little impact on the story of f society, especially in the first half of the season with his status in confinement. The reveal of his confinement was wonderfully done albeit quite expected, and I really enjoy how Esmail plays with having an unreliable narrator, somewhat of a rarity in television and film. Even if he only really served to give Elliot something to do, I really enjoyed Ray as a character, I thought he was an interesting and well rounded character who served his limited purpose well.(Spoilers end) Despite the character being sidelined, Rami Malek was fantastic this season, I don’t know if I noticed how good he was in season 1 but I was pretty blown away by him this season. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Christian Slater who was given very little interesting material to work with but I suppose that was only natural after the season 1 plot twist. The power struggle between Elliot and Mr Robot did get a little tiresome and seemed to make very little progress.

This really was a season for the ladies, with the fantastic addition of Grace Gummer as FBI agent Dominique and Carly Chaikin’s Darlene moving the story on more than anyone else and Angela with a surprisingly interesting arc this season. I cannot say enough good things about Grace Gummer’s character Dom, I had found Gummer quite annoying in American Horror Story so I wasn’t thrilled to see her addition to the cast but I was so so wrong. Dom is one of my new favourite characters on television, she is such a layered character with perhaps more depth than any of the other characters on the show. It was refreshing to see a female character who is exceedingly capable, neither sexualised or sexless, equal parts sensitive and tough with a sense of humour and can handle herself not only intellectually but in a fight, yet she never felt preachy or like they were making a point with her being a woman, she just was. She was a grounded and believable character I was always eager to see more of and to see her survive any perilous situation.and Grace Gummer did a wonderful job. Chaikin stepped up her game with Darlene this season who is a fun chaacter but has yet to be given much more depth beyond what she has. Angela was a a nice eye into the mysterious world of E Corp and her inner turmoil was interesting and performed well, although I must admit I am growing tired of the same nervous expression with the furrowed brow three times an episode, although hopefully we’ll see Angela have more backbone with her new circumstances. Whilst talking about the ladies, we have to mention the terrifying and terrifyingly beautiful Joanna Wellick, at the start of the season you may wonder why we’re seeing so much of her, not that you’ll be complaining, she’s fantastic, but she seems unrelated, but it all pays off. (Spoilers) She pulls some serious Claire Underwood shit which could really change circumstances for Tyrell going forward. Tyrell was one of the big mysteries of the season, only coming back for the last two episodes, I honestly found him pretty tiresome with the constant crying which wasn’t quite believable but I’m excited to see him return as a regular next season (spoilers).

The cinematography continues to be top notch and distinctive through out with its cold and distant offices and unconventional extreme close ups, its such a pleasure to watch. I particularly enjoyed any scenes shot outside at night time, one example that comes to mind is the end of episode 10, a really fantastic sequence which was beautifully shot. (spoilers) Talking about that particular sequence, one thing I’ve loved in Mr Robot since that incredibly unnerving but brilliant suicide in season 1 is the way this show depicts gun violence. The stand out moments are Gideon’s murder, the shooting in China and the restaurant shooting in episode 10, the choice to show that restaurant shooting from outside is the kind of inspired direction that makes the show stand out. I cant quite put it into words, but theres just something about the gun play that feels so unique to this show, its quick, its brutal and its bloody but never over the top, it feels more real than most shows and movies which is perhaps why its so effective. However the show didn’t handle violence so well in the case of Elliot’s beating being swapped out for an overly long, heavy handed 90s sitcom sequence was a swing and a miss (spoilers).

The development of the dark army has made them into a formidable and very threatening possible antagonist, they really do feel dangerous and the addition of Whiterose gives them a face which is greatly appreciated. I admittedly got a little lost with some of the Whiterose/E Corp drama and the powerplant but I imagine that all will become clear next season. (spoilers) Although I liked the cinematography, I didn’t care for the Lynchian meeting between Angela and Whiterose with that child, it didn’t feel like it belonged in the world of Mr Robot stylistically and was a little too self indulgent but its one small moment in a great season (spoilers).

I thought this was a really great season particularly thanks to the brilliant Grace Gummer and expanded roles for other characters. The stakes feel very real with the deaths of big characters early in the season and violence that feels indiscriminate and real. Along with the usual great performances from the old regulars and beautiful cinematography I’d say this is a great season that avoided the dreaded sophomore slump.