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.

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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.

Zodiac (2007)

I almost don’t have enough good things to say about Zodiac, this was a really fantastic film that I’d been meaning to watch for such a long time and finally got round to with the Directors cut on blu-ray which has great special features which is why I mention it.

It’s quite an undertaking to take a true story that is so well known and that still has no satisfying conclusion and to turn that into an intensely gripping and suspenseful film. I think one of the main ways Fincher manages this is through his very filmic style and the way he plays with the genre in this film. The opening scene which depicts the killing of Darlene Ferrin plays like it comes straight out of a stereotypical slasher film, with two good looking teenagers being attacked alone in a car in the middle of nowhere, we’ve seen it a million times before. What Fincher does is really interesting, he takes these scenarios that have become cliches through their exposure in 90s slashers, I imagine at least in part thanks to the Zodiac killings, and he presents the with a clean and precise style. We are never made to forget that we are watching a movie, like we might be with the more journalistic style of a film such as Zero Dark Thirty for example, we are so aware that we’re watching a film that we start to forget that what we’re watching is true and that it happened. This tricks the audience into expecting filmic tropes to manifest themselves, you expect Graysmith’s family to get attacked, in the stunningly suspenseful basement scene we even fear for Graysmith despite the fact he wrote the book this is based on. It’s quite sobering in retrospect to watch the killings take place and to realise that we’re not watching a fiction, and from the special features it seems as though the deaths are presented very accurately and unlike the editing, they’re not quick or clean.

Even if you aren’t as drawn in by the style, the case is fascinating and the film is well worth watching to learn more about it. Despite the film being almost 3 hours long, it never drags for even a second, you constantly want to learn more and at the end you are desperate for it to keep going.

The film reminded me why Jake Gyllenhaal is one of my favourite actors working today, his characterisation is distinct but he makes sure to keep it subtle and never lets it take over film, as ultimately his character isn’t the focus. The film also serves as a strong example of what I don’t enjoy about Mark Ruffalo’s acting, he makes strong choices in his characterisation but by god does he want us to notice. He’s so set on using this breathy affectation in his voice that he barely has any variation and it draws attention to the performative nature of his acting. Thankfully he never goes to the same extremes of Spotlight so it isn’t too distracting, I just thought it was an interesting contrast to Jae Gylenhaal. As usual Robert Downey Jr is Robert Downey Jr but he’s enjoyable and he injects nice, and needed moments of humour without being too huge a part in the film. John Carroll Lynch is a standout with very little screen time but a lot to work with in. I was also happy to see Chloe Sevigny who I always like and a surprise Jimmi Simpson Cameo.
I don’t feel that I can talk about the acting without mentioning the costume design, I don’t know much about this side of things, but it was hard not to notice how perfectly the clothes reflected the characters in the film.

This film has stuck with me for a good week after watching it, since seeing it, I have been incredibly paranoid when I’m in a room with windows and it’s night outside feeling that I might be being watched. I never felt particulary scared in the film, outside of the aformention basement scene and the lakeside killings (it takes a genius to make a killing in broad daylight so suspenseful), but the true nature of the film has made it stick with me horribly.

Incendies (2010)

Playing a bit of catch up with these initial posts, unlikely to have much insight at all

I watched this because I love Denis Villeneuve as a director, whilst I thought Prisoners had a bit of a sloppy ending and Sicario was perhaps slightly over rated, I loved the direction and the visuals, also Arrival was one of my favourite films of last year.

It goes without saying that Incendies was wonderfully directed, the opening sequence with the boys getting their heads shaved and the bus sequence are particularly good demonstrations of this fact. It seems fairy clear that the conflict at the centre was the Lebanese civil war despite never being explicitly said and the writer and director both wanting to keep it ambiguous. I thought it was a fascinating conflict and it was presented with the complexities and moral gray areas which I really appreciated.

The two lead actresses were really very good and I enjoyed the film’s structure paralleling their journeys. I thought Simon was far too uninterested in his mother’s dying wishes but I guess that’s understandable. The tragedy of Nihad was brilliant, despite his reprehensible actions, we truly do feel for him when he learns the truth and we understand how he came to do what he did through his upbringing.

For all the positives of this film, the visuals, the music, the acting, the interesting political situation it presented, I didn’t love the story by the end, I thought it was far too rife with huge coincidences that took me out of the narrative. Upon further reflection (watching the special features) I realise that the film was trying to emulate the narrative of a classic Greek tragedy and they did do that fantastically and very cleverly, I’m just not sure such heightened emotional drama necessarily meshed that well with such a grounded backdrop. The mode of story telling reminded me a lot of films like The Burning Plain and The Edge of Heaven which made it feel really quite predictable.

Overall I thought it was a fantastic film and I really enjoyed the technical aspects, although much like other films by Denis Villeneuve, I ended up feeling quite let down by the story towards the end.