Anomalisa Review

Anomalisa has been on my watch-list for about half a year. It featured on many critics best of 2015 lists and one of my fellow students has been raving about it seemingly forever. Today, it opened, so I went to the very first screening at 9:15. The things I do for cinema…

Anomalisa stars David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tom Noonan (yes, only three actors) and is directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson. The film follows Michael (Thewlis) who on a business trip to Cincinnati meets Lisa (Leigh) who he becomes enraptured with.

Charlie Kaufman is well known in the film industry. He’s the writer and director of films like Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Anomalisa fits perfectly into the quirkiness and the engaging script of the other three films. It doesn’t have the cutting wit of a Tarantino or a Sorkin, but that is actually something in its favour. It’s more nuanced and believable and the dialogue between Michael and Lisa feels like we are peeking into a real life conversation. The film is full with dark humour, luckily none of which was spoiled in the trailer. I was almost in tears at some of the jokes, especially a extended computer segment at the hotel between Michael and a concierge, or an encounter with a golf buggy being driven through the hotel. Thewlis also has a speech during the final third that will become a defining moment of cult cinema, much like Sam Jackson’s “Ezekiel” or anything by Morgan Freeman.

The film is stop-motion, with the models being created by 3D printers. It took over two years to create and it looks stunning. There are moments when I stopped seeing puppets and began to see them as actors. That might be down to Thewlis and Leigh, who do a fantastic job at voicing the characters. Leigh especially, coming off the back of The Hateful Eight, Anomalisa is a complete change of character and shows her range as an actress. There is a third act reveal that uses the puppetry to great effect. I’m trying not to spoil it here, but it will go down as one of the greatest mind trips in the history of surrealist cinema. I’ve done some stop-motion before and I know how taxing it is, but Kaufman and Johnson have transcended a lot of what has come previously.

The BBFC gave Anomalisa a 15 certificate and it earns it well. Strong language is throughout as well as a fully animated sex scene. It’s not over-sexualised but is still a bit out-there in terms of weirdness. I guess it’s the fact that it’s stop-motion, it makes it seem very awkward but in a good way. It reminds me of a similar scene in The Spectacular Now, which is my favourite love scene due to its realism.

I don’t want to spoil the film, as it’s one of those rare ones that works wonders if you know nothing about it, but you have to be prepared for some out-there scenes. I already talked a little bit about the surrealist scene, but there some moments which will throw certain audience members. A lot of the oddness comes from the third member of the cast, Tom Noonan, who plays every other character, be it male or female, young and old. All of Noonan’s characters have the same face, which is a nice visualisation of Michael knowing there is something special about Lisa. It takes a while to realise what the film is doing with Noonan’s characters and it’s a bit strange to see female characters talking in a deep bass voice (which then is the same voice for their child). But it all adds to the feeling of there being something not right underneath the surface of Anomalisa.

I came out of Anomalisa feeling so many different emotions. It’s changed my perspective on certain things, it’s something that hits on a very deep level. If you watch Anomalisa, you’ll laugh, you might cry and you’ll have watched one of the greatest films of the 2010s.

Score: 10/10 Just go watch it. There is no equivalent. This is perfection.

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Bone Tomahawk Review

I review the big films. I review the small films. I review films I or indeed no one else had a passing interest in because I feel I have to. And then we get to the films that I like the look of. The trailer for Bone Tomahawk had piqued my interest back when I first saw it in January, so how does the whole film do?

Bone Tomahawk stars Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins and Lili Simmons and is directed by S. Craig Zahler. The film follows Sherrif Franklin Hunt (Russell) in the Old West, who leads a posse to save Arthur Dwyer’s (Wilson) wife Samantha (Simmons) from a renegade tribe.

There hasn’t been a film to make me squirm in my seat like Bone Tomahawk did. I’m a fan of ultra-violence, things like The Raid 2, Only God Forgives, even to the really explicit stuff like A Clockwork Orange, I can stomach it. Bone Tomahawk almost lost me. The opening shot is of someone getting their throat cut open, it sets the mood for the rest of the film. The sound is what makes it so disturbing. While we do get a fair few shots of guts spilling out of people or bones poking through skin, the worst ones are the moments where we just hear the squelches and crunches of someone’s body being ripped apart.

One scene in particular made me look away from the screen, something I haven’t done since probably Sicario. I’ve been trying to think of how to describe it without it coming across as gratuitous, but I’m drawing a blank every time. Just think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre turned up to eleven and you’re on the right track. All the injuries are achieved with practical effects and the filmmakers just let loose with the gruesomeness. The film earns it’s 18 certificate and wears it proudly on its blood-covered chest.

Don’t think that blood and guts is all the film has to offer. The script is very funny, with the humour being very dark. I would compare it to Tarantino’s better work (without the genre styling’s, which is a point in Bone Tomahawk‘s favour) or something like Calvary. The character’s are cynical and know that death awaits them at every turn and so they joke to keep themselves going against insurmountable odds. They only character who seems to be happy throughout the film is an almost unrecognisable Richard Jenkins as the backup deputy Chicory. His rambling tales and quizzical ponderings over life’s mysteries are fun to listen to, and a fair few had the entire screening laughing. He discusses everything from why Mexican food is the best in the world to trying to figure out how to read in the bath without getting the book wet.

The bad guys are hardly seen throughout the film, only really shown until the very end. Early on, once Samantha Dwyer has been abducted, Sherriff Hunt is informed by The Professor, a Native American who lives in his town, that the people who abducted her are, to quote, “…not Native American. They are hardly human.” He describes them as Troglodytes, cave men who have a taste for human flesh. When the film does focus in on them, they have this otherworldliness about them. They shrug off point blank gunfire, they have tusks growing out of their cheeks and their battle-cries….damn those battle-cries. It made my skin crawl every time they tipped their head to the sky and roared. If this film doesn’t get nominated for make-up/costume and sound design at next year’s Oscars then it will be a shame, because I haven’t seen anything like the Troglodytes in recent memory.

The run time is over two hours, but I can’t think of anything I would want to cut. I like my films short, but Bone Tomahawk never felt like a chore to watch.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched Point Break. When I left the cinema, I was ready to give up. That film left such a sour taste that I all I wanted in that moment was to give up reviewing films. Films like Bone Tomahawk remind me why I go to the movies every week and why I write my reviews. For those who aren’t too bothered by gore, this is your film.

Score: 10/10 Not one for the squeamish, but will become a cult classic.

Quentin Tarantino Collection Review

Preface

With Quentin Tarantino bringing out his new, (technically ninth) film soon, The Hateful Eight, I thought it would be good to catch up on the rest of his filmography. So, the eight films I’ll be reviewing today are,

  • Reservoir Dogs
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Jackie Brown
  • Kill Bill: Volume 1
  • Kill Bill Volume 2
  • Death Proof
  • Inglorious Basterds
  • Django Unchained

With the large amount of films to get through, let’s get started.

Reservoir Dogs

Tarantino’s first feature film, and it definitely shows. While the basis of Tarantino’s later work is featured here (dialogue heavy scenes, excessive violence and constant swearing) it has some odd pacing decisions that drags it from high-octane to super slow. However, the continual one-liners from Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) and the infamous ear-shaving scene are reasons to watch.

Score: 7/10 A good place to start.

Pulp Fiction

Widely considered to be Tarantino’s best work, the film follows several criminal characters over the span of a few days. The dialogue is as good as it gets, the violence is toned down enough to not be too offensive and the jokes come a mile a minute. Throw in some of the best work of John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman, and you have one of the finest and most quoted films of the 20th century.

Score: 10/10 A film that everyone should see at least once.

Jackie Brown

A similar set-up to his previous film, Jackie Brown (adapted from the crime novel Rum Punch) follows police detectives, gun-runners and the down-on-her-luck stewardess Jackie Brown as each one tries to out-wit the other out of half a million dollars. There are some excellent and memorable scenes as well as some tense lying games, but some Tarantino fans will be missing the violence, language and overt references to genre films. It has some odd editing and a nearly three-hour run time, but it’s good enough to sit through.

Score: 7/10 A clever crime caper.

Kill Bill Volume 1

The first half of the five-hour epic Tarantino wanted us to watch in one go. While the standout Crazy 88 fight and the anime segment are cinematic gold, the films constant referencing to Hong Kong Cinema get’s a bit tiring after a while. On top of that, the fact that it’s incredibly light on story makes this only one to watch in conjunction with the second film.

Score: 6/10 It’s only good as a whole, not as a half.

Kill Bill Volume 2

The viewers pining for the story in KBV1 will find their needs met, the more action-oriented viewers will find the film lacking. While the film has more of Tarantino’s dialogue scenarios, it doesn’t have the amount of katana fights or gushes of blood. Even the final fight with Bill is underwhelming, but Brandon Liu (brother of Lucy from KBV1) as martial artist teacher Pai Mei steals the entire film.

Score: 7/10 It’s better than the first.

Death Proof

Tarantino’s contribution to the Grindhouse project, it’s sadly his least successful and according to the man himself, his least liked self-made film. Although in my opinion it’s one of his best. Unlike his earlier films, that are filled with movie references, Death Proof is about the art of film, meaning it’s filled with jump cuts, monochrome edits and retro-fitted with scratches and “missing reel” inserts to mimic 70s grindhouse. Throw in psychotic stuntmen, amazing car chases filled with death-defying stunts and a lap dance that inspired the famous “Scene does not contain a lap dance” line from Cinema Sins, you have one great film.

Score: 9/10 Shouldn’t have had the negative response it had.

Inglorious Basterds

A history-rewriting, Jewish war revenge film, the film follows both the titular Basterds, as well as Melaine Laurent as Shosanna Dreyfus as they both try and put an end to WWII, one bloodied-Nazi at a time. Starring a stellar cast, with Brad Pitt, horror director Eli Roth and a star-making performance for Christoph Waltz, along with an incredibly bloody and hilarious final act, it’s another cracker from Tarantino.

Score: 8/10 Charming, irreverent and damn funny.

Django Unchained

A western focusing on the worst aspects of slavery in America’s history, this could be one of Tarantino’s most thought-provoking films yet. The violence, while sporadic, is incredibly brutal, with a few moments that I had to look away from the screen. While it has it’s great moments, the films does go one for far too long, with the home stretch after the “Painting Candyland” scene going on for way longer than needed. That being said, there really is nothing else like it in the history of cinema.

Score: 6/10 The length brings down what is a really good film.

The Raid 2 Review

Preface

I was looking through several of my older reviews and there was one film that kept coming up: The Raid 2. So I decided I would do a retro review of it, as The Raid 2 was not just one of the best films of 2014, but one of my favourite films of all time.

Review

The Raid 2 stars Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Alex Abbad and Yayan Ruhian and is directed by Gareth Evans. The Raid 2 starts an hour after the end of The Raid, where rookie cop Rama (Uwais), after escaping the tower block in the first film is sent undercover to infiltrate a criminal empire.

Most martial arts films have thread-bare stories (just look at nearly all the films in the Bruce Lee Collection). The Raid also fell prey to this, with the only plot being “try to survive”. Thankfully, The Raid 2 has a lot deeper story, something akin to Goodfellas or The Departed/Infernal Affairs, as Rama goes undercover to keep is family safe. While the plot is still a device to bring the next extended punch-up along, it’s quite a good gangster/cop drama.

With this deeper story, the film’s length shoots up, from a simple 90 minutes in the first film to well over two hours in the second. This is where I hear a lot of fans of the first film complaining, as the second film isn’t as much wall-to-wall action as its predecessor. I can kind of see their problem with The Raid 2. By the end the film can feel like it’s running out of steam, so even while we get the final showdown between Rama and the main bad guys, my investment in the film has drained considerably since the first fight scene.

While several of the first films actors were just stunt-doubles and fighting champions doing their best to act as a police squad, The Raid 2 flexes it’s tale of gang warfare and deceit by adding in several top actors into major roles. Several actors, such as Afrin Putra as mob boss’ son Uco, or said mob boss Bangun, played by Tio Pakusadewo are great to watch and listen to and ultimately make the down-time in between the protracted fight scenes fun and interesting. The stand out though is Alex Abbad as Bejo, a mystery man who appears out of nowhere in a bid to create his own crime empire by teaming up with Uco. Abbad is a master at projecting a thin veneer of style and smarts but who is always a thread away from snapping and going nuts with a shotgun (which he does).

The fight scenes, inevitably, are amazing. While The Raid was one of the main films that gave birth to the long-take, brutal and bloody style of fighting, with some excellent stand out moments (The machete gang fight is still one of the most memorable fight scenes I’ve ever watched), The Raid 2 surpasses it with both sheer numbers of fights as well as signature fighters. The Assassin, with his twin karambits, Hammer Girl with her claw hammers (a small nod to Oldboy) and Baseball-bat Boy, whose fights get even cooler when he starts bringing in the baseballs, these are all memorable characters and their fight scenes are some of the best of the film, if not some of the best character introductions ever.

While I already mentioned the length of the film as one of my top bugs, the other problem I had with The Raid 2 is the inclusion of Yayan Ruhian again as a minor character in the film. Ruhian was one of the main antagonists in the first film, playing Mad Dog, the contract killer of the tower block. In The Raid 2, he seems to be playing the same character type as one of Bangun’s assassins. It took me a while to realise that he was playing a different character and that they weren’t just ret-conning one of the major characters from the first film.

In conclusion, The Raid 2 builds upon its success of its predecessor with even more violence and mesmerising stunt work, while also managing to add a bit of story behind all the punching.

Score: 10/10 Quite possibly the greatest action movie ever created.

SPECTRE Review

I am a huge James Bond fan. I’ve been a fan ever since I can remember, even going out to Blockbuster every weekend (remember when that was a thing?) and renting out Bond films to watch. I was pumped for SPECTRE before the first teaser trailer was out, but after the triumphant 50th anniversary with Skyfall, can SPECTRE even hold a candle to the previous film’s success?

SPECTRE stars Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Dave Bautista and Monica Belluci and is directed by Sam Mendes. The story finds the super spy James Bond once again tracking down sinister characters and organisations, who this time have a much more personal connection with our hero.

Daniel Craig returns once again as James Bond. While he still is as suave and as funny as he was in Skyfall, in SPECTRE we get to see a lot more of his past, especially his parents and his heritage. While it was touched upon during the climax of Skyfall, here we see a lot more than just a tombstone and the family home. Christoph Waltz is superb as Franz Oberhauser, who for the sake of spoilers will not be mentioned in too much detail. One thing I did like about him though was his almost emotionless performance. While Raoul Silva was comically mad, Oberhauser doesn’t have any trademark quirks, which makes him stand out even more amongst his peers, he’s just pure evil. A small role for Dave Bautista as assassin Mr. Hinx is fun to watch, as well as his unique way that he kills his targets, likening him to series favourites Jaws or Oddjob. The standout role though is Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann, who seems to be the best parts of strength, sexiness and charm that haven’t been in the role of the Bond girl since Diana Rigg. Her interactions with Bond, while at first start out as the usual suspicious characters thrown together by chance, soon mellow out as both start to work together to find the truth about Oberhauser.

The film starts with Craig’s long awaited gun-barrel opening sequence. While thematically I understand why it wasn’t in the first two Craig era Bond films, it’s return made me extremely happy. After the gun-barrel is finished, director Sam Mendes pulls us into a four-and-a-half minute tracking shot through the Day of The Dead parade in Mexico City. It’s an breathtaking way to start any film, and with the scene gradually building up to an excellent, explosive action sequence, it feels like one of the best Bond pre-title sequences in a long time.

The action scenes, the meat of a James Bond film, are executed well through the film. While most of the big action set pieces are directed exceptionally, the smaller build ups are sometimes brushed over too quickly (we don’t need handheld/close cut camera nonsense back in this series after Quantum Of Solace). The beginning action scene in Mexico, along with a car chase between Bond and Hinx in Rome are my two favourite scenes, as well as a shootout that takes place in Oberhauser’s main base of operations.

There were a few problems I had with SPECTRE, as always. While the film has its fair share of funny lines, some of them just don’t fall the right way. Similar to The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the actors stand still for a second to let the audience laugh, but there were a couple of lines that delivered no laughs from the audience I was in. The other problem I had was that I felt there was no chemistry between Craig and Naomi Harris. Instead of the barely concealed flirting of past years between Bond and Moneypenny, here it just feels forced. But these are just small nitpicks in an amazing Bond film.

In conclusion, SPECTRE is a fantastic follow-up to Skyfall. While I was a bit worried it might have suffered from media overhype, as soon as the film started I knew Sam Mendes had once again made one of the best Bond films in the franchise.

Score: 10/10 A brilliant continuation for Craig’s Bond.

Killing Them Softly Review

Preface

Killing Them Softly has been on my list of films to watch. I always see it on sale but never actually buy it, saying I’ll get it next time. But eventually, I went and got it after hearing great things about it, so here’s my review.

Review

Killing Them Softly stars Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta and is written and directed by Andrew Dominik. Based on the novel Cogan’s Trade by George V. Higgins, the film follows mob enforcer Jackie Cogan (Pitt) as he is brought into solve the economic crisis that has hit the mob world.

While the original novel is set during the mid 1970s, Killing Them Softly updates the story to late 2008, using the banking crisis and the election of Barack Obama to parallel the main story in the film. This dual narrative is played throughout radio and televisions in the world, almost giving a subtle commentary that the mobsters and racketeers at the bottom of the ladder are just as sleazy as the bankers at the top.

Despite being tied to the banking crisis, the story almost feels timeless, with the clothing styles of the characters, the cars they drive and especially with the choice of music that plays throughout the film. The music flits between decades with songs like Johnny Cash’s “When The Man Comes Around“, “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong and “Love Letters” by Kitty Lester, making the film a mash up of the 2000s and of the early 50s and 60s. This reuse of music ties in with how the central story is about characters doing the same things over and over again, it’s a clever way to tell us, the audience, that this is just a routine occurrence and it’s a normal day for the characters on screen.

Brad Pitt is at the top of his game as hitman Jackie Cogan, a man who observes everything, doesn’t get involved and is somehow oddly delicate about his job of murdering people. As he remarks to Richard Jenkins during the film, when tasked with killing someone, he likes to “kill them softly.” James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta are the most fascinating characters, who are so high on their own machismo and place with the male-dominated world of the mafia that when they are in turmoil they start crying and wailing, turning into scared little children. Richard Jenkins plays the role he has done in a million other films, as the older man who has stuck around for longer than he should have, but his interactions with Brad Pitt in the film make up for the rather stereotypical casting.

I counted only four women in the film (two of which aren’t on screen, and the other two aren’t on it for less than a few seconds), all of whom are described or characterised by sex or their gender. It’s a film that focuses on the male characters and how they talk to each other and how they describe the women around them, showing that these men (unlike the more romanticised gangsters of years before) should not be looked up to and are rotten to the core. They are despicable, idiotic and diseased, but that makes the film even more enjoyable to watch.

For once, I don’t have to say the film was either too long or too short. Much of my criticism with films nowadays is that directors don’t know how to pace their films, leaving it over-bloated or insubstantial. Killing Them Softly only clocks in at around 90 minutes and it’s the perfect length for the film. Every scene feels like it’s been thought out methodically and has an actual reason for belonging in the film, whether it adds a little bit of back-story to a character or adds more to the puzzle of the story. The last part of dialogue between Brad Pitt and Richard Jenkins is an excellent way to end the film by tying in the banking crisis storyline without becoming preachy, and the last line by Brad Pitt is like a bullet in the way in punches to the heart of his character and his motivation.

In conclusion, Killing Them Softly feels like it takes some of the most overused genre conventions of the gangster film but creates a completely different take on them. If you can stand the hateful characters, the explosive and bloody violence and the ever present swearing, you’ll have a blast.

Score: 10/10 One of the greatest gangster films ever created.

Inside Out Review

It’s been two years since Pixar’s last release, Monster’s University. I somewhat enjoyed the film, but many people I talked to felt that the film had let them down, citing it as second weakest in Pixar’s vast back catalogue (because nothing can be weaker than Cars 2). Can Pixar turn around this minor hiccup and remind us what they are capable of with Inside Out?

Inside Out stars Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith and Richard Kind and is directed by Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen. The story follows Joy (Poehler) and Sadness (Smith) as two of several of the emotions of a young girl, Riley as she is going through her stressful teenage years.

Pixar films always seem to have some deeper meaning behind them, putting them leagues ahead of any other computer generated kids movies. Whether the subject is single parenting (Finding Nemo) conservation for our planet (Wall-E) or doing what you love despite whatever stands in your way (Ratatouille), Pixar have nailed the idea of having a message for their (normally) younger audience. Inside Out is no different. The film tackles some really heavy subjects and even gets seriously dark just past the halfway point. And amazingly it does so without ever becoming po-faced. The film goes through some of what according to main character Riley seems to be her whole world collapsing, only to find that with the old stuff going, it means better stuff can come along.

The cast is one of the standouts of the film. Amy Poehler does her usual cheery self as the emotion Joy, but through her long tiring journey through Riley’s mind, she becomes worn down and beaten by Riley’s descent into uncertainty, leading Poehler to show some great variation from her typecast role. Phyllis Smith as Sadness is brilliant, and has some of the most powerful scenes in the film, such as the finale where she is in control of Riley, giving Inside Out one of the biggest emotional punches of Pixar’s entire works. A role for Richard Kind as another central character (that I’m not going to spoil here) is a great addition to the film, and really hits home a few of the central themes about childhood memories and loss of innocence.

Lewis Black as Anger is the funniest character in the film, with several of the best lines, including one about the destruction of pizza by San Francisco. His regular flame-ridden explosions are a main highlight of the film, with each one being a new, nearly foul-mouthed tantrum over the minutest things. And as always, it’s nice to see Kyle MacLachlan back at The Student Film Review after his stint in the David Lynch Collection. He, along with Diane Lane, play the respective parents of Riley, each with their own set of emotions, playing up each of their identities and traits, with jokes coming from miscommunication and styles of parenting and discipline.

The script, like many other Pixar works has jokes for all the family. While the slapstick violence was enough to make the children in the viewing I was in laugh, the biggest laughs came from the parents at the more adult jokes. Brazilian fantasy men, an excellent riff on Hollywood (with subtle hints to Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Polanski’s Chinatown) and a recurring joke about catchy advert jingle, with the latter accompanied by Anger’s frenzied outbursts, Inside Out is several degrees smarter and wittier than many films recently that have been pegged as “comedies”.

As the standard of Pixar films, Inside Out has its pre-film short animation, this one called Lava. A love story that is set over millions of years, Lava tells the story of two volcano islands falling in love with each other. While the animation and design of the islands is stunning, reminiscent of some of the exquisite design in Surf’s Up, the faces of the islands looks a bit awkward and creepy when they are smiling. The accompanying song (which oddly enough is named “Lava”) however is beautiful, and captures the feeling of the tropical islands with its ukulele infused melody and sounds of waves.

In conclusion, Pixar have once again made a film that anyone of any age can enjoy, with a strong a great message for the audience, let your emotions run free. Inside Out is going to be the blockbuster of this summer.

Score: 10/10 One of Pixar’s greatest, deeply moving and deeply profound, while still being funny as hell.

Song Of The Sea Review

Song Of The Sea has been gaining traction in the past few months. Originally being shown at the Toronto Film Festival in 2014 and then being nominated for Best Animation at the 2014 Academy Awards, it has only started its public cinema run in the UK. Does it live up to the hype?

Song Of The Sea is directed by Tomm Moore and stars David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flannagan, and Lisa Hannigan. The story follows Ben (Rawle) and his mute sister Saorise as they go on a mystical adventure filled with Irish folklore creatures in a bid to find out what happened to their mother, who disappeared the night Saorise was born.

Song Of The Sea deserves its nomination for Best Animation at the Oscars. The 2D animation is striking and beautiful with subtle hints of Studio Ghibli’s more esoteric works, the cartoon designs from The Legend Of Zelda and the cutout silhouettes from Wes Anderson’s films. It can’t be stated enough that the film is mesmerising and I can’t think of an animated film so recently that the animation on its own blew me away.

The story is heavily rooted within Irish folklore with selkies, fairies, giants, and the odd animal deity coming in and out of the film to either help or hinder our protagonists. This is where the animation shines, giving us these fantastical creatures that wouldn’t look anywhere near as good if it was all CGI. Even the homes and houses of these creatures such as the selkie underwater neighbourhood or the owl house that features later on in the film are lovingly put together with some standout scenes and sets.

Even so, the story is a very clichéd and overdone one; a story of young child going off on an adventure and trying to find an absent parent. It is a story that Studio Ghibli has been doing variations on for a while, but here in Song Of The Sea it is beautifully told and has several emotional punches. There was around three times where I welled up due to the story and portrayal of the characters with the last ten minutes serving a real emotional blow that is sure not to leave a dry eye in the cinema. It is a story that everyone can relate to, whatever age they are.

The film is full of great Irish actors. Brendan Gleeson and Fionnula Flanagan are both excellent in their dual roles, playing both the father and grandmother of Ben and Saorise as well as the films interpretations of the Ancient Irish folk heroes. Two small roles for the Irish comics Pat Shortt and Jon Kenny as two parts of a trio of musical playing fairies are fun to watch and to listen to. But the greatest praise must go to David Rawle for his portrayal of the young boy Ben. For a young actor it is a challenge to carry nearly a whole film on his own, but Rawle manages to do it with a sincere and heartfelt portrayal of an older brother trying to help his younger sister.

The score, created by Bruno Koulais and Kila (with many songs being sung by the voice cast as well), is near constantly played throughout the film, but it never gets old or repetitive. Apart from the odd verse nearly all of the songs are sung in Irish which adds to the ethereal quality of the film. The best song though is the lullaby rendition of the main theme that plays over the credits. It is well worth staying through the credits just to hear this amazing song which is sung by the French singer Nolwenn Leroy.

In summary, Song Of The Sea is a great-animated feature, beautifully crafted and heartfelt in its story and characters. This is definitely not one to miss.

Score: 10/10 Destined for classic status.

Wild Review

Preface

Wild is probably the most recent film release on the retro release list at the time of writing. My brother managed to see this film long before me, and constantly pestered me to watch it. Eventually I got a DVD copy, and now I can review it.

Review

Wild stars Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern and Thomas Sadoski with Jean-Marc Vallee directing. Wild follows the real life story of Cheryl Strayed (Witherspoon) as she treks the 1100 mile long Pacific Crest Trail to heal herself from earlier traumatic experiences.

Wild looks breathtaking. I feel like I’ve been saying that for most films that I watch recently, but every time it’s true, and Wild is no different. With over 1000 miles of the west coast of America being our backdrop, Wild takes us through deserts, dense forests and snowy mountains, and all of it is mesmerising. The scenery almost makes me want to start trekking, just so I can see for myself the stunning landscapes that are presented to us.

The acting done by all is top notch. Reese Witherspoon is able to convey so much just through scenes if her walking in the environments, her movements tell us all we need to know. Her scream that starts the film tells us that what we are about to watch is going to be mad, and soon enough Wild is off to a flying start. We say hello once again to Laura Dern after her three films in the David Lynch Collection, and here in Wild she is still superb. It is a shame that neither of the women managed to win any awards for their acting, despite being nominated several times.

Be warned though, Wild pushes it’s 15 certification like no other film I’ve seen. I feel the censors must be getting more relaxed about the level of material that gets into films nowadays, because Wild is full of the stuff that would have garnered an 18 a while back. Graphic sex, constant swear words and drug taking are wall-to-wall here, meaning this is not one for the younger audience. Even some of topics of conversation and actions will put off some viewers, with domestic abuse, abortions and childhood trauma all being explored within the film. There is even some body horror thrown in where Cheryl checks her feet to see her toenails coming off, a scene that made me squirm in my seat. You will have to brace yourself for all of these if you want to watch Wild.

The story switches between Strayed trekking through the wild and back to her childhood and early adult life, where we get to see the scenes that make her go on the journey of self-healing. From the scenes conjured up by the film, it’s a life of fleeting joy and harrowing sadness and helplessness, with many standout moments that will stay with you long after you’ve finished the film. It’s a film that shows the worst possible scenarios that a human can experience playing out over and over again, before pulling you back to the trekking story before it loses you in its own sadness and despair. It’s dark and mature and doesn’t pull any punches in the story that it ultimately wants to tell.

Even though the run time scrapes at the two hour mark, it never feels bloated or feels like it’s had stuff removed. Every scene has been carefully thought out, adding new bits of information about Strayed or her past. This means the film works as a giant jigsaw, with every scene adding up to greater picture. If even one scene were cut we would lose a valuable bit of information about a character or a scene, meaning the film wouldn’t reach the heights that it does.

In conclusion, Wild is not for the faint of heart. The content will drive away a fair few, but for those that can stomach it, you will find one of the greatest films of 2015.

Score: 10/10 Brilliant, beautiful and brutal, not one to be missed.

The 39 Steps (1935) Review

Preface

My local cinema back in Leeds likes to do a “Classics” night at least once a month, with movies ranging from several decades back being shown. Older showings have brought films such as Casablanca, the great Ealing comedy Kind Hearts And Coronets as well as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (oddly enough, all three are some of my favourite films of all time). This week was a showing of another Hitchcock film, The 39 Steps. And since this year (2015) is the film’s 80th anniversary, I can safely say this is proper retro review.

Review

The 39 Steps is directed by Alfred Hitchcock and stars Robert Donat as Richard Hannay, Madeleine Carroll as Pamela and Godfrey Tearle as Professor Jordan. The film revolves around Hannay, who after being told about a plot to steal intelligence secrets, is hounded by both the police and enemy spies across Britain, all the while trying to find out what or where the 39 Steps are.

Having read the book, I do have to say that Hitchcock has taken quite a few liberties with the story. While several scenes are recreated such as “The Milkman Escape” as well as the famous train escapes, Hitchcock makes a detour from the source material and creates his own spin on the classic “man-on-the-run” thriller (a thriller he would go on to direct another three times). Still, what we get is a very polished story, full of extravagant characters and chilling revelations, along with a very Christopher Nolan-esque ending.

Richard Donat (who plays the main character Richard Hannay) is considered to be one of the great romantic leading men of the 1930s, so the role he has here in The 39 Steps is one he could do in his sleep. He flits from scene to scene, kissing nearly every woman who appears within arms reach, all the while looking impeccably good for someone who is jumping out of trains at high speed and running through the boggy marshes of Scotland. His opposite is Madeleine Carroll as Pamela, one of Hitchcock’s first ice-cold blondes, a fiercely independent woman who will always speak her mind. It is rumoured Hitchcock would leave the two of them handcuffed together for hours at a time, pretending to have lost the key, just so the chemistry could grow between them. It seems to have worked, as the dialogue and looks the two leads throw each other is fun to listen to and watch.

Some of the shots that Hitchcock and cinematographer Bernard Knowles create are stunning and beautiful, leading many of them to become well known within the psyche of pop culture. The effective chiaroscuro lighting, mainly used in the noir genre is used to great effect throughout the film, making this one of the director’s best looking films. The sets and locations that the characters visit are also incredibly filmed, with landscape shots of the Scottish Highlands good enough to rival those created by Sam Mendes/Roger Deakins in the James Bond film Skyfall. Even if the sets are small, such as the small archway underneath a bridge our heroes hide behind, the cinematography, the lighting and the acting make such a small space look gorgeous and make it iconic.

A very odd omission from the film is the complete lack of a soundtrack. Apart from the opening credits and a few instances of diegetic music such as a band hall performance, I think I am right in saying that there was not one note from an instrument within the film. This somehow works in favour with the film, with scenes such as the reveal of the leader of the enemy spies. The complete lack of a musical sting to indicate him as the antagonist makes us as the audience uneasy. Music can tell us a lot about what is happening on screen and what will happen in the coming few scenes, but here it’s just us and the silence, making the film a lot more tense than it originally was meant to be.

There are a few things in the film that do look pretty silly when seen nowadays. Sped-up footage reminiscent of the Keystone Cops (the Silent Era version of the Police Academy film franchise), pretty shoddy back projection (even for someone as visionary as Hitchcock) and asynchronous sound design is positively laughable when looked at today. Luckily these moments are few and far between, meaning that they don’t distract from the story too much.

In summary, The 39 Steps is one of Hitchcock’s best films. With a stellar cast full of famous British actors, a pulse pounding plot and a witty script, it’s another great spy film from “The Master of Suspense”.

Score: 10/10 One of the greatest British films of the last century.