Intro

Hello! Here you will find occasional film reviews together with a few other things I notice along the way.

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Room

‘Room’ begins with a scene of a mother and her young son getting on with domestic life and shows some of the various flights of fancy in the son’s vivid imagination. It very quickly becomes clear that a man referred to as ‘Old Nick’ has had them confined to one small bedsit room for a number of years with only a skylight to glimpse the outside world.

Rather than showing the traumatic act of confinement or the initial period, the story cuts straight to an almost settled situation and concentrates on the relationship between mother Joy (Brie Larson) and 5 year old son Jack (Jason Tremblay) and particularly Jacks expansive imagination and ability to find amusements in the blandest of unchanging surroundings and harshest of situations.

It’s principally a display of a wonderful parent-child relationship in horrible circumstances. Joy initially insulates Jack from the situation but when he is old enough has to come clean and ask for him to help in attempting to escape.

It is a very moving and also life affirming film and I was really concerned for both of the characters at a point midway through the film, a sure sign of how involved I was with them. It may be that it has less of an impact of you are not a parent yourself though.

The third act of the film doesn’t shy away from confronting the difficulties of the trauma yet it ultimately manages to find reason to be optimistic.

Fantastic performances from both of the protagonists make it a film to look out for, but a dark subject matter.

4 on 5

Info
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, William H Macy
UK Release: 15th January 2016

The Revenant

“A person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead” is what it said when I looked up revenant in the dictionary (educational this film going lark!).

In 1823, a group of fur-trappers led by an apparently British General in the land of new frontiersman USA are out in the unsettled wilderness woodlands collecting pelts (“the skin of an animal with the fur, hair or wool still on it.” Dictionary coming in handy again!). They are besieged by a group of Native Americans in a great immersive opening battle reminiscent of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and only a few men manage to escape on a boat. One of them is Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his half-native son. Another of the group John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is suspicious of Glass and his son. The group dynamics are not good and before long disaster strikes when Glass is badly attacked by a bear.

That bear sequence is another technically impressive one, with Leonardo being flung all over the place. I’d love to see some of the footage before they airbrushed out the crew throwing him around and drew the bear in!

Leonardo has spoken about how the movie means a lot to him in terms of representing and highlighting the destruction of indigenous landscapes and peoples around the world, not just at the time when the native American people were clashing with the expanding capitalism to the west, but in the present day too. It does have that as a backdrop, but the meat on the bones of the film is a survival and revenge story.

Leonardo certainly plays the character of Glass with passion and plenty of conviction and combined with the landscapes and filters the film does actually make you feel cold. Unfortunately Tom Hardy’s character is mumbling and heavily-accented to the point where you miss most of his lines.

Part way through I was reminded of the excellent ‘Touching The Void’, the documentary film about a stranded man’s attempt to make it back to camp against all the odds, but the difference here is that getting back to camp doesn’t provide any closure as it would only be a step on the journey of revenge, revenge which does seem to falter near the end of the film.

A cinematic experience, but I didn’t think that the thin plot could quite sustain the 2 1/2 hours.

3 on 5

Info
Director: Alejandro Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forest Goodluck, Grace Dove UK Release: 15th January 2016

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Like most people, I enjoyed the first trilogy of Star Wars films a lot when I was young and was disappointed by the prequels released from 1999. But it’s okay, we can forget about those now as we rejoin the Star Wars world after the original trilogy! The trilogy of sequels has arrived!

So any Star Wars review has to be an exercise in treading carefully to avoid plot spoilers – the geeks are a force to be wary of! It seems to me that J J Abrams also approached the whole project with trepidation as well.

Episode VII is a safe film and one that will please the fans I suspect. J J Abrams has taken the franchise and delicately steered it back on course, avoiding any big obstacles along the way. It is very nostalgic and actually very derivative and plays like a reimagining of Episode IV. It feels like a Star Wars reboot that acknowledges and remakes the originals. And I was very glad to see no lens flare!

There are some funny moments but it is also very dark in places. Certainly not for young kids.

As far as the performances were concerned, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega were both good and convincing in their roles, Rey and Finn respectively. Rey’s role was almost a carbon copy of Luke’s, but Finn’s was the only really original idea in the film and a good one too. I was less convinced about the baddies: General Hux was a smug git and Kylo Ren a moody teenager.

I’d better leave it there really, but it’s a fairly entertaining if unoriginal wander through the Star Wars universe and a handy bridge between the originals and the future of the franchise.

3 on 5

Info

Director: J J Abrams

Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow

UK Release: 16th December 2015

[TAGS: sci-Fi, Star Wars, space, wars, interplanetary, battles, c3po, r2d2, leia, Han Solo, Luke sky walker, Jedi, J J Abrams, Harrison
Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow]

Slow West

16 year old Scottish boy Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) decides to travel to Colorado in 19th century America to look for his love, Rose Ross (Caren Pistorious). We pick up the journey shortly after he arrives on the East Coast and realise right away how out of his depth he is. As he gets caught up in a battle between a couple of groups of men, bounty hunter Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender) fortunately comes to his rescue and Jay gives him all of his money to offer him protection along his journey.

And their journey is stylish, occasionally brutal, occasionally funny and always interesting. There are lots of diversions and incidences en-route and it has a very compelling relationship between Jay and Silas at it’s core, with particularly fine performances from Kodi Smit-McPhe and the always great Michael Fassbender.

It’s described as a western, but for all the occasionally violent moments it’s not got the macho feel of a typical western, it’s much more playful and bizarre than the typical film of ponderous posturing and it’s visually a joy. It’s also a snappy 84 minutes.

It’s an enjoyable and confident film and particularly promising as hopefully the first of many films from first time director John Maclean.

4 on 5

Info
Director: John Maclean
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kodi Smit-McPhe, Caren Pistorious, Ben Mendleson
UK Release: 26 June 2015

Trainwreck

Rising comedy star from New York Amy Schumer stars in this comedy which she wrote and Judd Apatow directed. (Not sure which of these people is “the guy who brought you Bridesmaids” which was a film directed by Paul Feig and written by Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, but there you go!)

It starts off with a flashback to the young Amy Townsend (Amy Schumer) and her sister Kim (Brie Larson) being told by their Dad that he and their Mum are separating. He tells them monogamy is completely unrealistic and it’s a lesson that Amy takes to heart. Cut to 20-odd years later and Amy is playing the field and partying hard, despite currently having a boyfriend Steven (John Cena). Steven is a bit of a naive beefcake, and actually a very amusing character as his attempts to look tough often result in very funny Freudian slips. In contrast, Kim has ignored her Dad’s words and is settling down and making a family.

Amy works at a lads mag and is sent to interview sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader) for an article. They enjoy each other’s company and the main focus of the film is set.

It starts off refreshingly funny and a little different feeling, there are some very funny characters and situations despite some awkward exchanges on race, but it slots into a surprisingly well trodden path before too long. Some of the supporting characters are good (Leabron James is one) but other famous athlete and sports-commentator cameos are completely lost on a non-US viewer and feel awkwardly shoe-horned in, as do some of the plot developments.

Overall, funny in places but patchy. A disappointingly standard rom-com with the funny scenes not quite interwoven into a good film.

3 on 5

Info
Director: Judd Apatow
UK Release: 14th August 2015
Starring: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, John Cena, Vanessa Bayer, Mike Birbiglia, Ezra Miller, Tilda Swinton, LeBron James

The 39 Steps

This is a Hitchcock film from way back in 1935.

The fact that is from another era of cinema completely is quite apparent in a few of ways. Firstly, look at that poster! Yikes! Secondly, it is really quite difficult to watch – the dialogue is hard to make out and the picture is so bad it strains your eyes at times. Thirdly, it is looks like a play in a number of scenes and it even left me wondering if some things were portrayed badly on purpose or not! “Was that stabbing supposed to look like it was poorly carried out, meaning the character could still be alive, or was it just badly portrayed?”.

The characters were quite interesting though and it never took itself to seriously. Very farcical at times. The story concerns a man in London who tries to break a spy network and goes on the run to protect his innocence.

Not the best film ever though, I couldn’t really recommend it.

2 on 5

Info
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Licie Mannheim, Godfrey Tearle, Peggy Ashcroft, John Laurie, Wylie Watson UK Release: 18th November 1935

The Wolf Of Wall Street

The film starts with a short montage giving a taster of the life of excesses, luxuries, sex and drugs of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (played brilliantly by Leonardo DiCaprio). We then wind back to him starting out on Wall Street as a trainee for an established firm. What he experienced in that first day shapes the rest of his entire career. He loves the buzz of the office, the disrespectful and foul-mouthed culture, and when his boss meets him for lunch he is eager to be guided: “Move the money from your client’s pocket into your pocket”. He takes Jordan’s desire for wealth, points him I’m the right direction and gives him a kick up the ass.

However, shortly afterwards there is a stock market crash and Jordan finds himself jobless almost before his career has started. He manages to find a job for a small firm selling penny stocks, taking advantage of the desperate and making a 50% cut. His gift of the gab salesmanship has the office enthralled from the first day and Jordan is on the rise again, shortly setting up his own firm with his new right hand man Donnie (also excellently played by Jonah Hill) and a band of old mates who he can mould into his form, speaking from the office floor to his acolytes into a microphone with the crazed fever of a cult preacher. It is this arc that sustains most of the film’s running time.

Along the way Jordan hires his father, Mad Max, to stifle the worst of his excesses and that of the management team, but this is a futile role as the parties, drugs, prostitutes and spending goes through the roof. He is introduced to us in a hilarious scene at home in just one of the very funny moments in the film. It has a fast-paced, dynamic, darkly comic, sometimes slapstick feel as the protagonists lurch from one caper to the next. It’s not a film to watch with your parents though – swearing, naked flesh, drug taking in every scene – and it does lack strong female representation (perhaps a little inevitably as it is based on the true story of a male stockbroker in the late 80s) but Margot Robbie and Joanna Lumley do play female characters who have strength and self respect.

Entirely without morals, Jordan is only motivated by greed and the adulation of his workers and the interesting thing is that there is no progression in his character at all from the moment he picks up the phone at his first job to the last shot of the film. He is a train wreck waiting to happen for a long time, but he can’t resist standing on top of the carriage and whooping as it flies along the tracks. The only person who appears to have a moment of self-reflection (and regret almost) is the FBI agent investigating Jordan after the whole affair is over.

Rather than being a critique or glamorisation of Jordan’s life, it is more a comment on the industry and society that is allowing this sort of situation to occur, but it’s a fun ride!

4 on 5

Info

Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin, Joanna Lumley
UK Release: 17th January 2014