The Post

Based on true events, Meryl Streep plays Katharine Graham who inherited ownership of The Washington Post in the late 60s. She was the first woman at such a high level in a publishing company in a world surrounded by confident men. Tom Hanks plays the newspaper’s editor Ben Bradlee and the story is set in the early 70s when the Washington Post is playing second fiddle to The New York Times, who seem to have the upper hand on both the reporting of exclusives and their finances.

At a time when The Washington Post is trying to raise some money by selling shares, The New York Times breaks a huge story involving classified department of defence reports around the Vietnam War going back 20 years. ‘The Pentagon Papers’ reveal cover-ups and systematic lying to the public and congress, so the sitting President Nixon slaps an injunction on the New York Times. Can the Washington Post get hold of the documents, and if they do will they publish or not? Ben thinks there’s no point having a paper if they don’t publish the pentagon paper’s findings, but Katharine sees that there’s no point publishing if they then won’t have a paper.

So, will they publish or not? Well, who can tell? Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Would they really make a film about a paper deciding not to publish something? Will they or won’t they?

Meryl Streep is good as Katharine, growing with confidence as the film progresses, but I found the whole thing incredibly dull. Tom Hanks is very one note and there’s just no drama or suspense to be found in a decision to publish a story or not, no matter how earnest and insistent he gets. The subject matter seemed almost quaint when viewed with modern eyes and Steven Spielberg seems to have made a nostalgic piece for newspapers, with rousing scenes showing machinations of the printing press.

Perfunctory.

2 on 5

Info

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks,

UK Release: 12th Jan 2018

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) sees the three large, derelict billboards on a quiet road near her home that no one uses anymore (since the freeway was built) and seeks out the company that owns them. She asks to rent them for a year and puts down the payment on the first months rent. It turns out she is grieving the loss of her daughter and is frustrated by the local police and their lack of progress in the case. Her billboards single out the police chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).

Things are not quite as the initially seem in this film by Martin McDonagh (director of ‘In Bruges’). Mildred is coping with loss, guilt and anger, and as much as she is looking for answers she is looking for people to shift those feelings onto. She is angry, tough, rude, yet also funny. As the film itself puts it ‘anger begets anger’ and there is a lot of anger and aggression being thrown around, but the other message is that the tide can be turned with a little love as ‘through love comes calm and with calm comes thought’. That might sound a little preachy written down but it in no way does it in the film itself.

This is a film that presents itself initially as a good vs evil western but reveals its characters as nuanced, complex and mostly a varying mix of the two. Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are brilliant and Martin McDonagh manages to keep you on the verge of crying and then laughing from one minute to the next. One scene in particular with the letter is one of the most sad and beautiful scenes I think I have ever seen.

Ultimately hopeful and has you pondering mortality and leaving the cinema trying to be a kinder and more understanding person, at least until the next idiot cuts you up!

5 on 5

Info

Director: Martin McDonagh

Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage

UK Release: 12th January 2018

[TAGS three billboards, ebbing, Missouri, murder, rape, police, cancer, revenge, guilt, loss, aggression, violence, thanks, Martin mcdonagh, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes,
Peter Dinklage, film review]

High Rise

An adaptation of a J G Ballard novel of the same name, written in 1975 and set at about the same time, this story concerns the residents of a forward-looking tower block development.

The pre-credits sequence introduces us to Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) whose voice-over narration of his diary-entries displays his detached manner, referring to himself in the third person as being calmly satisfied with his life, despite living in an apartment that looks like it has been trashed and roasting the leg of a dog on his balcony. The inter-title flashes “3 months earlier” and we see Laing moving into his flat at a time when everything appears much more sedate.

What follows is an hour of calm, stylish setup, introducing us to the characters of the building who are loosely sorted from working class families at the bottom to upper class folk at the very top and who don’t intermingle too much. The building itself is also introduced to us and it is a striking, quite beautiful, brutalist block.

All of a sudden the block descends into rioting seemingly out of nowhere and then the film itself goes nowhere for an hour.

You’re left feeling that you’re watching a ridiculous mess, it is neither funny or disturbing, nor is there an allegory that I could decipher, it just attempts to shock you with scenes of violence and aggression.

1 on 5

Info

Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss
UK Release: 18th March 2016

Get Out

The pre-credits sequence sees a lost man looking for an address in the suburbs, uncomfortable with his surroundings, feeling that he is sticking out like a sore thumb and uneasy with a passing car, rightly so as it happens.

We then shift to the main story which concerns Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) who are preparing for a journey out of the city and into the countryside for a few nights to stay with Rose’s parents. Chris hasn’t met them before and is apprehensive journeying to the family home, as a new boyfriend would be, and more so as the first black boyfriend of white Rose, but she assures him that they’re not racists and that her dad would even have voted for Obama a third time if he could!

When they arrive her parents are very friendly and welcoming, perhaps even a little too much, but some of the interactions with staff who work at the family home hint that there is something odd going on here. A large family gathering the following day leads to a number of strange and uncomfortably racist conversations from people who consider themselves well meaning.

As a chiller the film plays with the sense of unease well, conveying an uncomfortable feeling. It maintains the tension between things being odd and raising concern but also being just about plausibly explained enough that things feel they can continue. Daniel Kaluuya is great as the character of Chris, playing him in a way that keeps you in his shoes as he treads the fine line between acting normal and watching his back. Allison Williams is also good, almost putting on a completely different face when called for in the third act.

It eventually stretches the limits of believability though, I mean, talk about finding the most difficult solution imaginable to a situation. Why change a broken lightbulb when you can move your entire house and possessions around another working light!

3 on 5

Info
Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener
UK Release: 17th March 2017

Blade Runner 2049

Now call me naive but I always thought that replicants were androids: incredibly lifelike robots almost indistinguishable from humans, but the opening text of Blade Runner 2049 clarifies that replicants are actually bioengineered humans, that is to say genetically modified humans, which to me makes some of the moral questions that the first film throws up a lot easier to answer.

This film is a sequel to the first and refers to it a fair bit, so definitely see that one first if you haven’t already. 2049 has the same feel to future L.A. and this time chiefly concerns K (Ryan Gosling), who is one of a “new breed of replicants who obey”, and works for the LAPD “retiring” older model replicants. Ryan Gosling looks great and I loved his coat, jumper and stubbley style, and the role suits his acting well: lots of looking unemotionally at things and sitting in vehicles. Sylvia Hoeks as Luv at the Wallace corporation was excellent. At one point in the film she is reclining, having her nails done and at the same time directing aerial missile strikes from the corporate headquarters (which must have been an architects dream commission and is full of so many water pools and so much mood lighting that it looks like a spa hotel for evil couples). Jared Leto as Niander Wallace however was not at all excellent: an unconvincing pantomime villain and the first scene he appears in also felt needlessly gratuitous in terms of violence and nudity, perhaps in an attempt to make up for the character’s shortcomings. (The film seems to have a pretty equitable balance as far as men and women are concerned apart from a couple of scenes where the director appeared to have been a bit horny. Las Vegas nude female statues and huge holographic adverts for naked electronic assistants admittedly aren’t technically actual women, but nevertheless felt a little superfluous to the plot!).

That said the world created is a visual masterpiece. It is very consistent with the original film – that sort of 80s nostalgic future – with some simply incredible establishing shots. But for all its visual beauty it is very bleak: the world has gotten worse, very aggressive and almost desperately violent at times. The soundtrack conveys this too with lots of groaning, bleak chords and industrial noises.

At its core though and emerging (finally) at the end of the film amongst at the dystopia is a positive message: what makes you human is not the method of your arrival into the world, but your capacity for compassion.

4 on 5

Info

Director: Denis Villeneuve

UK Release: 5th October 2017

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Harrison Ford

[TAGS: blade runner, Los Angeles, L.A., sci-fi, future, science fiction, K, Deckard, Denis Villeneuve, Gosling, Robin Wright, Ana De Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Harrison Ford, film review]

Arrival

In a montage at the beginning of the film, Professor of linguistics Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is seen caring for her young daughter who sadly doesn’t make it to adulthood because of cancer. We return to the present day and Louise is lecturing some of her students when they realise that strange monolithic alien shapes are appearing in places around the globe, hovering silently just a few metres above the ground. Louise is asked (by US Army Colbert GT Weber) to join physicist Ian Donnely in trying to help the military figure out who and what they are and what is going on.

I enjoyed the process of Louise trying to establish communication, and the patience required and displayed by the protagonists. It also displayed the difficulty with worldwide cooperation well, full of tension and twitchyness with positions and methods shifting greatly due to small changes here and there.

However I was very disappointed by the ending which seemed to reduce the entire story down to one person and their love life. Grand ideas about the furtherment of mankind and cooperation on an international scale and more were reduced to one person’s skills and choices. I unfortunately completely lost my suspension of disbelief at this point!

2 on 5

Info
Director: Denis Villenueve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma
UK Release: 10th October 2016

Under The Skin

Directed by Jonathan Glazer and set in Glasgow and its surrounds, this film starts with a white dot in the centre of a black screen and there follows a short sequence which suggests planets, satellites, eclipses and perhaps even the creation of an eye. It suggests these things without being explicit or clear on the exact events, which is to become the manner for the rest of the film. Subsequently we see a motorbike rider clearly on a mission, stopping by the side of a road to retrieve the limp body of a woman from a ditch and load her into a transit van. Next we see another, otherworldly woman (played by Scarlet Johannson) standing over the limp body, who confusingly appears to resemble her exactly. She removes and dons her clothing whilst the body sheds a tear.

If this opening sequence intrigues you then you’re going to enjoy what follows, if it frustrates you or appears deliberately obtuse then you’re probably not.

The performance of Scarlet and the fantastic soundtrack manage to imbue long sections in the first half of the film (which essentially involve a woman driving a van around Glasgow) with intrigue, menace, style and a real feeling of originality. This is not an easy watch. It has a real haunting quality and there are a couple of quite nasty moments, but these moments aren’t just there for shock or to try and provoke a response, they are there for a deeper reason and to show how your opinion changes as you get more information or your perspective alters. A film that gets you at different points siding with and against your species is managing something interesting.

Despite the occasional use of the annoying Hollywood acting method of simply saying nothing in response to other characters, this is bold and adventurous filmmaking. Not perfect but it stays with you.

4 on 5

Info

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Staring: Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams, Doughie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, Adam Pearson, Paul Branigan, Kryštof Hádek

UK Release: 14th March 2014

[TAGS Under the skin, film review, Glasgow, Scarlett Johansson, Alien, Jonathan Glazer, motorbike, motorcycle, transit van, pickup, Jeremy McWilliams, Doughie McConnell, Kevin McAlinden, Adam Pearson,
Paul Branigan, Kryštof Hádek]