Friday, 26 February 2016

Room Review – Tremendous Tremblay

Robbie Collin recently wrote about the Academy's lack of appreciation for child actors and he's got a point, you know. While Brie Larson may have picked up most of the statuettes, Room is very much Jacob Tremblay's film.

Nine-year-old Tremblay plays Jack, son to his loving mother Joy (or Ma) and their abusive captor, known simply as Old Nick. Lenny Abrahamson and his writer Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the novel, choose to tell this horrific abduction story from Jack's five-year-old perspective. It makes for a thoroughly unique take on this kind of narrative, even if they never fully commit to this approach.

Image courtesy of Blackfilm.com.

You see the sense of POV remains rather understated throughout. There's a sense of child-like wonder to much of the film, but the camera only really assumes Jack's viewpoint on a handful of occasions, with at least a couple of them making for really beautiful moments. It's a shame, in the end, that we're not given more of these flourishes.

The majority of the flourishes are instead left to the strong cast, as the visual qualities remain attractive but firmly distant. Larson is very good, as is Tom McCamus as her mother's partner (especially in a couple of beautiful moments with Jack), but it's Tremblay who steals the show. Jack is wonderfully written and Tremblay is undoubtedly very well directed, but there's a mesmerising quality to his performance. Not wanting to count any eggs before they hatch, but this kid is going places.

As a result, even very solidly worked elements can seem lacking in comparison. In the end, the film suffers from having too much dramatic potential. It tries to cover a handful of different sections to this story, when it may have been a more rewarding experience focusing on just the one. I don't wish to spoil anything for those of you who have managed to avoid the trailers but, if you have seen the ads (even in passing), little of the first hour or so will surprise you. Shock, quite possibly, but not surprise. Instead, it's when the film moves into new territory that Room really comes into its own.

★★★★

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Deadpool Review – Sweary Fun

It's hard not to feel pleased for Deadpool. Ryan Reynolds and the gang delivered a fan-pleasing R-rated big screen solo outing for the Merc with a Mouth to much applause and a juicy $285m worldwide opening (on a $58m budget, no less). So it's a shame that the film plays a lot better on paper than it does in a movie theatre.

Image courtesy of Apocaflix! Movies.

It's the character's token infantile snark that works the best. This is the role Reynolds was born to play and he delivers the fourth wall breakers with aplomb. I did find myself missing a few too many punchlines, but I can't say whether it was the theatre's soft speakers, my bum hearing, an unbalanced sound mix or the whole masked muffle thing of not having the gift of lip reading. The chuckles are still suitably consistent, even if they don't ever really break out into gut-busting belly laughs.

The action is drabber. As some have said, the opening action sequence (as featured in the test footage) is the film’s best and, beyond a game Reynolds, Tim Miller (director) simply offers the kind of splattery thrills we've already seen done better in Kick-Ass. The final showdown is unnecessarily bombastic, as the film falls into the same pitfalls as the very blockbusters it's poking fun at, but Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead are welcome companions.

The by-the-numbers superhero narrative also comes across as a disappointment, with significant chunks of the origin story stuffing offering little. If only some more of that time had been spent on Wade Wilson's love life. We never get much of a chance to really invest in Wade's relationship with ex-hooker Vanessa. Both Reynolds and Morena Baccarin are more than game and they work well together, but the balance of the human heart and the larger than life (anti-)hero don't gel as cohesively as one would've wanted.

Deadpool is a fun ride, and its success is a testament to the filmmaking team, Fox’s ace marketing department and the fan's loyalty, but the finished film never really catches fire as it could have.

★★★

Friday, 12 February 2016

Nina Forever Review – Never Forget

Even the best marketing can only get you so far. Nina Forever, from the immensely talented Blaine Brothers, has a great trailer (below) and a memorable tag line ('a f**ked up fairytale'), but neither do justice to the brilliance of the Blaine's debut feature. Both pitch the film as a snappy dark comedy with a horror twist, but what neither piece of promotional material achieves is a full demonstration of the film's beautifully observed heart.

Rob's long-term girlfriend, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), has died in a tragic car accident. Aimless, and unable to come to terms with his loss, Rob (Cian Barry) sees little left worth living for and tries to top himself… unsuccessfully. Meanwhile, Holly’s boyfriend unceremoniously dumps her, claiming she's a bit boring. Enticed by Rob’s intensity, and desperate to prove that she's more than a 'vanilla' lover, Holly (Abigail Hardingham) makes a move on him. It works. But, as they begin to get intimate, a bloodied Nina makes a surprise appearance, clawing her way up through the white bed sheets.


What follows is an intimate study into relationship ghosts and the deeply rooted memories of past lovers. Hardingham is perfect in the lead role and well deserving of her ‘Most Promising Newcomer’ award at the British Independent Film Awards. She avoids any stereotypes in her portrayal of Holly as a socially off-kilter emo kink, and instead establishes real truth with her shuffling, lusty performance.

Barry and O’Shaughnessy are also great and complete the excellent central trio. They are all gifted with some delightfully witty dialogue. O’Shaughnessy, in particular, is blessed with the Blaine’s wordsmithery and she matches up to that with a playful, lyrical performance.

In fact, the Blaine Brothers display their supreme cinematic abilities across the board. Their measured scenes display real confidence by refusing to shy away from extended beats of quiet. The actors, and the film as a whole, prosper from these moments of silence. In keeping with this rhythmic approach, they use editing to great effect (they’re editors by trade and cut the film themselves). On a number of occasions, two scenes will play out concurrently, with the first scene interspersed with snippets from the next (1a, 2a, 1b, 2b… etc.). It’s a simple technique, but it works a treat and, by always using it purposefully, it creates a really vibrant and expressive mode of delivery.


It’s also an eerily beautiful film with artful shots of British beaches played against the foggy greys of council estates and concrete playgrounds. These latter shots are reminiscent of Hoyte van Hoytema’s stunning work on Let the Right One In, and they do a great job of reflecting the miserable weather we’re often oppressed by in the UK. England has rarely looked so drab and so striking in the same film.

Nina Forever also shares Let the Right One In’s left-field tonal choices, and recreates some of that film’s powerful melancholy. The Blaine’s film is achingly mournful, at times, as these characters journey through their lives looking for some semblance of hope and happiness. Lingering shots of empty chairs at a dinner table sting with the pain of those now lost. The Blaine’s have a firm, and painfully well-observed, handle on human uncertainty, and it makes for a really disarming watch.

Hitchcockian shots of feet, the conspicuous lack of white wine to match the scarlet red and other visual details confirm the intricacy of their storytelling. Likewise, their command of symbolic imagery reaches its proudest pinnacle with their use of scars (both literal and tattooed) to reflect life’s burden and the often impossible task of trying to deny the past.

Nina Forever’s bombastic trailers will prepare you for a jokey romantic horror comedy romp, but they simply don’t do justice to the mighty power of this wonderful film.

★★★★★

Image and screener courtesy of Fetch Publicity.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Zoolander 2 Review – Cameo-uch!

Ben Stiller has finally decided to dust off his most iconic character a whopping sixteen years after Derek Zoolander first graced our screens. I’m one of the fourteen people who haven’t seen the first film, but I can’t imagine it’s any worse than this slapdash superfluity.

Image courtesy of Fashion Gone Rogue.

Zoolander 2 opens, as so many of these Hollywood comedy sequels seem to, with a glossy action scene. Through that gag’s damp punchline, we come to learn that the world’s most beautiful people are being offed, one pre-death Instagram post at a time. Derek Zoolander (Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson), once the world’s most famous male models, must come out of hiding and get to the bottom of these beauty killings.

The paint-by-numbers spy movie plotting serves as little more than a distraction and does nothing to juice up the already low gag count. There are jokes about Zoolander being a stupid person, then a handful of ‘ha, aren’t these guys so old and out of touch!’ lines, a depressingly used (but always game – much to her credit) Penelope Cruz and lots of whizzy whizzy fast bits to cover for the dry patches.

Stiller does a fair job in the lead role as he pouts and buffoons his way around the Italian fashion scene, but he doesn’t give himself anything particularly fresh to do all the same. Possibly most disappointing is the under utilisation of Kristen Wiig, who is given more substantial screen time in this standalone trailer. The joke works way better in those 90 seconds than it ever does in the feature.

There are also a cornucopia of cheap (although probably massively expensive) celebrity cameos. Faces pop up from the world of music, film and fashion, but 90% of them come across as totally lame… or should I say lam√©.

Unflattering cameos abound in this shrieky ‘comedy’ sequel from Stiller and co.

★★

Monday, 8 February 2016

Under the Skin Review – Beguiling

Scarlett Johansson added yet another glistening feather to her 2014 cap with a sublime performance in Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michel Faber’s novel, Under The Skin. Johansson plays a mysterious extra-terrestrial sent to stalk the streets of Scotland preying upon helpless single men, and through a mixture of hidden cameras and breathtaking visual effects, we stalk along with her.

Image courtesy of Screen Rant.

With every interaction Johansson’s character has, there’s the disconcerting uncertainty of whether the prey is in on the whole thing. The line between actors and innocents has rarely been this blurred. Add in Johansson’s transformative performance and Glazer’s exquisite eye, and what we’re left with is a deeply challenging and unmissable piece of modern filmmaking.

Channelling his inner Kubrick, Glazer sacrifices narrative progression for a masterfully ambiguous and deeply confounding piece of science fiction cinema, complete with a series of photographic effects that echo Douglas Trumbull’s class-leading work on 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Glazer’s work with Johansson also beggars belief and he subverts traditional star theory to brilliant effect. There’s something chillingly perverse about the camera ogling Scarlett Johansson’s naked curves that could never have been replicated with an unknown actress.

Johansson delivers one of the greatest performances of the year before last in Under The Skin; a film that sparks debate in the way that only the best cinema can. It questions the human perception of beauty and sexuality in a distant, yet eye-opening, manner.

Glazer’s last feature was 2004’s Birth, and Under the Skin very much feels like a film a decade in the making; it is deliberately unhurried, and deftly assured. Part of me hopes we don’t have to wait another ten years for Glazer’s next film. The other part of me wishes to grant him his sweet, sweet time.

★★★★★