Prisoners


Viewed – 29 September 2018  Netflix

I’d heard good things about this 2013 thriller but had not got around to watching until last night.  Starring two actors I always enjoy, Hugh Jackman and especially Jake Gyllenhaal … this looked like essential viewing from the very moment I’d heard about it.  Telling the story of two suburban families who’s young daughters go missing one day, this follows the ensuing investigation that doesn’t bring many leads, causing Jackman’s father to take the law into his own hands.  He decides to abduct the number one suspect and beat out some answers, whilst at the same time the detective in charge of the case, Gyllenhaal attempts to unravel and mystery.

Prisoners

Directed by the acclaimed Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Blade Runner 2049) this is a taught and hard-hitting with above average performances not only from the leads but also Maria Bello.  Unlike similar missing persons movies this raises questions of what’s right and wrong, although never did I not understand the desperation and pain experienced by the worried parents.  With echoes of movies like (the underrated) Death Sentence and Zodiac, the gradually complex investigation is delivered with no end of tension, twists and turns.  It kept this viewer guessing throughout and even if the final reveal is a little too neat, I was still left satisfied.

It’s a lengthy movie but never slow or stretched out and kept me gripped.  A few questions are left unanswered at the end, with a mystery considering a character’s obsession with mazes left up in the air.  But this was still solid entertainment with atmospheric direction and a stunning turn from Jackman making him one of the best working today.  And to think I came to this for Gyllenhaal who whilst very good is left overshadowed.

Verdict: 4 /5

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Mary and the Witch’s Flower


Viewed – 09 September 2018  Blu-ray

When news reached me that beloved Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli were closing their doors, I was concerned that the type of movies seemingly unique to that studio, would never see the light of day again.  Thankfully that concerned was quashed on hearing about this release from new studio  ‘Studio Ponoc’ and directed by Ghibli stalwart Hiromasa Yonebayashi.  Based on the children’s book ‘The Little Broomstick’ by author Mary Stewart, we have Mary, a spirited young girl who stumbles upon an enchanted broomstick one day after wondering into a misty forest.  Soon she is transported to another world, a school for witchcraft not dissimilar to Hogwarts, where the colourful characters may be hiding a secret linked to a sacred flower.

Mary-and-Witch-Flower

This is where the movie revealed an identity crisis, that lingered throughout.  Despite best intentions and a charming veneer of wonder and imagination with top-notch hand-drawn animation … echoes of the movie’s heritage and titles like Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service meant it all quickly began to feel overly familiar.  No bad thing but the characters whilst interesting to look at and with some typically bonkers design … lacked personality.  Apart from Mary herself, an endearing yet clichéd character for this type of movie … the villains and various side characters just came off as typical, with the villain’s scheme also not fully explored. 

Yet a twist towards the end was welcome and brought the story full circle in a particularly satisfying way and add some fun action and plenty of energy – I still found a lot to enjoy.  Ghibli-lite, but as (hopefully) the start of a new era for Japanese animation, this is a promising start.

Verdict:  3 /5

Unsane


Viewed – 01 September 2018  online-rental

Didn’t Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Traffic) announce his retirements at one stage, or did I dream that?  Either way the man continues to deliver movies including this latest psychological thriller starring The Crown’s Clare Foy who plays Sawyer, a woman who has started a new job in a new city after running from a stalker.  However after an intended one night stand goes awry, she turns to a psychiatrist to tackle some of her demons.  Problem is she unwittingly signs herself into a psychiatric institute and is unable to leave for seven days.  Is she losing her mind and has her stalker returned?

unsane

Soderberg’s movie has an immediately unsettling aesthetic.  Filmed believe it or not entirely on an iPhone, and with claustrophobic, unconventional filming techniques that makes everything seem dream-like … it was easy for me to go along with the paranoia and hopelessness of Sawyer’s plight.  Once the hospital becomes the main location, the way the movie questions what is real and what might be in Sawyer’s head is very well done.  Foy is brilliant, damaged and vulnerable making her one of those actors that really becomes the character.  Support from genre icon Amy Irving (Carrie) was welcome if under-used and along with a creepy stalker this ticked all my boxes. 

I’d have liked the ‘is she imagining it?’ element explored a little more than it was as it kind of turns into a typical thriller in the final act … but along with plenty of atmosphere and a few genuine shocks, I really enjoyed this.

Verdict:  4 /5

Lady Bird


Viewed – 28 July 2018  online rental

Saoirse Ronan has become one of those go-to names for me.  This chameleon-like actress sometimes delivers roles that aren’t simply a recognisable name in a movie, but far more method for someone of her years.  She has one of those faces that isn’t Hollywood starlet and can absorb a character fully.  So we come to this coming of age drama about semi-rebellious Christine, who has given herself the name ‘Lady Bird’ as a way of standing out from the crowd and rebelling against a controlling but loving mother.  Yeah she’s a typical teenager trying to find her place in the world and as we follow this story, ‘boys’ come in and out of her life, friendships are formed and lost and she grows to learn a lot about herself along the way.

lady-bird

I really love these kind of small town America dramas, and although the premise is fairly typical, it’s all done with a whimsical charm, realism and quirky sense of humour that proved utterly absorbing.  Ronan is excellent as a young girl who is immediately likeable even if some of her actions made me want to shake her.  Surrounding characters like a nerdy friend,  an out of work dad and her mother (a brilliant Laurie Metcalf) also added to the movie’s personality.  Lady Bird’s story and her journey tugged at the heart strings in places and felt very relatable … with those typical high school teenage yearnings and mistakes we’ve likely all made.  I have to say that the movie gave me a sense that a big dramatic event was going to happen, such is par of the course for these kind of movies, but it never did … and somehow the movie is all the better for avoiding such a cliché.

As the directorial debut from Greta Gerwig this is nothing short of amazing … capturing a convincing portrayal of adolescence whilst at the same time being a love letter to her home town of Sacramento.  Despite it’s general familiarity there’s a real effortless joy to behold in spending time in this setting and with these characters.  Highly recommended.

Verdict:  4 /5

You Were Never Really Here


Viewed – 24 July 2018  Online rental

I like Joaquin Phoenix and it has to be said, you never really know what you’re in for with his movies.  He’s weird but fascinating and usually at least his performance is something to come away appreciating regardless of the movie.  This thriller has him as ‘Joe’ a grizzled, world-weary hit man, who takes jobs from various shady contacts, killing whomever he’s told to for a cash sum whilst otherwise going about his life, caring for his ailing mother and haunted by a troubling past.

You Were Never Really Here

There are strong echoes of the seminal Taxi Driver here, with similar themes of feeling disaffected by the world surround oneself and wanting to find some sort of meaning within the murk, the grime and the sleaze.  Once Joe however stumbles upon a case of a runaway girl who may have fallen victim to a child sex trafficking ring, a new found purpose emerges which quickly comes with unexpected repercussions.  It lacks the dry wit of Martin Scorsese’s classic, and plays out in a rather unique fashion, hardly showing any of the violence that is clearly taking place, preferring jump cuts and fancy editing to give a sense of dread and hopelessness, which works well.  However with a vague approach to the details, especially surrounding Joe’s past, this proves frustrating and with performances that are mostly blank stares and silence (and sometimes words uttered so lazily it’s hard to actually make them out) … for all this is trying to achieve, it ends up annoying in equal measure.

Director Lynne Ramsay has certainly delivered a different kind of thriller; sort of like Taken but with absolute realism in place of Hollywood action … a movie that lingered in my memory, disturbed me but was ultimately unfulfilling – reflective I’d say of the central character’s life.  Perhaps that was the point.

Verdict:  3 /5