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

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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

The Shape of Water


Viewed – 07 July 2018  Online rental

I’ve been really looking forward to this.  Having been a long time admirer of visionary director Guillermo Del Toro since his fantastically ingenious debut ‘Cronos‘, we come to this, the Oscar winning movie that finally after so many years, recognised Del Toro for the master that he is. Telling the story of Elise, a young mute woman working as a cleaner at a military base during Cold War era 60’s America … we discover that a new ‘asset’ has come to the base for further experimentation and investigation by a team of scientists headed by Michael Shannon’s unhinged Government Agent.  Said asset is a amphibious humanoid creature who Elise forms a unique bond with that gradually turns into love.

The Shape of Water

A gothic romance, a dark fantasy … hallmarks of what Del Toro does best and this takes some of the most interesting aspects of his earlier work and weaves them together into probably the best thing he’s done since Hellboy 2.  The performances are first rate, with a scenery chewing Michael Shannon, although no stretch for an actor used to playing intense characters, on brilliant form.  Also the often underrated Doug Jones who has appeared in several of the director’s works always underneath a wealth of prosthetics is mesmerising as the creature.  Yet it’s the breakout turn from relative unknown stage actress Sally Hawkins that impresses most, bringing incredible depth and emotion to a character who can not speak.

The romance at the centre of the story did feel a little rushed however, with Elise too easily attracted to a creature-from-the-black-lagoon looking monster, although her urge to help it was more understandable.  Also how the movie doesn’t exactly treat the creature as anything all that unusual considering it’s like nothing anyone had ever seen up until that point, is puzzling.  Of course it would be remiss of me not to mention Del Toro’s direction and eye for darkly beautiful imagery; macabre and at times weirdly erotic.  A true master of his art whose movies always look stunning – this is no exception as the set design, the slightly exaggerated 60’s Americana and the often cartoonish characters all create a tone and atmosphere uniquely his own and it’s a real joy.  Del Toro has put together a movie that is both heart-breaking and touching yet thrilling, funny and magical.  Although not quite up to the standard of Pan’s Labyrinth for me due to an undeveloped villain who’s motives are unclear and a little too much mystery to the creature … this was still a captivating watch from beginning to end.

Verdict:  4 /5

Brain on Fire


Viewed – 04 July 2018  Netflix

It would be easy for some to pass off this Netflix original movie as just another TV-movie style ‘illness of the week’ effort … but that would be doing it a disservice. A powerful and gripping true story that has the always likeable Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays plucky young reporter Susannah who is living the dream; ideal job, the musician boyfriend and all.  That is until some strange symptoms rear their head sending her into a downward spiral.

Brain On Fire

With the ‘mystery illness’ at the centre and thoroughly believable performances not only from Moretz who delivers possibly a career best, but also a support cast that includes the often underrated Carrie Ann Moss as her mother … this made me feel so affected not just by Susannah’s struggle but also that of her estranged parents, boyfriend and work colleagues.  Watching a family come together but also feel so helpless was utterly heart-breaking.

With solid direction from relative newcomer Gerard Barrett and particularly effective use of sound to portray some of Susannah’s symptoms – this is one of those movies best approached knowing little about it and letting the mystery unfold.  The only negative remains a somewhat sugar-coated ending that glosses over certain struggles. However, for a woefully dismissed movie critically, I have to say ignore such opinions and give this little gem your immediate attention.

Verdict:  4 /5

My Friend Dahmer


Viewed – 23 June 2018  online-rental

When movies attempt to tackle the subject of a real life serial killer, the results are often sensationalist tabloid rubbish that fail to reveal anything new or a deeper understanding.  This movie tries to show a side of one of America’s most notorious killers during his high school years, before he became a monster.

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Jeffrey Dahmer (Ross Lynch) is portrayed as a heavily introverted loner school kid who gets befriended by some other kids who go about promoting yet inadvertently ridiculing him in an attempt to bring him out of his shell.  Jeffrey goes along with such treatment in a desperate bid to find a connection and a distraction from morbid urges, confusion with his sexuality and constantly quarrelling parents.

Director Marc Meyers’  movie fails to delve under Dahmer’s persona to reveal what made him tick or how such urges developed that eventually lead to particularly depraved murders.  Instead we have him as little more than an oddball that would occasionally act out for attention.  Newcomer Lynch gives a subdued, rather weak performance, perfecting a slumped stance but not much more.  The casting of Dahmer’s parents (including a stand-out Anne Heche) is more interesting and from what I hear, pretty much on the nail.  Based on a graphic novel by Dahmer’s high school friend this more than likely throws in some artistic licence with what went on and who Dahmer actually was, but ultimately fails to do much more than showcase a weirdo with a few alarming habits.  Considering who Dahmer became, this barely hints at any of it, making the final scene feel a bit of a stretch …despite the facts.

Verdict:  2.5 /5