Philomena (2013)

Genre: Drama

Director: Stephen Frears

Writers: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope, Martin Sixsmith

Starring: Steve Coogan, Judi Dench, Sophie Kennedy Clark

Rating: ★★★★½

To my surprise this somewhat under the radar film is moving, sad and quite simply brilliant. Philomena a small British film has only recently been making the headlines and dominating conversations after receiving a handful of nominations for award season including an Oscar nomination for Best Motion Picture and Best Actress. It isn’t any surprise however why these nominations were given to Philomena as for me a mixture of a well-written emotional story and great acting by Coogan and Dench really make this release as enjoyable and entertaining as any other film causing hype at the moment.

Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) is a journalist looking for a distraction after finding himself at a loss when dismissed by the Labour Party leaving his career as a member of the BBC a mere shameful memory. When approach by a young Irish woman Martin is intrigued by the story of her mother, Philomena (Judi Dench) who is on a search for her long lost son who was taken by Nuns when she was an inmate at a strict Catholic convent. Martin agrees to help Philomena with her search and with her story he will write and publish in a magazine; however their journey and her story is more than just a magazine article. On the hunt for Philomena’s lost Anthony they find themselves in America and discovering a shameful corruption and lie within the Catholic convent. However as much as they find out about the fate of Anthony Martin and Philomena find out a lot about each other forming a close friendship which causes even their basic beliefs to be changed.

The story which is based on a true story and adapted from Martin Sixsmith’s book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee” is not only well-written but emotional containing witty British comedy to tearful moments of sadness. There’s a scene which takes place in a Harvester Restaurant which immediately brings laughs to the British audience, picking up a handful of croutons in her Irish accent Philomena says to Martin “Oh I do like these little bits of toast they have”.  It was only a simple moment and simple joke yet it was so effective and free-flowing and that was the case for the comedy throughout the film. In the complete contrary there are scenes where your heart drops, no matter how Philomena discovers her long lost son Anthony is was destined to be emotional and it truly was and was executed greatly and captured by Judi Dench equally as impressive.

Although at times it was a pleasant story and had moments of heart-warming bonding and comedy it did show the harsh truth and untold stories of what young Catholic women had to obey once upon time. How young-girls were shunned upon and disowned by their parents if they got pregnant is upsetting and more so was the idea that the only options they had were to have their baby die or to have it looked after by the Catholic Church whilst you repaid your debt.  It was a topic was upsetting that was very moving and touching to see but the way that everyone involved with the making and creation of Philomena did an excellent job.

The acting was another strong highlight which complemented the excellent writing, Judi Dench an actress who’s been giving brilliant performances for many decades now and has constantly contributed to British Film shines once more. Her portrayal of Philomena is excellent, the way in which Dench can show frailty, sadness and humour in such a quick mixture is incredible and something which obviously contributed to her deserved Oscar Nomination.  Steve Coogan as Martin Sixsmith is also great, the humour again is a highlight but so is how Coogan deals with the serious scenes and moments. Martin is a character that stands up for Philomena and due to that the audience encourages and sides with him throughout. An honorary mention and one which is probably not as frequent as it should be, but Sophie Kennedy Clark’s performance of a younger Philomena was brilliant. Responsible for the flashback scenes which complemented Philomena’s narration when telling her story Clark’s emotion was a real highlighting aspect.

Philomena is a film that thrives mainly from its acting and strong story, although there was nothing wrong with Frears direction it wasn’t eye-catching enough to be applauded likewise with the film’s score and music. Although elements were lacking you can’t deny that Philomena is a fantastic film which has undoubtedly made a huge impact on all its viewers and has done British Film proud. Entertaining and intriguing from start to finish the experience is easily enjoyable and definitely emotional but more importantly one that is very worth-while.

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David Fincher as an Auteur #2

My second post discussing David Fincher as an auteur will focus on his depressing and negative endings which often show failure, sacrifice or suicide. It is a common thing for Fincher to involve himself with a film that is actually gritty, grim and dark such as Se7en, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and even The Game; however the endings and climax are always very important.

Fincher’s first directing role in Alien 3 shows this, it’s a cruel horrible world inside this prison where you are only waiting for your imminent death which is slow and tiring. An alien creature invades along with a lost and injured Ripley, a female isolated in this male dominated society and world which sets up a very harsh storyline. However at the end of the film there is no victory or success for either the prisoners or Ripley who we follow throughout, following a spray of guns the prisoners are shot and Ripley commits sacrificial suicide as she jumps into a pit of burning flames. As an audience we have nothing to be happy about, our main characters are all dead and with no victory showing how rubbish and cruel the situation was.

The same feeling is portrayed in the ending of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; throughout the film we follow the subplot which shows the growing relationship between our two main characters Mikael and Lisbeth. Lisbeth is someone who we feel very attached too and sympathetic towards, however at the end of the film dressed up and ready to meet Mikael she witnesses him leave with another woman leaving her distressed and upset. It is heart-breaking to watch, again there is no positive ending for the film or our character showing just how cruel this world is and society is.

Se7en and Fight Club two of Fincher’s big classics and all-time greats also follow this same outlook and perspective, mainly focusing on suicide. At the end of Se7en our main character witnesses his wife’s head decapitated in box and then gets himself arrested for shooting her murderer which is the serial killer being chased throughout the film. We can only assume that Mills is going to spend the rest of his life in a prison cell, alone and hopeless yet he knew this would be the chosen path when he pulled the trigger on John Doe therefore technically committing suicide as he kills of his future. Fight Club has the similar ending after an emotional and somewhat crazy journey our main character stands with a gun in his mouth ready to end it all, the same situation in The Game. Fincher creates this very depressing feeling of injustice, giving the message that the good guys don’t win in society. Se7en even ends with Somerset’s lines “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.” I agree with the second part.” This sums up the films and in a way Fincher’s message.

It is fair to say that Fincher has a negative look on society and life in general especially in his first set of directing roles. It seems that if you want Fincher behind your film, you better make sure there are no happy endings and it isn’t a romantic comedy.  Negative films and depressing endings are definitely and unarguably a trademark of David Fincher, if you didn’t see my last post on his representation of women click here.

Panic Room (2002)

Genre: Drama, Thriller, Crime

Director: David Fincher

Writer: David Koepp

Starring: Jodie Foster, Kristen Stewart, Forest Whitaker

Rating: ★★★★

Panic Room is a film that is both clever and at the same time thrilling, Fincher although not creating a classic but a film which is always remembered and known. A great storyline with innovative effects make for an entertaining and fulfilling watch, whilst stars such as Jodie Foster and a young Kristen Stewart add solid performances to cap of a good release.

The storyline focuses on a woman and her daughter on their first night within their new large Victorian three-floor apartment. Meg (Jodie Foster) is mum to Sarah (Kristen Stewart), divorced she looks after her diabetic and bold teenage daughter but her night is troubled when intruders invade. Three men searching for a missing and hidden fortune break into their new home but when Meg and Sarah are awoken by their surprised visitors they take refuge in the house’s panic room but what the intruders want is where the hosts are hiding. The intruders think of ways to fight their way in and scare the pair out, but locked away Meg and Sarah try their best to survive and get help fuelling for some exciting events.

Thrilling is an understatement, there are many jumpy and heart-racing moments throughout Panic Room achieved by some great screen-writing. There’s real horror to the idea of someone breaking in whilst you’re asleep and likewise being trapped within your own house with three intruders. There always seems to be huge plot twists and deciding moments too which keeps the story not only entertaining but fast-paced which is a huge highlight to Panic Room.

The acting ensemble is also a distinguishing feature to Fincher’s film; Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart give solid performances which add to the film’s thrilling experience.  However equally as impressive was the roles and acting of the three intruders. Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakum, Jared Leto play Burnham, Raoul and Junior. Whitaker’s Burnham is a great character although a thief and burglar there is a real likable and sympathetic aspect to his character and persona. Whilst newly Oscar-famed Jared Leto plays the brilliant, clueless and funny character of Junior who is equally lovable and hateable. Panic Room’s performances really live up to the films overall quality and add again to the experience created.

David Fincher’s directing is great really creating the heavy, isolated and somewhat claustrophobic feel very successfully. The way the camera’s floated through everything and fly around the house is awe-inspiring something very new and innovative for almost 12 years ago. The very opening credits as the letters floated on the Manhattan backdrop was flawless and set the tone for the amazing camera work throughout. Although this is an underrated release from Fincher he should be praised for not only bravery to accept such a challenging task but his excellence in achieving such an exciting film which is only set within one house and mainly in one room.

The only faults that Panic Room holds are at times the annoyance that gets created by Foster’s Meg’s clumsiness. At many times simple things turn into drastic and dramatized moments, such as reaching for a fallen phone and knocking over loud furniture which at times can even be predictable. The only other picky thing I can fault is how I would have liked to seen a bit more justice or closure on the character of Burnham. However these aspects really don’t put down this film too much.

Panic Room deserves much more praise than it gets, alongside writer and director David Koepp and David Fincher for creating such a thrilling clever film. It can be so tense and thrilling it is amazing considering the simplicity of the events and setting. It isn’t as outstanding as other Fincher films but it is new and unique and shouldn’t be forgotten, easily watchable and enjoyable Panic Room is the definition of entertainment in many ways.

 

The Way Way Back (2013)

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Directors: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Writers: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Starring: Steve Carell, Liam James, Toni Collette, Allison Janney

Rating:★★★★

The Way Way Back to my surprise was a film that I saw on a lot of lists come the end of 2013 but since watching I can certainly agree with its inclusion. Surprisingly warming, pleasant and funny it sways from the stereotypical “teen-comedy” and produces a refreshing much welcome change. Good solid performances from the whole cast along with a witty well-written script The Way Way Back is entertaining and defiantly deserves its praise.

Duncan (Liam James) is a shy, in-the-background 14 year old who doesn’t have a conventional lifestyle and is forced to go on summer vacation with his mother Pam (Toni Collette), her horrible arrogant boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his equally annoying and spoilt daughter. Whilst his mum is busy putting herself “out there” meeting  Trent’s vacation friends Duncan finds himself left out and unable to fit in. Riding around on an a pink little girls bike he discovers the Water Wizz  Park and quickly forms a bond with manager Owen (Sam Rockwell), finding an unexpected friend in Owen, Duncan soon finds out how to enjoy his summer vacation but he still has to face is overbearing and disastrous family.

The story is pleasant, although at first it looks to be the typical comedy of the neglected family member getting revenge or becoming a hero or a romanticist it changes and somewhat becomes more serious. Duncan’s relationship with Owen is hilarious and obviously the highlight, he is given power and earns a reputation at Water Wizz and with that Duncan comes out of his shell and turns out to be a funny and “cool” kid. The relationship though is also pleasant as it is obvious that the two have a bond and Duncan looks up to Owen as a role model in ways, the way that the Owen looks out for Duncan is very warming too. The other relationship storylines in the film are not as good but decent, Duncan and his mother obviously need to repair their broken relationship so we follow that throughout, whilst Pam actually has her own problems with the very easily dislikeable Trent and finally a small subplot follows Duncan having a romance with his neighbour however it is very cheesy and for me unnecessary.

Liam James plays Duncan very well, he is easily likeable and we route for him throughout and he provides plenty of laughs, one very memorable scene is when Duncan is made to dance (including the classic robot) in front of a huge crowd at the water park. Rockwell’s Owen however is my favourite character; he provides the main comedy and in a way makes this film very easily watchable.  Steve Carrel also deserves credit for his role as obnoxious Trent and likewise for Collette’s Pam.  Although small characters in the film, neighbours Betty and (eye-patch) Peter are absolutely hilarious and provide even more likability to The Way Way Back so they deserve a mention.

The ending to The Way Way Back is very warming and wraps up the film nicely however for me there are still picky criticisms. I would have liked to see a quicker start, although it opens with great introductions it attempts to trick us with Duncan’s romance whereas I would have liked to seen Owen introduced much more quickly, and on the note of the romance I would have scrapped it all together as it isn’t “Duncan”.

In a whole The Way Way Back is a bundle of laughs and fantastic comical moments, with a well-written script and characters it makes for a surprisingly great watch. Standout performances from Liam James and Sam Rockwell add to the entertainment and create a pleasant feel to balance out the comedy. The Way Way Back is a worth-while experience that is easily watchable and enjoyable.

Dallas Buyers Club (2014)

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée

Writers: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto

Rating: ★★★★½

Dallas Buyers Club is possibly one of the most touching films ever made that discus the topic of AIDS, with a powerful excellently-written story and a master-class in acting it makes for a fantastic watch and final end product. Visually appealing as well, it has racked up an impressive six Oscar Nominations and that’s not surprising as I’m sure this film will be regarded as one of the best come the ceremony and end of the year.

Dallas Buyers Club revolves around the life of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a “trash park” hustler and electrician. Addicted to sex, drugs and alcohol his life is anything but serious however it all soon changes when he is diagnosed as being HIV positive. Fighting for his life he is told he has only thirty days to live but Ron’s responds “Let me give y’all a little news flash. There ain’t nothin’ out there can kill fuckin’ Ron Woodroof in 30 days”.  Diving into research about various drugs and trials he eventually discovers a new and illegal form of life-saving medication.  Inventing the “Dallas buyers’ club” he medicates those with AIDS across the country working his way around the system. On his journey not only does his life change but his view of the world and people, meeting extraordinary characters and forming extraordinary bonds, especially with fellow sufferer Rayon (Jared Leto). His fight with AIDS soon becomes a fight with the government, but Ron doesn’t give up on anything.

The story of Ron Woodroof is emotionally powerful, his change of attitude throughout is touching and warming. Writer’s Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack deserve much praise alongside their nomination of best original screenplay. When Ron first gets diagnosed it comes from out the blue after doctors ran blood tests due to a simple work-related injury, in denial the typical “redneck” screams “you calling me a fucking faggot”. However by the end of the film he is no longer a homophobic racist, or ashamed of his disease but a lead campaigner for AIDS working alongside those once called “faggot” sufferers to overthrow the government. The story is much different to other films, as much as it is about AIDS as a killer disease and how it struck 80’s America, it’s about how people first viewed the outburst and how those views and attitudes had to change.

An amazing cast give a somewhat master-class in acting that portrays this story to its full potential and establishes some heart-felt memorable relationships. Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof is surely an award-winner, not only is his portrayal brilliant but the dedication to meet physical requirements is astonishing as he lost 47 pounds. Jared Leto an actor who knows a lot about changing physical condition for the big screen saw history repeat itself  as he lost 30 pounds alongside an amazing performance as Rayon a transsexual with AIDS, who soon becomes a business partner and good friend of Ron’s. The make-up department who have been nominated for an Oscar really does deserve a huge amount of credit for the transformation of the two main characters.

My only criticisms is the underdevelopment of certain characters especially Eve (Jennifer Garner), a doctor who treats both main characters in the film. I personally would have liked to see a more finalised ending instead of a list of facts and dates before the final credits too. Nevertheless Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club is an astonishing film, somewhat brilliant in many aspects this is a release that will win many awards, becoming a huge success for sure. Visually entertaining, remarkable acting and an excellent story make for a great film that is both touching, powerful and pleasant to watch. Dallas Buyers Club is a memorable release that should definitely be a must-see.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2014)

Genre: Drama, Music

Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Starring: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman

Rating: ★★★★★

Inside Llewyn Davis is a film that I’ve been anticipating very much ever since I saw early advertisements and trailers and it lived right up to my expectation. Beautifully-crafted and with an inspiring story, the Coen brothers have created a reflective film that many will be able to relate to. Stunningly directed along with amazing performances from the entire all-star cast, Inside Llewyn Davis is in some ways a master-piece topped with a great soundtrack tipped to win Oscars.

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a young folk-singer trying to establish a career as a soloist; we follow his life for a week as he attempts to navigate the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961 in the harsh cold winter. Llewyn is struggling, losing hope and is being eaten away at by all the negatives in his life that for him, seem to be growing. Homeless he sleeps and crashes on various couches, some are his friends some are just mutual strangers from the industry. In a week he finds himself in a lot of places, on a lot of couches and being stared at by a lot of strangers.

The only thing Llewyn seems to have is his music and with that he grasps so tightly that it seems he pushes away all other people and relationships.  As an audience we establish such deep sympathy for him, despite obviously having a tortured soul he is a man with good intentions however he always seems to bring bad-luck and sadness wherever he goes. An angry Carey Mulligan, playing June, a fellow musician, shouts, lectures and spits telling Llewyn that the only good thing he could ever do on this planet is to not reproduce, and that sums up how the character of Llewyn comes across.

Llewyn Davis represents a lot of people, “drifters” who try and make their mark on the world, at one point he crashes on the couch of Al Cody (Adam Driver) another folk singer and just like Llewyn he has the same box full of unsold albums hidden away. Inside Llewyn Davis isn’t just showing the hard-times folk singers had in 60’s America, or people of that era in general, but it delivers a strong message to everyone who has a passion in a competitive area and is struggling to make their mark having to choose between their passion and “existing”.

The film displays an all-star cast; John Goodman plays an engrossing drug addict who only dampens the motivation and spirits of Llewyn even more on a shared journey to Chicago. Justin Timberlake plays Jim, a folk singer and the partner of June, although Llewyn is involved in an awkward love triangle with pair, they are his only “real” friends. However there is no surprise in saying Oscar Isaac is the star performer, although maybe limited due to the Coen brother’s style; he captures a great display that really connects with the audience nevertheless.

The films biggest achievement however is how it’s been beautifully crafted; both the Coen brothers and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel deserve huge plaudits. Every scene is flawless, from the very opening to the very end, each shot with talent and it looks like they spent time on every frame attempting to reach perfection. Inside Llewyn Davis has got the nomination for Best Cinematography and that is not at all surprising, however what was is the snub for The Best Picture.  The opening scene really sets the mark throughout, Llewyn is on stage singing and playing, being highlighted by an overhanging spotlight it only focuses on him and the music, perfectly executed it leaves you speechless. Many scenes are also remarkable with small elements standing out; the “car journey scene” as well as the “train journey scene” to pick my favourites, but the film in a whole is just inspiring in a number of ways.

The sound-track deserves the final mention, which plays an important role within this film. Without the score that is lyrically and acoustically remarkable, we wouldn’t have such a connection to Llweyn, it is due to the score that we encourage him and sympathise for him. Although heart-less and cold his music is the opposite, that alongside his relationship with a reoccurring cat, shows that Llewyn is “human” and can feel.

The Coen brother’s newest creation is one that I shall be re-watching time and time again due to its powerful, impacting and inspiring nature. Inside Llewyn Davis is in some ways a story about not giving up and holding onto your dreams and passions, that story has been executed to perfection and topped by amazing performances making it a master-piece that can’t be missed.

 

 

Lone Survivor (2014)

Genre: Action, Biography, Drama, War

Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Peter Berg, Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson (book)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster

Rating:★★★★★

Lone Survivor is extremely entertaining and impacting bringing a much needed refreshing change to the genres taking up the new release spots in the cinemas at the moment. It came as a huge surprise to me that how this release can be so great and somewhat flawless even though the man behind the camera brought the shame of Battleship to Hollywood not so long ago. However it seems that Peter Berg has fully recovered and I hope that his newest film will get the credit it so deserves. Perfectly executed alongside great performances, The Lone survivor will most definitely be up there as one of the best films of the year, despite it still being early January.

The Lone Survivor is based and adapted from the real life failed mission “Operation Red Wings” which saw a team of four US Navy Seals attempt to kill notorious and dangerous Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. Mark Wahlberg is Marcus Luttrell, the team’s leader and inspiration who we see alongside Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) racing back to the barracks attempting to break their record times in competition. Out of breathe and planning a forfeit Luttrell is soon interrupted and stopped, being told he must brief his team and set upon Operation Red Wing. Marcus Luttrell alongside Danny Dietz, Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster) start their mission and set off to find and execute Ahmad Shahd.

In overlooking forests just outside a local village which Shahd and other Taliban members are operating in, perimeters are set and the team can only wait for further orders. Sleeping in the bushes at their posts the team are then intruded by a herd of goats accompanied by their farmers, Luttrell’s and his teams position and safety, along with the mission has been comprised, knowing that any option will eventually lead to combat they release the two farmers and scout back to higher ground. Desperately trying to reach their home base by radio for extraction their attempts fail leaving them off the grid and alone. It doesn’t take long until they are found and hunted down by firing Taliban members, Luttrell’s Navy Seals now have to put all their training into use as they are up against impossible odds but with skill, precision and pride the team won’t give up without a fight.

In simple terms and to the core Lone Survivor is just another American War film, however the impact and final product is very different and refreshing along with the way in which its been crafted. Peter Berg creates so many brutal and bloody scenes which have been crafted with excellence, the shot types and the quick pace cutting make for a tense and thrilling encounter whilst at times the long scenery shots are breath-taking. Each death is powerful as we see the full extent and gruesome consequence something many “action” films fail to achieve. The film has also been recently nominated for an Oscar due to its sound, which is truly amazing and definitely deserved, the mix between loud drones to soft melodies really reflect the scenes as well as the emotions.

The opening scenes of Lone Survivor establish the relationships between the team members in the typical “bro-mance” way, however as the film and story develops the relationships and bonds on show are really heart-felt and emotional. Many have claimed that Lone Survivor really does capture the true and realistic bonds that soldiers form with each-other resulting in a big family of brothers. The credit has to be given to the outstanding performances from Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and the way in which they portray such emotional heart-breaking bonds. The horror of Lone Survivor though that makes it most impacting is that it’s based on a real-life true event which when reflected on leaves you speechless and even teary, especially following the credits which host tribute to the fallen Seals of Operation Red Wing.

Lone Survivor is really one of the best “war” films I have seen in recent years maybe dating back until Saving Private Ryan. It’s typically brutal and violent but it’s the emotional and crafting aspect of Peter Berg’s newest film that is truly flawless. Mark Wahlberg again displays a fine performance whilst the supporting cast is outstanding. Lone Survivor is sure to be a big hit as it is easily watchable, entertaining and action-packed making it a must-see upon release.