Sunday, 28 February 2016

Oscar Predictions (2016)

Some last minute predictions for tonight's Academy Awards. As per usual, some awards are all but sewn up whilst others are wide open.
Picks for Will Win and Could Win choices are based on all nominated films, Should Win choices are only based on the films I have seen.
Brief list of some of the films that I haven't seen: The Big ShortTrumboThe Danish GirlJoyCreedStraight Outta ComptonSon of Saul.
Best Film
Will Win: The Revenant
Could Win: The Big Short
Should Win: Spotlight
Best Director
Will Win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant)
Could Win: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
Should Win: George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Spotlight - Dir. Tom McCarthy

Its status as an ever present competitor in this year's awards season has perhaps caused the momentum behind Spotlight to dwindle as the race reaches its end, which means it will likely lose to the much showier (and gruntier/more grunty/?) The Revenant

That's a shame, not only because Spotlight is one of the year's very best, but because it's a magnificent testimonial to the shrinking practice of long term journalism and a fascinating exploration of how the deep rooted influence of an institution such as the Catholic Church can directly and indirectly affect the people of Boston.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The Witch - Dir. Robert Eggers

Independent or arthouse horror has had a couple of notable hits in the last year or two with The Babadook and It Follows and whilst it deserves to sit alongside the both of them as a terrific film, The Witch is very much it’s own beast and deserves to be approached as such.
Aptly described as a New England Folk tale, The Witch transports us to 17th century New England where an English family set up a new home for themselves on the edge of an imposing forest, after being expelled from the local township. The family unit soon begins to crack when their young baby is snatched from under the nose of eldest child Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy).

Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Revenant - Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu

Moments of sheer beauty and raw brutality, but they’re simply not enough to make a great movie; let alone a film that’s 8 hours long (it is 8 hours long, right?).

Ok so it’s only a little over 2 and a half hours, but boy does it feel like a whole lot more thanks to its minimal story. There’s nothing wrong with making a film that’s lighter on plot than your typical Christopher Nolan thriller, but the film’s running time should reflect that. The opening skirmish is great, as is the final fracas, but everything else is drawn out almost to the point of ridicule. What’s even more frustrating is that what little story there is, isn’t competently told. There’s no driving force to the film that leaves you feeling unsure of where the story is going next, but also arrives at what you instinctively feel is the right. Instead, The Revenant sticks with Hugh Glass (Leonardo di Caprio) as he grunts and slides his way across the wilderness, occasionally looking in on other supporting characters if only to remind us of their existence for when their paths overlap with Glass’ once more.

Within that band of supporting characters are some good performances from Domnhall Gleeson and Will Poulter, both of whom actually have some internal conflict to deal with. I’ve been largely nonplussed about Tom Hardy and his strange accents, but he’s quite enjoyable in this. Glass himself however is frankly not that interesting and the attempt to humanise him, by giving him a son who’s sole purpose in the film is to die, made him less interesting.
And let’s not even talk about that risible final shot.

Room - Dir. Lenny Abrahamson

A film of two halves, both structurally and in terms of quality. The film is a mostly well-handled exploration of a most horrific situation; Ma (Brie Larson) raises her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), conceived and born in the 10 foot by 10 foot space that they both call Room. Jack knows nothing of the outside world but when their captor, known only as Old Nick, begins to take an interest in Jack, Ma decides that the time has come to get out for good.

It’s a near hopeless situation that Jack and Ma find themselves in but Ma’s love for Jack keeps her going, even if his youthful innocence and exuberance sometimes leaves her exhausted. The escape is a brilliantly tense sequence that leads to an overwhelming emotional release when Jack gets his first glimpse of the outside world; director Lenny Abrahamson beautifully captures the look of shock and wonder Jacob Tremblay’s face.
It’s a high point that the film never comes close to matching, now matter how desperately it wants to. There’s a lot of ground that the filmmakers want to get through, but simply not enough time to approach it all with the same delicacy as the opening. It’s a stretch chock full of cathartic emotional payoffs without the measured build up to make those moments work; like a drummer repeatedly crashing a cymbal without the drum roll. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s superlative Like Father, Like Son spends its entire run time exploring its situation and builds to a conclusion and an overwhelming emotional release.

This too means that the film raises certain interesting aspects, such as Jack’s plasticity and the decision taken by Robert (William H. Macy), but they are glossed over and never properly dealt with. The film’s perspective never properly works either; it’s mostly told from Jack’s perspective but there are moments where it very much switches to a more objective perspective. One moment where Abrahamson abruptly reveals Old Nick’s face, before Jack has seen his face, is particularly jarring. Either ditch the sole perspective entirely or commit to it fully. A special shout out for Tom McCamus who seems to have been left out of conversations, despite giving a great supporting performance as Leo.
There’s plenty to recommend in Room; the performances alone make it worth seeing. It just doesn’t feel as honest as it should be.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Amy - Dir. Asif Kapadia

Yes it's good, but only to a point. Asif Kapadia's overlong documentary is ultimately hindered by its challenging structure and the production's relationship with Amy Winehouse's family.

The use of interviews heard over home movie and footage and photos from public appearances gives the journey through Amy's early life an impeccable and raw authenticity but there are times, particularly towards the end, when I wanted to see the faces of those talking. We don't just express emotion through the intonations of speech and Kapadia denies us from the facial expression of those involved.

A lot of the film is composed of paparazzi photographs and video used in magazines and news programmes that the film partially criticizes for the continued hounding of Amy Winehouse. It just about gets away with this for a while, but the use of footage from Amy's private funeral felt a little hypocritical and frankly uncomfortable.

Kapadia and co. initially had the co-operation of the Winehouse family but their relationship waned as the film grew critical of Amy’s father in particular. Unfortunately, its criticisms are often too broad and certain statements and decisions taken by those around Amy whilst she was alive (e.g. her father's decision to film a TV programme whilst visiting Amy in St. Lucia) are never fully explained.

Other points too are touched upon and are only approached with the benefit of hindsight. Kapadia’s position here is that the precarious condition of Amy’s health was so obvious and everybody was an idiot for not doing anything about it. It’s very easy to say that after the fact but the situation was perhaps different at the time. People never want to believe that they have or a family member has a drink or drug problem perhaps until it’s too late. Similarly, eating disorders were not as widely known about in the late 90’s as they are now, making the connection when Amy was just a teenager might not have been obvious then.

This is entirely speculation on my part and only those around Amy at the time will know for sure whether they could and should have done better by her.