Bad Boys for Life
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When Robert Eggers made his directorial debut in 2015 with The Witch, many critics and viewers lost their heads but it really didn't strike a chord with me. As much as it was very well made, I found it vastly overrated. With The Lighthouse, however, Eggers delivers exactly the kind of film I was expecting. This is a deeply psychological and haunting piece of work that's stunningly crafted with such meticulous attention to detail. Essentially it's a moody chamber-piece that relies heavily on the work of its two principal actors but both Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are up to the task. It could frustrate some viewers in terms of its ambiguity but i found that a fully fitting approach in our characters' decent into isolated madness.
It's far more enjoyable watching a cat lick it's own anal orifice. None of whom even attempt such self-indulgent grooming here.
When Get Out hit the screens in 2017, it was one of the few films that genuinely earned the positive word of mouth and appreciation that many critics and viewers afforded it. It marked the arrival of Jordan Peele as a new voice for horror despite him being better known as a comedian and it also done no harm to Peele's reputation when he earned himself an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. With that, there was much anticipation for his follow-up feature and it's with delight that Peele matches his previous work and shows that contemporary horror is in very capable hands.
Plot: While vacationing in Santa Cruz, California, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o), her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two children plan on spending time with their friends and getting away from their busy schedule. However, Santa Cruz beach brings back unsettling childhood memories for Adelaide and causes her to feel very protective of her family while there. During the night, her fears are realised when four mysterious intruders break into their home. As if this isn't enough, the strangers also happen to look exactly like each of the family members save for the odd grotesque differences and very off kilter behaviour.
Now that The Twilght Zone has been revived for a 2019, contemporary audience, it's fitting that writer/director Jordan Peele has been the one to assume the iconic role of Rod Serling - who originally created the sci-fi horror show in the 1950's - and introduce the new episodes. Peele seems very attuned to similar dark and twisted tales and with only two films under his belt, he is already one of the most interesting horror directors on the market. Us, however, is much more than just a horror. As Peele had already proven with Get Out, he's able to construct many layers and interpretations to his writing that make them important socio-political commentaries on modern America. Get Out challenged the dark, racist angle of white privilege while Us delves deeper into exploring the increasing inequality between the upperclass and the underclass. One of the biggest indications and motifs used is the obvious references to "Hands across America". For those that are unfamiliar, this was a campaign in the mid 1980's that encouraged the public to literally hold hands for fifteen minutes and form a human chain across the United States continent to raise money for charities to fight hunger and homelessness and help those in poverty. I digress here slightly, but it does play an important role in the themes of the film and the polarising characters at the films centre. Peele is driving home a sociopolitical message and it's quite cleverly and creatively thought through. You could also argue that the title of the film itself is less than subtle by suggesting that it isn't solely about "Us" as a pronoun but "US" as in United States. This is just a small example of the layers abound within Peele's writing but if you put these layers aside, the film still operates on a basic level that can be enjoyed by all. It's entirely up to the viewer whether they want to explore the films deeper meanings or just enjoy the experience as a gripping horror masterwork.
Aided immeasurably by It Follows cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, Peele is able to create a hugely effective and foreboding atmosphere. There's a palpably unsettling vibe that courses throughout the film which is displayed from the offset in its hall of mirrors opening sequence. After this impressive opening, he allows us to catch our breath before revealing his intentions layer by layer and the film only grows more intense as it progress. That said, Peele's background in comedy is also shrewdly utilised. For such an unsettling horror there is a welcome amount of humour to alleviate the effortless chills. This is mostly delivered by Winston Duke's affably loveable husband who takes some time to grasp the seriousness of the situation but it's also displayed in American rapper KRS-One's "Sound of da police" blasting from a stereo during a pivotal death scene. I'll say no more on that but the humour is mainly from the performances that the entire cast bring to the project. They all get the chance to play dual roles and it's fun to see them switch from one to another but, ultimately, it's a horror film and the marvellous Lupita Nyong'o steals the show as the loving mother and her vengeful doppelgänger. Her transformation truly is a work of brilliance and it's astonishing to think it's the same actress that you see onscreen before you. Us was probably released too early in 2019 to be remembered come awards season but the work of Nyong'o deserves all (if any) recognition that comes her way.
Verdict: Jordan Peele makes good on his early promise and delivers a film that's awash with pop-cultural references and a biting satirical humour. However, he doesn't forget that the film's sole purpose is to chill and unsettle. It certainly achieves that and the numerous interpretations and layers to the film will reward multiple viewings which is proof alone how clever it is. It heralds a new voice for horror but it's also encouraging to see a director be so subversive and unafraid on their commentary of modern America and to do so through a mainstream medium.
After only four films - Ratcatcher, Morven Callar, We Need to Talk About Kevin and You Were Never Really Here, it's now apparent that Scottish director Lynne Ramsay has managed to forge her own particular style. She's also a director that's so focused on her own approach that she won't just bow down to studio pressures as her proposed adaptation of The Lovely Bones will attest to and her ill-fated vision for Jane Got a Gun - both films that she walked away from despite being heavily involved in the initial stages. Her latest, You Were Never Really Here, is somewhat the perfect example of her uncompromising approach and how powerful her bad-assitude can play out on screen when she's left to express her own vision.
Plot: Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a Gulf War veteran with PTSD who is completely unafraid of violence. This makes him the best hired gun when it comes to tracking down missing girls for a living. Sometimes he's even employed because of his brutal reputation and his effortless ability to hurt the perpetrators when he catches up with them. However, when Joe is employed to find Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) the innocent 13-year-old daughter of an ambitious New York senator (Alex Manette), he finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy that spirals out of control.
Lynne Ramsay herself has said that she often doesn't understand the plot synopses of this film as they don't quite capture what the film is actually like. I've been just as guilty of that as others have in what I've written above and I can completely understand her feelings on this. Any synopsis is just a general overview and can never encapsulate a films mood, characterisation or artistry. It's like saying that Drive is just about a getaway driver - it's not and for anyone who's seen it will know that the languid pace, the cinematography, the mood and the score are just as important to the film as any plot developments. In terms of plot this shares some similarities with Nicolas Winding Refn's aforementioned film; it's a literary adaptation, it's about one man's crusade to rescue someone in need and they're both directed by Europeans who have entered into the American market. The biggest comparison, however, is that the plot is secondary to the overall composition. The reminder of the plot is actually Liam Neeson in Taken. Don't be disheartened, though, as this is a very different film and it's a perfect example of how a story can essentially be regurgitated and work even better when it has a quality director behind it. This isn't your standard Hollywood schtick where Phoenix runs around dishing out the knuckle-sandwichs or talking like a Neeson-esque tough guy. To be fair, Taken has it's place among the action genre and appeals to the masses but the more discerning viewer will appreciate Ramsay's film much, much more. There are action scenes involved here but that's not Ramsay's primary focus. If anything when she delivers them she does so in a brutal and unrelenting way that it's far from the glorification of Hollywood violence. Ramsay makes no bones about being more focused on character and it's here that Joaquin Phoenix excels. Phoenix has been on great form recently; his outstanding performances in The Master, Her and Inherent Vice have been some of the best flawed individual performances for the past few years and his work here can be included among them. Phoenix's Joe is a hulking brute who prefers to serve out his vigilante justice with a ball-peen hammer but it's not just as simple as that. Joe has his own issues. A former war veteran who's scarred body reflects the scars and inner turmoil of his mind and this coupled with his own traumatic childhood leave him in a permanent state of suicidal despair where we regularly witness him pushing himself to edge as he asphyxiates himself with a plastic bag and dangles daggers into his mouth. What's most striking about Phoenix's performance, however, is that he has very little dialogue. The bulk of his communication is purely physical and Ramsay has a keen eye and inventive means in which to make Joe a very damaged but powerful presence.
Complimenting Ramsay's measured and deliberate filmmaking is Jonny Greenwood's deeply affecting score. As Ramsay imbues the film with hallucinatory and elliptical imagery, Greenwood symbiotically ebbs and flows alongside, contributing to not only the emotional state of our lead character but to the entire film as a whole. It's this meeting of minds that contribute to how successfully the film becomes its own beast. It has been likened to a modern-day Taxi Driver and I can see the comparison (again in terms of plot) but Ramsay puts her own stamp on the proceedings and manages to turn a conventional narrative into something more inventive, artistic and unconventional.
A raw, brutal and uncomprising revenge thriller that may well be Lynne Ramsay's best film thus far. It received a seven-minute standing ovation at its Cannes Film Festival premiere with Ramsay winning the award for Best Screenplay and Joaquin Phoenix winning for Best Actor. Although I'm happy about this, others may not see what the fuss is all about. It's unconventionality and enigmatic style may ostracise some viewers but, personally, that's what I found so intriguing.
When Jaws was released in 1975, it done so well at the box-office that it was the first film to become, what we now know as, the "blockbuster". Having been responsible for this, it still looks like Steven Spielberg (at the ripe age of 71) isn't in any mood to change that as Ready Player One - his 33rd film - is still an example of the big brand of entertainment that he's now synonymous with. That said, he hasn't been delivering that many of these types of films for quite some time now, choosing instead to focus on more dramatic material but I'm happy to say that he's still possesses that childlike imagination and adventurous touch.
Plot: In the year 2045, a virtual reality system called the Oasis is an immersive world that allows people to escape their harsh reality and be or do anything the want - the only limits are your own imagination. The Oasis creator James Halliday (Mark Rylance) decides to leave a message for all its users before he dies. He creates an Easter egg within the game and anyone who finds it will inherit his immense fortune and gain complete control of the Oasis itself. Naturally, everyone sets out to complete the challenge but unlikely hero Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) finds himself at the forefront of the hunt.
It's fair to say that Spielberg has been (and still is) one of the most influential filmmakers in history. So many of his films have entered popular culture making him the perfect director to adapt Ernest Cline's nostalgic novel Ready Player One, which works primarily on delving into the very pop-culture that Spielberg himself has helped shape. In Cline's book, Spielberg is heavily mentioned but to give the director his due he has decided, for the most part, to omit his contributions when adapting it for the screen. Despite this, however, you really can't have a film that relies on pop-culture references without Spielberg being mentioned and he does throw in the odd welcome nod to himself.
It's not just Spielberg on show here, though, as theres an abundance of nostalgia for anyone that grew up in the 80's and 90's and has even a passing knowledge of the rise of video games and such classic films as Saturday Night Fever, King Kong and Spielberg's own Jurassic Park. Most surprisingly of all, however, is the influence of The Shining. There's a sequence here that may offend the die hard fans of Kubrick's horror masterpiece but, personally, I was astounded at how well Spielberg uses scenes from that film to transport his own characters into; room 237 is explored again and we get to see the creepy twins in the hallway as well as the river of blood that floods from the elevator. Witnessing this with Spielberg's digitally enhanced characters shows how far technology can go in the movies and this is only one example. We also get to see Back to the Future's Deloreon back in action and fans of The Iron Giant will rejoice in that animated character being brought to life. To put it simply, the film is practically one big homage or nostalgic trip to films of the past and Spielberg wrings it out for all it's worth. Some may say that the central storyline suffers as a result of the CGI and I wouldn't argue with that but this is a film that wouldn't even have been possible 20 years ago and the imagination involved here is so intoxicating and reminiscent that I didn't care about the narrative taking a backseat. I was just happy getting swept along for the ride.
As visual spectacles go, this is a truly astounding piece of work as Spielberg captures the allure and breakneck pace of a video game world - with an astonishingly exciting race in the film's opening - and transports us into this virtual reality with ease. In fact, the CGI moments are so good that it can sometime leave the scenes in the real world somewhat flat and doesn't allow the actors to fully embrace their roles. That said, Tye Sheridan is a serviceable lead and Ben Mendelsohn delivers his usual reliability in the villain role but the other actors don't make much of an impact and this is most apparent in the final third when they're relied upon more. It's around this point that film loses touch with its pace and feels a little overlong and, as entertaining as it is overall, it could've benefited from a little trim. I also wonder whether the film will appeal to our current generation of kids when there's a lot of references that will inevitably go over their heads. In essence, this film has a target audience and it's most definitely for those who grew up in the 80's and 90's and those that experienced the rise of gaming before virtual reality was even a thing.
An intoxicating doze of nostalgia and a wonderful piece of escapism from Spielberg. The inventor of the blockbuster can still produce the goods and he proves it with his most entertaining movie for some time. Minor flaws aside, this is a true cinematic experience and one that made me feel like a child again - a skill that Spielberg has always excelled at.