I, Tonya tells the true story of Tonya Harding, in a faux documentary manner. This is a very entertaining biopic and has plenty of laughs throughout its runtime, but also has great emotional stakes. My most lavish praise has to go out to the costume design for this film. The costumes that Margot Robbie’s Harding wears are simply stunning. You can tell that a lot of thought has gone into the look and feel of the film because everything from the costumes to the hairstyles is so reminiscent of the early 90’s. This makes it very accurate and believable. This believability caries over into the storytelling, as the film tries to be as accurate to the events as possible. This is shown at the start of the film when they say they’re using multiple interviews to try and put together a timeline. Furthermore, the use of fourth wall breaking adds both a sense of intimacy, as well as helping to highlight certain facts. The performances are outstanding with Robbie, in particular, a standout. Robbie manages to convey what can only be described as the troubled life of Tonya Harding with such believability, that you lose yourself entirely in her performance. Robbie is the heart and soul of the film and is consistently likeable throughout. The film itself makes not rooting for Tonya damn near impossible, and this is due to Robbie’s performance showing you the person behind the media image. Also, Sebastian Stan’s performance as Jeff Gillooly is captivating and brilliant. The fits of anger that plague Jeff’s character, are so well acted by Stan that his presence on screen is both unpredictable and genuinely quite scary. The menacing delivery that Stan employs for some of his lines really does help to elevate Jeff’s threat level. Additionally, Allison Janney’s performance as LaVona Fay, (Harding’s mother), is outstandingly cold and malicious. With her character serving as a kind of antagonist throughout the film. Janney’s performance helps to raise LaVona from a simple two-dimensional abusive mother into something much more. As we see that LaVona thinks that what she is doing is right and actually helping her daughter, making her character in a way an interesting comment on parenting. The direction from Craig Gillespie is remarkable, with not a single scene or character wasted, and with the whole feature feeling like a cohesive whole rather than just a rush to later events. The score for this film may be my favourite so far this year, so accurately capturing small-town America at least in my opinion. The final thing I want to touch on is the choreography of the skating scenes, which is just fantastic, with the cinematography lending itself so beautifully, with each camera shot; having something to say.
An amazing film, and a baffling true story this is definitely worth a watch. A real powerhouse of a film, on every level.
Reviewed by Luke
Black Panther is the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the last before Infinity War. This film is the gem in Marvel’s crown, being both the most unique and stylistically different. This fresh style helps to give the film a real sense of identity, although parts of it do follow the usual Marvel formula. The direction of this film is very strong, with Ryan Coogler, making this a very distinct film, that juggles a lot of different themes and is still a coherent thought-provoking film. The script is marvellous managing to deconstruct and flip some classic tropes on their heads. The humour is the usual Marvel fare, with only a few jokes really working for me. Honestly, humour plays a much smaller role in this film than it does in other MCU films, for the most part, the tone is quite serious. The characters are all spectacular, with Chadwick Boseman making a great Black Panther delivering both humour and emotion with ease, whilst also being very believable. The two standouts from the cast, at least for me personally, were Danai Gurira as Okoye and Letitia Wright as Shuri. Gurira was fantastic as Okoye because of the sheer physicality of her performance, all the action sequences featuring her were very impressive. Wright’s performance was great because right from the first scene she was my favourite, she stole the show for the most part and had some of the funniest lines in the entire film. The other performances were also pretty solid with Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross being very enjoyable. On the villain front, this film is quite unlike the other MCU films, both the villains in the film are outstanding, with Michael B Jordan’s Killmonger, being particularly compelling. His character motivations are all understandable and believable, adding a sense of moral ambiguity to the whole preseedings. Klaue played by Andy Serkis is another returning character from the MCU, having appeared in Age of Ultron. I loved every minute Klaue was on screen he chewed every piece of scenery in the way every great villain should. Where most MCU films have no great antagonists, this film thrives and has two. This film is not very connected to the larger MCU with the returning characters and references being the main connective tissue. However, I believe that it was a wise decision as it gives the film a much more personal feel. Furthermore, this allows this film to focus on its worlds and its characters, making them feel real. Despite all this praise, there are a few issues, mainly underused characters and plot holes. Daniel Kaluuya’s character of W’Kabi is an example of this. W’Kabi’s character does things in the later portion of the film that makes no sense as he flips emotions with no real reason. Making you question why he would do that. In short bad writing. Furthermore, the film does suffer from a little blot in its second act, with it running on for a little too long. All of these negatives are completely out weighted by all the positive, so whilst this may not be in the top 5 MCU films it’s definitely important and a very enjoyable film.
reviewed by Luke
Lady Bird is a comedy-drama coming of age film, directed by Greta Gerwig. This film is a wonderful contrast, being both painfully earnest and honest in its depiction of growing up. Whilst also being heartfelt, charming and deeply funny. The screenplay which was also written by Gerwig, is incredibly strong, making the film effortlessly relatable. The humour of the film all lands very nicely and I was either laughing or smiling near constantly. The drama and emotion that runs through the film also feel very genuine and real. The majority of this drama comes from the relationship, between Lady Bird or Christine, (played by Saoirse Ronan), and her mother Marion, (Laurie Metcalf). It is a testament to both actresses that this very personal relationship feels completely real, the up and downs of the pair’s interactions carry much more emotional weight as a result of this. You can feel the love, but also the teenage resentment and the desperate need for understanding, and believe every minute of it. The film covers themes such as discovering your sexuality, it does this in a genuine and heartfelt way. Lucas Hedges’ character of Danny is Lady Bird first boyfriend, he is likeable and loveable and wonderfully played by Hedges. Later on, in the films second act after Lady Bird catches him kissing another boy in the toilet, there is an interaction between the two when Danny is scared and doesn’t know what to do, this is painfully real and heartbreaking in the most genuine way. My greatest praise for the film is just so accurately the film depicts adolescents. An example of this is when Lady Bird finally has sex and is let down because it wasn’t the special magical thing she had built it up to be in her head. This so accurately captures how it is for a lot of people. The film doesn’t just tackle teenage issues with Tracy Letts’s character of Larry, (Ladybird’s father), showing how life can be cruel and knock you down. What makes Lett’s performance so rounded is that he still has an underlying sense of positivity. This film doesn’t try to make the teenage years seem overly glamours, which a lot of other bildungsroman films do, but rather shows you the reality. The score is also amazing, with the short songs from the plays being really good and well done. The film does waste some of its characters with Jordan Rodrigues character of Miguel not having much to do. This film is a triumph of writing, with every scene accurately capturing the teenage condition. Despite a few underused characters, this is a well-acted film on the part of the two female leads. I can guarantee it will have you laughing, crying and maybe even thinking back to your own childhood.
Reviewed by Luke.
The Shape of Water is a dark fantasy romance film, by legendary film veteran Guillermo del Toro. To vastly simplify this is a very strange film but in the best way possible. The uniqueness and overall sense of originality set it apart not only from most other films; but from a lot of del Toro’s other works. The score for this film is excellent exquisitely capturing the 1960’s time period and creating the feeling that you are really in it. I found myself completely immersed in this film and that says a lot about the overall quality of the experience. The cinematography by Dan Laustsen is exceptional, with a lot of beautiful shots, in particular, a low angle shot during the gunfight scene later in the film. The film is built around the relationship between Sally Hawkin’s character of Elisa Esposito, and the man-fish God-like being, simply known as the Amphibian man. As silly as this central premise sounds, it truly is the heart and soul of the film and works surprisingly well. Even the sex scene between the two characters doesn’t come off as just being there for the shock value, but instead as tender and in a way even romantic. The director’s passion for monsters shines through every scene of the film, thus making the romance not only believable but also in a very strange way relatable. The script written by del Toro and Vanessa Taylor, is outstanding, with each character being fully flushed out and developed into a true whole. Unlike a lot of other films, no characters here feel wasted or underdeveloped. With a prime example of this being the mainly comedic support character of Zelda Delilah Fuller, played by Octavia Spencer, her character is developed and has an interesting backstory. The film like a lot of del Toro’s other works deals with a lot of heavy themes, in this particular case homophobia. Like a true master del Toro shows these themes through his character of Giles played by Richard Jenkins; who we see being the victim of homophobia. Though the scene is only brief, you still get a strong emotional response, and it helps to add context to the time period. Sally Hawkins performance is inspired despite being mute, (except for one fantastic musical number), her character is still wonderfully complex. Hawkins manages to convey nearly every emotion in this film in a sincere and believable way and her performance is a master class. Whats more del Toro features a subplot about the 1960’s space race, which manages to be both a wonderful capturing of the cold war rhetoric of the time, whilst also adding another level of depth to the narrative. Whilst lesser directors might let all these themes and subplots distract from the main narrative, del Toro weaves them together so that each subplot and theme, compliments the main story in a spectacular way. Also, Michael Shannon’s performance as Colonel Richard Strickland manages to be menacing and unpredictable, with his character most likely being a comment on the unhappiness of the idyllic suburban American dream. To conclude this film is a love letter to the weird and the strange, and celebrates everything about it, managing to create real emotions and stakes as well as being funny and charming. This is a must-see for everyone, especially fans of del Toro, I can’t recommend it enough. This is now my number one pick for best picture, it really does deserve to win.
Reviewed by Luke.
Firsts thing first, let just give Clint Eastwood some praise for the ballsy decision to cast the real-life soldiers in his film; rather than hiring actors. It was this factor that was always going to make or break the film, they might be heroic soldiers, but could they act? Surprisingly they can, with Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos, being particularly good. However, that is where the positives end for this film. The first half an hour when the 3 men are children, is painfully hard to watch, with none of the child stars being at all likeable. Furthermore, there is some needless political and religious message shoved in for the what feels like the sake of it. This continues to be a problem throughout the film. The writing for this film often sets up a theme or plotline and then just moves on to the next one, never satisfyingly delivering on them, and all these subplots and anecdotal things just feel tacked on. What is the ultimate negative of this film, is the titular train is only about 15 minutes of the overall 1 hour, 30 minutes run time. Everything else that encompasses the other 1 hour and 15 minutes is glorified filler, that tries to establish the soldier’s lives and what motivates them but ultimately falls flat. In addition, it seems that Eastwood knows most of his film is filler as he foreshadows, (in almost a teasing way) the train journey throughout. This is shown when Spencer says “I feel like life is catapulting me towards something” about halfway through the runtime, they have a whole conversation about it, it’s the most blatant, badly used foreshadowing I’ve seen in quite some time. Another issue with the film is that a lot of the dialogue feels trite and unbelievable, this is again mainly presented in the section when they are children. The lines that particularly brought me out of it, were when the children were introducing each other by their last names, as well as an emotional scene where a young Spencer and Alek are saluting each other that just feels wrong and out of place. The film is really split into 3 parts when they are all children being the first, (which is damn near unwatchable, with Judy Greer performance as Joyce Eskel being it’s only saving grace). The other two were the trip around Europe that the 3 men were on, and then finally the train ride. Whilst the trip around Europe is well shot and to a degree enjoyable, it has an unmistakable feeling of filler and feels weirdly off base with what the rest of the film is about, and makes you question why Eastwood put it in. However, the final section when they’re on the train is where Eastwood shines, with it being an incredibly well shot, and having a very real, visceral, believable feel to it; that manages to capture the seriousness of the situation. It just as shame that this good sequence is only about 15 minutes of the film. Overall, I left questioning a lot of things, mainly whether this would have been better as a documentary rather than a feature film? Secondly why a lot of scenes has been included? Thirdly why the script rammed political and religious messages down your throat? If I had to point out the biggest issue the film has it would have to be the script, which was wildly, and I mean wildly all over the place, with some of the worst dialogue and foreshadowing, I’ve possibly seen in years. The only redeemable qualities the film has are, Judy Greer’s performance, the 3 soldiers were all convincing and performed well, and the final section of the film on the train is well-done and believable. To conclude I can’t suggest you go out and see this because it just has so many problems, and the only enjoyable part of the film is the last 15 minutes; that’s just a bad investment for your money.
Reviewed by Luke.
The Mercy is based on the life of sailor Donald Crowhurst, who was a weekend sailor who decided to participate in the Golden Globe race in 1968. When I went to see this film, I had no idea about the real-life story or the events that had happened, as a result, all the twists and turns were quite surprising to me. However, I believe this film biggest reveal that he decided to lie and fake his progress because he couldn’t go on was ruined by the trailer; so, when this was revealed my emotional response was tapered because I was waiting for it to happen. Furthermore, I think the plot suffers from some leaps in logic, with the ending being an example of this, with me questioning the characters motivations a lot of the time as I don’t believe that character’s motivations were properly established. In terms of tone the film is quite melancholy and even depressing, with the trailers seeming to suggest that it was going to be much more inspirational then it was. The film itself did two things that impressed me. The first was the use of digetic sound, to accurately present this idea of isolation out at sea, this was done to a masterful degree by Johann Johannsson who did the music design. This triumph of sound design is shown in one particular scene when Colin Firth’s character of Donald is playing the harmonica around Christmas time, and the scene perfectly captures the isolation and loneliness the man would have been feeling. The second thing that impressed me was the use of monologues, through these monologues we see the slow slip into madness that Donald goes through and we see his inner thoughts, this helps to empathises the emotional impact and helps the audience to emote and feel sorry for his character, as we can see the tole this adventure takes on him. Furthermore, the deconstruction of the character of Donald Crowhurst himself is quite interesting here, as we are first presented we a man who a family man is, who isn’t a proper sailor, but then we see him sacrifice more and more towards his ultimate end and we begin to question his character and decisions. The director James March does this deliberately to show these two contrasting ideas of Crowhurst, making the audience reach their own conclusions about what type of man he was. There are also quite a few nice montage scenes here which are used quite effectively and to great impact. The performances here from, Colin Firth (Donald Crowhurst), Racheal Weisz (Claire Crowhurst) and David Thewlis (Rodney Hallworth), are all top calibre. With the standout performance being by David Thewlis, who though not heavily featured managed to be charming, funny and memorable in his small role. I think this film also suffered from thinking it was cleverer then it was, and almost had an Oscar bait tone towards it; that it never quite managed to live up to.
Despite some plot holes and leaps in logic, the strong performances manage to improve the overall film. Still, with many other Oscar bait films out at this time of the year, I wonder if you’re time wouldn’t be better served watching something else. Whilst a riveting tale, this film also manages to be depressing and at time dull and ultimately a disappointment.
Reviewed by Luke.
Three Billboards is a drama crime film by Martin McDonagh, (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths). This film is a very dark film from the offset, with it having many sad and even to an extent deeply upsetting moments in the film, (even ones bringing a tear to my eye). However, it also has a sense of determination that is shown through the characters, which is almost inspirational, as well as a few comedic moments. This sense of determination is shown through Frances McDormand’s character of Mildred, as she continues to search for her daughter’s killer months after the case has gone cold, never giving up hope of finding him. Much like McDonagh’s other works the character of Mildred is wonderfully 3 dimensional, as she is portrayed as strong and tough, sometimes even too much so, but the motivation for why she is like that is so believable and understandable that you don’t question it for a minute. What’s more, she is also shown to have a vulnerable side, which she displays during a few exceptional emotional scenes. McDonagh’s other recurring collaborators are also back, with both Rockwell, Harrelson and Cornish (all from Seven Psychopaths). Whilst her character is only very minor Abbie Cornish’s Anne shows one of the most accurate portrayals of grief I’ve seen in a long time, as well as being a memorable character. Furthermore, her character is the best embodiment of what this films keys themes are, with said themes being grief and trauma and the way on after that. Rockwell’s character of Jason is easy to hate within the first hour and of the film, however where the genius of McDonagh’s writing comes in is that he isn’t left as a 2-dimensional villain, by the end of the film we see him as a man who is deeply flawed but is trying to better himself. Finally, Woody Harrelson’s character of Chief Willoughby, is the emotional core of the film at least for me personally, as he is easy to root for, and you do feel bad for him in the early stages of the film you really do, but that is where this film is at its best, in the moral quandaries. Such moral quandaries are things like, how far is too far? With who to blame for tragedy is another strong one. This film very intelligently communicates its themes and message to the audience, without the need to rub it in, as many other films do, or making it blatantly obvious. The score for this film is also very impressive with it being able to capture this idea of small-town America near perfectly. The character of Penelope, played by Samara Weaving, is easily my favourite character of the film. Penelope is the 19-year-old girlfriend of Mildred’s abusive ex-husband. the reason her character works so well is that she is a comic relief character, as she is inserted into a few very tense scenes where she manages to not refuse the tension with her comedy but elevate it to another level. Her character along with near everyone else, are testaments to McDonagh’s writing ability. That brings me to my only criticism with the film, and that is Peter Dinklage’s character of James, unlike everyone else who’s character serves a purpose, James felt like a plot device in one specific scene, in addition, his inclusion felt not needed and oddly out of place at times.
Overall this is a well written, well-executed triumph and everyone should see it, for the great character and great moral questions.
Reviewed by Luke.
To sum this movie up, this is a heist film like the Oceans film series but without the charm. This movie like other heist films has twists and turns and in this particular case, they come in 2 varieties. The first is blindingly obvious such as when the characters are robbing a bank, and then they escape into the sewers; which was obviously what they were going to do from the beginning of the scene. The second type is the twists that are wildly confusing, and are thrown in in an attempt to try and make this film seem cleverer than it is, the end twist is an example of this, said twist undoes quite a lot of character decisions and makes you think, well why would such a character have done that then. So it’s quite easy to say that my main issue with this film is the script and the plot, with the only real way to enjoy this movie is to switch your brain off and not think about it too much. The acting, for the most part, is quite one-note and generic, with me not remembering even what the characters were called after seeing it, and the whole film just not being memorable. Unlike, in the much superior film, Ingrid goes west, O’Shea Jackson Jr brings no charm to the role, with his protagonist character never really being likable. 50 Cents character of Levi Enson is barely in the movie at all, and though there is one scene that tries to develop his character this scene feels oddly out of place, because up until this point in the film he’s barely been given a second thought. Then there is Gerard Butler’s character of Big Nick, which though being the antagonist of the movie even going so far as to say “we are the bad guys” in one lacking line of dialogue, is arguably the most likable character in the film. Butler’s character even has some funny lines in the film, and is even made vulnerable to the audience in a scene, where one is left to question are you trying to make the antagonist of your film likable? It would have been a similar issue if Andy Garcia’s character had been made likable in the before mentioned Oceans series. Despite this, we also see him as a terrible husband and as a manipulator, arguably he is the most fleshed out character in the movie and is the only memorable thing when the credits roll. Some of the cinematography in this film is pretty beautifully shot, with one scene in particular of Butler’s character Nick standing on a beach on the morning of the heist, and the visuals are quite stunning.The last thing I wanted to mention was Pablo Schreiber’s character of Merrimen, his character is poorly written his character’s motivations are at times puzzling and other times just head scratching. The final twist as I mentioned before completely underwrites his character and makes you think really as if I suppose to believe that. However much like Rosa Salazar, I think that Pablo Schreiber is a rising star, with him being able to elevate the stilted dialogue he is given.
To conclude this film is beautifully shot in parts, funny (unintentionally) in parts, with good performances from Schreiber and Butler. Whilst also being bland, generic, badly written and just baffling throughout, with one of the most pointless twists I’ve seen in a long time.
Reviewed by Luke.
Journey’s End, is a harrowing film about a company of British soldiers that are stationed on the front line in France for 6 days during World War 1. This film is adapted from a play of the same name by R.C Sherriff, so the idea for this film has been around for a while. With the feature film itself being first announced at the British commemoration of WW1 back in 2014. Whilst the idea itself of soldiers on the front line waiting for an attack is fairly generic this film manages to capture all the emotions and the hopelessness the situation itself would bring. The film even in scenes where nothing much is happening, where there might just be a few lines of dialogue, has this overwhelming sense of dread and foreboding; as just like the soldiers themselves you are awaiting the German advance. What the director Saul Dibb achieves so effortlessly is this idea of contrast, this contrast is shown in many different forms throughout the film, eagerness vs hopelessness, naivety vs realism, the heroics and bravery vs the complete senseless loss of life. Through these contrasts the film explores a lot of themes in an intelligent way, not glorifying or overtly patriotic; but honest. The performances here are all standout with Sam Claflin’s Captain Stanhope, being a particular standout. Claflin’s character is haunted by the events he’s lead his company through and is quite noticeably an alcoholic. Stanhope as a character is completely 3 dimensional, as we see him fly through many different emotions such as paranoia, a real strong care for his men shown in quite a few compassionate scenes, as well as a very real sense of fear and doubt. Claflin handles all of these different emotions with complete ease, and never once did I view him as anything other than Captain Stanhope. Paul Bettany’s performance as Lieutenant Osborne is perhaps the heart of the film with him being the one who keeps everyone together and is a friend to both Claflin’s Stanhope and Butterfields Raleigh. Through Bettany’s performance, we see more of Stanhope flaws but we also see the trauma he’s been through to get them. My main criticism of the film, is the raid scene where Bettany’s character dies, during the scene which is one of the emotional peaks of the movie the cinematography is quite jerky and moves around very quickly, (perhaps this was a stylistic choice on the part of the director), which I personally found took me out of the moment and I didn’t quite understand what was going on. On the whole, the cinematography and both the diegetic and non-diegetic music manage to paint quite an outstanding picture of what life in the trenches was like. Butterfield’s performance as Captain Raleigh is rather one note, personally, I believe he was only used as a contrasting figure to the character to Stanhope so that Raleigh could represent what Stanhope has left behind and will never be again. I believe that this film is a great insight into WW1 and one that doesn’t stray away from the dark pointless nature of war, it covers all the issues surrounding war such as loss and trauma with a well-rounded perspective. The film is at its core a drama film, as there isn’t much action in it when compared to something like 12 Strong, the character interactions and the interpersonal drama is amazing and obviously a result of a well-honed script based off fantastic source material. Overall I think this is a must-see film, as it so accurately shows all facets of war, as well as focusing on the men behind it really taking its time to develop the characters. Whilst the film is let down by the cinematography in one sequence it doesn’t detract from the overall experience, and Claflin and Bettany are such commanding presences that you will never really notice the underused Butterfield.
Reviewed by Luke.