PREVIEW: December 2017

Hello, readers!

November is almost at an end now, and my goodness this last month has flown by. I am conscious that this has been my worst month of blogging to date, for which I can only apologise. November was far from an easy month, as I did have a family funeral, which meant that I was away for several days, and did not have my laptop with me during that time. No, I will not do blog posts on my phone – I do not trust auto correct enough to do so.

As well as this, the workload at university increased this month with assignments, so blogging was not my priority. Nevertheless, I managed to get some cinema trips in, and as such reviews were published, including my review of Suburbicon, which served as Post 200 on this blog! Two hundred posts later, and I am still absolutely loving blogging here.

December is also going to be a busy month, with all things Christmas. As well as that I have about 10,000 words worth of assignments to do during the Christmas holidays, so free time will be scarcer than usual. I do, however, have cinema trips lined up for December. These include: The Disaster ArtistThe Man who Invented ChristmasJumanji: Welcome to the JungleWonderThe Greatest ShowmanPitch Perfect 3 and, of course, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

I am incredibly excited for several of these releases, and I will endeavour to get reviews of these films published, as well as some other reviews. In the ‘other reviews’ department, I will be getting some Christmas films reviewed, as well as some literature (namely A Christmas Carol) and some television.

Most importantly, however, I will be attending or helping out with a lot of the Christmas celebrations at Dundonald Church, Raynes Park. As a Christian, I firmly believe that the most important thing about this time of year is to remember the Christ of Christmas, to celebrate the fact that some 2000 years ago God took on flesh and came to Earth, in order to make it possible for us to have eternal life with him. Dundonald is part of the wider Co-Mission network in London, and forget the John Lewis Christmas advert, here is one that they made, and it is outstanding.

A fantastic advert, which reminds us of the reason for the season. So, you probably now have the gist of what my festive season will look like. University work, cinema trips, but most importantly church. For the month ahead, I wish you a happy December, and in case I do not post anything on Christmas Day itself then I wish you all a Happy Christmas.

And for visits to this blog in the next month, I as ever wish you all Happy Reading!

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FILM: Suburbicon (2017, George Clooney)

NOTEThis is Post 200 on this blog. Two hundred posts into blogging here, and I have loved every minute of it.

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Suburbicon is a crime thriller that is distributed by Paramount Pictures, following its premiere at the 2017 Venice Film Festival. Suburbicon is a quaint suburbia, and in 1959, the life of Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) and his son Nicky (Noah Jupe) are changed forever, when their house is broken in to, and Gardner’s wife/Nicky’s mother Rose (Julianne Moore) is killed. However, during the Police investigation, Nicky realises that the puzzle pieces do not fit, and that the tragic circumstances in which his mother died are not as simple as his father and aunt (also Moore) are making them out to be.

CONS

  • The narrative attempts to juggle social satire, racial commentary and murder mystery, but fails abysmally to realise any of them well, or to balance the three.
  • The narrative is disjointed and incredibly predictable, with far too much foreshadowing, and a lot of very clunky dialogue that does not flow naturally.
  • Clunky performances that lack direction from the majority of the cast, but most especially from Matt Damon and Julianne Moore.
  • Attempts by all involved to be shocking completely miss their mark, due to frankly poor handling.
  • A disappointing score from Alexandre Desplat, which is quite overbearing at times.

PROS

  • The production design recreate the imagery of supposedly perfect 1950s American suburbia well.
  • Noah Jupe gives a naturalistic performance, surpassing the adults.

VERDICT: 2/10

FILM: Only the Brave (2017, Joseph Kosinski)

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Only the Brave is a biographical drama film, which is distributed in the UK cinemas by Summit Entertainment. The film tells the true story of how Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin) formed and trained the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite firefighting crew, and the events that led to nineteen of the twenty men perishing in the Yarnell Hill Fire of June 2013.

PROS

  • The narrative is an inspiring story of how people of varying ages and backgrounds managed to overcome many an obstacle in order to become a heroic unit that worked together very well; while also showing them to be family men.
  • There is not a single bad performance in the cast, with Josh Brolin giving an authoritative leading performance. While the solid supporting cast includes James Badge, Dale Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly, the best performance is by Miles Teller, who gives a nuanced turn as McDonough, a young member of the crew who is trying to turn his life around and stay off drugs.
  • Excellent cinematography by Claudio Miranda, which peaks with the firefighting scenes, which are well paced, exciting parts of the narrative.
  • The visual effects are a near flawless blend of CGI and practical effects, which make the firefighting scenes spectacular to watch; while the make-up department do a good job of leaving the men looking ashen-faced by the firefighting.

CONS

  • While there are no bad performances, most of the men serve as little more than extras, the actors getting no real chance to stretch their acting chops.
  • The narrative could be a little tighter, probably around five minutes of which could easily be cut; while the final fifteen minutes do not have the emotional resonance that they should, thanks to some quite ham-fisted handling by director Joseph Kosinski.
  • While the fact that the men were working-class, everyday heroes is celebrated and never called into question, the techniques that they use are never made that clear.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Ingrid Goes West (2017, Matt Spicer)

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Ingrid Goes West is a comedy-drama, which is distributed by Neon, following its premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Mentally unstable Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) is obsessed with social media, and becomes obsessed by the prolific account of Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Wanting to meet Taylor and have the supposedly perfect life that she has, Ingrid uses her inheritance to move to Los Angeles. She soon meets Taylor, and the two become friends, but how long can Ingrid keep her obsession a secret for?

PROS

  • Director Matt Spicer (who also co-wrote the screenplay) brings to the screen a clear vision, which makes good comment on the obsessions today with social media and celebrity culture.
  • More so in the first two-thirds of the film, the narrative is very well paced, with a consistent tone.
  • Cinematographer Bryce Fortner utilises hand-held cameras excellently, giving a more intimate feel to both Ingrid’s interactions with Taylor and with her phone; he also captures beautifully the stunning, warm feel of Los Angeles.
  • Aubrey Plaza gives a brilliant, multilayered performance as Ingrid, and is well supported by an enthusiastic Elizabeth Olsen; and also by O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays Ingrid’s love interest, with whom Plaza has great chemistry.

CONS

  • Around two-thirds of the way into the film the tone drastically changes, becoming far more over-the-top and overly reliant on humour.
  • Wyatt Russell, Billy Magnussen and Pom Klementieff are all given quite one-sided characters to work with, and never really get a chance to stretch their acting chops.
  • The ending of the film feels quite out of place and does not really work very well with the rest of the narrative.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Justice League (2017, Zack Snyder)

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Superhero film Justice League is the fifth instalment in the DC Extended Universe, which is distributed by Warner Bros. Batman (Ben Affleck) is putting together the Justice League, a team which he will head up that consists of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher), but their first mission is on their doorstep. Three Mother Boxes, if their power is combined and utilised for bad, have the capability to wipe out all life on Earth, which is what Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) intends to do with them. Now only the Justice League can stop him, for which they must learn to work together.

PROS

  • Mostly good visual effects and costume design, as well as some fun action sequences, the earlier ones especially being well edited.
  • Some fun moments scattered throughout the narrative, while the rapport between the Justice League members proves enjoyable and quite amusing.
  • Good role reprisals from Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jeremy Irons and Amy Adams; while Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller and Ray Fisher (all of whom had had cameos in previous films) are welcome additions to the cast.

CONS

  • A tonally inconsistent film, the balance between fun and dark content being off, while the earlier fun action sequences lead to a climax that is a convoluted, CGI mess. This is not helped by quite obvious re-shoots.
  • The film ultimately suffers from studio interference, as the filmmakers were told that the film could only be two hours (including end credits) by Warner Bros. As such it is a rushed narrative which must tell the story of the team uniting and fighting Steppenwolf, as well the origin stories for three superheroes.
  • Steppenwolf is a poorly realised character, who serves as little more than a piece of CGI. As for the live-action cast, Henry Cavill really hams it up in his reprisal of Superman, while Diane Lane and J.K. Simmons are noticeably underused.
  • The costume department redesign the costumes of Wonder Woman’s Amazonian people in order to unnecessarily sexualize them.

VERDICT: 4/10

LITERATURE: The Revenant (Michael Punke, 2002)

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The Revenant is an American survival novel, based on the true story of 1820s frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass, and was originally published by Carroll & Graf. Hugh Glass miraculously survives a mauling by a grisly bear, but it is clear that he will not live for long. His company reluctantly leave him behind in the care of Fitzgerald and Bridger, who promise to stay with him and bury him when he dies. However, they abandon him and steal his belongings. Motivated by revenge, Glass defies all odds by surviving and gradually renewing his strength, pursuing the two men as he does so.

PROS

  • Michael Punke clearly researched the history and geography of the frontier in great detail, and the detail comes across in his writing, as he describes very well everything from the customs of Native American tribes to river passages.
  • Michael Punke uses a writing style that makes the narrative flow quite smoothly, while his attention to detail results in the reader visualising it all very well.
  • Michael Punke gives his characters (both historical and original) well-realised backstories and personalities, as well as character arcs in a number of cases, that inform their motivations and outlooks on life very well.

CONS

  • With each chapter being the events of a different day, the chapter lengths vary from as little as one page to over twenty, which is a little detrimental to the narrative’s flow.
  • Glass is a protagonist who is hard to get behind, as he is frequently described as being a man of sound understanding and judgement, yet his motivation for revenge ultimately boils down to dented pride. Yes, Fitzgerald and Bridger’s actions are dishonourable, but their reasons for doing so are actually understandable.
  • An anti-climactic ending (which differs greatly from the 2015 film adaptation).

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: The Light Between Oceans (2016, Derek Cianfrance)

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The Light Between Oceans is a romantic period drama, which was distributed in UK cinemas by Entertainment One, following its premiere at the 2016 Venice Film Festival. Tom (Michael Fassbender) and his wife Isabel (Alicia Vikander) live on Janus Rock, where Tom is the lighthouse keeper. Not long after Isabel’s second miscarriage, a rowing boat washes up on the shore, with a dead man (Leon Ford) in it, as well as his baby daughter who is still alive. The couple raise the child as their own, having not told anyone about the recent miscarriage, but their visits to the mainland soon result in Tom learning the horrifying repercussions of the decision they made.

PROS

  • Sensitively written, at times nuanced drama by director/writer Derek Cianfrance, adapting M.L. Stedman’s novel of the same title.
  • Good work by the production design team, who convey the 1920s with good mise-en-scene and attention to detail, as do the costume department.
  • Good performances from Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, who have a good rapport; while Florence Clery (who plays the little girl Lucy as a 4-year-old) is a natural talent.

CONS

  • A rather underwhelming supporting cast, most of whom are given little to work with.
  • The dramatic impact is not handled well and lost after a while, while the narrative is crafted in such a way that it (unwittingly I presume) encourages the viewer to root for those who are morally in the wrong.
  • While Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography is well framed, it is often over-exposed, and too brightly lit, which especially does not work in thematically dark scenes.

VERDICT: 5/10