PREVIEW: February 2019

A month into 2019 already!?! Flip! How did that happen?

One year I will enter February without thinking that to myself (or posting it online for that matter). February has a number of new releases coming to UK cinemas (yes, many of them have already been released in America, I am very aware of that and it is what I hate most about being a cinephile based in Britain). Anyway, I shall endeavour to watch and review as many of them as possible.

The ones I intend to see are as follows: Green BookHow to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden WorldEscape RoomCan You Ever Forgive Me?Boy ErasedInstant FamilyAlita: Battle AngelThe Lego Movie 2, All is TrueIf Beale Street Could TalkThe Kid Who Would be KingOn the Basis of Sex and Happy Death Day 2U. I will do my best to get reviews for all of these films published.

Thank you as always for visiting my blog and I wish you, as ever, for the month ahead Happy Reading…!

Advertisements

FILM: Second Act (2018, Peter Segal)

Second Act.png

Comedy-drama Second Act is distributed by STX Films. Maya Vargas (Jennifer Lopez) is crushed when she learns that she will not get the store manager job that she has spent years working for, due to her lack of educational qualifications. However, after her godson (Dalton Harrod) makes her fake Facebook and LinkedIn profiles that make her look like a high-flyer, Maya gets offered a job as a consultant for a new project at a major Madison Avenue corporation. Relying on her street smarts and gift of the gab, she makes a great start, but for how long can she keep up the facade?

PROS

  • While the jokes are altogether quite hit-and-miss, the ones that hit are quite amusing. Plus the film does make the valid point that often experience can make up for a lack of academic credentials.
  • Jennifer Lopez is an engaging lead as Maya, bringing raw passion to the film, as well as confidence. She has a particularly good chemistry with Vanessa Hudgens, and both of them play the more sensitive parts of their characters’ arcs well.

CONS

  • There are jokes that miss, and those jokes really miss, the main offenders being the running gags about foul-mouthed children and the social awkwardness of an assistant with a bad case of vertigo (played by Charlyne Yi).
  • Ultimately the narrative feels like an attempt to make Jennifer Lopez a big star again, but it feels like something she would have made in the early-mid 2000s, albeit with some updates to make her character more fitting with her current age. A certain phrase regarding the reinvention of the wheel sadly comes to mind.
  • A number of quite bland, forgettable supporting characters whose roles in the narrative are poorly realised, with them ultimately not amounting to anything.

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: Vice (2018, Adam McKay)

Vice (2018 film poster).png

Biopic Vice is distributed by Annapurna Pictures. Narrated in flashback by veteran Kurt (Jesse Plemons), the film tells story of how Dick Cheney (Christian Bale) in the space of 40 years went from a washed-up lineman who had been kicked out of Yale, to the most powerful Vice President in the history of America.

PROS

  • Christian Bale really transforms into the role of Dick Cheney via method acting, giving easily one of the best performances of his career to date. He is well supported in particular by Amy Adams, Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell.
  • Although it does feel a little like a tick-list, the narrative does provide an overview of Cheney’s unique career, and the make-up department do an excellent job of ageing Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Steve Carell over the course of the narrative.

CONS

  • By being a tick-list of his life and career, the narrative does not really delve into that much depth into any part of his career, showing that a project such as this would be better suited to a miniseries than a 132 minute film.
  • Though he does it in a less patronising manner than he did The Big Short, director Adam McKay shows once again that he is not suited to films that are stylistically mockumentary (despite that not being the genre aimed for…). His vision is disjointed, all over the place and frankly ridiculous, as he tries to emulate Michael Moore’s style of filmmaking, but just ends up looking (at very best) juvenile.
  • The political stance of this film is unclear. On the one hand it tells us to hate Cheney as his decisions were (at very best) morally wrong and the repercussions continue to be felt today; on the other hand it tells us to be grateful for what Cheney did as what he did was for the greater good. But ultimately it undermines itself entirely as a film about Cheney, as Adam McKay chooses to use Vice as a platform to raise a massive middle-finger to President Trump.

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: Roma (2018, Alfonso Cuarón)

Roma theatrical poster.png

Mexican drama film Roma is distributed by Netflix, following its premiere at the 2018 Venice International Film Festival. Set in Mexico City in the early 1970s, the film follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a housekeeper to a middle-class family. She becomes pregnant to her first boyfriend (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), but he flees after she tells him. Cleo decides to try to track him down, hoping that she will have a change of heart. However, the family that she works for is breaking apart and Cleo must come to realise with just how important she truly is to the family.

PROS

  • Inspired by his own upbringing, Alfonso Cuarón’s screenplay is a heartfelt dedication to the women who played such a big role in his childhood – a sensitive, emotional exploration of how lives can be changed by unforeseen circumstances, but also of how family is not just defined by genetics, but also by the importance of their roles in your life.
  • Alfonso Cuarón’s heartfelt passion for Roma is further conveyed in his nuanced, well-realised direction, which makes the final product feel reflective and intimate, thanks not least to his slow-burn approach to Cleo’s emotional journey.
  • Alfonso Cuarón proves himself to be an outstanding cinematographer as well (boy, what can he not do!?!), proving just as adept with long shots as he is with close-ups. He also uses long takes that work to perfection for the narrative, but best of all every shot feels meticulously planned, and countless shots feel like beautiful paintings, a feat made more impressive by the fact that Roma is shot in black-and-white.
  • Non-professional Yalitza Aparicio proves to be an incredible talent, giving a truly natural, sensitive performance that makes Cleo’s emotional journey wholly engrossing. The supporting cast are outstanding, particularly the intense Jorge Antonio Guerrero, the authoritative Marina de Tavira, and the four child actors, all of whom give natural performances and have great chemistry with Aparicio.
  • Handsome production design for the large house that Cleo works in, the house itself looking like a wonderful space to raise a large family in, while the props within it which make it a home convey well that, despite being home to academics, it is ultimately a family home that bears the signs of young occupants.

NITPICKS

  • A couple of events and character arcs that (while ultimately not that important in the long run) do not get the full closure that comes from loose ends being well and truly tied.

VERDICT: 10/10

FILM: Destroyer (2018, Karyn Kusama)

Destroyer poster.jpeg

Crime drama Destroyer is distributed by Annapurna Pictures, following its premiere at the 2018 Telluride Film Festival. After a murder happens and a $100 bill stained by dye pack gets posted to her, Detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) has reason to believe that a gang who she tried and failed to take down 17 years ago are behind it all. Beginning an investigation, she proves that she is far from above bending the rules in her quest to take the gang down. But just how far is she willing to go?

PROS

  • A very interesting screenplay, which presents a puzzle for us to piece together over the course of a dark, gritty, character-driven, non-linear narrative that has a very clever twist.
  • Director Karyn Kusama and cinematographer Julie Kirkwood present a harrowing vision of Los Angeles as a grimy city of death and heartache, while Kirkwood’s use of close-ups also make this character-driven narrative feel personal and intimate.
  • Nicole Kidman is truly outstanding, giving a sensitive, nuanced turn that conveys a sense of darkness and anger that is to mask real vulnerability and pain. She receives very good support in particular from Sebastian Stan and Tatiana Maslany.
  • The make-up department do a phenomenal job here, not just in their use of fake blood and injury detail, but most especially in how they have taken the usually glamorous Nicole Kidman and made her look broken and almost totally unrecognisable.

CONS

  • There are some flaws to the screenplay, primarily in the relationship between Erin and her estranged daughter (Jade Pettyjohn), which is not well realised and feels distracting from the investigation, and also in gang leader Silas (Toby Kebbell) never really being made to feel like much of a threat.
  • Several supporting cast members are somewhat underused, their characters never getting enough screen-time to become well realised.

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: The Mule (2018, Clint Eastwood)

The mule poster.png

Drama film The Mule is distributed by Warner Bros. Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is a 90-year-old veteran and horticulturalist who is estranged from his family and facing bankruptcy. In order to get some much needed cash, he starts delivering drugs through Illinois for a Mexican drug cartel and starts working towards reconciling with his family. He proves a great delivery driver for the cartel, but soon the authorities are narrowing in on the cartel’s delivery driver, in an investigation led by Agent Bates (Bradley Cooper). For how long can Earl evade the authorities?

PROS

  • A decent screenplay that has some decent drama, some nice chuckles and a sense of warmth in the exploration of the importance of family.
  • A sensitive, nuanced performance from Clint Eastwood, who receives particularly good support from Bradley Cooper, Dianne Wiest, Alison Eastwood and Taissa Farmiga.
  • Clint Eastwood’s vision is clear and well realised, thanks not least to Yves Bélanger cinematography – his use of close-ups giving this tale of self-realisation a good sense of intimacy.

CONS

  • There are some flaws to the screenplay, the main ones being some unapologetically misogynistic moments and the fact that there are no real stakes, as Earl is impossible to intimidate and is accepting of punishment.
  • A considerable number of supporting characters receive little screen-time, personality or characteristic, while almost all of the cartel members are simply cardboard cut-out stereotypes.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Toy Story (1995, John Lasseter)

Not only is Toy Story the first feature-length animation from Pixar, but it is the first ever wholly computer animated film. When Andy (John Morris) gets a Buzz Lightyear action figure (Tim Allen) for his birthday, cowboy doll Woody (Tom Hanks) is left fearful that Buzz will replace him as Andy’s favourite toy, and also frustrated by Buzz’s belief that he is a real Space Ranger and not a toy. However, when the two accidentally get lost and away from home, they must learn to put their differences aside and work together to get back to Andy.

PROS

  • A brilliant screenplay that gets the right balance between energetic comedy, fun adventure and moving drama, but ultimately never compromises on the importance of character focus, which has a great blend of heartfelt dialogue and quippy one-liners.
  • Groundbreaking, technically innovative animation, which boasts lots of detail, expressive characters and a truly gorgeous colour palette. It also boasts brilliant cinematography that captures the excitement of a child and conveys a terrific sense of a toy’s perspective.
  • An outstanding voice cast, all of whom realise their characters well, the best being the central voice performances from Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, while the stand-out supporting ones come in particular from John Morris, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn and John Ratzenberger.
  • A wonderful score by Randy Newman, and his song You’ve Got a Friend in Me has remained timeless and continues to bring warmth and joy to millions 24 years later.

NITPICKS

  • The odd small continuity error here or there. They are tiny, but I did notice some of them from as young as 6-years-old.

VERDICT: 10/10