Film review (initial reaction) – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It’s very very good. But don’t read any reviews if it. Just go and see it.

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Check out From Real to Reel’s Christmas Limerick Advent Calendar

I’ve been featured on From Real to Reel, a blog about film run by my good friend Daniel Robinson.

It’s a cracking blog from a young cinephile who writes passionately about films. He’s also a great actor and a promising director.

As it’s December, he’s running a Christmas film limerick advent calendar with one limerick every day up to Christmas Day. I chose the film ‘A Christmas Story’, a film family favourite and one I’ve loved for years.

You can find the poem here.

Check it out!!

Film review – Happy End (Michael Haneke, 2017)

Michael Haneke’s latest picture is a twisted look into the wealthiest ways of living in the north of France, as seen through the eyes of a dysfunctional family hell-bent on self-destruction. A mixture of humour and satire litters the script to create a solid effort that, despite its best efforts, fails to deliver the same impact as the most dedicated of Haneke fans would hope for.

The film opens with a slow series of voyeuristic shots through the camera phone of 13-year-old Eve Laurent (Fantine Harduin), transmitting through a social media platform that looks similar to Snapchat. We see her murder her pet hamster and then, in the final shot, we see her unconscious mother, whilst an overlay of text chat show young Eve admitting she has poisoned her.

In the next shot we see the CCTV footage of a construction site where a huge disaster occurs, critically injuring one of the employees. It is in the aftermath of these two opening gambits that the rest of the film hangs its developing intertwining plots.

We later find out that this workplace accident was due to negligence at the hands of site supervisor and alcoholic Pierre Laurent (Franz Rogowski), whilst firm owner Anne Laurent (Isabelle Huppert) is left to pick up the pieces and deal with an impending lawsuit. Eve is now living with this family in a large mansion in Calais, along with depressed grandfather Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant).

The ironically-titled Happy End is a good film, but not a great one. The cast is substantial and the dialogue is sharp, but somehow the plot doesn’t feel like it takes us on a journey with enough of the characters. It’s more of a satirical social commentary piece rather than a meaty piece of fiction, with too many of the characters used as fodder for the main characters.

Trintignant and Huppert reunite here with Haneke after the successes of 2012’s Amour, a film that won the Best Picture Academy Award and the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It is clear why Haneke was so keen to work with them both again. They don’t share much screen time together, but with the former’s desire to end his life and the latter desperate to keep the dysfunctional family together and presentable, there is enough to go on to maintain the interest. With the addition of the young Harduin to the cast, this triangle of strength is enough to carry the film.

It could be argued that Toby Jones’s inclusion is on the cynical side. His role is very minor, though his prominence in the advertising campaign will undoubtedly have helped ticket sales in the UK, a place where his acting credentials need no introduction – least of all in the arthouse cinemas in which Happy End will play. If this is true, I don’t mind. It’s just smart advertising and a good way to carve out a niche in the market away from the impending Star Wars: The Last Jedi Release next week. For those of us who go to see more than the most mainstream of films, options and variety are required.

It feels unlikely that Happy End will repeat the award season successes enjoyed by many of his previous efforts, but it’s not without merit.

Film review – The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017

The moment lead character Halley, played by Bria Vinaite, has had enough of her landlord Bobby (the ever-brilliant Willem Dafoe) is a touch of genius. Her constant trouble-making, lack of responsibility for her own life and the conseqeut poor behaviour of her daughter has come to a head. Bobby counts to three, demanding she leaves his office. She relents, but as a parting shot removes the sanitary towel from her pants and slaps it on the glass window of the reception, punctuated by a flip of the middle finger in his direction.

It reveals a lot about her character. It’s one of the most disgusting visual moments of the cinematic year and (hopefully) goes far beyond the imagination of most viewers even on their worst of days.

That Bobby also shortly after is again protecting her from trouble beyond this action says a lot for his character too, presumably a reason Dafoe was attracted to the role. He delivers a typically nuanced performance. He’s rough and tough on the exterior, largely through necessity. Inside he is a man who clearly recognises the peril all his residents face – most are one missed payment away from homelessness and without any hope to get out of the predicament.

The film achieves what it aims to do, which is to shine a light on the horrific living conditions for many people living in Florida in the shadow of the self-proclaimed “happiest place on earth”. Disney World’s original work-in-progress name was The Florida Project, though here the name is repurposed to represent the social housing slums of America, all too familiar to so many of the nation’s population.

The film takes the form of a series of vignettes, each showing another layer to the life of Halley and her daughter Moonie (Brooklynn Prince). Prince is as brilliant as she is irritating, her idea of hyjinx ranging from spitting on her neighbour’s car to burning down a disused house.

The plot is laced with humour throughout, and there were certainly some huge laugh-out-loud moments. But for all the laughter, there was an element of sadness and horror to think about how real these situations are.

The result is effective, though the overall sum feels less than the parts. By the end of the film it felt like it was dragging, meandering towards a final set piece that didn’t really feel as triumphant as the filmmakers had hoped. It’s a film that I wanted to like more than I did, but I just couldn’t get behind the characters enough to really allow myself to enjoy the film.

It’s an interesting but disappointing watch that is more thought-provoking than it is entertaining.

The Greatest Showman’s Misleading Trailers

‘The Greatest Showman’ is one of the most anticipated films of the festive period. A host of huge name stars is topped by Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron and Michelle Williams. Bill Condon has co-written the screenplay, following successful involvement in the films ‘Chicago’ and ‘Gods and Monsters’, getting an Oscar nomination for one and a win for the other. Seamus McGarvey is involved as cinematographer, a man whose successes are so great its hard to list.

One thing is distracting me when watching the trailers though. For all the brilliant theatrics, set pieces, costumes and star power, there appears to be no mention of the fact this is a musical. Well, that’s not strictly true. There’s a brief mention right at the end of each trailer to “music from Academy Award and Tony Award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul”. Not much of a way to sing the praises of the central crux of the film.

My question is: why? In 2017 we’ve already had proven to us that cinema-goers love musicals. ‘La La Land’ achieved a global box office of $445,669,679 (as of 25th November 2017), based on a budget of $30m. Admittedly, this may be an exceptional and unexpected success, but it sets a precedent that there is certainly an appetite for a well-delivered musical.

It’s not as if this hasn’t bitten other films before. When Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd was released in 2008, cinema-goers in the UK were seen to walk out of screenings due to the misleading nature of the trailers. Complaints were made to the Advertising Standards Authority. It looked like a horror film but turned out not only to be a musical, but a faithful version of a Sondheim musical. Guess what? Sondheim famously makes his musicals extremely musical-y, with seemingly the entire film being delivered in song form.

It just feels incredible that a studio would make the same mistakes again. The craziest thing is that the music is absolutely brilliant and should be being trumpeted to help sell the film. The lead cast are all seasoned musical professionals – a huge improvement on the likes of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Jungle Book’, which featured the more experienced musical performers in minor roles.

You can listen to a couple of tracks below and make your mind up yourself.

I’m a great believer that audiences are intelligent enough to make their own decisions. We hate to be lured into an auditorium under false pretences.

I guess we’ll find out if there’s any backlash this Christmas.