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Parasite Review

I have watched shamefully few foreign films. That may well have to change after my experience watching Parasite. A Korean film I watched subtitled, it’s one of the last one of the Best Picture nominated films I had to see before this Sunday’s awards.

There have been very few foreign films that I have ever been able to get into. I tried Roma last year, and it just didn’t work for me as it was black and white and Spanish, and it just didn’t grab my attention how I thought it would. What shocked me quite a lot with Parasite, is how fast I completely forgot about the language. I was reading the subtitles without a thought and admiring the beautiful cinematography and excellent performances.

Sometimes you get a feeling in a film early on that you are going to really enjoy it. Parasite gave me that in minutes. The opening of the film gives you the feeling that this family are real, their relationship’s all feel very genuine. The basic premise of the film is that this poor family spot an opportunity to make themselves money working for another, much wealthier family. The twist is that they all get jobs without the wealthy family knowing they’re all related.

I won’t say any more than that, because the way this film plays out with all the twists and turns and surprises and early set ups paying off, it’s just fantastic. Thinking about the film after seeing it, and you will, you will realise that everything that is shown on screen is so deliberate and precise. There is very little fat, this is a lean, trim piece of prime meat that is served up perfectly for you to consume.

All of the actors involved are magnificent. Every member of both families is interesting in their own way and the film does a great job painting them both in shades of grey. You can make your own decision as things unfold, but in reality, they’re all doing what they think is best for their situation. It’s something I think few films have managed to nail so well. Even though the story is told from the perspective of the poor family, you never feel like this is a good versus evil story.

Parasite shocked me, I went into this film thinking I’d appreciate it, but not necessarily think it’s in my top 5 of 2019’s offerings. I can safely say it is, and it’s worthy of all the Oscar nominations it has received, and I think it has a real chance of winning best picture in a bit of a shock result.

If I had to pick something I didn’t enjoy in this film, it’d be some aspects of the ending. I liked how it ended, but the one of the events that propagated that ending just felt a bit odd to me. It’s possible I missed something somewhere, but it didn’t quite add up to me as I watched it. Thinking about it more and discussing it with friends, it makes more sense, and I am interested in seeing it again to watch it all unfold and see how these moments hit me.

Besides that, one, small, personal nit-pick, this is as close to a perfect film as it gets. Parasite makes you feel the full spectrum of emotions whilst watching it. The plot keeps on throwing surprises at you, and your attention is never anywhere but on screen. For a couple of hours, you are transported, you forget everything else except these characters and the world they live in. That is what cinema is all about, and its why Parasite is one of the best movies you can watch.

Good: Near enough everything.

Bad: One minor thing I didn’t like, and even that I can talk myself round on.

10/10 – One of the best.

The Lighthouse Review

I was feeling very apprehensive about my viewing of The Lighthouse. I was unsure what genre the film fit into, and the Black and white filter with an odd aspect ratio felt like a useless gimmick. Would this critically acclaimed film surprise me? 

For those of you who haven’t heard of this film, it’s about these two men who are working together maintaining a Lighthouse in the 1890’s, and the film shows their relationship and their descent into madness. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe star as the two men, and I have to say they both are one hundred percent committed and go all in for the roles.

The cinematography is a big part of the film. The black and white filter adds to the feel of this being set in the 1890’s and the aspect ratio does genuinely add a feeling of discomfort and claustrophobia while you’re watching. Some of the shorts are beautiful to look at, and the score does a great job accompanying the visual storytelling. I do feel like the aspect ratio is a distraction, and I wanted to see the full wide shot of the beautiful landscape shots.

The story they’re telling though, is very hard to put a finger on. The films not actually that slow, but so little happens for long periods of the film. We see them carrying out odd jobs, Pattinson gradually getting more disgruntled with Dafoe barking orders at him, and the environment they find themselves in is a grim one for the most part. The titular Lighthouse, and the actual light inside it, are reserved by Dafoe’s character, and Pattinson is now allowed up there.

Ordinarily, I’d find this intriguing, and in fact I did at first, but then I found myself waiting for something to happen. The intrigue around what is going on is then broken by something otherworldly happening. I think the more fantastical elements of this film are meant to be figments of Pattinson’s imagination, but you’re never sure. Perhaps this is intentional, to try and blur a line between the reality and fiction in the characters mind, but it just seems odd to me. There are tentacles about at times, but it’s just there because they’re an unsettling thing to look at. I don’t expect a film to try and creep me out the same way I get a little unsettled when I come across the tentacles in my Calamari at a restaurant.

It never felt at all unsettling to me, it just seemed out of place. The lighthouse, the tasks, everything about the work they’re doing is so mundane and real that these unusual fantasy elements don’t sit right for me. The film does a good job of setting up this harsh, unforgiving place, that introducing these supposedly creepy elements just felt silly to me.

There are points when the characters go off on what are supposed to be Shakespearean monologues that just didn’t make any sense. They are full of big words and fun sounding syllables, but they come off as just rambling nonsense. I think that might’ve been the point, but it just did not work. There is this running thing with a seagull in the film, which is somehow trolling Robert Pattinson, but I never saw it as anything but a bird standing there.

The Lighthouse is a film that is trying to be clever, and for me it came across as artsy nonsense. The idea of watching two men driven mad is appealing to me. The lack of freedom, the longing for human interaction other than that of the person you work with all day the monotonous, horrible work and harsh conditions. They are all things that would contribute to it, but they aren’t what the film shows. It shows two men driven mad seemingly by some other force, and that just isn’t interesting to me.

I know a lot of people really enjoyed this film, and I am glad for them. To me this is a waste of two terrifically committed actors and will be my example going forward of amazing performances in a poor film.

Good: Performances and Cinematography at times.

Bad: Lack of a coherent story, weird scenes that don’t fit, Aspect ratio is needlessly distracting.

3/10 – Whatever this film is trying to do, it did not work on me. 

 

 

Queen & Slim Review

Now and then a movie comes out of nowhere and surprises you, and that’s sort of exactly what I thought Queen & Slim was positioned to do. Technically a 2019 film, just released over here in the UK in 2020 for the Oscar season, Queen & Slim is a stylish, modern take on the Bonnie and Clyde story on the surface. 

There is a lot of caveats to that. For example, the first scene of this film is the very first date that our two main characters meet. Played by the excellent Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith, the two leads are sort of chalk and cheese, but find themselves pushed together as the events of the film unfold. We are never given their names, but they are the titular Queen & Slim.

Their awkward conversation follows them into the car and on their way home, when they are pulled over by a white cop. An altercation ensues, and things turn out badly with Slim shooting the cop in self-defence when the policeman decides to ramp things up by introducing his gun into affairs. To me this scene played out a bit odd, because I just struggle to believe this is how a police officer would act.

I am then reminded of the harrowing number of cases of black people being threatened and much worse by white cops in the US, and it really makes you lose a little faith in humanity. Something that on the surface to me seems completely unrealistic and against human nature, is just a fact of life for some people.

From that incident, Queen & Slim are on the run, and initially things are intense. The first act flies by, and then we reach the middle section of the film that seemed to drag a lot for me. Once their plan is laid out, we kind of have a good idea of where things are heading and for me, they just kind of slowly make their way through things. In this part of the film shows a bit more of Queens character, her previously icy demeanour starting to melt as she begins to get closer to Slim.

Their romance never quite felt genuine for me. There were cute moments sprinkled in but not enough for me to think that these two characters are in love to the degree the film tries to sell you. It felt too convenient for these characters to reach the point they do in their relationship in the 6 days over which this film takes place.

The side story, or rather side effect of the main story, is this cult following that Queen & Slim attain. As they travel south from Ohio, they encounter people who have heard of their exploits and for some parts of the black community they have inspired a sort of rebellion in them. This element of the film, while I think is coming from a good place, felt a little off to me. There is a scene that we see which is shocking, but as much because it doesn’t fit into the rest of the film as anything. Police Brutality is a real issue, and one that needs to be addressed. I just don’t know if the way this film portrays “Fighting” police brutality is a good message to be spreading.

Queen & Slim is a very interesting movie to watch, but I don’t know if it will stay with me the way I thought it might. There are scenes that threaten to make you cry or make you jump. The script has some odd moments, ones that I literally found myself scratching my chin whilst watching and wondering what was going on. The characters would be talking in a scene, and then suddenly they would stop talking, but the conversation would carry on seemingly in their heads. It isn’t addressed, but it happened, and I found myself thrown off by the characters on screen with their mouths closed but still hearing their conversations.

This is a film that is nearly very good, but just didn’t quite hit me for six like I thought it was going to at the start. It’s a good film that consistently shows signs of being great, but never makes it there. It feels like Queen & Slim was being positioned as an Oscar winner, and the lack of nominations it’s received tells you it never quite fulfilled it’s potential.

Good: Great performances and a well-made film, shines a light on important issues.

Bad: Unfulfilled potential, and the message feels a little heavy handed to me.

7/10 – A good film, and I am interested to see what the people involved do next. 

 

Booksmart Review

I missed Booksmart when it released in early 2019, and I shamefully have waited until now when it appeared on Amazon Prime to watch it. I’d heard nothing but positive things about this coming of age story so seeing it pop up on the streaming service was a nice surprise just before the Academy Awards this weekend.

Staring a cast of relative unknowns, and being director Olivia Wilde’s first feature length project, Booksmart has no right to be as genuinely brilliant as it is. Coming on the heels of me watching the second season of Sex Education, review of that here, Booksmart feels like it’s set in a very similar world. The 80’s fashion is toned down, but everything still feels a little stylised, everyone’s outfits are a little bit cooler than in the real world.

Amy and Molly are the two girls we follow through the film, played by Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, and they have really believable “best friend” chemistry. You immediately believe they have been friends for years and have the relationship that kind of time builds between people. They have been the bookworms, studying and forgoing the partying their peers are indulging in that we all associated with our college (High School) years. It struck a note with me because it reminded me of my college years, going around to a mate’s house and drinking alcopops and pretending to enjoy beer.

I also once woke up in the middle of the night feeling very unwell, so I staggered out of the room to find a toilet, only to discover a drum kit where I thought the toilet should be. In my head I then returned to bed and slept it off. In reality, as my friend discovered the next day, I had decided to return to the room, move aside the dressing gown hung on the door, and proceeded to throw up all over the door. I then replaced the dressing gown and went back to bed.

Allegedly, it’s never been proven.

Anyway, back to the film! Booksmart took me back to those days of being carefree and having no responsibilities. The characters of course don’t realise that, to them the graduation they’re about to have and the crush they have on their classmate are as big an issue as anything life will ever throw at them. When our lead characters decide that they’re going to let their hair down for a night and party for the first time, I found myself hopeful that they would have a good time.

Ridiculous situation’s come thick and fast for the girls, and the laughs follow each one of them. I found myself chuckling a lot throughout Booksmart, and a few times I was howling with laughter, quite a rarity nowadays in films. Sometimes they’re a little juvenile, but that’s my kind of silliness, and I think there is a scene somewhere in there that will make most people laugh at some point in the film.

Much like Sex Education, it isn’t all about the laughs. Booksmart explores the challenges of growing up in your teens with all the anxiety and uncomfortable conversations about sex and sexuality. The awkwardness of the romance is painfully real, and without really being able to judge, I think it does a great job with LGBTQ+ representation without drawing any overt attention to it. Early on there is a conversation about Amy’s crush, and it’s a girl, and that’s just how it is. Her sexuality isn’t a plot point, she has feelings for someone are, and that’s the important part of it, not their gender.

Booksmart is a… smart film about coming of age, and it approaches it from a different angle to most films I have seen in this genre. Combining this with Sex Education, this new wave of media about growing up that is directly addressing the most uncomfortable parts of that part of life is really refreshing. I loved this film, and I can’t see why most people wouldn’t.

Good: Funny, Heart-warming, relatable, great performances, surprisingly well shot movie and a great soundtrack.

Bad: A bit of a slow start had me checking my watch and staring at Instagram, but that’s all that stopped this being a ten for me.

9/10 – Near perfect coming of age film.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood Review

Django Unchained, Inglorious Bastards, Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction are among my favourite films of all time. They are all written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, and that made me very excited to sit down and watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. A Tarantino film set in the late 60s Hollywood with Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie? Sign me up. 

The film is an alternate reality version of the Sharon Tate/Manson Family tragedy, and it focuses on DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton, an actor whose career is slowly dying, and his stuntman body double Cliff Booth. Brad Pitt as Booth is a stark reminder that all men are not created equal. This man is in his 50s and looks absolutely stunning. There seems to be a flock of 50-something humans around now who look absolutely stunning, including J-Lo at the Superbowl last night. So glad that Kansas City won after Arsenal let me down earlier in the day.

Back to the film, DiCaprio and Pitt play off each other well, and I genuinely bought their friendship even if Cliff seems to be making most of the effort. He is employed by DiCaprio as a Driver/Handyman and you see his own life is pretty simple, and he has a dog, which makes him 100% more lovable. Pitt plays the role brilliantly and is magnetic on screen, stealing the show from the other talents in the film. I have to say he deserves all the praise and accolades he is being nominated for and awarded.

DiCaprio has moments of genius, but never quite matches Pitt’s performance, almost feeling a little like a caricature of a 60s actor at times. I think that’s sort of the idea, but it didn’t quite sit right with me for some reason even though I did enjoy his performance. He has arguably the biggest laugh in the film’s final act, and he also delivers a big emotional moment earlier in the film when his character is acting. He acts as an actor acting as a cowboy, but there is a moment in that scene where you actually feel like there is something else there and you find yourself feeling sorry for him in an odd way.

Margot Robbie plays the role of Sharon Tate, and in this film while she is great as always, she is completely unnecessary. I am taking nothing away from her performance, she’s great and stunning to look at and everything else, but I could not understand why this film needed Sharon Tate and the Manson murders in it. It could have just been a bunch of mad people trying to get at Rick and Cliff, without Sharon Tate’s involvement in the film at all.

The other issue with her role, and the role of women in general in this film, is that the camera spends most of the time on her legs and feet. I think Margot Robbie is possibly the most attractive woman on earth, but I found myself in shock at the levels of gratuitously long shots on her legs and feet. Margaret Qualley plays another girl, one of the Manson family, and once again there are egregious shots of her legs and feet.

It’s a common feature in Tarantino’s films to have a shot of feet, he likes feet, it’s his thing, whatever. But to me it signified this film’s biggest issue. Everything about this film is self-indulgent. Tarantino is one of my favourite directors, but to me this just felt too much. The first two hours are a slow, frankly dull series of events with a few highlights, but at 2 hours and 42 minutes, someone should have been editing this down to a comfortable 2 hours and 15. Off the top of my head there is no reason for Margot Robbie’s character, and there is a ridiculous scene with Bruce Lee, both of which can be cut.

That Bruce Lee scene is a 5-minute-long set up for a joke. It’s funny, its entertaining, but it’s completely unrelated to the story, it does nothing for it and I don’t understand why it’s there. Which is kind of where I land on this film, and that is something that really hurts to write. There is just too much of this movie that I found myself questioning why I was watching? Where was it going?

For the first three quarters of its run time, this film sits in the departure lounge. Eventually we jump into a jet and fly off, but it comes a little bit too late. The last 40 minutes are the kind of mad, frenetic incredible entertainment I watch a Tarantino film for, but when the price is 2 hours of standing still, it just was not worth the wait.

This film is a technical masterpiece, the production design, the sets, the acting, even the direction is fantastic. There is just no story being told here, nothing to pull on your emotions or give you anything to think about, it will make you laugh at times, and there are some really good characters in there, but this is a rare disappointment for me from Tarantino.

Good: The acting, the direction, the production design, the technical elements are great, and the main characters are fun, except for Margot.

Bad: Lack of an engaging story means it is 2 hours of characters talking about their past success, and then something entertaining happens.

6/10 – Technically great, Actually Boring.

 

 

Bad Boys For Life Review

Everyone remembers the song and the “We ride together, we die together” phrase, but does anyone remember much else about the Bad Boys films? I certainly didn’t and perhaps I have done myself a disservice by not catching myself up on the previous instalments in this Franchise? The question mark because I am not sure when something becomes a “franchise”.

What I do remember is the action was fun to watch, there was lots of one liners and jokes that get a laugh, and Will Smith and Martin Lawrence have good chemistry together. Well frankly I could just leave the review there because that’s kind of exactly what you get with Bad Boys for Life.

Will Smith & Martin Lawrence return after 17 years doing other things to varying levels of success, and I have to say their chemistry has remained. They exchange quips back and forth like old friends, and that makes for some fun exchanges in between the action. They are joined by a new squad of fresh-faced youngsters who are all fine, but nobody really stuck out as a memorable character. They all have a laugh or a moment, but nothing that made me remember their characters names.

If you’re happy to suspend your disbelief, 51-year-old Will Smith looks cool chasing and exchanging punches with a man a fraction of his age. This isn’t like Rambo, where you believe he’d convincingly beat the shit out of most human beings, this is kind of ridiculous. There is one point where Smith sprints so far on a rooftop that you’d think he should be playing in this Sunday’s Superbowl (GO CHIEFS!).

The plot exists, and I acknowledge that it does, but I can’t say it’s good or bad. Its functional, it propels you from one entertaining action scene to the next. As I mentioned last week when I wrote about The Gentlemen, this film to an even greater degree feels like a palette cleanser. It is something to take away the weight of the emotional and thought-provoking movies I have been watching lately.

I was surprised how often I laughed throughout the film, it’s funnier than I remember the Bad Boys films being. I couldn’t recite a line or tell you scene that really got me giggling, but again it’s just generally quite entertaining without making you think too hard.

Bad Boys for Life is an odd film to review because it’s the “finest” movie I have watched in quite a while. There is nothing bad in this film. The Plots thin, but it’s functional. The jokes aren’t hilarious, but they’ll get a little chuckle. The action isn’t mind boggling, but it’s fun to watch unfold. The characters aren’t one note duds, but they’re not a fleshed-out ensemble cast either.

People will come to this film for Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s chemistry, and it delivers that bromance in a tidy and easy to consume package. If it’s something that interests you, grab some popcorn and enjoy the ride. If you’re dragged to see this it won’t offend you, you might even have fun.

Good: Martin Lawrence and Will Smith are fun to watch throughout.

Bad: Unremarkable and swiftly forgotten afterwards. The most okay film I have seen in a while.

5/10 – Not bad, but not great either. 

 

 

Sex Education Season 2 Review

The first season of Sex Education completely caught me off guard. I thought it’d be a light-hearted fun show with some smutty jokes and the odd nice message. It turned out to be one of the most progressive, stylish, funny and emotional seasons of a show I have ever seen. It’s incredibly well written, acted wonderfully and shot beautifully. 

In the days before season 2 I wondered if it was possible for a show to repeat that level of success without the surprise factor the first season had. I suffered that problem with the second season of “You” on Netflix recently, where a degree of the enjoyment was taken away because we’d seen it before and kind of had a feel for where it was going. I can say with certainty Sex Education does not suffer from this.

While this second season does explore some of the same themes as the first, it does so from a different standpoint and once again it continues to explore issues and topics that are just not addressed in schools. Sexuality, Anal cleansing, masturbation, homophobia, and more subjects on top of those are tackled in such a real, no bullshit way that it makes them all feel like something we should all be talking about in a much more open way rather than being the pretty much taboo subjects they tend to be for most people.

I am not saying we should all be sharing details of our sexual exploits, but that when you have a question about the oldest past time in the world, you should be comfortable asking it or bringing up the topic. Sex Education does a great job of shedding light on these topics and that’s one of the reasons I think this is such a progressive show.

I went into the details on the messages and lessons last time I wrote about this show, so I won’t go on about it. What I could go on about for ages though is the frankly stunning style of the show. Its filmed in picturesque parts of Wales, set in an American style high school, with vibrant 80’s fashion and music, with mostly English characters. Those all combine to give Sex Ed a completely unique look and feel, and it’s set in the modern day, with people on mobiles and using laptops so you still buy it as if it’s happening around the corner.

Sex Education takes what made the previous season great and builds on it. There isn’t a lot of new characters this season, but all the ones you bought into in season one is back and each of them has their own story line. The new ones that are there are fit in perfectly with the rest of the cast. Early on in season two I thought there was a few characters who had been relegated to the background, but as the show continues they each have their own stories and their own troubles to overcome, and each time you’re right there with them for the heartbreak or the laughs or the anguish, whatever emotion this particular story is going to evoke.

I went into season two of Sex Education with high expectations and it matched and surpassed them. There are moments in season two that I couldn’t believe were happening, moments that connected with me and made me laugh and threatened to make me cry. I probably would have if I was capable of crying at TV shows or films. Weirdly it just never happens. Except for when I watch Hitch for the first time after a breakup. That shit hit me HARD.

Sex Education is the best television show on TV. I don’t know of anything else that feels as real and evokes as much of a connection to several characters as this show does. It will make you feel everything, the entire gamut of emotions, and it will leave you really wanting to start wearing outrageously striking outfits.

Good: This show.

Bad: You watching anything that isn’t this show.

10/10