Triple Frontier Review

Netflix have been putting more and more money into the production of its own content. They’ve found a lot of success with the series they have produced, but their own movies have struggled to be consistent. They tend to be predictable stories with A list talent, and the net results has to date have been inconsistent. Triple Frontier brings Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam and Pedro Pascal. 

They are all very talents actors, capable of carrying the movie on their own shoulders. The film does a good job is a good sense of camaraderie between the entire group when they’re together and the character moments between them are what the filmmakers attempt to use to take Triple Frontier to another level. The group face a lot of challenges through the film, and each actor has a moment to deliver something great. Oscar Isaac is top of the bill for me, but Affleck and Hunnam come to play as well. Pedro Pascal and Garrett Hedlund are given less to do, kind of playing “the other guys” for me but the group all knit together well.

They are all playing ex military servicemen, with different skills and a past we get a hint of without any real details. What you can tell is that they have a bond, and when it comes to it they would lay their lives on the line to save one another. That isn’t often required though, as we learn throughout that these are all very capable soldiers, to the point where they seem almost invincible at some points in the film. They aren’t and the way the tension builds through the film is excellent. Credit has to go to the director for putting together these intense, slow, methodical action scenes that burst into life with gunfire then return to the quiet tension that preceded the moment of explosive action.

One of the reasons this tension is created is by excellent use of the camera. Long tracking shot, slow sweeping one shot sequences, and only cutting when necessary. No action scene is hidden behind chopping between 15 camera angles, something I hate in films. Everything that happens is clear, well shot and feels real. The sound design is excellent, every gunshot pops, and the slow speed of the engagements makes for some of the best military style action I’ve seen in a while.

If the action and the group dynamic are what makes Triple Frontier worth watching, the plot is what might make it a little less enjoyable. The plot is generic, which is fine in itself, but the payoff at the end of the film feels very light and fluffy for what is an intense ride for the majority of the 2 hour 5 minute run time. That run time does feel a little heavy, which I judge based on whether I have looked at the time or checked how long is left during the film. I checked in this film and nearly groaned that there was 45 minutes left. The lack of an engaging premise is what makes the film feel long, and although the third act does pick up the pace a little, it kind of loses its way a little. The finale of the film was a bit odd, and the storytelling choices the make didn’t really make sense with me, given everything that happens in the film.

Triple Frontier has an excellent cast, playing an intriguing group of characters. At times its like the film can’t decide if they are good or bad people, and the meandering between the two leads to a bit of an unsatisfying ending. The action delivers in a big way, just like the cast, but I can’t help but feel this film delivers less than the sum of its parts in a weird way. The potential with a cast this strong and action put together this well is sky-high, and although it’s a good film, it didn’t quite reach greatness.

Good: Great cast and performances all round, and it has some of the most intense and realistic action scenes of the year so far.

Bad:  Generic and unengaging plot doesn’t give the audience the hook to keep engaged for the entire run time, unfulfilling ending.

6/10 – Much like Affleck’s Batman, this is good, but it could have been great.

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Velvet Buzzsaw Review

Last week I watched Nightcrawler, the first time director Dan Gilroy and star Jake Gyllenhaal combined, and I really enjoyed it. It gave me a lot of hope for Velvet Buzzsaw which is their second time teaming up. Could it live up to the excellent Nightcrawler?

I went into Velvet Buzzsaw knowing very little about the film. I knew it was a satire of the art world, and that something odd goes on, but beyond that I had no idea. The film starts out towards being a satire on the art world and the pretentious nature of some of the people the world contains. I have met some people in the art world who I could see in parts of the characters in this film.

Those characters are all played by some really talented actors, led by the enigmatic Gyllenhaal. Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton (from Fresh Meat), Toni Collette and Natalia Dyer (Stranger Things) are all really solid. I am happy for Ashton and Dyer as they both have shown some talent before, and this feels like a good next step for them. John Malkovich is John Malkovich, and he’s always entertaining but does seem a bit underused in a film I think he was perfect for.

These solid performers inhabiting quite interest characters sets up a thoroughly intriguing film. For the first half I was very in, and was interested in seeing where the plot went. What happens from around halfway into the movie I have to say really did not work for me. The attempt at satirising the culture of the art world is nearly brilliant, but the script largely disregards this and steadily falls into an odd, nonsensical slasher film. It’s not a spoiler, but the final third of this film is basically a horror movie with no real explanation to what is happening. Things just go wrong, people die, and the way everyone dies is just put down to “It’s a curse”.

I did think the film was going to reveal something in the third act that would have really been an interesting twist and I think this needed that kind of momentum shift towards the end. Things ramp up in a way, but for me it’s all just gore porn and the characters introduced in the first act melt away and become generic victims. This really detracted from the movie for me.

I was a big fan of director/writer Dan Gilroy’s work in Nightcrawler, and whilst the direction in this film is really good, the script starts so high, and deteriorates into a generic horror film. Fans of that genre may find it works well, but as excellently shot and executed as the death scenes are, they just aren’t what I look for in a film. They aren’t predictable deaths, as in the way people go out is very different. One in particular, the “Paint” death is probably the best way to describe it, is very artistic and really beautiful to look at from a cinematic standpoint.

The way the films shot is truly great, and the cinematography, particularly a couple of the landscape shots at night, are up there with the hyperspace crash scene from Star Wars in that they are like pieces of art on their own. However, the fact that my favourite part of the 2nd and 3rd acts is a couple of landscape shots really shows my level of enjoyment for this film.

Velvet Buzzsaw flirts with being a really engaging, intelligent film, then wastes its solid start on an unexplained phenomenon that takes over. I really hope slasher fans find this film entertaining, as I really struggled to past about the 60 minute mark.

Good: Excellent cinematography,  solid performances and next steps for some young actresses, Gyllenhaal does his best.

Bad: Satire morphing into slasher could be done very well, it isn’t here, and it ruined the film for me.

4/10 – Promising start wasted.

 

Sex Education Review

Netflix’s original series’ have been going from strength to strength, and the latest one I sat down to binge through is Sex Education, the Asa Butterfield led series about a 16-year-old boy who has grown up with a sex therapist as his mother. The mysterious cool girl at school convinces him to share the knowledge he has picked up over the years with the rest of his school peers, and make a bit of cash at the same time. 

This odd premise is used as a brilliant framing mechanism for the show which delves into a plethora of topics that teenagers have to deal with in their formative years. Exploring their sexuality and all the uncomfortable moments that brings with it. Handling such important topics in what is first and foremost a comedic show is a very tough task, but one that Sex Educations writers get absolutely perfect.

I don’t recall any show I have ever watched successfully bringing real questions the are directly relatable to the real world in the same way this show does. The show is set in 2019, in the real world and every character we spend any meaningful time with has a story and feels real. Again, the writing for these characters and their arcs through the series is tremendous, and somehow the tone stays consistent throughout the whole show regardless of whether the topic is a picture being spread around the campus or characters losing their virginity.

The great writing goes hand in hand with some great break-out performances, particularly from the main 3 characters. Asa Butterfield as Otis is equal parts socially awkward and quirkily charm. Ncuti Gatwa plays fabulously camp Eric, and I found his characters journey was really interesting as it’s a journey I know nothing of, but I am sure a lot of people my age struggled with the same problems he encounters. For me the star of the show is Emma Mackey as Maeve Wiley. Maeve is an odd entity in school, maligned by the cool kids, but too cool for the rest of her peers, the story her character goes on is entertaining, heartbreaking and very real.

That element of the show, how real every situation feels, is what I think Sex Educations special ingredient is. I did not experience all of the shows events in my time as a teenager, but I experienced a few of them, and I think it will be the same for anyone in my generation. For the generation below me, who are currently going through this time in their life, this show brings to light the fact that everyone is in the same boat and dealing with their own problems.

There are not many shows I have watched where I have repeatedly thought “This is brilliant”, but Sex Education is one of them. I have written a lot about the messages and societal issues the show addresses, but it would be remiss of me not to touch on just how funny the show is. It finds the funny side of most situations, and more often than not it times the punchline right, so as not to ruin the moment. Occasionally a few of the jokes fall a little flat, but its got a high success rate compared to jokes in most Netflix shows I have watched.

The one real negative I have on Sex Education is the first episodes placement in the season, the “big issue” (pardon the pun) is a bit too on the nose for the first episode and perhaps could have been swapped out to a later episode, even episode two. The show moves through topics and issues that teens struggle with but are perhaps feel are too taboo to ask the questions that sex educations poses, and it often answers them as well. This is one of the cleverest shows I have seen, and I would recommend it to pretty much everyone over the age of thirteen.

Good: Incredible handling of sensitive topics, brilliant acting, 80s wardrobe, Awesome soundtrack (Old Time Rock and Roll being the highlight for me).

Bad: Some of the first episode is a bit silly.

10/10 – One of the best shows that will come out in 2019.