Marriage Story Review

At last I have completed the list of the Best Picture nominees with the one I could have watched ages ago on Netflix. Fresh from watching Parasite, I got comfortable on the couch and watched Marriage Story. The movie stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as a couple going through a divorce whilst trying to make sure their son is happy. 

There is only one place to start when talking about this film, and it’s with the previously mentioned performers. Scarlett Johansson was in the most commercially successful movie of all-time last year, and yet this is the role she should be remembered for. This is her best work, and she fully deserves the nomination she has received for it with the range of emotions she portrays in this film. She plays Nicole in such a real, believable way that you don’t see the actress and you’re invested in her and when she’s on screen you just want things to work out for her.

As for her co-star Adam Driver, it took me a few minutes to get over the Kylo Ren factor. Having only previously seen him as the Star Wars character, him popping up and immediately talking about what he loves about Nicole is jarring. At first it felt like an SNL sketch, and I was waiting for the “Gotcha” moment. It never comes. What happens is just like ScarJo as Nicole, Adam Driver disappears, and you just see his character Charlie (Great name).

If there is one scene this year that deserves an award for the sheer incredible acting and performances of those involved, it is in this movie. The argument that the two engage in is terrifyingly real. I’ve never been divorced, or married for that fact, but I have had arguments with people I love, and it’s one of the most difficult feelings we ever process. Things are said that you don’t mean because in that moment, just for a split second, you just want to hurt the other person. Somehow these actors manage to capture that sickening feeling and translate it into something on screen that you can feel happening. Writer Director Noah Baumbach wrote and directs a solid film, but their performances elevate it to the top tier.

Laura Dern in her role as ScarJo’s divorce attorney is as sharp as a pocketknife and is magnetic when she’s on screen, although it didn’t quite match the tone of the film all the time. One of the other lawyers in the film is played by Ray Liotta, and I found he stuck out like a sore thumb. He was just a bit too over the top and felt like a caricature of what his character was supposed to be.

In the courtroom scenes you a different side of divorce, where the lawyers are using every little piece of information they have to try and turn the case in their client’s favour. What I don’t recall seeing in most courtroom scenes is the pain on the faces of the people involved, and that is clear to see here.

What it made me feel, and think about, is that feeling of loving someone but knowing it isn’t meant to be. It’s a personal thing that may hit you differently depending on where you are in your life, but for me it came at an oddly profound time. It also made me think about my own parents’ divorce, and how I have never even given it a second thought. Then I think to the odd moments I remember of them interacting and how weirdly nice it was to see them get on, and that feeling is something Marriage Story managed to evoke in me in its final act.

Marriage Story is an engrossing film, and one that crosses a few different boundaries. It’s funny, its heart-breaking, it’s the reveal that Adam Driver can sing pretty well, and that alone should be enough to make you want to watch it. It’s on Netflix, so nobody has any excuse for this one, it should be on everyone’s lists.

Good: This might actually be two real people who happen to look like Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, their performances are just that good.

Bad: The Lawyers were a little too evil and conniving to believable in such a grounded story.

9/10 – Statue Worthy Film. 

 

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

 

6 Underground: Michael Bay, Please Stop.

Over the past weekend Netflix released the Ryan Reynolds led action film 6 Underground. I am a fan of Reynolds, and in general him being in a film is enough to make it enjoyable and passable. I sat down this weekend to watch 6 Underground and I only made it 30 minutes in before I had to turn it off. 

The opening 20 minutes of the film is a ridiculous car chase where there is no context for anything happening. It’s cut to pieces by constant jumping between shots and angles and slow motion and explosions and skids and explosions and screeching tires and explosions. I was genuinely watching in disbelief that this is how they decided was best to start a film. Completely out of context action, time jumping around with the camera just ever so slightly zoomed into each character when they’re trying to deliver some of the garbage cheesy dialogue.

This is of course a Michael Bay film, and it appears he has just been let off any kind of leash and given carte blanche to make whatever he wanted. There might be an absolute masterpiece in the hour and a half I didn’t watch, but I will never find out because it’s borderline unwatchable. The explosions and cars being smashed into a shower of pieces and bodies being flung about like ragdolls is all stuff that can work if done well, and if the story has led to it being relevant.

I normally wouldn’t spoil anything but fuck it, this movie is trash. at the end of this obnoxiously long opening chase, the driver, or number 6, or whatever number he is called because even Names are a character trait Michael Bay doesn’t care for, is killed by a forklift spike through the chest. Everyone in the car reacts like their brother, who they have fought alongside in the trenches has died. Up to this point in the movie, they have all been acting as if this is the first job, in fact I think at one point, they even say it’s the first job. So, they have known this dude for days, and then they mention they are using numbers instead of names, so they don’t get attached. So why did we just have a 5-minute scene of everyone sad about the driver.

Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese wrote Deadpool, so I must believe they have some excellent writing skills. Either that, or the entire Deadpool film is improvised and their script was ignored. The dialogue, the logic, everything about the opening 30 minutes of this film, just defies belief. Netflix clearly gave these guys all a lot of money, and Ryan Reynolds is Ryan Reynoldsy, so he is still mildly entertaining, but everything around him is just nonsense. Visual Noise is a term I believe John Campea coined, and it fits this film perfectly.

When these writers were combined with a passionate film maker in Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds, they produced a fantastic film. I like to think people always try their hardest, but I can’t buy that here. This feels like people happy to take the paycheque and run. That, or it must have been one hell of an off day when everyone put their heads together to produce this.

To be fair, the core idea does sound quite good, a group of people off the grid trying to do things that nobody can do whilst they’re a member of society. It’s a cool premise, lead with that, show us some characters, get the chemistry working and let us buy into the group and then kill off someone. That works, that has an effect, that is how you make us care and engage an audience. Twenty minutes of explosions and quips leading to a sudden death and immediate sadness for a character we don’t have any attachment to just doesn’t work.

Films can open with action scenes, in fact I love it when it’s well done, this is just not given any context because it’s frantic, shot at 100 miles an hour and the tone is that of an early 2000’s music video. Raiders of the Lost Ark opens with an action scene, but it’s done so well that we understand everything we need about Indiana Jones. It’s tense, it’s deliberate, nothing is done because it looks cool, it’s cool because of the character and the tension and the pay off.

To be fair, it’s outrageous to expect any film maker to be able to produce a start like Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a target though, it’s something you can watch and learn from. I don’t believe Michael Bay has watched anyone else’s movies; he only seems to repeat his own stuff. Transformers was a franchise with limitless potential, and all he could get from it was a lot of slow motion and cool looking robots. The action scenes are a hurricane of metal everywhere. The story is an afterthought, below a supermodel like actress wearing hot pants in the checklist of how to make a movie.

He can produce good movies, Pain & Gain, Bad Boys, 13 Hours, The Rock, and Armageddon are all examples of fun films Bay has directed, but sometimes he just seems to get lost in the excitement of blowing stuff up. I’d love to see him work with another director, someone who is more character focused, and see what that produced.

For now, though, steer clear of 6 Underground, and watch Watchmen instead. I started it this weekend and episode one is a fantastic set up, I plan to finish it by the end of this week. There is also a small indie film coming out this week called “The Rise of Skywalker” and hopefully that’s something readers are interested in.

Until then, thanks for reading.

ChAzJS

 

The Irishman Review

Martin Scorsese teams up with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci to make a film that for many old school cinema and gangster movie fans will be the most anticipated film in decades. It certainly has the cast, and the extreme run time, of a Godfather wannabe, but can it deliver on all that potential?

I found myself going into this film with some trepidation regarding a few points. Would the de-aging technology employed throughout work seamlessly or would it be a jarring factor in the film? Could Scorsese pull a good performance from De Niro, a man who has largely cashed cheques for turning up over the last few years. He has done his part in a lot of films but rarely with the commitment he had back in the day. Would Al Pacino become a caricature of himself as this larger than life character in Jimmy Hoffa? Could Joe Pesci possibly still deliver the goods after nearly 21 years of doing very little in Hollywood?

Well quite incredibly, the answer to those concerns were all emphatically positive. The biggest compliment any special effect can receive is that you simply don’t notice it is there. That is the case for the majority of this film, and although there are a few scenes where it’s a little odd, it never threw me out of the movie. At one point there is a scene that highlights that whilst you can de-age someone’s face, you can’t de-age their movement, and the scene outside a greengrocer highlights it clear as day. Other than the odd moment here and there though, the film’s exorbitant run time is unobstructed by the technology, and this film simply wouldn’t be possible without it.

Robert De Niro is an incredibly recognisable man, but he disappears into this role in a way I haven’t seen him do for a long time. He is completely committed and gives a lot in his performance, but the nature of his character means he comes across as a reluctant protagonist. Al Pacino’s character is the charismatic, larger than life figure who chews scenery left and right, owning the role. Again, he is completely in on the role and working with Scorsese seems to have lit a fire in these two actors and brought incredible performances from them both.

The third headline name is one less known to my generation because he’s barely done anything since the late nineties. Joe Pesci plays a hugely respected mob boss who is pulling strings and has a finger in every pie around. He doesn’t do it by being the over the top Pitbull type like Pacino does, but instead invokes memories of Marlon Brando in The Godfather. He is quiet, thoughtful and deliberate. You get the feeling he is friendly to everyone until it doesn’t suit him to be friendly, and even then, he will order you to your death whilst sipping a glass of red and smoking.

There is a cavalcade of other actors involved, and to list them all would take forever, but I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that Scorsese gets gold out of everyone he works with. Best of the rest for me was Stephen Graham, who steals most scenes he is in. He plays a character cut from the same cloth as Pacino’s, but with different motivations. The actors and performances all make this movie incredibly watchable from moment to moment, and they need to be at this level to carry a movie this long.

The plot is a complex one, but essentially it is the life story of De Niro’s character Frank Sheeran, who was a real-life gangster back in the day. It spans 60 years of his life, thanks to the de-aging tech, and to me the film is split into two distinct themes. Most of the film is a good, maybe even great mob film, but it treads on ground very similar to what we have seen from these actors and this director before. That doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s entertaining, but it does mean you kind of know who these people are and how they’re going to interact quickly if you’re familiar with this style of film.

There is a lot of talking, broken up by occasional bouts of violence. The character relationships are dived into, particularly the three main actors I mentioned above, and Frank’s relationship to them is the main element we are focused on. He is fiercely loyal and has learned to do things a certain way, and that extends to his time with his family.

The scenes with his family are spread throughout the film and at first I thought it was just there to humanise him, which it does but when the film starts to slowly wind down to the end, certain things come back and I found the more I remembered about the film and thought about it, the more effective the ending become. The Irishman is a story about a man who lived his life in service of other people, at the expense of his own life in many ways.

In the final moments of the film, it hits you that he is trying to make amends for the way he lived, and although I don’t believe he regrets all of it, you certainly feel like he wishes something was different. When the film ends, the final shot felt abrupt to me, but that’s because I was so in, I wanted to know what was happening next and then it ends. But this started to be less odd the more I thought about it.

This is a great film, but as I have hinted at, the run time is excessive. At 3 hours and 30 minutes long, it is an ordeal to sit through. You must plan around it; you can’t just chuck this on one evening. This is the main issue I had with the film, every scene when you’re in it felt important, but quite a lot of them could be removed and the film doesn’t lose anything. Speaking to people about the film and discussing certain plot points, I realised they went nowhere, which is disappointing because in the moment I was interested in seeing where things went.

The Irishman doesn’t boldly go where man has not been before, but it goes back over the history of this genre and cherry picks the best actors, relights their passion for film and lets them go on a greatest hits tour of gangster movies. Goodfellas, Heat, Casino, The Godfather, Scarface, The Departed and more all give a little something to this film. It’s a film that’s made possible by the tech, and by the combined centuries of experience working together.

Whether Scorsese meant to or not, he has created the Avengers of gangster films, where all the previous films have contributed towards creating this one great, epic piece.

Good: The acting, seriously, these guys are masters in this genre, and they show why they’re the go to names. It sticks with you afterwards and for me personally, gave me a different perspective on some things.

Bad: Its offensively long, and a little bit of fat trimming here and there wouldn’t have hurt at all. It’s a little derivative but that’s not something that bothered me really.

9/10 – A love letter to a genre, written by the people who made it famous. 

 

El Camino Review

If you’re one of the few people who has not treated themselves to watching through Breaking Bad, I envy you more than most people in the world. The show is a stunning blend of excellent writing, great performances and twists that leave you desperate for more. Just over 6 years on from the end of the series, we are heading back to the moments after the series with Netflix’s El Camino.

It’s impossible to talk about this show without spoiling Breaking Bad massively, so please do yourself a favour and do not read on if you haven’t seen the show. Make the time for the 60 odd hours of Breaking Bad and enjoy the incredible ride before watching El Camino.

Onto El Camino itself, it’s a film that sneaked up on me and I am grateful for that. It was a nice treat to find it had dropped on Netflix over the weekend and I sat down to find out what exactly happened to Jesse after the events of the Breaking Bad Finale. The idea of dropping back into that world is tantalising, although I must confess, I was not sure we really needed any more to explain the aftermath.

El Camino picks up from the last time we saw Jesse in Breaking Bad, driving off from his captors and finally free. From there we see the events of the next day or so, interspersed with flashbacks to the previous times and the events of his captivity. It’s an interesting choice to go with for the film, but it fits very well with the style we grew to love with the original series. In fact, calling El Camino a film is a bit odd for me, as it does not feel like one.

This feels like its two bonus episodes of Breaking Bad showing what happened next. As such, I found it to be a bit of an odd experience watching along, as the first hour of the film crawls by at a snail’s pace. I know it’s a bad sign whenever I check a film run time, and when I saw I was only 45 minutes in, I was questioning whether it was worth me sticking with it.

I completely understand why Jesse is how he is, and what the motivations are for him. I just felt like this film was going to give me something a little bit new, whereas this feels very much like a couple of mid-season Breaking Bad episodes. The second half of the film was more enjoyable, and the outcome, even though it was telegraphed from the beginning of the film, feels like a satisfying place to end this story.

Perhaps this is a case of my expectations and what I wanted being too far from what we got, but by the end of El Camino I was very much done with the film. I love Aaron Paul in this role, and he is as great as he was in every episode of the show. Of course, seeing Jesse Pinkman and all the characters we see pop up through the film was fun, but one of the biggest feelings I had watching El Camino was that I now want to watch Breaking Bad again. Not because I loved El Camino, but because I of what I think it’s missing.

It’s not really a criticism, but the film falls apart when you analyse it as a standalone film. This is very much Breaking Bad season six condensed down to two hours, and for me that just didn’t work. At the same time as explaining what happened next, the film also goes into the past and shows Jesse’s time as a prisoner and his day out with his captor Todd. This extra leg work was all very breaking bad, and if this was an episode of the show, I would have eaten it up with no complaints. This isn’t supposed to be just another couple of episodes though, and that is where El Camino falls.

For all the good performances and the satisfaction of seeing where Jesse Pinkman ends up, El Camino just feels unnecessary. I am a huge Breaking Bad fan, but this just felt like filler episodes with a few fun scenes and a nice farewell. Watching this 6 years ago would have felt good, like a nice epilogue to the finale of the show. That epilogue has come 6 years too late for me, and whether that’s a fair criticism or not, that’s how I felt watching this film.

Good: Great performances, some incredible cinematography, trip back to the world of Breaking Bad.

Bad: Six years too late and it feels unnecessary because of it. Answers questions I didn’t care about anymore.

6/10 – Its more Breaking Bad so it’s not terrible. That’s all it is though.  

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.

After Life Review

Ricky Gervais is a somewhat divisive figure in the entertainment industry. His stints hosting the Golden Globes are famous for his harsh put downs and dry humour that often goes past the line of politically correct. After Life is the new show from the mind of the comedian that has been released on Netflix.

The how follows a man whose wife has passed away and taken his main reason for living with her to the grave. Gervais is the writer, director and star of the show, and his sense of humour is stamped all over the show. You get the feeling the character of Tony is not very far from Gervais’ real thoughts. He puts himself in this position and it’s hard to say he is acting well, as it feels a lot like it’s just him and not much of a character.

Surrounding Gervais is a flock of talented actors and actresses who are all solid throughout the show, some comedians you’ll recognise from TV and some character actors who have popped up in a lot of British television. It’s clear immediately though that Gervais is the focus, and Afterlife is a vehicle for him to put his thoughts out into the world.

A lot of this is managed heavy handedly by Gervais, with all the subtlety of a brick through a window. The lack of a deft touch is noticeable, especially early in the six episode series. Some of the jokes fell flat to me, and this is evidence that it really is all about how a joke is delivered. The jokes are similar in topic and at times even similar in structure to his stand up jokes, but for me Gervais’ stand up is a lot funnier than this show is.

That’s not to say its not got it’s moments, it just never peaks above the funny clips I saw before release. Three or four times through the series I found myself laughing out loud at the show which is lower than I expected for this season going in. Those expectations I found myself changing as the show went on and I realised what Afterlife is; Afterlife is Gervais trying to tell a story with his comedic style sprinkled in, and I expected a more comically focused series.

The story we follow is interesting, relatable to people, and has a good message at its core. The heavy-handedness with the comedy is also present with the storytelling here though, and at times the script is blunt and repeats its point. The main character’s arc is satisfying if obvious, and didn’t really hit me how it could have if it was better handled.

After Life is an odd series of TV, it’s a lot of good ideas that just didn’t hit the mark for me. Gervais is a good comedy writer, and his sense of humour works for me as it did brilliantly in his stand up show, but something didn’t quite hit right for me here. It is a series with the potential to be a thoughtful introspective on loss, loneliness and the emotions people deal with in tough times. The heavy-handed execution mean it lands as a decent series with unfulfilled potential.

Good: Gervais delivers some good laughs, themes and story are fantastic.

Bad: Poor execution and lack of a light touch took away from the series for me.

5/10 – High potential but didn’t hit for me.