Beautiful Boy Movie Review

­­­7/10

An engrossing true drama and character study. Beautiful Boy unflinchingly reveals the ugly impact of drug abuse on families and has some stellar performances from its cast.

The film follows the life story of Nic Sheff a young man who succumbs to drug and alcohol addiction. As Nic battles his demons, his family tirelessly tries to help him overcome his addiction and repeated relapses. Timothée Chalamet plays Nic, with Steve Carrell supporting him as his father David. Together they combine to tell the story through their eyes as the film seamlessly covers years of Nic’s battles.

While difficult to watch, Beautiful Boy is incredibly engrossing to watch. Especially through the film’s examination of the different ways Nic’s addiction impacts those around him. The story unflinchingly portrays his tendencies to become a pathological liar; a thief; a terrified youth and a helpless emotional victim. All of which I had no doubt that such situations would be all too familiar for those who have unfortunately experienced the same problems with loved ones or friends. I found it quite the brutal and honest portrayal of a person struggling with a terrible issue, but I was glad that the film didn’t shy away from showing such harrowing situations.

The film is also led by an extremely talented cast who collectively make it quite the performance driven piece.

Steve Carrel is starting to prove himself capable of more dramatic roles in recent years and I was pleasantly surprised that his performance as David didn’t disappoint. chooses to take on a quiet desperation in David’s characterisation rather than the aggressive, shouting father figures that are often the standard character approach to similar roles. This approach grounded the character’s performance and made him feel more real to me.

Timothée Chalamet is equally brilliant. His ability to flick between his raging mood swings and consistently casually lying to his family without is both impressive and horrifically sad to watch. I also enjoyed his neurotic take on Nic that further alienates him from societal norms; making it harder for him to come back from his drug addiction.

Maura Tierney also does a great job as Nic’s stepmom. She captures the awkward combination of sympathy and detachment felt for Nic being her character is a person not directly related to him. Her love for Nic is evident but the need to protect her own children from the realities of the world that they’re currently too young to understand is also a driving factor that sees her take a much stronger approach to Nic. One of her best moments is a scene where she’s chasing Nic in a mad car chase that’s both incredibly tense and sad to watch. A true testament of the despair her character feels.

Interestingly, director Felix van Groeningen brings a hallucinogenic feel to the film often shifts the timeline the story operates within. This creates a feeling of confusion as to how much time passes, cleverly symbolizing the same feeling Nic experiences under the influence. There are times when it’s hard to keep track of how much time has passed in the story as the characters don’t seem to get older but it’s a memorable film that keeps you thinking for days long after you’ve seen it.

Finally, the soundtrack adds electric song choices. While they may not fit the emotion trying to be captured, they are suited to the moment and feel like intimate snapshots of moments that revolve around a song. It’s an interesting technique but in a way feels natural and adds to the realism of the entire film.

Ultimately Beautiful Boy is a harrowing but engrossing character study. Even though the film does feel long, it’s well balanced and brutally honest portrayals of the story’s issues more than makeup for it. This one film that might be difficult to watch but it’s worth taking the time to do so. See it.

Advertisements

A Star Is Born Movie Review

7/10

Fourth time’s the charm for this remake. While A Star Is Born borrows the same core plotline from the original 1937 film, the 1954 musical, the 1976 rock musical and 2013 Bollywood romance film (almost as many Rocky movies), it’s thankfully still worth the watch.

First-time director and actor Bradley Cooper direct the latest adaptation, which tells the trajectory of two musicians’ careers.  Ally, played by Lady Gaga, is a young singer on the rise to fame and fortune, whereas Jack (Bradley Cooper) is on a downward alcoholic spiral. The pair fall in love and attempts to navigate their relationship through their individual success and failures.

I was pleasantly surprised that the film felt fresh and original despite being a fourth remake. Cooper updates the story by putting us in the middle of modern-day rock concerts and directs scenes that show the madness of performing to large crowds. This helped give the film relevance to an updated period but also smartly provided an enjoyable burst of energy.

Another neat aspect to Cooper’s direction was his use of close-ups on Ally, which reflected how Jack’s attentive passion for her. Sometimes these shots would cut in unusually close and focus on certain features of Ally’s face; subtly bringing out the affectionate nature of these intimate moments.

A Star Is Born also cleverly works music to juxtapose the main character’s relationships on and off the stage. Cooper does this by reserving the music largely for when the pair is performing and keeping the soundscape quiet whenever their outside of this stage setting.  It cleverly shows the stark difference between Ally and Jack’s loud and boisterous professional life versus their quiet and intimate private life.

Cooper plays the addiction-riddled Jack to his usual high standard and I thought he was great for the part. He manages to show the subtle pain of a gruff, anger-filled fading musician, whose years of hurt are badly hidden and eased only by alcohol and prescription drugs.

He also bravely sings in the film, which is quite daunting on his part when up against Lady Gaga. While indeed the two have quite the chemistry, Cooper manages to pull his own weight through his ability to play the piano and guitar which help make him more believable in his role.

Interestingly, Sam Elliott brings a comforting presence in his supporting role and an overall calmness to the film. Elliot plays Jack’s much older brother-turned-manager Bobby. The brother’s share an often-tense relationship and I was thoroughly engrossed in watching their dynamics unfold. Their confrontation at the end of the film and Jack’s final line to Bobby was the most heart-wrenching part of the film.

But ultimately A Star Is Born is the Lady Gaga show.

She completely and utterly steals the show with her brilliant voice and emotive ballads, on top of delivering a great performance. Ally’s growth over the course of the film had me rooting for her the entire way, but also in admiration for the sacrifices she makes to love and protect Jack.

Ally is raw and honest with Jack, letting him know when things are shitty but also trying to help him work through his demons. Gaga proves herself worthy as an actor in a way that most people wouldn’t have seen before. There are no over the top costumes or meat dresses but just a down to Earth Gaga in her natural brown hair. Fans of Gaga will see similarities in her character’s journey to her own but the film is not a story of her rise (think a step down from 8 Mile which starred global superstar rapper Eminem).

Cooper makes a valiant attempt to tell both sides of the story for this couple, and for the most part, it works. I still felt that film overall is a little bit too long and there are moments in the middle that could have been cut in the editing room. But in terms of capturing addiction and the craziness of fame, the film manages to do that while not making Jack and Ally seem ungrateful for their success.

This wasn’t an easy task for Cooper to undertake, especially on his first outing as a director. But his clear passion and enthusiasm for the film manage to make a timeless film with enough originality and soulful tracks to keep the buzz around this film going, at least until the Oscars.

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Review

6.5/10

A solid biopic. Bohemian Rhapsody is a fitting film about one of the world’s greatest bands and an iconic figure of music. While it’s not one of the best biopics ever made, it’s still a crowd pleaser and worth the watch.

The film explores the life of Freddie Mercury and his career as lead singer of Queen. It tracks Mercury’s recruitment into the band and leads all the way up to their historic performance at Live Aid. A large focus is put on capturing the singer’s struggles and successes in both his personal and professional life.

What works great the film’s themes of family and diligent determination to realises one’s expectation of themselves. Both ideas give a relatable human factor to the story, which is needed when dealing with a film about global rock stars.

I enjoyed how the band constantly referred to themselves as a family of misfits who play to other misfits like them. While a little cheesy, it helps humanise the superstar band as everyday individuals. It’s interesting to see the band compare their dynamics and internal conflicts to that of a typical family as Mercury would often point out.

I also liked the films focus on Mercury’s diligent determination to realise his expectations of himself. Mercury’s determination to improve himself and accomplish his dreams are relatable human values and it’s inspirational to see others strive towards their goals. I found myself being thoroughly engrossed in watching his talent shine throughout the course of the film.

My only issue with the story is that it’s quite predictable. There are familiar beats and obvious signals to pick up that make it simple to know where the film is going to go. Even if I was born on Mars and had never heard of Queen or Freddie Mercury, the arc of the story is easy to gather.

Production wise the performances and camera work were both entertaining to watch.

I particularly liked Rami Malek who (fittingly) stood out as Freddie Mercury. Apart from the costumes, his flamboyant demeanor and stage presence in the film would have made Mercury proud. There’s a lot of visible effort in his performance to try and match the same level of life as one of the best performers in musical history. Although this is ultimately impossible to do so, Malek should commend himself and be proud.

Finally, some of the camera work in the film was also interesting to watch. One sequence involved a continuous shot of a camera flying between the legs of a piano and then onto the large crowd. While shots like these didn’t come often, I appreciated that there was an effort made to include them and I thought they were a nice touch.

Overall Bohemian Rhapsody is a solid biopic. Even if it feels safe* and predictable, the film works well as a crowd pleaser and I still enjoyed myself. Yes, it’s not the greatest biopic ever made but it’s still worth the watch. Especially for the epic finale which on its own feels incredible. See it.

*I wonder what the film would have looked like if Sacha Baron Cohen had played Freddie Mercury and realised his initial vision for the singer. Link here to the interview where he discussed this.

Halloween (2018) Movie Review

4.5/10

Entertaining one minute, then mediocre for the next fifteen. Halloween succeeds in making its villain feel menacing and even throws in clever callbacks for fans of the original. It’s everything between the moments of good that bring it down.

Set 40 years after the events of the first film, Halloween once again reunites Jamie Lee Curtis with her favourite babysitter Michael Myers. During that time Myers has been in prison, with Curtis praying every night that he will escape so she can kill him once and for all. Looks like she’s been reading the book “The Secret”.

Let’s start with the positives.

Halloween (for the most part) does a good job of making Michael Myers a menacing villain. The film sets him up a villain that just kills and moves on to the next victim. There’s no emotion or motive and that matches what the film wants him to be: the epitome of evil.

There are also clever callbacks for fans of the original to enjoy. It was fun to watch the theatre notice the lines of dialogue and role reversals that referred to the first film. They were subtle and still effective for those who haven’t seen the original.

And finally, there’s one African-American child actor that in my eyes stole the show. Most of his scenes were improvised and were genuinely hilarious. I don’t want to spoil his lines of dialogue or the circumstances of those scenes. Suffice to say these were the most entertaining out of the whole movie for me.

Everything else is a inconsistent and confusing shit show.

Halloween sets the tone with Michael Myers’ first kill but then later contradicts itself by not following through with a certain encounter (you’ll know what I mean if you see the movie). There was a chance to truly live up to this epitome of evil image, but Halloween chooses to back down because its afraid to take the risk. In my opinion the producers should either remove that scene or make good on their promise.

The film also has a lot of awkward and unfunny character interactions. The film tries to give quirky comedic moments between minor characters but fails more often than it succeeds. A scene with two cops talking about what they packed for dinner is the pinnacle of this. Throughout their entire conversation I was thinking “why the hell is this in the movie? It’s not funny”.

Even more confusing is how Myers’s age in the film fits with his killing spree. I don’t know how a 70-year man can get shot, hit by a car, beaten by a crowbar, punched, survive a bus crash, and still manage to kill ten plus people during that time. It was hilarious.

Maybe Halloween would be more entertaining if only I threw out any logic and didn’t take it so seriously. But that’s the problem; I don’t know what it wants to be.

On one hand it tries to feel serious by making Michael Myers a menacing and ruthless killing machine. On the other hand, it throws in awkward moments of comedy and confusing plot ideas. The result of which makes me feel less impressed and wanting.

But hey, what else was I expecting from a movie that’s the eleventh instalment and second reboot sequel to a cash cow series that’s all over the place with sequels and reboots.

Halloween Movie Recommendations: Part 2 (2018 Edition)

More recommendations for horror films this Halloween. Link to Part 1 here:

Funny Games (2007)

8.5/10

The perfectly executed horror film.

Funny Games Final.PNG

Funny Games is a psychological horror that follows two young men and their reign of terror on a poor family. Toying with them through torture and sadistic games, the film explores violence in cinema to harrowing heights. The result is quite the message.

In my view, Funny Games is a perfectly executed horror film from writer and director Michael Haneke. Not only is it horrifying; it’s also very intelligent and knows exactly what it’s trying to do. The film is essentially a vehicle for Haneke’s opinions on the audience’s fascination with violence in cinema. Perhaps this is why it is still polarising to some but to me, it elevates Funny Games as a horror masterpiece.

This is up there with the intelligence of A Cabin In The Woods, another great horror film.

Side note: whether you watch the original French or American remake, it won’t matter. Both are the same shot for shot and I enjoyed each equally.

Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006) and Dead Alive (1992)

6.5/10

Explosive diarrhea and lawnmowers chopping people’s faces.

poultrygeist final.PNG

Poultrygeist and Dead Alive are splatter horror comedy’s that I’m recommending to watch as a double bill. The latter being written and directed by New Zealand’s most famous export, Peter Jackson. Yes, before he was winning academy awards for epic films about hobbits, he was busy killing the undead with basic kitchenware items.

Dead Alive Final.PNG

Whereas Dead Alive follows the rise of the human undead, Poultrygeist bests it by introducing the rise of the chicken undead. These films won’t be for everyone but if you love intentionally bad dialogue and laughing your head off to the most ridiculous scenes of prop gore, then these films are for you.

May (2002)

6.5/10

A slow burn creepy classic.

May Final.PNG

May follows the life of a young woman who struggles to connect with anyone. Her only true “friend” is a glass-encased doll; a gift from her mother. It was given to May with the adage “if you can’t find a friend, make one”.

The film cleverly builds on this phrase and slowly descends into a quiet madness. May might be the least heard of film on this list but it’s definitely the creepiest. This is one of those films something very bad is going to happen but you just don’t know what.

A large part of this is thanks to lead actress Angela Bettis. Her performance is great at getting you to sympathise for May while making her feel creepy. There’s a lot of awkward touches to her personality and overall I thought she did a great job.

Yes, it is low budget but if you don’t mind the slow burn nature of the plot, May is definitely a film for you. There’s one hell of a climax at the end and that sequence alone is worth a watch. Check it out.

“Amateur Night” segment from V/H/S (2012)

7/10

Amateur Night Final.PNG

This a bonus recommendation as it’s a short film segment that appears in the horror movie anthology known as V/H/S.

The film overall is a muddled collection of found footage films from different directors and is very hit and miss. However, the “Amateur Night” segment by writer/director David Bruckner is a big hit and I love it.

Bruckner cleverly solved the question I have with many found footage horrors which is “why are you still holding the camera?”. He does this by placing the camera inside the glasses of a character so we can see his point of view and the horrors he witnesses. This made “Amateur Night” incredibly immersive for me to watch and I had a blast. For those that are a fan of found footage horror films like The Blair Witch Project, this is a must watch to the list. But don’t look up anything for it online.

Suspiria Movie Review

8.5/10

A masterpiece mix of Rosemary’s Baby meets Black Swan. Suspiria is a disturbing, shocking, and thoroughly engrossing psychological horror. Yes, it holds a few flaws but ultimately, this is modern cinema at its finest.

The story is set towards the tail of the Cold War in 1977 Berlin. We follow the journey of a young American dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), who is accepted into the prestigious but mysterious Markos Dance Academy. Strange occurrences begin to occur, and Susie soon finds herself among company that’s of a different kind. Hint: this is not a film for kids.

The most enjoyable factor for me was the suspense, as subtly indicated within the name of the film. A large part of this comes from the story and its incredibly developed mythology teased out an array of harrowing concepts over time. Every time a new detail was shed, the more intrigued I became and the suspense of what could linger in the future was added.

I also loved how the film structures complemented the build-up in sense over time. Like a Quentin Tarantino film, the story was divided up into chapters and each added to this looming dreaded feeling for next part of the story. Think Paranormal Activity and how each new night brought about something worse than the one before.

The other parts that I thought were great to build suspense were the direction and performances.

Director Luca Guadagnino did a great job in breaking up these segments and teasing out important details to solidify the suspense. One of my favourite features was his use of the zoom on particular objects or faces. Apart from adding obvious focus to details important to the story, they were often employed before moments of dread and in turn made these scenes interesting to watch.

Normally directors would cut to a close-up but to me, Guadagnino’s choice of the zoom is far more interesting from a visual standpoint. Most of the zooms were done slowly, forcing me to gradually ascertain what important detail is being put forward.

It reminded me of Yorgos Lanthimos’ works (another great director, see our Dogtooth, The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer reviews) as he also forces in this feeling of suspense from a zoom compared to a quick cut of a close-up. The latter style speeds up the information transfer process and doesn’t allow momentary confusion while I figure things out. Great in action pieces to hide the cheated punches; less in suspenseful horrors where you want to slowly tease out details and build up suspense (unless of course horror films want to use jump scares).

Interestingly, Guadagnino’s other works Call Me By Your Name and I Am Love which are dramatic films that are very different from Suspiria. Both of those are great films but I was still (pleasantly) surprised to see Guadagnino handle himself quite well in a horror genre.

Performances wise, Dakota Johnson was fine as Susie Bannion but it was Tilda Swinton who blew me away with her two roles; one of which I didn’t even realise she acted for it until looking up the cast credits. I don’t want to give this part away because I think the experience of picking this up later will make you smile but think Gary Oldman level of transformation. Suffice to say, she was simply incredible.

Apart from being a linguistic master, there are so many subtleties in her performance that really does confirm her as my favourite actress to watch. In Suspiria she plays a dance director with great commanding body movements but also real earnest in her eyes. She can give a lot away about her character simply through the way she stares at you and I found it fantastic to watch.

My only gripes with Suspiria are with subplots that could have been cut because they didn’t add anything to the story or weren’t addressed later.

Without giving too much away, there’s a subplot with the RAF (if you watch the film you’ll know what I mean) that kept getting raised but never had a payoff. I’m trying to grasp its relevance to the themes of the film, but I still don’t know what its point was. There’s also one character with glasses (again you’ll know who I mean) who I felt was important to the story but was never addressed by the end of the film. Once again, I’m not sure what her role was and I’m of the mind that this subplot could have been cut.

I also have a slight issue with the way the finale played out which came across as comical in parts even though that the exact opposite of its intention. After a while it became kind of ridiculous and in my opinion, it could have been presented differently to make it feel more harrowing. I can’t say exactly why it came across as comical without giving anything, but this is more of a minor issue compared to the almost pointless subplots.

Overall Suspiria is an incredibly well-made film and I had a blast watching it. I’m thoroughly recommending this to those that enjoyed Rosemary’s Baby and Black Swan because Suspiria feels like a mix of the two. Otherwise, if you like suspenseful psychological horrors in general, then this will still be right up your alley.

Be warned, it is quite long. The film clocks in at 2 hours and 32 minutes but thankfully I didn’t feel the film ever drag on because there’s a lot of intriguing suspense going on (even with the pointless subplots). This is a film that had enough for me to take away from one sitting but also made me more curious to read up on later (though I probably won’t be watching it again because I’m happy with what I got the first time).

I’m predicting this to be an early contender for Best Adapted Screenplay at next year’s Oscar’s as it’s based on the 1977 original of the same name. But until then, see the 2018 version when you can.

EDIT:

I forgot to add that the music is also composed by Thom Yorke, lead single and lyricist of Radiohead. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better right?

Bad Times at the El Royale Movie Review

5/10

Not that great of a time.

Bad Times at the El Royale had the beginnings of a great film; a stellar cast, interesting characters, and a beautiful 1950s-like setting. However, El Royale gets lost in its own flashy homage and forgets to produce anything of substance from the story.

The film is written and directed by Drew Goddard, who has works include A Cabin in the Woods, The Martian, World War Z, Cloverfield, and even episodes of Lost. He’s also written a shit load for Netflix’s Daredevil series (seriously, Google this and you might be surprised as I was). With such a solid resume (even though I wouldn’t count World War Z exactly solid) I was surprised that El Royale wasn’t as good as Goddard’s past work.

The film follows seven guests who check in to the El Royale hotel, each sharing a shady past and an uncertain future. Their lives begin to intertwine when secrets come seeping out of their rugged suitcases. And yes, the premise does sound very familiar to Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.

Unlike that film, the major problem with El Royale is that it struggles to juggle seven character arcs. Each of their story is slowly teased out in the beginning and then abruptly tied off. By the end of the film I was left wondering what was the point of all of it? It didn’t feel like there was an end goal that tied in these stories and I don’t know what the purpose was for having these arcs.

The film builds these beautifully flawed and complex characters but then doesn’t utilize them to their full potential. This is one of those cases where the story would have been better formatted as a television series. It could have solved my issues with underdeveloped character trajectories; glaring loose ends that were never answered; and a disappointing ending which I can’t go into without spoiling.

In saying this, the film isn’t a complete disaster. The production design of the hotel was brilliant. One of the neatest aspects was the corridors inside the hotel that were built with two-way mirrors, allowing you to see into each of the rooms. It’s an interesting and original touch that adds a lot of intriguing tension to the story.

The hotels foyer area is also a wonderful throwback to the early 1950’s. It hosts a record jukebox, a lavish gold bar and several milk bar styled vending machines. The rhythmic soul music that oozes out of the jukebox fits perfectly with films homage to 50’s. This is further accentuated by the character Darlene Sweet, who created a stunning soundtrack that kept my interest piqued.

While the cast is full of well-known names such as Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, and Chris Hemsworth, it’s unlikely duo Jeff Bridges and Cynthia Erivo that steal the show. Erivo plays timid soul singer Sweet who after being taken advantage of by her music producer decides to try and make it on her own. Meanwhile Bridges plays Catholic Priest Daniel Flynn who is obsessed with digging for buried money under the floorboards of the hotel rooms.

When Flynn realizes he has the wrong room, he attempts to befriend Sweet to get access to hers instead. Their unlikely friendship is a joy to watch, but it’s Bridges’ honest portrayal of someone suffering from early on-set Alzheimer’s that gives his character a sympathetic side that otherwise wouldn’t exist. Sweet also gives sympathy to Flynn as he stumbles his way through old forgotten memories; giving their bond a relatable human factor that I enjoyed.

El Royale is an interesting mix. There are some excellent parts to its presentation, but the most important aspect of story is still somewhat a mess. This is far from Goddard’s best work, which is a bit sad, but hopefully this might be later rebooted as a television series. The story and characters just feel too big of a beast for a 2-and-a-half-hour film and I’d much rather see it play out in a series. Ultimately if you skipped this film, you wouldn’t be missing much. Plus, there are other great films to watch instead (see our Mandy review) and hopefully more being released soon (I’m looking at you Suspiria, please be good).