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.

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.

First Man Movie Review

6.5/10

Good but not great.

First Man is a biographical drama about astronaut Neil Armstrong and stars Ryan Gosling in the lead role. The film covers the decade leading up to his most famous accomplishment and the numerous struggles he toiled with along the way.

My largest complaint with First Man is that there are far too many conflicts raised. The film quickly tries to cover Armstrong’s struggles with loss, family, friends, NASA, public scrutiny and the missions leading up to (and inclusive) Apollo 11. Clearly, there’s a lot going on.

The problem is that the film doesn’t know which one to focus on. In my opinion, First Man overcrams many different conflicts to the point where none of them were given enough time for them to be impactful. It reminds of the Simpsons when where Mr. Burns discovers that he has an overabundance of diseases. Each effectively cancels the others out because they all can’t fit through the “door” at the same time to cause him any harm.

the simpsons infographic for first man.pngA visual metaphor for how First Man tries to cover all its conflicts.

The overall effect makes the film less dramatic than what I was expecting it to be. Comparing it to a similar film of nature like Apollo 13First Man feels like a comfortable walk in the park. Unlike First Man, Apollo 13 focused primarily on one single event. In my view, this was a big reason why that film felt way more dramatic. One major conflict (or overarching issue) generally help an audience connect more to the struggles of characters. Instead of introducing several conflicts and hoping one of them will stick.

Maybe this is because director Damian Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) wasn’t responsible for writing the script. Chazelle wrote and directed Whiplash, a film that I see as one of the most intense and dramatic films of the past decade. And funnily enough that was just a fictional story about a young jazz drummer; not about mankind landing on the moon.

Surprisingly First Man was written by Josh Singer, the man responsible for Oscar-winning dramas like Spotlight and The Post. I’m even more puzzled as to what went wrong when it came to him drafting the screenplay for this film.

I also questioned some of Chazelle’s directing choices. There is a stupendous amount of the same shot setups in this film that get recycled from scenes that similar in nature. Action set pieces would often cut back and forth between extreme close-ups of the characters eyes. Scenes with characters talking would typically involve basic shot-reverse shot close-ups. While the whole film wasn’t like this and there were some other very neat shots, I couldn’t help but feel like he dropped the ball compared to his previous work.

But as I said, not all of First Man is bad. The film works well as a crash course through the history of the 1960’s space race. Most of it might not be as dramatic as it could have been but I still enjoyed getting an overview of what it took for mankind to land upon the moon. Plus one of the events shown in the film did come off as feeling very intense and reading later up on it I still can’t believe it happened in real life.

I also enjoyed the overall look of the film which felt very authentic to the period it was set in. Most of the shots included a grainy film aesthetic and made the film look like it was produced during the 60’s. The same goes for the costumes and set designs that really do put you in the atmosphere of this time.

First Man isn’t a dramatic masterpiece and I fathom to say that I’d be surprised if it was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscar’s (though many critics are raving about the film). It’s still an enjoyable film and I didn’t find myself being bored overall, even if I was ultimately disappointed. Give this one a watch if you’re interested in seeing what it took to get man on the moon, but I wouldn’t be rushing out of the house to go see it.

The Predator Movie Review

A disjointed mess that might only please the most hardcore of fans.

The Predator falls upon its own sword with an unremarkable mix of story and characters that make it yet another forgettable film in a troublesome cash grabbing franchise. Though the film comes with a significant update in visual graphics and creature design, there’s not much else in terms of genuine action substance to take away. At best, The Predator is barely passable as a franchise sequel to one of the greatest action films ever made.

Surprisingly, both films from the 1987 classic Predator and this mildly interesting 2018 addition were written by the same person, Shane Black. Known for his witty crime comedies Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice GuysI was quite disappointed that the clever writing from those films was almost non-existent in The Predator.

One of the best aspects of Shane Black’s films is the dialogue, which often oozes comedic wit and punchy one-liners; aspects that elevated the original Predator as a sci-fi action masterpiece. Yet with the characters in The Predator, I’d be hard-pressed to remark anything that was either cleverly funny or remotely memorable that stuck with me like the quotes from the original. Instead, there’s a lot more unnecessary swearing, strange jokes that feel out of place and moments of little logic that made me question why they were talking like that.

Which is a feeling that echoed for me in terms of presentation, because The Predator nears the editing mess that was the horrendous Slender Man. While a story exists (and I’m tempted to add quotation marks to the word story), there are several examples that made the film feel like it was quickly rushed and put together without no thought to set up or punchline.

Certain characters aren’t given much time for introductions and fiery moments of action are edited with such a fast pace that it feels more blistering than a Jason Bourne movie. The latter also being heavily affected by the narrative choice to set most of the film at night, with darker environments that make quicker cuts of action harder to ascertain exactly what’s going on. Compare this to the original which was mostly set during the day, any quick cuts don’t affect understanding who or what is being attacked because well, you can actually see things easier to begin with. It’s something simple but to me, editing is the first sign of what makes a great action film better than a bad one.

Aspects like these irked me for the large portion of the film and it was quite tough to overlook them despite my feelings towards the few positives that I had. Some jokes and moments of action do hit their mark in terms of both entertainment and spectacle. As are certain plot points in the story that not only felt original and enjoyable to watch, also helped continue the mythology of the Predator franchise in an interesting way. These moments were far and few between, but when the film does get them right, it’s a pleasant joy of relief to watch amongst the disjointed mess around it.

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend paying top dollar to watch The Predator at the cinemas because the previously mentioned negatives really do drag this film down for me. My expectations were somewhat higher for a Hollywood action-film sequel given the news that Shane Black was not only writing but also directing and to my surprise, it still turned out to be disappointing.

Perhaps the film was riddled with studio interventions with re-shoots that apparently show different aspects for what the original plot could have been (see these on Google for yourself without spoiling anything). But at the end of the day, a film must be judged on what was released in the final version and until there comes a potential director’s cut, The Predator is a mess of a film that doesn’t live up to the classic by a long stretch.

American Animals Movie Review

american animalsSee it. 7.5/10

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.

American Animals comes from director Bart Layton, whose most famous piece of work is the 2012 documentary The Imposter which still remains one of the best documentaries to have come out in recent years. Translating those same skills from a documentary background, it’s refreshing to see Bart Layton’s experience give his latest piece American Animals, an original and different dynamic to most films that are based on true events.

The story follows the life of Spencer, who after getting into Transylvania University, notices that there is an on-campus library that boasts a variety of extremely rare books. His slightly unhinged friend Warren devises a plan to steal the books and sell them on the black market for money. Similar to a technique that featured in the film I, Tonya, which used reenactments of interviews from real-life people involved in the biographical-drama, American Animals takes it a step further by including interviews with real-life people that were actually involved in the heist to drive the story.

This is an interesting narrative device because with any retellings of events, human’s memories are subjective and as such remain limited to showing the truth to the eye of the beholder. Bart Layton takes advantage of this by taking moments where the interviewees don’t agree on how events unfolded, to show different sides of the same story. This effect not only builds characterization but also brings about moments of comedy at how different people viewed the events that unfolded.

Another different element that helps to blur this line between documentary and fictional crime drama, is the heavyweight actors who play two of the four boys in the reenactment. Most notably is Evan Peters who plays “mastermind” Warren. His previous work in TV series American Horror Story and as the unconventional mutant Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past and Apocalypse, sets him up as the perfect person to play Warren. Warren came up with the plan for the heist by watching famous heist films, and his wild stories and set-ups to meet potential dealers who can help get rid of the books is portrayed perfectly by Evan Peters as he manages to carefully straddle that line between sanity and crazy.

Playing the more level-headed but easily influenced Spencer is Barry Keoghan who often plays troubled characters in heavy dramas like The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Dunkirk. This is a slightly different character for him, as Spencer is simply bored with life when he decides to jump onboard Warren’s crazy plan. Nevertheless, Barry Keoghan manages to capture perfectly Spencer’s guilty conscience as the day of the heist draws closer, and his hopes for something will go wrong become more prudent.

Bart Layton takes an incredible, crazy true story and turns it into an entertaining piece of modern cinema with a unique approach to presentation. He not only captures the bizarreness of the wild situations that the characters are put in but also makes a comment on people and their questionable recollection of events from memory. Bart Layton uses a range of techniques such as including the real-life people involved in the story and rewinding the film to retell situations from different perspectives that make the film fun to watch.

American Animals is an original story, told in an original way, and well worth taking the time to view it. See it.