The Greatest Showman

Year: 2017
Directed By: Michael Gracey
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II 

Written by Fiona Underhill

Perhaps it is fitting to conclude 2017 with a film simultaneously both awful and fantastic. Truly dreadful wigs, bizarre CGI, catchy songs, Zac & Zendaya – ‘The Greatest Showman’ really does have it all. A passion project of Hugh Jackman’s; this movie has been in gestation for at least a decade, to the extent that I’m surprised he didn’t take the directorial reins himself. Instead, we have the inexperienced Michael Gracey – whose IMDb credits are mostly visual effects and art department – which is….intriguing once you’ve seen ‘The Greatest Showman’. There are rumours that ‘Logan’s’ James Mangold had to come to the rescue on ‘The Greatest Showman’ and this certainly makes sense of the tonal and editing inconsistencies. Hugh Jackman has certainly had quite the year: starting with an Oscar-worthy turn in Logan and ending with this.

I sound as if I’m being really negative about this film and while it is a trashy mess, I will say that I immediately wanted to watch the whole thing again once it was over. For those going to the cinema expecting an historically accurate biopic of PT Barnum will be sorely disappointed. This being a glitzy, feel-good musical, it certainly glosses over the fact that Barnum was not the ‘saviour of the down-trodden and oppressed’ as portrayed here. In fact, his real-life treatment of the disabled people, people of colour and animals who populated his ‘freak shows’ left much to be desired. He certainly exploited them (even after their deaths) and presented them as exotic curiosities, simply for being ‘foreign’ or outside of the Victorian norm. Barnum’s exaggeration and manipulation of certain characteristics is touched on in the film, but much more could have been made of one man constructing a reality to fit the bigoted viewpoint of the audience. The parallels with another purveyor of fake news and the invention of show business and celebrity could have been an interesting exploration, but instead we have a paper-thin musical.

IF you can choose to view ‘The Greatest Showman’ simply as a fictional fantasy, there is something to enjoy here. I am not above being excited by the sight of Zac Efron in a ringmaster’s costume and delighting in seeing him singing and dancing again. His duet with Hugh Jackman, when they make a business deal in a bar, punctuated by the rhythmic downing of shots is a thrilling spectacle. Zendaya is magnificent as a pink-haired flying trapeze artist, who shares another delightful duet with Zac. The casting of Michelle Williams, however, is so glaringly erroneous it lept out, even in the trailer. We are supposed to accept that Williams and Jackman (who have a 12 year age-gap) are the same age (they are portrayed as childhood sweethearts), she is donned in a long blonde wig and given a thankless task of a role. A total waste of Williams’ acting talents.

The songs are cheesy but catchy and I have sought them out since seeing the film. Some of the choices made in this film are so bizarre though; like the casting of Hugh Jackman as his own boss for no apparent reason in a short scene. Rebecca Ferguson is cast (in another terrible wig) as a singer who Barnum inexplicably takes on tour across the country, getting into yet more debt. Another dubious casting choice, when apparently she did not do her own singing.

Frankly, thinking back on this film is giving me a headache. It is a frustrating mess, with much to mock. However, I do admit to being swept along with some of the musical numbers and circus scenes. Keala Settle’s barn-storming performance as Lettie Lutz – The Bearded Lady, leading her troop in a rousing number did stir something inside me. So, ultimately I have to accept that a large part of me enjoyed ‘The Greatest Showman’, because after all THIS IS ME.

Fiona’s Rating: 6.0/10

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Pitch Perfect 3

Year: 2017
Directed by: Trish Sie
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp

Written by Livia Peterson

The Bellas are back for one final time! The ‘Pitch Perfect’ franchise has steadily endured franchise fatigue for the past five years and now their allegedly final tour definitely proved that the ladies are more than ready to return to reality and ditch the acapella dreams forever.

The Barden University student Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) reunites the Bellas, involving Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick), Patricia “Fat Amy” Hobart (Rebel Wilson), Chloe Beale (Brittany Snow), Aubrey Posen (Anna Camp), Lilly Onakurama (Hana Mae Lee), Cynthia-Rose Adams (Esther Dean), and Florencia “Flo” Fuentes (Chrissie Fit). Aubrey reveals the United Service Organization (USO) performance tour and if the group wins, they are able to open for DJ Khaled and the Bellas all agree to travel to Europe to compete to have one last victory. Upon arrival, the Bellas initiate a riff off with several bands competing for the prize. Of course, the Bellas perform acapella covers to demonstrate to the competition that they definitely deserve the triumphs regardless of the obstacles. While Gail-Abernathy-McKadden-Feinberger (Elizabeth Banks) and John Smith (John Michael Higgins) document and provide commentary, regarding the Bellas lives, the significant unnecessary subplot involves Fat Amy’s father Fergus (John Lithgow) re-entering her life and eventually betraying in return in more ways than one.

Jason Moore’s ‘Pitch Perfect’ boasts a brilliant and groundbreaking female driven narrative. Yet, the sequels – the second instalment helmed by Elizabeth Banks and the third and perhaps, final instalment directed by Trish Sie frequently feel more of the same without much return for the audience. Fat Amy still delivers the comic relief in the midst of Becca being the star of the show. The remaining Bellas are left in the background due to the story largely focusing on three primary, fully developed characters: Beca, Fat Amy, and more or less, Emily. It is indeed too difficult to resonate and root for the background characters when Beca and Fat Amy are always vying for one’s attention, whether it is leading the ladies in song and Fat Amy acting foolish. To add to the mess, the ladies have become stereotypes and one would consider this is a feminist film. The initial instalment absolutely praises feminism through acapella and yet, most characters are one dimensional, excluding the aforementioned three women here.

With lacklustre performances from the cast, and the music bordering on being intolerable, there are no redeeming factors for the Bellas this time round.  ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ checks all the bullet points of the predecessors, just to ensure audience approval and satisfaction. Not even an original song was written for this film. The only original song ‘Flashlight’, written by Jessie J, is featured in the second instalment. Indeed, the final instalment feels more like a live concert than a motion picture. If you’re craving a musical of some sort, resort the original or ‘The Greatest Showman’. Ultimately, ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ is a prime example of a money grab – regurgitating the previous two narratives and adding slight changes.

Whereas the first instalment possesses contagious energy, ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ completely lost the sparkle that made it magical in the first place. ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ retained some of the enchantment, if not neglected most of it along the way. ‘Pitch Perfect’ is the best out of the three even though the sequels attempted to surpass it with little success. Just goes to show sequels are not always necessary, especially for original content that should be left alone. Despite the Bellas being akin to a family, ‘Pitch Perfect 3’ indicates a possible spin-off as Beca becoming as a solo artist being hinted at during the conclusion. As if we asked for another ‘Pitch Perfect’ outing, assuming it is successful at the box office.

Aca-goodbye, ladies.

Livia’s Rating: 2.5/10

All The Money In The World

Year: 2017
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michelle Williams, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Charlie Plummer

Written by Jessica Peña

What a treat it is to get Ridley Scott’s latest, ‘All the Money in the World,’ in the US on Christmas Day. I found a great deal of adoration in this film. Bouncing back from a major derailment, the film is a robust drama with powerful performances by its lead ensemble. It’s hard to form an expectation going into the film. Rest assured, Ridley Scott secured an impressive outcome.

‘All the Money in the World’ tells of the real life 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty III, grandson to the richest man in the world, J. Paul Getty, the egocentric oil tycoon. The story follows Gail Getty (Michelle Williams) as she desperately tries to get her son back safely. A ransom of $17 million is put up for Paul’s return, and to the shock of the world, J. Paul Getty Sr. blatantly refuses. A man of lavish assets and an obsessive appreciation of old artefacts, he explains that the easy payment would bring all 14 of his grandchildren to be kidnapped. The stern J. Paul Getty will not stand for his money to be thrown away like that. For having expressed great love for Paul Getty III specifically, he is quite the selfish soul.

Scott’s latest film is a powerhouse with near perfect form, but I know what you really came here for. So let’s cut to the chase. Christopher Plummer crushes. The veteran actor proves himself to be an even more believable J. Paul Getty than what a prosthetic Kevin Spacey would’ve been. With just two months before release, news broke of sexual assault allegations made against Kevin Spacey. Immediately, the actor has since been blacklisted by Hollywood and much of the world, hopefully. There’s no denying that the outrage has circled ‘All the Money in the World’ with much attention and anticipation. It’s put a spotlight on Ridley Scott’s following move. From initial trailers, there was always something cringy about those pounds of makeup on Spacey. With all things considered, we still wonder what the Spacey final cut looks like. His work usually comes off very defined with sarcastic undertones, but having re-shot a total of twenty-two scenes with Plummer, Ridley Scott has welcomed in a much more sincere charisma to J. Paul Getty.

Reportedly Scott’s first choice for the role, Plummer was called in immediately following a 48 hour decision to recast. Scott is quoted expressing his decision to push the film forward and not risk failure. He wanted the work of the cast and crew to be honored and not damaged by Spacey’s involvement in the project. The shift is almost seamless. There is a brief, somewhat obvious scene where J. Paul Getty is in the desert attending to his oil business where Plummer was green screened in. Scott had nine 18 hour days to get his ducks in a row, and it is well worth the effort. Adapted from John Pearson’s book, ‘Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty’, this film sets up some serious examination of the wealthy man, but doesn’t completely make it about him. It was great to see a film that involved more than one calculated story.

Believe it or not, Michelle Williams carries this film so well. As Gail Getty is put through an enormous amount of stress and finds herself battling her father-in-law to pay up, Williams delivers stellar aggression as a woman who knows how to stick it to the richest man in the world. When J. Paul Getty refuses to pay the ransom, Gail is quick to put in efforts to rescue her son. She doesn’t settle to being paid out and silent in all of this. Being married into the Getty family proves be a battle in itself. Williams graces it with her Oscar-worthy energy. Mark Wahlberg is exceptional to the narrative as Getty Sr.’s business manager and ex-CIA agent, Fletcher Chase. We don’t see an award-winning Wahlberg, but Fletcher Chase grows a little in realizing just how selfish the great oilman really is. Charlie Plummer, no relation to Christopher, is certainly worth the attention as the 16-year-old, J. Paul Getty III. His performance cements him as a promising young actor. Let’s keep a little eye on him moving forward.

Let us not overlook Romain Duris, a French actor who plays one of the Italian kidnappers. His character has somewhat of a gratifying story. Interacting with Paul Getty III throughout the time they have him, we see a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome unravel. The story has its spectacular character moments there and in Gail Getty’s perseverance. Where it feels it should pick up momentum in its third act, it instead sits on murky exposition. Luckily, it wakes up in no time and closes off as a solid drama that was much better than I had expected.

From an opening shot that nods to Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita,’ to the gruesome cutting of an ear, ‘All the Money in the World’ manages to pull off a great technical achievement despite its publicized setback. It is a well grounded film that helps close 2017 on a strong note. It delves into what having all the money in the world does to someone and how it affects the children of the family. It deserves to be applauded for more than it’s magic trick of reshoots. The genius of it all is rooted from Ridley Scott’s impeccable direction.

Jessica’s Rating: 7.8 out of 10

Coco

Year: 2017
Directed by: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina (co-director)
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Jaime Camil

Written by Jessica Peña

Pixar Animation Studios lets us escape once more. It’s easy to relish in the studio’s latest film, ‘Coco,’ which exudes rich, cultural delicacies of tradition and music. It’s rejuvenating to see a shift into diversity in one of the year’s biggest animated films. Lee Unkrich, with the help of co-director Adrian Molina, brings Mexican culture to the spotlight in such a graceful and energetic fashion.

It’s a story about afterlife and legacy, as much as it is music and tradition. Miguel Rivera comes from a family that holds an ancestral grudge against music after a member of their family seemingly disowns them for a life of glamour and fame as a musician. Even on the Day of the Dead, his family insists he take up a special role in their long-running shoe making business. Miguel is a musician at heart and it sways him enough to confront his family and run off to compete in the town’s talent show. His idol, the late, great Ernesto de la Cruz, is what keeps Miguel fighting for the chance to prove himself to his family that music is the melody of his life. With the honoring of the dead, crowded festivities lead him to find de la Cruz’s guitar. With a strum of the dusty guitar, Miguel is suddenly transported to the Land of the Dead. He meets trickster skeleton, Hector, voiced by ‘Mozart in The Jungle’s’ Gael García Bernal.

Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is the Mexican holiday in which friends and family gather to pray and remember their deceased loved ones. It is celebrated to help support the dead in their spiritual afterlife journey. ‘Coco’ is so very enthusiastic in the way it educates us and presents it in the style of childlike dreams. The pictures on the “ofrendas,” and the use of neon-lit “alebrijes,” as the spiritual, whimsical animals that guide the dead and scare away evil, really breath life into an animation that one would at first dub as “a little kid’s movie.” ‘Coco’ quickly becomes something much more than that after its midpoint. With a patient first half, the film soars into storytelling momentum and we see a young boy take brave steps to secure creative freedom for himself and an understanding of how important it is to honor your family’s love and memory.

‘Coco’ is a colorful visual achievement that celebrates culture and legacy in a way that is enjoyable for all generations of viewers. The importance of family and tradition is very much ingrained into Mexican culture, and it’s beautifully represented in this film. A warm color palette with strikingly beautiful cool tones balances the film. To watch ‘Coco’ is like taking a walk through real Mexican towns and fiestas at night. It is the collaboration of many artists that create the boundless architecture of The Land of the Dead. Layer over layer, Pixar imagines and displays a fluorescent and neon land where our Miguel journeys through for most of the story. Even his walk across the marigold bridge in the other land is so wonderfully lit. I sat in awe as I was transported to a vibrant land that I know my eight-year-old sister beside me was marveling at as well.

The family dynamic toward the end really pulls on those heartstrings. This animated film has a way of reeling in a lesson so pure and close to the heart, it drives the story back home for the win. I found myself relating to its Hispanic culture charm that makes it all so refreshing to watch. In a way, this PG-rated voyage connects us to its adoration for the arts. ‘Coco’ is a colorful visual achievement that celebrates culture and legacy in a way that is enjoyable for all generations of viewers.

Jessica’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10

 

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Home Again

Year: 2017
Directed by: Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Starring: Reece Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Candice Bergen, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky.  

Written by Andrew Garrison

I wasn’t compelled to see this film, but it seemed wholesome enough to give a chance to. This is one of those films that you see coming and know exactly what you are getting –  a mature romantic comedy with some feel-good moments, a silly plot with three guys and a girl living together. Predictable, but enjoyable. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that, but there are plenty of movies of the same style and context. What separates this from other films? I engage it to find out.

‘Home Again’ is about a single middle-aged woman (Reece Witherspoon) who feels trapped in her life with an estranged father and two young girls to care for. She winds up having a presumed one-night stand with an attractive young man, but complications arise. Now the three young men are living with her as they have nowhere else to go, and sure enough, things escalate into a full-blown romantic comedy.

The fact is, there isn’t anything terrible about this film,  although one could use the term
cookie-cutter comedy to define it. The acting is serviceable enough, but nobody in this film should be nominated for an Oscar because of their work here. Things fall into place much too easily, one would expect more apprehension and conflict especially early on, but it all gets swept under the rug, which is unrealistic. I believe there are nice young men in the world who would be respectful, mature, and docile enough to make this work. However, the chances of finding three of them and having them stay at your home without serious issues. Too much fantasy in that. While all the characters are likable to a point, you have a lot of familiar roles. The out-of- touch and insensitive dad, the sensitive more wholesome guy, and the attractive more self-centred personality, and let’s not forget the wishy-washy middle-age woman who gets frazzled easily. You have seen this all before and will surely see it again as soon as next year.

I’m ripping on the film for its overused elements, but there are some aspects to appreciate. It remembers to be a light-hearted comedy with a few laughs sprinkled in throughout. There could have been more, but the humour and the characters were likable enough to keep me engaged in the film from start to finish.

Without spoiling much, there are some mature themes to the film. From dealing with a divided family to the messy romantic nature of a film with three young men staying with a woman in need of some comfort, support, and reliability. It hits all those emotional strings you would expect from a rom-com, but with limited eye-rolling which I was thankful for. The ending wraps everything into a nice package, but doesn’t end as predictable as it could have. It was a more modern and frankly refreshing conclusion in that sense.

Also, as an older millennial, it is refreshing to see my generation be portrayed as conflicted, ambitious, but good-natured human beings. People who are capable of being decent all the while pursuing their dreams. A welcome change compared to the bulk of raunchy over-the-top comedies filled with atrocious human beings which is trending in Hollywood now. Also, let me give a quick shout out to both young female actresses for their work in this one. I found the youngest daughter, Rosie, played by Eden Grace Redfield to be delightful with nearly every line she speaks.

In the end, the film gives you exactly what you expected. A comedic romp mixed in with
some classic silly romantic entanglements. All of it wrapped up in a nice package in roughly 90 minutes of time. It isn’t an Oscar worthy comedy, but it is inoffensive, feel-good, Hollywood cheese one can sit back and relax with. If it has an upside, it is the willingness to approach an unusual situation in a modern and mature light, and showcasing millennials as decent human beings. A middle ground comedy with some upside and that’s just fine.

ANDREW’S RATING: 6.4/10

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Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Year: 2017
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Gwendoline Christie, Domhnall Gleeson, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro.

WRITTEN BY CHRIS GELDERD

This 2017 American sci-fi fantasy is written and directed by Rian Johnson and is the sequel to 2015s ‘The Force Awakens’, the second of the New Trilogy and ninth in the overall Star Wars saga.

Following the destruction of Starkiller Base at the hands of the Resistance led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), the brave heroes find themselves mercilessly hunted by the First Order under the command of General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).

As the Resistance attempts to survive the First Order, young Jedi in training Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeks the help of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to join the fight and defeat Snoke and his powerful apprentice, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

Emotions will be pushed to breaking point as Rey discovers shocking truths about key fighters in the Resistance and First Order, and Luke Skywalker himself, which will force everyone to question just where their destiny lies within the galaxy and which side of the fight they are truly on…

I’m going to say it from the off here – I walked out of the midnight showing of ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘The Last Jedi’ a little disappointed. Not for J.J. Abrams’ thrill ride, but for the new episode from writer/director Rian Johnson. ‘The Last Jedi’ is a blend of all that works from the prequels and original trilogy, but sadly lots that doesn’t. The result is a film that delivers on the most part, but stumbles along the way and gives, I think, little payoff for a film that should offer more resolutions than headaches.

Maybe I will feel different on the second viewing with a clearer head? Or maybe that’s me as an avid Star Wars fan desperate to find more in this blockbuster than I originally found.

We are catapulted into the fall-out from ‘The Force Awakens’ in a typical Star-Warsy narrative that is tried and tested; a number of stories running parallel that converge at the end. The late Carrie Fisher has far more to do this time around leading the Resistance again as General Leia Organa. Oscar Isaac is back as passionate pilot Poe along with John Boyega as Finn and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran as Rose, a maintenance worker for the Resistance. It is this group, along with Laura Dern as the ‘is she good / is she bad?’ Admiral Holdo, that are the ones scrabbling around trying to simultaneously fight against and flee from the First Order.

On the other hand, we have Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker seeking to understand each other, the Force and the state of the galaxy at war. On the OTHER other hand, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren and Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux ham it up for all it’s worth as the brash, short-fused, volatile but merciless First Order agents.

As you can see, it’s a busy narrative with lots of new and old characters, new planets, species and technology. And as you suspect, there is a lot of waste and a lot of back and forth that messes up the flow. The Resistance has a lazy plot that revolves around breaking a secret code on-board the biggest Star Destroyer in the First Order fleet to allow their ships to flee. So much time is spent on this task that is made out to be much easier to do than it really should be, giving Boyega, Tran and co. reasons to forge relationships and run around on the very prequel-esque digital world of Cantonica and Canto Bight. It detracts from the main flow of the story and is very digital, compared to the practical worlds of Takodana and Jakku from ‘The Force Awakens.’

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The CGI here and throughout is very noticeable. It’s not 100% polished, but because there is so much it’s far easier to spot. From Snoke’s digital body to dozens of new alien species and much more gravity/physics defying action, it reminded me more of the flamboyant CGI of the prequels than the restrained, minimal CGI J.J. Abrams introduced us to. As I said, some of the prequel material worked, much didn’t. ‘The Last Jedi’ plays out like a new modern entry wrapped up in a prequel skin.

It’s a busy film, and the secondary narrative detracts from what we are here to see – the return of Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker and his relationship with Rey. We get this and more, and it’s wonderful. A highlight of the film is seeing the two bicker, argue try to understand each other, exploring lore from the past and touching on the future. Hamill is not the Jedi we last saw on Endor, but a world-weary, scared and bitter hermit questioning his own existence and the Force itself. He draws us into his story and the spark between him and Ridley grips you, wondering just who is right and who is wrong.

And on the subject of Luke; his Porgs. Not as annoying as you’d expect, and rather amusing in a restrained way. They are NOT the new Ewoks, believe me, and the best of the various digital creatures we have here (the Canto Bight ones truly pointless if you ask me).

But with constant interjections from a slightly boring Resistance story, it becomes frustrating being drip-fed so much about Luke, Rey and Kylo that while it is electric to watch, Johnson doesn’t offer clear resolutions to questions raised in 2015. I felt short-changed by many outcomes, and annoyed at what seemed to be a waste of established material. To be honest, at times I didn’t know if I was watching the middle of a trilogy or the end of one. As both stories crank up to converge, my mind’s eye saw ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ blended with ‘Return Of The Jedi’ in a mish-mash of sequences that, while hitting the humour, emotion and action just right, were just too rushed and hap-hazard to take in. Even the Battle Of Hoth-esque finale  (spot the Gareth Edwards solider cameo!) is pretty boring, un-eventful and jammed with digital creations that I was turning off even when a certain character brushed his shoulder off. It felt too much, too late.

I was seeing things I didn’t want to see happen. Outcomes I didn’t want to witness. Characters go when I couldn’t see a reason for.  The film itself is immersive, don’t get me wrong. There are some really beautiful shots and really tender, well executed moments developing our heroes and villains. I just felt the outcomes were either cheap or rushed.  Even the score by John Williams is devoid of anything standout, and the only motifs that roused me were ones recycled from the Original Trilogy for a truly sentimental impact.

You can see, I am torn, and I’m annoyed that a Star Wars film has made me feel like this especially following such a blistering opening chapter.

As I said, I felt the trilogy was wrapping up towards the end of this. It was strange. Where will they go from here? J.J. Abrams needs to really add something new to ‘Episode IX’ because questions and motives are still clouded and over-looked all for dramatic effect, and opportunities have been missed. While I buy into this new galaxy and always will be an avid fan, I need more to invest in for this current battle between good and evil to give me chills the way that all closing chapters should. Because to me it feels Johnson has peaked the trilogy far too soon.

CHRIS’ RATING: 5.0/10.

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Last Flag Flying

Year: 2017 (UK: 2018)
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Carell, 

Written by Jessica Peña

We can always count on Richard Linklater to project the sincerity of human conversation onto the big screen for the world to marvel at. His unrested love for his characters is truly moving, and he manages to do it again in his latest film, ‘Last Flag Flying.’ Set in 2003, the film follows three aging Vietnam-era Navy vets as they embark on a sentimental roadtrip across states accompanying one to bury his son after being killed overseas. Supplemented with ideas from Darryl Ponicsan’s novel and Hal Ashby’s 1973 film, ‘The Last Detail,’ Linklater co-wrote the screenplay with Ponicsan to craft a story that brings us the same kind of originality as its spiritual predecessor film.

Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) decides to reunite with his two old marine friends, Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston), and Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), in hopes they will accompany him to his son’s funeral. It’s not until Larry and Sal have dinner at Richard’s home that he informs them of the reason for his visits. We find out that Larry’s wife passed away just earlier that year due to breast cancer. He also tells them that his son, Larry Jr., joined the Marine Corps a year ago, and was recently informed that his son had been killed in combat during the Iraq War.

I would hate to review a Linklater film and not give deep thought to his characters; they tell you the story! While we are not given a justifiable arc in this film, Carrell, Cranston, and Fishbourne drive these personalities and hold the film solid. The story is as much of a comedy as it is a drama. We see old war buddies yank each other’s leg about aging, old habits, and good times from the past. The film has the background of tragedy tied to its comedic forefront. It offers sensitive attention to Larry’s hardships, as well as lighthearted fun.

Cranston nails it as the foul-mouthed and boozy tough guy who just aches to kick it like he did in his younger years. His performance as Sal is as impeccable as Jack Nicholson’s Billy “Badass” Buddusky in ‘The Last Detail.’ Carell gives a somber energy to Larry that eventually becomes more lively as his pals don’t let the travesties engulf him. Larry is dealt an unfortunate hand in life, but is given a chance to comfortably deal with his loss while finding little joys to ease his pain. Fishbourne is hilarious in his own right and offers up a great performance as a former marine who used to overindulge his time with women as well as booze. His recent years brought him to seek God and it takes a determined Sal to bring ole’ “Mueller the Mauler” back out. The trio of actors command the screen and even in enclosed spaces like cars, hotel rooms, and train stations, they live up to the dialogue of Linklater; an honest and intimate human reflection.

In a group Q&A at the New York Film Festival premiere, Cranston spoke on dealing with grief and how the comedic relief plays in the film. In ‘Last Flag Flying,’ Larry found a way to naturally laugh and relish in the beautiful memory of his fallen son. Truth and honesty are demanded in parts of the film where true heroism was in question. The politics of war are slightly examined in this adult dramedy. It’s a film that explores the real things we fight for and the way a war can define a person’s character. It’s a pleasant little road trip that brings us along with these old friends.

Linklater’s devotion to humanist ideas and thoughtful dialogues in film never rests. It helps sustain ‘Last Flag Flying’ in a way that is both heartfelt and honest. He continues to soar as a big time director with such grace put into his films. He is keen on making time itself a character in his films. Time has the ability to change people and Linklater plays it to the advantage of the loose narrative here. He uses this property to tap into characters’ lives from their memories and bring them forward to tell their stories. ‘Last Flag Flying’ lets us breathe and indulge in the feel-good moments that remind us that everything will be okay.

Jessica’s Rating: 7.0/10

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The Disaster Artist

Year: 2017
Directed by: James Franco
Starring: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron. 

Written by Sarah Buddery

The concept for ‘The Disaster Artist’ isn’t exactly the easiest to explain, especially to those with no prior knowledge of the source material which inspired it, the best bad movie of all time, ‘The Room’. I count myself as one of the millions of diehard fans of ‘The Room’, being as vocal as I can be about how much I love it at every given opportunity. The short story is ‘The Disaster Artist’ is a film based on the book of the same name written by Greg Sestero, who starred in the “the ‘Citizen Kane of bad movies”, ‘The Room’, and who knows the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau better than anyone; Wiseau of course being the producer, director and star of ‘The Room’, brought to life in this film by James Franco.

Complicated spiel aside, it is worth mentioning that it is impossible to tackle this review without talking at least a little bit about what ‘The Room’ means to me; I am after all, the person who with all sincerity had this film higher than ‘The Last Jedi’ in terms of most anticipated!

The very fact that this film exists is a miracle. Considering ‘The Room’ made approximately $1800 on its opening weekend, and had it not been for the rabid group of fans who turned it into a genuine cult hit, it would’ve faded into nothingness. In many ways this feels like the culmination of everything Wiseau had wanted when he made his film. That money Tommy spent on keeping it in theatres long enough to qualify for the Academy Awards, might finally be about to pay off, in the weirdest, most wonderfully meta way possible; rather fitting for the incomparable Wiseau.

Pinpointing the moment in which ‘The Room’ went from woeful obscurity to genuine cult phenomenon isn’t easy, and it’s overwhelming popularity will undoubtedly baffle many. In fact, the reviews on Letterboxd are almost entirely an equal split between 1 stars and 5 stars, and I don’t doubt ‘The Disaster Artist’ will be divisive, although perhaps not so extreme.

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As the most biased person in the world, ‘The Disaster Artist’ is an absolute masterpiece; captivating and hilarious in the most unexpected of ways, and with a warmth and honesty that was not anticipated. Arguably as divisive a person as the man he is portraying, James Franco is the perfect person for this film, both in playing Tommy and in mirroring the “triple threat” of actor/producer/director. In real life, Franco’s recent films and projects have been experimental, and generally not too critically well-received. He is a man who plays by his own rules, and this is everything that Wiseau embodies as well.

The fact that Franco’s performance as Tommy is a thing of total and complete perfection, is really just the icing on the cake. The way Franco entirely disappears into the character is astonishing to watch; nailing Wiseau’s untraceable accent, and especially his monotone laugh, the transformation is eerily accurate. Whilst aided by some prosthetics, the physical transformation is just incredible; everything down to Tommy’s slightly squinted left eye is completely perfect. As someone who has met Tommy (an experience in itself!), the only person who could’ve been more Tommy, is Tommy himself and this is a real testament to Franco’s performance. What he manages in this film is nothing short of remarkable and it would be an incredibly unjust world if he didn’t see some awards attention.

Whilst he might not be in the conversation to receive the same accolades, Dave Franco also deserves praise for his performance as Greg Sestero; Tommy’s co-star in ‘The Room’, best friend, and of course the author of the ‘Disaster Artist’ book. He might not be the most physically accurate Greg Sestero, but he has the “babyface” charm and the undeniable chemistry with Wiseau that is essential for making the central relationship work. Undoubtedly helped by being brothers in real life, the pair light up the screen together and are a total joy to watch. Having read (and obsessed over) Greg’s book, some adjustments have been made, but the strongest theme from the book is more than evident in the film. At its core, this is a story about friendship, about aiming big, and striving to achieve your goals no matter how many people tell you “no”, and ‘The Disaster Artist’ manages to put this across in a way that is as charming as it is hilarious.  

It would be easy to make Tommy a figure for mockery and ridicule, but the film manages to capture that naivety that makes him so genuinely endearing, which ensures we’re almost constantly laughing with him and not at him. It is admirable also that the film doesn’t shy away from the complicated facets of Tommy’s personality. In a film where there is obvious and genuine admiration for the source material, it would have been natural to place him on some kind of pedestal, but whilst Tommy does come off well in the end, it equally doesn’t hide from the crazy and downright outrageous behaviour, and the notoriety Wiseau gained from his cast and crew in the disastrous filming of ‘The Room’.

Of course, it would be a catastrophic failure if this film wasn’t also totally hilarious, but the laughs come thick, fast and consistently, particularly as the film shifts into the actual making of ‘The Room’. The painstakingly accurate recreations of its well-loved scenes and moments are especially entertaining, and it is also in these moments that the supporting cast really shine. Seth Rogen and Paul Scheer are particularly excellent as the suffering crew members dealing with Tommy, and Zac Efron arguably steals the entire show as bit-part Chris R.

The phenomenon of ‘The Room’ might still be a mystery to many, and whilst ‘The Disaster Artist’ probably won’t change that viewpoint, it is still the most perfect and unexpected surprise in this unbelievable Hollywood fairytale. This is in so many ways everything that Tommy had wanted. He was the man with the big dreams, who made a terrible movie, which then captured the hearts of millions and was deemed a story incredible enough to become its own book and subsequent movie. Now genuinely poised for awards success, and with Wiseau and Sestero slowly becoming household names, the dream is coming true. The power of ‘The Room’ lives on, against all odds, and the story of a film considered a masterpiece of bad-filmmaking, is a masterpiece all on its own.

Oh hai Oscars.

SARAH’S RATING: 10/10

(and be sure to check out Sarah’s review of Tommy and Greg’s latest film ‘Best F(r)iends‘)

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Suburbicon

Year: 2017
Directed by: George Clooney
Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe, Oscar Isaac

Written by Tom Sheffield

George Clooney returns to the director’s chair once again for a trip back to the 1950’s in ‘Suburbicon’, which was written by the Coen Brothers. With Matt Damon and Julianne Moore as the leads, things were looking promising, even though the trailer left me a little confused as to what genre the film was trying to plant itself in.

But were Clooney, Damon, Moore, and the Coens a winning formula? Unfortunately not… The pieces for success were all there, but unfortunately they just didn’t come together for this film.

Suburbicon is a family-centred utopia in which Gardner Lodge (Damon) and his family live. One night, robbers break into Gardner Lodge’s (Damon) home and tie up his wife, Rose (Moore), her twin sister Margaret (also Moore), and his son Nicky (Jupe). The robbers chloroform the family, and when they wake up they learn the devastating news that Rose has died. The story then delves into why the robbers went to the Lodge’s household that night and we learn that appearances can be deceiving.

I’ll keep this relatively spoiler-free for those of you who want to watch the film, but it must be said that I think the trailer actually showed us all the only decent parts of the film, and it also doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out the obvious incoming plot twist. It has to be said, Damon, Moore, and Noah Jupe (who plays Damon’s son) are all fantastic in their respective roles, which only increases my disappointment with this film. Jupe in particular gave a very career promising performance, and perhaps my favourite of the film.

The film was marketed as a comedy, and whilst it does have a couple funny moments, it doesn’t contain enough to call itself one, and here-in lies my biggest gripe with the film. I went in expecting a comedy with a darker sense humour with a dash of mystery, and what I watched was, well… none of the above. The film fails to actually nail a genre and I left the cinema genuinely questioning what it was I just watched. The screenplay dips it’s toe into multiple territories, but it never fully submerges itself into one, meaning you’re often left wondering if something was meant to make you laugh, or if a rather obvious reveal was supposed to actually be a surprise.

Another gripe I have with the film revolves around the fact the plot puts focus on the first African-American family that move into Suburbicon, much to the other resident’s dismay. We are frequently shown scenes of the horrors this family suffer at the hands of their racist neighbours, who constantly rally outside of their house to try and force them out of the neighbourhood. This sub-plot doesn’t really seem to fit in with the rest of the film though, and its addition in the film is also a contributing factor as to why I left the cinema confused. I sat there thinking that witnessing the horrible daily struggles this family are put through would lead to some sort of pay off at the end, but there is none and it’s incredibly disappointing. I feel like I might have missed something here? But from the general consensus amongst other reviewers, it appears my thoughts reflect the majority of theirs when it comes to these scenes.

Don’t get me wrong, the film does have its watchable scenes, especially Oscar Isaacs’s brilliant but brief appearance in a couple of them, and I’ll happily admit that my eyes were well and truly glued to the screen for the final couple of scenes. But the poor script and direction really resulted in an underwhelming film that truly did have potential to deliver a dark comedy.

To wrap this review up, I think I’d recommend catching ‘Suburbicon’ in the comfort of your own home when it’s released on DVD or streamable somewhere. It’s an okay watch at best, but with it failing to figure out what kind of film it’s trying to be, it may leave you confused and annoyed.

Tom’s Rating: 3.0/10

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