Sunday, 13 August 2017

A Ghost Story - review

On paper, and even in reality, A Ghost Story should not work. 90 minutes of Terrence Malick-esque meditation on death featuring Oscar-winner Casey Affleck in a sheet and a scene where Rooney Mara spends over five minutes silently eating an entire pie. It is the sort of thing that will alienate a lot of viewers. It certainly did in the screening I was in.

However, just as there are some people unwilling to believe in life after death, for those who are able to open up their minds to the possibility of something other than exists upon this mortal coil, A Ghost Story offers one of the most beautiful, moving and haunting (pun intended) films of the year.

Shot in 1:33 Academy ratio, writer-director David Lowry takes a look at the effect death has on a couple played by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck (the later whom suddenly passes away), leaving Mara to grieve as Affleck returns to their shared abode in a plain white sheet that initially draws comparisons to Michael Myers in Halloween and E.T.'s Halloween costume in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.

Yet Affleck is able to bring so much (after) life to the sheet and you can feel, just from his body language, how it is feeling at any time.

For a film called A Ghost Story, there are surprisingly few horror movie tropes. At no point (well nearly none) does the ghost appear out of nowhere signalled by a sudden crash of a piano.

That is because interestingly the focus of the film is from the perspective of the ghost rather than the loved ones, with the transition coming during the most talked about cinema scene involving pie since American Pie... Or The Help!

The aforementioned scene has proved too much for many to stomach (the character included) as Rooney Mara attempts to fill the hole left behind by eating an entire pie from start to finish. The scene last over five minutes and initially may seem slightly on the absurd side but as it went on I found it oddly compelling and when a large chunk of the pie crust fell on the floor I became obsessed with knowing if she would pick it up and eat it.

Just like the leftover crumb, "it is always harder for the one left behind" and in this respect that applies to the ghost who must witness his former partner move on from him; first with another lover and then moving out of the house, leaving him to wander the rooms waiting to complete his unfinished business which is linked to a secret note hidden by Mara's character and destined to become a Macguffin as hotly debated as what Bill Murray whispers as at the end of Lost In Translation.

The ghost is certainly unlikely to find himself in high spirits as he contends with the greatest enemy to us all. Not loss but time. Time catches up with us all. Forced to spend an eternity in that spot, he witnesses other people come and go in the house and developing his powers to influence the lighting and objects within his domain in an almost impotent rage. Grief can outlast even bricks and mortar as the house decays around him but time eventually can heal all wounds and offer a second chance, which is where Lowry's story begins to converge on similar themes to Nolan's Interstellar.

So just as the ghost is emotionally tied to the house he shared with his love, A Ghost Story will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.

5 stars

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Top 5: Edinburgh International Film Festival

Last month I was lucky enough to host some Q&As at the Edinburgh International Film Festival including Daphne and This Beautiful Fantastic.

However I did manage to fit in a few screenings during my time in the Auld Reekie. Here is a quick rundown of the best films I saw at the Festival.

1. Kaleidoscope

Easily the best film I saw at the festival. The less you know going in the better so no spoilers here but this dark psychological thriller features standout performances from Toby Jones and Anne Reid in the most disturbing mother-son relationship since Norman and Norma Bates.

2. My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea

If you can picture an animated version of a mixture of Saved By The Bell meets The Poseiden Adventure then you are on the right tracks with this crudely animated by quirky and charming disaster movie where characters must not only navigate the everyday troubles of high school but also an ever increasing water level.

3. Attraction

Of the two Russian sci-fi films premiering at the Festival this year, Attraction received a lot less buzz than the Marvel rip-off Guardians but it is a vastly superior film, not only in term of special effects but also in performance and narrative. Billed as Independence Day meets Starman, it features two strong leads as a daughter of a general tasked with investigating an alien landing finds herself in contact and falling in love with the humanoid alien... Much to the chagrin of her current boyfriend. One of the most affecting sci-if films of the year so far.

4. Daphne

Emily Beecham quite rightly won the Best Performance In A British Film (jointly with Anne Reid for Kaleidoscope) for her role as the titular Daphne. She plays a woman who admits she has "lost faith in people" and following a traumatic event, loses faith in herself and starts down a path of self-destruction. Beecham is in every scene and carries the movie drawing the audience into the story of a woman who might not be likeable but is ultimately recognisable, relatable and utterly fascinating.

5. Okja

Now available on Netflix, I was lucky to be able to see this on the big screen. Which given what happened to Bong Joon-Ho's last film Snowpiercer in the UK, is a rarity and should be grasped with both hands and it certainly benefits from the big widescreen presentation. Snowpiercer is one of the best films of the last few years and following The Host and Mother, it was Joon-Ho's first branch out into an East-West crossover featuring a worldwide multicultural cast that proved his can tell a story and make a film that can appeal to all audiences.

Initially Okja seems like a family friendly tale of a young girl trying to rescue her giant super pig friend from captivity but between the strong language and ever-darkening tone once Okja reaches the test facility, this is a much more adult story that looks at our treatment of animals and the way the media is used to influence our decisions about what we eat.

It is thoughtful and vastly entertaining, with Ahn Seo-Hyun's soulful performance as Mija counterbalancing the over-the-top performances from Tilda Swinton as Mirando CEO Lucy and Jake Gyllenhaal's wildlife expert Johnny Morris that is wild but captivating.

You'll come out of it questioning whether you want that next bacon sandwich!

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Top 5: Library Scenes in Cinema

Today I start a new job as Event & Programming Officer at the City Libraries and to celebrate, here are my Top 5 scenes set in a library.
1. Ghostbusters
The opening scene in the New York Public Library perfectly sets up the movie but it is the subsequent scene in the library as the Ghostbusters encounter their first paranormal apparition that allows the audience to see the dynamics within the team of Peter, Ray and Egon.

2. The Breakfast Club
90% of this John Hughes Eighties classic is set in a library as it is where the group spend their Saturday afternoon in detention. Difficult to pick one scene out of so many but got to go with the moment they cut loose and dance around the library.

3. All The President's Men
An iconic shot in cinema history as the camera pulls back to reveal the enormity of the task ahead of Woodward and Bernstein as they look through the records of every book checked out by the Nixon administration.

4. Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

Indiana Jones searches a Venetian library for a clue in the hunt for the Holy Grail where X marks the spot.

5. Stephen King's IT (1990)

When the adult Richie returns to town, he encounters Tim Curry's Pennywise within the local library. Laughs and scares come in equal measures.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Top Ten Films of 2017... So Far!

1. Baby Driver

2. Get Out

3. La La Land

4. John Wick Chapter 2

5. T2 Trainspotting

6. Jackie

7. Logan

8. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

9. Ghost In The Shell

10. Miss Sloane

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Baby Driver - "Wheelie F*cking Good"

The first words in my head to describe Baby Driver after emerging from last night's Cineworld Unlimited Preview were "Wheelie F*cking Good" and not my words Carol but the words of Top Gear Magazine!

Edgar Wright's long term passion project (that wasn't Ant Man) has been parked in neutral for several years but now he has ditched the Cornettos in favour of a Zoom as Baby Driver is the most exhausting thrill ride since Mad Max: Fury Road because one it puts the pedal to the metal, it doesn't take its foot off the gas.

Born out of a music video he directed for Mint Royale and the idea of setting a car chase to the tune of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's song Bellbottoms, this is Wright's love letter to the classic car chase movies. Now we're talking about The Driver, Bullitt, French Connection, etc. NOT The Fast & The Furious franchise.

Wright's first film as sole writer/director is a "World's End" away from Spaced and the Three Colours Cornetto Trilogy. This is a much more American Hollywood style of filmmaking, albeit with some traditional Wright-esque flair when it comes to editing and use of music, with virtually every action sequence meticulously timed to the beat of the song. Think of Michael Mann directing Drive choreographed by Bob Fosse.

Following Scott Pilgrim where Wright worked with Captain America, Captain Marvel, Superman and a Punisher, here he continues to expand his superhero collection with Lex Luthor (Spacey), Electro (Jamie Foxx) and another Punisher (Jon Berthnal). I wonder if Dolph Lundgren will appear in his next film?

Performances are strong across the board with extra praise going to Ansel Elgort (NOT Angel Elsort as I am prone to typing) delivering a breakout, star making role as the getaway driver who just wants to get away, and Jon Hamm having a lot of fun getting to switch gears throughout the three acts.

A breath of fresh air in a multiplex full of sequels and remakes, fantastic reviews and strong word of mouth should drive audiences to the box office ensuring that nobody puts Baby Driver in the corner this summer.

5 stars

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

La La Land - Review

"City of Stars, are you shining just for me? City of Stars, you never shined so brightly"

The bright lights of Hollywood draw in and seduce many a dreamer, like moths to a flame, but do their dreams come true and end up with their name in lights or do they go down in flames?

Films set in the City of Stars can go either way. The Neon Demon and Mulholland Drive show the dark side of what can happen to innocent souls in pursuit of fame and fortune but La La Land, from the outset anyway with a glorious opening number Another Day Of Sun set in a traffic jam, certainly feels like it is full of rays of sunshine, hope and optimism.

This is the L.A. from the movies where anything is possible if you believe you can make it.

Of course, we've all know that isn't strictly true and our main characters Mia, a barista and aspiring actress, and Seb, a jazz pianist who wants to open his own club, both have their own dreams and the film follows them as they face obstacles to their goals and the prospect that what they have been seeking all this time might not be success but actually each other.

If Hollywood still operates under the Studio System, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone would be permanently paired together for the rest of time. The chemistry that was first showcased in Crazy, Stupid Love is off the charts here and is one of the major reasons that the film works so well.

Another reason it works is that it is not beholden to the pitfalls of a stage-to-screen adaptation. Sometimes musicals when they transfer from stage to screen (Chicago, The Producers) struggle to escape the feeling that you are just watching a show. La La Land follows in the footsteps of modern musicals such as Moulin Rouge, South Park: Bigger, Longer Uncut (yes, it is a musical and a damn good one at that!) and has a natural ebb and flow as it follows the central relationship through the seasons.

There were sequences in the film that caused a smile to break out across my face from ear to ear and fill me with a joy I haven't felt in a cinema screen since the final tap dance number in The Artist. And like that film, expect to hear "And the Oscar goes to... for La La Land" quite a lot as Hollywood loves nothing more than a film that celebrates the industry.

There are references to an entire library of cinematic classics; including Singin' In The Rain, Vertigo, Rebel Without A Cause and Casablanca. Like these films, La La Land remembers that the purpose of cinema is to provide an escape from everyday life, to transport you to another place and time and it certainly does that.

City Of Stars might be gaining all the attention but it was the song Audition (The Fools Who Dream), which reminds me of The Rainbow Connection, I was transported back to Studio 54 watching Emma Stone perform in Cabaret, where she first proved that she could hold a tune. Gosling equips himself well too and while not quite Fred and Ginger, they are the modern day Fred and a Ginger.

To quote an internet meme, find someone who looks at you the way critics look at Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone look at each other on screen.

5 stars