Flashlight Film Reviews

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The Post (2017)

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“Streep and Hanks shine in Spielberg’s timely defence of the press and its freedom to expose corruption – even when it implicates or embarrasses those in political power.” Sandie Angulo Chen

The Post tells the story of the Pentagon Papers, choosing to narrow in on the free press and the White House in their struggle to handle the truth of US involvement in the Vietnam War. This all began with Daniel Ellsberg, played by Matthew Rhys, who walked away from his Government job with thousands upon thousands of confidential pages that revealed the pattern of secrets hidden away from the people about the course of the war. A string of US Presidents, despite knowing they would fail, continued to send troops to Vietnam, and now this painful truth was being spread by Ellsberg first to the New York Times then to the Washington Post. The New York Times revealed several documents before they landed in court, leaving the Washington Post to decide whether they would publish hundreds of sensitive documents and risk their business, or to simply move on.

Meryl Streep is the excellent and strong headed Kay Graham, the publisher of The Post, who works tirelessly for the paper to succeed next to men who consider her entirely incapable. Almost all except editor Ben Bradlee, who is Tom Hanks, who surprisingly despite all odds risks it all to never question Grahams’ decisions. Around this powerful team of two of the most beloved actors in screen history, everyone flourishes. Not to mention Streep and Hanks show us some of the most nuanced and striking performances of their career, capturing intense emotions from an often dry script. Thankfully this talent helps pull The Post out of melodrama into an array of fascinating storytelling.

The Post always keeps on moving in a symphony of deadlines and phone calls, on a backdrop of intense storytelling, in one of Spielberg’s less inspiring films, but one for the history books nonetheless. There’s more than enough entertainment to keep you engaged.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 7.4/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 88%

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

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So sharply written that it cuts, the third movie from award-winning playwright Martin McDonagh is a dramedy that starts with cleverness and wit, then opens up into something truthfully human.’ Jeffrey Anderson – Common Sense Media

I walked into the cinema with no idea what the title of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri really was, or meant, or in which sequence those five words were constructed. All I knew was that this film snatched a Golden Globe for Best Drama and two acting awards, so I figured that coming into my favourite season of the year (after autumn) of the Academy Awards, this was on the top of my list of must-see films. And I was so right. If you read the synopsis like I did, then you’re probably not overly enticed to pay this humble film a visit, because The Greatest Showman or Coco are far more entertaining, but I think that if you give it a chance you will feel all of the emotions and much much more. After all, this is a masterpiece!

Three old weathered billboards stand alone scattered against a sparsely travelled road on the outskirts of small Missouri town, Ebbing. Mildred Hayes, portrayed by the brilliant Frances McDormand, has placed a one-month down payment on their rent to display three small phrases to all who pass by: ‘Raped While Dying’, ’And Still No Arrests?’, ‘How Come, Chief Willoughby?’. Those three emotionally charged phrases ring throughout the entire film, painting a canvas of one mothers anger and heartache for her lost daughter toward the local police force. Ebbing’s chief officer Sheriff Bill Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, is the target for vengeance for failing to find the killer, despite his own long suffering in his battle against cancer. Rather than focusing on the crime and resolution as you would expect, Three Billboards zooms in on the cause and effects of tragedy, the repercussions of pressure and the harboured inner anger in all of us. Yet the movie travels across more than just revenge in this battle between Mildred and the law, but into the very depth of our humanity.

The pain of others haunts Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in just the same way as the overarching theme of vengeance does. Here you can see playwright turned filmmaker Martin McDonagh pave the way into a genre of his own, mixing pain and violence with frequent cruel laughs. Although it doesn’t seem like it according to the plot, you’ll be laughing from start to finish. But perhaps the most ambitious aspect of the film doesn’t lie in the comedy tragedy mix, but in the depth of the characters. Here the playwright showcases his unique style in constructing a story with the highly talented characters on focus, which leaves you vouching for, yelling at and laughing with every single one of the characters on screen. In particular, feminine righteousness and masculine power in Frances McDormand and her equally excellent hard-ass Woody Harrelson and violent Sam Rockwell play to a defining range of dislike, empathy and arrogance, each one making an indescribably powerful impact on the course of the film. In fact, ThreeBillboards is so narrow on the characters that it feels as though Ebbing is only a small town of nine people, and perhaps that is what appealed to me the most. The entire film (without giving anything away) sticks within the outlines of a revenge film, yet portrays a kaleidoscope of emotions in a town stricken with heartache and sorrow in one big plight to find a killer and maybe one day to all get along.

If its insanely high ratings or success in the Awards circuit isn’t enough for you to go and watch this film, there’s not much I can do. But just know you’re missing out.

★★★★★

IMDb – 8.4/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 93%

Home Again (2017)

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‘This is one of those brightly lit Hollywood romcoms with commercial-style acting and precious little insight into human behavior. It’s built on thin contrivances and thinner characters.’ Michael Ordona csm

My loyalty to Reese Witherspoon and Nancy Meyers, who produced The Holiday, The Intern and It’s Complicated (all films I loved), pulled me on board for the most recent addition to the romantic comedy genre. Here, amateur writer and director daughter of Nancy Meyers, Hallie Meyers-Shyer, juggles appealing younger men, outrageously expensive interiors and coddled well-off people in the hope of creating a warm romance, but didn’t quite hit the mark. My biggest mistake was coming to Home Again after watching the triumphant Big Little Lies, so be aware that the two are practically polar opposite – except maybe Witherspoon dropping off her kids to school in an expensive SUV. Home Again is here to please, so it’s very pure and very simple.

Witherspoon is Alice, a newly separated 40 year old interior designer with two beautiful daughters, who has just moved back to her late director father’s LA home. Her sheepish, rumpled and still wildly-in-love husband Michael Sheen is back in New York, desperate to patch things up. On the eve of her 40th birthday celebrations, Alice meets three young wannabe filmmakers with a dream of succeeding in LA. Opening up her lavish garden house for their use during their time making it in LA reels in an odd but sweet makeshift family, the combined traits of everything her ex-husband should have been. The house guests become unpaid child-care providers, tech troubleshooters and man candy, and of course from here on out the rest of the movie is pretty predictable.

Meyers-Shyer had previously mentioned that Home Again was a reflection of the struggles of young divorced women combined with a gender twist on May-December romances, which is interesting enough. But Alice’s hurdles are not relatable to the majority of its viewers, considering they all blow over once she gains the courage to verbally confront them. So inevitably, you are pulled into an alternate reality where everything is just as beautiful on the inside as the outside, and the rich and famous inhabit every luxury on a silver platter. Following her award worthy work in Wild and Big Little Lies, this is an inevitable step backwards for Witherspoon, yet there is something different and oddly charming that appeals to this light hearted rom-com.

If you’re at the cinemas in Australia this weekend, you practically have to pick from The Snowman, Geostorm, Kingsman, Home Again, Blade Runner 2049 or Captain Underpants – i would pick the latter, or if that isn’t your cup of tea, then Blade Runner. But if you’re after a light hearted, slightly disappointing, sometimes funny but overall satisfying romantic comedy you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for in Home Again.

★★☆☆☆

IMDb – 5.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 30%

The Mountain Between Us (2017)

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Every once in a while you stumble upon something that makes you fall in love all over again, with that irresistible magic that first sparked your passion. Every movie lover can trace their journey back a few years, or possibly decades, to the moment that they first realised movie magic existed. I honestly never thought that Idris Elba and Kate Winslet would take me there, back to that dim little movie theatre on the corner of James and Robertson Street. Looking back now, I realise this is probably a movie I enjoyed a lot more than I “should have” (because in reality The Mountain Between Us has almost altogether flopped,) but I at least hope you can agree that there is nothing not to love about Elba and Winslet on a snowy mountain, battling for survival in what is almost an adventurous romance.

Kate Winslet is the free-spirited Alex, a photojournalist eagerly awaiting her wedding the following morning, while Idris Elba is the straight-laced Ben, a brain surgeon who must desperately operate on a dying 10 year old boy interstate. An impending storm has stranded them both at Salt Lake City Airport, with little choice but to wait out until the morning. With everything at stake, the pair persuade a local charter pilot to fly them across deadly mountain ranges, with little concern for local aviation or the pilot’s failing personal health. And so it goes, a sudden fatal stroke cascades the plane into the snowy peaks of Utah and we are left to pick up the pieces of their extraordinary battle for survival. I don’t have to fill in the gaps here, as I’m sure your mind is already drifting to the many injuries, hypothermia … or maybe even mountain cougars, you’ll see it all.

Kate Winslet once survived a sinking ship in Titanic, and Idris Elba once thrived on the streets of Baltimore in The Wire. There is no reason why these dynamic actors shouldn’t carry enough dramatic weight between them to elevate a trek through the desolate snow-blanketed mountain ranges. But instead, they find themselves floating somewhere between drama and soap opera. But here I’ll attribute Elba’s surprising awkwardness to his first-ever crack at romantic lead, (p.s. just as you might have hoped he is nothing short of dreamy.) Based on the novel by Charles Martin, and propelled by the screenplay collaboration of Chris Weitz and J. Mills Goodloe, who share a wide scope of successful romance films between them, The Mountain Between Us has all of the mesmerising elements to succeed. Add Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad, the visionary behind Paradise Now and Omar (a love story, mind you) and there’s no room for fault. But here the once epic vision fails and instead the beautiful mountains begin to look more like molehills.

Right – but coming back to my dramatic spiel in the beginning. For a reason unbeknown to me, I was enveloped in the charasmatic charm, mystery, drama and unfolding romance, so much so I almost shed a happy tear. The film may have altogether tumbled and it might have been dramatically corny, but my romantic soft spot overcame. So if you’re weighing up whether to watch this one, you need to first consider the pros and cons for yourself in order to really derive a solution. If you read this review and at any moment in time you felt compelled to throw up, I am inclined to tell you that this is definitely not a movie I would recommend for you. It’s so bad that it’s really good!

Here’s what the professional critics had to say … ‘This romantic drama is most compelling as a mild story of survival adventure. Contemporary romances often stumble over the first hurdle: Their dramatic obstacle.’ – Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media or ‘A perfect title for a movie in which neither the subzero temperature nor the romantic heat penetrates more than skin deep.’ – Peter Debruge, Variety

IMDb – 6.2  Rotten Tomatoes – 43%

★★★☆☆

The Big Sick (2017)

The Big Sick first caught my eye in Empire magazine, when I realised that this inspiring true story turned rom-com featured Kumail Nanjiani as well, himself. This stark contrast from other retold true stories brings a powerful warmth, wit and depth to his character in a sincere parallel to the truth upon which the film unfolds – making The Big Sick one of the most amazing stories told this year.

Kumail Nanjiani is a young Pakistani stand up comedian from Chicago, who spends his days performing, meeting eligible Pakistani girls (not by choice) and showcasing his love for Pakistan through one-man-shows in his local theatre. During one particularly dry gig, Kumail meets his match in Emily, played by Zoe Kazan. However, Kumail’s traditional Muslim family are unaware of his romance, and continue to press for an arranged marriage with other local Pakistani girls. Mention of the next development in the film should not come as a shock, considering it’s The Big, Sick, after all and the publicity campaign is heartily in Emily’s unfolding medical crisis – but do not fear because it’s nothing like the weepie Me Before You or The Fault in Our Stars. In fact, this dramatic crisis brings a beautiful display of superior storytelling as we follow Kumail as bedside vigil alongside Emily during the entire process. Ultimately, what unfolds is a unique story of faith, commitment and passion wrapped in the fabric of a modern love.

One of the most wonderful things about The Big Sick is the husband and wife duo that brought their story to life, Kumail Nunjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Almost parallel to the real events that conspired in their own relationship, the storytelling gravitates to the passion and honesty of the living breathing masterpiece (that is their story) that brought this film to life. The sharp, intuitive and witty scripting delves into a lot more than you would naturally expect from a rom-com, diverting into almost another genre in itself. The modern love, age-old prejudices, religion and commitment knitted into real life romances come alive in this film, in a way that is both as profoundly deep as it is profoundly entertaining. I’ve watched a lot of comedies, but I haven’t laughed out loud like this in a long time.

The undeniable on-screen chemistry that grows between Kumail and Zoe is the cherry on the top of the cake, in a story that reaches out of a cross-cultured romance into the turmoil of our world to bring a shining beacon of hope. In this way, The Big Sick does more than make you simply think, it draws together people, our community, to become better people with more compassion for others. No wonder this is the film everyone is talking about. Don’t miss your chance to revel in its magic – you won’t be disappointed.

Rich in emotional honesty and equal parts moving, The Big Sick successfully infuses the traditional rom-com formula with a modern sensibility.”

★★★★★

IMDb – 8.1/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%