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%

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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%

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

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In 2001, the twin towers of the World Trade Centre were an unloved New York City landmark that turned into a complex emblem for torment overnight. In the difficulty of conveying a catharsis for 9/11, films rarely centre on the subject, but rather the individuals whose lives have been tampered by its horror. Jonathon Safran Foer’s 2005 novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, adapted by Eric Roth and directed by Stephen Daldry, ambitiously conveys the horror of loss drawn from the event, and the sentimentality of moving on.

Oskar Schell, played by Thomas Horn, is only eleven years old, yet his prodigiously intelligent, remarkably pacific and technically proficient ways draw out an articulate and seriously solemn New Yorker. His father, Tom Hanks, is a scientist turned jeweller, who cast inexplicable joy and understanding into Oskar’s life, as he struggled to cope with Asperges. On the morning of the 11th of September 2001 Oskar has his very last conversation with his dad, before he disappears into the twin towers for a business meeting – as referred to by Oskar as “the worst day”. Driven by his Socratic enquiries, Oskar sets off on a journey to rediscover his father, and to find himself in the process.

“I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live.”

The film’s premise is engaging and mysterious, drawing out one little boy’s grief to create an impacting and unforgettable story of faith, hope and determination. Illustrated as merely a ripple of the 9/11 attack, Stephen Daldry focuses in on the characters as a raw reflection of the grief and turmoil of the event, and draws hope in finding life after loss. This raw honesty of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is confronting and challenging, yet it conveys a deep emotional connection to the screen and the beautiful story of Oskar Schell, who finds his greatest comfort in shaking his trusty tambourine.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a fascinating, mysterious and awe-inspiring film driven by beautiful close ups and striking characters. Nominated for Best Picture and Critics Choice in 2011, this film is a sensational and moving masterpiece for the ages.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 6.9  Rotten Tomatoes – 46%

La La Land (2016)

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The seasons of a charming love affair are illustrated wonderfully in this captivating scope of colour, sweetness, sadness and song. From the newest creation of Damien Chazelle, who stole hearts in last years Whiplash, comes an unapologetic romantic homage to the Hollywood glamour of the 1940’s and 1950’s, splashing its poster-paint energy and optimism on the big screen.

Emma Stone is Mia, a barista at the lot of Warner Brothers Studio with big dreams to join the acting world. But like most aspiring actresses, Mia has suffered through endless humiliating auditions with little hope of reaching her dreams. Ryan Gosling, as Sebastian, joins the scene as a mesmerising pianist and a passionate jazz purist, who bristles at the increasing bastardisation of what is considered to be in his mind the highest musical form. Mia and Sebastian’s first encounter is a prickly bump in during peak traffic, but soon enough the two meet again and the inevitable and unexpected happens – they fall in love.

Chazelle explores priceless musical sequences as a continuation of La La Land’s limitless possibilities. The seamless moments of singing and dancing are woven into the ordinary, creating an intimate sense of excitement and intrigue. The film holds exceptional use of cinematography, and an exquisite display of colour and light. The vibrancy of the costumes and lighting creates a masterpiece of vibrancy, a bright canvas for the romance of Mia and Sebastian to evolve. In saying that, while the musical scores of Justin Hurwitz soared in the opening scenes, toward the end La La Land lacked the heart and soul of a musical and focused instead on almost monotonous themes that rocked me to sleep. But undeniably, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling carry the film with charm and grace, piercing emotional moments with gut and expressive honesty – and enough romance to create brilliance.

La La Land is a sweet film for those of us who love love, or for those of us with dreams that need a little cheering up. La La Land is a celebration of Hollywood’s Golden Age, of jazz and of course of romance, with its heart bound in deep connections and relentless regret. Here’s to the fools who dream.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 8.9/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 93%

Passengers (2016)

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Riding on the wave of its endless space film predecessors, Passengers is shaping up to be the most criticised film of this year thus far. Carried by its happier conception of human nature, Passengers builds on a lively journey of faith and determination but lacks the grit and heart.

Chris Pratt is Jim Preston, a completely ordinary engineer who is emigrating from Earth on a mega-spaceship, in order to start a new life on planet Homestead II – a pure and entirely empty new world. Like the 4,999 other passengers aboard the ship, Jim is sleeping in a suspended hibernation pod, awaiting the 130 year journey to deliver him to paradise. But after an unprecedented meteor whack, he is awake 90 years too early left to wander the spacecraft wide-eyed and panicked .. until (plot twist) he discovers the sparkling Aurora.

Screenwriter Jon Spaihts appears with Passengers as first sole feature credit, after contributing to recent blockbusters Doctor Strange and Prometheus. Here, Spaihts borrows liberally from Kubrick, in their shared love of exploring large creepy interiors. But after exploring Jim’s outrageous ghost house situation, the film has to move on to an inevitable climax – and a rather underwhelming one at that. The glue of the film is undoubtedly in Jennifer Lawrence, as Aurora, who plants her roots cheerfully in her doom. This unfolding love story is credit to the exceptional chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence, thrown against a visually stylish backdrop of space.

Passengers grows on its audience – those of whom are inevitably captured by a large dose of romance and a small sprinkle of space dilemmas. Because of course, as we all know, what is a space film without a mysterious technical malfunction that shatters the very core of humanity. I definitely won’t be going to Earth V2 anytime soon.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 7.1/10 Rotten Tomatoes – 31%

Allied (2016)

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Right up to the most recent cinematic illustration of war, in the breathtaking Hacksaw Ridge, WWII films have gone to great lengths to stress the horror of war and its consequently intense physical and psychological dismay. In Allied, Robert Zemeckis takes a sharp turn toward Hollywood war films of the 1950’s – mixing together action, politics, drama, humour and romance to portray a world of heartbreak on a sparkling canvas.

As the film opens in 1942, Canadian intelligence officer Max Vatan gracefully parachutes into North Africa, and the very heart of Casablanca. Paired with a mission to assassinate the German Ambassador, the wildly passionate French Resistance Fighter Marianne Beausejour appears as his partner in crime. Under threat from local Nazi bigwigs, they establish themselves as a loving married couple, to avoid arousing any local suspicion. Over the course of the following days, the make-believe marriage blossoms into an unprecedented attraction, setting the stage for intriguing love scenes and a spectacular escape. But the story really picks up when his now real wife Marianne is accused to be a German spy, and settling accusations against execution becomes Vatan’s most prominent battle yet.

Allied carries bold influences of its predecessors with impeccable style and remarkable cinematography. Written by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Knight, whose previous credits attain to romance-fuelled drama thrillers, Allied generates excitement with little attention to anything but the characters at the heart of the film. Over the years, Zemeckis has elicited some of the greatest film performances, not to mention Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Denzel Washington in Flight and Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. But Allied unfolds with characters who shine effortlessly throughout the film. In his third war appearance following Inglorious Bastards and Fury, Brad Pitt brings debonair and dignity to his seamless romance with dazzling Marianne Cotillard. Pitt and Cotillard bring such depth to their characterisation we become utterly enraptured with their identity and intentions as the story unfolds. (Cue sobs during credits)

Allied, for me, was a film that clicked in a precise and effective manner. Not to mention Alan Silvestri’s contribution of top notch compositions, that wove together scenes almost magically – and of course Joanna Johnston’s costume design, that delivered effortless style and charm. All in all, a homage to Hollywood war films that graced the screen long before my time, and a beautiful story of romance on the backdrop of war and destruction. Allied is a breath of fresh air.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 7.2/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 61%

The Founder (2016)

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If you worked at McDonald’s at the ripe old age of fourteen years old, keen for cash that wasn’t gifted at the whims of your parents’ generosity, then you’ll be familiar with the phrase; “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” Decades after McDonald’s ‘founder’ Ray Kroc coined this saying, the motto remains ingrained in employees across over 35,000 outlets all over the world. This phrase perfectly encapsulates the mid-western work ethic of Ray Kroc, a go-getter salesman with big ambitions and an undying persistence for success.

When we meet Ray Kroc in the 1950’s, he’s a middle-aged, reasonably well-fixed salesman on a desperate hunt for a gimmick that will earn him his fortune. The McDonald brothers, Mac and Dick, appear to have exactly what he is looking for – a successful hamburger joint run by hard working visionaries. Overwhelmed with anticipation for what this small San Bernardino restaurant could become, Kroc talks his way into franchising and expanding into every town in America. The story of a vision that grew under the noses of its creators.

With the undeniably ubiquitous presence of McDonald’s in most people’s lives – from kids birthday parties to the 3am drive through – the story behing the Golden Arches is one we can all easily invest in. But what really drives The Founder is Keaton’s magnetic and dynamic performance as the underlying unequivocal villain, coated with layers of charm, insecurity and grit. Here Hancock tries to enforce the understanding of why Kroc did what he did, almost humanising the ruthless tale of business intrigue.

I am fascinated the follow the response to The Founder, particularly in America. Is it possible that despite everything, Ray will be viewed as a hero, an underdog with persistence that enabled him to push through every setback in his path to create an empire? But his triumph was always inevitable against the McDonalds brothers. To the movie’s credit, Kroc has an opinion about this too.

All in all, The Founder presents a version of the American Dream in which the need to succeed obliterates any other considerations; in a story of strong minded determination, a small downtrodden businessman gains his revenge on the world.

★★★★☆