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%

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

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“Masterfully told and beautifully acted” Empire ★★★★★

“A minor key masterpiece” The Guardian ★★★★★

The stricken, painful, heart-wrenching transgression of life is the current of Kenneth Lonergan’s newest addition, Manchester by the Sea. A glimpse of life in the real world, of unfathomable heartache, of lessons unlearned. The film already hailed by many as a masterpiece, Manchester by the Sea combines Arthur Miller and Woody Allen to express a superb abundance of beauty in turmoil.

The remarkable Casey Affleck is Lee Chandler, a lonely Boston janitor who carries copious poisonous rage towards the world and himself. The death of his beloved older brother Joe, who resonates only in generous reminiscence, saddles Lee with the sole guardianship of his only son Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges. Anger pulses through Lee’s ingenious face and remarkably indignant smile. What unfolds before Lee is an offer of poignant redemption by the parenthood and friendship of one incredibly unstable child. Yet the film doesn’t work out as simply as that.

Manchester by the Sea is deep, thoughtful and intrusive – a story about the complexity of forgiveness and compassion within the struggle of relieving pain. It is a story of parenting, but of the biological and completely improvised kind. On the surface this appears as a duller twist on the tedious childish-adult-forced-to-grow-up formula, by throwing heartache, loneliness and one orphan minor into the mix. But Lonergan is too indulged in his sensational actors, his undivided audience and perhaps reality itself to showcase any irrationality or formulae. But with the dry comedy pace and uncomfortable aesthetic of the film, there remains nothing but reality itself. This film is simply remarkable.

I can’t beat this, I’m so sorry.”

From start to finish, Manchester by the Sea is powerful and thought-provoking. Rarely do films showcase the harsh reality of those who live with pain and loss, stricken by the fate of one horrible mistake. A story driven by characters whom the actors embodied with precision and with excellence, Manchester by the Sea is an outstanding addition to the Best Picture nominees this year.

★★★★★

Imdb – 8.1/10 Rotten Tomatoes – 96%

Lion (2016)

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The tremendously powerful Lion sneaks up on you as it softly plucks your heart strings and tempers with your emotions. But before you know it, this unbelievable true story will cause your tear ducts to brim and your soul to overflow with bittersweet joy. A captivating story filled with love, loss, pain and hope, Lion is everything you could hope for and much much much more.

Based on the efficacious 2014 memoir, A Long Way Home, the tale of Indian-Australian businessman Saroo Brierley, Lion brings the unbelievable stepping stones of finding home to life. Adapted by screenwriter Luke Davies and directed by up-and-coming Garth Davis, Lion succeeds in telling a complex story with genuine emotion, while grounding effective style and breathtaking cinematography throughout. It’s little wonder that the film has collected countless audience awards at film festivals around the world, considering the rarity of intelligent and unsentimental crowd-pleasers.

If you have ever been a child, raised a child, lost a child or met a child – or any of the above with respect to a mother – this movie will wreck you.

The compelling story of survival, through the eyes of a resourceful and witty five-year-old Indian boy, first unfolds in the company of his older brother Guddu, Abhisek Bharate, and his loving mother, Priyanka Bose. The love that little Saroo, played by Sunny Pawar, receives from his family is plentiful, but in the miserable world around him everything else is in short supply. Carried away one day by a work trip with Guddu to a nearby city, Saroo falls asleep on a train, only to find that he is utterly lost, whisked 1600 kilometres away. Evoking an unquenchable desire to find his mum again, little Saroo travels through the poverty-striken streets of Calcutta, only to fall into the loving and raring arms of adoptees Sue and John Brierley in Tasmania, played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham.

The directorial debut of Garth Davis is nothing but sensational, with his influence of visual identity prominent in the very fabric of each scene. Davis draws out evocative images from Saroo’s journey through India, and from his recollections in later days, but dwells on them skilfully and expertly. But of course, Lion is a personal story that relies heavily on people, so thankfully the cast hits out of the park from start to finish. Little Sunny Pawar, as young Saroo, deserves recognition for his marvellous emotional anchor throughout the film, as well as Dev Patel, the older Saroo, who delivers the best performance of his career. Here, character interaction and development is key, which is where Rooney Mara, Saroo’s love interest, and Nicole Kidman, his adopted mother come in. Both delivering incredible and awe-inspiring performances, Lion would be nothing without its sensational cast.

No fancy tricks, no sci-fi – just raw and overwhelmingly powerful emotion. Whether you cry, like almost the entire cinema in my experience, or whether you ball, you should bring either a small cup or a bucket to catch your tears. Lion is one of my very highlights of the 2016 repertoire, and a film brimming with enough pure emotion, love and hopefulness to last me a long long time.

★★★★★

Imdb – 8/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 87%

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 Arrival (2016)

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Take it from me, watching the trailer for The Arrival over and over in the cinemas these last few months has driven me further and further away from this freaky sci-fi drama, but Denis Villeneuve’s surprisingly audacious new film skirts the very edge of absurdity and humanity. I’m always agnostic about sci-fi ‘disappointments’, such as Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar or Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special, but The Arrival is a mature and thoughtful piece that uses first-contact premise as not merely a set up for a doomsday epic, but as a platform for a powerful and nuanced exploration of love, relationships and the human condition.

As twelve mysterious spacecrafts land in varying locations across the globe, we see college students’ phones explode with the breaking news. Humanity’s reaction is the very core of this film, as priorities methodically unfold before the ships – or shells – are finally revealed. Here the tone is set for a desperate hunt for survival. Amy Adams is Dr Louise Banks, a professor of comparative linguistics, and naturally the first point of contact when a bunch of military guys need help translating the language of these aliens. But as the film unfolds, the question of ‘Why are you here?’ greatly pends, as humanity fights against itself to preserve what remains of its peaceful existence.

Denis Villeneuve’s approach to The Arrival builds on a rich body of work, with films such as Prisoners and Sicario absorbing a remarkable world of symmetrical compositions and patient camera moves. But in addition to superb screen composition, The Arrival’s extraordinary success draws from its ability to resonate emotionally on an almost incomprehensible level. As the drama unfolds, you’ll be biting your fingernails in anticipation. This combination of human interaction, bravura style and grand science-fiction depth looks at the vulnerability and sacrifice of humanity to transcend the genre of sci-fi altogether. I guarantee that it will leave you speechless.

An intelligent and wildly gripping film, The Arrival dazzles from beginning to end, causing us to re-evaluate the world around us in the very fabric of humanity. It is simply art, at a time when so many seem intent on walling on themselves or their country – its exactly what we need.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 8.3/10 Rotten Tomatoes – 93%

Jason Bourne (2016)

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This weekend, nine years after the anticipated release of The Bourne Ultimatum,  Jason Bourne hit theatres in what can only be described as a shattering return. This latest iteration reunites Damon with director Paul Greengrass, who displays his mastery of muscular, deafening and frenetically edited action sequences. Co-written with editor Christopher Rouse, Greengrass whisks us to cities all over the world, culminated in an eye-poppingly enormous finale in Las Vegas.

Jason Bourne, reticent and carb-free, hurries through various European capitals – Rome, Athens, London – with the grim determination of a tourist desperately seeking a men’s room with far too much pride to ask for directions. I’m not casting shade on Matt Damon, who looks terrific at 45, with the complete opposite of a dad bod and a residual Will Hunting twinkling in his eye. Jason, for all of his prodigious talent and honed technique, finds himself in a generational pincers grip, squeezed on one side by a self-aggrandising and sentimental boss and on the other side by a tech-savvy millennial rising through the ranks. But if I can simply the plot for you: Jason Bourne is the target of a radical pursuit by heavy surveillance, where his former employers in the CIA track him as if he were the quarry in a high-stakes game of Pokemon Go.

At the heart of it, Jason Bourne is a semi-beloved pop-culture throwback brought into circulation primarily because it’s summer (in the States) and winter (in Australia). Lets face it, aussie’s need something to do, and while the shrimps and the barbecues are extinct, two-hours of make believe paranoia might provide a soothing respite.

Jason Bourne was so bad, it made me retroactively reconsider my love for the franchise…

But not to worry, the thrill isn’t entirely gone, just a little more subdued. Unfortunately, Damon is subdued as ever. Jason Bourne envelopes a uniquely passive action hero, a man who runs on pure survival instinct as he attempts to draw conclusions of his past. But there is also a rote quality to the film, an absence of passion and skill. Just as the initial Damon-driven trilogy wrapped up Bourne’s business but left us wanting more, this sequel offers closure even as it entices us with the possibility of his return.

★★☆☆☆