Me Before You (2016)

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Pairing a working-class British lass with an icy quadriplegic aristocrat whose heart she’s been hired to melt, Me Before You seems to boast a can’t-miss premise – class division and medical misfortune forming the peanut butter and jelly of this tear jerking romance. Considering the immense popularity of Jojo Moyes’ bestselling novel, from which she adapts the screenplay, and the amiable power of British realism, Me Before You is virtually a recipe for success.

Me Before You follows the story of Lou Clark, played by Emilia Clarke; guileless, naïve and accident prone – Lou radiates a delightful cheeriness through her quirky manner and wild fashion sense. Desperate to support her family, Lou presents herself at the door of a local castle hoping to become a potential carer for reclusive heir Will Trainor, played by Sam Clafin. Expected to discover an elderly invalid, Lou is astonished when she finds a handsome, debonair young man of previously high-flying banker rendered quadriplegic by a motorbike crash. A friendship begins to unravel, enhanced by Lou’s sunny nature and a collection of enthralling adventures in hopes of persuading Will to keep on living.

Emilia Clarke’s performance as Lou is winningly immersed in charming gawkiness and heartfelt sincerity, all while parading a deliriously cheesy grandma wardrobe heavy on eye-popping colours and prints. So much so, it might prompt reminiscence of when you first encountered the blinding incandescence of Julia Roberts’ wide-screen ready smile or the delicate allure of Kiera Knightley’s cameo-locket features. Emilia Clarke is undeniably loveable, especially when she is matched with toxic, resentful and bitter Sam Clafin. His performance fails to shy away from the hopeless agenda of his case, but keeps us mercilessly invested in the effortless appeal of the pairs’ punching emotions, set against a backdrop of tear jerking Ed Sheeran tunes.

However, despite its appeal as a quirky loveable romance, Me Before You caresses deep complicated issues with little regard for the politics of euthanasia. The films admirable presentation of a disabled man as a swoon-worthy romantic lead collides with the implicit suggestion that perhaps such a hopeless life isn’t worth living, so the undercurrents of wish-fulfilment leave a sour taste. The skittish delicacy with which Me Before You explores quadriplegia draws few parallels with counterpart love story The Fault in Our Stars 2014, a far bolder and more honest portrayal of life with serious medical difficulties.

First-time filmmaker Thea Sharrock certainly maintains an air of sweetness throughout the film, immersing us in her loveable main characters, but Me Before You lacks a real romantic charge. Given the catchphrase “Live Boldly!”, it’s a shame that the film didn’t take a bolder and more honest route in this adaptation, considering the extent of the underlying ideas of disability. The seriousness of euthanasia was sadly underplayed, but this flick is still entertaining, engaging and heart-warming, overall a small win for romance.

★★★☆☆

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

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Picture the striking landscape of New Zealand, a chubby juvenile delinquent and a scruffy old man. This is Hunt for the Wilderpeople. New Zealand writer and director Taiki Waititi memorably depicts quirky black humour with pathos around almost every corner. On the surface it’s an odd comedy about a fat little kid and the middle-aged grump, but deep down it’s a heart-warming film about two world-weary people in need of a little saving.

The rising auteur’s third film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, wittily examines 12-year-old ‘delinquent’ Ricky Baker. (Delinquent can be in inverted commas, because his horrible crimes include spitting off a bridge.) Dressed in his finest hip-hop street gear, Ricky is escorted by a wrathful social worker to a remote homestead on a North Island farm, who jokes to Ricky’s new parents, Bella and Hec, that there are “No returns”. The daffy comforting warmth of his new home is (spoiler alert) shattered by Bella’s sudden death, prompting a hilarious cameo that sets the groove for the adventures of Ricky and Hec, strangely compelling them further and further into a bizarre rampage manhunt.

There are prevalent echoes of Wes Anderson’s 2012 comedy Moonrise Kingdom, with distinct witty instincts blended into its alluring coming-of-age tale. Waititi alternates moments of action, including ferocious wild pig action, with countless segments of humour and touching moments of drama. The stunning backdrop of New Zealand’s pristine countryside derives a loveable wackiness to the film – complete with amateurish songs and picturesque production design. The characters are also exceptionally well paired, Ricky’s pottymouth and childish unpredictability offsetting the grizzled, mostly sensible Hec, played by Sam Neill. In adapting Barry Crump’s book, Waititi succeeds with a variety of offbeat elements, pairing outstanding set design with a soundtrack your ears cannot miss.

But the most wonderful part of Hunt for the Wilderpeople is it’s emphasise on the life of misfits and whacko’s disposed from society. It drives home this enormous idea that humans are altogether good … if you can give them a chance. And trust me, you can’t help but fall in love with Ricky … and Hec for that matter too.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an enjoyable, heart-warming, modest little story thoughtfully illustrated by an artist drawn to male dynamics. The laughter in the theatre drowned out the many many funny parts, but the most prevailing entity of the film was its power to draw the audience to the story and attach them to the characters. This wonderful film sets to prove that although some people are a little whacky, they can surprisingly turn out to be oh-so-loveable human beings.

★★★★☆

Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

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Into the dark you tumble into Alice Through the Looking Glass; James Bobin’s wild, witty and extravagant take on Lewis Carroll’s illusory hallucinations. Visually, the certainty that the two imaginative artists were made for each other is realized exquisitely, matched with a haunting design for Wonderland, a seamless meeting of live action with animation and picturesque charm. But the story is now far less Carroll and Burton than Bobin taking flight with a script crafted by Linda Woolverton, who references and incorporates characters in a way that answers our curious and curiouser childish wonders.

Replacement director James Bobin takes the reigns for this sequel, following Alice’s travels into the past to prevent the Jabberwocky from roasting Mad Hatter’s parents. Frolicking with other whimsical wonderland creatures, Hatter is suddenly triggered by discarded trash that reminds him of his estranged, long-gone family. Hatter pleads and finally convinces Alice that she must find them and bring them back … even if they are now long passed. Hatter’s whacky crazy madness is in the fabric of this film, and Alice’s journey of restoring harmony to wonderland again will leave you asking for more. Trust me, by the conclusion of the film you will know all of the little secrets you didn’t even know you wanted to know. Looking Glass is a dream come true.

Bobin takes Burton’s film and escalates it in an effort to not only continue the Disney run of adaptations, but to potentially recapture the immense success of the first film. But above the film’s strenuous attempts to resonate with larger personal themes of loss, strife and time, Looking Glass is a selling spectacle … and a good one at that. Bobin has a fantastic eye for visual effects, but this often pushes him from diverting tedious to deafening, as the bright colours and movement strain to draw the illusion of a film with a story to tell. But Sacha Baron Cohen doesn’t fail to bring an outstanding performance as Time. He’s derisive, obnoxious and crazy about the Red Queen. Time is truly spectacular. It serves as yet another reminder that the Borat actor is proficient in depths rarely explored by other filmmakers. Otherwise, character development is mind-numbing, conflict is dull and the backstories are painfully predictable.

Alice Through the Looking Glass is pervasive of the blockbuster model in painful ways. But stemming from my never failing love of Alice in Wonderland, I still enjoyed it immensely. Bobin applies more absurdity and more surrealism into Alice’s sense of fantasy, while weakly contributing to the overarching central story. He creates magical spectacles and forefronts in a world-class tech reel, capturing the dreamlike wonderland we know and love in an earnest and spectacular way. But if I can sum up Alice Through the Looking Glass in one sentence: it’s like holding a vivid, colourful balloon that deflates a little more every second you hold onto it.

★★★☆☆

Money Monster (2016)

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An explosive financial thriller, a hostage crisis, a globe-spinning mystery and a potent satire of Wall Street’s television coverage like a professional sport. This is Money Monster. But despite its present-day setting, it feels a little retro – as if it just missed the window for maximum relevance following The Big Short. Except Money Monster marks Jodie Foster’s emergence as the director of a greater and more technically challenging project than anything she’s done before. I came in with low expectations and walked out having experienced a pleasantly dynamic drama and the never failing charisma of George Clooney too.

Money Monster follows a popular stock advice show hosted by George Clooney, as Lee Gates, who relies on flashy sound effects and show business glam to make the daily market as fun as a game show. The story takes a nail-biting turn when young Jack O-Connell, as Kyle, sneaks onto the live television set carrying a gun and a bomb strapped to his chest. After losing his life savings tied in promising stocks, Kyle is left to ask all of the big questions. Strap yourself in for slow and steady tension rising between Lee and his manager Patty, who tirelessly work to keep Kyle calm and compliant.

Foster envisioned fascinating contrasts between the intimate scope of the standoff and the global reach of Money Monster as a television event drawing viewers into the unspoken corruption of Wall Street. In some ways, Money Monster is a strongest critism of the tendency to treat financial journalism as entertainment, and in other ways it is simply a hype-driven coverage of the stock market. Either way, Foster mentions that we are in fact living in an age where the financial industry and entertainment industry are intertwined in ways she has purposefully attempted to satirise throughout the film.

Foster approached Money Monster as a character piece – but one with unique directing impediments … and some funny bits too …

In some ways, it’s an experiment – and I love genre movies – to figure out a way to use the genre as a backdrop and still really have character and a sophisticated dialogue about meaningful topics and have them be in the foreground.”

Money Monster’s greatest strength lies in its portrayal of greed as the ultimate crime, juxtaposed with a disadvantaged minority who lays down his life to bring justice. But Money Monster registers less of an indictment of financial corruption than as an exploration of one man’s greed. It may be a Hollywood melodrama, but it is in the top of the range. It gives Clooney and Roberts every opportunity to demonstrate star power, and the refreshing opportunity to create a picture about anti-heroes rather than super-heroes.

Side Note: Keep an eye out for vines at the end of the film, I promise they will ease any tension or rage you may experience throughout the film.

★★★☆☆

Spotlight (2015)

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I haven’t posted in yonks, so what better way to come back than with my favourite flick of last year and the much beloved Academy Award Best Picture Winner, Spotlight. As controversial as the Catholic Church paedophilia phenomenon may be, I’m sure we can all agree regardless of our personal stance that this film is just … brilliant. But you need to step outside of your happy bubble to embrace the harsh reality happening just outside your doorstep.

Actor-turned-filmmaker Tom McCarthy has always been a low-key defender of the outsider. His early films marked him out as a craftsman of mature and thoughtful dramas, so when this phenomenon took over the media world, McCarthy was at the very least inspired. Alongside co-writer Josh Singer, Spotlight’s needle-sharp screenplay embraces the mugginess of moral compromise over the cases of paedophilia in the Catholic Church. They illustrate the true story of how the Boston Globe, under its first Jewish editor Marty Baron, took on the entrenched abusive institutions of the church in a city where Catholicism is a way of life, and police and priests are thick as thieves.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

Spotlight shifts the focus away from the church to examine how an entire community can become complicit in an unspoken crime. The journalism thriller draws excitement from joining disparate dots throughout the film, eventually taking shape to form the bigger picture. With its convincingly mundane scenes of journalists bashing phones and trawling through dusty records, McCarthy buries discernible visual styles and cinematography behind the pressing issue of script and story. Perhaps the filmmakers felt that their subject was in fact too important to be aesthetically pleasing. Instead, we’re faced with gut-wrenching stories of victim of abuse head on, and even in one case a complacent paedophile priest. You’ve been warned: this film is hard to swallow.

After his striking role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu’s Birdman at the last Academy Awards only last year, Michael Keaton returns once more as Walter “Robby” Robinson. He does far quieter work here than in Birdman, taking on the role of Spotlight stalwart, shaken by the extent of the paedophilia scandal. Rachel McAdams, as Sacha Pfeiffer, takes on the role of a compelling reporter who regularly attends mass with grandma, but soon rapidly begins to lose residual connection with the church as the hidden truths unfold. Pfeiffer presents us with beautiful cinematic moments that balance the distant crisis of faith with the real and present courage of conviction. And last but not least Mark Ruffalo, as Mike Renzendes. The strength of his performance is carried by his passion and long-suppressed outbursts of emotion. He gives a brilliantly calibrated physical portrayal of a born investigator.

We see the personal transformation of all of principle members of Spotlight when the truth begins to unfold. But you seriously can’t listen to traumatic abuse stories and not feel impacted. The psychological impact of their traumatic experiences are rarely explored in mainstream cinema – which is what draws me to the film even more.

I’ve come to realise that Spotlight’s greatest strength is in the way it defies being chopped into components. To its core this is an ensemble film with characters harmonising like ingredients in a satisfying meal. We’re presented with the horrible specificity of victim stories and the subsequent negligence of the community. There is really no tidy moral to take away from this film, and that is the enthralling power of this masterpiece. A story like Spotlight shouldn’t end in comfort. Instead, it leaves your skin prickling – both at the despicable business of secret-keeping and the courage and resourcefulness that rivetingly overturns it. On some dark and unspoken level, no one ever wants to know.

Would I recommend this film? Absolutely. This is my 5/5 and my 10/10.

★★★★★

 

Interstellar (2014)

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Interstellar, an outer space survivalist story directed by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan, with whom he co-wrote the screenplay, is evidently a movie designed to challenge and explore the deeper meaning behind life. The Nolan brothers take the audience into the farthest of mysteries of space and time, where they assure us that love joins gravity as a force that operates across interstellar distances. The earth may die, but love will triumph.

Interstellar begins when the earth is deteriorating, nitrogen is increasing and oxygen is decreasing after a world-wide crop failure. The earth has been ravaged by an environmental disaster forcing humanity to abandon all dreams of discovery in order to focus on basic survival. Former NASA pilot Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey, a widowed father of two, is now a farmer tasked with growing the last remaining sustainable crops – corn. When Cooper is reunited with Professor Brand, the commander of a hidden underground NASA station, he offers to send the favoured pilot on a mission with his ambitious crew, to retrace the flights of astronauts who were sent several decades ago to discover planets capable of sustaining human life. Cooper leaves behind his two children on earth to board the Endurance, in a final resort, large scale attempt to rescue the human race.

Interstellar is an imaginative, exciting and fast paced redundant puzzle of galaxies and dramatic tension. Interstellar is rooted in the love between a father and his daughter, but offers surprisingly spectacular high-minded science fiction scenarios and compelling visuals. But a heavy-handed mix of personal sacrifice and theoretical physics doesn’t leave much room for subtle storytelling or memorable action. Christopher Nolan relies on lengthy scenes where characters explain complicated physics and philosophical ideas to educate the audience and ruminate on humanity in the face of death and destruction.

Matthew McConaughey ensures his lead character is likeable as well as relatable and evidently manages to keep exposition-heavy scenes engaging throughout the entire film. The supporting cast, including Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain and Casey Affleck, drive the tension relief and draw focus towards sentimental values and emotions amongst the extravagance of space discovery and human survival. Interstellar’s storytelling masterstroke comes from adherence of relativity and the perception of time and space. Interstellar may not offer traditional entertainment value to balance the scientific theorising, however, the five-dimensional movie experience will leave you overwhelmed and thrilled the entire way through. Interstellar is a satisfying next instalment in Christopher Nolan’s well-respected career, and a very thought-provoking film masterpiece.

★★★★☆

Iron Man 3 – Unleash the power behind the armour (2013)

Tony stark is now a shadow of his former courageous self. He’s struggling with reality, love and depression, obsessed with recovering from the circumstances he experienced during The Avengers. The third Iron Man installment relies more on character and irreverence, which makes this a better film, equipped with more surprises and fewer clichés.

Killian is a socially awkward outcast turned criminal billionaire that begins working on a human mutation project which seems linked to an exclusive terrorist known as The Mandarin. Tony Stark’s last adventure left him in a complete wreck. But as the past comes back to haunt him he’s totally unprepared – and when the world’s biggest terrorist threatens to attack and demolish America, Stark decides to reassemble his war machine and put up one last fight.

Robert Downey Jnr. once again charms the viewers as Tony Stark, the complex and egotistical superhero with no real secret identity. Gwyneth Paltrow returns as the elegant and overly stunning Pepper Potts, who is thankfully featured on-screen more than in earlier films. Kingsley brings full weight and gravity to his character The Mandarin, his voice portraying a creepy yet powerful intonation. Guy Pearce who plays the mastermind Aldrich Killian, is part slick businessman and part mad geek who handles conflict surprisingly well.

The film is given a potentially vibrant Tony Stark, an improved Mandarin, a fantastic cast, phenomenal special effects and a bland and uninspiring script. It was disappointing in comparison to the previous big-budget Iron Man films. On the bright side it was a great pleasure watching Downey Jnr. and his wonderful performance that really pulled Iron Man 3 out of full despair. It’s highly entertaining, full of unexpected surprises and pulled by a phenomenally talented cast.