7 Year Blog Anniversary

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Having been so busy lately, I totally forgot that today was my seventh anniversary of blogging. Time has flown and I still can’t believe it’s been seven years. It’s all because of my loyal followers who are simply the best. This ones for you. So I’ll let the gif below express my appreciation of you all.

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Us

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Director

Jordan Peele

Starring

  • Lupita Nyong’o
  • Winston Duke
  • Shahadi Wright Joseph
  • Evan Alex
  • Elisabeth Moss
  • Tim Heidecker

A sophomore horror from Jordan Peele after the success of Get Out, Us may not reach the heights of its predecessor but it undoubtedly has something to say and is bolstered by fine acting.

As a child, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) was traumatised when she wandered into the hall of mirrors at the Santa Cruz boardwalk. She encountered what seemed like a doppelgänger but was never able to bring herself to tell her parents what happened. As an adult, Adelaide is now married to the affable Gabe Wilson( Winston Duke) and has two children, daughter Zora( Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason(Evan Alex). They are visiting Santa Cruz once more so they can see the wine-swilling and discontented Kitty(Elisabeth Moss) and Josh(Tim Heidecker), both friends of the couple. Adelaide has never confided in anyone about what happened all those years ago and is unsurprisingly apprehensive. While there, Jason wanders off which really terrifies Adelaide as it brings back bad memories and they return to their holiday home. A series of other coincidences alarm Adelaide and just as she is confessing to Gabe about her trauma , an eerie sight comes into view. To the horror of the Wilsons, they discover the figures outside are their doppelgängers . Menaced by their sinister counterparts, they are thrown into terror. And it appears that doppelgängers are not just for the Wilsons, but for many others too. Desperate to survive and protect her family, Adelaide must attempt to outwit the doubles and figure out their origins before it’s too late.

Jordan Peele is clearly going for something more ambitious here and displays immense talent too. Not every decision he makes is good, but he is largely at home with this kind of work. In relation to the highlight that was Get Out, Us falls short. But Get Out set a very high standard that it would be impossible to reach that level of success. On the praise front, Us most certainly keeps you glued with an unusual rhythm and the fact that we aren’t spoon fed information and is open to interpretation. Peele has you sympathise and get to know the Wilsons before all manner of hell breaks loose, which is commendable especially in the case of Adelaide. I don’t think Us will be a movie for everyone as it’s horror but with a difference. I’m firmly in the middle as of now, but I think the positives are outweighing the negatives.

Once you settle into the groove of the movie, Us begins to reveal its themes and message. And while it bites off more than it can chew, I was impressed by the allusions it made to the oppressive nature of society and duality. This is backed up by symbolism that eagle eyed viewers will eat up as it all means something. The humour gets a tad excessive and I would have appreciated Peele reigning it in a bit more. I found that some laughs overshadowed what Us was going for and didn’t really help. But the horror and off kilter imagery stands out for a start and continues throughout Us. It has been more than a bit overhyped, but definitely has its merits more than its faults. I feel that Us is one of those movies that will improve when watched again as there is mystery there and I’m sure parts that we might have missed. So watch this space as my mixed opinion may change in the future as I think more on it. There is some chewing the cud to do that’s for sure and certain.The score is pretty stellar at conveying the overall eerie and downright spooky nature of Us, while a well chosen soundtrack is in full swing too with many a highlight of juxtaposition.

The cast do wonders, especially considering each is playing two people. Lupita Nyong’o is the biggest standout with two fantastic and very convincing performances. While Adelaide is frightened but eventually strong, her doppelgänger is sinister and unnerving. She finely judges both roles and it’s simply amazing how much she puts into both, from the fierce look in Adelaide’s eyes to the skin-crawling voice of her double. It takes a strong actress to convince as two very different characters, but Lupita Nyong’o is more than up to the challenge. Nyong’o deserves nothing but praise for her accomplishment here which is two completely different performances executed handsomely. Winston Duke injects a lot of humour into the role of affable father and husband, he does get some of the best lines and runs with them with fine comic timing. He also provides a hulking presence as his creepy double. Usually kids in horror movies fall into two categories; believable and annoying nuisance. Thankfully Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex are in the former category and hold their own against more experienced co-stars. In a small but memorable role, Elisabeth Moss conveys the dissatisfaction and vanity of her character with ease and commitment. Then she turns it up a few notches as a nefarious but strangely tragic double. Tim Heidecker supplies good support too as her husband.

A bit overly ambitious but nonetheless creepy and with many messages among the horror, Us gets by on atmosphere and excellent acting, particularly from Lupita Nyong’o.

Get Out

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Director

Jordan Peele

Starring

  • Daniel Kaluuya
  • Allison Williams
  • Bradley Whitford
  • Catherine Keener
  • Lil Rey Howery
  • Caleb Landry Jones
  • Marcus Henderson
  • Betty Gabriel

An auspicious debut from TV comic Jordan Peele, Get Out is horror/mystery with a socially aware slant and provocative examination of race relations that is both chilling and

Chris Washington(Daniel Kaluuya) is an African-American photographer who has been dating Rose Armitage(Allison Williams) , who is white. Rose invites him to meet her parents, but Chris is apprehensive of their reaction. They live in plush surroundings in upstate New York and Rose eventually persuades Chris to come with her. Upon arrival, things seem to go well with neurosurgeon Dean(Bradley Whitford) and psychiatrist Missy(Catherine Keener). But although Missy and Dean seem to welcome Chris , their attempts at being friendly and not bothered by his ethnicity come off as very heavy-handed. This is despite the fact they claim to be open-minded people and ones of culture. There is something decidedly off about them that only continues in the ensuing days. Chris was warned by his best friend Rod( Lil Rey Howery) about the way the parents might react but he thought his friend was being overly paranoid and over thinking things. Adding to this deep unease is that two of the servants,  in the house are African-American and act very strangely towards Chris. Rose assures him that her family is cool with him, but Chris is unable to shake off the vibe that something sinister is underlying him stating there. As the feeling of paranoia and terror increases(though he attempts to pass it off as Rose’s parents being shocked she is dating a black man), Missy at one point hypnotises Chris without him agreeing to it, Chris soon realises that he is at the centre of something very twisted indeed. He was mainly worried about how Rose’s parents and social circle would reacted to him dating their daughter, but that’s the least of his worries in this creepy horror flick with something to say.

As first time director, Jordan Peele infuses Get Out with a building tension right from the start. He’s clearly well versed in horror as he is in comedy, which both featuring throughout. It’s the confidence of Peele as a first time director that stands out here and impresses with how he takes the time to set up the story and pull you in on the horror that unravels. You’ll probably never look at bingo or the chiming of a spoon on a teacup the same way again after viewing Get Out. While being a very disturbing horror film with oodles of atmosphere, Get Out is also at times laugh out loud funny. It’s got a snappy wit that is best embodied by Chris’s best friend. He says outrageous things but they are often not far from the strange truth st the centre of the film. Wit also appears in the form of satire at people who claim to be open-minded, when in actual fact are very much prejudice. Peele’s writing, which won an Oscar, lampoons this and blends it with the unnerving sense of something being very wrong with the family Chris meets. Get Out is the kind of film I can imagine revisiting again, in order to discover things I may have not noticed upon first viewing. And that’s a compliment at least in my movie viewing book. A dissonant music score keeps you constantly on edge with screeching violins and occasional choral chanting. Also pervading the heavy atmosphere is a moody cinematography that’s also extremely complimentary to the story.

Heading the cast is the talented Daniel Kaluuya. He possesses a kindness, skepticism and realisation as Chris that makes you relate to him. His look of bewilderment at the events often mirrors our own way of approaching the unusual catalogue of creepiness that takes form. Put simply, Kaluuya is an impressive lead who is clearly going places. Allison Williams is also very good as Rose; who might not be what you think when you first look at her and is a testament to the talent of Williams. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are sublimely excellent as the unusual patents whose privileged existence masks something extremely sinister. Both exude a certain level of menace but intelligence too, which is a dangerous yet effective combo. Further creepiness comes in the form of Caleb Landry Jones who has a very offbeat but worrying vibe to him, backed up by Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel who seem to have stepped out of The Stepford Wives and into the 21st century. Stealing the show in his appearances has to be Lil Rel Howery, who is an absolute hoot providing the social commentary and outrageous humour of the piece. He’s laugh out loud and heroic at the same time and I very much enjoyed his performance whenever he appeared.

Splendidly unusual, darkly amusing and topical in themes, Get Out succeeds as a very creepy and unnerving horror that stands out indeed and comes highly recommended from me.

I’ve Been Doing Some Thinking

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I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking lately. This is in regard to a lot of things and many important. The biggest one is me trying to see the good in things and stop being so hard on myself. I’ve always been slightly critical of myself, but I’ve decided to put a stop to it. From now on, I’m going to be me. And that extends to my writing too, which I promise I’ll be back with soon. Before balance could be a problem, but I think I’ve cracked it. Now I’m all about good stuff.

Watership Down

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Director

Martin Rosen

Voice Cast

  • John Hurt
  • Richard Briers
  • Michael Graham Cox
  • Harry Andrews
  • Denholm Elliott
  • Zero Mostel

An animated tale of survival in nature that is surprisingly mature( and many would say traumatising), Watership Down is often referred to as a film that terrified a generation of kids who thought they were seeing a film about cute bunnies. Yet while brutality is certainly not shied away from here, it’s the soul and message of Watership Down that shines the brightest.

In a warren in the English countryside, a group of rabbits live with their own beliefs on creation and how life is supposed to be. It seems so peaceful, but it is about to be shaken to the core. One rabbit by the name of Fiver has a strange vision of the destruction of their warren and warns everyone to get out. His brother Hazel believes him but they are shunned by the chief rabbit. Along with a small band of other rabbits, they stealthily leave the warren at night, joined by one of the Owsla( or in human terms, person of authority and order) Bigwig, who was originally skeptical of Fiver’s vision. They encounter all manner of danger in their search for a new home, including vicious predators, the human world and the only doe being picked off by a bird. Now without a woman among their number, they have to find some in order to continue their species. Aided by a crazed but helpful gull named Kehaar, they may just find it. It’s when the group encounters the tyrannical General Woundwort , who rules over his warren of rabbits with supreme brutality, that things turn very dark and tense for everyone. For Woundwort is a brute who will kill anything as soon as look at them, if they disobey his regime. With Hazel at the helm, he mounts an attempt to free the does from the harsh control of Woundwort. But it definitely isn’t going to be easy to create this dream paradise for them all to live in once everything is over.

Martin Rosen beautifully captures the poignant emotion and red and tooth in claw depiction of nature in the Richard Adams’s novel. Though a bit more on the running time might have been in order, Watership Down is really hard to find fault with. The animation, which boasts the feeling of landscape, watercolour painting and a naturalistic colour palette, is second to none and partnered with some unusual dreamlike sequences that stand out for their terror and vision. I mean, when we see what became of the original warren it is some skin crawling stuff. The claustrophobia of rabbits squashed on top of each other, their red eyes glowing as they are gassed is freaky and nightmare inducing. And people thought this was a movie simply for young kids? Now sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between certain rabbits, but this is a minor hitch in what is otherwise an immensely moving and startlingly honest look at how nature works. The morals of sticking together and the dangers of oppressive tyranny are well observed, with obvious parallels to the Second World War. The thematic value of Watership Down is what has made it endure for so long. It doesn’t pander to the audience or patronise, and while there are those who criticise the violence and horror, they should remember that the overall message of the film is one of finding peace, even though life is a hard journey. But as violence and shock are big parts of the movie, they can’t be ignored. I must admit to still being surprised how visceral many of the scenes are that are featured here, they still hold up on gruesome and unflinching score. The fighting, blood and bleakly brutal vision of nature is never far from view and many scenes have a lot of palpable tension. But in a way, featuring genuine violence( albeit involving anthropomorphic bunnies), it presents something different in an animated movie. Many times we go in expecting something squarely aimed at children, but I’m certain many were surprised when they discovered the bleak overtones and poignancy of Watership Down. I have massive amounts of respect for Watership Down in retaining the novel’s unflinching examination of survival and not dumbing it Down one ounce for audience satisfaction. Sometimes films try to be just a little bit too kid friendly, to the point that the film is ridiculously cheery. Believe me when I say, that is most definitely not the case when it comes to Watership Down. And I can’t review this movie without mentioning the haunting addition of ‘Bright Eyes’ sung with conviction by Art Garfunkel. It’s bound to bring a tear to the eyes.

The talented voice cast, featuring John Hurt, Richard Briers and Michael Graham Cox are exemplary at giving life to their characters and finding heart there. With such a wide breadth of voice work( also including Harry Andrews as the terrifying Woundwort, Denholm Elliott as a rabbit whose as enigmatic as he is creepy and the comedy stylings of Zero Mostel as a bird that helps the main rabbits out), it’s hard to not appreciate the ability and skill that each of them brings to the table.

Visceral yet beautifully rendered and vividly thematic, Watership Down is a film to treasure, no matter how graphic some of it is. After all, you’ll probably never forget this movie once you’ve viewed it.

The Aftermath

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Director

James Kent

Starring

  • Keira Knightley
  • Alexander Skarsgård
  • Jason Clarke

A melancholy and passionate story of Post-War desire and the long-lasting impacts of war itself, The Aftermath is not that original, but does she’d some light on the psyches of people learning to live after conflict. Plus, it’s complete with a handsome cast and is wonderful to look at.

It’s been five months since the Allied victory and the world is trying to move on from the destruction and darkness of the Second World War. Into the ruins of Hamburg comes Englishwoman Rachael Morgan(Keira Knightley). She is there to live with her estranged husband, Colonel Lewis Morgan(Jason Clarke) , who is closed off and reticent with emotion.  He is stationed in Hamburg and is one of those charged with rebuilding the city. There is an obvious distance between the couple, which we learn is a result of the harrowing death of their young son during the War. They move into a grand house, which until recently was occupied by widowed German architect Stefan Lubert(Alexander Skarsgård) and his teenaged daughter. After losing her son, Rachael is apprehensive and hostile towards Stefan and other Germans. Lewis seems to adopt a more diplomatic position, trying to not group innocent Germans into the stereotype of all being Nazi’s. A further wedge is driven between Rachael and Lewis when he reveals that he will let Stefan and his daughter stay in the house. He thinks it is wrong to simply kick them out of the house. Rachael is vehemently against the idea of letting them stay, but Lewis insists on it. While Lewis is busy and not communicating with his wife about what’s become of their marriage, Rachael struggles to cope with life and her own feelings of hurt and anger. Around this time, the tensions between Rachael and Stefan move into an intense and unexpected affair. Rachael discovers a strength and semblance of normality again, brought out by the wounded but sensitive Stefan, who lost his wife in the war. Their love intensifies once Lewis is away on duty. But their affair isn’t meant to last and will no doubt have harsh consequences if ever revealed.

James Kent, who previously directed another war drama in Testament of Youth, once more provides his efficiency and sensitivity to this emotive story. He’s got the right hand to steer what is a familiar tale and still keep it interesting. While it isn’t as deeply felt or tragic as the aforementioned Testament of Youth, Kent acquits himself admirably here. Familiar is a word many reviewers have applied to this film and I can see why. But familiar doesn’t mean bad in any way, just a tad repetitive in some areas. Where The Aftermath most succeeds is its ruminations on the difficulty of grief and how war is not always black and white. We examine how the War did damage on both sides and that the impact of it didn’t just leave people once the fighting ended. There was a whole world of sadness, regret and hardship among millions affected by the length of World War II and what it brought with it. The three principal characters are all hurting from loss and bottling it up, setting the stage for it to come out unexpectedly. There are some moments that occasionally ring a bit hollow and sometimes events play out in predictable fashion. The subplot of Stefan’s daughter falling in with a Nazi who still wants to fight for the cause is pretty boring and not at all well handled. There’s a lingering feeling that a bit more oomph may have benefited The Aftermath. But a few unexpected moments and the way it quietly yet perceptively examines hardship and the pain of war, makes The Aftermath have a certain emotional quality that overcomes a few flaws. In regards to how The Aftermath looks, it’s gorgeously shot with snowy vistas a plenty and a certain glow, as well as passion in the love scenes between Knightley and Skarsgård. Yet it doesn’t shy away from the destruction of war and the dark remnants of conflict hang with a gloomy air alongside splendid winters. Costumes and sets are also of a high quality, matching the period with immense detail and style. And the music, which is a big highlight, has a romantic longing and sweeping angle that is just right for The Aftermath. Plus, the lovely usage of ‘Clair de Lune’ is a nice touch and always a joy to my ears.

A handsome cast fleshes out their roles with emotion and clarity. Heading the lot is Keira Knightley, who has poise, sadness and the eventual emergence of hope down to a tee. Her face expresses so much of what Rachael is trying to hide and she reveals emotion slowly but effectively. Knightley is definitely the right person to embody unresolved anger, deep melancholy and bruised hardship in a period setting. Simply put, Keira Knightley is excellent in her role. Plus her chemistry with both Alexander Skarsgård and Jason Clarke is spot on in different ways. Alexander Skarsgård has the looks and quiet dignity for his role as romantic stranger sweeping Rachael up into an affair. But he’s no wolf, simply a man who is decent and also hurting from the impact of World War II. Just like Rachael, he is searching for someone to understand his grief with and Skarsgård plays that beautifully. Jason Clarke is often the most quiet character of the peace, being the utmost definition of the stiff upper lip. He’s a man whose feelings are coiled within and that he tries to keep in check. Clarke, who possesses a sad eyed demeanour and the feeling of internal strife, riveting at playing a man dedicated to his job which allows him to bury his troubles. But once they come spilling out, all the pain and bitterness is there plain to see. The two sides of the part are telegraphed wonderfully by the often underrated Jason Clarke. These three actors do their thing with admirable skill at delving into the damaged minds of each character and how they need to unravel.

So while it gets a bit clichéd in quarters, The Aftermath is still watchable as a stylish evocation of grief and the emotions pertaining to it. Handsomely shot and nicely performed, it’s far from a masterpiece, but still a movie with enough emotion to stir.