Happy Birthday Florence Pugh

Tags

,

The talented Florence Pugh turns 24 today. Over the past few years and especially this year, she’s been on fire. I love watching her range and versatility on screen and I predict many more years of success for her. So here’s a happy birthday to this immensely gifted actress.

Little Women(2019)

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Greta Gerwig brings the classic novel of Louisa May Alcott to life with her interpretation of Little Women. It emerges as a charming, moving and lively portrait of young womanhood and family, complete with an inventively structured narrative and simply stellar performances. You have to see this film it’s as simple as that.

In Concord, Massachusetts, the four March sisters; rule abiding beauty Meg( Emma Watson), boisterous aspiring writer Jo( Saoirse Ronan), painfully shy music lover Beth( Eliza Scanlen) and spoiled, petulant madam Amy( Florence Pugh), grow up with their caring Marmee( Laura Dern) while their father( Bob Odenkirk) is away fighting in the American Civil War. Times are tough and the family are forced to make do without luxuries, but with their closeness and spirit they get through it as best as they can with their warm-hearted and rational mother. Life before them doesn’t really offer many opportunities for women, but feisty Jo is willing to smash those limitations with her writing. Though she’s met with skepticism and even doubts herself, her spirited self won’t rest. She befriends along with her sisters Laurie( Timothée Chalamet); a boy who lives nearby and wants adventure. He in turn likes the feeling of family that the March household has as he finds his Grandfather stern and his life dull. He begins to romantically like Jo, but finds it isn’t always easy in love. Meg is concerned with being a demure lady and has her heart set on a husband and family, preferably with money. She discovers that money isn’t everything when she meets a tutor by the name of John Brooke( James Norton) who doesn’t have a penny. While Meg looks on as other ladies grow in wealth, she only occasionally chafes at it when she realises how good her situation is. Awkward but thoroughly kind-hearted Beth is largely confined to the house as she is shy and prefers to busy herself by playing the piano. Mr Laurence( Chris Cooper) sees this and offers the use of his piano, to the delight of the young girl. Amy, who is often vain and belligerent, aspires to be an artist though she either wants to be “great or nothing”.  The girls endure hardship, sickness in the case of Beth’s bout with Scarlet Fever and their eyes being opened to the world, under the eyes of Marmee and traditional maven Aunt March( Meryl Streep), who enjoys lecturing the family she considers disobedient. The narrative weaves back and forward in time to the American Civil War and the years after it, exploring events in the form of recollection and memory.

With Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig announced herself as a talented director. With Little Women, she makes good on her promise to deliver a timeless story with newfound verve and appeal. As previously stated, the choice to shoot the film in a non-linear fashion is an inspired one. Kudos to Gerwig for using it to create an immediacy with the women at the heart of the story. For instance, we are introduced to the sisters separately rather than the traditional all together round the fireplace that’s shown in more traditional versions. I liked seeing them later on and grown up, before cutting back to their childhoods. It creates a vivid contrast, effortlessly displaying the changes in characters and circumstances through being brightly coloured in cinematography for the portions of childhood and more subdued in the adult sections. It’s a gorgeous visual approach that also supplies us with humour, growth and metaphor. It’s a stroke of intelligence and risk to tell such a well known story in this way, but Greta Gerwig clearly understands what she is doing and the results speak successfully for themselves. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll love being in the company of these four memorable ladies. 

Her script is natural and free flowing, with the girl often talking over each other in the cosy home sequences which creates a believable bond as sisters. That’s not to say all the dialogue is like this, in fact it’s very pertinent and acute, but I enjoyed the feeling of sisters having their say in their own way. There is a hustle and bustle to their home life, which marks it in contrast to many a film set in another era that usually feel a bit mannered or overly polite. Little Women has gusto and charm as the sisters fight, rub along together and generally form a feeling go camaraderie the age won’t intrude on. It’s become clear that Gerwig is a fan of exploring young womanhood and family, which was seen in Lady Bird and now in Little Women. And how she examines that even though times have changed, there are still in some places limitations placed on women who want to burst through the glass ceiling. Little Women gets that across with zest and a certain modernity, which thankfully doesn’t put the original story in jeopardy but actually adds to the experience. Alexandre Desplat is a masterful choice for composer as is evidenced by his gorgeous score. Making spirited use of piano along with well timed strings, there is a vibrancy to his music that fits the story perfectly. Seriously, the score should definitely be getting awards notice come that season and I sincerely hope it does.

Saoirse Ronan leads the way with another sterling performance. She gets the unkempt energy, boundless enthusiasm and creeping self-doubt vulnerability just right for Jo. Ronan shows that Jo is often at the mercy of herself and her spirited nature, but how she’s trying to find her own place in the world in a time that isn’t exactly keen on it. Ronan is truly alive here and makes the part of Jo her own, which is saying something as it’s a role that’s been played so many times and can be hard to put your own spin on. Thankfully, Saoirse Ronan is up to the task and splendidly pulls it off much to my delight. Florence Pugh, who is having a banner year so far, closes it off with yet another believable and confident performance. She brings out the bratty and vindictive parts of Amy as a child and her shrewd understanding as an adult. The gifted Pugh gets both ages spot on, charting the rise of a girl whose snooty attitude melts as she learns how to survive in society and play the game better than anyone. I enjoyed how fleshed out Amy was in this version, too often she’s relegated to just being the spoiled one. Yet thankfully, with the script and the luminous Florence Pugh injecting smarts, Amy is given a new lease of life. These two actresses are the main standouts and should both expect award notices, but the rest of the cast is not to be sniffed at either as they fill out the cast of characters with care and skill. Emma Watson has the grace and heart of Meg just right, as she occasionally fails against society but finds that happiness is where romance is at. Some say Meg is the passive part and most traditional of the sisters, but I think that with Watson she emerges with some agency. Eliza Scanlen has the sweet face and  sense of humanity about her that suits Beth and doesn’t make her just a saintly figure. She’s one of the driving forces, particularly in her bond with Jo and Scanlen plays to that with great nuance.

Timothée Chalamet, of floppy hair and eyes that express a lot and most effectively sadness, is ideally cast as Laurie, who comes to be like another member of the March family but who is completely love struck by Jo. He’s spirited and gangly, always moving about and his kinetic behaviour and wearing of emotion on his sleeve ensures Chalamet and Ronan once again prove how effective their chemistry is whenever they are together. Mind you, he has great chemistry with all the women, but in particular Ronan and eventually Pugh. Laura Dern has just the right amount of grit and maternal love as one of the guiding forces for the girl, while Chris Cooper is crusty but mellowed as the neighbour who grows to become close to the March family. Stealing her scenes is the always dependable Meryl Streep, who you can tell had a blast playing the opinionated and cutting Aunt March. She’s a lot of fun to watch as this matron who always has to make a point of something, even if it’s insulting. If there’s a tiny flaw, it’s in that both Bob Odenkirk and James Norton are not given a lot to do. Both are accomplished actors so it would have been nice to have seen them show off some of their talent. But aside from that, I don’t have many quibbles with this movie. Tracy Letts is entertaining in his small but memorable role of publisher who is initially dismissive of Jo, but grows quite fond of her as time goes by.

With Greta Gerwig at the helm, Little Women comes to sparkling life and proves that certain stories can still be fresh no matter how many times it’s been adapted. A winning coming of age story that captures the imagination and heart without resorting to sentimentality, I can’t recommend this version of Little Women highly enough for its energy and splendid cast.

Lady Bird

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Greta Gerwig makes her solo directing debut with Lady Bird; a funny, sometimes painfully honest but incredibly personal story of a teenage girl coming of age in her senior year of school. Her vision is aided by two sensational performances by Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf as the mother and daughter at the heart of a tumultuous relationship.

It’s 2002 in Sacramento, California. Here we meet Christine McPherson( Saoirse Ronan), a teenager in her senior year of school. She attends a strict Catholic school, despite the fact her parents are struggling financially. She also goes by the name Lady Bird in an effort to stand out from what she sees as a boring place of no culture or event of note. Her opposition frequently clashes with her hardworking mother Marian( Laurie Metcalf), which results in bust ups throughout the year. Marion is a nurse who works doubles to support the family as her genial husband Larry( Tracy Letts) has been laid off and often tells Lady Bird that she is aspiring for too much. Both are at loggerheads and then fine, followed by more arguing that ebbs and flows. Meanwhile, Lady Bird, who knows she is distinctly average at a lot of things but isn’t short on ambition, has to find her way through the last year of school. which includes taking part in the school play, falling for two different guys in the form of Danny (Lucas Hedges) and sardonic, cool guy Kyle ( Timothée Chalamet), finding trouble with her best friend Julie( Beanie Feldstein) and generally feeling like everyone is somehow against her dreams . At the centre of it all, her relationship with her mother takes twists and turns as they attempt some form of understanding.

While Lady Bird does observe conventions of standard coming of age movies( boys, falling out with friends and rebellion), but there is something in the way that the story is told that makes it feel fresh. The personal undertone that the passionate Gerwig has infused the film with really stands out and captures that awkward time in someone’s life where everything feels like life or death. So while it isn’t an original or full on groundbreaking film, the approach taken and blend of comedy and drama is to be applauded for pulling us in and how it has us laughing one minute and emotional the next. Many scenes illustrate this bit the opening of Lady Bird and her mother going from niceness to bickering in minutes, along with the former throwing herself out of the car so she doesn’t have to listen to disagreement, clearly sums up the kind of film this is. Also, the pink cast Lady Bird wears for most of the film is an apt bit of symbolism that clearly displays our heroine’s desire to be an individual at any cost.

Lady Bird manages to avoid the cloying nature that often saturates a coming of age story to the point of mawkishness and steers clear of being melodramatic. Sure quite a bit happens to the titular character over a year, but it’s shown in such an organic yet warm way that tempers events with seriousness and comedy. I’m a fan of coming of age stories when told with substance and style and Lady Bird owns both of those admirable qualities. There will still be those who will write of Lady Bird as just another teenage comedy drama and not give it a chance. But I think they are really missing out on an often hilarious yet deeply effective evocation of a young girl turning into a woman who wants something out of the world to happen to her. The gold hues of the cinematography, coupled with the use of montage and choice of music, are gorgeously used to create a definite feeling of looking back on memories.

Now on to the acting in this teenage comedy drama and it’s clear to see that it’s one of the best things in Lady Bird’s impressive arsenal. In the lead, the always talented and confident Saoirse Ronan excels stunningly. Those blue peepers and arresting face chart the varying contradictions of Lady Bird as she faces adolescence and how she views it as an existence sent to test her. She’s restless, petulant, dramatic, funny, whacky, caring and acerbic. I’m simply running out of adjectives to describe Ronan here, she is that good at imbuing they part with bite. Ronan makes for a memorably flawed but endearing heroine, even when she’s being unpleasant. It’s the definition of a complete performance that just ticks all the right boxes and Saoirse Ronan owns the role with every fibre of her being. For an actress still so young, I’ve a feeling that she’s becoming one of the finest actresses of her generation and that’s not an exaggeration. Laurie Metcalf superbly supports Ronan with her work portraying a no-nonsense mother who as someone else mentions is as loving as she is frightening. Metcalf supplies the story with a serious undertone but isn’t above humour. Simply stated, she’s remarkable as an opinionated, careworn woman trying to raise a daughter who insists on creating difficulty for her. Ronan and Metcalf are magnetic together; both characters won’t admit it but they do share similarities that they would much rather not. This sets the scene for much drama between them. Beanie Feldstein is an absolute delight as the best friend who is so endearing that you want to give her a hug. The way Feldstein plays her shows that she’s truly alive in her best friend’s company and it’s what gets her through her low self-worth. Tracy Letts is quietly and subtly convincing as the protagonist’s father who is the good cop to his wife’s bad cop. Letts infuses him with a warmth but a big level of sadness as this character is unfortunate but doesn’t make a fuss. He is very moving in his work and his scenes with Saoirse Ronan are a delight. Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet play the two main boys in Lady Bird’s life with energy and awkwardness for the former and scowling but charming rock dude for the latter. I liked both parts from these actors as they had more to them than just the boys the heroine likes, particularly Hedges and his story though Chalamet is no slouch either, far from it in fact. 

Hilarious yet deep, stylish but buttressed by story, Lady Bird is a marvellous solo debut for Greta Gerwig that soars owing to its direction, script and two deservedly Oscar nominated performances at the centre of it.

Black Christmas

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

A Yuletide chiller that is generally seem as one of the first slashers ( predating Halloween by a few years), Black Christmas has become a cult classic thanks to its setting up of genre trademarks( plus some breaking too), supreme atmosphere aptly set during a holiday known for cheer and general feeling of patient but unnerving terror.

Its Christmas time and the girls of a sorority house are getting ready to either visit family or stay for the holiday season. At the house there is the rational Jess(Olivia Hussey), extrovert Barb( Margot Kidder), cheerful Phyllis( Andrea Martin) and the timid Clare(Lynne Griffin) . They are watched over by the elderly head of the sorority, a woman with a fondness for booze called Mrs. Mac( Marian Waldman). The main party is winding down when a phone call interrupts things. It’s not the first of these calls, but it is the most alarming. A crazed man on the other end uses a variety of strange voices, yells obscenities and does his damn best to unnerve them all. The girls try to brush it off but are understandably freaked out. What they don’t realise is that the man on the phone is actually in their attic, watching them and waiting to strike. The innocent Clare is the first to meet death by his hand, though the sisters think she has simply gone missing when she doesn’t meet her father for her travels. News spreads of another girl being murdered and the police finally take notice, headed by the dedicated Ltd Fuller(John Saxon). Meanwhile, Jess is grappling with the fact that she’s pregnant with the child of her intense pianist boyfriend Peter( Keir Dullea) . He wants to keep the baby and marry, but she wants an abortion which puts them at odds. But as the uneasiness rises and bodies turn up, it falls to Jess to survive as the killer closes in on her at the most festive time of year. 

Bob Clark, who would later direct a very different holiday movie in A Christmas Story, directs with finesse by cranking the ambience and terror up gradually and letting us get to know the principal characters. Clark just ups the  This makes for very unnerving viewing as there are things the audience are aware of that the characters aren’t and then things we are purposefully kept in the dark about. Now while being termed a slasher, Black Christmas only has bits of blood in it. Not to say that the deaths in Black Christmas aren’t chilling( the first victim who is suffocated with a plastic dress bag then placed on a rocking chair in the attic will freeze your blood), but the fact that we only see parts of the acts makes the imagination run wild. I’m of the view that often what we don’t see can be more scary than actually viewing it. But it definitely qualifies as a slasher in many ways, most of which are very successful and indeed influential on the genre that followed in the ensuing years. The use of POV is inspired as it isn’t always clear cut; we see things from the perspective of the killer which is often at an angle or obscured by something. We sort of see events with the twisted way he does and the fact we aren’t really told what his motives are makes it all the more frightening for the audience.

There is also a welcome dose of humour in between the scares, which are mostly provided by either the naughty antics of Barb or the dumbfounded idiocy of the first cop in the case who really has no clue. Some may take Black Christmas for granted given the amount of films it has inspired with the genre tropes we know very well of, but that shouldn’t be held against the film. If anything, it is fascinating to glimpse these well known ideas and how they are used, which in the case of Black Christmas, is supremely well. Plus, it doesn’t always go by the formula either, slotting in neat diversions from the rules. For instance, in a lot of slashers, it’s the virgin who survives but here she is killed first. And it’s refreshing that the main characters actually have scope to them, rather than just cardboard cut out roles with no room for development. There is mystery to be found, stemming from the fact we never get a good look at the killer, who is mainly referred to as Billy. I enjoy slashers with mystery and Black Christmas ranks among them. A low key, ambient score is the cherry on top of an impressive cake; cloaking events when it appears in an ominous light.

The cast is largely impressive too. Olivia Hussey greatly heads things as the terrified but level headed girl grappling with her own turmoil while trying to stay alive. Although she’s frightened, Hussey projects a certain relatability and serenity to the role of Jess that is most refreshing. I liked her as a final girl it must be said as she seems like a proper person with a sense of resourcefulness and tenacity. A pre-Superman Margot Kidder excels as the foul mouthed sister who has an attitude and isn’t afraid to flaunt it. She’s very charming and often abrasively witty within minutes and her energy is hard to resist. Keir Dullea is effectively mysterious and unpredictable portraying the boyfriend of Jess, who may or may not have evil intentions. John Saxon is superbly stalwart representing the main cop on the case who takes his job seriously and isn’t messing around. Doug McGrath provides some comic relief among the horror as the dim-witted policeman, who is woefully bad at his job and constantly told it. He doesn’t take anything seriously which in turn angers his superior to no end. Marian Waldman gives other bits of humour as the often drunk house mother who isn’t as classy and respectable as she likes to think she is. Andrea Martin is suitably fine as another sorority sister feeling the stress under the horror. Lynne Griffin, though only seen alive for a short duration, takes the honour of having the most memorable image in Black Christmas. Her face locked in a stunned state of fright, wrapped with plastic on a rocking chair is the stuff of nightmares and will burn itself into your brain.

So if it is seasonal horror you are after, the chilling Black Christmas should be high on that list. Prepare for terror when you see this cult classic.

Heat

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


The delightful Gabriela asked me to take part in a blogtahon about Al Pacino. As he’s one of my favourite actors, I couldn’t refuse. So here’s my late entry with a review of Heat.

An engrossing action thriller with a sheen of depth and sense of character to it, Heat, with the talented Michael Mann at the helm, takes the heist film and fashions something breathtaking, surprisingly intelligent and always riveting.

In Los Angeles, Vincent Hanna(Al Pacino) is an overly dedicated, arrogant cop. His obsessed work rate has strained his third marriage to the tired Justine( Diane Venora) and made sure he can’t connect with his troubled stepdaughter Lauren( Natalie Portman) . He becomes aware of skilled thief Neil McCauley( Robert De Niro) when he and his team, consisting of talented but troubled Chris Shiherlis(Val Kilmer), edgy and pumped Michael Cheritto( Tom Sizemore) and new member crazed Waingro(Kevin Gage) steal bearer bonds from an armoured car. Things escalate when loose canon Waingro shoots a guard, causing two others to be killed to avoid being a witness. Neil is furious as he wanted a smooth operation and now they are wanted for felony murder. Mainly, Neil wants a way out of crime and lives by a code that says he can walk away from absolutely anything when he feels the heat coming from the law. This has largely made him a loner and someone who doesn’t form personal attachments. But things change when he falls for pretty and endearing Eady( Amy Brenneman). His right hand man Chris is good at the criminal job but can’t kick a gambling habit, which has estranged him from his understandably angry wife Charlene(Ashley Judd). Meanwhile, Hanna starts putting the dots together and unearths more plans of Neil’s to stage more heists, culminating in one last big score . Both men will collide and discover a strange parallel with the other, though they can easily take the other down if either encounters the other along the way. The game of cat and mouse gets more dangerous as the film progresses, also showing that  both men are people who live by their own code that has directed them in life

Michael Mann is firing on all cylinders with Heat; conjuring a story of cops and robbers with more on his mind than just action. Not that Heat ever shortchanges is on action, but the dedication to plot and the little details that form are simply sublime touches. I especially enjoyed how Heat opens; setting up the characters and revealing just enough to set the appetite then discovering how it’s all linked. It’s a little thing, but it really cements your attention on the film. Back to action and Heat delivers it in spades, with particular praise being reserved for the running shootout on the streets. With quick cutting, pulse pounding imagery and a general feel of genuine danger, it’s one of the finest set pieces put on film as bullets fly and bodies fall. On the point of how Heat looks, the moody colour palette and danger with which Los Angeles is depicted with is second to none. The setting becomes just as important as the characters in the story with Los Angeles appearing as dark, unforgiving and melancholy. And for a movie that is almost three hours long, the time flies as we are that engrossed by the film that we are witnessing. Sure it might seem an excessive run time and a few minor bits ramble, but every frame feels warranted as does the enviable attention to detail that I live for. It’s one of the most action packed but inventively detailed and I enjoyed how it weaved the characters and their lives together so it fitted. It’s hard to find fault with Heat, with only a few minor parts that ramble a bit. Apart from those very small things , it’s simply masterful as a film and I can recommend Heat enough.

Where Heat truly shines and rises above many a generic action thriller or heist/ crime flick, is in its unusual dedication to giving the characters substance and a sense of having lived life. We truly get a chance to know these people and watch how their lives unravel as violence, dedication and duality collide. The relationships at the core of the film, Vincent and his wife Justine , the chance of love for Neil and Eady and Chris’ damaged union with Charlene, all add something and are explored with rare insight .Credit is down to Michael Mann for fleshing these parts out and allowing us to go between who we want to succeed. It’s most unusual to watch as our sympathies and sense of loyalty swings like a large pendulum. They are two sides of the same coin and we get to see it in full bloom in the now famous coffee shop scene. We finally see two iconic actors meet on film( they were both in The Godfather Part II but never shared scenes) and the results are sublime. Everything comes together beautifully as two men bare their souls and find an unexpected sense of respect with the other, despite their current opposition. Elliot Goldenthal is the composer and his music is sublime at matching the varying moods on screen, with a certain percussive shimmer and drums taking a large part of things. Plus adding strings brings out a certain feeling of sadness as the main men find that their lives and have morphed into stubborn ways from which each tries to escape. It’s atmospheric and action packed all at once, without forgetting human emotion.

Heat scores highly for its impressively extensive cast, headed by man of the hour Al Pacino and fellow acting Titan Robert De Niro. Al Pacino is excellently convincing as the  strutting, obsessed cop who has all but destroyed what’s left of his personal life. With Pacino in the part you get the showmanship of a man who’s good at what he does and knows, tempered with underlying regret at how he’s obliterated anything close to him. It’s a fine showcase for the great man and layered too, displaying some of Pacino’s finest work. Matching him as the criminal counterpart is Robert De Niro as the master thief. Possessing a steely look, ruthless intelligence and a hidden gentleness, De Niro breathes life into the part of criminal with a code who finds it changing in never expected ways. Put simply, he’s electric in a subdued but powerful way. And whenever he and a Pacino meet, it’s simply extraordinary. Val Kilmer brings forth a weariness to his part of a skilled thief but hopeless gambling addict. For Kilmer it’s all in the eyes, which exude alternating strength, action and vulnerability throughout. Tom Sizemore has the dangerous persona and sense of inducing fear, particularly skilled when it comes to the action that erupts.

Though the film is largely composed of men, the women of Heat hold their own and are pretty integral to the story. Amy Brenneman, with her fresh faced charm and sense of kindness is the main woman in Neil’s life and though she doesn’t realise it, she starts to change his way of thinking. Ashley Judd, with a combination of grit and sadness, essays the part of a wife fed up with her husband’s inability to change. The part could have been a throwaway and thankless one, but Judd gives it dimension. The same can be said for Diane Venora, who is also a wife who wants more from her husband. She’s fierce and not afraid to confront him on it which I like. A young Natalie Portman, though only seen in a brief few scenes, still stands out as a troubled youngster struggling with life and not feeling like anyone is listening. Although seen for only a short time, Portman is pivotal to a later part of the story that impacts on Hanna.

The rest of the supporting cast is a regular who’s who of familiar faces who give life to the characters surrounding those at the centre. Standing out is William Fichtner as a slippery man in too deep and not knowing it and Kevin Gage as a very creepy guy who is part of the reason the team feels the heat from the cops. Then you have Jon Voight as the fence who you know has been doing the job as long as anyone can remember and Dennis Haysbert as a former criminal trying to do good but finding it tempting to slip back into a life of wrong. Plus that’s not forgetting Ted Levine, Wes Studi, Mykelti Williamson, Tom Noonan and a memorably pivotal Danny Trejo. It’s a stacked cast, but it’s Pacino and De Niro who are the centre and boy do they make Heat soar.

A dazzling, stylish yet unexpectedly human crime/ action thriller, Michael Mann’s Heat is a film that always gets your attention in nearly every department. Simply put, it’s unmissable.

Knives Out

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A hilarious and thrilling murder mystery, updated to the present and sporting one hell of a talented cast, Knives Out finds Rian Johnson at some of his most skilful and fun.

Harlan Thrombey( Christopher Plummer) is a wealthy but ageing crime author who is celebrating his 85th birthday. His wide, extensive family, of whom most are greedy, are there at his county mansion for the occasion. There is Harlan’s children; gloating businesswoman Linda( Jamie Lee Curtis), uneasy and timid until he has a drink inside him Walt( Michael Shannon) , plus Harlan’s bitchy, self-serving daughter in law Joni( Toni Collette) and her put upon daughter Meg(Katherine Langford). There’s also Linda’s crude husband (Don Johnson), and their man-child brat of a son Ransom( Chris Evans) , plus Walt’s troll child Jacob( Jaeden Martell) who delights in being a nasty young man. Most importantly, Harlan’s nurse Marta( Ana de Armas) is present but treated suspiciously by family when others aren’t looking, though they claim to hold her dear. The next day however, Harlan is discovered with his throat slit, the apparent result of a suicide. Two cops, Detective Lieutenant Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner( Noah Segan) come to investigate as their soon becomes evidence of foul play afoot. Also on the case, after being mysteriously tipped off about it, is seasoned detective Benoit Blanc( Daniel Craig). He’s an investigator with his own way of doing things that often baffles others but often turns up intriguing possibilities. Sure enough, he sets about investigating and comes to believe that cruel intentions where at work in the demise. Marta, who seems to be the only person who treated Harlan like a human, has a condition where if she tells a lie, she vomits. This immediately puts her as an ally to the side of good or does it as this is one case in which nothing is what it seems? Blanc continues to investigate as the family fights, bickers and basically tears each other apart as they all want a part of the fortune. Marta is the one person who doesn’t seem interested in the money as she valued the companionship and respect she shared with Harlan. What spins out from all this is a most twisty case involving one hell of a dysfunctional family.

Rian Johnson is the man behind the camera and the pen and in both capacities, he doesn’t disappoint with this film. The sharp, scintillating script of cracking one liners and genuine mystery. Rian Johnson is clearly having a blast both paying homage to the murder mystery movies of yesteryear and giving it a contemporary update that is most entertaining. I find it hard to fault when someone is directing and crafting with this level of giddiness and panache. Though it covers many of the genre tropes we know and love, the underlying humour and knowing meta references to all matter of murder mystery TV shows and movies are most welcome and pretty cool to spot. Plus, Knives Out has a brilliant sense of mystery and unease as we try to discover the cause of untimely death for Knives Out truly breathes new life into the genre, and still has time to make comment on immigration, greed and the accountability of family. Thankfully none of this is overbearing or ham fisted, rather it is presented in a manner that flows along with the central mystery and just as entertainingly. Some lulls in the proceedings, (like the film maybe benefiting from a bit of a trim and certain characters not being given much to do) can be forgiven mainly because Knives Out twists and turns us and our expectations. It’s by and large a surprising film that breathlessly speeds along and misdirects you just when you think you’ve got a handle on it’s mystery. It’s a damn fine time that is purely entertaining and keeps you glued. The setting of the house is ace; with the large breadth of the domain and the various ways it is majestically shot with a certain old fashioned flair, really adding to the overall atmosphere of both lightness and darkness but never too overpowering as to detract from the crackerjack script. Plus, I can imagine that upon repeat viewings of Knives Out, you’ll notice something different each time. The music is a scintillating addition, with erratic strings and gorgeous piano conveying the craziness and underlying depth of the piece. Simply sensational is what the score from Nathan Johnson is .

Where Knives Out really hits the jackpot is in the talented cast. Daniel Craig heads up events with a thoroughly hilarious and eccentric turn as the celebrated detective mysteriously on the case. Using a surprising but superb Southern drawl and immensely kooky humour, Craig is having a ball and is one of the big standouts in Knives Out. Seriously, Craig is fantastic here in a role very different from Bond especially in its ability to be sharp as well as flamboyantly tongue in cheek . Matching him with a quiet dignity and decency is Ana de Armas in a role that is a showcase for her considerable talents. With her angelic face, arresting eyes and intelligent authenticity, de Armas is gifted a peach of a role and creates the beating heart of the narrative. Also, she blends areas of mystery within the part that still keep us guessing of her true involvement, though she’s definitely what you’d call the moral centre of Knives Out. I feel like de Armas is an actress of great promise if her work here is anything to go by and I hope she gets more successful roles like this one.

Chris Evans, playing very much against type, relishes being a nasty but hilarious piece of work who provides much in the way of snarky comedy and bratty, entitled antics. He gets some of the most scintillating lines to be found in Knives Out. Toni Collette, who has long been an actress I adore for her versatility, does it again as the vapid, shallow and grasping lifestyle guru who loves to brag about how great her life is. Collette bitches it up as this venal harpy who disguises her nastiness with a coy smile. Also getting some catty one liners and displaying a sense of authority under scrutiny is the ever excellent Jamie Lee Curtis( her comic timing and very sharp-witted presence is sparky and scene-stealing). Michael Shannon also has a lot of presence as the son who feels cit out of the family because of his weaknesses and inability to do things right. We feel some sympathy for the man who feels overlooked in the early scenes when Shannon gets to a level of morality, but Shannon truly comes alive when he’s required to be mercenary and underhand. Don Johnson creates a character of smarmy nastiness and underhand nature, who forms yet another snippet of a viper’s nest that is family.

Unfortunately, Jaeden Martell and Katherine Langford are both saddled with roles that don’t amount to much in the same way the two cops( Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan) are largely filler and fail to stand out in an all star cast. But hell, that’s what happens when you have a big ensemble cast to contend with. And none of them are bad, just not utilised effectively. Veteran actor Christopher Plummer, whose very resume is enviable, still shows fantastic talent and fun in the key role of Harlan. We are shown a shrewd, cunning but generous to those who deserved it kind of man. His impact is felt as the story continues following his seemingly untimely demise.

Boasting one cracking ensemble of actors, a director on sizzling form and suspense mingling with laugh out loud comedy, Knives Out is a sly, devilish treat that gives an old genre an upgrade with results that would please the Grande Dame of Murder mystery, Agatha Christie.

The Addiction

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

A vampire horror movie with a difference, Abel Ferrara gives us The Addiction. An allegory for the evil within humanity seen through the prism of being a night walker, it’s an incredible, cerebral and stylish evocation of sin, redemption and darkness.

Kathleen Conklin( Lili Taylor) is a young university student in New York who is studying philosophy. She’s recently been examining the evil of the world and the roles people play in it. Little does she realise it will play a big part in her existence sooner than expected. One night after class, she is walking back to her apartment. A seductive woman who we learn in the credits is called Casanova( Annabella Sciorra) greets her and then violently pulls her into an alley. She then bites a terrified Kathleen’s neck and then as she’s walking off drops hints of something dark and sinister ahead for the student. After being treated for her wound, Kathleen starts to act strangely. She begins to develop an aversion to sunlight, grows increasingly aggressive and starts to crave human blood. She soon realises she is becoming a vampire and attempts to stop her bloodlust, but it proves difficult as her affliction grows more prevalent . She runs into experienced vampire Peina(Christopher Walken) who gives her a lecture on how he’s managed to stave off the hunger for as long as he can. But can his wise words persuade a rabid Kathleen to submit and seek redemption for the bloodshed she is causing?

Abel Ferrara crafts The Addiction as his own beast and refuses to compromise with expectations of what people necessarily want to see. The film is definitely a horror film but at its heart has a lot more to say. Horror and drama coalesce in this urban and existential study of  dependency and the very concept of evil, mostly driven home through the many instances of philosophy being discussed or heard throughout. Ferrara is clearly a maverick film maker who takes risks and plays by his own set of rules. In my book, it’s refreshing to see a director really bring their vision alive no matter how strange or startling the content. I mean, using black and white in a contemporary setting plus a hip hop soundtrack doesn’t sound like something you’d think of for a movie about vampires. But in my view, it works in modernising these creatures and placing them in a real world setting with real world topics being reckoned with. The Addiction argues that humans are in essence drawn to evil and resistance can be used, but can be futile if you’re not strong enough. This is glimpsed by Casanova’s speech to Kathleen about telling her to go away instead of biting her. Kathleen later uses this on her victims as a sort of reverse psychology and power base. Ferrara and his frequent screenwriter Nicholas St. John are more interested in reinterpreting the vampire lore we think we know( and less in constant gross out horror) and their efforts add depth and oddness by equating vampirism with drug addiction and even saying that evil sin is something we are all capable of. This is showcased in a number of scenes in which Kathleen’s lecture looks at the atrocities like the Holocaust and the My Lai Massacre. It’s startling for sure but it really encapsulates the notion of brutality and evil being all around us and having been there since the start of time.

The horror aspects are extremely well handled, being brutal and startling yet with a purpose to back it up rather than just for gratuitous violence and blood letting. It’s impressive how much Ferrara manages to pack into a film that’s little over 80 minutes, but he does it. It must be stated that The Addiction isn’t going to be a film for everyone. Some of it is undoubtedly confounding and many will see the allusions to philosophy as pretentious which isnt entirely wrong in some parts. But The Addiction weaves a certain spell on you of you let it and boy does it hey The black and white is an inspired stylistic choice from Ferrara and aided by the hypnotic cinematography of Ken Kelsch, New York becomes a dark, eerie but entrancing place of shadows and brutality. It’s almost another character in the film that’s how much of an aura we get here with a debt to noir being evident. The aforementioned hip hop/ rap music featured further establishes the urban atmosphere and impaired with a slithering score that rises and falls like the eponymous affliction. Both play a big part in keeping us watching and being engrossed in this horror drama with a lot more on its mind that just gruesomeness.

Lili Taylor, of petite stature and interesting eyes, is an unusual but spellbinding presence as the student turned bloodsucker. She plays Kathleen as someone who is idealistic and curious, but after her bite, turns quite cold, aggressive and dangerous. In between craving blood and completing her thesis, Taylor explorers the characters outlook on life through philosophy and how it morphs once she sees the world in a transformative way. Her frustration and desperation, coupled with an unsettling stare and rabid hunger are all accounted for and played wonderfully as Kathleen has to come to turns with what she has been changed into. Taylor has always been a reliable performer and she doesn’t disappoint here, in what is one of her best roles that requires her to really dig into the darkness and craving of someone hooked on the taste of blood. It’s quite a subtle performance in parts( Kathleen and Taylor herself look very innocent to the untrained eye), but that only enhances the dichotomy of her even more and adds layers to the later brutal acts she commits with full on force in order to feed her thirst for blood. Simply stated, Lili Taylor is the anchor of The Addiction and haunting in the best sense of the world as the victim turned bloodthirsty predator. Christopher Walken appears in what is essentially an extended cameo, but it’s well worth it and he makes the most of the time he’s on screen. His strange, sagacious demeanour, coupled with lashings of sarcasm at the state of his existence. He’s a vampire cutting down after all so he’s philosophical like a guru and sardonic in equal measure. It’s all in a way only the talented Walken could pull off. Annabella Sciorra, all slicked hair and dangerous appeal, wonderfully acts as the instigator of Kathleen’s transformation and though seen on in a handful of scenes near the beginning and end of the film, makes her mark felt. Watch out for early roles from Edie Falco and Kathryn Erbe as unsuspecting victims.

A very different take on vampires by a director with his own unique way of telling a story, The Addiction is well directed and acted horror/drama that won’t be to all tastes. But for those looking for a film that will make you think about it’s existential themes, it’s hard to go wrong with this most unusual film.